August 18, 2014

OCONUS PCS: Packing Your Carry-On Bags

I spent months thinking about, worrying about, and stressing over what I needed to pack (and where) for our PCS to Germany. I really wished there was an available list that gave me all the possibilities, and I could simply check off what I needed. But I never found a comprehensive one.

I don't want anyone else to struggle with the same issues I had. So naturally (you know me!), I had to create a list for you. I began with my post about Unaccompanied Baggage. And now we'll work on your carry-on luggage. Soon, I'll talk about your regular luggage. Ready? Cool, let's get started…

There are many things you need to hand-carry with you on a move, not just an OCONUS move. For this post though, I'm going to focus on the overseas aspect of moving. However, most of these remain true for a regular PCS too! This list encompasses as many things as I can think of. If you have additional ideas, please comment below and I'll add to the list, ok? As always, I've included a printable for you. If you're like me, then you like to physically check stuff off as you do it.

Here goes:

Carry-On Packing List (OCONUS Move)

1. Snacks - Yes, the flight will likely provide a meal and snacks. But what if you (or more importantly, your kids) don't like what the airline provides? Also, you don't know what will be available after you land. What if the stores aren't open? Or the restaurants? Your system will be all wonky from the time change too. I woke up starving at 1 AM the first few nights... it drove me nuts! I'm so glad we had extra snacks packed that were easily accessible. You may also wish to bring an empty water bottle. We each carried a reusable Camelbak water bottle. You can fill these after you've passed through security at the airport, using water fountains if necessary.

2. Paperwork - This is one of the most important things that you keep track of. So many documents need to be hand-carried when you travel. I traveled with my Everything Book. This kept all our documentation in one place. I added a few extra folders for the items that were specific to our PCS. This list is long, and hopefully comprehensive: All military IDs, several copies of orders (we travelled with 10), passports (both official and travel) social security cards, drivers' licenses, marriage certificates, divorce decrees (from any previous marriages), custody papers (for kids of divorced parents), all power of attorneys, wills, medical records, school records, insurance documents (including proof of insurance for shipped vehicles), car titles, all documentation for your household goods and car shipment, and any paperwork received from transportation. We also carried any receipts for high dollar items, in case we needed them to claim damages after our HHG arrived. And don't forget your car keys!

3. Finance - I suggest carrying a bit of cash, as well as your checkbook, ATM cards and credit cards. You may want to carry some Euros with you as well (or you could use an ATM after landing in Europe). Hand carry a copy of each bill you pay, as listed in the Everything Book.

4. Pet Documentation & Needs - When traveling with a pet, they also require documentation. You should have their health certificates, a copy of all their medical records and training certificates, microchip information, and the paperwork received when boarding them on the plane. I also included a photograph of my dog, with a description, and the contact information for her vet in the States. We carried 60 days worth of her medications as well (this allowed us some time to find a new vet after arriving). Pack travel sized dishes, enough pet food for several days, and perhaps some treats or a favorite toy. I packaged my dog's food in ziploc bags, already pre-measured per meal. I brought 2 days worth in my carry-on, and another two days worth in our suitcases. This was especially helpful when we couldn't go to our commissary for several days after arriving.

5. Contact Information - I carried this in my phone, as well as in a printed list (what if my phone died??). The list should include any contacts you might need during the trip and the first week after arriving. For example, the information for your sponsor, the unit, staff duty, and the MPs (both at the new station and the old). In this way, you always have the information at your fingertips in case something unexpected happens.

6. Medication and Vitamins - This is especially important if you have any medication or supplements that you take everyday. Don't trust this to your regular luggage! Also consider bringing your vitamins, aspirin, motion sickness pills, a small first aid kit, etc.

7. Valuables - This encompasses a lot of items. But the best rule of thumb is this: Don't trust anything you really, really care about to the luggage under the plane. For example, we carried on our laptops, iPads, iPods, external hard drives, and camera equipment. I even purchased a special suitcase for all of these items that contained extra padding and protection. Don't forget your cords and cables either! Consider hand-carrying any electronics, jewelry, and sentimental items.

8. Entertainment - Your flight may provide movies. But then again, it may not. You might intend to sleep, but you just never know. I found I couldn't sleep at all on our flight. So pack some entertainment peeps, it's a long way to go. Plus, you will definitely want things to keep you occupied even after arrival. Trust me. Fill up your tablets with pre-loaded movies, books, and games. And make sure those games don't require the internet to function! Bring magazines, books, crossword puzzles, coloring books and crayons. Load your iPods with your favorite tunes. And don't forget those headphones! Hubs and I used a headphone splitter so we could both watch the same movie on the iPad at the same time (and at different volumes).

