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Saturday, August 16, 2014

what's in my suitcase: the expat edition

In less than one week, we are heading back to Taiwan. Lately, I have been tying up all of my loose ends when it comes to stocking up and packing.

Most expats I know {myself included} did a horrible job packing to move abroad their first time, but I think that's just how it goes. If you're moving to a country you've never been to before and trying to cram all of your earthly belongings in just two suitcases, how are you supposed to know what to bring and what to leave behind?

In my case, I got to Taiwan and discovered that I messed up royally.

I had no idea what heat and humidity really were until I got to Taiwan- and I certainly had no idea how to dress appropriately for the dreadful combo.

I had no idea it was colder inside than outside when you live in a cement building during the winter. And I sure had no idea how important layering would be: think wool socks & gloves & hats, indoors.

I had no idea that finding sunscreen without bleach in it or more than two kinds of icky deodorant or any tampons at all would be nearly impossible-- and I had no idea how much of a mess I would feel because of it.

I had no idea that getting around on a scooter everyday would sometimes suck, like when it rains all the time in May.

Or how important sunglasses and rain gear would become.

And products to tame perpetual helmet hair.

But now I am smarter.
And now I am prepared.
So I took advantage of my time in America to fix my previous grievous packing mistakes.

Now, the contents of my suitcases are an American-girl-in-Asia's survival kit.
Bring it on Taiwan.
So what's in my suitcase?

things that make me feel human 
5 sticks of deodorant
5 tubes of my favorite face wash
2 powder foundation compacts
2 bottles of my favorite mascara
3 huge boxes of tampons
2 chafe cream sticks
1 bottle of sweat proof sunscreen
1 tub of fancy humidity-fighting leave in conditioner
1 bottle of my signature perfume

things that let me be comfy & cute, winter or summer
5 lightweight skirts
5 heavy weight skirts
5 lightweight dresses
1 lightweight jacket
1 heavyweight jacket
3 jean capris
2 pair of leggings
4 pairs of canvas (washable) flats
10 tee shirts
10 long sleeve shirts
4 cardigans
2 light weight scarves
3 pairs of yoga pants
3 workout tees
1 pair of running shoes
2 headbands
100,000 pairs of World Market earrings
2 waterproof tote bags

NOTE: Taiwan does have H&M, the GAP, and other American stores. However, I am a size 12 pants and 38C chest. It is exceptionally difficult for me to find clothes that fit here in Taiwan, so I try to pack everything I need to get me through the year.

things to use in the kitchen
1 tortilla press
1 food processor
20 powder packets of Hidden Valley ranch dressing
10 powder packets of red enchilada sauce
1 bottle of Johnnys seasoning

things for our international adventures
1 blue & white polka dot tote bag
1 purple day back pack
2 wrist purses/wallets
1 driving map of New Zealand
1 National Geographic photography guide
1 camera
1 tripod


Strictly speaking, did I need all of these things?
Probably not.
But having them will make living in Taiwan so much pleasanter for me:

Now I have enough clothes to wear during the nasty hot and humid season to get through an entire work week without having to do the wash, which takes three days to hang dry.

Now I have enough workout gear that I won't have to put on newly washed wet workout clothes or used sweaty wet workout clothes.

Now I have products to help my hair not look so crazy and my armpits to sweat a little less and not want to commit murder when that time of month comes around and I am stuck in the teenage girl world of pads.

Living abroad is all about adaption.
But there are certain things I don't want to adapt to.
Like being miserable in the heat.
Or using sunscreen with bleach.
Or putting on icky deodorant.

If the clothes in my suitcases let me dress in a way I feel good about come typhoon season or winter, then it was money well spent. And if the beauty products in my suitcases help my poor American body survive 90 degrees & crazy humidity or 50 degrees on a scooter, then Target can gladly have more of my money. And if the travel gear in my suitcases allows us to continue adventuring and exploring, then I don't care if my bags are overweight at the check in counter at the airport.

I will gladly pay the overage fee. 

This post is part of the Sunday Traveler link up. Check out the fun travel blog Pack Me To for more great writing + photos. 

Add your comment

  1. Cute stuff! Every time I visit the US I always pick up my favorite things. This time I lugged some of my favorites through China! I brought mascara (I can't find my favorite brand here), concealer, spices, deodorant, and books in English. I also picked up a few things that I love and missed from China - teas, spices, chopsticks, and face masks. Nothing was essential but everything is enjoyed!

    1. Yes! I had to choose very carefully which books I put in my suitcase. My mother has a box of all of my old books and I wanted to take them all!

  2. Good list, exactly what I'll need soon when I'll start packing! Does it really take three days for clothes to dry over there? I really really hope I won't have to do hand-washing...

    1. Yes, it really does take that long during the humid season. It is very hard to climate control your whole apartment even with a dehumidifier and AC. I don't know a single person who has a functioning dryer. All of my expat friends have washing machines but we all have to hang dry our clothes inside of our apartment. Mine usually smell a little musty by the time they completely dry.

