Calling yourself a professional at anything is a hefty claim, but with 7 states, 3 foreign countries and more than 15 different homes that required moving boxes and trucks…I’m starting to get comfortable with the confession: I am a professional mover.
How to move anywhere
I’ve swapped my gameboy and squished back seat of pre-teen years for iPhone apps and google maps, and I know how difficult it can be to settle into a new city, or country even. No matter how high your expectations, it can be lonely, frustrating and completely foreign. But it can also be one of the best experiences in your life, and an exercise in independence. Here are some of my top tips on how to move anywhere and how to make any town/village/city/country feel more like home, no matter if you’re there for a month or a year.
Minimize your life
Clothes: When you’re somewhere new, you’ll want to look and feel like yourself more than ever, so it’s worth packing the things you love to wear. Try to minimize your wardrobe to the basics, using accessories to add personality. Remember that you’re moving, not backpacking so it’s OK to pack that plush robe, statement necklace, or dress pants for that just-in-case interview or date. Make friends with your local Goodwill and begin the process of deciding what you need and don’t.
How I do it: I use my travel luggage (a 70L backpack and large rolling suitcase) to pack most of my clothes, but I leave room for a couple pieces from my new home: shopping in a new place gets me out of the house and I always have useful souvenirs and conversation items from where I’ve been!
Makeup/Toiletries: Most men won’t have a problem with this and women could take a tip from the myriad of 3-in-1 products on the male market. Going abroad? If there’s a product or brand you can’t live without, pack enough to last – things can be expensive or impossible to find in another country. Take a look at what you use every day, and try to get rid of the rest. You might be shocked to see how many things you have that you’ve never even touched!
How I do it: I pack enough of my must-have products: the multi-use magical Dr. Bronners soap and coconut oil as well as a few tubes of Vanilla Badger Balm Chapstick. I stick to one brand of makeup and bring only one kind of each product, then I leave the rest at home. The result? One medium-sized bathroom bag for everything and a mini version small enough to throw in my purse for weekend adventures.
Furniture/House Items: The easy answer is to not own any, but depending where you’re at in life (and how long you’re going to be gone for) that may be easier said than done. If you can’t separate yourself from that leather couch you saved up to buy or your great-grandmother’s antique bed set, invest in a storage unit. If not, sell your stuff on Craigslist, give it to a homeless shelter, or find a relative moving to college. Need some extra money? Sand it down, give it a funky paint job and sell it. Don’t be afraid to get creative.
How I do it: I don’t own any furniture at the moment but when I do move home, I buy cheaper furniture or shop antique and thrift stores for unique pieces. Then, when it’s time to move again I’m usually able to sell them to others who appreciate them as much as I do, or even make more money off of them after a bit of paint and “up-cycling.”
Extra stuff: Sometimes this can be the most difficult; the little collections of stuff. We live in a Pottery Barn culture where shelves are lined with ceramic birds and trinkets. It may take a while, but consider what something means to you versus what’s there because you had an open space. Don’t feel bad about keeping something that has no purpose; sometimes beauty is reason enough. Pack the big stuff away in storage, save a few of the small things to take with you and sell/donate/give away the rest.
How I do it: I make a “memory box” of technically useless stuff that I would still like to have around in a few years (cards, movie tickets, old journals). Because I’m lucky, my mom keeps them in her garage. I also bring a few key items to every new house (even abroad!) to help me settle in; sarongs that double as table cloths, a tapestry that serves as a bedspread, wall hanging or picnic blanket, a little vase for herbs and flowers, my favorite candle, and a favorite ceramic mug!It takes up a bit of space and seems unconventional to some but is has really helped me feel like I’m at home, no matter if I’m in the middle of the jungle or in a city.
It’s good to have all of your important documents in one place anyways, but it’s necessary when you’re moving often. Figuring out the best way to communicate can save you time and money.
