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Moving Abroad - What To Take With You

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Hello everyone!

This is my first post here, so apologies if I make a mistake. I am an overseas student and I will be starting my PhD in the US in Fall 2018. This might sound like a silly question, but what do you think is the ideal number of clothes, shoes, or similar items of textiles that one should put in one's suitcase when one moves to a different country? I tried to imagine this, and I was dumbstruck when I thought about how much space some items would take - especially fluffy stuff like sweaters (a necessity for the cold climate of the city I'll live in). Add to that one coat for the winter, at least one bathrobe and maybe 1-2 bath towels... Well, you get the idea. 

On the one hand, I know I will be on a rather tight budget as a grad student, and therefore I want to take as many clothing items as I can, just so I won't have to go shopping for clothes (and clothes happen to be much cheaper in my home country, just like everything else. Why spend my meagre stipend on clothes?). On the other hand I don't want to attract attention in the residence hall by arriving there with 3 giant suitcases. O_O

I would like to know about the experiences of other grad students, if possible. Is it really as weird to take many clothes with you as I fear it might be? Also, could you recommend some stores where I could find cheap but decent clothing, in case I DO have to shop for clothes?

Thank you!

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Hi! I'll also be starting my PhD in the US as an international student, but I've moved abroad before on my own so I might be able to help.

Firstly, no one will think it's weird if you arrive with 3 giant suitcases, especially since you're an international student!

You could consider taking the clothes you're likely to need in the first few months, and have the rest shipped over later? Since you're committing to a long time in another country you're likely to want quite a lot of things from home with you anyway.

In terms of towels, etc. I'd recommend taking just a travel towel so you have immediate access to one, and buying more later since they're bulky. I'd take a coat as hand luggage to save space. Only take a few travel toiletries and buy the rest when you arrive - things like that really do take up space.

Having said that, it really is normal to have a lot of luggage when you move, especially when you're moving abroad, so I wouldn't worry!

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I can't imagine anyone is going to think you're 'weird' for having three suitcases of clothes when moving for years to foreign country!!!

To the contrary, I'm worried people will think I'm a freak when I make a trans-continental, long term move and show up with a single carryon, which is the one mid-sized backpack of stuff that I have. I've been travelling a fair amount for work for the past few years and kind of de-accumulated. I tend to buy a very small set of very cheap basics (I don't really need anything more formal than jeans and a t-shirt on a daily basis), wear them until they're floor rags (about four-six months, usually) and then start over. And I have serious dearth of winter stuff, being from a hot climate and mostly working in same. I actually started a list of all stuff to take as some weird procrastination - this is specific items. The black shoes. The blue dress with the pattern - and have managed to get to 21 items. Including, like, that pair of expensive warm hiking socks and my nice grownup pantyhose that I wear for conference presentations. Er. Adulting. And that's the expanded, 'optional' list.

A couple clothes tips I got, was thrift shops (salvation army, etc) and ordering expensive items off-season (like, apparently now is the best time for serious winter gear, so order it and have it shipped to friends to sit around until needed.)

I'm actually more stressed about building up a semi-usable kitchen - I've never had to get everything from scratch. Pots, pans, forks, glasses, dish towels, can openers...there are so many things you don't realize you need until you don't have them...

Furniture I can take or leave, to be honest - most of my apartments have essentially consisted of a mattress and pile of clothes in a box - though I think I'm having some weird nesting instinct at the thought of being in one place for four+ years. A friend got me coasters (coasters!) for Christmas and I was actually delighted (I mean, they're cute and have a pattern that matches my studies, which is why she got them, I was just surprised to be excited by them as coasters, rather than as design per se, you know?) and suddenly imagining the mugs to go with them and the table they'd stand on and having friends over and making them hot drinks in the mugs on the coasters on the table, which might be on a rug...etc. Ok just this train of thought freaks me out. What the hell. (I used to live in an anarcho-marxist commune. I have issues with stuff.) I think its something about the solidity and attention to comfortableness of American life and built environment though - I mean, take driers. They're ridiculous by any measure. No one should even need a drier. And then you get your clothes dried and my goodness, it's delightful. So maybe i'm having this sense of...If I want to do the full experience of this moving thing- get coasters and rugs and dry your clothes and own more than 21 items of clothes. Dunno. Minor existential crisis over here. 

Ok, that was a weird digression. 

Tl;dr - take your clothes. Suitcases are fine. Just check if its cheaper to ship a mass of items over or take them on the flight. 

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2 hours ago, avraven said:

Hi! I'll also be starting my PhD in the US as an international student, but I've moved abroad before on my own so I might be able to help.

Firstly, no one will think it's weird if you arrive with 3 giant suitcases, especially since you're an international student!

You could consider taking the clothes you're likely to need in the first few months, and have the rest shipped over later? Since you're committing to a long time in another country you're likely to want quite a lot of things from home with you anyway.

