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Long-term packing (traveling less light...)

Hi everyone! I know that most on this forum usually travel with a carry-on size bag only (myself included) but I'm hoping for tips that anyone may have about packing larger suitcases for long-term travel/moving (in my case, for 2 years).

I am traveling from the US to the UK for a grad school program, and my plan is to move everything once (in two checked 28" hard-sided suitcases), then use my regular carry-on duffel for any travels back and forth or other excursions. (I checked out the student travel/study abroad forum too, but I think this is a better place for the topic since my situation is somewhere between studying abroad and moving.)

I tend to be a minimalist, so I'm not really worried about luggage weight, and I will be using compression bags for clothes and other soft items, like one set of sheets. I'm also pretty good about layering items and packing versatile clothes. However, there are also less things that I can just leave behind, since I'm going for school/work and not solely to travel. Fortunately, I only really have to worry about handling large these suitcases two or three times (traveling there, traveling back, and probably to switch flats in between).

Does anyone have advice for packing larger, checked suitcases? My main concern is having a methodical way to actually put my stuff into the suitcases - especially items like shoes that can't be compressed. That being said, I'm committed to schlepping everything myself since an extra checked bag will be less than international shipping! Thanks in advance ~

Posted by
3681 posts

Having made a similar move for a job in Germany in the early 80's, one thing really stood out in your question, the bit about the sheets.

Are you moving your own bed that they fit to the UK? If not, do you somehow know that where you'll be living will have a bed that those sheets will fit? If not, I'd leave the sheets at home or take only flat, not fitted ones. Bed sizes are different from US ones, even if the name sounds the same.

Here's a link to the sizes:

https://www.mybedframes.co.uk/blog/uk-bed-sizes-the-bed-and-mattress-size-guide/

Being curious about this, I Googled "packing large luggage for move" and found many recommendations for doing what you want to do. I'm sure you can do the same and do a better job of evaluating what's best for you. This is only one of the reference I found:
https://www.ofx.com/en-us/blog/how-to-pack-your-life-in-two-suitcases/

Posted by
4249 posts

My daughter moved to Hawaii for grad school. So we have some experience with this. We planned on using Amazon and Target to ship things (for free to Hawaii, probably not UK??) to ship things that were going to be purchased anyway. We also thought about things she could purchase from thrift stores once she arrived.

A big surprise to us was that just about any large suitcase densely packed even with mostly clothes ends up to be over 50 lbs. We had to do a lot of balancing between her checked and carry on luggage. A luggage scale really helped and then a small kitchen scale as we fine tuned what would go into each piece of luggage. Also, if you have a choice of large suitcases, weigh each to determine which to use.

When I traveled to see my daughter, I took advantage of my Delta AMEX to take one checked bag with more things for my daughter. Again, I had to be really careful to keep the checked bag under 50 lbs. What ended up happening that I didn't realize until too late, on the way to the airport, my husband commented that he didn't think I'd be strong enough to lift the carry on into the overhead bin. He was right, the carry on was probably 50 lbs., too. Delta doesn't weigh carry on, so I was fine there, but on each flight someone had to help me get the bag up. So embarrassing, so certain people were judging me!

Posted by
5149 posts

The weight issue is big. Be sure to weigh as you pack. I brought 3 large suitcases out to some friends in Africa with a variety of content, including a vacuum cleaner that I had to disassemble and assemble. The challenge is mostly at the airport level. Make sure you understand exactly what the weight limits are for your airline and have printed out how many bags go with your reservation. Once they are checked through, life becomes easier. At the other end, plan for a taxi or some sort of assistance. The luggage carts at the airports are your friends.

Another thought is , "what do I truly need to bring, and what can I buy there?" Don't bring what you can purchase at a reasonable price.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks for the advice so far! I appreciate it.

For the sheets, I do know the size of the bed I'll have there (single) and my plan is to bring one set of sheets I have that fit (one less thing to buy when I first arrive). I'll definitely be weighing my bags as I load them up, and fortunately they only weigh about 7 lbs each when empty. The last time I traveled with a full, similarly-sized suitcase it weighed about 40 lbs, so I'm definitely hoping for similar results this time around. The research I've done online for packing so far has been helpful, but a lot of the tips I've found are things I already do (I guess that's a good thing?), so people's past experiences help a lot.

