1. Bring basic kitchen tools with you in your luggage. I brought measuring cups and spoons, a good paring knife, a meat thermometer, a good spatula and a can opener. (We fit them into the small pockets and lining of our garment bag suitcase.) Those I would definitely recommend, as well as some food storage containers, if you can fit them, and a few basic spices. I also wish I’d brought a mixing bowl, a whisk, kitchen tongs and a vegetable peeler. Yes, the kitchens here (in the dorms especially; the off campus apartments are better) are stocked with cookware and small appliances, but it’s only basic basic items. You’ll be amazed the things you never think about that you suddenly don’t have access to and really wish you did.
2. Bring as many towels (all types) as you can fit in your luggage. You can buy them here if you want, and that’s fine, but either way be prepared to go through a large number of towels. Things in the dorms never get completely dry – or at least in our room they don’t. It’s all the humidity and the lack of a good ventilation system. I wash towels constantly because everything gets that musty, wet-dog smell after 3-4 days.
3. Which reminds me, bring laundry detergent. I brought a gallon-sized ziplock bag of those little Tide detergent pods. They’re wonderful! No bottle to pack and worry about leaking; no bottle to lug around; I just toss one in from my little baggie and we’re done! If you do laundry on campus they are card-operated machines and the washers and dryers are BOTH $8EC a load (so $16EC total). HOWEVER, you can save $8EC by splitting the dry cycle. The dryers automatically give you about 75 minutes of drying time, and there is no way to decrease that. No load of laundry really needs 75 minutes in the dryer; our clothes are always done in 30. So always try to wash two loads one right after the other, since the washers take 30 minutes, so then you can use one dry cycle for two wash cycles. That $8EC adds up over time!
4. Bring supplies for whatever craft/hobby you have (if you’re a VIP). I finally found a few balls of yarn to buy off a professor who’s moving, and I was so happy to finally have something to do with my hands during the long hours of watching television or waiting for dinner to cook. (Thankfully I was smart enough to have brought my crochet hooks.)
5. Bring extra toiletries of all types. Pack as many bottles of soap, tubes of toothpaste, bottles of contact solution, cans of bug spray, etc. as you can fit in your luggage. You’ll be glad you did.
6. Bring sunscreen in various SPF numbers. I personally really like the spray-on kind because it’s quick, easy and not greasy at all (we have the CVS brand), but it does run out pretty quickly. The lotion is fine too if you prefer that. Something is different about the atmospheric protection here, and even people who’ve never burned in their lives wake up like lobsters the morning after the beach.
7. Bring sheets and pillows. The dorms have full-sized beds, but US full-size sheets will not fit them properly. If you can, try to shrink them some before you come, and if you have room, bring more than one set. The dorms also come with pillows, but they are the super flat, super tiny almost travel-type pillows that are 30 years old. The Mister and I fit three of them into one of our pillow cases before we finally found a store here (TDC Hardware – $60EC each) that sells better pillows. I know it’s hard to pack pillows, but use them as your comfort carry-on or put them in vacuum-seal bags. You’ll miss them if you don’t.
8. Bring decorative items (with command hooks and strips). You’re so far from home, even just a few familiar items will make your place feel more comfortable.
9. If you have space, absolutely bring non-perishable food items – especially things you eat all the time. Have a favorite brand or flavor of coffee? A favorite gum or not-melty candy? A favorite type of soup? Bring them. Even bringing basic things like peanut butter, popcorn, crackers and noodles will save you money at the grocery store.
10. Bring movies or TV shows on DVD. VIPs will want these distractions and students have to take breaks every now and then. Netflix and/or Hulu subscriptions are great, get them if you can, but be warned that they don’t work the same way outside the US. We can get many of the things we would have watched at home, but they come with Spanish subtitles, and some movies/shows aren’t available here at all. It has to do with where your IP address is coming from (in our case, Puerto Rico – aka, Spanish movies).
**I’m adding #11 after the fact because I just glanced around our room and thought of it – bring surge protectors. We currently have two and that seems to be a good number for us – but they are both almost full. You are not allowed to have octopus or other multi-outlets. Only surge protectors with switches. Also, bring a wireless router, if you’re lucky enough to have one. Students don’t need this so much, but VIPs, who only have ethernet access to the internet (oh yeah, bring an ethernet cord too), will appreciate it.
*DISCLAIMER: I know this is all overwhelming. Before we moved, I would read the school’s “official list of things to bring” and then read blog posts of students saying things to bring and then read the baggage weight limits for our airline and think, “HOW IN THE WORLD AM I SUPPOSED TO PACK ALL THOSE THINGS???” Trust me, we know. A good rule of thumb is: if you use it on a daily basis or use it for class, if it makes you feel comfortable in your own home, or if it helps you keep your sanity, bring a supply. Paying the costs for an extra bag or an overweight bag will be worth it in the long run if it lets you take those things that will keep you from crying every day or murdering a rude cashier who doesn’t know if the island stocks SweetTarts. (FYI – I don’t think it does.)