In terms of towels, etc. I'd recommend taking just a travel towel so you have immediate access to one, and buying more later since they're bulky. I'd take a coat as hand luggage to save space. Only take a few travel toiletries and buy the rest when you arrive - things like that really do take up space.

Having said that, it really is normal to have a lot of luggage when you move, especially when you're moving abroad, so I wouldn't worry!

 

2 hours ago, TK2 said:

I can't imagine anyone is going to think you're 'weird' for having three suitcases of clothes when moving for years to foreign country!!!

To the contrary, I'm worried people will think I'm a freak when I make a trans-continental, long term move and show up with a single carryon, which is the one mid-sized backpack of stuff that I have. I've been travelling a fair amount for work for the past few years and kind of de-accumulated. I tend to buy a very small set of very cheap basics (I don't really need anything more formal than jeans and a t-shirt on a daily basis), wear them until they're floor rags (about four-six months, usually) and then start over. And I have serious dearth of winter stuff, being from a hot climate and mostly working in same. I actually started a list of all stuff to take as some weird procrastination - this is specific items. The black shoes. The blue dress with the pattern - and have managed to get to 21 items. Including, like, that pair of expensive warm hiking socks and my nice grownup pantyhose that I wear for conference presentations. Er. Adulting. And that's the expanded, 'optional' list.

A couple clothes tips I got, was thrift shops (salvation army, etc) and ordering expensive items off-season (like, apparently now is the best time for serious winter gear, so order it and have it shipped to friends to sit around until needed.)

I'm actually more stressed about building up a semi-usable kitchen - I've never had to get everything from scratch. Pots, pans, forks, glasses, dish towels, can openers...there are so many things you don't realize you need until you don't have them...

Furniture I can take or leave, to be honest - most of my apartments have essentially consisted of a mattress and pile of clothes in a box - though I think I'm having some weird nesting instinct at the thought of being in one place for four+ years. A friend got me coasters (coasters!) for Christmas and I was actually delighted (I mean, they're cute and have a pattern that matches my studies, which is why she got them, I was just surprised to be excited by them as coasters, rather than as design per se, you know?) and suddenly imagining the mugs to go with them and the table they'd stand on and having friends over and making them hot drinks in the mugs on the coasters on the table, which might be on a rug...etc. Ok just this train of thought freaks me out. What the hell. (I used to live in an anarcho-marxist commune. I have issues with stuff.) I think its something about the solidity and attention to comfortableness of American life and built environment though - I mean, take driers. They're ridiculous by any measure. No one should even need a drier. And then you get your clothes dried and my goodness, it's delightful. So maybe i'm having this sense of...If I want to do the full experience of this moving thing- get coasters and rugs and dry your clothes and own more than 21 items of clothes. Dunno. Minor existential crisis over here. 

Ok, that was a weird digression. 

Tl;dr - take your clothes. Suitcases are fine. Just check if its cheaper to ship a mass of items over or take them on the flight. 

Wow, thank you folks! Your posts really sound reassuring. Well, I believe I'll soon have to buy a couple of big and sturdy suitcases :) 

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No one will think you're weird for arriving with multiple suitcases. You could look into overseas shipping, which is usually slow but cheap. If you have an address for your residence hall, you get ship stuff out before you even move, or you can have someone send you stuff once you're there. So have a plan for what you'll need to get started, and also try to figure out what will already be there. Lots of apartments are at least partially furnished. Do you need towels and sheets of your own? Maybe having just one is enough to get started. I would personally not bring furniture or kitchen supplies. You also don't necessarily know that your winter clothes will be warm enough, unless you are moving to a familiar climate. You could take one coat with you but not pack it. Most things you should probably just buy here; there are thrift stores and dollar stores to get you started, or things might be supplied by a residence hall or a roommate might have them. Bring stuff you can't replace: pictures, some stuff to remind you of home, a bit of memorabilia. Other stuff you can replace. 

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13 hours ago, fuzzylogician said:

No one will think you're weird for arriving with multiple suitcases. You could look into overseas shipping, which is usually slow but cheap. If you have an address for your residence hall, you get ship stuff out before you even move, or you can have someone send you stuff once you're there. So have a plan for what you'll need to get started, and also try to figure out what will already be there. Lots of apartments are at least partially furnished. Do you need towels and sheets of your own? Maybe having just one is enough to get started. I would personally not bring furniture or kitchen supplies. You also don't necessarily know that your winter clothes will be warm enough, unless you are moving to a familiar climate. You could take one coat with you but not pack it. Most things you should probably just buy here; there are thrift stores and dollar stores to get you started, or things might be supplied by a residence hall or a roommate might have them. Bring stuff you can't replace: pictures, some stuff to remind you of home, a bit of memorabilia. Other stuff you can replace. 

Thank you! Your advice is both wise and sweet. I will certainly look into shipping as an option. As I will start the semester in late summer, I guess I could ask my mother to send me some winter clothes after I have arrived there. I also don't think I will take kitchen utensils with me. 

