Considering Suitcases – A Repacking List

I know everyone wonders what they should bring when they come to Korea. If you did any research at all before arriving, you’d likely have found it important to bring clothes for all four seasons. That’s very true, but don’t kid yourself into thinking you’ll live like a backpacker. I don’t know why I first thought of doing that when I arrived, but that’s definitely what I packed for. It was going to be an adventure packing light for a year and living on layers. While that’s possible, I’ve realized I’m not the kind of person who would enjoy doing that. So if you had to ask what I would pack differently, here’s an entry just for you.

  1. I would have paid the extra baggage fees to bring everything with me on my flight out. I don’t usually believe in paying for extra baggage, or even needing “extra” baggage. Arriving with two suitcases and my backpack felt like overkill to me at the time, but I would have saved both my parents and myself some money had I just brought the three I had been planning on bringing in the first place. You’re usually signing a year-long teaching contract. You will be here for a year. Are you really going to want to live out of two medium suitcases for that long and pseudo-rough it? No thanks. Bring clothes for every season. Depending on where you’re working you can either get away with not having a formal work wardrobe, or you’ll need a ton of work clothes. I could have saved myself some room in my suitcase and left a couple shirts and slacks at home.
  2. I would have brought more over-the-counter meds. Granted, I’ve never heard of anyone getting as sick as I did when I first arrived, but stocking up on familiar meds is never a bad thing. NyQuil, DayQuil, Ibuprofen, Vitamin C, Pepto, etc.
  3. I would have packed my favorite spices. This wouldn’t necessarily apply if you’re not interested in cooking or don’t enjoy it. I’m lucky enough to have a best friend who sent me a bundle of spices and chocolate.
  4. I would have bought and packed a serious winter coat. Whatever you think qualifies as a winter coat, you’re going to need to reevaluate those qualifications, specifically if you’re from the southern states. My “winter” jacket consisted of a doubled-up pair of coats, so it’s more of a 2-in-1 kind of deal. In Korea, that jacket is pretty much only suited for a chilly spring or autumn. I have since acquired a knee-length, down parka with a furry hood and several pockets. I kind of had a love affair with it when it arrived in February since I’d been freezing my bum off for two months already.
  5. I would have brought at least two more pairs of jeans. I came to Korea with two pairs to last me for a whole year. My oldest jeans ended up pretty holey after two months. I was lucky enough to be able to find jeans in my size over here, but it was a hassle. Just save yourself the trouble and bring several pairs.
  6. I would have brought more shoes. Usually, I can get by without many shoes. I have a quiet admiration for shoes, but I tend to go with utility and comfort over stylish. Thankfully, my work place lets me wear tennis shoes on a regular basis. Winter and spring weren’t really an issue for me with shoes, but now that it’s summer it’s a different matter. I wish I had a pair of flip flops over my heavy sports sandals. I ended up buying a pair of cream heels to match the summery dresses I have bought since the season started. I wouldn’t have minded finding a pair of cute, cream flats, but shoe shopping here if you have anything a size 8 or up is pretty daunting and expensive. Black shoes are great and all, and something of a necessity I’ve found, but pack a lighter color shoe that you can dress up or down. And no, I’d never have imagined myself recommending what kind of shoes to bring to Korea before now.
  7. I would have not brought so many movies. I think I’ve watched maybe five of the 20+ DVDs I brought with me. That was a large chunk of space in my suitcase. Unless you already watch a movie a night, I’d suggest not bringing a ton of them.
  8. I would not have brought so much black clothing. Compared to others I don’t have a lot of it, but the items I do have seem to collect the washing machine leftovers and additional lint. It’s very frustrating not having them come out as clean as you would like, but that’s a Korea-style washer for you. If you can’t live without the black, bring a couple of lint rollers to set them right.
  9. I would have brought floss. I never really flossed before coming to Korea, but I feel like it’s kind of necessary here. The spices can be tiny and get stuck everywhere in your teeth. Thankfully, my mom was nice enough to send me some. (She’s actually sent me a lot of things I’ve either forgotten or needed, so she’s really amazing.)
  10. I would have brought sunscreen. Much of the sunscreen here has whitener in it, and I would prefer not to appear whiter than I already am. Look ahead to the summer season and bring a bottle for yourself.

As to what I would not change, they mostly involve some creature comforts and familiar hygiene products. Obviously I would not change bringing my computer to Korea. Never. Ever. I’d bring my camera, naturally. I’m not usually someone who brings their pillow on flights, but I’ve spent 3 months without a proper pillow before and I had no intention of spending a year without mine. So bring your pillow. I also brought a pair of my old university sheets and they have served me well. A tub of JiF peanut butter helped ease the transition to Korean cuisine.

Bring a year’s supply of toothpaste and deodorant. I’m almost finished with my first stick and it’s been 7 months, so you should probably be okay with 2-3. For toothpaste, I’m finishing up my first tube and have a second one. Ladies, if you’re a stickler for a particular kind of tampon brand, I’ve only seen Playtex here so stock up if you have to.  They have all kinds of sanitary pads, so don’t worry about that. If you’re larger than a B cup, be sure to bring several bras that work for you.

I would not change how many books I brought with me, but that’s because I’m a bibliophile. It was also very helpful to have an e-reader (woohoo Kindle). I’ve read 15 books since I’ve been in Korea. Even if you don’t have an e-reader, there are English sections in bookstores, expat bookstores, book exchanges, and your school library might also have some. If nothing else, swap with your foreign coworkers.

RAIN BOOTS bring them. I bought a pair before heading over here, but my mom ended up sending them right before the rainy season. They’re not super cute, but they work wonders. You’re more likely to find a pair to fit you in your home country than in Korea, so buy them before you come over. You will need them.

To all my fellow expats, what would you change about your packing list if you could do it all over again? What can’t you live without? Please share your experiences in the comments.