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How I moved continents with two toddlers and six suitcases - and survived

If it wasn’t essential or could be replaced in Dublin, it wasn’t coming in the suitcase, writes Emily Westbrooks.
Oct 30th 2018, 4:53 PM 5,988 4

MOVING IS THE worst, no matter which way you cut it. Despite the best planning, it’s always a much bigger project than you can possibly anticipate, and much more exhausting by the end than you could have imagined.

But sometimes it’s just unavoidable. After living in Houston, Texas for three years, my family of four made the big move back to Dublin last summer. And while I won’t be signing up for an international move with a 2.5 year-old and a not-yet-one-year-old again anytime soon, we survived to tell the tale.

It was hard, but doable, and we learned quite a lot traveling over those 4,000 miles.

Both my husband and I are planners at heart, so we managed to do pretty well ticking off all the moving boxes, so to speak. But in retrospect, we would have made one big change to our plans. When we moved, we made a stop over with my parents’ house in Maine for a month before heading to Dublin.

Don’t do that. If you’re making a big move, just go from A to B, no detours, no pit stops. The move itself is hard enough without keeping kids out of their routines any longer, so get them to their destination as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Here are a few more things I learnt along the way, that might help if anyone else out there is planning a long-haul move (or even a short hop to a new place around the corner) in the future.

shutterstock_252590521 Source: Shutterstock

1. You probably don’t need the big shipping container/moving van

We didn’t ship belongings back to Ireland because it just wasn’t cost-effective. Provided you’re not attempting to move lots of furniture, then rest assured, an entire family can move destinations with just suitcases. We paid for two extra cases and it was a very inexpensive way to move. 

2. Now is the time to streamline your stuff

One of the biggest ways to make an international move easier with small children is simply to bring less stuff. The less you bring, the less you have to worry about packing and the less you have to worry about unpacking at your destination. We used the opportunity to purge non-essentials like our lives depended on it. If it wasn’t essential or could be replaced in Dublin, it wasn’t coming with us. 

3. Do the packing up in stages

Because we were moving out of our apartment and had to leave the place empty, we packed in stages over the course of a month. We packed everything that we didn’t need day-to-day first, and left all of the essentials to the last week. Once we were in the last week, I packed everything except a set of five outfits for each person in the family.

shutterstock_1070021372 Source: Shutterstock/Estrada Anton

4. And hide a few toys away

With small children, novelty is the name of the game when it comes to toys, so I packed away a set of toys that I knew they’d enjoy seeing once we got to Dublin (but that they wouldn’t necessarily miss or ask for in the lead-up to the move). It was a nice way to help them acclimate to their new surroundings with familiar belongings.

5. Young kids are more observant than you might think

Even small kids are perceptive and understand so much more than you’d imagine. At two years old, I was sure my daughter would quickly forget our Houston home, but I was wrong. She asked for her grey crib and her blue house several times a day for the first several weeks. I was glad that we had talked about moving to Dublin so much with her, rather than assuming she wouldn’t notice the change of surroundings. 

6. Switching time zones? Start the shift before you leave

If you’re changing time zones in your move, start to shift toward your destination time zone in the week before you travel. Sleep is absolutely the hardest part of moving with very small children, so mitigating the middle-of-the-night waking is critical in those first few days. Shift bedtime and naptime by half an hour each day in the five to seven days before you move.

7. Bring the priceless stuff (and important documents) in your carry on 

I had the kids’ birth certificates, passports and documentation in my carry on from the start, but I nearly packed a lot of their other mementos and medical records into a check-in case before coming to my senses. If you can manage, bring those things in your carry on (or at the very least, don’t put them in the moving truck). That way, you can rest assured nothing irreplaceable will get lost in a suitcase on the way.

shutterstock_1083201521 Source: Shutterstock/CatwalkPhotos

8. Fix up your paperwork before the move

The last thing you want to be doing in the first few days in a new place is spending hours on the phone with the cable company trying to cancel your service at your old home. As much as possible, tidy up all your paperwork and services before you step on the plane. Those tasks, while tough to do amidst packing and organising, are even harder to do when you’re trying to get settled in your new home.

9. Do a mental walk-through of your journey first 

In your head or on paper, walk through every step of the journey. We moved with six suitcases, two car seats, a double stroller, two carry-ons and a diaper bag — in addition to our two small children, one of whom couldn’t yet walk and the other who couldn’t walk reliably for very long. 

When we got to the airport in the States I realized I hadn’t thought about how we would get from the luggage carousel through to departures with all our belongings and children. We couldn’t go back and forth through the secure doors to bring loads of things out, and there aren’t porters to help at that stage. It made for a very stressful 5 am arrival into Ireland!

10. Bring a stash of the kids’ favourite treats for their new home

Food is a huge element for kids feeling comfortable in their surroundings. If you’re moving far from home, sure to pack a stash of favourite treats for sad moments during travel or even the first weeks at your destination. When kids are out of their element and routine, familiar snacks and treats can help ease their anxiety.

11. Consider dividing and conquering 

This sounds counterintuitive, but one of the best decisions we made in our move was to have me travel the first stage of the journey with the kids first, with my husband following behind after tidying the last of the packing. While it was exhausting to fly with two under three, it was better than trying to get rid of cots when kids still needed them.

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Emily Westbrooks

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