Persuade your family to travel light

It’s easy to pack light if you’re traveling alone. You whittle your deodorant into a chapstick tube, buy shoes that you can wear to an important business meeting and also in the shower, and get used to using your scarf as a towel. But if you’re traveling with a family, you probably end up with a mountain of suitcases despite all your individual endeavors, resourcefulness and creativity.

To pack light as a family, you can command your family members to bring one bag only or insist on doing all the packing yourself. These two approaches will lead to conflict and resentment. What’s more, they won’t solve your problems. Your family will never learn to pack light and you will have to fight the same battle year after year, vacation after vacation. 

Instead, you should apply the following time-tested persuasion techniques. Over time, your family will grow into light packers and all n the meantime you will avoid resentment and conflict.

1. Understand your family’s travel goals

Everybody reading this article knows what the greatest joy and ultimate goal of all travel is: washing your underpants with bar soap in the hotel sink at the end of the day. But, believe it or not, your family members will have other goals in mind for your family trip – visiting the Taj Mahal, playing on the beach, dining elegantly in San Juan, meeting new people, etc. To persuade your family to pack light, you must first understand their unique holiday visions and dreams, even if those visions and dreams seem outrageous, impossible and wrong to you. Ask them what their holiday hopes and fears are and listen closely to their responses. Ask follow-up questions.

Similarly, each of your family members – even small children – will have established an elaborate packing strategy, just as you have. It’s not necessarily a strategy that you agree with and maybe it’s not overly viable or realistic. Nevertheless, you won’t get anywhere until you understand this strategy and can discuss it respectfully. 

2. Get the timing right

If you wait until the last minute to pack, you will have a huge family fight and will still end up bringing ten suitcases. Seek out a calm hour or two in the days leading up to the trip. 

If you have a spare room or a bed, leave the contents out in the open for a few hours or days so that everybody can reflect on the things they’re bringing. This might backfire in the short term as your family member thinks of more and more things that she wants to pack. Use the other techniques to make steady progress in diminishing the pile.

3. Lavish each and every packing improvement with praise

Rome was not built in a day and nobody transforms into Jeremy Maluf overnight. Make sure to praise your family member whenever she removes any item from her bag or makes any good packing decision. In this way, step by step, she will grow into an excellent packer. By praising her consistently and sincerely, you will reinforce her progress and she won’t slide back into bad habits. 

4. Respond minimally to bad packing decisions

For bad packing decisions, on the other hand, respond as minimally as possible. Just nod or say “hmm” and continue what you were doing. If you criticize or challenge or complain, you won’t make any progress. Worse, you will cement the bad practice as your family member learns to identify with that bad packing technique. 

In the wise words of Mike Birbiglia: “What I should have said … was nothing.”

5. Introduce incompatibilities

Your family member doesn’t care about packing light. They are thinking about the San Juan dinner, not about overhead compartments. Perhaps you end up doing all the bag-carrying anyways. Why then should they care how heavy the bags are? 

Try to find reasons to pack light that will resonate with your family member and make sense to her. One easy incompatibility is that the airline won’t let you bring a bag that is too big or too heavy. You can also point out that heavy bags will mean that they can’t achieve some holiday ambition, like sightseeing or hiking.

You could also make a rule that each person carries her own luggage but be careful with this. If you are serious about this rule, then you will need to be prepared for embarrassing showdowns at the hotel and train station. To prevail in the showdowns, you must truly be willing to leave the luggage behind, which is wasteful, expensive and embarrassing. It will require a lot of nerve on your part. 

In reality, you will likely abandon the rule mid-vacation. This is the same as not making the rule in the first place. The only difference is that you have additionally demonstrated to your family member that your rules don’t mean anything.

All in all, it’s best to avoid the you-pack-it, you-carry-it ultimatums. You should definitely encourage your kids to carry their own bags and praise them when they do. But don’t be an ogre about it or lock yourself into an untenable position. 

6. Carpet trade

If all else fails, you may be able to buy, trade, wheedle and bribe your way to a lighter bag.

For younger kids, set the parameters by agreeing up front on the bag they will bring. You can then negotiate about the contents but they can’t bring anything that doesn’t fit in the bag. 

For the contents, don’t start with your final position. First, propose just the barest of bare necessities and gradually let yourself be talked into a compromise position. 