9. International Adapters - It's a good idea to have several electric adapters with you for the journey. The locations you stop at (your hotel room, the plane, airports, etc) may use European plugs. Some of the hotel rooms on post might use American plugs, but you can't be sure that all facilities will. For example, as I sit blogging at our Java Cafe there are no American plugs. However, before you plug into these outlets make sure that your device can handle the electricity differences! You can find this information online. If it can't then you will blow up whatever you plug in.

10. Tobacco & Coffee Products - If you have a nicotine or caffeine addiction, I suggest bringing a little extra of these items in your carry on bag. You won't be able to purchase these on post until you've received your ration card. Generally, you will get your ration card within the first few days of in-processing. However, there could be holidays or unforeseen circumstances that prevent this from happening right away. So if you feel a need for it, then bring a small supply of these items with you.

11. Pillows & Blankets - Being an international flight, the airline will likely have these items. But they'll be airline issued, and not nearly as comfortable as having your own. The neck pillows are especially nice to have. Consider too an eye mask or earplugs. These will come in handy if you've got a crying baby on board! We brought what I consider "house socks" (the kind with the rubber grips on the bottom), and some flip flops. With such a long flight, it's nice to remove your shoes and still be able to walk the aisles of the plane.

12. Toiletries - I always carry some small toiletry items on the plane with us. Remember, this is a long flight and will be an equally long day. Maybe several days if you have any issues en route. Trust me, you will want to freshen up at some point. Carry the essentials, like: disposable toothbrushes or a regular toothbrush and toothpaste, compact hairbrush, make-up, deodorant, baby powder, small shampoos, wet wipes, a fingernail file (no metal ones, they won't go through security), and feminine products like tampons. If you wear contacts, bring solution, eye drops, and don't forget your glasses. Anything that was liquid, we secured in ziploc bags before placing in our carry-on (helps prevent spills).

13. Clothing - I don't think it's necessary to pack a ton of clothing in your carry-on, but you should pack a few key items. I'd suggest a full change of clothes per person to include: socks, undergarments, pants, and a top. Also consider bringing a pashmina (for the ladies). Honestly, I always include a couple extra pairs of underwear. You just never know! Your luggage could be lost, you could spill a drink on yourself, or you could be delayed and really want a chance to change and freshen up. Another good idea is to pack pajamas for your kids, and let them change in the bathroom on the plane. They'll be more likely to settle down and sleep if you keep them as close to their routine as possible. Heck, I usually bring a pair of pajama pants for myself! Or failing that, at least a pair of pants with a comfortable waist band. You can totally change in the bathroom too, and then switch back just before the flight lands. (Extra tip: Use ziploc space saver bags to pack clothing in your carry on. They make a special travel size suited just for this purpose).

14. Seasonal Items - When we left Texas, it was still 100 degrees everyday. Germany's weather was a whole different story. I packed gloves and hats in our carry on, just in case our luggage didn't arrive with us. Also, you won't be able to open and access your luggage right away. Even if you can, it's a pain. So be prepared for cooler or warmer temps at your new location, and add a few small items to your carry on that can help with that transition.

15. For Infants - I've got to admit, I don't have a lot of experience in this area at all. So please add your suggestions in the comments, ok? I'll do my best though. Babies require a lot more stuff than anyone else. Don't forget baby wipes, diapers, baby powder, diaper rash ointment, extra pacifiers, formula, bottles, solid food (if they're using it), travel plates and utensils, extra clothing, special toys or blankets.

I hope you've found at least some of the items on this list useful, my friends. Not every item will apply to every person. If you have ideas for additional items, don't forget to add them in the comments. I'll leave you with one more tip: If possible, get your mailing address prior to moving and mail larger items to yourself. Your APO is a US address no matter where you are moving to, so the rates will be the same as the US postal rates (as in, no international mail charges). The Hubs and I mailed ourselves two big boxes a week or two prior to our move. We included some sheets, blankets, extra shoes, a couple winter jackets, and some dog toys/supplies. This was beyond useful. 

May your OCONUS move be smooth and non-eventful! Until next time, my friends…

Thanks for reading, everyone!
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