We brought our pillows and even though they took up quite a bit of suitcase space, it was so worth it. It makes a foreign bed immediately feel familiar and if you're at all picky about the texture of your pillow, I highly recommend it. Getting a good night's sleep is important for dealing with all the stresses of being a new expat. It's fun and exciting of course, but all that paperwork and everything being new can take its toll if you're not well rested.
2. Kitchen Knives
If you like to cook at all, I can guarantee you will not be happy with the quality of knives provided in furnished apartments. Buy a knife roll from a restaurant supply store and put your kitchen knives in your luggage. We shipped ours, thinking that shipping wasn't going to take long, but it ended up being several months before our boxes arrived. In that time we quickly resolved never to be without our own knives again!
We packed our iPod and speaker dock, which is admittedly a bit of a luxury to bring, but we've never been sorry. It's quite small and it means we have all our music. Before leaving Canada, we ordered a European style plug from Bose (the maker our speaker dock). The new plug was less than $5 and the transformer was designed for the plugs to be easily interchangeable. We brought it in hand-luggage to be sure it wouldn't be damaged.
What NOT to Pack
The flip side to this list is what NOT to bring. That can be harder as it really depends on where you're going (and where you're leaving). We went from Montreal, a city with a huge temperature range (-30°C to +30°C) to Amsterdam, which has a mild climate (-5°C to +25°C). The result was that we brought way more seasonal clothing than necessary. We were at least smart enough to leave our winter coats behind, but we still brought too much. Of course, we need some for holidaying in other climates (Italy in August!), but much less than for day-to-day living. Remember that part of the adventure is embracing your new country and its culture and the less you bring, the more opportunities and space for the new things you'll discover.
Of course, everyone's priorities and comforts are different, so it can be hard to know in advance which things you'll really wish you had. Remember that for many items, you can probably buy something equivalent on the other end (but keep your destination culture in mind before assuming this!). You might find having a shopping list of wish-I-brought-it items to be just one more stress when you don't know the city or the stores, so think carefully about the things you use everyday. Those will be the items you are likely to miss the most.
If you've ever been an expat, what items do you wish you'd brought (or left at home)?
Photographs and artwork by Allison Gryski. © All rights reserved.