You might also focus on one single activity that is important to them – the swimming or the horse-riding or the San Juan dinner. Organize the packing around that one activity and don’t overwhelm them with dozens of different possibilities and scenarios.

In any case, don’t force it. It took you decades to hone your packing skills and, for a few years when your kids are young, you will probably have to travel like a three-ring circus. Try to be content with incremental progress and with what you learn about your family along the way.


The laziest way to organize your insurance coverage

The next item in my project to get my life into order is insurance. Like you, I’m a firm insurance-believer and I have various insurance policies that my employer has signed me up for or that I’ve taken out myself. I’m not totally sure what they say or what they cover but it’s nice feeling to have insurance.

My plan for this year was a comprehensive insurance review: what is covered and what is not, plug the big holes, find better and cheaper policies, get to grips with the claims process, etc.

Unfortunately, it turns out that doing all that stuff is a lot of work, so I didn’t bother. Instead, I just downloaded all my key documents and emailed them to myself.

Still, this is some limited progress and I recommend doing it if you are in a similar situation. At least I have my documents together and nothing seems to have lapsed for the time being. I also got my passwords together, which was a major accomplishment.

Here is the worksheet if you would like to do the same thing:

Obviously, I should take a few more hours for a little due diligence. My wife and I were burgled one time and it turned out that I had failed to name her on the policy: a terrible disaster. I feel like there are probably a million pitfalls like that but a few hours will probably be a wise investment. You know: later on.


Great local and expat blogs

Following up on my post from a few weeks ago, it’s good to follow a local blog or an expat blog if you’re thinking about moving somewhere. You’ll feel like you know somebody in town before you move and, more than that, someone who loves the place and wants to show you around.

I thought I would put together a page of these blogs, one blog per country. I’ve started with a few of my own favorite blogs – Following the Funks, Found in Estonia, Walking Almaty and Tacogirl. As I say, each of these is a great resource if you will visit these places and an engaging and transporting read even if you won’t.

I’m hoping to gradually expand the list over the course of this year.

Moving abroad with kids Uncategorized

Moving abroad with kids

As with any big change, moving abroad with kids involves risks and opportunity costs but millions of families do it every year. In many ways, it’s easier to move abroad now than ever before. These days, all the work in finding a job, getting a visa, and enrolling in school can be done from your kitchen table.

For your kids, there is plenty of upside to go along with the anxieties and challenges of starting a new school in a foreign country. They will learn a new culture and maybe a new language. They will make international friends and it will lead to interesting opportunities for the rest of their lives. There will be all manner of exotic foods for them to reject in favor of chicken nuggets.

After a couple hours, your new home abroad with kids won’t look like this. Credit mynemesis2011, Pixabay.

If you don’t have a job and visa lined up, then these will be the threshold issues. However, many countries have a shortage of foreign workers and so getting a job and visa might be easier than you think.

Of course, there are a million ways for a move abroad to go wrong: you don’t feel safe there, the kids don’t like the school, you miss home, someone’s mega-allergic to something in the air, etc. But you’re adaptable and your kids are adaptable and most of the time foreign moves are joyful and expanding for the whole family.


I would start with some preliminary visa research to see what countries are in the realm of possibility. The country you’re coming from, your education, and professional skills will all be factors in where you can relocate. Here are a few countries that have great visa policies to attract foreign workers.


Australia has traditionally been a good destination for skilled workers. If you can get an Australian business to sponsor you, it should be pretty straightforward. Alternatively, if you are willing to work in a less populated area, you will likely be able to get a regional visa provided that you score high enough on the Australian points system. The points system gives you a ranking based on your age, education, work experience, etc.

Sydney Opera House. Credit pattyjansen, Pixabay.


If you work remotely or could work remotely, you might think about moving to Estonia. Estonia is a pioneer in electronic residency and they have launched a Digital Nomad visa. You can work for up to a year if you work remotely for a company or clients and have a monthly income of at least c. €3,500 ($4,000).


No visa is required for the first 180 days of a trip to Mexico if you’re a citizen of the US, Canada, Japan, or most of Europe. Even if you’re not from one of these countries, business visas in Mexico are reportedly easier and faster than for many other countries.


