The Hindsight Report: What We Should Have Packed

This is the fourth time we’ve PCS’d and you’d think we would have this figured out by now, but as many long term FS people will tell you, it actually seems to get worse over time.


UAB Weight Mug I designed
UAB Weight Mug I designed!
 What should we put in our suitcases? Our UAB? Our HHE? Storage? How much does that crystal nut bowl weigh and why on earth did it make it with us to insert-BFE-No-where-post-here?  PCSing can be stressfull.

Since arriving at post just about a month ago, I’ve been revisiting just what I should have packed in our luggage and UAB specifically.  This list will probably differ for a lot of you, but could lend a hand.  

Checked Luggage

As of this writing, everyone on orders may take up to two suitcases (weight determined by airline) and even if you have to pay for your extra bag up front, keep that receipt and boarding passes to submit for reimbursement after arriving at post.  The stuff that makes it in your luggage is the stuff you’re going to use and need the minute you hit your new digs, whether you’re put in temp housing/hotel room for a week or months, or are lucky enough to get your permanent house.  The general rule for checked luggage is no expensive items, especially if transiting multiple airports, third world countries, changing carriers, or pretty much anywhere.  I break this rule sometimes.  Also, singles and/or couples with no kids may discard half to two thirds this list 🙂

If you can weigh your luggage before arriving at the airport, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and embarrassment from having to shuffle items from one suitcase to another as you try to get under weight.

  • Some spices (we cook and are foodies)
  • Rain jacket (It’s bound not to rain if you pack it)
  • Clothes (outfits you can wear until your UAB arrives)
  • Sun block (expensive and/or poor quality elsewhere)
  • Cook book (again, foodies)
  • Tupperware (where on earth are you going to put leftovers?  An expensive and/or local set?)
  • metal/Plastic wine glasses (some welcome kits have no wine glasses!)
  • Plastic egg holder (bringing eggs home from the market on foot, bike or motor pool/taxi can be bouncy)
  • International plug adapters (for any 110-240v devices like laptops that don’t need a dedicated transformer)
  • Crayons, colored pencils (your kids, despite your best efforts will have few to none in their own luggage)
  • Zip lock bags (expensive pretty much anywhere except the US)
  • Peanut butter (always a good plan)
  • Stamps, envelopes (if you’re at a DPO, you can buy locally, if pouch, perhaps not)
  • Liquid measure (again, some welcome kits are without)
  • Shoes (sandals, running shoes, one set of nice shoes, what-have-you
  • Projector (because that’s how we roll)
  • COPY of Kids school records
  • COPY of Birth Certificates, marriage license, social security cards
  • Pens (to replace the one you’ll lose from your carryon luggage when you arrive)
  • SIM punch tool (in case local SIM cards aren’t pre-cut for your phone)
  • shampoo/conditioner/soap of choice
  • coffee grinder/filters (assuming you can get whole beans at post/welcome kit may include a coffee maker, but sometimes no filters)
  • crushable food container full of cheddar and freezer blocks (right?!)
  • small board games and deck(s) of cards


The items below make for one seriously heavy and expensive carry-on, but I really don’t see the sense in putting any of these items in checked luggage, or skipping them for that matter.

  • Cameras + chargers (of course one of these made it into our HHE.  Best efforts, people)
  • Journal (because that’s important to me.  Maybe it’s your knitting or sketch pad)
  • Passports (one stack of Dips, one tourist)
  • Laptop (expensive!)
  • WiFi Router/computer backup (in our case, Apple Time Capsule)
  • VPN Router (when you get your local internet set up, NetFlix!)
  • AppleTV
  • iPad/iPhone Charger (in our case Goal Zero Sherpa 50)
  • Medical Records (could go in your luggage if you trust it)
  • Kids school records
  • Birth Certificates, marriage license, social security cards
  • Pen (for filling out all paperwork)
  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • iPad/tablet
  • Unlocked iPhone/smart phone in a weather resistant/proof case
  • sunglasses
  • hat
  • checkbook (for cashing checks at embassy)
  • visa photos (recent) of entire family for anything you need
  • Ibuprofen for adults…and kids if you’ve got them.
  • first aid kit/bandaids at the very least
  • pet food/supplies

Some posts get UAB in a week, some in six.  Depending on what your CLO-to-be/sponsor tells you before you pack and leave, some of these things you might end up mailing to yourself before-hand.  Just make sure that if you go that route, you don’t overload your mail room staff or wear out your welcome before you even arrive!

  • cast iron frying pan
  • pyrex Roasting pan/casserole dish/brownie pan (some welcome kits don’t have)
  • Large pot (some welcome kits don’t have)
  • Pressure cooker (so useful!)
  • Cutting board (welcome kit boards can be tiny and there is only 1 typically)
  • Knives (never underestimate the utility of a good set of knives)
  • Cutlery
  • Plates
  • Glasses
  • Wine glasses (some welcome kits don’t have)
  • Coffee/tea mugs
  • Battery backups (many posts have dodgy power grids.  Plug these into your transformers)
  • Remaining spices
  • Remaining Clothes
  • Remaining tupperware/bags/plastic wrap/aluminum foil/etc
  • pet food/supplies