What Should I Bring with Me?

One of the things that we expats in Mexico (and probably expats anywhere) get asked constantly via web boards is “What should I bring with me and what should I leave behind when I move?”  While expats as individuals have individual answers, of course, here are some of mine.

Bring your good cookware.  While there are some fabulous ceramic cooking pieces that you can buy down here at probably a much lower price than you can get them elsewhere, stainless steel pots and pans are very expensive, at least around Guadalajara.  Before I moved down, I bought one of those cookware sets that they were selling on QVC and I am so glad that I did.

I’ve been lucky in that all three of the furnished places I’ve rented have had such things as microwaves, blenders, dishware, and flatware.  And two of them have provided cookware.   But I’m still glad I brought my own, because I knew how to use it and as it gets battered over time, I don’t have to pay to replace it for my landlords.

Since I love word games and logic problems and pretty much pencil and paper games of all kinds, I am so happy that I ordered two very large boxes of Dell PennyPress puzzle books to cart down here.  [And, yes, that’s one of my first ever commercial “plugs,” but I totally stand by it!]  I purchased two 40-book packets and those lasted me for two or three years.  Then a couple of years ago when my friend Jonnie drove up to the U.S., I ordered two more big boxes of them and I still have puzzles upon which to work.

Hand-in-hand (literally) with the puzzle books go some really good mechanical pencils with No. 9 lead refills.  To paraphrase the old ad for Timex watches, they take a licking and keep on writing.  And they’re almost impossible to find down here.

Between the pencils, the No. 9 lead refills, and the puzzle books, I’ve been able to amuse myself for an amazing amount of time.  So if you’re a word/math puzzle aficionado, keep these things in mind and save some space for them if you’re driving to your destination.  Mailing the books would be pretty much cost-prohibitive.  I checked it one time and the postage for one box of 40 puzzle books was, as I recall, about $42US and that’s without the duty that the government and/or the mail service would charge!!

And, yes, I know you can find all these things online for free or way less than $42US, but I like to work on them in bed at night, and I don’t want to drag the computer in there.  (However, I am willing to entertain your suggested replacements, because I KNOW some of you will have some!  And, no, Joe J., I don’t mean suggested replacements for things to do in bed instead of puzzles!)

While it seems like almost daily we get access here around Lake Chapala to things we might be missing from our homelands, there are still a few things that seem to be impossible to find or which cost a great deal more down here (like flannel sheets from L.L. Bean).  I’ve mentioned before that in the five years that I’ve lived here, I find that I miss less and less from the U.S.  I think that’s primarily because I’ve found perfectly adequate substitutes, but also because my tastes have literally changed over the years.

So what I might bring with me were I moving to Mexico today might be different than what I moved with me five years ago.  For example, I’m pretty sure that I would bring a Kindle or some other Ereader with me instead of the two HUGE boxes of books I brought.  But I’ve never regretted the space they took up because not only did I have things to read, I had books to exchange at what pass for our local English-language libraries (e.g. Cafe Magana, the American Legion,, and, mainly, my friends).

I’ve written previously about photos and souvenirs and gifts that I’m glad I brought, each of which has provided me with a little taste of “home.”  But I must say that many of those things have now been shifted into the background in my home to be replaced with new photos, souvenirs, and gifts that remind me that my home is now in Mexico.  You’d never be able to convince me to give away the going-away album my friends at Petrified Forest gave me when I left for Mexico, but it’s the photo of Kathi, Jonnie, Sher, and I that sits on my dresser in the frame that Jonnie especially picked out for us.

And while my pink flamingo pens from Everglades National Park are still in my cup from Death Valley, it’s my corn husk Virgin of Guadalupe made by a woman in my pueblo of San Cristobal Zapotitlan that has pride of place in the living room.

My friend Shep gave me a set of Death Valley playing cards that we actually used today for games at my house, but otherwise they’re stored in a drawer.  However, last year’s Christmas gift from Kathi, my Virgin of Guadalupe backpack, has never missed a trip to IMSS with me or to immigration because it’s my “lucky bag.”

So if you ever immigrate, or even move far away from your home, I suggest that you bring not only what’s practical, but what you care about, and keep in mind that the longer you’re gone from “home,” the more likely your definition of “home” is to change.

About Barbara

in april of 2008, i moved from the united states to mexico. during my working days, i held lots and lots of jobs....almost all chosen because they were fun or interesting instead of how much they paid. when i started thinking about retirement (in my 40s), i realized that i would never be able to retire to a country where english was the native language. and although i had traveled to every state in the US -- and lived in lots of them -- i had never been outside the country with the exception of canada and mexico. and since you now know that i could never afford to retire in canada (even to the french-speaking area), mexico won by default.
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25 Responses to What Should I Bring with Me?

