I decided to move to the Caribbean to live with my partner during a visit over Christmas 2018. I was due to return to my life and work in London in mid January and figured that the earliest I could sensibly pack up all of my life’s possessions and make the monumental move across the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea would be March. Six weeks minimum seemed a reasonable starting point.
I had lived abroad once before (a year in Singapore whilst studying) and have done a decent amount of solo traveling (including six weeks around Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, and a 9 month gap year aged 18), so I thought I would be well qualified to pack my life into suitcases and storage boxes and relocate. Little did I realise how difficult I would find this task.
It often felt like there were a hundred mini-decisions that needed to be made – from the absurdly trivial to the fundamental – with nobody to consult. Will my dad have enough space in his garage to store my microwave, ironing board, pots, and pans, or will my housemates keep hold of them? How do I inform HMRC (tax) that I am moving abroad? Should I pack heels for more formal party occasions, or will a pair of wedges do?
My first step was perhaps unconventional: to do a bit of research before embarking on what felt like a mammoth undertaking. Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series had recently hit Netflix and everyone was talking about it. Although packing my possessions to move abroad wasn’t the same as de-cluttering my home, I thought it might give me some inspiration. Or maybe I just needed to procrastinate a while before starting.
I actually found some principles from Marie Kondo really useful in my task. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to take everything I owned, I also knew that I couldn’t realistically store everything leftover with my ever-helpful parents. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to have a long overdue sort out of things I had acquired over the years. I found a brilliant charity to donate a lot of work clothes/bags to (Smart Works). I also embraced the principle of being conscious about what I chose to keep, especially what I would be taking on this next step of my journey. I sorted through a lot of my property: trying to distinguish between definitely pack to take, definitely for storage, and definitely to give away/donate to charity/throw out. My biggest problem was the remainder.
My solution was to make lists – lots and lots of lists – I should have really had a list of all my lists! I started making a pile of things to pack to take with me to the island as soon as I arrived home in January. Rationalising that the longer I had to consult my “packing pile,” the more ruthless I would be about what I really wanted to take with. We’ve all had those holidays where we left packing the bag until the very last minute and so threw way too much stuff in, only to return a week later with half the contents unworn and unused, simply because we didn’t have the time to make decisions about packing. I had decided to take 2 large suitcases and that would be it. I chose not to ship anything, due to cost, but also the uncertainty of my plans working out and the knowledge that I would be back in England in September and so I’d be able to bring more back to my rock if needed.
Sorting what clothes to take was one issue, but that was fairly easy compared to the mountain of miscellaneous stuff I have that I just didn’t know whether I needed, wanted, or should take with me. I spent weeks ruminating over whether I could fit my lovely picnic bag (with lots of picnic items). I knew it would be used often for beach picnics and BBQs. I knew it would make me happy to have with me as it was a present from a former flatmate and would remind me of lots of great times drinking Pimms in the park and eating too many crisps. I also knew it would take up a really big space in my suitcase, that I would likely be able to buy something similar on my rock, or cope without. I ended up leaving it behind, given to my sister who I know will look after it and use it well.
Some of my difficulties in choosing what to take and what to leave came from my uncertainty of what my life would be like on my rock. My life in England was fairly stable. I had a job, a home, friends, family, and routines of sorts. I knew what I needed to get around town, to get things done and to enjoy my leisure time. I also knew where to go (and crucially how much things would cost) to buy new. All of this was slightly an unknown quantity for my move. I did not have a job lined up when I left. I would be moving into my partner’s rented home, which is fully furnished so I wouldn’t need anything like towels, bed sheets, etc. But what about what I would need for how I would be spending my time? I hoped to gain some kind of work so thought I should take some smart/professional clothes suitable for the climate – but how many? I knew I would spend a reasonable amount of time in the water and sailing, so would need a decent number of bikini’s and swimsuits, but I agonised over how many. I like to cook and bake as a great way to unwind after a busy working day, or to prepare for a hectic week to come by batch-cooking and freezing meals. However, I knew the kitchen I would be moving into just couldn’t accommodate what I am used to. Plus, my diet in the Caribbean is very different to England. I doubted I would be making soups to freeze and eat on a cold wintry lunchtime. I knew my collection of notecards would have to stay at home, despite my love of writings cards and notes to friends and family, since the island postal service is completely unreliable. My beloved Cards Against Humanity game would take up a huge amount of my allocated weight, but I thought it might be fun to have something to play with new friends. This was starting to get tough!
This part of the process caused me to pause for thought. I had made the decision to move continents to be with the man I loved because long-distance seemed unsustainable. I also took advantage of a point in my career where I was able to leave without too much difficulty, knowing the option of returning in the future would remain open. However, I found myself faced with decisions such as: Will I need my hiking boots, or will trainers suffice? and Will there be any theatre or concerts that I might want to dress up for (or would my boyfriend laugh at me for bringing my opera gloves to Antigua)? I hadn’t thought through exactly how I would be spending my time, how I would fill my days, how I would actually be living on my rock.
I tried to discuss this with my partner, who had relocated from Europe nearly 18 months prior, also with just 2 suitcases. But he couldn’t provide me with all the answers to my questions. He didn’t know whether the clothes offerings in Antigua would meet my standards or style, whether there would be occasions for smart or elegant party clothes (as he prefers carnival-style parties, to my preferred al fresco opera picnics), whether there was any point in my bringing different Tupperware and beeswax food wraps (he owns a restaurant and tends to eat there most days, so there wouldn’t be a need for me to cook, other than for my own pleasure). I found the process of making these micro-decisions really difficult. I would say I’m a pretty independent woman who can throw myself into new situations and challenges with aplomb. But I was getting a bit stuck.
I decided to do what I could: make the easier decisions first. Note down the difficult ones, talk through them with others, take advice, and if need be, put those decisions aside and move on to others before returning to them, hopefully with a clearer idea. During these six weeks, I also had lists of jobs to be done before I left England. I made a list of what I needed to do, and another list of things I wanted to do. I knew it was sensible to get my annual dentist, opticians, and other boring-but-necessary appointments out of the way before departing. I also knew I wanted to have a bit of a leaving party, to say goodbye to most of the important people in one go and a dinner with my family. The list of what I wanted to do, particularly spending time with friends one on one, was difficult to be realistic about. I tried to prioritise and make plans in advance for my remaining weekends and evenings. But the last three or so weeks, I received so many messages from people asking to meet for a drink or a coffee and I just had to say I didn’t have any spare time before leaving. That stressed me out a bit, but I knew I had made time for what I really wanted to do and that good friends would understand. I also knew I would be back in September and could catch up with people then.
So that just left the actual saying goodbyes, putting my things in the cases, and getting on the plane. I finished work a week before I actually moved and spent a good deal of that final week just saying goodbye to places and things that I love (including reduced Waitrose Sicilian lemon tart – English people will understand). I ticked off my lists, got necessary boring things done like informing my regulatory body that I no longer needed my practicing certificate, and resigned myself to what couldn’t be achieved but wasn’t crucial enough to worry about. I left my little home, gave the last few hugs to my favourite people (knowing I’d be WhatsApping them within hours), and flew away.
Now that I have settled into island life, I understand why some of my dilemmas seemed ridiculous, given what everyone copes without here: forget about being able to recycle, or receiving Amazon next-day deliveries. However, I am pleased to have gone through the process of moving to an island. I feel I learnt a lot about myself – what I truly need to have with me to survive, and what luxuries I will prioritise to make my new island life more comfortable. And if anyone is wondering, I did bring the opera gloves and I have used them already thanks to the performances of the Antigua Opera Society. Although my boyfriend did laugh that I decided to bring them!