Nicaragua is a popular destination for expats. For residents of many countries, no visa is required for the initial visit. For longer stays, Nicaragua offers visas if you can demonstrate that you don’t have a criminal record and that you have investment income of $750. There is also a path to permanent residency for investors in Nicaragua. You have to establish a business and invest $30,000 in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua. Credit Praesentator, Pixabay

Of course, visas for your spouse and/or kids are another piece of the puzzle. Again, these countries want you to come and work there, so obtaining visas for your spouse and children is perfectly attainable.


Finding a job in a foreign country is mostly the same as finding a job domestically. Your chances improve if you apply to a lot of jobs, stay flexible about the description and salary, deal with rejection with good humor, and work through the process steadily and enthusiastically.

LinkedIn is probably both the easiest and best way to find a job abroad these days. Once you have a profile, it takes two minutes to search for the precise role you’re looking for in the precise location you’d like to do it. And most serious employers will post on LinkedIn, even if they cross post on job boards or elsewhere.

If you’re not a LinkedIn fan, you can search through the job boards, like or Glassdoor, which both have plenty of international jobs. Expat Network also has a job board, although it’s less searchable than the bigger sites.

English speakers can find language-teaching jobs pretty easily. If you’re not already a teacher with qualifications and experience, it might be hard to support a family with English teaching gigs. But don’t rule it out if it sparks an interest for you. Japan and South Korea, in particular, have pretty generous positions even if you don’t have teaching experience.

Similarly, gap-year type jobs like barista and volunteer work are usually pretty easy to get. If money is not a problem for you, those are great ways to integrate into your local culture.

And remote work is easier than ever. Credit Peggy_Marco, Pixabay.


Start looking at schools early because classes fill up and, in addition, it might be difficult to enrol your kids mid-semester. 

A lot of expats choose international schools for their kids and you’ll likely be able to find at least one of these schools wherever you are. These schools are populated by the globetrotting kids you would expect: the sons and daughters of diplomats, military, academics and businesspeople. It’s not just Brits and Americans but also all the people who are comfortable in English and don’t have a local school in their own language.

International schools are expensive, sometimes as expensive as college. The other downside is that turnover tends to be high. The students and faculty are travelers by definition and so there are a lot of new faces every year. It can also be hard to find qualified teachers in the first place. As a result, international schools sometimes have a more ad hoc, disorganized feel than you may be used to at home.

Many international schools follow the international baccalaureate curriculum. It’s exam-based and schools must be authorized by the International Baccalaureate organization, based in Switzerland.

Or you could send the kids to local schools. This is what we do, although we’ve been living abroad for a long time, don’t plan to move, and have gotten comfortable with the local schools.

There are lots of advantages to local schools. The school is close to your house. Hopefully, the kids will make local friends, integrate into the culture, and learn the language. It’s usually free or inexpensive and the learning environment might be more stable than the international schools.

On the other hand, integration into local schools might not be as smooth as you’d like. The kids might have a hard time fitting in and you, too, might not be able to pierce the parent cliques that have grown up over the years. In addition, the learning transition might be choppy – maybe the local curriculum doesn’t line up with what your child was doing at home or what she will be doing in the next stage of her life like college.

Finally, some parents choose to homeschool when they move abroad. The US State Department provides some information on this for their own employees, including links to the Home School Legal Defense Association. A threshold question is whether homeschooling is even legal in your new country, and the HSLDA provides some preliminary country-by-country guidelines. If it is legal, then there are lots of well-developed options to consider: curricula and resources for all ages, accredited providers, remote and local tutors. If you homeschool, you’ll have to find social events for your kids, like extracurricular activities and sports.

Talking about the move with kids

Preparing your kids for the move may be the most challenging part of the whole process. Some kids seem to enjoy moving to a new country or at least don’t mind it. There will probably be something positive that the kids can fix on, like the new apartment or some local attraction or some new privilege. In addition, moving always involves a lot of junk food and television; it’s usually a fun adventure where the normal rules don’t apply. For younger kids, in particular, family provides everything they want or need, so it’s usually not a big deal to move abroad with little kids as long as they get plenty of attention from you.

But some kids will be unhappy about the move. They’re leaving their home and all their friends and they might not have much of a say in the decision. So, in lots of ways, they’re within their rights to oppose the move. If you’re doing it anyways, then you have to mitigate as best you can.

