Traveling Circuses

IMG_3176Pack.  Unpack.  Repeat.

As I prepare for yet another move, living among boxes and bubble wrap, it occurred to me that I’ve become very adept at packing.  And unpacking.  Not only are there the BIG moves, the ones involving shipping containers and lost-at-sea insurance premiums, but there are the little moves in between and lots and lots and too much suitcase packing.  I’m sure the following train of thought will be familiar to anyone who has ever moved overseas:

“We’re moving?  Great!  (Motherf*ck**!).  Yup.  I’ll arrange for them to come and pack up the house.  Yes, I know.  I need to make sure I have 6-8 weeks of clothing, toys, toiletries and anything else I can’t get/is too expensive to buy/is illegal to purchase put aside while we are living out of suitcases in temporary housing.  No problem!  I can put X in the air freight, Y in the container.  Plenty of room for Legos in my carry-on.  Hmm, but it’s going to be a different season where we are going so I need to make sure I pack the summer stuff for the trip we were stupid enough to book in the middle of this all while keeping the winter clothes marked so we can get to them after we move and the container comes and–oh we’ll need the converter for the coffee pot and what’s the voltage where we’re going?…”  

Like most things in life, the more you do it, the better you become at it.  But packing up your life into cardboard boxes isn’t the only thing you become good at when you sign up for the traveling circus that is ex-pat life.  And as I procrastinate packing up my own moving boxes, I’ve come up with a few more.

2013-05-10 14.38.23

Streamlining sentimentality

Virgo neurosis aside, when you are moving from place to place every few years, you become very picky about what stays and what goes.  In our marriage, my husband is the more sentimental of the two of us.  While I long for the day when I can decorate like a grown up with breakable objects without having to step over boxes of trucks and bins of color-coded Lego, he gets slightly misty when it comes time to cull the boys’ things.  I have saved a few favorite books, tee shirts that tell a story, but everything else gets donated, given away, or sold.  Harsh maybe, but a necessity when you are charged by the cubic foot and you don’t have a basement.

Making friends

This life is not for the wall-flower.  Unless you are the personality type that likes to change your name, hair color, and identity in order to hide from Interpol by moving every few years, you have to put yourself out there.  I’ve never been a particularly shy person, so making friends was never a hardship for me, but I’ve become even better at it after living abroad.  Coffee mornings, school functions, playground chit-chat.  Ex-pat socials, linked up lunches, supermarket tours.  It’s the only way to get by.  The tails to the friendship coin toss, however,  is

IMG_3137Saying Goodbye

When you live your life on a timeline, as a lot of ex-pats do, you have two choices.  One is to not invest in friendships.  But you will lead a very isolated and lonely life.  Not to mention missing out on a lot of information like where the cheapest place to get your eyebrows waxed is and which babysitter is likely to invite her motorcycle driving boyfriend over to “help” with the kids.  The other is to harden yourself to saying good-bye.  Depending on where you are in the ‘circuit’, there are years where the turn-over is pretty low, and there are other years when it seems like everyone you know is putting those packing skills to good use.  In Cyprus we had one friend whose house was the one everyone congregated at.  Impromptu barbeques and playdates and dinners.  Gossip and wine for the ladies, cigars and meat grilling for the men.  When they left, it was a sad day.  But you can’t wallow in the holes that are left behind.  Instead you have to become a little Buddhist about the whole thing–those people who are meant to stay in our lives will cross our paths again.  And even those that don’t, well, they were present for a time and touched us in some little way and we will have them in our memories and photo albums.  And there is always Facebook.

Making it work…Ikea style

No one tells you when you sign up for this that the furniture that worked in your small Brooklyn apartment  will get lost in your giant, modern Cypriot house which in turn looks wrong in your traditional Danish flat.  Or that the electronics you buy in one country won’t work in most others.  Honestly, why no one is lobbying for  a universal voltage initiative is beyond me.  Hence most ex-pats are thrilled to find a local Ikea.  You may find yourself in a giant house with no furniture (Cyprus) or in a lovely apartment with zero closets  (Denmark).  And you will thank God for Ikea.  Most of us clutch the catalog like a Bible.  Most of us can tell you which pieces require those god-awful allen keys and which you can put together on your own when your partner is attending a conference in sunny Dubai and you’re stuck with 18 boxes of books that need to be unpacked and you have nowhere to put them.

IMG_3136Embracing Carpe Diem.  

I’ve written before about some of the downsides of the ex-pat life.  The difficulties, the complaints, the cons of living far from home.  But what an opportunity!  And despite the fact that you can’t find Kraft Macaroni and Cheese or Fruit Loops (and really folks, we shouldn’t be eating them anyway….) or that a Cypriot might get out of his car and bang on yours while yelling that you didn’t move fast enough…at a red light…(true story), or that a Dane may look at you in horror when you casually ask “How are you?” (true story), life is pretty good.  Better than pretty good.  Pretty great really.  And this is written by the forever pessimist.  The one who keeps a Worst Case Scenario Handbook close by.  But when you embrace the concept of living each day, it helps ease the homesickness pangs and the cravings for Utz Cheese Doodles.

