Sorry about the dreadfully boring title.
I decided to write a post on tips for moving, specifically for, but not limited to, military families moving overseas. I wish I had had someone give me tips like this when we moved to Japan in 2006. That was definitely a learning experience and my thoughts immediately went back to those days as I began packing up our things this time. Of course, Europe is a different continent that has its own share of challenges, but overall there are things that can be done to save yourself a lot of trouble and frustration once you actually get there. If you find yourself in this situation now or in the future, I hope this post can help out a bit! If you aren’t military, maybe this will shed a little light on how military moves go.
There are three shipments that normally go with an overseas military move (depending on the location):
Unaccompanied baggage – This is the immediate shipment that will be flown to your new location. You are usually allotted somewhere around 1,000 pounds total and limited on some items (television size, no beds, etc.). You can expect this shipment to arrive within a month or two of getting there.
Household goods – This shipment includes everything you plan on taking with you overseas. How many pounds you are allotted depends on your rank and the number of dependents you have. All of these items will be put into wooden crates and shipped to your new location by boat. You can expect these items anywhere from two to four months of your orders date, depending on when you move. During peak PCS season it may take longer, etc.
Storage – This is pretty obvious, but these are items you do not want to bring with you overseas. They will be stored locally and shipped to you whenever you return to the states.
Each person in your family, regardless of age, is allotted two 70 pound checked bags. Definitely take advantage of that! If you are not sure if you’ll need more bags, pack an extra bag inside a bag. Once you finally get your stuff packed and moved out you may figure out you’ll need more room.
Peak PCS season is from around May-September (but I would stretch that to April). If you get to PCS before that, lucky you! You may get your car and household goods quickly and you get first pick on housing. If you are arriving in the middle of peak season, don’t be picky on housing and grab it while it’s hot.
Planning is everything
-Begin looking for housing months before.
Get a good idea of what your family can afford off base in your new location if you plan on living on the economy. For some, there is no choice. Where we are Ramstein AFB there is a year waiting list for on-base housing. I encourage you to give living off base a try. You might as well take full advantage of the opportunity given to you, and living out in the community is one of the best ways to do so. If you have school-age children, though, living on base is great because you are close to the schools and the friends your children will make there. Visit AHRN.com or your new base’s online yard sales to see what’s currently available online.
If you are arriving during peak PCS season, plan on having to rent a car on-base when you get there. It might be a good idea to do it regardless, especially if you have children. That way you will be able to get around easily before your car arrives or you buy one. (Be sure to ask your sponsor if your new base has rental cars available. Both of our bases overseas have been larger, but I know there are smaller bases that may not have them.)
Be wise when planning your shipments.
An overseas military move can be frustrating because you basically have to divide the items in your house into the three sections. You will schedule all three on different days, household goods normally taking around three full days alone. From my experience doing this twice, schedule your unaccompanied baggage first, household goods next, then storage. The reason being that if you accidentally forget something in your unaccompanied baggage shipment, you can put it with your household goods to guarantee it makes it overseas with you. If you do it the other way around you run the risk of having to mail stuff to yourself or trash it since the unaccompanied baggage shipment is limited. Even with this being our second overseas move, it still happened. Our dog kennel and some other items we needed overseas got left behind. When packers come, they move fast, so the more you can have your stuff divided, the better.
Plan out your animal’s stuff. (If you don’t have an animal, skip this section.)
I would’ve used a better word rather than stuff, but that’s just what it all is. If you plan on taking animals, you MUST do your research a good 4-5 months in advance of your PCS date. Each location overseas (Hawaii and Alaska included) has its own requirements regarding timing of certain vaccinations and health certifications. (I have heard Hawaii is the most difficult place to move pets to out of all overseas locations, so do your research.) Just a few things you will need to think about:
-Many people do not think about extreme heat/cold, but if your pet will be traveling in cargo, better keep it in mind, as some airlines will not accept pets during certain temperatures. Even if you are going AMC (Air Mobility Command), you may have to fly commercial to your actual fly-out location.
-Rabies shot (Most have to be done within a certain amount of days of leaving.)
-ISO microchip inserted (MAKE SURE you order one that is approved for your pending location. Contact your on-base vet and double check to be sure.)
-Health certificate (Usually must be completed WITHIN 10 days of leaving. It must be signed by your state’s Department of Agriculture, but this will be waived if you do it on base by a USDA certified vet. You must make this appointment way ahead of time!)
-Crate – It must be an IATA (International Air Travel Association) certified kennel that is large enough for the animal to lay down in completely, and tall enough to where there are a few inches above its head when it is sitting. (On our flight this time around we could’ve gotten away with a smaller crate for our dog, but you do NOT want to risk it. Next to us checking in was a couple with two cats in a soft carrier. Turns out they needed a hard carrier because they wouldn’t let the cats be brought in-cabin. If AMC did not happen to have an extra carrier, they would’ve been screwed!)
