10 Reasons Packing up to Move to a Foreign Country Sucks more than you Think It Does

“Travelling carries with it the curse of being at home everywhere and yet nowhere… for wherever one is -some part of oneself remains on another continent” (Margot Fonteyn) I leave a little bit of my heart behind each time I pack up and move.

Before graduating high school, I had lived in 9 different houses in 8 different cities, on 3 different continents. I feel most “at home” when I am travelling.

But travelling comes at a price. I mean, you know, aside from the physical price tag.

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I’m talking about the mental price tag – the price of packing up and moving.

Packing up and moving sucks much more than you think it does. Really. It does. And here is why:

1. It is mentally exhausting to sort through your life and prioritizing your belongings

How do you choose between two childhood keepsakes when neither will fit in your luggage? Most of us are fortunate enough to have a “home base” to store our belongings – but this time around, I don’t have a home base.

I am in the last week of packing to Japan – with the knowledge that if it is not in a bag, it is going to Goodwill. Ryosuke already brought three bags to Japan with him (he’s such a sweetheart and just loves to put those large muscles to use). Five bags is a lot.

But my life cannot fit into five bags – never mind all of Ryosuke’s stuff. Don’t even get me started on all our wedding gifts. It is mentally exhausting trying to sort through my life and prioritize what matters more – the sentimental picture frame I got from a family friend or those functional running shoes?

Piles and piles of clothes...

Piles and piles of clothes…

2. Airlines only allow you to bring two bags.

Between shoes, clothes (summer, fall, and winter), medicine, and books, there is little to no room for all those extra goodies you wanted to stash away.

Can anyone actually pack up everything they might possibly need for the next five to ten years in two suitcases? Because I can’t. And yes, I have met those world travelers who have been living out of a single suitcase for six to either months. Those people are awesome. But I am not one of those people.

I need more than one winter jacket. I like to have several pairs of heels. Rotating between four shirts just doesn’t cut it for me.

Sadly, my size 9 feet are too large for Japanese shoes. Anything I’m going to wear in the next five years is packed in one of those five suitcases (work shoes, sneakers, winter boots, high heels, etc)

My parents moved to Ghana late last month. We drove them (and their 15 suitcases) to the airport - full of supplies for the school and other missionary couples. Of course, Ryosuke did all the heavy lifting.

My parents moved to Ghana late last month. We drove them (and their 15 suitcases) to the airport – full of supplies for the school and other missionary couples. Of course, Ryosuke did all the heavy lifting.

3. You have to decide which is more important – the scrapbook your best friend from high school made you or those two dressed you got on sale at Forever 21 that make your legs look great.

There is no right answer.

4. Dust. Dust everywhere.

Why is everything so dusty? I use these clothes every day. I don’t understand. How does dust get inside a book? I swear there is dust inside my book.

5. Are four pairs of jeans really necessary?

No. But all four of them are different colors and styles. So yes, four pairs of jeans are actually necessary. Don’t judge me.

6. What about that blanket your grandmother quilted you when you were in middle school? It takes up almost a fourth of a suitcase, but your grandmother quilted it for you.

And it’s a really nice blanket. Very comfortable and warm. But it also takes up nearly a fourth of a suitcase. Instead of bringing that quilted blanket, you can bring four pairs of jeans, the book Ender’s Game, and that scrapbook your best friend made in high school.

See what I’m talking about? This prioritizing thing is hard.

And, of course, while I'm freaking out, Ryosuke is on the couch napping with my sister's dog. What.

And, of course, while I’m freaking out, Ryosuke is on the couch napping with my sister’s dog. What.

7. Why do you have three black sports bras? Really. Why.

Because I left one at a friend’s house and replaced it. But the replacement wasn’t that comfortable, so I bought a new one. And then six months later, my friend returned the sports bra.

So now I have three of them.

I should probably Goodwill two of them.

8. No matter how well you prioritize and pack, you won’t be able to fit everything in on the first try.

Unless you are a super-human packer, it will take a couple tries to fit everything into those two suitcases. Instead, you just have to prioritize what you need/want the most, pack that first, and try not to cry when you can’t bring that blanket your grandmother quilted for you, those two dresses from Forever 21 that make your legs look great, and the scrapbook your high school best friend made you.

It never fits in the first time.

9. Which means you have to re-pack (again)

Packing is somehow worse the second time around. You’ve already purged the “easy” stuff (books you didn’t particularly like, old clothes, Christmas gifts you never particularly liked)… and now you have to purge the “hard” stuff.

More packing!

More packing!

And, of course, physically pull our everything you’ve already packed to see how important it actually is.

10. All of that lifting and moving of suitcases and boxes will make your back ache for the next three days

If you have a husband on hand, make him do the heavy lifting. Instead of dealing with a sore back, you only have to deal with him complaining about a sore back for the next three days. In my opinion, that is a much better deal (sorry hun).

