How to Pack for an international move…

When we officially made the decision to move abroad, the undertaking of liquidating and leaving was monumental…both logistically, as well as psychologically and emotionally.

We still had our full and busy lives to keep up with, plus a new full-time job of undoing our life in Santa Barbara.

We had less than five months from the time we decided to move, to the day we would board the plane and fly across the ocean away from everything familiar and comfortable.

It was not a lot of time to dismantle and sort out the lives of five people, a home, and a big dog …

The biggest threshold question we first had to answer was how long we would be gone. Would we be back in a year, a few years, or never?

Getting clarity on this was critical in determining how we would move forward over the next few months.

Initially, we were leaning towards keeping the house and renting it out while we were gone. We discussed how this would allow our kids to have a home to return to should we choose, because we did not know how our journey was going to unfold.

But we also talked about how this plan would weigh us down, complicate our lives and contribute to all we had to juggle. A large motivating factor for moving abroad was to try to simplify life in many ways and slow down. The logistics of keeping a house and dealing with renters, utilities and maintenance sounded burdensome. It also felt like it would keep us from psychologically jumping in with both feet into our new life. We wanted to experience being completely present in our new home and on our new adventure.

Also, we had just lived fifteen years with our children deeply rooted and entrenched in our community with all our belongings, possessions, and routines. Now that our kids were a bit older, we wanted to experience more freedom and be lighter on our feet. We wanted to be nimble and flexible to travel and make decisions on a whim if we so desired.

After several weighty conversations and discussing the pros and cons we decided to radically simplify, streamline, and liquidate it all!

We agreed we were not going to keep much of anything. What was the point? Everything was replaceable and apart from a few sentimental items nothing was too precious to us.

The process of dismantling, undoing, and liquidating our life began…

Packing Up | International Family Life

our middle one. taking a last look at where she grew up before shutting the door for the last time…

The Tangible…

Anyone who has packed up an entire house, especially with three kiddos, knows there is always much more stuff than you ever thought possible. We were firmly nested and established in our home with loads of belongings, books, artwork, bikes, clothes, and surfboards.

The process of liquidating was something we engaged in using a room-by-room method, and every day we would pick away a little at a time. The saying “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” would run through my head daily.

Just when you think you are making progress on clearing things out, you open a closet full of more items you forgot you even had! It was so easy to get overwhelmed, but little by little progress was being made.

We cleared out and emptied two decades’ worth of possessions by sorting and moving them through five different channels…

Store it…

We rented a very small storage space that would house a handful of sentimental items. I gave each kiddo a large box to store any nostalgic and precious items they wanted to hold on to. They kept a few knickknacks, shells from the beach by our house, letters from friends, and cards.

I kept a small box of kid’s artwork, love letters, and a few baby items. We took digital pictures of things we wanted to remember and refer to but didn´t need to physically keep, such as photographs, kids’ memorable schoolwork, and letters. We took photographs of all business items that we might need to reference, but didn’t need physical copies of. It felt cathartic and freeing to simplify years’ worth of accumulated paperwork and bits and pieces of things.

Take it….                                                        

A month before the move, we gave each kiddo one large suitcase, one carry-on, and a backpack. This was all the space they would have to bring anything they wanted with them to start their new adventure. In addition to clothes, they packed a few special items that felt meaningful such as framed pictures of friends and journals.

My husband and I both packed only clothes and one filing folder full of physical copies of important paperwork we were required to have, such as birth certificates and visa documentation.

I personally left with a small capsule wardrobe and four books which felt amazing. I was looking forward to doing any shopping I needed once we arrived in our new home.

Sell it…

We were lucky because the people who moved into our house wanted to keep a lot of our furniture and artwork, but we still had a lot left to get rid of and sell! In our town, there are many online channels to sell things such as Craigslist and Next Door. You can snap a picture, post an item, and within a day or two several people are ready to buy your item. There is also the option of consignment stores and garage sales, neither of which we pursued but were available.

Donate it …

We donated or gave away a lot of our belongings, and I was visiting our donation center almost daily. We gave away hundreds of items such as vases, dishes, small kitchen appliances, books, and clothes. Our goldfish, that defied all odds of living over two years went to a close friend.

Ship it…

The only belongings left to sort out were our skiing and camping gear. There was a lot of value with all our outdoor equipment. Not only would it cost a fair amount to replace, but the equipment worked well for our family’s active lifestyle.

We didn’t want to bring it with us on the first part of our journey, but we knew when we were settled, we would like to have it.

I was reluctant to ship it because not only was it very expensive to transport due to the weight and size, but I also heard multiple stories from frustrated people who had shipped their belongings only to learn that they were lost, never arrived, or showed up broken and damaged.

We ended up having a large box of our ski equipment sent over a month after we arrived in Spain. It was costly and as of today, we have yet to receive the box!

We are unable to locate where it is despite having sent it by one of the most reputable and largest shipping companies. So, the jury is still out on if this is worth the expense and hassle. These are the tricky lessons you learn when you embark on such a journey!

This process of releasing all our possessions was liberating. It was a lot of work, but I also loved watching the kids willingly let go of their belongings in preparation for the journey ahead. I believe it helped them understand that possessions are here to help us achieve dreams and not hold us back. Additionally, I think it helped them see that being deliberate and conscious about what you use and consume both mentally and environmentally is important.

The Psychological…

Psychologically preparing for the move was layered and involved.

Disconnecting from the known and familiar brought up a lot of thoughts and questions for the kids. I am hopeful how we addressed those doubts served to mitigate or assuage their apprehension. Additionally, excitement and curiosity were prominent emotions in them and seemed to eclipse most concerns or worries that would arise. While we couldn’t nullify all their trepidation, there are a few practices we engaged in to help the kids (and us) navigate the process.

