So what in the world should you pack if you are moving to another country and what should you leave behind? Great question. And the answer is a vague “it all depends”.

European to USA plug adaptorEuropean to USA plug adaptorEuropean to USA plug adaptor

Are you moving to a furnished apartment? How furnished? Will you need sheets and blankets? Will you be there for four seasons? What is the weather like? How much are shipping costs to your new city? How much baggage is allowed per plane ticket? How many kids do you have? How old are they? Will you be working while you’re there? Do you need work materials? And on and on and on…

Clearly, if you’re contemplating a move abroad, your packing list will be very specifically tailored to your family and situation. In this post, I’ll tell you what we brought.

As I mentioned previously, on the plane we checked 7 large duffel bags (each weighing between 45 and 50 lbs when full). We also checked a trombone, a guitar and a desktop computer. That’s 10 items. From what we understood, each plane ticket (we had seven, June was a lap child) allowed 1 checked bag of no more than 50 lbs. Additional checked baggage would be $50 per piece. So, we assumed that the 7 duffels would be checked at no cost, and that we’d have to pay $150 total to check the instruments and computer. But, when we arrived at the AirCanada counter, they checked all 10 pieces at no cost. Did we have the policy wrong? Or were they just being nice? I have no idea. But it was a pleasant surprise.

For carryons, we each had a standard roller bag plus a backpack. Seven of each. We also had a carseat (there were open seats on both of our flights, so our lap child didn’t have to sit on our lap), and we had a stroller which we gate checked.

Did we ship anything? Yes. We shipped two boxes of Ben Blair’s books for work. And we shipped a box of towels and a box with school backpacks because we’d run out of room in the duffel bags. I have mixed feelings about the shipping we did. Which I’ll discuss below.

So what was in all those bags? Let’s see. I’ll describe by type of bag.

Standard Roller Bags:
The 7 roller bags had clothes and travel-friendly toiletries. We packed them the same way we would pack if we were heading on a 3-5 day trip. We used the clothes inside while we stayed at the cousins for a few days between packing up the house and flying to France. We also used them for our overnighter in Paris when we first arrived. The idea was to use only the roller bags and not have to disturb the duffel bags or haul them to our hotel room. This mostly worked out as planned. Each person used their own roller bag except Betty & June — they shared one.

These were not heavily loaded. They were filled specifically for the plane ride and were stowed under seats on the airplane. They had snacks, coloring books, ipods and earphones. That sort of thing. Oscar and Betty’s also had comfort objects — a blankie and stuffed bunny — and they shared a backpack. June’s baby gear was in the backpack they freed up by sharing. My backpack had our accordion folder with essential documents. Ben Blair’s had backup documents and his laptop.

We hope to use the roller bag/backpack combo as we do some traveling while we’re here.

Duffel Bags:
It seems like these would each be assigned to one person to fill with their stuff, but that’s not how it went down. Clothes didn’t take up as much space as you might guess, so siblings could double up and share a duffle bag. Before we left, I went through each of the kid’s wardrobes and they had to put everything in one of three piles — France, giveaway, or storage. Very, very little ended up in storage, because the kids are still growing. So when we get back, items they’ve stored may not fit any longer. Each child ended up packing most of their wardrobe. I’ll use Maude for an example. She packed 5 pairs of pants, 2 skirts, 2 dresses, 15 tops/tees/hoodies, 2 swimsuits, 5 pairs pjs, underwear, socks/tights, one jacket, rainboots and 5 other pairs of shoes. She also packed a few things for summer, but she’s growing, so we expect to shop while we’re here and didn’t bring too much.

Spare duffel bag space was filled with things like ski clothes (bibs, parkas, gloves, goggles, hats), crafting supplies, a few holiday books and the Christmas stockings, full-size toiletries (that couldn’t go into carryons, like my favorite hair products) and other random items — like a couple of our favorite canvas tote bags for family outings.

Each of the kids were allowed to bring a couple of items they felt were precious. A favorite doll or a favorite book. But in general, we didn’t bring toys or games. We also didn’t bring any sheets or blankets or much of anything for the house. We didn’t need to because our house is fully furnished. Our landlord left toys, boardgames and books. In fact, their book collection is a great mix or English and French, for kids and adults, so we have plenty of reading material.

So far, I would only change a few things:

-We did bring teaspoons and measuring cups (so we would have non-metric options), but it turns out our landlord already had some, so we didn’t need to.

-We’d also heard that towels weren’t as big and fluffy in France as we’re used to in America, so we shipped a box of towels. I regret this. Our towels here in the house are fine, and the shipping on the box we sent wasn’t cheap — in fact, if I had been thinking clearly, it would have been cheaper to put them in an 8th duffel bag and check them on the plane (even with a $50 checked bag fee) instead of shipping them.

-We brought 5 plug adaptors (pictured at top), but I would have brought 10. In fact, I’ve already ordered another 5. Plug adaptors allow US plugs to work in French outlets. They are relatively inexpensive (you can find them for about $3 each on Amazon) and they work wonderfully for the phone chargers, the desktop computer, the backup hardrive, the laptop, and the ipod chargers. They do not work for things like the baby monitor and my beloved Clarisonic face cleaner. I’m actually not sure what sort of plug adaptor gadget I need to make these work — something that changes the voltage. If you know, feel free to advise me.

Other miscellaneous notes:
We were glad we shipped Ben Blair’s work books, because they’re just so heavy. Who wants to lug them through the airport? The school backpacks still haven’t arrived, but I hope they get here soon. It’s very mysterious. They were shipped the same day as the towels, and they towels arrived ages ago. In the meantime, the kids have been using the luggage backpacks for school — but I’d really like to reserve those for travel only.

Mostly, it’s good to remember that anything we really need we can get here, and if we can’t get it here, we can live without it for awhile.

What about you? What are your packing essentials? Do you have any special packing strategies?