When you find out you’re moving to another country, one of the big questions to rattle around in your brain is what to put on your packing list.
It seems like it’s the biggest topic of conversation for expats. What can I not live without? What do I need to feel more at home? What kind of things will I need that just aren’t available where I’m going? How many pounds of Mexican spice mix can I fit in my suitcase?
My list used to be huge.
Now that I’ve handled three international moves, I’ve narrowed that list down quite a bit.
As I was laying on my couch in front of the fan savoring my home-made popsicle I thought about the things I brought with me this time. Which of them have been the most necessary? Which of them do I use the most? Which of them did it turn out that I don’t really need like I thought I would?
Here’s what I brought, and the actual usefulness of the items:
- Six million ziplock bags, both sandwich and 1 gallon freezer size – I hoard those ziplock bags like they’re made of crack. If they weren’t used for meat, I’ll wash them and reuse them until they fall apart. While it is possible to find them here (I’ve found one store that has them), the’re really expensive (about four times the cost in the US), and they come in packages of five or ten for the small ones, and two or three for the big ones. I want my Costco sized box of 100!
- Slow cooker and juicer – The slow cooker and juicer are used a few times a month, and I’m really glad to have them. I’m sure I’ll be using the slow cooker a lot more in the winter when I love soups and stews. I have found juicers here, but again the prices are four to five times higher, and the quality here is questionable. For an example of appliance prices, we ordered a simple drip coffee maker when we arrived and it cost us about US$50. It would have cost about US$20 in the States. It died after six weeks. We now use a simple filter and heat the water on the stove. Cheaper, tastier and break-proof.
- Popsicle molds – Those popsicle molds have become my very favorite imported item in my kitchen. It’s high summer here, and we don’t have A/C in our apartment. Frozen home-made treats are a daily life saver! However, I have since seen that exact set of molds in a local home-wares store so it turns out I didn’t need to bring them all the way from England. (Note: I only saw them once, and others have told me they never could find them. I’d advise bringing your own so you don’t risk going without!)
- Good knives – Again, it’s a matter of cost and quality. I’m glad we picked up three good knives before we came and we use them almost every single day. They’re solid, sharp and comfortable in our hands, which is something I can’t say about any knives we’ve ever bought here.
- Taco and enchilada seasoning mixes – The Mexican spices! I used up the thirty or so packets of seasoning within the first couple of months here. I love me some Tex-mex cooking and just couldn’t help myself. It was such a sad day when I ran out that I may have made a few dramatic flounces and proclamations on the sofa after dinner. Oh, my beloved Mexican breakfast scramble is to be no more! However, Pinterest saved the day. I found a few recipes, made some notes and came up with a blend that I really liked. Google translate helped me with a few of the spice names in Portuguese and off I went to the local bulk food/herb store. (I’m very lucky to have a store like that close to home). Now I have two big jars full of home-made seasoning mix, and will never have to run out again! If you’re interested, click here for the recipe I came up with.
- Multivitamins – While I have been able to find general multivitamins here, the quality is questionable and they’re extremely expensive. Specific supplements like reservatrol or probiotics are much harder to come by. I haven’t found them yet.
- Razors – OMG, the extortionate prices they charge here for razors! Easily four to five times the cost of razors in the US, and I think they’re expensive up there to begin with!
- Bedding and towels – We could find these things here, but the quality is… different. I love my big, fluffy towels, and our bed sheets are a higher thread count than I’ve found here so they’ll last longer. They also cost about 25% of the prices I’ve seen here in Brazil.
- Solid deodorant – I’m sorry, but I absolutely hate roll-on deodorant and it is all I can find here. I brought about ten sticks with me. Everyone who has to stand close to me in this heat will thank me.
- Good, heavy non-stick skillet – I’ve found these of a lesser quality here at an upscale shopping mall, and the prices would have killed me. No, I’m very glad I brought my own good one.