The internet is full of good ideas for making the move easier. Here are a few explainers that I thought were useful:,,,

The top lessons seems to be: 

  1. Give your kids as much time as possible. More time will help them process the move and get comfortable.
  2. Talk to them openly and realistically. Spend a lot of time listening. It’s okay to pitch the move enthusiastically but don’t pretend that the lousy parts aren’t lousy.
  3. Visit beforehand if possible and make that first trip a fun one: playgrounds and ice cream.
  4. For younger kids, pack up their old room last and set up their new room first.
  5. Plan it out. It’s a lot of work to move even without kids. Schedule the move week, pack overnight bags, etc. When you move abroad, most of your stuff will take six weeks to come over on the boat, so you’ll need to pack your big suitcases carefully.
  6. Guide the kids into new friendships in the new location. Go to organized activities, visit the local community center, look for other newcomers, etc.
  7. For older kids, involve them in the move. Give them choices if you can, from where to live to how to decorate.
  8. Find agreeable ways to say goodbye. A party if they want one. When I moved abroad as a teenager, my parents let me bring a couple of my best American friends to spend the summer in Europe. These were the halcyon days and we still joke about that summer when we get together all these years later.
  9. Keep up contact with old friends and visit home when you can.


Finally, there are lots of logistics to moving abroad. Setting up utilities can be slow and painful, since you’re not in the system already. You’ll need to get insurance, although this has been easier than utilities in our experience. In some countries, you need to register in the region, even if you already have a visa.

It’s worth connecting with your local embassy or consulate. They often have good resources, like checklists, or ways to connect with other expats, or distribution lists for updates and local news.

It’s also good to follow a local blog before you move. Most countries have one or two expat bloggers that can give you a good boots-on-the-ground sense of the country. Even if they’re just talking about changes to the trash collection times or whatever, blogs can be the best resource for getting into the local vibe.

It’s never the right time to move abroad with kids, so don’t let that hold you back. People have been moving abroad since humanity started and most of the time it goes just fine. And if it doesn’t, well, at least you got it out of your system.


Travel book

Here is the final version of the travel reference manual for 2021:

This version is smaller and more manageable than the old versions. The previous versions were around 90 MB because the CIA maps were such high definition. I finally managed to get the maps into low definition (by printing to image) and so this is just 7.5 MB.

Otherwise, I’ve just kept working on the sections that I thought needed the most work. A native speaker has now proofed each section of the phrasebook, so I have some more confidence in that now. I’ve also revised the history section after some helpful analysis from a professional historian.

Here is the final table of contents:

  • Calendar
  • Conversions
  • First Aid
  • Games for children
  • Games for drinking / chess
  • History of the world
  • Maps
  • Meditation
  • Packing lists
  • Personal finance
  • Personal information
  • Phrasebook
  • Recipes
  • Self-defense
  • Survival
  • Work out
  • Notes

Hopefully, it will be a useful book to travel with. I’ve been carrying a copy with me since the summer and it’s been pretty handy.

And here is a digital version if you just want to download it on your phone:

The digital version is the same as the print version except:

  • No chess board or big world map;
  • No personal finance or personal information. These sections are supposed to be filled in by hand in the print version;
  • No blank pages at the back for notes; and
  • A few formatting differences.

Meditation pdf

This is the final pdf that I’ll include in the 2021 edition of my book. It’s a one-page guide to meditation:

For the other pdfs, I’ve tried to read around pretty extensively before I published. For example, for the pdf on starting fires, I read some survival guides, I googled the topic in different ways, I watched a bunch of YouTube videos. Eventually, the advice I was reading became repetitive and I decided I knew enough about starting fires to write the pdf. I might still be terrible at actually starting fires but I described the process in the same way as everybodyg else. It’s fine.

That’s not what happened with this meditation guide. The more you read about meditation, the more confusing it gets. The advice is often contradictory, even about the fundamentals or the purposes of meditation.

Eventually, I landed on four resources that seem simple and trustworthy:, Headspace, the University of Vermont and Daniel Ingram. I read these a few times and then I wrote the pdf. The first three are near the top of the google results. Daniel Ingram is more arcane but his book is what got me into meditation in the first place and it’s excellent.

The pdf does not communicate all the history and theory of meditation, all the ins and outs, but I think it should be fine as a place to start.


Campaign launched

The crowdfunding campaign for the travel reference manual has now launched. It’s a little book of emergency information to help you wherever your travels take you. It’s $30.

I said previously that I would be using Kickstarter but I ended up using Indiegogo after comparing the two websites a little more.

