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How to move to another continent - with two suitcases

I moved from London to Melbourne - with two suitcases. I’d like to say it was because we were brave. Or not attached to worldly belongings. Or because we’re that flexible. But none of this is true.

Two suitcasesWe couldn’t pay the shipping for all our things. And we also didn’t feel it was justified to pay a few hundred dollars to ship an Ikea sofa worth one hundred pounds. And admittedly, we did have a few glasses of wine when we decided to “just throw some items in our suitcases, and go!” Red wine makes brave and adventurous, until the next morning.

Of course we made every mistake in the book, and there’s a few things I’ve learnt:

  • Try to assess the value of each item according to where you’re heading, not where you are at the moment. I took four pairs of designer sunglasses. They look fabulous when strolling down Kensington High Street. What I didn’t realise is that none of them are polarised, and therefore they are completely useless in Australia.
  • Don’t start by trying to figure out what are the things you might get rid of. If yours is an average household, this will take too long, and it will be too painful. Start instead by piling up items you cannot live without. And by that I mean: Those you cannot live without. These might include your paperwork, such as work history, degrees, professional qualifications, bills as proof of past addresses, bank statements. Don’t be shocked by how heavy paper is and make sure you leave room and weight allowance in your hand luggage for some folders - you don’t want to be paperless in case your luggage gets lost.
  • A common advice is to scan everything instead of taking originals. Make sure you know what is common practice in your new home country. Australia requires certified copies for almost any administrative procedure, which means you need to present the original to an authorised body (“justice of the peace”) who will then certify the copy. No original, no copy you could use.
  • As a next step, pack your personal items such as photos, your laptop - and what the fashion world would describe as “essentials”, such as three pants, two shirts, underwear, a few t-shirts, belts, and about three pairs of shoes. Only take things that match. And only take those items that fit perfectly. Not the pants that most of the time you avoid wearing because they’re just a tad too tight. And not the pants that fitted five years ago. Your wardrobe will be small and you want to avoid going on a shopping spree right at the beginning, just because the colours don’t go together or your only pair of boots doesn’t go with the two skirts you took. You’ll be too busy finding a flat, opening a bank account and hitting the ground running at work to waste time browsing shops.
  • Check the climate carefully. Ironically, I got rid of stuff I should have taken. To my uninformed mind, Australia didn’t really have any winter to speak of, and winter clothes were therefore not needed. Turns out that winter mornings in Melbourne can be chilly, with temperatures as low as 4 degrees.
  • Check immigration and customs rules. Some items we don’t think twice about when packing can be an issue. Anything made of wood, anything that contains animal products, and even a piece of fruit in your handbag can add a few more hours at the airport, trying to explain to the customs officer that you “really didn’t know”. And all this after a 25+ hour plane journey.
  • Before you book your plane ticket, check luggage allowances carefully. Some airlines, among them British Airways on certain routes, apply the same weight restrictions to cabin baggage as to check in baggage - which means they let you take way over 20kg on board! Sometimes paying more for a ticket with a different airline will be cheaper than getting a cheap ticket with an airline that will make you pay dearly for every kilo you’re over.
  • Finally, continuously remind yourself that you’re not attached to the items, but to the memories they evoke. Keep the memory alive in spite of getting rid of the actual item. Don’t mistake items for memories. The memories are weightless, and can be recalled any time. They’re not lost if you throw out stuff.
  • Allow yourself to cry. You will cry. You will shout at your partner. You might have a break down. But in the end, a year later, you won’t be able to make a list of all the “crucial” things you had to throw out or give to charity. I guarantee that you won’t even be able to list five of them. That’s how crucial they really were. Not that it’s a matter of weak memory. For example, I remember quite a few details from these last days in London. It was exceptionally hot. The walk to the charity shop took about 20 minutes, and I didn’t have a car. There was no bus where we lived. I stuffed everything in these large, yellow Ikea bags you can buy for 20 pence at the cashier, and I made about ten trips with two bags each (it was so much, I had to spread the stuff between numerous charity shops, the public library, and recycling containers in several places to avoid looking suspicious). The plastic handles were cutting into the shoulder flesh, and I was sweating a lot. Now, what was in these bags? I cannot remember. And this is really the only thing to bear in mind. (Shamefully, I also have vivid memories of getting aggressive, whiny, and depressed, in that order - but feel free to skip that bit!).

Looking at it from a philosophical angle, relocating with two suitcases taught me a powerful lesson.  It taught me that everything in life is impermanent, and that if we cling to outer shapes, we are attached to something that is bound to vanish. We identify with something external and give it a sense of self. But I’m not my books. I’m not my clothes. No, I’m not even my kitchen items. And this is why they can be left behind.

 

Andrea Leber is a yoga & travel journalist and guide book publisher. She has lived in six different countries on three continents, currently residing in sunny Melbourne, soaking up inspiring ideas on her annual trips to India. On andrealeber.com she shares ideas and stories that inspire to live, not just exist. She can be reached @AndreaLeber or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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