- Good, heavy non-stick wok – See above for the skillet.
- Stick blender – I use this thing all the time for blending soups, but we brought it from the UK which means it’s wired for 220 and our power is 110. It works, but sounds like it’s dying. I’ll be picking up a new one in the US where they are about $20. I found one here and it was over R$200! (US$85)
- Water pitcher with filters – The water pitcher is my second favorite thing. Our tap water is safe to drink, but tastes funny. Also, I don’t entirely trust it. Having a full pitcher of clean filtered water in the fridge at all times is really nice. The fact that it’s nearly ice cold in this heat is an added bonus.
- Power adaptors – Necessary, but less than I though. I’ve found good ones here for low prices. It’s much easier to find them for US plugs than for UK plugs though.
- Clothes iron – Easily available here. We just happened to already have one and Brian found room in the suitcase.
- Travel coffee mug – I haven’t seen any here, and coffee “to-go” is not a thing that Brazilians do. I am a sllloooooowwww waker-upper, so drinking my caffeine on the way to wherever I have to be in the morning is very helpful for all involved. I’m glad I brought it, and I use it every time I leave the house early.
- Kindle – I used to always have a huge list of books to bring back, as any books in English are really expensive and nearly impossible to find here. My Kindle has saved me from that particularly heavy and space hogging habit, not to mention saved me about a bajillion dollars because I can download most books from the library for free.
- Jeans – Really any clothing. I prefer to buy our clothes, especially jeans, in the US. Not only is the quality a hundred times better, the prices are dirt cheap. I also like the way US jeans fit me. I haven’t been able to find any here that I like.
Here’s what I’m going to pick up and bring back from our trip to Portland next week:
- Coconut aminos
- Food processor
- New hand mixer with the proper voltage
- Soup/stock pot
- Plastic wrap
- New glasses and sunglasses
- More vitamin supplements
- More ziplocks
- More water filters
- More razor blades
Did you notice you don’t see peanut butter on that list? I used to LONG for peanut butter, and would haul four big jars of it back with me every time I went to the US. I’ve stopped eating it entirely (we eat paleo) and will start making my own almond butter instead. Thus the food processor.
Why plastic wrap, you ask? Well… If I have one huge pet peeve with Brazil its the following; Why the fu** do you not have plastic wrap that comes in a box with the metal cutting edge!? Seriously, how are you supposed to cut off the amount you need with no blade? That stuff doesn’t exactly rip cleanly. If you tear it apart, or cut it with scissors, or gnaw it with your teeth, you might get the right sized piece that you need, but then you will NEVER AGAIN find the edge of the remaining plastic wrap on the roll. It just sticks to itself seamlessly and you might as well just throw the whole thing away. Is there a trick to this?
So I’m going to buy a roll of plastic wrap in a proper box with a cutting blade, and I’m going to guard that box like Gollum with the ring for the rest of my life down here. If the box falls apart, I will find a way to craft a new one out of whatever building materials I can find and mount that blade on it for continued use.
I think the haggis is self explanatory. No, it’s not paleo, but I happen to have a great big Scotsman who loves his haggis. If I bring back four or five cans, that’s enough to keep him pleased as punch for a whole year.
Glasses and sunglasses? Cheap in the US, extortionate down here in Brazil. I’ll be happy to make an appointment in Portland with a local eye doctor and find a buy one/get one free deal. I’ve never actually owned prescription sunglasses before, so I’m kind of excited about those.
Everything else we can find here. I don’t know if things have improved, or if it’s because we live in a slightly bigger town than we did before, but I’m having a much easier time finding goods that we need here. My list used to be about three times this long. That may also be due to the fact that Brian and I are pretty simple people and we like to live with a minimal amount of stuff.
So how about you? What kinds of things would you bring, or do you already miss something from home? What have I forgotten to add?
Don’t forget to read the comments below. Some of you have really good ideas of other items to bring.