Sore backs are the worst.

In Conclusion: All of that packing, Goodwill-ing, storing, and throwing away can induce a panic attack in even the most sane and well-rounded individuals

Sadly, I am not the most sane or well-rounded individual, which means every time I pack up and move to a foreign country, I have serious problems packing. I like stuff. More specifically, I like my stuff – especially my clothes.

And yes, I know that I have too many clothes (girl problems). But I can’t bear to throw away any of my clothes because I have this weirdly selective memory. I remember where I bought that dress in the back of my closet. I remember feeling depressed because I had failed another Japanese exam and worried about wedding stuff. I remember trying on that dress in the back of the crowded thrift shop in Nakano and falling in love with it. I remember buying it, running to the bathroom in the train station, changing into the dress, and biking home. I remember feeling fantastic.

It’s not just throwing away (or donating) a dress – it is throwing away a memory.

And I’m not ready to do that yet. I need my memories.

Which is why I’m bad at packing. And why I think that packing up to move to a foreign country sucks more than you think it does.

Dropping my parents off at the airport before they move to Ghana.

Dropping my parents off at the airport before they move to Ghana.




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About Grace Buchele Mineta

I got into the writing business by accident. Now I live in the countryside near Tokyo with my husband, Ryosuke, where I draw comics, blog, and make videos about our daily life. Contact: Website | More Posts

15 Comments on 10 Reasons Packing up to Move to a Foreign Country Sucks more than you Think It Does

  1. Ok, I’m a little late to the party here, but SPACE BAGS. Space Bags (the ones you vacuum the air out of) are the expat’s best friend! I moved from New York to London with 3 suitcases and a backpack, )even bringing the afghan that my great grandmother knitted when I was a baby) all because spacebags. I did have to pay weight overage charges because the suitcases weighed a TON, but seriously, girl, Space Bags.
    Yes I still have a bunch of furniture and other things in storage back home in the states that I’ll ocean ship over here next year, but it’s gonna be really easy to go through everything in storage and purge the clothes, etc. that I don’t need because basically if I haven’t missed it in 3 years (well, 4 by then), then I don’t really need it, right? :)
    Everything else…? Space Bags.

  2. I love enders game!!

  3. super tired // 18 March, 2014 at 4:38 pm //

    Did you cut your hair? It looks really short in your last picture.
    Just wondering, did you learn the language at each new place you moved to?
    What language is spoken in Ghana?
    I can relate to the sentimental stuff cause I feel that every time I try to clean my room.

    • Yes, I just cut my hair pretty short (I’m surprised you noticed!).

      We try to learn a new language for each place we move – in Ghana they speak English (along with tribal languages like Ga and Twi). I only know a couple words in Twi (since I haven’t lived there in almost ten years). I know Japanese a lot more since I’ve spent much more time in-country. It kind of just depends on the language…

  4. Yesss. I can so relate to this when I moved to Taiwan. We had so much stuff just in our closet and it traumatized my husband. xD He has been living in the apartment for a few years and everything just piles up. We had two yard sales and still had stuff left. We took so much to the Goodwill.

    • I can only imagine. When you live in one place for a couple years it’s so easy to just accumulate all sorts of stuff. I swear, this move I took about half the stuff I owned to Goodwill.

  5. A Canadian Abroad // 6 March, 2014 at 1:45 pm //

    As a fellow expat I can relate… I guess it is too late now, but have you looked into ocean shipping? If time is not of the essence, this method is usually much cheaper than air freight (i.e DHL or UPS). I googled “ocean freight usa japan” and it seems you can ship at reasonable cost, but not on short notice.

    • We tried looking into DHL, but it ended up being more expensive to ship than just checking an additional bag (at 200USD). By the time we realized we needed to bring more than four suitcases (two for each) it was too late to sign up for a cheaper service.
      I’m definitely going to check that out next time, though!

  6. kathy phillips // 6 March, 2014 at 12:35 am //

    I would certainly find this very difficult to do! I have lots of “things” I don’t want to part with and get rid of some with each move. Not one of this magnitude, though.

    • It’s really hard. I do love my “things” – especially the things with a lot of sentimental value but of no practical purpose. Such is life, I guess?

  7. Anonymous // 5 March, 2014 at 9:56 am //


  8. I was having flashbacks from our pre-move packing when I read this — like, nightmare flashbacks. I hate going through stuff and deciding what to toss. We had to basically sift through all of these boxes in the basement that contained memories from childhood…oh it was horrible! But I had to toss things, unfortunately. And don’t get me started on the marathon packing we did in like three days, or the outrageous DHL shipping costs. All I can say is, I’m glad that’s over!

    • Hahahaha. Packing is always a nightmare for me. I get stressed out and sad going through all my stuff… DHL shipping costs are completely outrageous! We realized it was just cheaper to check a third bag on the airline!

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