So while I sort through my belongings yet again, decide which glasses to take and which to chuck, fret over which box to put the coffee pot in, I am grateful.  This circus isn’t always easy.  At times it feels like you are a walking a tightrope between cultures, balancing more than a few spinning plates on the end of a stick.  But it’s certainly a colorful life–one filled with juggling acts sure, but magic and wonder as well.  And I, for one, find that a few sparkly trapeze outfits hanging in my Ikea closet brighten up my life immensely.

Bring on the Dancing Horses.


24 thoughts on “Traveling Circuses

Add yours

    1. Thank you! There’s nothing fun about packing. Ever. Even if wine and salty snacks are provided. This time it’s just a local move for us. So all the hassle, yet none of the funding.


  1. So so so true. Never thought of myself as a ‘career expat’, and yet here I am preparing for our 5th international move. And yes, we have planned a holiday in the middle of all the craziness too. Love what you wrote, words came straight from my own heart! Hate leaving, trying to embrace new opportunities, trying to ensure our 3 children are kept happy and unaware of the head splitting stress that we are going through…. So this is the last time! Until next time anyway…. Good Luck with yours x


    1. You summed it up quite nicely yourself! Fortunately this one is a local move for us, so just a ‘little’ one. Lots of packing and culling, but at least no good-byes. In terms of keeping the kids unaware of the stress, well, that’s what iPads were invented for I think! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!


  2. Just took a packing break to read this! You perfectly capture the emotions and decisions we experience pre-moving. thanks Dina


  3. Wow, I’ve just made my first (only?!) international move and I am in awe! I’m excited and terrified (and nervous about unpacking) and looking forward to trawling your blog for more advice!!


    1. It is exciting and terrifying! I’m in awe of the people that do it every two years. We are lucky enough to have a little bit more freedom and leeway in our postings, so it doesn’t feel as frequent. Please feel free to ask away if you have any questions.


  4. A great blog and I do sympathise with the hardships of moving continents and life styles. I ‘ve never had to move countries, but even little moves within a country is hard. We did a big downsize from a family house to a much smaller more modern flat 3years ago and it was very traumatic having to get rid of so much furniture and sentimental items. I do sympathise!


    1. I think moving is stressful no matter if you are moving down the street or across the ocean. While I seem to have no problem throwing away my own children’s artwork and report cards, I think I would have a tear if my mom threw all mine away!


    1. Yes, it does suck. But I won’t complain, we are very lucky and we’ve had some great experiences and met some wonderful people. None of which we would have been able to do if we hadn’t packed those boxes.


      1. True, It seems you’re quite a bit more outgoing than I am. Moving had the opposite affect on me. I became more introverted because I was tired of losing friends every time I moved.


  5. Good luck with the move. We did a local move last year, and you’re right: they can be just has harried. We’re contemplating another local move now……..

    When MTM lived overseas, he chose to invest in friendships, and some of those remain to this day. It has to be the better way, for however long one is around.


    1. Thanks. Honestly, I feel like I just unpacked and here I am packing again. But it’s all worth it. And MTM had the right idea, it’s always worth it to invest in friends. When you are overseas, they become your family too.


  6. Great blog! Have moved many times too and, yes, you do get better… or more efficient?? Great inventions like zip-lock bags make life so much smoother (keeps the Ikea bolts and allen keys in one place!). Enjoy wonderful Copenhagen – don’t forget to get out in the all-too-brief summer!!


    1. Thank you! This is our 2nd overseas posting. We are currently in the midst of a GLORIOUS Copenhagen summer (making up for the never ending winter and the crap summer last year). But I will take what I can get. This move is a fairly easy one–only across Copenhagen, not the ocean. I think at this point we have so many allen keys and extra bolts (uh-oh) that we could do with losing a few to lighten the load.


Talk to me, Goose.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

NY Political Mom

I'm a mom. I'm political. Give me coffee or give me death.

Book Jotter

Reviews, news, features and all things books for passionate readers

THIS IS US… a colorful, collaborative, collection of truth-tellers, soul-sharers, magic makers and game shakers. All that have a unique story to tell, angle to take and position they stand strongly behind.

D.E. Haggerty

Writer, Blogger, Book Addict

PRS Consulting

What you need to know about roofing


a performative documentary project based on letters to the editor of Ms., 1972-1980

Brizzy Mays Books and Bruschetta

Predominately Books But Other Stuff Too

The Happy Traveler

Seeking to read the pages of Earth's Book.

only the jodi

write. rewrite. typewrite.

%d bloggers like this: