This post is contributed by Christy Campbell, a SPS Featured Blogger.
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Who else finds this one of the most stressful parts of moving overseas? Just me?
Having traveled to more than thirty countries and lived on three continents, I’ve done a fair amount of packing and I’m still making classic mistakes when it comes to wardrobe choices and assumptions about appropriate attire.
For instance, I totally didn’t expect to wear through the soles of every pair of shoes I took to a country which doesn’t carry my shoe size.
Nor did I realize that visiting “holy sites” in another country meant wearing floor-length skirts, long sleeves and a head covering, which left me doing some super creative (and impressively unattractive) scarf wrapping on the fly. Despite the oppressive heat in a particular South East Asian country, it’s considered offensive to show a lot of skin and you could instantly spot tourists in their strappy sundresses from miles away.
When I moved to Western Europe no one clued me in on the fact that when you weren’t working, you’d most likely be outside, being active, because that’s just what people do. It was amazingly fun, but I had to scrap together clothing from friends for every adventure. Little did I know that I’d be wearing my snow pants more than my suit pants and I might have packed a little differently had I done my homework.
As you might have gathered, I’m pretty notorious for poor packing skills. I’m also the frequent-traveler who forgets to pack the basics like a hairbrush, just to be completely transparent here.
But they say you should learn from the mistakes of others, so here’s my best attempt at helping you to avoid repeating my blunders and to set yourself up for wardrobe success:
1. Do Your Research.
First, it’s clearly helpful to get a handle on the climate and culture of where you’re heading: do they have seasons, what are the extremes in temperature and are there any cultural taboos you should avoid (see wardrobe faux pas above).
Second, find out what the locals wear: is it a casual, colorful place or will you stick out like Willy Wonka in your current bold-printed wardrobe? I recently moved from a place where I walked everywhere and therefore lived in ballet flats to a country where women don high heels just to go grocery shopping. It’s good to know these things up front so you’re not the only flat-footed chick in the checkout line.
Finally, find out what’s appropriate for your job/role. The best way to do this is try to get in touch with a peer in your new work place to ask about office culture and what the standard dress code consists of. Tip: Ask for specifics as I’ve learned people can interpret “office casual” in a lot of different ways.
Also, even if you’re just transferring to a new location within the same company, don’t assume the dress code is the same.
2. Learn About Sizes and Affordability.
I am a pretty average sized American and have a ridiculously hard time finding clothing that fit overseas. This has been true even in places where I assumed I was of standard build compared to the locals. What I also didn’t expect is how expensive shopping is in places like Asia and Latin America.
How do you determine this before you go? My best advice is to jump on forums or see if you can connect with other foreigners that are living where you’re headed. I’ve done this before every move and have received valuable (and sometimes hilarious) advice about the items that are either unavailable or outrageously expensive in my soon-to-be home. It is super helpful to know what you should ditch and what you should pack double of before you go.
3. Buy It There.
Sometimes, it’s best to buy certain pieces upon arrival. This is especially true if you’re not entirely sure about how cold “bloody freezing” is (and whether it requires a wool peacoat or a down jacket) or if you want to fashionably blend into your environment more.
Once you’ve done a little research for what you’ll have a hard time finding or affording and you’ve tucked it securely in your suitcase, then set aside a bit of money to do some shopping upon arrival. Besides not wanting/needing to take everything with you, when you return home, it’s always fun to sport the dress you acquired in Seoul or the patent leather Oxfords you picked up in Estonia.
4. Plan for Hobbies.
This is something I constantly forget to do. But once you figure out the terrain of where you’re headed, there’s a good chance you can take a stab at some of the activities available: are you into mountain biking or cross country skiing? Do you plan to pick up a water sport like surfing? While you’re probably better off getting your equipment upon arrival, it’s smart to bring the basics (like a great swimsuit or a pair of cycling shoes) with you.
I know you can’t always forsee the opportunities, but you’d be amazed at how far a little internet research goes to cluing you in to these things.
5. Think Matchy-Matchy Layers.
It’s standard packing advice, but do your best to coordinate a wardrobe that you can mix and match. At the time of this writing, I have been without my entire wardrobe (and everything else I own) for six months as our shipping container has been held up in Customs. The only clothes I’ve had are the ones that I brought with me in a suitcase, meant to last a few weeks.
I’ll own up to the fact that I did not follow my own advice, which has made my small wardrobe feel even smaller. But I’ve learned my lesson and do solemnly swear to bring layer-able clothes that are all mix-matchable and can keep me properly outfitted in various seasons and climates, from here on out.
As someone who wore the same two pairs of pants for four months and had the foresight to pack one sweater for a climate that spans forty degrees in the course of a single day, I can’t emphasize this point enough.
What are your tips for packing? I’d love to hear them!