Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hindsight: What I Would Have Brought

Now that our shipment has arrived and the boxes have been unpacked, I’ve had some time to reflect on the things that we did and did not bring with us to Scotland. I must have been having some serious brain freezes in the weeks preceding the move, because some of the things I omitted and some things I obsessed over were just plain dumb. Fortunately, I moved to Scotland instead of Bangladesh and I can run out and buy an extra set of tennis shoes if need be. Mind you, the tennis shoes will cost 30 percent more than they would have stateside, but that’s just a price I’ll have to swallow.  

Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and I honestly feel like we did about the best we could with the time and knowledge we were given. I don’t know of a single ex-pat who can say ‘nope, I wouldn’t have done anything differently’. It’s a complicated life, with so much to consider, and there is just no way to anticipate every single scenario. For instance, just when I confidently resolved that I didn't need 684 hangers, my mom pointed out:‘You may not need those in Scotland, but you’ll definitely need them if your next assignment is Nigeria’. Maybe so, but what do I do with them in the meantime?
Same thing with our pull out couch. It’s way too big for our Scottish sitting room, but it sure would be great to have if we ever need to fill a 5000 square foot house in Thailand. So do we hold on to it uncomfortably for the next 2-3 years on the hypothetical possibility that we’ll need it later, only to find out that we’ll be living in equally small housing in Perth, Australia? And if we do go to Perth, do we continue to hold on to it in case our next assignment is in Thailand? Mental gymnastics, I’m telling you.

So, with my limited knowledge, here’s the list I’ve been able to come up with of things I should have packed to bring to Scotland.
In my suitcase:
An extra pair of tennis shoes. I only brought one pair of running shoes in my suitcase because I figured they’d last me the 6-10 weeks until our shipment came with an extra pair of my favorite Nikes. What I didn't consider was that we’d be joining a fancy-schmancy gym in the first week of our arrival, and fancy-schmancy gyms usually frown upon wearing muddy shoes on their fancy-schmancy equipment and through their fancy-schmancy locker rooms. And it’s impossible to run in Scotland without getting your tennis shoes absolutely caked with dirt. Now that my shipment has arrived, I have my neat tidy gym shoes tucked into my gym bag and my disgustingly filthy running shoes sitting by the front door. I just had to live through 6 weeks of embarrassment in the meantime. Now, that’s a first world problem if I have ever heard one, but it was a problem that could have been easily avoided nonetheless.
Vonage equipment. I packed our Vonage box in our air shipment thinking it would get to us within the first week, and since we didn’t have our phone line/internet connected until 2 ½ weeks after we moved in, it would have been pretty useless to bring in my suitcase. However, our air shipment didn’t arrive until about 3 ½ weeks after we arrived, so I went a full week with pointlessly not being able to call home. I was really frustrated. So was my Mom. Again, an easily avoidable problem, and one that leads me to my next item.

A US Telephone. The telephones here have different plug ins that don't intuitively plug into an American Vonage box. We eventually got it sorted out, but instead of taking 5 minutes to get it working, it took us about 5 hours of frustration to figure it out.

Water proof hiking pants. The hiking in Scotland is magnificent, but the weather is not. I brought hiking pants with UV protection, but too much sunlight is usually not a problem in Aberdeen. I can easily buy a pair of rain resistant ‘trousers’ here, but again, at about a 30% higher cost.

Air Shipment: Hindsight regarding the air shipment packing is a bit skewed since ours didn’t arrive until 3 weeks into our move, and thus only about 2 weeks before the rest of our belongings. Most everyone else I’ve talked to received theirs within the first week. But even if we had received ours right away these items would have been left out.

Measuring cups and mixing bowls. I had to get creative for cooking supplies in our first few weeks, and the problem couldn’t be solved by getting measuring cups here since the Brits use the metric measuring system, and I use American recipes. My converter app on the I-phone has been a big help through the transition, and I also sterilized my dogs' food cups since I know Bailey’s is 1 cup and Sam’s is ½ cup. You gotta use the resources you have.

Sea Shipment:
Adaptors: I should have brought more adaptors for our US electronics. I only brought 4 with us, 3 of which were previously designated for our up/down appliance converters. That means that we are constantly switching the spare between our computer/phone chargers, our printer, lamps, hairdryer and American DVD players. I just ordered 20 adaptors from Amazon UK so I should have them by Friday, but I wish I would have had them off the bat. I really should have known better on that one.