I'm thinking I'll try to roll some clothes and fold others flat, with my shoes at the bottom of the suitcases near the wheels. One side of the suitcase has a zipper pouch, and the other side just has straps, so my goal is to fit my clothes into the zippered sides and distribute weight between the two bags. For my carry-on I'm probably using a backpack, and I have an instrument (flute) which always takes the place of a "personal item" so I want to fit as much as possible into the suitcases! I have 3+ months to work this all out but I want to arrive with as little stress as possible :)

Posted by
11243 posts

Keep this in mind especially when you are thinking of "weight,"......they do have stores over there. And many discount ones where you might be able to buy anything you need.

Electricity is different there so any electrical appliance you bring may not work.

Posted by
773 posts

When I traveled to New York and to Lithuania for summer college classes, I massively overpacked. I took more than a big 30 inch rolling suitcase. I overdosed on clothes and towels. Then i read rick steves and other advice, got wiser, and on 4 solo trips to Europe I only packed no more than 2 changes of clothes. Others are right that anything you can buy in England for a reasonable price, you shouldn't pack.... At home now I only own 3 pairs of underwear; I hand wash them in the sink and hang them on a drying rack in the bathtub of my apartment to drip and air dry, along with handkerchiefs (i still take clothes to the laundromat). You should just pack only no more than 2 changes of clothes and if necessary buy something in England.

Posted by
3789 posts

Steph, some guys just don't get the 'I'm moving for school' thing. As if you will have time to wash underpants every night.
However, let's talk about these compression bags you are talking about. Are they really compression bags, or packing cubes? Compression bags don't lose weight while they will significantly reduce size. 50 pounds is the limit and hard to stick by. Shoes....put in bottom and stuff socks, underwear, any small stuff I side and around the. Then use some flat stuff to flatten out any left over valleys now add some of the hard stuff you need to pack. Distribute over both bags. Now the rolled clothing layer. If you are taking pillows or puffy winter coat, put last.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks for the replies. I appreciate people commenting on packing light, but that's not really what I'm looking for at the moment since I do have more experience traveling with just a backpack or carry-on. I'm not bringing any appliances (only electronics will be laptop and phone) and I have adapters. It's not quite as simple as bringing a week or two of clothes, since I'll need to dress more professionally than I would when traveling for fun. I do plan to buy some things when I arrive, but I'm not independently wealthy as to be able to buy a new wardrobe :)

Maria, I really appreciate your comment! There's definitely a big difference between traveling in general and making a trip to relocate for two years. I do have actual compression bags, so they shrink cloth items down pretty small. Your tips on how to put everything in the suitcases are helpful too - I'll probably layer things like you describe and try to prioritize the most crucial items first.

Posted by
5697 posts

As I remember, England has a number of good thrift shops ... one way to fill out your wardrobe as needed without breaking your budget. And to get items that correspond to local weather needs. Your classmates will probably have favorites.

Posted by
6 posts

Hi - thanks for the tip about thrift shops Laura! I’ll keep that in mind. I historically have a hard time finding clothes that fit (I’m pretty petite) so I won’t rely on buying clothes there, but it’s good to know I might have the option if I need it.

Posted by
8286 posts

Why do some people not read the OP before posting? Some funny (and useless) responses here - lol.

Someone else mentioned a food scale, I use one when I pack and it’s very helpful. I write down the weight of each item and if I’m over my limit it makes it easier to decide which item(s) to leave out. And it eliminates the need to weigh the whole, packed suitcase.

Good luck with your move and with school Steph!

Posted by
1800 posts

You may not face some of the same issues my daughter faced when moving internationally to teach and needed many of her own teaching resources - that truly weren’t available where she was headed. She has done this twice now and it is true that it really has been cheaper to pay for the extra piece of checked luggage than to ship or (for some things at least) to buy there.