Phone/Communication (for those moving abroad): Figure out if it makes more sense to put your phone on hold, cancel your plan, or continue paying. Most phones can be unlocked, and buying a local phone card with pre-paid minutes or a local plan is almost always the cheapest and best option for longer term moves. If you don’t need to be connected 24/7 and will have access to wifi, download WhatsApp and Skype to your smart phone for free, and avoid the phone charges all together!
How I do it: I got my iPhone unlocked in about 5 minutes by calling my provider. Before going to a new place, I back up all my old photos to a hard drive so I have space for new apps, maps, pics, etc. I then put my phone on hold (I only had 6 months of this so I have now cancelled my plan and simply pay $8.00/month to retain my phone number for when I come home and decide to enroll in a new plan) I buy new sim cards in each country (anywhere from $5-$20 a piece) and pay per minute for local calls. I use WhatsApp and Skype for all communication with people back home, and buy a few dollars os Skype credits for those times when I need to call my home bank, or about a student loan.
Insurances/Valuables: Figure this out in advance to avoid any headaches, fees, or unnecessary spending. If you’re leaving for a while, consider selling your car – it’s not good for it to sit idle so long, it’s losing value, and you won’t have to worry about that insurance either. Going abroad to a country with super cheap dental care? Cancel or put your dental insurance on hold. Get a great travel insurance and if you have lot’s of technology with you, consider insuring them too.
How I do it: I sold my car, and keep that money saved for when/if I need to move back and need to buy another right away. For everything else, I use the premium version of WorldNomads travel insurance, which covers all of my technology, valuables, dental emergencies, medical issues, evacuation and all the other ugly situations I hope to never experience, but am glad I’m prepared for.
Documents: Find your system and stick to it, whether that’s a manila folder filled with high-quality, color copies or getting familiar with your tags and folders in your favorite app. If you’re using email, make sure it’s a folder or single email you can easily access and delete if someone gets access. Consider including copies/links/info of your insurance agreements, student loan documents, passport and ID’s, birth certificate, etc.. It’s also good to make a contact list in case you run into any issues with the phone number to your local consulate, home Doctor’s office, etc.
How I do it: I have an app with all my log-ins to those boring but necessary websites (bank accounts, loans, insurance, etc..) and I track all important dates on a calendar. I have a paper copy of important documents and check all my bank accounts monthly to make sure nothing funny is being charged to them.
Buy yourself time
Stay at someone else’s house: *This is where minimizing your stuff really comes in handy! If you’re going to be somewhere for a while, you might as well see what it has to offer and what better way than live in a place someone else calls home. The website AirBnB helps homeowners rent their residences short-term and is an ideal way to get a taste of what living in a certain place feels like. You can have as much privacy as you want by renting the whole house, or just a room, you don’t have to worry about furniture, and hosts usually do a great job at mapping out things to do in the city and tips for getting around. (Psst, if you’re not already a member I’ll send you $25 dollars travel credit – enough for one night at a lot of places! Sign up here)
House sitting could be your solution if you’re responsible, are traveling light and have a flexible schedule. Most websites like Trusted Housesitters and Mind my House have an application fee, but when you consider living for free in a beautiful city, and very often in a beautiful house for free (and sometimes even with a furry friend to keep you company) – it’s an option worth exploring.
Couchsurfing.org is a great solution for shorter stays, say a few days of house hunting, and is a great way to meet fellow travelers and locals that can give advice (ie: what neighborhoods are better than other, favorite cafes, etc). Just make sure to include that you’re moving in your email to the host – some are busier/more involved than others!
How I do it: I’ve used AirBnB and couchsurfing and can vouch for their amazing communities. A huge perc of AirBnB is staying in houses that might be way over your budget normally, and having plenty of privacy with the added bonus of a local willing to help you get to know the area. Just remember, they’re not babysitters and independence is still key! I know many people who ONLY house sit, and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Talk about saving money and living like a local!
