Let’s face it: no matter how good you are at tetris, eventually all of us are constrained by weight limits on our luggage. So what can we do? Gather a team of people who love us enough to send packages.
During my time overseas I was fortunate enough to have some people who occasionally mailed me items. It was no small commitment for them to put together a box, get to the post office, and pay for postage, and I deeply appreciated all of the effort that went into each box. But what I sometimes forgot is that they had the added challenge of figuring out what items to include. They didn’t always know what I craved or what I could easily get. With that in mind, I’ve written out a list.
I realize I’m writing this for ex-pats, and we don’t need a reminder of what we miss. But far too often, when someone would ask, “What would you like me to send you?” I would have a brain freeze. “Oh, you know…” I would reply.
No, they don’t know.
If you’re like that, do yourself a favor: email this list to your friends, family members, and communities. And remember it when you’re back in your home country and it’s your turn to send a package to a nation you’ve never visited.
Top Ten Things to Include in an Overseas Care Package
Honorable mention: Maple Syrup
The sugar maple tree is indigenous to the U.S. and Canada. Every other place it will be hard to get.
Alternative: those cookies shaped like maple leaves, or maple fudge, give us a little taste of it too.
10. Cold cereal
A lot of countries have some sort of cold cereal. But I can almost guarantee they won’t have the same selection as we have in the U.S.
9. Tampons with applicators
For some reason tampons with applicators are really difficult to find overseas. It’s just a little embarrassing to let the folks back home know that it is one of our pressing needs. And we might not remember it 75% of the time…
8. Chocolate, and it’s friends
Chocolate is fairly common, and in many places we can get it. But there may be a specific brand we miss. Twix, M&M varieties, peanut butter cups, and Hershey Kisses are all items my teammates clamored for.
What does seem to be more common? Snickers and Kit-Kat are two of the candy bars that are most ubiquitous in other countries.
7. Chocolate chips
Before my first trip overseas I assumed that every first world country would carry chocolate chips. Sadly, this is not something that goes hand in hand with economic prosperity. Friends tell me that parts of Europe now carry this item. But a lot of countries don’t.
Bonus: ask if they need some brown sugar or a bottle of vanilla extract, as those also have limited availability.
6. Peanut butter
More and more countries are selling peanut butter. But sometimes it’s really expensive.
5. Newspapers and magazines in English
Sometimes we just want to hold an item that has English printed on it. So if you were just going to recycle that newspaper and throw away that magazine, ship it on over to us. Even if it is a few weeks, or months, old.
What is especially precious? The funny pages (especially if the family has kids) and local news (we want to hear that the hardware store closed and is now a dollar store).
4. Sauce packets
You know that drawer in your kitchen of extra sauce packets from fast food restaurants? You probably think it would be tacky to empty it into a care package. That, my friend, is where you are wrong. Provided those packets are less than 6 months old, that is exactly what we want you to do.
Does that still feel tacky? Some restaurants bottle the sauce and have it available for sale.
3. Seasonal candy
Candy hearts. Jelly beans. Marshmallow Chicks. Candy corn. Candy canes…You know what holiday they’re attached to. Ex-pats overseas celebrate those holidays too, but a lot of time we can’t find those items in every store. Or any store.
2. Thanksgiving ingredients
Until I moved to Asia, I never realized how thoroughly American traditional Thanksgiving food is. You can’t exactly mail a turkey, but pecans, french fried onion rings, and canned pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and candied yams can all be difficult – or impossible – to find. For a lighter alternative, throw in a box of cranberry gelatin, or some dried cranberries.
1. The Individual’s Most Recent Craving
Almost everyone I know has one or two things they really miss in that moment. Even if the desire has more or less passed by the time the box arrives, they’ll still appreciate the sentiment.
This list isn’t relevant to every country (pumpkin is grown in Mexico, and chocolate chips can be found in France), but these are some of the trends.
Now it’s your turn: do you agree with this list? What do you long to see in your care packages?