How to Pack for (almost) a Year Abroad

As the days between now and departure whittle down into hours, the time has come to do more than idly speculate about what to bring on this next journey. The ETA Guidebook that has been graciously handed down from previous ETAs in Indonesia advises that this experience is about PEOPLE, not STUFF. On a related note, George Carlin does a good bit about “stuff.” If you have a few minutes and need a laugh I urge you to check it out.

But I digress. Yes, this experience is about people. When I get to Indo, the stuff that I did or didn’t bring will only be a small moment, a trifling inconvenience in the grand scheme of things. But still, there are certain survival necessities and creature comforts that must be considered. And what a lot of consideration must be done! So once your packing list is written, double-checked by a second pair of eyes to ensure you didn’t forget something obvious (like underwear…it happens), and you finally get down to the business of gathering The Stuff, give yourself some time and take plenty of breaks. Making decisions is draining work, and making all of the decisions that are necessary to prepare for a year abroad in a place you have never been is an even more daunting task.

The wind beneath my wings in this pre-adventure endeavor comes in the form of our ETA Facebook support group, the aforementioned Guidebook, and the knowledge that I have successfully prepared myself for other journeys that were longer in duration and more varied in locale.


I will admit that in the past few weeks I have actually done more than “idly speculate” about what to bring. I have ordered goodies online, thrifted for full-coverage (i.e. ankle to collarbone to wrist) clothing, and thrown anything I thought I might need into a misappropriated USPS bin. Now the time has come to put the leaves in the kitchen table and lay it all out, like my private Kingdom of Stuff that will surround me in my new home for the next year. Which, by the way, is still a mystery. I won’t know what my lodgings will be like until the car/taxi/motorbike pulls to a stop in front of some structure and I get the Indonesian equivalent to “welcome home!”

It’s exciting, really. The All Knowledgable  Guidebook has some great tips for homemaking no matter your circumstances, but I’ll get to that when the time is right. In the meanwhile, I would like to share my efforts at packing. It may seem like I have a lot of stuff… Because I do. I tend to pack light (I went to Cuba for two weeks with nothing more than my high school backpack and had room to spare) but I am also a good Girl Scout and am prepared for just about everything. If being prepared means I have to lug around some extra weight then so be it.

Also, most of the things I am bringing are coming along with the intention of them staying in Indonesia. You’ll see what I mean in the pictures below.

Packing - school supplies

Never before have I traveled with the intention of being a teacher. This time, however, I am a teacher all the way. The Guidebook says something to the effect of “Indonesia isn’t that rugged. It just isn’t. You are not going on a yearlong camping trip… Everything you need for teaching will be available there. Remember, thousands of people teach in Indonesia every day…” Irrefutable fact! Yet I do intend to take advantage of my current location and stock up on some teaching supplies/English goodies that will be harder to find in Indo.

For example, I found some nice encouragement stickers at Dollar Tree. They say things like “Super” and “Good Job” and “Superb” and the like. I can use them on students’ papers and journals and whatever else needs a little extra pizzazz. But since I’ll be there for a year, I wanted to have plenty. So I have over 4,000. Yup. You can count ’em. Dollar Tree also had inflatable globes, which I got to use for games in the classroom or to convert into question balls or to kick off a geography unit. The possibilities are endless. Likewise, Dollar Tree had some excellent National Geographic Kids books. They are filled with neat facts, quizzes, maps, and all kinds of content that can inspire other lessons.

At the encouragement of other English teachers, I got 4 whiteboards with Dry Erase markers to use for games in the classroom. I’ve never played Bananagrams, but apparently that is a hit with English learners. And index cards are not really a thing in Indonesia, so to save myself some time I stocked up on those too. And of course, I am bringing a grammar book and a map of the US. The book has some activities in it for English learners. Supposedly the embassy will send us these teaching materials and more, but I want to be ready in case they get lost in the mail.


Like the teaching materials, I don’t expect anything in the above photo to come back with me. The Indonesian word for this type of thing is oleh-oleh. Basically, oleh-oleh is anything that you get people at home while you are traveling to show them that you are thinking of them while away.

Other ETAs have said that anything with American flags on it, even if it was made in China, is popular in Indonesia. But the best oleh-oleh is ENOUGH oleh-oleh. As you can see, I shopped in bulk. I have 66 lapel pins, 144 American flag keychains, 20 Chicago magnets, 16 Chicago keychains, 300 patriotic pencils, 1,000+ stickers, and more. These gifts will hopefully break the ice when I get to Pangkal Pinang, especially since English there is limited and my Bahasa Indonesia is elementary at best.


Non-edible oleh-oleh must, of course, be paired with edible oleh-oleh. I got candies that are hard to find outside the U.S., or so I think. Oddly enough, the cinnamon and spearmint hard candies are more likely to be eaten by me than any of the others. All in all I think this lot weighs maybe ten pounds? At least that is ten less pounds to take back to the States!


Ah, Wal-Mart. You stalwart bastion of convenience. I was trapped in there for several hours today, and the fruits of my labor appear in the image above. Trust me, the contents of that cart cost more than you might think. But at least this stuff should last for the next year, and even if it does run out I can learn to live without.

Onto the personal stuff….


Given the degree of modesty I am expected to show, it has been difficult to find cloths. I usually don’t flaunt a lot of skin, but covering up EVERYTHING (except my head — it is in my contract that I am not required to wear a veil) is a little extreme, even for me. Still, it’s for the best. Showing too much of anything can and will attract unwanted attention.

So! I have 3 t-shirts, 1 cargo pants, 1 cargo shorts, 4 long skirts (2 black), 3 nice non-wrinkle shirts, 1 gym capri, 4 longsleeve lounge shirts, 3 cami shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 1 boxer short, 2 quick-dry towels, 1 scarf, 1 light jacket, 1 rain coat, 3 pairs of shoes, 1 all-purpose sarong (originally made in Indonesia, go figure) 4 bras, and 3 week’s worth of panties.

All that still seems like a bit much, though I don’t expect much of it to make it back with me. I don’t want to be scrambling to find a laundromat or go clothes shopping when I get there, though I probably could still cut back a bit more on this list.


Welcome to pharmacy central, a.k.a. my toiletries. As you can see, I a pretty well stocked up. From diarrhea to fever to UTI to migraine, I’ve got it covered. And of course, I have the products that comprise my creature comforts. Sure, I could live without a lot of this stuff; a hair brush and a toothbrush are really all I need. But in a new environment where each day will be a challenge, it will be nice to have some familiar smells and luxuries from home.


Last but not least, the TRUE travel essentials! A journal is a must (thanks, Alexa!) as is an up-to-date address book (be watching for postcards y’all!!) and maybe a passport isn’t a bad idea either. I have two books: “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge” by Carlos Castaneda and “The Way of the Bull” by Leo Buscaglia plus a book of “4,000 Questions for Getting to Know Anyone and Everyone.” This will be good for long plane rides and classroom games.

The three blue books are for my Indonesian lessons that will occur weekly on-site… More about that later. Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “How to Pack for (almost) a Year Abroad

  1. Packing is quite the endeavor when preparing for a year abroad. Like a good girl scout, you will be very prepared. Love, Mom


  2. You’re an entertaining writer Frauline. Who would think packing would be so interesting?
    It has rained here more than you witnessed while you were here in Tampa. Amaising.
    Uncle Ezell is over here reading your blog and puning and rimeing as if you were in the room. Tears of laughter in his eyes.
    Love Uncle Dave F


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