Planning an international move: a checklist for minimalists

Making your move as a minimalist

When you’re getting ready to make a big move, the to-do list can start to feel overwhelming.
You can get caught up in minutiae that isn’t worth your time, and that can distract you from
fully being in the moment and really living those last few weeks or months before you start
the next chapter.

In my most recent international move, from the US to Ireland, I had fortunately been in the
process of decluttering and moving towards minimalism for about a year prior, so it was
about as stress-free as an international move can be. I realise not everyone making an
international move will have such a spartan amount of personal possessions. But I think anyone can encourage a shift of focus off of the physical possessions that can loom so large, and
onto some of the less obvious things that future-you will really thank you for getting figured
out.

Plus it’s just fun being a minimalist and making lists.

Various types of stuff and what to do With it:

Physical stuff:

General rule: Decide what you’re bringing, and then bring less. This is a good
time to get rid of old stuff: donate/give away most, sell some if you have time,
store an absolute minimum. I stored a box of sentimental stuff with my parents,
and got rid of the rest. Any clothes you have that you’re not bringing, you
probably don’t need. Donate, donate, donate. (Bonus tip for future-you: remember those trips to the charity shop before your re-accumulate more stuff.)

Kitchen stuff: I love to cook, and even as a minimalist, I briefly considered
whether I should try to bring some of my kitchen stuff with me to Ireland. NO! I
happened to mention this insane notion to my cousin who’s much smarter than
me, and her response was: “Um, no. Definitely don’t do that. I thought you’d done
this before?” Touche. Kitchen stuff was donated and zero fucks were given that
day.

Furniture: This is one of the worst categories of stuff. It’s big and heavy and hard
to get rid of. Get rid of as much as you can, ideally by selling it. I’ve had good luck
with Craigslist in Canada and the US, other countries have similar sites.

Clothing/personal effects: Keep these to one or two suitcases, max. Yes,
including shoes and accessories. You’ll replace a good bit of it once you settle
into your new location, anyways. I try to keep only what I’m currently using, plus
what I’ll definitely use in the next 3-6 months. Even doing this, and even with an already minimal wardrobe, I still got rid of yet more stuff within a few months of arriving in Ireland. Bring less than you think.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30, my ride or die

Bring like this amount of stuff, if you can

Money stuff:

Banking: This comes up surprisingly often on various expat subreddits etc., especially
given how simple the best approach is: Keep your bank account in your home
country, and open a new one in your new country. Done and done. There’s usually no downside to this and it will make your day to day life so much easier.

  • Americans will need to remember file an FBAR to report any non-US bank
    accounts, to the extent their total foreign accounts exceed $10,000 USD in a given
    year. Talk to an expat tax pro (such as yours truly!) about this if you don’t
    know how to file it!

Credit cards: If you have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction
fees, and has a low (or no) annual fee, keep it. I’ve learned the hard way that
credit cards are expensive and sucky in some countries (hi, Ireland!), so I like having my
US credit card as a fallback for any time I’m in a country with a currency I don’t
normally deal with.

Retirement/savings: Consider what you’ll do with your retirement/long term
savings accounts in both your departure and destination locations. I rolled my old
401k into an IRA, and I’m planning on maintaining that for the time being. I have
some specific ideas on what to do with US retirement accounts when leaving the
US, both as a US citizen, and as someone who will become a US non-resident,
but that’s for a future tax-nerdy post.

Transferring money: I like Transferwise for quickly moving money between
currencies, for a good exchange rate and with low, easy to understand fees. Don’t do anything silly and complicated like old fashioned wire transfers, unless there’s really no way around it.

Taxes: Just adding this to the checklist, as you’ll want to consider your residency
status in both locations, as well as arrival and departure filing requirements.
These really vary a great deal depending on your personal circumstances, so,
again, find a friendly expat tax expert for all the countries you deal with!

Simplify: I got rid of any excess cards and accounts that I wasn’t using, and
continually re-examine this to see if there’s anything further I can minimise or
simplify. I like having as few accounts as possible to get the job done. Right now that tends to average two per country I deal in, one for everyday banking, and another for long term savings/investing.

 

Practical stuff:

Communication: Everywhere else in the world uses Whatsapp, but I had to get a
few of my American pals on board with it. Yes, you may be used to texting me.
Now you can text me on Whatsapp and then the evil empire (aka the cell phone
company) doesn’t triumph over the downtrodden.