Look to balance a mix of heavy and light things between your bags.
Take a few items that will make your new place feel a little more homey or will remind you of home - it’s ok to be a touch extravagant.
As Maria said, even pack inside your shoes - absolutely no wasted space.
I don’t think you will go over the weight limit with 28” bags unless you are loaded with books. We didn’t have good scales at home to use for checking on the 50 lb limit though (and didn’t want to buy any), so she popped over to our vet and weighed suitcases on his dog scales. Ha!
Knowing your weight in each piece ahead will allow you to adjust. So pack early.
Shoes ARE an issue - see if you can cut way down on how many pair you take.
And then know that someone is going to arrive last minute with a gift you are going to have to squeeze in. So leave a tiny bit of space or room if possible (for the inevitable).
Go ahead and be that person who carries on your duffle and a computer bag (or large purse) - one item for over head and one for under seat.
Make sure that you can balance/attach a carryon on a 28 incher, just for ease of movement.
AND remember that anything important will also have to come back with you, along with any new and wonderful items you acquire. :)

Good luck! Exciting times ahead!

Posted by
4691 posts

I’ve moved between countries 4 times with 2 checked bags, a carry-on, and a bike. I must admit that my packing was always trial and error. I will try to share some lessons learned.

Split your clothes up between the two bags. When I moved to Sweden, I put all of my clothes in one bag and shoes and misc. items in the second bag. The airline ”lost” my bag with clothes. I had visions of trying to buy business suits and jeans in a land of tall, skinny people where clothes were far more expensive than in the U.S. Fortunately, the bag was found 2 days later and delivered to my flat; it turned out to be an advantage as I didn’t have to schlep it up 2 flights of stairs.

Several people have mentioned the 50 lb limit after which the airlines have huge overweight fees. I had a 27 inch suitcase and it was difficult to keep it under 50 lbs. You will want to do some trial runs of packing. The morning I moved out of my UK flat, I ended up leaving behind sheets and towels because they wouldn’t fit in my suitcase. It was no great loss as I am sure they came from IKEA. Think about what things can be bought inexpensively when you have to prioritize what to pack.

Also, will your flat have enough space to store 2 large hard-sided suitcases? My first flat in the UK had a tiny closet and the clearance under the bed was not sufficient for a hard-sided suitcase. You may want to consider one soft bag like a duffel that can be folded up and placed in the bigger suitcase.

You don’t say where you are studying, but I hope you are able to pre-book a car service to take you to your flat. It is virtually impossible to manage 2 large bags on public transportation.

Will anyone be coming to visit you? If so, perhaps they can bring things you won’t immediately need (e.g., your winter coat).

Avoid bringing toiletries and liquids beyond what you need for a couple of days. They are heavy and a full shampoo bottle can explode in your suitcase and you might find yourself washing suds out of all your clothes (been there, done that). Plan to buy at a Boots or Superdrug after you arrive.

Finally there are services that will ship your suitcase (e.g., sendmybag.com). You might check their prices and compare with any additional luggage costs you might incur with the airlines.

Posted by
8397 posts

Your problem is going to be weight more than anything. Between the quantity you can get into a 28” suitcase, rolling the clothes, compression bags, and the added weight of the thick plastic compression bags, you’ll have too much in the suitcase and will go over. I did it once coming back from a sabbatical using a 30” bag, and that was back when we were allowed 70#. I packed the family for sabbaticals, including the kids’ guitars, but now think I could have packed a lot less than I did. Marks & Spencer always ended up being my go-to.
The big problem is the books, files, office supplies. But nowadays you might have everything on line.

Right now I’m packing to bring some fundamentals to a home we have in Europe, breaking up the over supply we have in our US house and stocking up a few things ex-pats talk about endlessly: packets of Mexican food seasoning mix, Saran Wrap (stuff in France is awful), over the counter drugs including Pepto Bismol which isn’t sold there, tiny baggies with herbs and spices so I don’t have to keep buying for both houses. US measuring cups and spoons. I also have 4seasons of clothes, hiking poles (left my hiking shoes there), laptop, iPad, phone, a few old towels, no bedding bc sizes are off and it’s maddening to fit US sheets onto European beds. I’m using a 24”, a large rolling duffel, and a rolling carry on. My husband has a 24” checked bag and a rolling carry on. He has the right to a second checked bag, but I don’t know if he’ll use it. He will probably bring a lot of books. Anything larger than the 24” and I’m concerned about being overweight. Bottom line for you is that if you use too may astuces for compressing into a 28” suitcase, you’ll be overweight. So just pack normally, yes shoes on the bottom stuff with something and cover the soles with shower caps from the Dollar Store, use large gallon and 2.5 gallon plastic bags instead of packing cubes or compression bags because these can be rinsed and used later in your kitchen or elsewhere. At least a hard suitcase can’t expand and #7 is light for 28”.