A shoe rack. We’re grateful to have a master walk-in closet, which is truly a luxury in Scotland. And while this closet is enough to fit most of my clothes and shoes, there is a bit of overflow. Fortunately, we anticipated this to an extent, so we bought a hanging rack for my summer/work/church clothes. However, we didn't come prepared with a place to house my summer/work/church shoes, and for now they are thrown willy-nilly into a cloth box beneath the hanging rack. It’s working, but I’d feel better if they had a bit of shelter. I don’t want them to start feeling unloved.

A small bathroom Cabinet. The Scots are seriously storage challenged, and most of the bathrooms don't have cabinets or closets, so you've got to create a space to put your towels. Since our family bathroom is quite large, we'd like to put a small linen closet against one wall, but we can't find one here for less than about $300. And trust me, they aren't worth $300. At Target, something of higher quality would sell for less than $100, so it's a hard pill to swallow.

Food. This one is tricky because technically you aren’t supposed to bring food with you. I’m not sure if that’s a UK rule or if it’s the moving company’s policy, but either way it wasn’t that big of a deal. Knowing that, I probably would have brought an extra can or two of Tony Chacere’s Cajun seasoning, more JIF natural peanut butter, and definitely Smart Pop Fat Free popcorn mini-bags. There is no low fat popcorn to be found in Scotland, and we are really missing this go-to snack. We brought our air popper, but I haven’t found any raw kernels yet. For now, the hunt for raw kernels is on, but when I go back to the States in October, I’m definitely bringing back a year supply of the mini bags.  

Like I said, I’m sure I’ll be amending this list as the months go by and as my hindsight gets even clearer. However, this post is getting a little lengthy so I’ll save the things I wouldn’t have packed, and the things I’m glad I brought for another day.

Any ex-pats out there have any insights about what they would have done differently? Any future expats have any questions about something you’re debating about bringing/not bringing with you?


  1. We sold our furniture and electrical stuff in the States and bought the correct voltage here in the UK. We bought our Vonage here in the UK also. So we have all the correct plug ins for that. We have a media player that we downloaded all our movies on before we left. It's a little black box. We didn't bring our DVD player or any DVD's with us. Be careful you don't set your house on fire with all those adaptors!!

    We also only brought 2 bags and a carry on. No air or ocean shipments. We knew life would be different here and didn't want to pay the cost for things we may or may not have needed.

    Lets see...what would I have done differently?I would have saved more money before we came. I would have made sure we had a better reserve. I also would have brought more clothes. The items I brought didn't get used, the ones I left I wanted. I would have done my whole wardrobe differently!!

    1. I'm leaning more and more towards 'two suitcases and a carry on' is the way to go:-) I promise I'll be more careful with our adaptors. I am so freaked out about fire safety now! A question about Vonage UK- do you have a US phone number?

  2. I just did a very similar post two days ago since we've been in Nigeria for a year and a half now. Popcorn is on my "we brought too much list" so it made me a giggle a little that you wish you had more :) Your dad gave me the link I hope you don't mind! Our friends, also "The Perry's", will be joining you soon - enjoy Aberdeen we hope to one day get the chance to live there!

    1. Hey Shana! Thanks for reading. My dad sent me a link to your blog as well. I've been in contact with Diane via email and can't wait to welcome them to Aberdeen soon. I hope you get a chance to live in Aberdeen. We're absolutely loving it here.
      I wish there was a way to get your popcorn over here to me:-) It's good to reflect on what you'd do differently, but each assignment is so different, it's impossible to anticipate exactly what you'll need. Scotland is much easier than Nigeria in terms of that, I'm sure.

  3. Hiya, just wanted to say you can buy popcorn kernals from asda and tescos. Both are in the healthy snacks/nuts/seeds sections. Also, I agree with the comment on all the adapters. Be careful. UK voltage is much higher as you know, and those adapters are meant for short term use. I would check with an electrician, but thats just me, I am fire saftey crazy. lol. Good post though, I like seeing what others miss when living in Scotland.

    1. Thanks Katie! I knew I'd seen the kernels somewhere but couldn't remember exactly where. Looks like I'll be taking a trip to ASDA today:)
      And thanks for the warning about fire safety. We're being extra careful and never leaving anything plugged in when we're not in the room/using it. It's just such a tough call on appliances since we only plan to be here 2-3 years, but I'll definitely be reconsidering using our US stuff too much!