As far as padding and things of that nature go, here is the route we took. It was our first time traveling with our dog overseas, so I wanted to be extra prepared, and it all worked out wonderfully. She made no messes and seemed comfortable:
-For pee pads we used DryFur. A friend of mine suggested them and so I figured we’d try them out. What I liked initially is they are flat on the bottom but still foldable for packing, so they won’t wrinkle up and slide around. They are disposable and come in packs of two, which is great since we have one flight and then a drive once we get there. (Turns out I didn’t even need the second one!)
-We are using old towels as well that I have slept with to keep my smell around her. We kept extra in a duffel just in case we needed them once we arrived.
-Doggie coat – We got a cheap one just to keep her warm in cargo. She looked like Dracula:
–This doggie pad is thinner than an actual dog bed, but is soft and radiates her own heat so she will stay warm. We put it on top of the DryFur pad and the towels on top of that.
Items to have in each shipment
I will adit that my parents (who moved 34 times in their time with the USAF) told me this the first time we moved and I didn’t take it as seriously as I should’ve. I was so unsure about everything going on at that point that I honestly didn’t think a lot about it at the time. But this is definitely a great kit to have for when you arrive in your new home. Remember, you will not see your household goods for at the very least two months (most of the time longer during peak PCS season), so it is good to have some key tools on hand right when you get there. Here are some things I recommend having in your kit:
-separate pieces to specific things into baggies with their instruction manuals and labeled (This is HUGE because your big stuff will be taken apart each time you move, and if you have specific types of screws/nails/etc., that go with specific items in your house, you do not want to lose them!)
-instruction manuals on how to put big items together such as cribs, shelves, etc. The packers will unpack your stuff AND put it together for you, so it is good to have them handy just in case they need them.
-screwdriver (I take many – flat head and Phillips with varying sizes)
-allen/hex wrench set
-pliers (regular and needle-nose)
-LOTS of Command strips – Keep in mind that much of the housing overseas is not built like that in the US. For instance, in Japan homes are designed to withstand typhoons, so they are built from cinderblock and concrete, which is very hard to drill into. I have heard the walls in Germany are difficult to drill into as well. Also, you will more than likely be renting off base, and so the least amount of damage you can do to the walls as possible is best. Command, though expensive, has made moving much easier! Almost all of the art in my son’s nursery was hung using Command strips, which made the take-down job much faster and less of a hassle.
-I added a bag of batteries that contained all of the batteries from my sons’ toys.
-packing tape – We found that after everything was finally moved out of the house there were some items left behind that we still needed, so we had to mail them back to ourselves.
-3 in 1 tool
Other stuff to include in this shipment:
-Blow-up mattresses – Since your beds cannot go on this shipment, be sure to have blow up mattresses for everyone. They have really come a long way with air mattresses! I mean really:
If you already have blow up mattresses be sure to blow them up before they are packed to make sure they still work and have no holes.
-mixing bowl (a big and a medium)
-a few plates, bowls, utensils…enough for your family to eat on for a limited time
-Appliances you use often – Of course, due to power differences some may not work exactly the same, but they will still work. We included our Kitchen Aid and bread maker, so we’ll see if that was smart or not.
-If you have a baby, put the exersaucer (or as my 6 year old says, the ‘excersizer’) in this shipment!
-clothes/shoes (Pack a good amount of your normal clothes in your checked baggage. Remember to bring layers if you are moving to a different climate than you are used to.)
-All plates, utensils, cups, etc. that you use ON A REGULAR BASIS – I am kind of a mug whore. I like mugs and have TONS, but I learned from our stint in Japan that if I don’t use it, store it. Most places you will go do not have pantries, so you wind up using what little cabinet space you do have for food, which limits space for unneeded things like mugs. It was hard watching all of my mugs go into hibernation for who knows how many years…I miss them already.
-furniture you USE – In Japan we were advised against brining any big furniture like our sofa and coffee table (the military provides you with such items anyway). But once we got there we found that we could’ve easily brought our own furniture and would’ve been fine on space. Just don’t bring TOO much because the housing you will get (especially if you go off base) will more than likely be smaller than what you are used to or have awkward spaces. Thing hard about your bed frame and very large items, as some places have narrow stairs with limited ceiling height which makes it impossible to get certain pieces moved. In Japan they had to move our 60″ tv by using a CRANE. My husband almost had a heart attack.
-kids’ toys and books
For what to put in storage, read below.
What NOT to take to any overseas location:
-ANYTHING you don’t use or could live without – We all have it. That “stuff” that sits around in our garage or closet that haven’t seen the light of day since we moved in, uh, three years ago. Just do yourself the favor and keep it boxed up to be put into storage. You have to get into the overseas housing mindset. Most places will not have walk-in closets. In fact, in Europe they don’t even have closets, so you really need to be picky. Do not go down the “but I might use it one day” road!
Examples of our stuff going into storage:
-Inherited furniture that needs refurbishing: trunk, chair, rocking chair
-a few boxes of home decor stuff that had not been opened since we moved in to our house. I didn’t even open them to see what was inside. If I didn’t need it there, it could wait a few more years.