Posted by
773 posts

If you have a body scale: weigh yourself. Write the number. Step off the scale. While holding your fully packed suitcase above the floor, step onto the body scale. Write that number. Subtract your weight from this number.

Posted by
6 posts

Thanks so much for the additional advice!

Susan, I appreciate the tip about using a food scale while packing. I’ll probably try that as I pack to get an idea of what everything weighs in case I need to remove anything.

Travelmom - thanks so much for the details you provided. I think I will be that person with a duffel and backpack as carry-ons on my flight this time around!

Laura, I will definitely split my clothes between both suitcases and hopefully they’ll end up about even. I think my room will have a decent-sized closet from what I have seen, but if one or both suitcases don’t fit in my storage I may drape a sheet over them and try to make them into a table as decor - haha. I am going to Oxford, so the main transport challenge I think I’ll face is between Heathrow and Paddington before getting on the train to Oxford. (I’m hoping/planning to use the Heathrow Express, and I’m aiming for my flight to get in a bit later in the morning so it hopefully won’t be peak time.) I’ll also probably just bring travel-sized liquids in my carry-on and run errands once I drop all my stuff at my room - that’ll give me a good excuse to wander around the city some too.

Bets - thanks for your comment and the tip about plastic bags. I might also pack some things in plastic tupperware containers that I can wash to use for leftovers haha. One measuring cup will be coming too so I’ll be able to measure and cook recipes I’m used to once in a while :)

Posted by
8397 posts

Don't forget to pack a few hangers. My knowledge of Oxford comes from Inspector Morse, but if it has no discount store or IKEA, indeed, you may need to pack a couple of old flat sheets, a pillow case, and old towels. And congratulations.

Posted by
11243 posts

Oxford is not the boondocks. It is a thriving city. You can find discount stores selling hangers, sheets, reusable food containers, measuring cups, etc. Do you think locals do without these things?

Most of the stores below have searchable websites to see what they sell and the prices. You may find it's easier to leave something home and just pick it up there. (Save weight.)

Boots is the big national pharmacy chain and is owned by the same company that owns Walgreens. Discount stores are ASDA (owned by Walmart), Wilko, and Poundland (their version of a dollar store.)
Superdrug is another national pharmacy chain.

Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons, and Waitrose are the big supermarket chains and they also sell househould goods. Some also sell clothes. Many also have pharmacies. There are also "local" versions of these stores that are much smaller but sell the basics and then some. Aldi and Lidl are everywhere.

If you go to Google Maps and put your Oxford address is, you can then search for types of business near you--supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants, etc.

Posted by
6 posts

Hi Frank - I am already familiar with the stores near where I will be living, as well as general pricing for items, and I’m obviously not packing a significant amount of household goods. I’m bringing those few kitchen items solely due to measurement differences.

(I appreciate the comments but I was mainly looking for advice on actually packing, which has been useful!)

Posted by
108 posts

I’ve moved internationally six times for school and work, so have been in the situation of packing for a six months to a year in two suitcases, or packing in two suitcases for several months until the rest of my stuff shows up.

Others have covered a lot of my advice, but I’ll add a couple of thoughts.

In addition to putting small items like socks/underwear inside shoes to ensure I’m not wasting space, when packing shoes or other large/inflexible items, I usually don’t put those items directly on the bottom or wall of the suitcase, but rather put clothes underneath the shoes/large item so I don’t waste any space. The shoes can push into the clothes below/underneath them and don’t leave any gaps, if that makes sense. I also make sure to put clothes in/around the gaps between any of the bars from the frame/handle inside the suitcase to make sure I don’t waste any space.

I usually don’t use packing cubes or compression bags, because I find that those make it harder for me to use all of the space in the suitcase and compression bags can end up causing you to go overweight easily. Though, if you have something large/puffy but relatively light like a puffy jacket or pillow, I could see how a compression bag might be useful for that type of item.