1 hour ago, AnxiousNerd said:

For fluffy sweaters - buy some space bags

This is also brilliant advice, thank you!

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Everyone has given good advice.  I can only say what I've done and I have travelled and lived overseas several times in my adult life, so I can offer this from experience:  I packed light by most standards and I always took too much.  Most of what I brought didn't get used, or worn.  But I had to deal with it for a year or two, killing space in the corners of my room because I was attached to it.  I often choose not to wear clothes I haul across the globe simply because it makes me stand out too much in a new culture.  I pack things I "might" need so I feel safe and ready for anything, but might almost always becomes didn't.  Perhaps that is the boy scout in me. These days, I am the guy who checks in at the airport with a small carry on.  I find what I need after I arrive and do just fine.  Plus it adds to the adventure, which is what you really want, right?  Adventure!

In the US, you can find anything you need by visiting a few quality thrift shops.  However, the thrift shops here are incredible and usually over looked by many people.  Seriously, the thrift shops in the US are awesome!  Definitely the best option for grad students on a budget.  People toss out everything you need to get through grad school in style.  Wait till you arrive and see what I mean...  :-)  Day old bread at the grocery store, thrift store clothes of current trends, pots and pans, reading lights, chairs, bicycles, the list goes on...  Is it from Macy's, no.  Is it functional enough to get through school, absolutely.  

Although, I understand everyone has a different standard of living.  I definitely downgrade mine whenever I travel or attend school.  But that's just me!  What ever you choose to bring is just fine.  :-) 

Good luck!

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Excellent topic, I have been thinking about this ever since I got my acceptance letter. I'm moving from Europe to the US and thankfully to an area with a similar climate, so most of my clothes will be useful there. I'm moving in the summer so I was thinking of buying an extra suitcase so I can fit most of my summer stuff in them. I'll ask my parents to send my winter stuff once I've moved. This is also a good time to really sort out all my stuff and decide what I am still wearing and what is just chilling in my closet for whatever reason.

My real concern are my 'luxury items' like shoes and handbags, it might be a bit ridiculous to send 10 pairs of almost similar brown boots and 3 pink handbags to the US, but then again, kids often look alike and you don't get rid of them for that reason, right? I don't think I'll be bringing any linnens, apart from a travel towl and a small sleaping bag, and my special anti-allergy pillow cases. Oh and all my make-up, conditioners, nail polish, etc. 

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In my experience, 1 large suitcase per person is just enough for a long-term overseas move (advice I have yet to implement, as I travel with 2). Realistically you only need take the essentials for your first month in the country (so, if you're moving in summer, don't bring your winter stuff), any documents/memorabilia you need, and whatever one weird thing that you have that you irrationally can't let go of (I have a special pillow I like to sleep on, so I bring that). Toileteries, basic household goods, most clothing - all of that can be replaced.

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Well, I've just literally travelled around the world for my dissertation research (and back abroad...).  I was fortunate that the seasons were similar-- end of spring/beginning of fall and summer.  I took only one big suitcase and 2 carry ons. I shopped for some clothes-- mainly because the weather got too cold (i.e. a conference in London in January) or too hot (needed more tank tops).  I would definitely pack for the weather that  your school will be in for at least two months. You will start seeing fall sales when the weather gets a bit chilly (usually after mid-October's Columbus Day weekend). 

I recommend taking a rain jacket/light jacket to start with.  if you are not familiar with the cold climate the school is in, you will want to wait until you get there.  I do find U.S. clothing brands made for outdoors to be of excellent quality and long-lasting.  They're a bit pricey but you will get so much wear out of them.  Coats will definitely go on sale around then too with deeper discounts by mid-November with the really good coats just before/after Thanksgiving.  If you can hold out to Black Friday (day after Thanksgiving) when the stores are slashing prices by 30%-50%, all the better.

Shoes! It's not uncommon for people to find that shoe brands in another country not fit their feet well.  If you've never tried American shoe brands before, you'll  want to have several pairs of shoes with you.

Cosmetics and toiletries might be worth it if you're not using international brands (i.e. Dove, Nivea, Colgate, etc.).  You'll eventually have to adjust to those and/or American brands.  Better buy those international brands now so you know your skin feels good with those before you leave (I had to experiment with several body lotions to find one that was right for me during my journey and it was hard!).

Make sure you have the necessary plug adapters and that your phone is unlocked. 

If you can't use space bags for whatever reason, ROLL UP. ROLL UP.  You will save a lot more space than you think!

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Honestly, have you ever seen freshmen move in ? They literally come with trucks full of stuff. You will be fine with 3 suitcases ^^ 

 

Variety of item is better than quantity. I took way too many Tops and didn't take any big coats for instance. Try to work out what you actually wear in your daily life and take that. 

If you have to shop for clothes, you will find a ton of thrift stores, walmart has cheap options and amazon is always there for you :)

 

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