We have now entered the 75 days-remaining-in-Australia window… but who’s counting? As the days grow fewer, I’m ramping up my departure preparations and trying to keep the details from becoming a bigger lift than necessary. Here is a snapshot of how V and I are getting ready for yet another Permanent Change of Station (PCS) move.
Leaving a post you love is sad, and saying goodbye to friends, colleagues, routine, our home, the native animals and environment, neighbors, and work we’ve enjoyed here is going to be really sad for us!
I have learned that one of the things I can do to make PCSing easier for myself is to organize as many aspects of the move as far in advance as possible. This spreads the work out across a more manageable timeframe because we are both still working full time. I am not really a last-minute person; although when it comes down to the wire I can be flexible, my preference is to think ahead and try and get better outcomes (e.g. not racing around doing things I forgot, wasting money because I ran out of time to do things, or skipping social events to run errands I should have foreseen).
This way towards the end you can enjoy the last days and weeks in-country to the max while processing the fact that it is coming to an end. Or, at least you won’t get screwed by work demands that arise and steal the time you had counted on to do something for yourself.
I remember in Tashkent I was pretty well on top of our departure – so much so that we went out of town for three days right before our packout. We had worked for 2-3 hours after work each night for weeks so that could happen. I also left work around 16:00 on my last day because I had finished everything, right down to cleaning my office and capturing all my files. I want it to be that way again.
In March the embassy held a pre-departure seminar and handed out a workbook and various forms. I found it to be a little “all over the place” and obviously not reflective of some of the more personal to-dos, so I made a living Excel spreadsheet to serve as an individualized PCS checklist for V and myself. I broke out tasks by month, and “assigned” one of us to take the lead on each item. We keep updating it as we go, including noting things that are in progress or done, and adding things we forgot.
In this way I feel like even if we get behind, we won’t miss anything or miscommunicate who is doing what. It makes me feel like we are controlling our PCS rather than becoming victims of it.
Here are some of the tasks I have completed so far.
- I checked all of our tourist and diplomatic passport expiration dates, and set myself a reminder to renew the dip passports when we get to Washington this September. That way we will still have plenty of time to apply for Mexican visas. (Foreign governments will not typically issue you a diplomatic visa unless your passport will be valid for the entire duration of that tour. Diplomatic passport validity is only five years, and since I joined the Department in 2014 that expiration is coming.)
- I requested the embassy forms for motor vehicle disposal. Our two vehicles will be for sale soon, and since they are registered to me under the auspices of my diplomatic status here, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will be wanting to track their disposition. They will also take their dip license plates back and make sure we don’t have any outstanding tickets or fines.
- I am in the process of arranging the shipment of my Volkswagen from the government storage facility in Antwerp to Virginia. I can’t wait to see her again and drive her around my old DC haunts.
- I removed my name from the embassy duty roster.
- I booked – and we attended – the pre-departure inspection of our embassy-owned residence. Representatives from the housing office, the warehouse, and facilities came to inventory our embassy furniture and check for damaged or missing items, look around the yard, and assess what they have to do for the make-ready for the next occupants.
- I booked the pre-packout survey with the moving company vendor. A couple of weeks before the packout, the vendor will send a manager to our house who will take note of approximately how many things we will be putting in our air (UAB) and sea freight (HHE) shipments, and note any unusual or non-standard items they will have to create custom packing materials for. They will also warn us if they think our overall shipment will be overweight (it won’t be).
- I also booked the packout for the third week of July. First the movers will pack 450 lbs of UAB to include much of our kitchen, winter clothes, and a few decorations and sentimental items to help our several months in an Arlington, VA corporate apartment feel a little more like home. We will max out that UAB allotment, believe you me, but since we are going to furnished temporary quarters, we don’t need all our lamps, dishes, trash cans, etc. Then everything else will be sea freight (HHE), and we will not see it again until approximately August of 2020 when it catches up with us in Mexico. Yes. We will not have most of our stuff for 12 or 13 months while this move drags on… and on.
- Before the packout, V and I will each pack two large suitcases and two carry-ons, and put them in an empty room designated as “do not enter / no packing.” In that room will also go the embassy welcome kit, with sheets, blankets, towels, and some basic kitchenware so we can survive in the house post-packout for a week or so. (The embassy donates welcome kit items to battered women’s shelters after we leave.) The suitcase items will be the things we live with for our last week in Australia, during our one month home leave, and upon our arrival to Washington. That stuff is even more “immediate” than the UAB, and has to include work and vacation clothes for three seasons (given that we will go from Australian winter to American late summer and autumn before UAB arrives). It also has to include our laptops and all electronics, medications, health records, all my jewelry, and anything else we have to keep with us.
- We planned the itinerary for our home leave, agreed on a routing, and then I sent the embassy travel office my PCS orders (TMFOUR cable) and a request to book the tickets. The travel agent added all my airline frequent flyer accounts so that once I received the tickets, it was relatively easy for me to go in and pay to upgrade all our seating assignments at my own expense. In early August, we will be flying from Canberra to Sydney to Honolulu, where we will take a rest stop of several days before continuing on to Northern California, Washington state, and eventually Oregon before heading to Washington Dulles in early September.
- I booked our AirBnB in Honolulu, and spent several hours researching things to do while we are there.
- This weekend I also participated in an embassy yard sale to try and get rid of some of the <$75 items we no longer need, like kid-sized lawn chairs, extra cleaning supplies, old DVDs, nail polish and flammable items, an oscillating tower fan, and so on. I only made AUD $54 (or USD $37), but was happy to rehome things I will never again have to pack or unpack!
- This weekend’s yard sale was way different than the one I did in Tashkent two years ago before our PCS, where I brought three suitcases of extra consumables – items like salad dressing, peanut butter, cosmetic sponges, popcorn, Parmesan, maple syrup, and other things not available on the local market. Americans and locals alike almost knocked each other out to buy from me!
- I had also invited known people to buy from our utility freezer, which was loaded with ice cream, pork, ground beef, hummus and guacamole, tortillas, Wild Alaskan salmon, and God knows what else. The struggle is real in hardship posts, ya’ll. Our freezer literally had a device on it that would alert the embassy if the power went out in our house because people had so much invested in their consumables! Ultimately I recouped all my money (although I probably donated a couple hundred dollars’ worth of cleaning supplies to my wonderful Consular staff, which was more than fair).
Everything I had at the Tashkent yard sale was cleaned out in less than 40 minutes, and I went home with a grocery bag full of cash which – when counted – ended up totaling $104 but looked like a lot more because of Uzbekistan’s small denomination bills.
In the next two weeks, I plan to:
- Finalize all our accommodation and rental car reservations for home leave;
- Take the Aussie cars for final service and then put them up for sale with availability the day before we leave;
- Put our treadmill and elliptical trainer up for sale;
- Donate items left over from the dog we sat last year to an animal shelter;
- File a USPS Change of Address form effective in early July;
- Finalize details for getting the Volkswagen and other items out of storage;
- Get a certificate that I have no embassy indebtedness after all the surgeries I had here.
In all my spare time, I mean… (grin).