Communicate Honestly and Continuously…

Children are deserving of complete transparency about what is going on in their lives (so long as it’s developmentally appropriate). We discussed, communicated, and had a constant dialogue about feelings, emotions, and practical matters relating to our international move.

We talked about what the kids were looking forward to, as well as any misgivings or concerns they had. Discussing any persistent worries helped them to process what was underneath the apprehension, even though sometimes we did not have a solution or concrete answer about what was ahead of us. When children understand and can communicate openly, it serves to allay and alleviate much of their fear.

Additionally, we talked and processed constantly about the details of the move itself, such as housing, flights, and visas. They were engaged and included in the discussions about administrative details regarding logistics, leases, and information about schools. They were privy to the steps and missteps along the journey and received a firsthand account of what was required to navigate a very complicated undertaking.

Educate and Empower…

We would educate and inform them about all the areas and topics we were researching and having to navigate, and we encouraged them to explore and investigate as well.

I ordered books and would share information regularly on different locations in Spain, articles about the culture, and information about activities and learning languages. We had a family text thread where we would send information back and forth about places that looked interesting and discuss them as a family.

I think particularly with an eight-year-old it was important for him to visually see where we were headed in order for it to be not entirely abstract. I would show him kids playing his favorite sports and engaging in activities that were familiar to him.

We empowered them by making sure they had a voice and say in all that we were doing and deciding. Choosing to move was very much a family decision and the kids were going to be most impacted and affected by it. Therefore, we made sure they felt a sense of agency over the choices we were making about our new life.

My oldest would look up information about certain locations we were exploring, and on more than one occasion introduced material that greatly influenced the path we were on. My middle took a very active role in helping us look at houses to rent and had very insightful observations about the layouts and how they might work for our family.

I was so grateful and appreciative of their rich insights and perspectives, and it was exciting to see them decipher and determine things that we had not picked up on or gleaned. It also gave them a meaningful education about how to navigate the intricacies of an international move, which is an education they could never get in a classroom.

The Emotional…

For all five of us, there was a mixture of sentiments and feelings that would come and go over the course of our last few months in Santa Barbara. The emotional process for each kiddo looked a little different.

Saying Goodbye…

Kids Having Fun By The Beach | International Family Life Our sons goodbye party with friends…

For many people, saying goodbye to others is understandably difficult. Most people shy away from it or avoid it altogether. While it required effort to make sure there were proper farewells, it was extremely important that we saw this through and supported the kids throughout the process.

Saying goodbye and having closure is important to make sure you can leave a place without feeling any unresolved emotions or sentiments. Modeling for kids how to say goodbye helps them become more compassionate and considerate.

Our youngest and most social kiddo ended up having a goodbye gathering with buddies on the beach. His friends from preschool brought framed pictures and sea glass bracelets. They played football and had a great time. There were some very sweet goodbye hugs between him and his little buddies. It was special to watch these young kids engage in the process.

Our thirteen-year-old had some very emotional goodbyes with her close group of friends. They offered to throw her a party, but she instead chose to have more sincere one-on-one goodbyes and a small slumber party under the stars, full of equal parts laughing and tears.

Our sixteen-year-old had several friends that were leaving for college, so for her, it didn’t feel as challenging but there was plenty of emotion and sentiment. She shared meaningful goodbyes and many of her friends were already planning their flights to come to visit. Her age allowed for a bit more perspective and a different understanding.

My husband and I had lovely exchanges, beach walks, and long lunches with neighbors and dear friends as we said our goodbyes as well.

Navigating this process was not only hard for our family, but it brought up so much emotion for those we are close to. While tending to our sentiments about the move, we also had to show tremendous regard and concern for how this impacted the people we were leaving as well.

A family of five dealing with goodbyes for several months was a long and layered process. It was like a breakup that went on for months, with multiple people. Learning how to say goodbye when you leave a place was not easy to navigate, but something incredibly important to impart.


Leaving not only Santa Barbara but our actual home was full of a lot of intense feelings. While all of us felt ready for our new adventure, we cherished our home where we shared wonderful and extremely happy memories and connections.

We experienced tremendous joy and love in our home over the years. We had our cozy beds, regular spots at the dinner table every night, birthday celebrations, lazy Sunday mornings, and a carousel of memories playing in all our heads. Personally, leaving the wall upstairs that had the pencil markings and dates of the kids’ growth spurts was particularly poignant. It reminded me of all we endured there, as well as how fleeting and fast it all goes by.

I believe rituals are important and meaningful for kids as they move through transitions, so we sat in our yard and relived all our favorite memories. We talked about how we left an indelible mark on our house. But we also emphasized how we are all just passing through and that many people have lived there before us, and many would after. We knew that the memories would be ours forever, but there was also a sense of the ephemeral and impermanence that is critical to truly appreciating life.

Arranged Bags In The Car | International Family Life On our way to the airport with our only belongings…

On the day we left we shared a family hug in the driveway and with reverence we had one last glance standing at the threshold of the front door before we closed it forever.

The hour-and-a-half drive to the airport along the California coast, a drive we had done a million times past our surf breaks, the orange blooming hills of poppies and so many memories was a quiet one. Alongside our nostalgic feelings, was a buzz of quiet excitement as we approached our new adventure.

Leaving behind our home of so many years was bittersweet, but ultimately allowed for our bond to strengthen in new ways. The road ahead was full of opportunities and sights to see.

Keep an eye out for the continuation of this story, I still have so much more to shed light on about our transformative international move.

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