-After teaching for 9 years I have accumulated a ton. It’s hard sorting through my work stuff because I don’t know 1) if I’ll get a job, 2) if I do, what grade I’ll teach, and 3) how much storage room I’ll have in my house for my stuff if I don’t get a job. I try to narrow it down to the stuff I know I will use. I really had to be picky with my children’s books. Only the best go with me.
If you have kids…
I have flown many-a-time with my children. My 6 year old has flown more times than I had by the time I was 21. I have flown from Okinawa to the states then back again by myself with a 5 month old (I thought labor was difficult…). By this time I have a few tips and tricks that can help make the trip a teeny bit easier. Of course, some of these depend on the child’s age, but maybe a couple will help you.
-Buy a few new toys for the plane. More than likely by the time you fly out your child has played with his/her toys multiple times and may be getting a tad bored with them, so bringing new toys they have never seen in your carry on is bound to keep the little rascals busy for at least a few extra minutes.
-If you are formula feeding, prepare snack-sized bags of portioned out formula and buy a bottle of water inside the terminal to take on the flight. It will make bottle feeding much easier when baby gets fussy.
-Bring your Boppy pillow if your child is less than a year, especially if you are nursing.
-Bring your child’s car seat. Measure it first, but it will help to have a place you can put baby while you eat or while they sleep. Cuddling with your child is nice and all, but you are going to want to put them down at some point, believe me. Keep in mind, though, that many car seats may not fit in bulk-head seating. I learned this the hard way the time I flew by myself. Thankfully a nice Japanese couple traded me seats so I could have room for my son’s car seat.
-Bring some sandwich sized plastic bags for dirty diapers just in case you can’t get to a trash can immediately (this has happened to me on a flight before). It will save noses all around.
-Have plenty of baby wipes.
-Benadryl. Okay, before I get emails from all of my granola mom friends out there (not judging…I consider myself 43.5% granola), hear me out. It took me 24 hours of flying to get from Okinawa, Japan to Texas with a 5 month old. From mainland Japan to the states you are looking at 12+hours, with a baby. I have NO SHAME resorting to medication to help my child sleep. Not after doing it. No way. Now, our flight to Germany was an overnight flight. We took off around 7pm and got here bright and early in the morning. When we landed we had a very long day ahead, and if my children had not slept I might’ve just lost it. So, to ensure my kids got as much rest as possible, I administered Benadryl. If you choose to do the same, be sure you rinse out another baby medicine dropper (like the infant Tylenol) to use on the plane. Wash it out well and put the Benadryl inside. Why? Because it would royally suck for you to get to security and then they take your Benadryl because the container is too many ounces. Check the big bottle of the stuff, and keep the dropper for the plane.
Of course, it is your choice. But I will just say this: my kids slept a long time. They barely made a sound and got a full night’s sleep the next night. The people behind me did not administer the happy juice and their kid screamed 90% of the flight right into my ear. JUST SAYIN’.
***Be sure to do a ‘trial’ run before your flight, though. For some, Benadryl has the OPPOSITE effect and will keep a child wide awake, so you must try it out first. And definitely do your research on dosage.***
What to Pack in Your Checked Baggage
We are very prepared people. My husband is a very prepared person. Thank God for that. He prepares for scenario A, B, C, D, and Q. He researches everything and becomes smart on whatever it is he is looking to do. It is wonderful to be that way, especially by nature. I am not like that, but I have learned a lot from him. Now, we may pack much more than others, but this time around we knew what to expect once we finally got to our location. We knew what TLF would be like and we knew what ‘comforts’ we would like to have around once we got there. With military moves each person is allowed two 70 pound bags. That’s a lot of bags.
Yes, that is 7 Patagonia/North Face duffels. They look small, but I could fit two of me in those blue ones. The boys had one bag, I had one, my husband had two (one for uniforms, documents, etc.), and the other three were for random stuff. Random stuff we included because we just weren’t sure how quickly we’d be able to get to what we needed once we arrived (This all depends on your sponsor. When we moved to Japan our sponsor sucked royally and did not take us to the commissary–or any food place–for TWO DAYS. This time we had a fantastic sponsor that took my husband right after we flew in):
-Percolator + 1 full giant bag of Dunk and Donuts coffee in a Ziploc. (We HAVE to have our coffee.)
-extra towels for Rosie
-extra dog bones
-boxes of checks
-1 Ziploc full of dog food
-baby jumper (since we don’t have the exersaucer, this was great. We used it in the hotel before we left and in TLF…helped get little one’s energy out!)
-travel coffee mug
-our regular coffee cups (Okay, we are serious coffee snobs.)
-shaker bottle for protein shakes
-some plastic bowls and spoons for Thing 2
-1 full formula container and 1 full brown rice cereal
-1 full container of diapers/wipes
-2 Ziplocs full of store-bought baby food (for hotel stay)
-Baby Bullet and containers
-Our GPS (We bought two before moving overseas and highly recommend you do too.)
-Extra smaller duffels just in case (I guess we are duffel whores as well.)
Okay, I THINK I’ve covered most of the important things. Please feel free to leave your own tips or message me with any questions regarding overseas moves. I love to use the experiences I’ve had to help people in any way. Next post will be about our arrival in Germany!