As the weather gets warmer and summer days are around the corner (or in DC’s case, summer days appear to be here already!), for many of us in the diplomatic lifestyle that means moves ahead! So today, I wanted to share the tips and tricks for packing up your life. For many people in the Foreign Service, we’re in the rhythm of doing this every two or three years, so you start to know the things that make life easier. For example, lots of people had hints on how to scale your media down efficiently (remember jewel cases? Ha! if you’re a foreign service person you don’t!), as well as how to keep weight down when you’re planning cross-country/cross-ocean/cross-continent moves.
Also, while any good diplomat loves an acronym, I realized that some terms are a bit more specific – for the curious your HHE are your household effects –that’s the stuff that goes on a shipping container, boxed up and all. In a good move, you might see it in a month; but often times it can be even longer, especially if things get held up in a checkpoint or a delay, or sometimes they send it to the wrong place altogether. The UAB is unaccompanied air baggage – that goes in a plane but not with you and can take a couple of weeks to get. Obviously you can’t take too much of that so you think about which essentials you need until your “stuff” gets to where you are! It’s not uncommon in the whirlwind of the “packout day” for things to end up in the wrong shipment, so unsurprisingly, there are lots of tips for getting everything organized to get to the right destination at the right time!
For those that have done big moves, we’d all love to hear more about what’s worked for you in the comments section – and to everyone shipping out this season, happy packing!
“I think that this might not apply to everyone, but since we are always so underweight I can send all of our kitchen stuff in our UAB. It is nice to have those things early and allows you to get the kitchen unpacked and organized before the rest of the big stuff arrives….Also if there is anything you DON’T want packed, hide it in a closet and duct tape it shut – they work so quickly you won’t have time to grab things you don’t want packed.”
Kristin, Mexico City, Mexico This Gringo Honeymoon
“My #1 tip is to get rid of all your junk. Go through it all and get rid of it before the movers show up. Go through every last drawer, every last box, everything. The office, the kitchen, your closet, the playroom. If your kids have outgrown things, let them go. If you have not worn something during an entire tour, if should go. Donate, toss, pass on to others. If I don’t love or need something, I try not to keep it.”
Amy, Moscow, Russia. The Crafty Foreign Service
“If you live in a multiple floor residence have someone on each floor to supervise, or don’t let the movers begin packing out the second floor until they have completed the first. Don’t seal your UAB until you have used up all the weight. Be as descriptive in what you write on boxes about their content as you possibly can. You won’t remember when you get to your next post what’s in which box.
I went all digital with my music and brought very few (reference) books with me, depending on my Kindle for reading. Carried my DVDs but left my VHS tapes in storage (and converted all of my Beta tapes to DVD). Also, I held a garage sale for leftover consumables and other things I needed less than those who were staying.”
Rich, Ottawa, Canada, RKolker
“Do not trust the pre-packout survey. They can be way off in their estimates. In our case, we were told we would be 2,000 lb under during the pre-packout survey but the day before we were to depart for post got a call from the movers saying we were 1,300 lb over. So we had to drive all the way out to the storage facility and pull things out of HHE and put them into storage or pay for the overage. Related to that, pack in such a way that you can easily pull out heavy, non-essential things and move them to storage, if you have to.”
Daniela, New Delhi, India, Tukytam
“Survey said about 5,000lbs, and we were just 100lb short of the limit, when we were leaving a 2 bedroom apartment with only two people, sending half our stuff to storage! Not sure if anyone else had the same experience, but we had lots of “padding” on our stuff. I had bottles of shampoo, sunscreen, etc. etc. EACH bottle was individually wrapped with at least 5 of those big paper sheets! Lots of paper for a lot of other non-fragile items too. No wonder we almost didn’t make the cut!
A friend packs her UAB in a suitcase, weighs it with the luggage scale, empties and repacks until she hits the limit. She was short by 5lbs every single move, so that’s perfect use of UAB!”
Carla, Manila, Philippines, Carla Runs the World
“I sticky note bombed the house to direct HHE, UAB, storage, and donate. All color coded to keep it simple.”
Emily, Bucharest, Romania, Em Loves Beer
“I have a ONE piece of paper rule per item unless it is glass. I stress the importance of keeping weight down…We have burned all of our DVD’s via CLONEDVD and stored them on a server. All of the actual DVD’s are in storage in MD. We still own them all but we are not hauling them all over the world. Each time I buy a new DVD we burn in and I put it in my “next time we go to the States” bag. Then I leave them at my mother’s house. We also have all of the kids videos on a digital hard drive and have it hooked up to a TV for them to access. Gotta love technology!”
