After nearly two years in Bahrain, the end is nigh. This week, Mrs. Crab and Habibi the Cat departed Bahrain forever. Mr. Crab is now a "geographical" for a little bit longer. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of excitement and stress as we packed out again, our FOURTH move in 2.5 years. By now, the Two Crabs have become pack-out experts and navigating through the mountains of red tape, rules and regulations for HHE, UAB, POV, PSC and other State Department alphabet soups. In order for our stuff to arrive back in the States as soon as I return, we sent our stuff back pretty early, so Mr Crab is now living out of suitcases and an Embassy "Welcome Kit", which is basically a box of essentials such as kitchenware, bed sheets, bath towels, etc. Our flat is practically empty, yet surprisingly I'm getting along just fine with our few bare essentials. Here's a few tips we've learned so far in our short Foreign Service career:
Lose weight: If you haven't used it in a year, you probably don't need it. Before we left the States, we got rid of a lot of stuff. Yet we still ended up shipping a bunch of items to Bahrain that we never touched. We sold or gave away a lot of stuff here. Result: We actually lost weight! We are moving back to DC with about 300 pounds LESS than we shipped to Bahrain, despite the fact that we bought some heavy items during our tour (new TV, rugs, etc).
Sort & Separate: About a month before our actual pack-out day, we spent weekends and evenings sorting stuff to determine what would go home by sea (HHE), air (UAB), and check-in luggage. By the time the movers arrived, we had placed almost everything into separate rooms of the house, so there was no question what was going where. We also placed Post-It notes on some items that were too big or troublesome to move, labeling whether that item was HHE or UAB. Anything we were personally taking by check-in or carry-on luggage was locked in our bedroom. We even put skull & crossbone signs on some closet doors so the movers would not accidentally go in there and pack stuff we didn't want shipped!
Inventory: We took photos of practically everything we owned, and backed it up in several places (MacBook, external hard drive, memory stick, cloud). You don't need to photograph everything individually. For example, we put all our good pots & pans on the kitchen table and took one photo of the whole set. If you ever need to file an insurance claim for lost goods, you've got proof. And speaking of which:
Insure your stuff worldwide: Most personal property or renters insurance policies will only cover your stuff when it's in the United States, or only at your assigned residence. That includes USAA and other companies. It will NOT cover your stuff during transit, which several of my colleagues learned the hard way when their shipping containers ended up at the bottom of the ocean. Clements Worldwide and The Hirshorn Company are two groups that will insure your stuff door-to-door, including transit. Compared to USAA and similar, worldwide policies are not cheap, but it will give you peace of mind.
Donate consumables: Because it's not possible to ship liquids, and impractical to ship food, FSOs often donate consumables to colleagues remaining at Post. I've inherited more booze and spices than I can ever use, including a jumbo-sized can of Old Bay that has now changed hands several times. Try to give items individually to folks who can actually use them. I'm giving my baking goods (flour, sugar, vanilla) to my baker friend who always brings us yummy home-made treats to our office. I gave my Asian spices and sauces to our housekeeper, cookies and snacks to our hard-working building security guards, maintenance men and gardners. As a last resort, throw a party and invite friends to come over and help eat/drink your stuff!
Treat your movers well: Whenever we move, we follow local norms to reward our movers. In London and DC, it is customary to give a cash tip your movers. That's not common at our current post, but we still laid out a spread of coffee, water, sodas, muffins, cookies and snacks. Not only is it a morale booster, but it's just an act of kindness for these hard-working folks who are schleping your heavy boxes up and down stairs and onto trucks parked in 100F sun. Treat your movers well, and they will treat you and your stuff well in return.
Going Postal: We are lucky to have access to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) office at the Navy base. The USPS is a great and inexpensive option for shipping home your goods. Since our pack-out, I have discovered about two boxes worth of stuff that we forgot to put in UAB or HHE (lesson to self: open every drawer the day before Pack Out!). You can even ship suitcases, military-style duffel bags and foot lockers full of stuff (70 pounds max) as "M Bag" rates. The fees are much cheaper than what most airlines charge for an extra check-in bag. It's less stuff for you to carry and worry about, and makes maneuvering through airports a lot easier
Goodbye, our beloved TV! See you in DC!
Shipping kitty: The State Department will not pay to ship pets, so your options are limited when flying from post to post. Every country and airline has specific rules and regulations about flying pets. Most no longer offer in-cabin animals. And many airlines and regions of the world have strict weather restrictions. For example in Bahrain, United and Lufthansa will not ship pets from May 15 to Sept 15 (it's currently in the 100s F here). Yet their Dutch competitor KLM will ship pets, because they have special climate-controlled facilities and vehicles to transfer pets, BUT only on certain flights. If you will be shipping a pet, start researching your options at least 6 months in advance. This is especially important due to vaccine requirements, some which must be given to cat or dog within a specific time frame before flying. It's also important to find the right carrier. Europe airline standards are much stricter than American carriers regarding size of carrier. Don't leave pets to the last minute. And please please please don't abandon your pet at Post.
Your Carry-On: Certain items MUST be carried on the plane, including your medical file. Do NOT check in these items, which are irreplaceable if your luggage is lost or stolen. All your electronics should also be in your carry-on. This means finding the right carry-on bag or suitcase. (I'm a huge fan of Samsonite Spinner carry-on luggage and mobile office cases). Plan ahead.
That's all for now. If you have any Pack Out tips or tricks, please feel free to share!