Moving to Mexico: What to pack for a year abroad

“What to pack for a year abroad” was one of the phrases crowding my Google search last summer, and after a couple of months I can share some reflections on how our packing has held up to day-to-day life in another country. photo 2(1)As I posted last month, the thing I’ve missed the most is this elderly gentleman who unfortunately must stay behind with my parents. Right now I’m finishing up a fall visit home to see him. Here he is wearing a cutoff toddler t-shirt. It started as a way to keep him from licking a sore, but my mom noticed he enjoyed being dressed and bought a few more. Isn’t his neck roll adorable? Oh Sam. I’m not looking forward to telling him goodbye again.

P1080028Others who move internationally sometimes do so with financial help from the military or their employer, which makes it possible to ship furniture, housewares, etc. In this case any shipping costs would have come out of our pocket, so we found a furnished apartment through airbnb and were limited to one carry-on and two checked bags each (approximately 300 lbs. for the two of us). Above is what it all looked like at the ticket counter:

Both of us started with essentials/basics. This was not much different than what you’d pack for a long vacation. The one wrinkle was that I was 5 months pregnant and not sure what size I’d be in month 7 or 8, but the fact that I wouldn’t be working in Mexico (and could therefore resort to t-shirts and sweats if needed) helped. For this category I packed:
– 4 pairs of shoes (2 sandals, 1 converse, 1 running)
– underwear/socks/swimsuit
– 6 stretchy skirts/dresses
– 3 sweaters
– 12 tank/shortsleeve shirts
– 5 pairs of pants (2 jeans, 1 khaki, 1 legging, 1 yoga)
– toiletries/vitamins
– hair straightener
– laptop
– ipod
– camera
– passport/credit cards/copies of medical records

P1100356

Next we focused on items that make a place feel like home. While it’s true that Mexico, like most countries, has all kinds of retailers and all kinds of options for making a furnished apartment liveable, I wanted the place to have some familiar everyday objects in it. I also didn’t want to be taking taxis and buses all over town, buying things that could have fit in our suitcases. So we started sorting the contents of our Boston apartment and asking: Do we use this item nearly every day? Is having it around worth the space and weight it will take up in our luggage? Here’s what made the cut:
– fitted sheets, mattress pad, pillow
– lightweight down comforter with cover
– 3 multipurpose tapestries (wall decoration, tablecloth, etc.)
– 3 kitchen towels
– 1 wall calendar
– 4 reusable cloth shopping bags
– a handful of hangers
– espresso pot/coffee grinder/5 lbs. of our favorite coffee
– my favorite mug
– my favorite big mason jar (that I use for drinking)
–  3 good knives (1 butcher, 1 paring, 1 serrated)
– small cast iron skillet
– kitchen shears
– 1 favorite metal spatula
**right before leaving we made a giant photo collage poster of our pets at Walgreens and I think it was the best $30 we spent making the place feel like home. We hung it up in the kitchen.**

And finally, we thought about leisure and hobbies. Most hobbies are specialized enough that it will be hard to recreate them in another place without some advanced planning. R. enjoys working out, but obviously his free weights couldn’t make the trip, so he invested in some high-quality resistance bands. In my case, it was all about the fiber and knitting. A friend was kind enough to lend me her portable spinning wheel for the year, and in addition to that I brought:
– 5 packs of fiber to spin
– 1 knitting noddy
– yarn stash for 1 sweater, 1 blanket, 2 cowls, 1 shawl
– knitting needles/yarn gauge/knitting notebook
– measuring tape
– 1 small quilt, pieced and pinned
– quilting needles/thread
– a Kindle (for easy access to plenty of reading material)fiber

So…how’d we do?
All in all, pretty well. Both of us had visited the area before, so we had a sense for the weather and the sort of things that are available at major stores. For example, R. knew that nobody in Mexico carries shoes for his giant feet so he’d need to pack a year’s worth of footwear. And I knew that cast iron pans just can’t be found in Puebla, so if I wanted one for my morning eggs it was worth the poundage to pack one.

If you’re not able to scout your new home ahead of time, I recommend searching the chatboards of your particular country on this expat site. Most have a thread about items that are difficult for Americans to find and/or things that expats wish they had packed. I’d read on the Mexico chatboard that people were disappointed in the selection (and prices) of bedding, so I decided to basically pack up all but our mattress. I’m so glad we did this. It meant that the very day we moved in to our apartment we could make up the bed just like we had it in Boston, and with the cool evening temperatures it’s been great having a down comforter.

What do we wish we’d packed?
Besides Samson and the cats? Well, I don’t think we could have fit anything more in our overstuffed suitcases, but there are certainly things I’m excited to pick up this week in Ohio. We also keep a little running list of things family members who visit can bring. Most are food related, and I think that just comes from getting tired of local flavor profiles and/or craving random items from home that we can’t find in Mexico. Among the things I’m bringing back are:
– 2 boxes of Trader Joe’s pumpkin pancake mix
– real maple syrup
– 1 jar molassas (for molassas cookies and for adding it to white sugar to make brown sugar, which you just can’t find)
– 2 packages Sour Patch Kids
– 1 bag peanut butter M&Ms
– Asian spice packets for stir-fry and fried rice
– 2 bottles Asian marinade
– A bigger cast iron pan (I just really don’t like the pots and pans in Mexico…they’re all aluminum or non-stick and nothing is very heavy)
– more yarn
– baby clothes…but that’s the start of an entirely different post about “minimalism and infant care” that I’ll write sometime in the spring…

Other posts in this series
At home in Cholula
Moving to Mexico: Transporting a pet to another country

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5 comments

  1. Pingback: Giving birth in Mexico | Foxflat's Blog
  2. Pingback: Pregnancy in Mexico: Preparing to have a baby abroad | Foxflat's Blog
  3. Pingback: Moving to Mexico: Animals in the murals and on the sidewalks | Foxflat's Blog
  4. TR · November 3, 2014

    I CANNOT believe you took cast iron and bedding to Mexico. hahahaha. But if it fit, why not? And true the pots and bedding there are not so great.

    • Katie McFaddin · November 3, 2014

      I know…Read thought I was crazy too. But I tend to put high value on a few familiar objects.

      On Mon, Nov 3, 2014 at 3:01 PM, Foxflat's Blog wrote:

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