It’s My Last Packout Ever, Y’all!

The packout survey, UAB (air freight) and HHE (sea freight) packing days, and vehicle pickup are all on the calendar now. It all marks the beginning of an all-too-familiar countdown to departure from post—and yet another international move.

I’ve been told many times that, since I have so much practice, I could have a post-Foreign Service career helping people move. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine anything I’d less like to do! In fact, I hate moving. Passionately! My current goal is not to think about moving anymore. Hopefully, I’m about to get there!

When you really dislike a task, there are two approaches to dealing with it:

  1. Denial and procrastination.
  2. Getting it over with as a quickly and painlessly as possible.

I fall into the second camp, at least most of the time. That’s why I’ve come up with a bunch of systems for packing out. Sharing here before I blissfully forget them all.

Scan everything.

The good part about this job is that you can start it way ahead of time.  And shredding can be kind of fun. At some point during our last post, I ordered a ScanSnap and made a winter project out of digitizing everything. I don’t think we were the worst paper-hoarders in the world, but I still demolished a two-drawer file cabinet and produced several kitchen trash bags full of shredded paper.

Bye-bye 20-year old tax returns.

I’ve kept up the habit of scanning and shredding incoming documents, receipts, etc. Now we just have a few files of archived kids’ stuff (certificates, report cards, awards, etc.) that can go in HHE, and about an inch-thick file folder of original documents that goes on the plane. We’ll receive our medical files from the Health Unit soon, and I’ll break out my scanner for those as well. (The healthcare industry refuses to give up paper files for some reason, but that doesn’t mean that I have be stuck in the 20th century.)

All our files are stored on a backup hard drive (that will also go on the plane) and in the cloud. I prefer Google Drive for ease of use, but any cloud storage service that syncs regularly will work for the purpose. I personally find it much easier to locate files on a computer than in a file cabinet. Even without all the moving to consider, I would never go back.

Make digital lists.

Starting with the move to our last post, DC to Vienna, I made lists in Evernote and put them in a virtual “PCS Notebook.” The lists include UAB and HHE inventories, things to put in luggage, addresses that have to be changed, pet shipment information, and so on. For the next two moves, Vienna to DC, and DC to Warsaw, I just updated those lists rather than starting from scratch. SO much easier.

A few months ago, I also started a list of items to sell/donate when we leave post, adding items as I thought of them. Now that the clock is ticking, I’m very glad that bit of planning is pretty much done. Now I just need to hold that online yard sale!

Travel information goes in the PCS Notebook too: airline reservations, the confirmation email for our AirBnB with the address of the property, the rental car confirmation, anything and everything I might want to have on hand during the trip.

I like Evernote because it is so easy to access on my phone. But any cross-platform program would work for the purpose: OneNote, iCloud Notes, whatever flips your levers.

I also keep a growing number of my favorite recipes in Evernote: these are great to have on hand at the grocery store, but will also be handy when I arrive in DC with no groceries and no cookbooks on hand. (Who wants to Google a dinner plan with jetlag?)

Save containers.

When sorting stuff, you clearly need something to sort it into. It doesn’t mean that you actually have to pack it for shipment (unless you just want to). Our cat’s food and litter is delivered in big, sturdy cardboard boxes: I have several stacked up for future use. Our decluttering efforts have also resulted in a bunch of old, empty Rubbermaid bins which will be super handy for all those little kitchen-y things that go in UAB.

It really helps with the chaos to “containerize” stuff. In our house, it also helps keep cat hair off everything. In yours, it might help keep a toddler or a puppy from un-sorting it all.

I also hold on to old suitcases and duffles for packout. They can always be donated or tossed when we unpack on the other end, but in the meantime, it’s nice to be able to pack your own clothes rather than having the moving guys plow through them.

Get the pets sorted out early.

Moving cats has been one of the biggest hassles for us. Why? Because something always, always comes up at the last minute. Check (and double-check) export and import requirements a few weeks ahead of time. Get all the shots updated several weeks ahead of time as well, in case there are vaccinations you haven’t thought of that can’t be given at concurrently with the required annual rabies booster. Check what type/size carrier the contract airline will allow, and make sure you procure that type/size and have it ready to go.

I am a great traveler.

I’ve done all this, and yet I know something will inevitably come up. Vets are cheap here, so I’m taking my American cat in to get an EU pet passport. She doesn’t need one to get back into the U.S., but with my luck, I’ll get an airline representative at the Warsaw airport who doesn’t know that. When I show up for a 6 AM flight, frazzled from packout, with a howling kitty on top of a stack of luggage, I will not want to have that discussion. So, I’ll pay the extra forty bucks or so for an EU souvenir for my cat. Whatever it takes.

I am not a great traveler. At all. 

Speaking of the howling kitty, if you have a pet who is “difficult” about traveling, plan ahead for that as well. I’m going to beg for drugs for my part-Siamese Austrian hellion. I’ve also ordered a kitty Thundershirt. It can’t hurt, and might help. But at least I’ve got plenty of time to try it out before departure.

Travel light.

This is just my personal preference because I don’t like hauling heavy suitcases around. Most people seem to take advantage of the extra luggage that is allowed on travel orders. Truthfully, if we were moving somewhere that I would expect my UAB to be delayed, and there was no local economy to speak of, I probably would, too. But our most recent moves have not been in that category.

If I am moving to a place where I can expect my UAB within the month, the washer and dryer are provided, and I can run out and buy socks if I need them, I travel with one medium-sized suitcase. Plus a carry-on with my laptop, files, and prescription medication, and of course, a cat carrier. It doesn’t bother me to wear the same three outfits for a couple of weeks, honestly. And I will eat whatever the local groceries are until my Amazon shipment comes.

Of course, moving with kids is about twice as much trouble. Been there, done that, don’t especially want to think about it, so I’ll leave that subject for another blogger!


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