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 home. 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 (photo above) 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.

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.

In transit in Guatemala: the kids and I wait for a taxi in Antigua, loaded down with our family’s possessions for the year.

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 and the fact that they just don’t compare on e-readers. (I’ll address the topic of books, and one great solution we came across in a future post about care packages).

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.