  1. Dominique says:

    Loved this!! I use the exact pencil at work!! We never get good stuff anymore now that you’re gone!

    • Barbara says:

      What….she doesn’t use the same office supply catalog as i did???? No more birthday grab bag gifts???? Sad, my friend, very sad! i did so may things not well at PEFO, but lord knows my office supply ordering was WAY good!!!! ja ja ja ja!!!

  2. Wow, Have to put those pencils (which I’d never heard of before) on my next guests’ list from the north. I have never found a writing instrument that pleases me, and these sound super. Before most imported goods were available here, and we still made border trips, I was always carrying lists from local friends…for anything from U.S. ketchup and toilet paper, to vaginal lubricating creams. Georg met a family traveling by bicycles from the states to (theoretically) Tierra del Fuego. The kids had games and books in their saddlebags, the mom an enormous bottle of US laundry liquid! But before I make too much fun of others, our station wagon once carried a table size, weighty maple butcher’s board, bought at a butcher’s supply in CA .(Still is my kitchen’s centrpiece, 40 yrs later. I also brought my wedding pots and pans. As the original handles burned off (not used to cooking with gas) I took them to the local iron mongers who created unaesthetic but more permanent handles. More sentimental were two desks, one I’d spent an entire Ohio winter refinishing, and the other where my grandmother’ had penned her nightly diary entries. I agree with you – The longer I lived here, the less I needed from El Norte. I also agreed with one of our local writers, that it was comforting in the early expat days, not to be faced with the enormous decisions of which cereals or face creams to buy since there were only 2-3 of each from which to choose.

  3. ps What is the brand of those penciils?

    • Barbara says:

      Phyllis, let me grab one and i’ll email you the specifics. And, by the way, you can purchase extra erasers, too, so they’re a REALLY fine purchase!

  4. Barbara says:

    Ask and the Universe provides! Perfect timing on this post! I’ve just been making an initial mental list of what I want to take down in two trips (driving) in my truck, and asking what is important. That’s all I’ll allow myself to move down, two loads, and actually it will be quite a lot given what my truck will hold. I’d love to take my uber comfy bed, but I know it’d cost too much to ship it – I’ll just find one there.

    You made such a wonderful and pertinent point about how our definition of home changes the longer we are gone (or in a new one). I needed to hear that. Thanks so much for this!

    • Barbara says:

      Other Barbara, i moved everything in a short-bed Nissan Frontier, so i REALLY had to scale back. But we (my cat and i) came with pretty much everything we needed in one trip. Oh, something else i brought with me which has served me well in every place i’ve rented are those good, strong, wooden TV tray tables from Walmart! Depending on where i’ve lived, they’ve served some purpose. They’ve been end tables, kitchen storage units, and now bathroom magazine/book holders. Absolutely the most versatile of the things i brought down here with me!

  5. Love your post. I would suggest people bring – ink cartridges for their printers, smokeless ash trays (sorry I just had to add that Barb) – anything anyone in Mexico asks you to bring for them but most importantly – take a long a love of Mexico, a willingness to change your lifestyle and wide open eyes. I agree with Barb that Kindle or some reading device would be nice but books are always good!

  6. Miguel de Joco says:

    On my twice yearly trip to the north I bring back:
    Couple of 10lb. sacks of Russet Potatoes. Some for myself and some to say thank you with.

    Dry gravy packets, Beef, Mushroom and a lot of cream (white) gravy.

    A couple of bottles of Heinz sweet and dill relish. They can be found here, but double or more the cost of bringing them from the north.

    Red beans, small for Red Beans and Rice and the larger beans for Chili Beans and Bean Salad. I tried to substitute out Red Beans, after all we’re in the frijole capital of the world, but the taste and texture just can’t be beaten.

    Canned Chili w/ No Beans. I used to need a case or two to get me 5-6 months. Now it’s 8-10 cans.

    This list of food items used to be near 10X as large. As Barbara said (and I agree whole heartily with), your tastes acclimate. It’s like the Chili Con Carne (American style Chili); I learned to live with the popular Jalisco dish called Carne Con Chili, same words in a different order, but a significantly different dish. There are a 100 more example.

    The big thing I screwed up on in the move down here was to sell off my significant tool set, but electrical and mechanical. I figured “what the heck? Tools are tools. I’ll just buy them down here.” Huge mistake. Seven years later I’m still rebuilding my tool set.

    Hugs to you señora Barbara!

    • Barbara says:

      Ah, yes, tools! Since the only tool i brought with me and kinda know how to use is my electric screwdriver, i forgot about that! But i believe that most handypersons would totally agree with Mike. Bring your tools! And also anything you need for your hobby.

