Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry – Packing Suggestions for International Moves

By David Harakal

Thriving in Cross-Cultural Ministry

Installment 6: Packing Suggestions for International Moves

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Reminder: Your fellowship, sending organization, or team may not align with my advice. Trust your leaders as you respectfully share what you learn.

Moving to a new culture is a substantial move. My wife and I have moved with a huge multi-national company, moved between two countries outside of our passport country complete with damage and insurance claims, and moved with just what we could check on our flight.

The following recommendations assume that you plan to live comfortably—not extravagantly nor impoverished. Most of the following assumes you will be moving with what you can take on a flight—including paying for additional checked bags. Some applies for any move.

When we moved to the Middle East/North Africa region from the U.S. to begin our work in care for international workers, the two of us had eight checked bags—two roller bags, four tubs, and two duffle bags. That may sound excessive or insufficient. Some move with one checked bag, others have a twenty-foot container. What is right for you is between you and your organization or team.

This document is summarized. Visit for the full document, with rationales and additional details, in a form you can download and edit. I welcome your comments.

General Notes

  • When evaluating what to take, consider taking what you consider those things you love and those that you or your team deem necessary.
    • You may lose anything you take.
    • Leave bulky, inexpensive items available in your new country.
  • Talk to your receiving team for suggestions.
  • Take a power bank for each phone.
  • Get a luggage scale.
    • Know your airline’s weight limits. They vary.
    • Weigh luggage with straps and locks.
  • One to two weeks before departure, pack everything, including carry-on bags.
    • Allocate at least a full day to pack. It will take longer than you expect.
    • Live out of one or two checked bags and your carry-on bag(s) for your final week(s).

Packing your Carry On

  • Energy bars/snacks for unexpected delays
  • A water bottle to fill after security
  • Small first aid kit.
  • Medications you might need for your first two weeks
  • Change of clothes and sleepwear.
  • For children, pack an age-appropriate goodie bag for each child for each flight.
  • All of your electronics, jewelry, and cash. Do not put these in your checked luggage.

Selecting Checked luggage

  • Consider a mix of rolling bags, duffle bags, totes, and tubs. Avoid black.
    • Consider nesting rolling luggage as your future travel needs will vary.
    • Duffle bags work well for vacuum-packed bags.
    • Tubs are great for items with sharp corners and storage at your destination.
  • Use 2 luggage straps and TSA-approved locks per bag.
  • Put your name, e-mail address, and phone number on the outside and inside.

Packing Your Checked Luggage

  • Pack everything in vacuum bags and 2-3 gallon Ziplock-style bags.
    • This keeps items from getting wet in the rain on the tarmac or spilling out if closures fail.
  • Distribute clothes among checked bags. For couples and families, ensure each person has clothes in each checked bag.
  • Document each bag’s contents in case of loss.
  • Put plastic wrap over the mouths of liquids, then replace lid.
    • Put glass items in a plastic bag, then wrap in socks or T-shirts.
  • Pack special notes or cards in plastic bags.
  • Pack a larger home first aid kit.

Digital Suggestions

  • Scan or photograph medical records, including all prescriptions, home-country doctor info, prescriptions, eyeglass prescriptions. Backup or store on-line.
  • Legal documents (wills, powers of attorney, etc.)
    • Leave original wills with your executor. Take a copy.
    • Leave original powers of attorney with person with delegation. Take a copies.
    • Ensure your financial accounts have a beneficiary and secondary beneficiary.
  • Backup your laptop on a remote site (SOS-online,  Backblaze)
    • Do a full backup before at least a week before you leave.
  • Photograph things you will keep but not pack. Backup the photos.
  • Consider digitizing original art, printing a copy, and framing at your destination.
  • Electronic picture frames are nice. Wrap it in clothes.
  • Leave irreplaceable items. Even if they are small and easily packed, you may still lose it.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Reliant or any other entity with which he is affiliated.

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This article is part of a series. For prior articles, resources, and the author’s biography, visit

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