Moving your family abroad for a year does not come without its challenges. In the month before we left, I wondered if all of the packing could possibly be worth it. Now that we’re months into our stay in Costa Rica, my answer is: absolutely, yes! Nevertheless, I can offer a few tips on how to survive the transition.

Packing up the House

A critical part of affording this year financially was renting out our house. We were lucky to find a responsible family that was excited to live in our furnished house. This meant we needed to strip our personal effects from the house–clothes, books, pots and pans, art–but we didn’t have to move major furniture into storage. Speaking of storage, our house is large enough that we were able fill one bedroom with all of our stuff and rent out the rest of the house.

The Car

I had hoped to simply ignore for a year the fact that we left behind a car, and save on auto insurance, but after a little reading about vehicle storage, I learned that having someone drive it for us every couple of weeks would be important for the tires, fluids, battery and even the engine. As a result, we kept the car insured, and we arranged to have a generous neighbor drive it to the grocery story once every couple of weeks. We also marked our calendar to be sure we didn’t miss our deadline for online registration.

Our personal belongings packed into one bedroom of our house for storage just before we set out on our family gap year.

What to Take with Us

We allowed ourselves one large, checked duffel bag and one carry-on backpack each. Moving to a warm climate meant we didn’t need to bring a lot of clothes, and living abroad in the past has taught us that virtually everything a person needs can be found in her new country. For those who are digging into the nitty-gritty of planning a family gap year abroad, you can find our packing list here.

What We Wish We Had Packed

Every corner shop in Guatemala sells plastic street-soccer balls, so we haven’t missed any critical sports equipment. Costa Rica has nice, affordable, kids’ art supplies, which have kept Liam and Reid busy. And though we miss our non-teflon pans at home, Tim and I have been able to round up basic kitchen tools in our Central American home.

What do we wish we had packed that didn’t come with us to Costa Rica? Not much, really: Indian spices (turmeric, coriander, cardamom, and garam masala) for us adults, and origami paper and perhaps a bag of Legos for the kids. The primary thing we miss is our public library and books, particularly contemporary picture books, given the rate at which we churned through them at home. Fortunately some generous relatives foresaw this need and their gift to the kids this year has been a monthly care package of comics (a great choice, given that anything bigger than a large envelope gets heavily taxed when sent to Costa Rica).

The kids wait with bated breath for these packages, and after they open them, the house is silent for hours as they disappear into the books. Some of our favorite comics this year have been the Lunch Lady, Squish and Jellaby series; Lowriders in Space for Latino flair; Dogman for kid humor; El Deafo for processing feeling uncomfortably different; and Meanwhile, Red’s Planet, the Hilda series and Mighty Jack for creating creative and exotic worlds. When we leave Monteverde, we’ll donate these books to the Quaker-maintained community library and school to ensure they get years of enthusiastic use after we leave.

We also find ourselves reflecting on our room of stuff back in Maine. Opening it will feel like Christmas in July as we unpack missed board games, our enormous box of Legos, favorite piano music, the kids’ bikes and that orange dress I wish I had packed. We’ll certainly also find ourselves wondering why on earth a person would need so many pairs of pants or shoes. Aren’t three enough?

One of my favorite yoga teachers here in Monteverde often ends our classes by reminding us to be grateful for what we have in our lives, and equally grateful for what we do not. Limiting ourselves to a bag each of possessions this year has taught us just that.

This will be my last post for about a month as we say goodbye to Costa Rica, pack up and return home. Thanks so much for following the blog. I’ll be following up with a post or two, from our stateside home, reflecting on our family gap year.