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  • Writer's pictureLiz Totton

What NOT to Bring When You Move Abroad

Where is home?

Where is “home”?

In my brief time here, I have learned too many things to possibly list here about transitioning into life in a foreign country. I thought I knew a little about living abroad having had three other experiences doing so. I knew nothing about relocating a house and family abroad. I repeat NADA. I am learning how to navigate this place. I am learning how things work. I am learning what to do and, more importantly, what NOT to do here. But, the most important thing that I have learned is what NOT to bring when embarking upon a life as an expat in a foreign land. Contemplating what we did right and what we did wrong has raised a whole slew of other questions for me, some practical, some existential. Here is my short list of practical matters, which will lead us to those niggling existential ones:

  1. Do NOT bring your favorite appliances. If you are moving to a place with different voltage, as we did (in fact if you are coming from North America, this applies to you), leave appliances at home. If you are coming from elsewhere, please disregard. I have an espresso machine that I just love. It’s nothing fancy. My father in law picked it up for me at a yard sale in Olympia, WA for only $10, but it’s works wonderfully, and I love it. Well, we have spent weeks searching for a 1,500 hundred-watt step down transformer for the stupid machine. I now hate it! A sane person would just go buy another that works here. Nespresso has numerous outlets here, so there are opportunities for a new and better machine here. But, of course, I am too stubborn. We have recently been told that the “Pink Shops,” which I referenced a few weeks’ ago might have just gotten a shipment. This weekend, we will yet again explore this strange set of stores in search of a rumored transformer. Cross your fingers that I will someday have good coffee. Still waiting…

  2. Do NOT bring pre-conceived notions. This is probably the hardest of them all. After all, we are animals. It is difficult to separate the way you wish for things to be and the way they really are. It just might be impossible. Do NOT believe everything you read. Before you decide to pick up the contents of your life and those in it and move just anywhere, please research your destination tirelessly! Research the laws, the schools, the various communities and ethos of your possible destination. Please find someone, preferably someone who is in a similar position to you (age, family status, work status), who has lived there. Do not trust the people hiring you. Do not trust what you read on the Internet. Do find a reliable source of information. This can be hard. We could not find someone with personal experience or a reliable source, but I think there are ways if you have enough time, of which we did not have the luxury before our big move.

  3. Do NOT, I repeat, DO NOT BRING THE ENTIRE CONTENTS OF YOUR FAMILY’S LIVES. Leave your piano in storage. If the movers accidentally put the basketball hoop from your front yard in the WAY BACK of your container before piling in 15,000 pounds of other household goods. You know it’s a pain, but have them remove it. You do not want it. Make them take it out. I know you do not want to worry about it. You have SO many things to do. But, you will not want to have to worry about it on your move-in days or the long few weeks beforehand when you are finding a home or making your move-in plans ether. Trust me. You will wish you had left these big items at home. We, of course, brought everything but the kitchen sick; actually, if you count our antique dry sink, we brought everything. But our situation is a little different.

We have met so many people from so many places here in a short time. They are all in some phase of transition in or out of life somewhere. Some transition better than others. The most successful expats that we have encountered are those who have one foot in this land and one foot in their homeland. They have a house at home. They have a temporary residence here. They are perhaps here to fund their retirement or their kids’ college educations, pay down debt, or perhaps to pay off ex-wives. Like I said, there is a huge cross-section. Rob and I are for many different reasons, though saving money is, of course, at the top of the list.

Cape St. Francis

Isn’t this beautiful? Who wouldn’t want to retire here?

In case you are wondering, here’s a little back-story on us. We are bicultural couple. I am from the US, and Rob is from South Africa. When we met and we were moony in love, we envisioned a jet-setting life of endless summers: jet-setting between Cape Town, America and other parts of the world with which we fell in love during our youth traveling, exposing our children equally to both cultures, retiring in our favorite coastal town in South Africa: Cape St. Francis. Reality check! Life was not going to happen as we had envisioned. I imagine it never does. We got jobs. His career involved lots of solo business traveling. We bought houses. We had children. 9/11 happened months after we had our first child, and the world appeared to change overnight to me–it may have always been this way, but I became awakened to it during this tragedy. With it, the cost of flying became prohibitive, the airport security insufferable; or perhaps that’s just because we were 4 instead of 2. I am not sure. And, with it also came a tide of change in America that I found very hard to reconcile. Needless to say, I found myself less and less enchanted with my homeland, but where to go? South Africa was not really an option with two daughters due to security issues. Europe was too cold, and we tried that already having lived in London for some time. The places we could envision ourselves living could either not support us financially, or they were just too cold. So, we stayed in the USA for thirteen years, eight of which we spent in lovely Olympia, WA, and we made a wonderful life. I attempted to forget about all the things I did not like. Wanderlust eventually got the better of us, and when the “right offer” came in, we were off again for an adventure. Now, we find ourselves basking in the “warmth” (there is no just exact word for the actual heat we are experiencing) of the Arabian Peninsula here in Abu Dhabi. 

Olympia, WA

I suppose this spot is pretty fantastic too, but is it “home”?

If you were to ask us where we are from, I suppose we would all say that Olympia, WA was “home.” But we did not want to keep a house there and bother with renting it, nor did we want to store our belongings. We wanted to leave the door open to another future. The world is our oyster, right?! We can live anywhere in it we choose, can’t we?! We four ask ourselves daily where exactly “home” is? Is it here in Abu Dhabi where our stuff is and short term future appears to be? Is it where we grew up or where our families are (which is sadly no longer the same place)? Is it where our friends who are just like family are? Is it Olympia, WA—the only place my daughters think of as home, even though they have lived elsewhere? I cannot come up with a satisfactory answer.

Where do you call home? What does the word “home” mean to you? 

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