Guest post: re: packing

And here is Dan’s perspective on the packing and general chaos of last Saturday.

Faithful readers of AMommyAbroad will already be aware that I was entrusted with packing for our latest trip. Emily, with great serenity, stepped aside and allowed me to do it my way with no interference.

For reference, Emily’s way somewhat resembles a military commander marshaling her forces for a campaign. Elements are gathered at staging locations at least a week in advance, deploy in-theater a day or two in advance, and culminate in an unstoppable onslaught of preparedness and organization.

Myself, well, I’ve always appreciated the benefits of that level of organization, but I’ve also felt it took too long, was too stressful, and we took too much stuff. At the same time, I never offered to do it because the sheer number of distinct items needed to make traveling with kids go smoothly boggled my mind and I couldn’t imagine thinking of it all. Emily was always the clear choice of packer.

However, it’s a lot more work than all other pre-trip tasks combined (except maybe planning the trip, which Emily also does), so when Emily suggested I pack for this trip – a short in-country trip to a place we’d been before – I thought it would be a good chance to pull my own weight.  Emily would make sure our dog, Bailey, was taken care of, and I would pack for the family.

This wasn’t a test, or punishment, so Emily was happy to be a resource. She answered questions about where to find things like the boys winter wear and provided her most recent packing list.

I knew I would pack in a fraction of the time that Emily took. I knew we’d bring less stuff. I hoped, that with a skillful application of Pareto’s Law, I’d do a good job and we’d have everything we needed.

I came home early from work the evening before we left and started packing. I initially worked without a list, simply trusting to intuition informed by all the trips we’d been on before. I gathered almost everything we needed pretty quickly – a few hours with breaks for dinner and whatnot. But then I had to stop for movie night and then putting the boys to bed. By the time I resumed packing, it was after midnight. And Emily soon wanted to go to bed. I piled everything I’d gathered into a suitcase and brought it and two vacuum storage bags of winter clothing out to the living room and proceeded to finish.

Oh, that sucked.

Of course I’d left the hardest stuff for last. And trying to be quiet so as not to disturb a sleeping house while searching through crinkly plastic bags and hallway chests was a huge pain. The whole process became painfully slow and frustrating, which, combined with that whole it’s-past-1-AM thing, sapped my motivation and I slowed down, which just made it all worse. Finally, satisfied I’d gathered (but not packed) everything, I spent too much time on FaceBook. And then went to bed. At 03:18.

In the morning, the remainder if what I had to do delayed us probably close to an hour, which I didn’t feel too terrible about. We were, for the first time, renting a car in Vienna and driving to out destination, so we weren’t on a strict schedule. And Emily was being very understanding.

So, about an hour late, I went to pick up the car, discovering, as I was walking out of our courtyard while looking up the address of the rental car place, that I had somehow rented the car for a weekend two months in the future.


I went back inside and made an embarrassed call to Sixt which rectified the situation. We’d get a slightly nicer car and have to pay ~100 € extra. I left again.

The Vienna City Sixt didn’t have a car in that class yet and I’d have to wait until one arrived from the airport.


Emily was still understanding, but keeping two boys who were very excited about vacation and the car Daddy was going to bring home from tearing the house apart like two lion cubs made of flubber was started to take its toll.

But, earlier than they’d said, the car arrived! And a child’s seat! And a piece of styrofoam! Wait, what? “That’s the booster seat.” “You don’t have one of those, you know, more substantial booster seats…with the back and arms?” Nope. Okay…

I installed the seat and tossed the styrofoam in the back and drove home. Thank God for built-in nav; Vienna is *not* friendly to cars and it took me as long to drive the convoluted route home as it would have taken without the car.

Emily was not happy about the styrofoam. I put B in it and it seamed to be safe enough, but, given Em’s discomfort, I decided to drive us back to Sixt to ask for a child’s seat. Good thing too…the booster seat only kept Benjamin safe as long as he sat up straight…not something a tired 5-year-old is going to realistically do for a 3-hour drive.

The Vienna City Sixt was, after calling around, able to locate a child’s seat at the Westbahnhof Sixt. So we drove there (again, thank God for nav) and picked it up and installed it and had a late lunch as we were all starving.

We finally left Vienna.

…5 hours later than planned.

We arrived at Grubsteighof at night, having had to scramble to find groceries and dinner before everything closed (which they do in Austria on Saturdays).