When you’re ready to settle in, use your resources: When you know where you want to live and are ready to settle in, the best way to find a place (and a good deal) is word of mouth. If you’ve been house sitting or couch surfing, ask if they know anyone needing a roommate or looking to rent a flat. The next best thing is to search Craigslist, or local classifieds. Look for furnished and be realistic about the amount of space you need; the bigger the house, the higher the bills AND the likelihood that you’ll feel the need to fill it up with all the stuff you worked so hard to get rid of in the first place.
Be a tourist
Get the most out of your new home by exploring the places others flock to when they have limited time. Embrace micro-adventures.
Go on a walking tour: Many places have free or cheap tours that not only bring you to the iconic sites, but give you a lay of the land. You’ll meet other curious people seeing the city for the first time, and have a guided introduction to your new home. See this website for ideas.
How I do it: In addition to the typical city tour, I love seeing what others exist. Craft beer tours, bike tours, or park tours are an awesome way to see the parts of a place that aren’t in the guide-book. If I’m moving to the place, I like to talk to the guide – since they’re the only ones in the group that will likely be staying around!
Pay attention to the guide books: Guides like Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are getting better than ever at picking out the “secret spots” and give great overviews of the areas they cover, as well as the can’t miss activities. It can be fun to take on the mentality of when in Rome, do as the Romans do, no matter how touristy it may seem.
How I do it: Sometimes, being in a place for a while makes you feel entitled to not acting like a tourist but the truth is – some of my favorite experiences have stemmed from tourist attractions. Watching a tango show in Buenos Aires, taking a chocolate tour in Costa Rica, and touring the museums of London are all experiences that some of my local friends refused to do, but gave me an even better understanding of my temporary “homes.”
Take micro-adventures: Don’t allow yourself to get bored after being in one place for a while. Just because you’re not taking huge, extravagant trips, doesn’t mean there’s nothing worth exploring. Some of the best memories can stem from a night under the stars or trying a new food.
How I do it: Camping is my go-to micro-adventure, whether it’s in my back yard or at a lesser known park off the tourist trail. If I only have a day, renting a bike for the day or walking and exploring local parks works too.
Even with a house, transportation, and communication figured out, it’s easy to feel lonely. Find like-minded people to really feel at home.
Volunteer: Use websites like Idealist.org, not only does it give a great listing of potential work abroad, it’s the perfect place to find an organization or group to volunteer for. Longer-term volunteers have the largest impact so you’ll have the opportunity to forge real relationships, meet like-minded people, and give back to the community you’re calling home.
How I do it: Working in an orphanage in Mexico was hugely rewarding, and going back several times meant having real relationships with the kids. An added bonus? I improved my Spanish, learned more about Mexican culture, and got to see the longer-term impact of the program.
Join a meetup: Meetup.com is a website aimed at creating micro-communities and there might not be a friendlier place to connect with locals, share ideas and jump head first into social groups. Depending on your city, there might be professional networking groups, foodies, adventure kayakers, or dog lovers meeting up to celebrate their hobbies and passions. They’re free and you’re always invited – you can also start your own.
How I do it: I know people who swear by these, and am waiting to live somewhere with an active meetup community. One friend sharpens her engineering skills by meeting with local tech nerds and another practices French with language enthusiasts. I’m personally holding out for a chocolate lovers meetup.
Join a cause: Whether it’s politics, or cross-fit, becoming involved in something that keeps you happy and busy is the best bet for feeling connected and meeting people in your new home.
How I do it: I love finding the local yoga studio, and getting a gym membership for my first month. It gets me out of the house and into a truly local spot. When I’m looking for something less run-of-the-mill I try to find interesting experiences that I wouldn’t normally have time to do on vacation. In Costa Rica, I WOOFED around local organic farms, sleeping and working at them to feed my passion for sustainable living and organic food!
Explaining “how to move anywhere in the world” is a daunting task, but I hope the lessons I’ve learned moving around the world helps you with your next transition, and to take advantage of all that your new home has to offer. Have something to add? I’d love to hear in the comments below!