Container is coming: Any Tips?

We have been living with hardly anything for 10 weeks. We have just received a phone call: the container is coming on Thursday. Mixed feelings and a very quick turn around!

We received our container a little while back now but I was reflecting on the day the container turned up and felt that it was a particularly important landmark in the ‘moving abroad’ experience. At the time, I did not think about writing about this, perhaps a bit too busy, trying to manage the storm of the container.

The container topic is full of mixed feelings. We enjoyed living with ‘nothing’. We got settled into some routines with our limited furniture. It felt like a ‘proper’ adventure, borrowing, purchasing needed items. Children loved going shopping and getting a few bits.

All the personal effects and furniture that got packed now had a different purpose in a different country, some were needed and some others not. We were very conscious that the house we are renting was much smaller than our previous house. We had sold, given away a huge amount in the UK, but we were aware that we may need to do the same after the arrival of the container.

We were looking forward to live more comfortably, feeling like at home again. The container coming felt like a landmark as it made the move permanent. It really hammered  down roots…the container is no longer in a different country or at sea…it is here waiting to be dispatched…it makes the experience of moving abroad ‘real’ as the camping and somehow the adventure of arriving in a country with nothing is over.

As well as dealing with all these emotions and mixed feelings, there is a lot to do and sort out…a bit overwhelming…

Thinking back about that day and the weeks that followed. I write here some top tips, giving a taster of what it feels like to receive a container and some ideas I found useful.

  1. What to bear in mind

The movers will be different people to those who packed the container. They will move boxes and put them in the house where they see fit with the help of the labelling on the boxes. This is where it is important that boxes have been well labelled in the previous country, indicating the rooms where they came from. An international move is slightly different to ‘a within country’ move, all boxes need to be numbered and labelled as well as given a brief description on a checklist for custom clearance purposes. That list can then give a sense of what is the boxes and help the movers (and you) in thinking about where these boxes should go. However, movers want to get the job done quickly so they may be particularly attentive to all these descriptions. They are attentive to what is broken though as this may have repercussions on the company for insurance claims, etc.

Initially, the day appeared to go slowly and the movers had asked me to cross reference numbers of all the boxes coming in the house. As time went on, it became clear that I could not do that all day. I was needed in other places. I had my youngest with me as well so he needed my attention too. My husband had gone to work for the morning. I was on my own sorting everything out. As the morning unfolded, I became a little overwhelmed, movers started to work much quickly and the boxes started to pile up everywhere.

As we only knew work colleagues and the container came on a Thursday, we did not feel we could ask for help. We had to be self-reliant. That’s the nature of moving abroad, you may not have family members and friends nearby to help you on such a big day. My husband took a couple of days off and it was a bank holiday weekend so we ha 5 days overall to put the house in a better state.

2. Guided tour of the house and labelling rooms

Remember that all boxes were labelled in the previous house with either names of rooms, names of children, and/or a brief description. I think that is an important feature of moving as when you arrive in the new house, boxes may not go in the same place. You may have made changes to what you want in each room, etc. For the movers picking up briefly labelled boxes this can be confusing so they need a little bit of help.

I gave a guided tour of the house. I described what type of house we had before so they knew what to expect on the labelling. Features of previous house were not existing in our rented house so I had to provide some explanations. For example, I explained that boxes from the basement were going in the garage.

I had labelled all the rooms so that they knew where to put boxes, trying to match it closely to our house in the UK. It got a bit confusing because our old dining room contained a playroom and there was not any room for a playroom in our new house. I suppose it is important that boxes are labelled properly right from the start. I should have checked what movers in the UK labelled the playroom as ‘playroom’ and not ‘dining room’. At the end of the day, it is not hugely crucial, but boxes ended up not being in the right place and a huge amount of boxes had to be shifted after the movers had gone…some work that could have been avoided.

3. Post-it on walls to indicate where furniture is going

Container is coming…’what should I do?’ This was my first reaction. I was not sure what to do. I started thinking about what was coming on the container trying to anticipate the day. It helped to put post-it on walls to indicate where furniture was going to go. It helped me think about how to set the house up and also the movers in being more independent in placing furniture in the right place. The children also helped in thinking where furniture would go and asked for different pieces of furniture in their bedrooms, items they did not have in their rooms before. It helped shape our thinking about setting up our new house.