      On the other hand, if you’re as clueless as i am about using tools, labor here is cheap and Mexican handymen are generally fabulous!

  7. Joe J. says:

    hmmmmmm….don’t think you’d like my replacement “puzzles” huh? Don’t know why not….lol

  8. Joe J. says:

    I do have a question though. what do you have to do to take cats and dogs down there?

    • Barbara says:

      Joe, as i did with Other Barbara, i would recommend that you go to either of the two websites i recommended to her. On http://www.chapala.com, search for importing pets. The primary thing to remember is that all pets needs a very current certificate from a vet saying that they are healthy. And I believe there is a limit on how many pets you can bring in…..because lord knows we don’t need more animals down here! Way too many already here and needing adoption!

  9. Barbara says:

    Barbara –

    Might you sometime post about what it was like packing and getting through at the border with your truckload of goods when you moved down? When the time comes I’m hoping to find someone who has driven to/in Mexico to ride with me – but I’m most worried about the packing and possible inspection, since I’ll have every inch of my truck filled.

    GREAT info, all. Thanks again (also to all replies – love this!).

    • Barbara says:

      Other Barbara, when i drove down five years ago, i crossed the border at Douglas, Arizona, and got the “green light,” which means i was not stopped and inspected. However, before i left, i numbered each box and made a list of what was in it, with the value of the items therein and kept those lists with me in the truck cab. For the best information about such things, go to http://www.chapala.com and search for menaje de casa, or to http://www.rollybrook.com. Both sites provide fairly up-to-date insights.

      Glad we’re helping you out a little!! Where are you coming from and where will you be crossing???

      • Barbara says:

        I’ll be coming from Gig Harbor, WA, and not yet sure where I’ll be crossing. I’ll be driving to San Miguel de Allende. I know it’s 10 hours from Laredo, but other than that I don’t yet know. SO much to learn! And all of it is exciting.

        Thanks for the links. I’ll scour them. I’m familiar with Rolly’s site. He does a great service, doesn’t he?

        Thanks again.

        OB (Other Barbara)

  10. Karen says:

    I loved Linda Rae’s comment – “take a long a love of Mexico, a willingness to change your lifestyle and wide open eyes.” That’s good advice for any endeavor. Barb, are there anything like yard/garage sales in your area? Where you can pick up items? Probably not those good pencils, but household stuff?

    • Barbara says:

      Yes and no. Mexicans hold “bazars” but they consist mainly of clothing. Gringos hold garage sales, but generally charge WAY too much for stuff. They often charge much more, it seems, than they would if they were having a garage sale in the US! There are also numerous consignment or charity shops around Lake Chapala and sometimes you CAN find good stuff at good prices there. But i certainly wouldn’t come down with the expectation that you can furnish an unfurnished house or apartment cheaply…..particularly since here “unfurnished” can mean that not only are there no appliances or furniture, often there are not even kitchen cabinets or light fixtures.

  11. vsvevg says:

    Great post Barbara. I have thought similar things many times, I would not bring my massive sequined sunhat again, but I bring a good pan almost every time I ‘communte’ 🙂

  12. Nana says:

    I am planning to move to the Lake Chapala area and just beginning to think through what to bring. Ideally, I will be renting a furnished place while I acclimate and explore new surroundings. I am very open to ideas and suggestions. Other than the pencils, ink cartridges, cookware, tools, specialty tables, should I bring my bicycle? Are there any other suggestions?

    • Barbara says:

      Nana, bikes are always a little iffy around here because of the cobblestone/rock streets. While the carretera (main highway) between Chapala and Jocotepec has a bike path most of the way, once you get onto the side streets it’s helen wheels….if you get my reference. The only other thing to bring that pops immediately to mind is good sheets. They’re very costly down here. However, you probably won’t have any idea what size the bed(s) in your rental will be. i brought my double-bed sized sheets with me and, of the three places i’ve rented down here, only one had a double bed. The others are owned by Americans or Canadians and therefore the beds are larger. Only my Mexican landlord had a bed of the size i was used to sleeping in in the US national parks. (Oh, wait, that somehow came out wrong! But hopefully you’re NOT reading between the lines!)

      • Nana says:

        Hi Barbara,
        Thanks so much for your response. Somehow my inbox got fancy and put my mail into sub-boxes that I didn’t know I had. I just found your email today. I’d decided against the bike in favor of more room for other stuff. It will take me 3 days to drive down and at the moment, I’m looking at a cat who is not in favor of any road trip. I will not be solving that problem easily. However, I am flying down for a visit 11/24 – 11/29 to look at rentals and I’m sure I’ll have a much better insight than what I’ve only been able to read about so far.

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