Free your phone: I happened to own my phone outright, so I was able to ask my
previous phone company to unlock it before I left. This made getting a new SIM a
snap. I’d suggest this where possible. Using a foreign SIM sucks for a number of
reasons, not least being extortionate roaming charges, and not being able to easily give your number to cute people you meet. Trying to explain your weird foreign phone number with its country code and plus signs and leading zeroes will really kill your flirtation game. Kidding! Sort of! It’s good for giving your number to local services too. Just get on a local SIM as soon as you can, and start living your life.

Mailing address: This one doesn’t come with any easy, pithy answers. Physical,
paper mail is the sucks and there’s no really satisfactory way of transporting those
horrible bits of paper around the world. Minimise the amount of physical mail
you’ll need to the extent possible, and then ask a friend if they can forward you
the really essential stuff.

  • For me this basically amounted to my W-2, as my previous employer wouldn’t email
    it to an external email address. And even this managed to suck! They
    ended up sending it to my old apartment, despite my best attempts to update my forwarding address to my friend’s address before I left. Ugh, fine. Fortunately, I had set myself a reminder to follow up on the W-2 if it hadn’t arrived by a certain date, so they would have time to resend it to the correct forwarding address. Doing this one time was fine, but doing this monthly would be unpleasant. Avoid paper mail to the extent possible.

Passport: If it will be expiring anytime soon, you might want to renew before you
leave. I have a gorgeous 10 year passport and it’s my most prized physical
possession.

Driver’s licence: In my experience you really don’t need that “international driver’s
licence” thing people sometimes mention. But it will be handy if your current
driver’s licence has as much time left before it expires as possible. Fortunately, I had just renewed mine before I moved, so I’m using this
to buy time and decide if I want to get an Irish driver’s licence. They make you
take the test, so I’m leaning towards no. I haven’t had any difficulty renting a car here on my old licence.

Anything else?

I’ll be making another move soon, this time to become semi-nomadic and
location independent. I envision having a few mini-bases in a few important locations where
my most beloved people are. But I’ll still rely on the above concepts of minimising and
simplifying, as they have served me well. What would you add to this list?

Frugal Travel Tips

One of my primary intentions is to enjoy life to the fullest while still moving towards my financial goals. Location independence + financial independence is the ultimate dream, but until I get there I have no intention of cutting travel out of my life. I live simply in most ways so that I can experience the things that really matter to me, and travel is, and always has been, high on that list. And it doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive, if you’re thoughtful, creative, and adaptable.

Here are some ideas you can incorporate into your travel planning, to travel lighter, travel simpler, and travel more:

1. Pack light: This will save you in more ways than one. Firstly, don’t pay to check bags. Ever. (*Unless you are moving countries permanently, and even then, question each item ruthlessly.) This will save you up to €100/$100 per trip, since checked bags can range from €25 per bag, each way.

But the savings don’t stop there. When you travel carry-on only, you can easily avail of (fun, interesting, character-building!) public transport instead of needing to take boring, expensive taxis to fit your luggage. You can also happily stay in small Airbnb’s or hostels because you don’t have lots of stuff to store.

Are you travelling to admire your possessions, or to get out and experience something new?

2. Fly cheap(er): I avail of Ryanair whenever possible, but not everyone lives in an area that’s well served by low-cost carriers. (Ahem, I’m looking at you, basically all of the United States and Canada…) So here are a few ways to be sure you’re getting a good deal:

  • Google Flights: Are you using Google Flights yet? You should be. You can set up tracking for any flights you’re interested in, and it will let you know when it thinks the price is at its lowest. I really like the calendar feature as well, especially if you have flexible dates.

    Hopefully making a trip to gorgeous Cape Town later this year…

    I also like the Explore feature, where you can have a gander at where’s cheap to travel if you have specific dates in mind (like a long weekend, and you don’t mind where you go in a region with lots of great destinations, like Europe, or Southeast Asia, for example).

I wish they had a dedicated mobile app, but that’s my only quibble.

  • Hopper: I also like Hopper for helping me decide when to book or wait on a particular flight. It gives handy reminders from a mobile app telling you when it thinks you should book.

