I dedicate this story to my dear friend Susi who, like me, has become an expert international mover. (She may even do it better than me). And also, my friend Mindy who once had a self-storage company in her basement but didn’t know it.
DISCLAIMER: Moving is stressful for the entire family. Moving across town or to another state has its difficulties but let me assure you, moving overseas is not for the faint-hearted. There will be fighting, yelling, tears and frustration even in the best circumstances, trust me! Never take relocating lightly, and make sure your marriage is strong and YOU pack your parachute before you jump out of the plane.
We packed our bags for a six-month stay in NZ and arrived there from Nashville on October 20, 2002. I will never forget that date because it was a day that changed the course of my life, marriage, and the amount of time I had left to share with my family and longtime friends. If you are in a bi-continental marriage, you will understand and maybe even relate to this story. My husband and I primarily decided to go to NZ on an extended visit to make memories with his mother, who had dementia. Paul had been away from his homeland and family in NZ for about ten years, and I had encouraged him to take this bold adventure with our children and me. My husband needed to connect and spend time with his mom toward the end of her life, and it would also give me a chance to know his family better. What I didn’t realize is that I was about to become an expert in international moving on a budget.
Since we were only going to be away for six months, we rented out our house in Nashville furnished. We even left our cats in the care of our renter, who thankfully was very loving and kind to them. While preparing our three-bedroom house for our departure, we placed all of the personal items we wanted to keep safe in one of the bedrooms and put a lock on the door. The next step was to take the oversized items in our house that we didn’t want our renter to access and put them in storage. We were fortunate to have a friend with an enormous basement who let us store it all there for six months at no cost. If you don’t have a friend like this, I suggest finding an inexpensive U-Store-It place. They used to cost $125 a month for a 12 x 12 back as far as 2014, but I’m not sure what the price for one is now; you’ll have to make some calls. We then packed for our flights (yes, you read that right, FLIGHTS). We were allowed one large suitcase and one carry-on each. We ended up taking eight bags in total since there were 4 of us traveling. We needed to take as much as we could for our six-month stay in Auckland. We packed the girls’ favorite blankets (or silkies as they called them), toys, and a variety of clothes.
Auckland NZ can have four seasons in one day, and we weren’t sure what to take or not take, so we took it all (this wasn’t necessary). You will be wise always to check the weather patterns of your destination. Knowing what you need will help you to pack the correct items and leave unnecessary stuff behind. We took three flights and traveled 29 hours to Auckland, with one 8 hour layover in LA and two toddlers in tow. (CRAZY!) Oh yeah, speaking of crazy, if you take prescription medication, make sure you talk to your Dr. before traveling for an extended period and ask if you can pick up extra pills to take with you. Sometimes they will let you get up to 3 months worth of prescriptions filled for your time away.
Personal Note: (this whole how-to blog is actually a personal note). My husband’s family welcomed us with open arms and had thoroughly planned for our visit. They found us a house to rent down the road from his sister, and the whole family had worked very hard to make it feel like a home for our six-month stay. It was furnished with odds and ends that everyone in the family had donated, and the kitchen was stocked right down to cleaning products and trash bags. The refrigerator was full of food, there was a loaner car in the garage, and they even put up a crib in the baby’s room. Bear in mind; not everyone has such a smooth transition when moving for a short time 9,000 miles from one home to another (you will have to source all of this in preparation for your arrival at your destination). I, on the other hand, am incredibly blessed with awesome in-laws (these are some special people). We were and will always be so very thankful for the way they rallied together for us.
Four months into our visit, someone decided we would now MOVE to NZ. Like most big coordinating jobs in our married life, the responsibility fell on me to make most (no actually all) of the arrangements. To make a move like this a success, here are some of the tasks I completed. Personal Note: not all International moves fall into place the way ours did (and even at that, it was rough).
First, we had to sell our house (the house my babies came home to when they were born). As luck would have it, a friend of mine had mentioned wanting to buy our house someday, and the same week we had decided to make this move, someone had offered to buy her small home. She was looking to move to a more significant place with her husband and two toddlers. She made a few phone calls; I made a few phone calls; we called each other back and abracadabra; both houses were sold. I booked flights back to Nashville, where we were for ten days closing the deal on the house and preparing everything for our final departure from the US.
Personal Note: Things to think about if you need to leave your two toddlers in another country with people you hardly know. At the same time, you “wrap it up” in your home country (of course, my husband knew the people, they were his family): Any time you take a long trip overseas and have children your leaving behind, you should always make sure your Will is in order. Yes, your Will. There’s a lot to consider while shuffling stuff and things from one continent to another, and while people are some of those things, there is always the possibility that the worst could happen, so be prepared. In our Will, we made provisions and left instructions on what to do with our children should we get hit by a bus, crushed under a moving piano, and the unspeakable died in a plane crash. We also left medicine behind for the kids and a long list of dos and don’ts for those caring for our precious babies while we were taking this nerve-wracking journey. On your list of do’s and don’ts, make sure you leave Dr’s phone numbers, note any allergies, suggestions for soothing your upset children, favorite bedtime stories and lullabies, and instructions to kiss and hug them every 3 seconds (ok, ignore that last bit). If multiple people are caring for your littlies in your absence, make sure you supply everyone with a calendar and a list of phone numbers so they can easily coordinate handoff and support one another. Lastly, make sure you leave your travel itinerary with the caregivers along with your overseas contact numbers and emergency contacts in case they need to reach you urgently, and you are temporarily off the grid having a nervous breakdown because you’re insane and have agreed to make such a rash move! (Again, ignore that last bit).