I forgot story books for the boys. I forgot my razor. One morning Liam wanted comfy shorts I elected not to pack. Liam slept in comfy pants on our last night because his diaper had leaked the night before and his only pair of pajamas got wet. We couldn’t offer the boys sunglasses because I didn’t pack them. There’s a good chance they wouldn’t have worn them, but still. The boys were congested and I didn’t bring their decongestant spray.
I didn’t bring a roll of paper towels for the car. I packed a dozen folded up in a suitcase instead, but, while that space-consciousness makes sense for air travel, it doesn’t for a car trip. A full roll would have made all the difference if we’d been hit with stomach viruses like we were on our first UK trip.

More disappointing, I didn’t include the boys in picking out what to bring. They like having a say in what they wear, and it gives them a sense of ownership to share in the preparations.

What else? Oh, I packed two right snow boots of different sizes for Liam. Em caught that before we left and fixed it.
I laid out a dirty onesie for Liam to wear the day we left. Em caught that too.

What have I learned? Well, leaving the packing to the last minute didn’t cause the problems with the rental car (I normally do a good job with that, by the way), but it meant we started the day off-balance to begin with. Not how you want to feel when there are problems to be dealt with. And it meant that I didn’t check everything, and so I didn’t catch my mistakes. Some of the things I forgot were actually on the packing list Em gave me.

I’ve also learned that packing in one shot is indeed more efficient than packing over the course of days when you have children. Emily always has a lot of work to do protecting her staging areas so they don’t get knocked over or have small items pilfered by curious boys, and she always has to make sure the bed is clear at the end of the day so we can sleep on it. A one-shot job avoids that.

But I probably won’t ever do it that way in the future. Again, it’s the kids. There’s too much to Daddy work to do in the evening, every evening, for me to just add a full packing job in there, even with Emily’s support. And if the hypothetical one-shot job is the night before we leave, then I run the risk of discovering I need something we don’t have. If it’s not the night before, then I’ll have all the same work of protecting my packing job for a couple of days.

I want another chance. Not the next trip, because that’s a big one and I plan to just be as supportive and helpful as possible given my new-found appreciation for the difficulties involved. But the next trip after that, I want to try again.

Wish me luck!

Guest post: Reflections on Security in our International School

And now, for my first ever guest post, submitted by an expat mom who wishes to remain anonymous (for the purposes of not identifying her children or their school, and thus not compromising any of the security measures mentioned here).

Today our international school experienced a scheduled security lockdown drill.  Nothing unheard of in any school… fire drills, tornado drills, security drills.  We’ve all experienced them throughout our school and work careers.

What struck me today as noteworthy, though, was the utter seriousness with which everyone took this drill… most notably, the students.  In my experience in the US, I’ve found students and even adults laughing and acting as though these drills had no meaning.  And perhaps, until one experiences a situation in which what was drilled actually comes in handy, the meaning truly can’t sink in.

When we first visited this school, we noted the campus was fenced and had discretely mounted security cameras.  Not particularly noteworthy, as many schools are fenced and monitored, until closer observation reveals the barbed-wired top on the fence.  Okay… this makes sense considering the student population who attends such schools.  And while many students arrive at school via school bus and public transportation, it is also very common to see students arriving in a private car, with darkened windows and a ‘driver.’  It is yet another subtle reminder of the community which we have become a part of here.

Unlike drills in the US, when the lockdown alert went out this morning, it was not a ‘this is a drill’ announcement.  It was a school-wide announcement of a somewhat innocuous nature.  It wasn’t what I was expecting to hear at all.  But all of the students and teachers who were in the library where I was immediately got up, left everything in place, including personal and school laptops, and quietly filed through a previously unnoticed and unremarkable door.

We found ourselves in a secure room, normally used for storage, but with a low sitting bench built into the storage areas.  I had to reflect on how long we might be in here in other circumstances.  As the students entered, they filed to the far ends of the benches without direction, with no pushing, shoving or joking which might require adult correction.  They were reminded to silence their cell phones.  And then we sat… silently.  There was the occasional very low whisper, but it never lasted for more than a sentence or two and was quickly ended, again without adult intervention.   And not once did the whispers escalate into the dull murmured roar, which seems typical of a group, which is waiting in ‘silence’.

We waited quietly for about ten minutes.  It seemed longer.  You could hear occasional footsteps in the hallways through the walls.  And then the ‘all clear’ announcement came.  The students got up and filed right back out again in an orderly way… and went back about their business as if this was just another day in the life of an international student….