Savings: I’d say I average €100 savings on most round-trip flights I book, by following the sage advice of Google Flights and/or Hopper.

3. Airbnb: Airbnb is my first stop when booking accommodations. Rarely do I find a better/cheaper/overall more appealing option than on Airbnb. It’s great as a solo traveller, because you can book a room in a shared accommodation if you want the potential to interact with the host, or you can book the entire apartment if you rather have privacy. I’ve also had great experiences with Airbnb in groups, where we got lovely houses for a great price, and were able to cook/relax together either as a group of friends, or with family.

I was an early-ish adopter of Airbnb and have been using it since 2012, with almost entirely positive results.

If you still haven’t given it a try, here’s a code to get €20 off your first trip!

Get €20 off your first booking on Airbnb!

Savings: The places I stay tend to average €50 per night, and hotels can be up to €200 per night (!?! Or so I’m told! That sounds insane to me but okay…) So let’s say that’s an average savings of €450 per trip, since my weekend jaunts tend to be around 3 nights.

5. Ground transportation: Walk when you can, and public transport all other times, should be your default approach. Sometimes safety or practicality can make public transport untenable, but give it an honest consideration at least, and approach it from the perspective of being a bit adventurous and anti-fragile.

Savings: At my home airport, I save at least €50 per trip, just by taking the Dublin Bus Airlink, at €6 each way, or €10 round-trip, instead of taxis at ~€30 each way (or more in traffic). Then at my destination, I’d say it’s easily another €50 savings on average, as most European cities have even better airport-to-city-centre transit options than Dublin.

So, let’s estimate the total savings per short, weekend trip, of applying a few really basic principles:

TOTAL SAVINGS:

  • Pack light = €100

  • Fly cheap(er) = €100

  • Non-insane accommodations = €450

  • Ground transportation = €50-100 per trip

TOTAL= €700- €750 per trip!

Stick that chunk of change into your low cost index fund, or your fund for your next trip, and travel on, you frugal, personal finance whiz!

I’ve followed my own advice for my trip to Rome this past weekend. A roundup of the #pursepacking results and some pics to come!

Purse packing – Rome Edition!

I considered trying to keep the alliterative thing going by incorporating some forced pun about pasta, but thought better of it (it would’ve been, dare I say… too cheesy?). I did have a pretty good run there of visiting cities that were brought to you by the letter P, namely Paris, Prague, and Portland, all in a pretty pink row.

But as it happens, my latest purse packing adventure is a quick weekend trip to Rome. It’s my first time visiting Italy, and I’m only going for 2 full days, really (my flight gets in late Thursday night, and leaves Sunday morning). But I’m going to try to get the most of it, and with any luck I’ll be back again soon!

The weather for this weekend is forecast at around 30°C (or 86°F for American friends) and sunny, which is way, way hotter than it ever gets in Ireland. So I’m just packing a big vat of SPF 50, basically. (Just kidding, I never pack more than the carry-on limit for liquids.)

So, for two days and three nights, in near-perfect weather, purse packing was a breeze. I remembered to pack something modest enough to visit the Vatican, but otherwise it’s skirts and light, airy tops. I’ll wear my black ballet flats on the plane, and probably for most of the trip, but I’m also bringing a pair of flat leather sandals that don’t suck to walk in. They’re probably overkill, actually.

Half of the clothes

The other half

The trusty Longchamp plus accessories/toiletries

Cover-up for sun/cathedrals

Long pants for cathedrals


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The long trousers are from one of those techwear companies (ProofNY, in this case) that I really wanted to be a thing, but that seemed maybe ahead of their time, sadly. They’re made of super light material that I’m hoping isn’t horrible in the hot weather. I need them because none of my skirts come below the knee, for my Vatican/cathedral day. I’ll probably stash a skirt in my handbag for after, to be honest.

Travel light & travel often!

Purse packing, Prague edition

I went to Prague for the May Day bank holiday weekend. It’s a stunning city and I can’t wait to go back. Super affordable, really easy to get around, great food, chilled out people, amazing architecture and loads of charm. It was so much fun that I didn’t take any pictures of what I packed, but it was basically a slightly pared-down version of what I packed for Paris. Just my Longchamp bag with the essentials, and I didn’t even use all of what I brought, so clearly I can keep minimising my packing even further.