4. Clear all current furniture and unpack the kitchen first

We had purchased a master bed and borrowed single beds. We needed these to sleep in the night before. Movers arrived at 8am, wanting to start moving things in. We were trying our best to dismantle the beds to give them room. It is difficult to know what movers will unpack first as the container is loaded in a such a way. For example, it has different doors and boxes are put in wooden crates. For us, what was packed last, came in first. Customs will also look at boxes they want to look at. We had a different car coming with the boxes cleared by customs because they could not fit all the boxes back in the container. These boxes got unpacked in a very random way so we did not have any control about what was coming first. We also had asked for a partly unpack service so movers helped building wardrobes back up, build beds, etc. and removing packaging from furniture. I suppose clearing all current furniture and making sure movers have the space to work is important as the day evolves boxes get piled everywhere and space can become a bit of a problem.

Throughout the day, the kitchen remained a hub for drinks, food, etc. for the movers as well as for us. Children came back home from school and wanted to have snacks. I suppose as long as there is food and drinks, people feel their needs are met. It is a long day and when the movers have gone, you want to be able to make sure you can dinner and feed the children. Unpacking the kitchen first and making sure there is a place to have dinner in the house is definitely a must!

5. Keep calm and watch the weather forecast: You cannot unpack everything in one day

As the day evolved, I became a little overwhelmed, not knowing where to start. There is no way that you can unpack at the pace of the movers. I saw my role more about ensuring they had the space to work, unpacking boxes to give them space, managing direction of boxes and making sure people were fed. We unpacked most of the kitchen on the first day, but we intensely unpacked for a few weeks after that.

It takes time to unpack all boxes, in fact, we still have a number of boxes in the garage. The weather has turned colder and it is not as tempting to unpack boxes outside. We also wanted to do a garage sale but we did not have the time to fully organise that before the Winter. In fact, that is an incredibly important point to bear in mind. When moving abroad, get information about the weather and season patterns, you definitely don’t want to be moving at -30 to Canada in the Winter!

I suppose it is important to remember that moving abroad is a process, not everything can be perfect in one day. Being calm and positive will help accepting this process and deal with the different hurdles to jump.


“Maman, Maman, are we going on this plane” (E., 3): Top Tips when travelling on long haul flights with children

I am sitting on our flight Melbourne to Los Angeles and thought I would jot down a few points…my persistent mistakes and some helpful ideas!

It is the first time we leave Australia. We are travelling from Melbourne to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to New York, New York to Montreal…a long journey…We have done much shorter journeys over the last 13 years such as London to Montreal, but recently our migration has meant that we are much further away. We did London, Abu Dhabi, Melbourne last time, this time it is a little longer with an extra stop. We are also flying going east which means that we will live the same day twice!

Children got packing yesterday, although they were particularly excited and somehow difficult to manage, I was pretty impressed with their packing skills. I thought to myself that perhaps, over the years, I have given them some good tips and they are now able to pack without thinking about it…it has just become natural…First flights with an infant or a young child are pretty daunting, as children grow older, they learn what to expect, prepare and live on the plane, again it becomes routine…Here are some top tips, tips we have experienced over the years and feel are working well…

  1. Involving the children in packing their bags

I have always packed the children’s cabin luggage and suitcase with them, up to the age of 8-9. Now, we are at a stage where the older two pack all their luggage alone and I check it afterwards to add any items they forgot. In the packing stage, I give them some small and measurable tasks such as “pack 7 pair of pants”. It was beautiful yesterday to see my daughter helping our 3 years old pack his cabin luggage. She knew exactly what to bring, what to think about and what he would need. Involving them means that they know what they have in their luggage for when they get on the plane and during the holiday or at their destination. This really helps them being independent.

  1. Basic essentials in hand luggage

We have experienced a number of situations over the years, lost luggage, delayed flights, delayed or cancelled connection, children being sick on us, spilling food or drinks on us. When experiencing cancellations or delays, we had to stay in a hotel for the night until the next flight. I always pack a t-shirt, some underwear and some basic essentials in my bag and the children’s bag such as a toothbrush and under 100ml basic products so that we are prepared for different situations. I am still luggage less after four days at our destination, my extra t-shirt has been particularly welcomed!

  1. Preparing for a carousel of activities:

Preparing for diverse activities helps when planning the cabin bags and informs my few next points. The journey can be long so the idea of having different and diverse activities helps the children feel stimulated as well as feeling they are passing time having fun. The carousel idea is that you present one activity, this activity lasts around 10-20 minutes, complete the activity when the child is still interested, but when you can see interest is going down slightly, put it away, bring another activity out. Alternate activities, re-introduce earlier activities, also include eating, toilet and self-care, sleeping.

  1. Electronic devices such as DS, Ipad and tablets:

We always bring these. The evolution of this technology has changed our lives. We upload some television programmes and games before travelling. This helps when waiting or for long journeys. It provides an alternative activity/station to the ones available on the flight such as movies, games on the screen, eating, sleeping.

