Don’t pack that! How to pack your suitcase for a year in Korea

Are you trying to figure out how to pack your suitcase for a year in Korea? Have you read all of the big life-in-Korea blogs? Are you wondering how the hell you’re going to get everything to fit into two bags and still come in under the weight limits for whatever airline you’re going to spend an entire day with? Good. I can help you.

You're flying a long way. Pack smart!

You’re flying a long way. Pack smart!

Two years ago Carolyn and I loaded up my mom’s car with four suitcases, two carry-ons, and two personal items for our year abroad. One year turned into two, and now we’re doing the same damn thing again, but this time we’re going home so we know exactly what we do and don’t need to survive there. Long before we even applied for the job we started watching the videos from Eat Your Kimchi and reading the omni-present expat blogs from people who had moved to Korea and started a blog to finally make a break into writing by finally having something interesting to write about keep in touch with family and friends. They cover a revolving set of topics, because this job is cyclical. You fly over, you start, you go on vacation, seasons change, and you finish. There’s a sort of group-think that happens, and I think it’s because a lot of these people read each-other’s blogs and say “hey, that topic seems like a good idea!” My opinions differ a bit.

How to pack your suitcase for a year in Korea

Look, it’s pretty damn easy. Open the suitcase. Put your stuff in. Zip it shut. Done! But, I can hear you screaming, Charlie quit insulting my intelligence you d*ckhead! Okay, fine. Here’s my basics for you. I’m 6’2″ tall and wear a size 12 shoe in the U.S. I am lanky. My arms are generally a bit too long for shirts off the rack in Korea (and off the rack at home for that matter) and I’m lucky that showing a little ankle is in fashion because that means I can buy pants in Korea. I can’t really buy shoes that fit in Korea though, because the biggest size they generally stock is about a 10.5 and I’m not about to spend the money and time required to go up to Seoul for a pair of shoes.

Pack this stuff:

  • Clothes. Are you arriving in August, or February? It makes a difference. For work you’re going to need slacks, jeans, or otherwise trousers. Don’t plan to wear anything super distressed or with holes in it, because it will surely be noticed by your coworkers. They don’t heat Korean schools very well, so if you’re coming in winter you’ll need long underwear and a fleece or two to avoid a miserable time.
  • Shoes. If you’re a size 11 or larger U.S., pack shoes for basic occasions. You know better than I do if you’re into dancing, running, or looking good. Try to pick a pair for each occasion, and wear the heaviest ones on the flight over.
  • Deodorant. You really won’t be able to easily find the brand you like from home. Go to Costco or something and get the multipack.
  • I’m guessing you’re going to want to carry your electronics on. We did. Bringing the Wii and the PS3 was a great idea, by the way. You can play TV shows from home on a PS3 instead of watching them on your laptop. You’re here for a year, it’s worth the hassle at security checkpoints.
  • Spices. For the love of god bring spices. Whatever spices you want. Mediterranean ones are particularly difficult to find here.
  • Two giant bottles of ibuprofen. Your students will make you happy you brought this.
  • Dietary supplements/vitamins/whey protein. You can find this stuff, but it’s PREMIUM prices. The same jug of protein you get for $25 at home will cost you $100 here. Plan ahead. And put it in smaller packaging. Get the chocolate kind so they don’t think you’re smuggling cocaine or anything, too.

Don’t pack that!

  • Shampoo and Conditioner. You can probably find the brand you like from home in Korea.
  • Toothpaste. Korean toothpaste is not all that bad. You won’t be able to find Crest or Colgate, but Perio brand isn’t totally suck.
  • Hair gel/wax/etc. You can get it here, cheap.
  • Liquid soap/Bar soap/etc. Unless you’re emotionally attached to it, don’t bring it. It’s easy to find and cheap to buy on this side of the Pacific.
  • Nice shoes for work. You don’t wear your shoes at work in Korea. You’ll see women in beautiful dresses and sneakers everywhere. You’ll see men in custom suits and sneakers. Shoes are worn outside on your way to or from work. At work you wear stupid slippers (and the floors are somehow dirtier inside than out, go figure. Kids.)
  • Coffee/Tea/Whatever. You can buy this stuff at Tesco Home Plus no problem. There’s plenty of Starbucks and other places to buy beans too.

Special stuff that’s worth carrying

  • If you color your hair, bring a year’s supply with you.
  • Dried beans/lentils can be tough to find. If you want them, bring them (not a year’s supply though, they’re heavy).
  • Mac and Cheese. For real. There’s going to be a day when you want it because you hate everything about life in Korea and need comfort food. Bring a few boxes and feel your attitude improve with every bite. (No, you won’t hate the vast majority of days here, there’s gonna be a few though.)
  • Sunscreen is tough. If you wear less than an SPF 50, bring it.
  • Carolyn has trouble finding a good foundation here because it’s all the wrong tone. You might bring a little extra of whatever your favorite is.

So congratulations, if this post applies to you you’re about to embark on a freaking great adventure. Think deeply about what you’ll bring though. I think you’ll enjoy life here a bit better if you have a more complete version of “home” with you, so make of that what you will. If your weird hard to find brand of shampoo is a bigger comfort maker for you than a binky then I think you should bring your weird shampoo. Lay off on the shoes though, for real.

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