It’s nice knowing that the formula for packing for long weekends is now pretty firmly established as tote-bag-only. The more I practice it, the more comfortable I feel throwing my stuff together at the last minute, confident in the knowledge that I’ll have what I need and that will be enough. And I really love being able to happily check out of my Airbnb at any time, throw my bag over my shoulder, and freely roam the city in the hours before my flight. And then to easily hop on public transport to the airport without having to deal with a big, unwieldy suitcase. The fun of being able to scamper up and down the always-empty stairs at the airport, while all the wheelie bags wait on the crowded escalator, is another perk. That’s how I usually end up at the front of the queue at immigration when I get back to Dublin. And from there it’s straight onto the trusty Aircoach or Dublin Bus Airport Express, where I can tally up how much I’ve saved by travelling this way. If you just look at taxis to/from the airport, both in Dublin and in whatever city I’m travelling to, it’s over €100 per trip, easily.

For as long as I live in Europe, I plan to have a lot more weekends like this, so I’m pretty happy to have found a formula that works. Since it would be boring to post more pictures of my very basic packing, here are some pretty pictures of Prague. Pack light and be happy!

Packing for Paris in a purse

People who know me well would agree I’m something of a minimalist. The concept of minimalism as a lifestyle has become extremely popular in recent years, and it’s an idea that deeply resonates with me and has served me well. If you haven’t come across it before, www.theminimalists.com is a great place to start. In fact, a lot of my inspiration comes from various minimalist-leaning voices; some of my favourites are listed in the Stuff I Love section. I’ll also be discussing how minimalist principles have influenced my dwelling choices (tiny apartment tour is forthcoming!), finances, personal possessions, and more.

It’s an ongoing process, but one area where I’m pleased with my progress is packing. It’s something we all have to do at some point or another, and as expats and nomads we find ourselves facing that empty bag or suitcase perhaps more often than most. I believe changing how you pack will transform how you travel and engage with the world. It also tends to have knock-on effects that impact and improve other areas of your life.

Change your relationship with stuff and you can change your life. You’ll realise that you need less than you thought, and you’ll experience the ease and elegance of bringing only what you need, only what you can comfortably carry. This affords you the space and capacity to take on the unexpected, to help others, to be light and nimble. These are all things to which I aspire generally in life. Prosaic though it may be, packing with intention can feel like getting closer to those ideals.

And since I love a good packing list as much as the next person, let’s embrace our inner basic and have a nose through what I brought on a recent 3 day weekend in Paris. Since I pack carry-on only as a general rule, I wanted to see if I could go even more minimalist for this trip, and just bring a large purse. As it wasn’t a work trip, I wouldn’t need a bulky work laptop or any formal clothes. I decided to use my Longchamp Le Pliage tote as my one bag, just to double down on the #basic. These bags are ubiquitous for a reason! They’re extremely versatile. I’ve had mine for ages and it still looks…like every other girl’s Longchamp. Which is fine by me.

Here’s what I brought:

I wore a top, cardigan, and the grey skirt on the plane. I packed the jeans, 2 other tops, another cardigan, and sleeping clothes/tights/undergarments. One pair of shoes, the simple black ballet flats, was perfectly sufficient.

The smaller black crossbody bag fit in the Longchamp and served as my day bag, as well as helped keep my airport essentials like my phone, wallet, Kindle, and passport close at hand during travel.

The toiletry bag is from my favourite travel bag/accessory maker, Tom Bihn. The 3D Organiser Cube is airport security-compliant for your liquids, and I also use it at home as my everyday cosmetics case.

Another everyday/travel item I love is the Hydroflask, which is brilliant at keeping water cold. I just fill it up once I’m though security.

 

And the individual items I brought/wore were all I needed for a weekend of cafes, walking around the city, and exploring restaurants and bars at night.

I wore this straight from work to the airport:

  

Mixing in the below items provided all the variety I needed:

   

And here is the finished result, which was a breeze to take on the plane, train, bus, and Metro, as well as to walk to my Airbnb:

 

What are your thoughts on packing light? Would you give it a go for a short weekend trip? I’ll definitely pack this light again. It felt great to be so unfettered, and not to stand out immediately as an awkward tourist. Surely better to let my awkward touristing speak for itself.