  1. The cabin bag: Books, a bag of little people, colouring pencils, a colouring book, a sticker book

These ‘toys’ are particularly helpful for children 2-7 years old. Many children I know absolutely love ‘sticker books’. A bag of little people also helps bringing diversity to the carousel of activities available to a more imaginative play, a very welcomed change.

  1. Talking about the journey ahead

Reading a book about airports and planes with a young child can help them develop the language related to airports and the journey. I never tell the children (2-7 years old) too long in advance our itinerary and plan to travel so that they do not create weeks of anticipation and expectations. When they become a bit older, I tend to have it on the calendar so that they know when it comes, can prepare, ask questions. I suppose there is a transition here to be made between the younger children becoming able to talk about it and anticipate the event without too much excitement. Telling the children too much in advance make and create lots of feelings and then behaviours that are tricky to manage in the run up of the event. Really everyone wants their sleep and continue the routines as much as possible until the event. Less disruptions will help cope with the journey.

  1. Living on a plane: Snacks, Eating, Sleeping

As my oldest two are older now, I have not thought about bringing snacks for a while. Really I should because it can take a while to be served the first meal on the plane. Really we have needed it. Some flight companies are better than others at providing child friendly foods so having a little reserve of little snacks can help complement the meals. Some sweeties and chewing gums can help children when taking off and landing. It helps stimulate the swallowing reflexes and clear their ears. Similarly, for infants, I have found it very helpful to feed (bottle or breast) them during take off and landing for the same reasons.

For late flights such as leaving Montreal at 7 to 10pm arriving in London at 7am, over the years, we decided to feed the children before we get on the plane and just completely ignore service, buckle our seatbelt over our blankets, so that we all get a night sleep straight as we get on the plane.

Our routines have changed now that we do very long haul flights. For flights to and from Australia to the Northern Hemisphere, we have found that we just need to sleep, eat and relax as much as possible. There is plenty of time to settle in the flight, watch films and sleep. It is important that the children feel relaxed as much as possible so that the journey feels pleasant enough. When they are relaxed and at ease on the flight, it helps them stay on their seat and enjoy their ‘seat environment’ instead of feeling they need to explore the plane.

  1. Establish routines and encourage positive behaviours and manners

Children need to learn the routines of a long flight and the need to relax, take it easy. For the first few journeys, this may take a little more help by talking to them about the routines, model the routines, encourage them to observe others. Soon enough, children realise what to do. I also insist on implementing positive behaviours such as respecting other people’s seat (not kicking the seat in front of them). I also encourage them to be independent. There is not much that can happen on a place so I encourage them to go to the toilet on their own, ask for help independently if they need to.

When travelling as a family, it becomes easier to establish ‘a seat environment’ where children feel they can move, play together, invade each other’s places if needed. I remember travelling with one child on my own and being particularly conscious of disturbing others around me, with cries, or space. Now that we travel 5 of us, we tend to set up a space where the children feel comfortable. We allow them to sleep close to each other, lifting arm rests, and lying down on seats, etc. Basically, they now use the space in their own way, respecting others around, and this helps them feel settle during the flight.

As parents, we relay each other in supporting the younger children, allowing one parent to sleep. We also find it helpful to settle everyone and then sleep when the children sleep.

  1. Encouraging observations

In airports, flights and during the journey, we encourage children to look at their surrounding, talk about what they see and observe, identify similarities and differences with previous flights and airports. We also encourage them to observe others, think about others’ behaviours so that they feel more confident about being a competent traveller. For example, in the last few flights we experienced, my daughter insisted on going to the toilet when everyone is waiting in line to exit the plane, but this created chaos as she tried to move around the aisles. We discussed best times for going to the toilet, i.e. as they announce preparation for landing, usually half an hour before landing.

  1. The aftermath…

There is no doubt that after a long journey, there is a recovery period. Over the years, we have found that the easiest way to recover is to get into the routines of the final destination as soon as possible, such as respecting activities and time of sleeping and eating patterns of the time zone. Having social activities organised in the country of destination also help get back into the routine. We have also enjoyed journeys ending in the evening which means that when arriving at the final destination, it is night time, and after some wind down time, everyone goes to bed for a good night sleep.

There is also a need to expect some disruptions to bodily routines, feeling hungry and feeling sleepy at odd times of the day. Children may feel the jet lag and experience disrupted or shorter sleep patterns. Although difficult, we have found that establishing some ‘after flights’ routines also help. For example, when children get up very early, we tend to insist that this time is a quiet time with low key television and a light breakfast. I insist in helping children understand that ‘it is not fun time’ because it is too early for that. As parents, we relay each other in getting up early when needed, or going for a light nap in the afternoon.

Over time, families adjust to travelling and develop strategies to cope with these adventures. It is important to keep an open mind, try different strategies and be positive about all these global adventures…it is a particularly enriching gift to give to the children.