As others have said, a luggage scale is helpful. Weighing every item is probably a bit much for me and I’ve done this enough that I can usually guess the weight of my suitcase pretty accurately, but I absolutely use my luggage scale as a sanity check before heading to the airport.

Another poster shared their experience of one of their bags not making it to their destination the same time they did, and I had a similar experience arriving at one of my study abroad destinations, except both checked bags didn’t make it the same time I did (though both turned up a couple of days later). So, I now always pack anything I need for the first 72 hours or so in my carry on.

You’ve probably also already considered this, but if you take any OTC or prescription meds or like to have OTC meds on hand in case of illness, you may want to bring a robust supply of those or at least investigate whether the same medicine is readily available there. I’ve found that I am least inclined to deal with the adventure of foreign medical systems and pharmacies when I’m not feeling well. I prefer to bring OTC meds I’m familiar with (and familiar with how they’ll affect me) to have on hand for such occasions. While studying in Australia, I ran out of the cold medicine I brought with me, so went to a local pharmacy. The pharmacist looked at the empty U.S. medicine box, handed me something and said it was basically the same. It was, but with codeine, which they sold OTC there at the time. Fortunately, no harm, no foul, and I just slept more than I might have with the U.S. meds, but it was a lesson in differences between medical systems, even where care is on par with/better than in the United States.

This is less packing-related and more getting set up in a new country-related, but for my last couple of overseas moves, I’ve planned an order or two of stuff from a local online retailer (local Amazon, a local pharmacy/drug store, etc.) to arrive a few days after I do. I do recognize that students don’t have the same budget that I do now that I move for work, but given how precious space/weight will be in your suitcases, it is really worth looking at what is worth hauling over vs. what you can order easily enough to be delivered to you after you arrive. Plus, saves me the trouble of scrambling to find stuff in unfamiliar stores while jet lagged. Moving for school/work is not the same as traveling on vacation, and you’ll have two years to enjoy investigating the local stores near you. So, it may be worth springing for an Amazon.co.uk Prime or similar service subscription and just planning to order yourself some of the stuff you’ll need to arrive a couple of days after you do.

Posted by
27718 posts

Congratulations on getting into Oxford, Steph.

I'm lucky to live just about exactly half way between Cambridge and Oxford, and used to own a business in the outskirts of Oxford.

It's been a couple of years since I was in Oxford as we are now much more frequently in Cambridge, but nothing to do with the OxBridge rivalry (despite the walloping Oxford took in the Boat Race (both races but we won't gloat)).

I'm jealous - Oxford really offers so much in every respect, both the university and the fabulous city.

I wish I had lots of advice about packing but I don't really - sorry. You have had lots of good stuff up above... I will add that you may want more than one measuring cup. Converting to celcius on the oven isn't too hard - unless you get a gas antique marked in Regulo or Gas Mark, and hobs are the same world wide, but measurements may get you. A good (and really cheap from John Lewis or Lidl or points in-between) digital kitchen scale in grams will help no end as most English recipes are in weight rather than volume. Measuring spoons too. While they are available here they are very different in approach. They won't weigh anything and will really help.

Of course you can get hangers. Pound Shop.

Unfortunately Oxford isn't really convenient to an Ikea. Reading and Milton Keynes (actually Bletchley) are nearest but neither easy without a car. Wembley (on the North Circular) is possible with train and bus, and Croydon has a tram stop outside and then train to Victoria then over to Paddington or Marylebone. All said, if you want to make an Ikea run find somebody with a car.

I once made the mistake of trying to carry everything in a huge "walk in closet" as we call it. Wrong. Never again. It is in the attic with spare clothes. Your method is much better.

I'm sorry I wasn't of more help - I wish I could have been - I hope that this adventure turns out to be everything you dreamed it would be...

Posted by
27718 posts

by the way, there's plenty of petite clothing here - my wife is 4 ft 10 and has no problems, you just need a European/UK/US size guide. Lands' End is here and has an outlet store (not especially convenient to Oxon) and their website and catalogue both have good size charts in all three scales as they are also in Germany.

Virtually all what are called thrift shops in the US are charity shops here, often raising funds for local medical or hospice charities, yet offering real bargains. There are also charity shops for national charities like the Heart or Mental Health (MIND) charities with equally good deals. Most things in them are not junk.