Please let me know if you have any questions about the book. Most of the materials are available here on the website, at least in draft form, so it should be pretty easy to see what you’re getting.



Kickstarter update

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been busy getting a Kickstarter ready for the book, the travel reference manual. I’m hoping to launch it by 1 November. I’d originally planned it so that people would get their copies by Christmas. I’m backing off on that now, having discussed with the printer and looked into shipping times a little more carefully. I still hope people who want copies will get them for Christmas but there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.

I now have fifteen demo copies and I’m pretty happy with them. There was really only one printer in Europe I found that would do what I wanted – a paperback book that prints “layflat” style, so that you don’t need to hold it open with your thumb.

I was afraid that this wouldn’t work for some print-related reason I didn’t know about but it seems to work fine. I’m happy with the way the book looks otherwise and I think they did a nice job.

There are a couple final sections I’m hoping to add if I have time – a two page calendar (which is easy) and a one-page meditation guide (which is hard). Otherwise, it’s just a matter of improving and revising and I’m getting a lot of first-rate help from various places.

So stay tuned!


Travel reference manual

This is another update on the book, which I’m now calling “travel reference manual”. Now that I have some kind of digital version in circulation, I hope to run a Kickstarter campaign for a physical version – I think the goal will be around thirty backers. I’ll finish the campaign around November 30 so that, if the campaign is successful, people should get the books in time for Christmas.

There have been a few recent developments otherwise:

  1. Most importantly, the book will include Johanniter International’s first aid guidelines – JOIN has kindly agreed to let me use them. This is great because I want the book to be an all-purpose travel emergency reference book. The first aid guidelines are kind of the keystone to this. I’m delighted.
  2. I hired two people on Upwork to revise the Chinese and Arabic sections of the 100-word phrasebook pdf – many thanks to Weixian and Orlea. I hope to hire someone for the Hindi section soon. In addition, I forgot to include translations for the word “beer” in the phrasebook. This seemed like a grave omission, so I added it in. Now it’s a 101-word phrasebook and you can use it to say “beer” in six languages.
  3. I dropped the Alphabets pdf. This was composed of a few different sections. I moved Morse code and the NATO alphabet over to the survival guide where I think they fit in better anyways. Braille and the foreign alphabets were always really flawed and so I dropped them. Finally, the International Phonetic Alphabet is a great resource but it really needs context and explainers. I think the book is okay without it.
  4. As suggested by commenters, I made a couple changes to the games pdfs: (a) I added “Hotter / Colder” to children’s games and (b) I fixed the rules for “A Simple Game of 21” in drinking games.
  5. I added a table of contents and other proofread-y type changes.
  6. I’ve ordered a few sample copies of the book from an Italian printing service called Sprint 24. You just fill in a bunch of parameters on the website and upload a pdf. A few days later, you get the books delivered to your door ( – hopefully, they haven’t come in yet). It’s pretty expensive and I won’t do it again before the Kickstarter, so I tried hard to get the parameters right – the weight in gsm of the paper, the binding type, the trim size, etc. It turns out that it’s hard to do that stuff if you haven’t done it before, so we’ll see what the books look like in a few days.

In terms of next steps, I’ll continue to revise the pdfs. As I say, I’ll try to find more native speakers for the phrasebook. In fact, Upwork went so well that I’ll see if I can find someone to help with the history pdf too.

Reading around about self-publishing, it seems that lots of people spend money on covers and typesetting. I’m pretty sure my budget is not going to stretch to those things, so this book will definitely retain that gritty amateur feel.

And then, after all of that, it’s just a matter of persuading people to buy the book.


Fire basics

Here is a short pdf guide to fire – finding fuel, starting the fire, putting it out:

It’s really hard to start a fire by rubbing wood together. Most of the longer survival guides include a few methods, like the plough or the hand drill. I’ve only included the fire bow from these methods, which I think is the easiest and also the most equipment-intensive – you need soft wood, a knife, a rope or string, a bow, and a socket – plus tinder and fuel. Even with all that stuff, it’s still really difficult and my recommendation is never to get stuck in a position where you need to make fire by rubbing sticks together.

I think all the other methods are pretty straightforward – magnifying glass, battery, etc. And all the fire-setting stuff is pretty straightforward too – just common-sense stuff to try to avoid starting a forest fire.