Once we arrived in Nashville, it was time to get organized and move overseas on a budget. My husband’s way of moving on a said budget is just to get rid of everything, and that is almost what we did. Personal Note: if you have an attachment to stuff and things, you won’t after trying the Paul Brunton method of packing for overseas moving, It is the cure for the worst of hoarders, and I highly recommend it if you have no feelings and place no sentimental value on anything. Personal Note: If the saying, “he who dies with the most toys wins,” is accurate, we’re not even in the game because we keep giving our things away. (on a serious note, we decided as a couple that family and relationships were worth more than being stationary and collecting STUFF, don’t get me wrong, though, stuff is fun to have). Here is the proven Paul Brunton method:
• Have a yard sale or just let everyone walk through your house, making offers on everything in it and then sell it to them because this is a one-day-only sale.
• At sundown, start giving everything away, dressers, beds, artwork, etc. (my husband would have had to pry my books and CDs out of my cold dead hands though, those babies were coming with me!)
• Take apart all children’s tables and chairs, small bikes, and scooters and, wrap them in linens and towels you want to take overseas. Put this stuff in luggage to be checked on. Seriously we have actually done this. We learned really fast that this kind of stuff in NZ is expensive, and again we were trying to do this on a budget.
• Take anything that doesn’t fit in the luggage or has not been taken away for free to Goodwill. Yes, kiss it all goodbye and be thankful for your friend who still has some things in her basement that were only supposed to be there for six months. (She stored our most precious items for 12 years in total, that is one patient and loving friend).
• (This last one was partially my idea. If you only have an hour to get to the airport and have packed everything but the clothes hanging in your closet, and time is moving so fast you can’t see straight, try this method). Take all of the dresses, coats, etc., that are on plastic hangers, or any hangers for that matter, fold a stack of them in half and shove them in your suitcase. You will need a couple of people to sit on the bag to zip it shut, seeing that there is now a tiny bike and the entire contents of your closet inside. Taking your clothes on the hangers works wonders because when you reach your destination, you open your suitcase and hang your clothes right up! Also, if you have waged war against plastic, like me, you will be helping the environment because you are continuing to use what you already have if your hangers are indeed plastic. “Make do use it up, or do without!” (My kids hate when I say that).
Personal Note: be conscious of what you’re giving away. On one of our overseas moves (because we did this twice), my husband gave a box full of what he thought was random books to a charity, who then passed it to a church, who then put said books in their spring carnival sale and discovered that my 60 yr old family bible and all 3 of my children’s baby books were there, complete with newborn handprints and photos of ultrasounds! Lucky for my husband (who is still breathing), someone found our name on Facebook, messaged me, and after some arranging reunited us with said NOT random books. (Remember the DISCLAIMER at the beginning of this story? Yelling, tears, frustration, not for the faint-hearted, secure marriage, I think you understand).
After we took care of our stuff and signed away our house, we kissed my American family and friends goodbye. I had no idea when I would see any of them again (make sure you have several packs of tissues in your purse or backpack; I prefer a backpack). When we got back to NZ, we were so happy to see our two baby girls we decided to make a 3rd one. We have moved many times over the years. Sometimes more than I would like to look back on, and here are the main takeaways for me:
• Unless you’re moving to a third world country, you don’t have to pack and take the kitchen sink (however, if you are moving to a third world country, you may need the kitchen sink and more)
• Remember, there’s no (I) in moving, oh wait, yes there is, anyway moving overseas as a family is brutal and its a team effort, make sure you’re thinking of the WE, not the ME while going through these significant life changes.
• IF you’re a control freak, are about to move overseas, and still want your husband to love you, consider trying hard not to be a control freak, and don’t forget those advanced medication refills I told you about earlier.
• And finally, remember that change is scary for everyone involved. You will leave family, friends, and jobs (and a stray cat or two) but try to focus on one day at a time. You will build new relationships and grow from this worldly adventure. Try to embrace the change as a family and be gentle with each other. Remember that old saying, “it’s the journey, not the destination.”
• Oh, and try not to leave things in your best girlfriend’s basement for six months to 12 years! IF you do, however, and you are fortunate enough to keep being friends with her, you now owe her your life and eternal love.
I hope you found my experience helpful. If you have any questions about moving overseas, send me a Twitter message. Please do not send me marketing material, or your luggage will go missing next time you fly (I can’t really make luggage disappear, I’m just putting it out there). And watch out for my next story on dealing with immigration in a new country. Of course, this will be my limited expertise between the US and NZ, but it’s all I’ve got.