Lisa, Asuncion, Paraguay, Life is a Zoo in the Jungle
“I clear out anything that should go to HHE out of the bathroom and use them for placing stuff I DO NOT want to be packed up (like our packed suitcases and passports!!!). I also strive to put all UAB items in a place that is far enough away from HHE items that there is no question which shipment they are supposed to go in. I tape drawers or cabinets shut that contain stuff that I don’t want them to pack (like AC remotes, keys, etc) and tape a big piece of paper on them that says “NO!” (I don’t trust sticky notes to stay for the duration of the packout). And ALWAYS check all cabinets, drawers and closets (and possibly any storage areas) to make sure the contents got packed up if they were supposed to be.”
Brandy, Wellington, New Zealand, Observations of an Okie
“If you are in the States for a pre-overseas packout and are staying in a hotel during packout, move EVERYTHING that should not be packed out of the house. We always move to the hotel the night before packout and take anything (keys, passports, suitcases, etc.) that should not be packed…even pets. I don’t generally trust movers here (especially after they showed up for a storage packout and said, “Oh, we there aren’t any boxes. We need boxes?”
We’ve gone completely digital with our music and movies. Actually went digital with our music in 2005 and now have all movies burned (and stored in more than one location). We have kept movie dvds, but they are stored in dvd books, which are easy to take with us, just in case… We use Handbrake (think, not at computer) and have successfully ripped our entire library. Being able to watch anywhere is awesome!
We got rid of all the cases (Freecycle rocks!), and yes, we are decluttering right now like crazy…and leave 13 weeks from tomorrow! I highly recommend Freecycle (you can freecycle a bag of grapes, half-used laundry detergent, styrofoam, you name it) and Craigslist for those items you really want to sell. Oh, and we love Goodwill, too!”
Jen, Washington, DC, Dinoia Family
“Pack your travel bags as if you are leaving for home leave as soon as the packers are gone. Once you have everything you need and you know it will fit in your suitcases lock the bags an empty bathroom or even in your car. That way you have everything you need for home leave safe from the packers. Also empty the diaper genie, trash cans, and coffee pot basket before the movers arrive. They packed our coffee pot with the grounds still in it. When it arrived at post 4 months later with moldy grounds the pot was pretty nasty. Our neighbor had her trash can full of trash packed. Eeeeew.”
Shannon, Lilongwe, Malawi, CyberBones
“Lock away everything that is not supposed to be packed in a separate room (literally lock the door); depending on how much time I have, I also put all the UAB together into one area/room and sticky notes for everything that stays; is HHE; or goes into storage.”
Nicole, Vienna, Austria, Kids with Diplomatic Immunity
“I separate the UAB into a different room. Everything that’s going into suitcases goes into a room or two that has a sign about not entering. I think the pack out process should start at least a month, maybe two, before the real pack out date to save stress and time the few nights before. One of my rules is to not stress about my stuff. Anything that is too precious should come with us. If it goes on a boat it might get wrecked and I understand that. I don’t freak out if something arrives broken…it’s just stuff. The three most important items get tickets and are sitting on the plane with us.”
Sara, Manila Philippines, WifeMommyWoman
“We physically move HHE, UAB and storage into separate rooms. Anything going in our suitcases gets locked in a separate room (along with the cat!) As a previous poster wrote, we do a “dress rehearsal” and pack our suitcases beforehand and weigh our bags. We are leaving in 4 months but we are already starting to separate stuff. This is also a good time to pare down. I’ve taken two carloads of stuff to Goodwill and hope we can take at least 2 more before we go. Also, be realistic about the space in your new post house. Do you really need that extra dresser or computer desk, or all those CD and DVD jewel cases? Our last overseas house was about 4,000sqft; next post is only 1,300! That’s led to some tough decisions on what we can/should take or leave behind in storage, or sell.”
Cesar, Seoul, South Korea, Two Crabs
“We love post it notes here! And a sense of humor! Our twas the night before packout.…”
Kristin, Guadalajara, Mexico, Oh the Many Places We Will Go
“I once read from someone, can’t remember where, that a good rule of thumb for a family of four UAB is your queen size bed. Pretty much everything you can fit on a queen size bed will be within weight. I wish I remember where I heard that, and I cannot attest to the accuracy but that was my plan this time around. I have six weeks til pack out and I am pretending like it isn’t real. Denial can be calm. ”
Sunny, Brussels, Belgium, Fabling