  3. Love this list, its true that the second time around is better packing wise..

    I would definitely use your "things to use in the kitchen" list I'd just switch the red for green salsa..
    I wish I had brought a tortilla press and a tortillero (so I don't have to prepare the tacos as I go, but all at the end). I'll be bringif one back when we go to mex in December!!

    1. Yes, the tortilla press was a must!! Over the past two years, we were mixing up masa flour + water and then using a sauce pan to flatten the balls and a wine bottle as a rolling pin to make them thinner. You can imagine that took a veeeery long time.

  4. Great list! I totally agree that most of us totally botch packing the first time around. As I'm getting ready to wrap up my first long-term solo backpacking trip I know that I will pack completely differently the next time around!! Never underestimate the importance of having your own deodorant. Seriously. Lol

    1. Never again will I underestimate the importance of deodorant or tampons. Most other things I can do without but not those two items.

  5. What a great list and I'm not even an expat. Very cute outfits! It's amazing how we take some things for granted like deodorant, tampons and ranch dressing for granted here in the US and they make such a huge impact on living comfortably abroad. When I finally become an expat one of these days (hopefully soon), I hope to learn my lessons from all of you during our first time packing. Safe travels back to Taiwan!

    1. Thanks!! I seriously do not want to live in a world without ranch dressing! For an expat, it can grow tiring to constantly live without some of the creature comforts you know and love. It is totally part of the expat experience but there are some simple steps a we can take to be just a little more at home in our host country.

  6. Loved your list. What some great ideas. I do know what you mean about packing for heat when you live in the cold, or packing for humidity when you've come from dry heat. You just don't 'get it' until you've lived it. Seems like you've got Taiwan taped now though. We spent some time in Taichung and loved it ;)

    1. Oh yes. After two years, I can confidently say I have finally figured out Taiwan and am ready to meet it head on. Will I still be hot? Absolutely. But at least I'll have cute hot weather clothes that won't make the problem worse.

      And I still have yet to really explore Taichung. I always just use it as a hub to go into the central part of the island like to Sun Moon Lake. I hope to experience it fuller!

  7. This is so helpful. I haven't moved abroad but am planning to travel to Asia soon. Bringing some of the items alone that you mentioned are ones I wouldn't have thought of - rainwear, hot sauce for me, and washable flats. I know two people who visited Taiwan so it's high on my list. Thanks for a helpful post and list!

    1. Washable flats are very important for me. First, there are no flat sidewalks in Taiwan. If I tried to wear anything with a heel or wedge, I would break my leg. Second, I get around via scooter and sometimes I find my shoes get dirty faster from resting them on the pavement/scooter and from just sitting in the exhaust pollution. Third, it is so hot my feel sweat and the shoes get stinky. Washable shoes are a must!

  8. Great list! I definitely have a list of items to take with me if / when I move back to Budapest. Top of that list are tampons! I don't know how girls do without an applicator. It's horrific.

    1. That sounds like a nightmare.

      And I almost threw in a fourth box.

  9. I know exactly what you mean about packing to move from America to Asia. Luckily when I moved to Korea I had read tons of forums, so I was prepared with the deodorant (actually I packed enough for more than 2 years, which was a little overboard).

    BTW, that Asian humidity is a KILLER.

    Great packing list, definitely going to share this :D

    1. Two years worth of deodorant? I think that's the way to go. Plan ahead and you won't be sorry later. I know we will be back for a visit next summer so I only stocked up for what I think (and hope) will last one year.

  10. What a great post! I love reading stuff like this because I agree - it's so easy to have a total packing fail when going somewhere new. (And all the stuff with bleach in it - yikes!)

    1. I usually experience total packing fails! But I am super stoked about all the goodies in my suitcases that will make life a heck of a lot nicer in Asia.

  11. "1 tub of fancy humidity-fighting leave in conditioner"
    Oh man does that actually exist? I had no idea! I live in Chine, Sichuan and it's bloody humid in Summer and my hair are just terrifying in those condition. Can I ask you the name of it please?

    And the clothes I do wish I would have done the same, I just don't like so much what you can find around here and the size of the clothes... Pfff!

    1. It does exists! I have not actually tried it yet in Taiwan but I will let you know if it works well! I am hoping it reduces the volume of my hair. The second I step outside in Taiwan, my hair just expands. And I totally understand about the clothing situation. I wear a size 12 US and can find nothing that fits. My friend who wears a size 4/6 US has to wear extra large stuff in Taiwan. It is CRA-ZY!

  12. Hello, on behalf of Christa, host of The Sunday Traveler, I was stopping by to check out your article. Very informative and appreciated! Thank you, this is definitely a classic case in point of little things meaning a lot.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Christa!

      And yes, sometimes it's the little things that make the biggest difference. It can be such a bummer to have stinky armpits :)

  13. Definitely bookmarking this for future reference -- sometimes, even for shorter travels -- having the comforts of home (especially hygiene products) are non-negotiable! Btw, where'd you find that adorable polka dot bag in the last photo? I love it!

    1. Agreed on the hygiene products! Tampons + deodorant will always be in my bags. Also, I got the purse at Target for $15!