Interview: Packout Prep


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foreign service, el salvador flight, expat life, moving abroad, moving overseas, life overseas, living overseasIt’s almost summer transfer season, when employees and their families are departing from and arriving to post seemingly every week. And while we’ve only been at post six months and have a long way to go before we even think about bidding, much less leaving, I know onward assignments and packouts are on a lot of people’s minds.And since it’s been a while since I’ve done an interview on the blog, I thought the topic of departing post would make a perfect interview topic — specifically, packout prep.I’m very sad to see my interviewee, Christy Rose, leave San Salvador. She’s not only an awesome person in general, she’s an awesome CLO (Community Liaison Office) coordinator. She can sketch a (very accurate) map on a scrap of paper, tell you where to find puff-pastry dough or chocolate sprinkles and pick up a honey baked ham for you for Thanksgiving.And now she’ll be dispensing packout prep wisdom — not as the CLO, but as an EFM who’s working full time and raising three kids — ages 5,7 and 8 — (and two dogs) while her husband/sponsoring employee is on an unaccompanied tour in AIP.Christy and her family arrived to San Salvador three years ago, and she lived here for a year and a half (and worked on the local economy as a teacher) before taking over as CLO coordinator. They’ll be heading to Washington, DC for about a year for trainings and language before packing out once again for Hanoi, Vietnam.Be sure to check out previous interviews: First-Post Tips for a Trailing Spouse, Parts 1 and 2; Raising Third-Culture Children: The Other Side; and Running Abroad.Natasha: To start off with, can you just explain how many different shipments/destinations you’re packing for (HHE, UAB, storage, luggage, DC/Vietnam)?Christy: Since we’ll be in DC for more than a year, it’s a post. We’re not Oakwood [apartments for long-term stays in DC] people — we have to find our own housing. So we don’t get storage, but we do have the other shipments [UAB, or unaccompanied air baggage — things you need/want to have immediately, like plates, basic cooking supplies, sheets, etc., and HHE, or household effects — furniture and everything else].N: How far in advance of your departure date did you start preparing for packout in earnest? Is it ever too early to start planning?C: About three months. I started sorting, going through drawers, going through the kids’ closets. The kids have outgrown so many of their clothes. But you’re still living so it’s hard — you’re kind of in this limbo period. I’d find a half-used coloring book and think I could throw it away, but then I’d realize we still have two months left and it might get used.N: How long before you and your kids actually board the plane will your stuff be picked up? Does the embassy provide a “departure kit” (similar to the welcome kit) with plates, cups, towels and other basic necessities that you’ll already have packed up? Do you stay in a hotel once you pack out or will you stay in the house until it’s time to go?C: It all depends on the who/what/when/where — who’s coming [to post] and going [from post] and what will be least disruptive. Since the family who will be moving into our house doesn’t need it right away, we are staying until the last minute — motorpool is coming to pick us up the day of our flight and our pack out is a few days before. You get your welcome kit back and in our case since we have a lot of our own furniture that will be packed, we’re asking for the [embassy-issued] furniture back.N: What resources does the embassy (or CLO/FLO office — in San Salvador or worldwide) provide for employees and families getting ready to leave post?C: We had a departure seminar where we gathered all the departments together: RSO [Regional Security Office] because they can send guards to your house during packout, GSO/Facilities because they do the inspection. Every post is different about protocol. For instance, how late are you able to cancel TIGO [a local cable, phone and internet provider] service, what to do for med clearance, how to sell a vehicle at post. And every agency [State, USAID, etc.] is different for purchasing tickets.N: When Kail and I packed out for this first tour, we prioritized everything and then organized it all using a very precise post-it note system. How are you staying organized?C: I think about what’s in a welcome kit and then decide what to pack [in UAB]. So our kitchen stuff, plastic plates, stuff you want that night when you arrive. We’ll probably pack some sheets and towels in our luggage.N: Another thing we did is purge. We tried to scale down to just the essentials so we weren’t having to move items we don’t need around the world. I’m hoping that we aren’t going to have as much to get rid of when it comes time to depart post. Have you accumulated a lot of stuff in the three years you’ve been here? Are you finding it difficult to pare down or getting pushback from kids who don’t want to get rid of stuff?C: We’re purging a lot. The house we have now is about double the size of the apartment we’ll have in DC, and probably about double the size of the apartment we’ll have in Hanoi. We knew that in Vietnam the housing is mostly apartments so that has helped. My kids are at a great point in their toy careers. They’ve moved away form the big playhouses and are more into electronics and handheld devices and Legos.N: A related question: One thing I’ve tried to be conscious of is the amount of Salvadoran stuff I buy — art, furniture, keepsakes, etc. — knowing that, since this is our first tour, we’re going to have a lot of opportunities to collect cultural memorabilia along the way. What tips do you have for smart shopping while at post? Or do you think more is better?C: We bought some cheap stuff knowing it might get left behind, or things we really wanted to have. Both of us [my husband and I] have lived abroad before so we’ve realized what’s most important to us. My family is a family of travelers and everyone thinks they need to bring back something from their trips. But they don’t.N: I’ve asked about staying organized, but what about staying sane? I mean seriously, how are you managing to get ready for packout while working full time and taking care of the kids as a temporarily single parent?C: On the weekends, unfortunately my kids lost a little bit. I would put in a movie in the toy room and hold up things and ask, “Are you OK getting rid of this?” And it was easier to do that while they were distracted. I have a wonderful maid who is great at cleaning, sorting and reminding me of things. And I had a lot of help from this community. People would take my kids so I’d have two to three hours to organize. I also used my job to my advantage — I hosted a yard sale at the perfect time. I used everything to my advantage, because you have to.N: What is your number one tip for families (or couples/singles) whose departure time is drawing near?C: When people offer help, use it. If someone offers to take your kids, give them your kids. If someone offers you a meal, take it, because you probably won’t eat. It’s truly a pay-it-forward thing — I’ve helped other families I knew would need help, and now people are helping me.N: Any other advice for employees or EFMs who are getting ready to leave post?C: You’re going to get stressed out. But it’ll happen. We didn’t get our orders until last Wednesday and we’re leaving in a week and a half. Eventually you’re on a plane, and you’re gone.Thank you, Christy, for sharing your tips for packout prep and how to stay sane — and buen viaje! I think I speak for everyone here at post when I say we are sad to see you go, but I’m sure some of us will cross paths with you again at some point in the future — it’s a small world, this Foreign Service thing.What tips do you have for packing/moving?

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

4 thoughts on “Interview: Packout Prep

  1. Thank you so much for this post! My husband and I are counting down to our first pack out at the end of April and I feel like I am losing my mind. Admittedly, as an Embassy brat I have experienced this before and my family lives locally and is helping us. So I have large amounts of respect for those going through it for the first time!

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    1. Good luck! I think that first packout heading to your first post is probably the hardest because that is when you have the most stuff and need to decide what to bring, put in storage, sell, etc. Although adding kids to the equation probably makes it more challenging! Where are you headed?

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