By Yara Al-Wazir
One of the greatest things about living abroad is the shopping. But like a vintage 24carat gold coin, all great things have two sides. The downside is that the entire family, including extended relatives you only see at Eid gatherings, know how amazing shopping in the Western world is. Cue endless orders to your flat of brands that are staples in Kuwaitis’ closets (Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch, etc) even though these brands don’t actually have any stores in Kuwait. Worse yet, you may be asked to go into neighbouring cities to pick up specific things that aren’t available at the store’s online website.
Before you know it, you’ll be packing your bag only to realize that either due to the size of your bag, or to the weight limit, you’ll be limited to fewer clothes than you ever thought was humanly possible to survive a trip home.
I flew home three times during my first year, and for one of my trips, I stopped in London for a week, then in New York for 10 days before making my way back home to the desert. Needless to say, packing for 3 different climates, including all the gifts I was bringing back taught me plenty– I had to pack for a holiday, a conference, and formal dinner receptions. Although I hated it at the time, this taught me how to manoeuvre my way around everyone’s shopping needs. After all, nothing is harder than to deny family the joy of shopping. It’s the equivalent of stealing candy from a baby.
Regardless, flying home this Christmas somewhat shocked my system: instead of flying to Kuwait to see my family, I flew to see my brother leaving me with the freedom to use my entire luggage allowance. Needless to say, I over packed. Did I really need 7 pairs of jeans, 2 skirts and chinos for a 10-day holiday? Probably not. But it sure felt good to have the option to carry them with me.
Less is more: Do you really need dark blue, light blue, and patterned blue jeans? One is enough. My rule of thumb when it comes to a situation like this is to take the edgiest piece you have to wear on your bottom half, and to dress it down with your top half – staple times like white button-down shirts work in so many different ways, especially since the introduction of collars and accessories this past summer, they barely take up any space and weigh less than a penny.
Layers: Everything from tank tops with t-shirts, topped with sweaters and then a coat – don’t worry, people can tell you’re skinny and it’s just the layers making you look big. Traditional winter clothes such as woollen coats and sweaters are heavy and take up a lot of space. Admittedly, Kuwait’s winters can get chilly, but rather than opting for a 5 Kg coat to wear on top of your t-shirt, go for Merino or Angora wool sweaters. These are lightweight but serve equally well as coats, and so leave you (well, your parents), with more room for their shopping.
Understand, accept, and move on: Understand that your family wouldn’t be ordering something unless they absolutely needed it. It may not always be life-or-death medication that they’re ordering, but it’s difficult to keep up with the social circles and cliques in Kuwait; if your sister wants the Juicy Couture sweatpants in a specific shade of pink that’s not offered in the Kuwait branch of the store, just get it for her. Otherwise you’ll have to take care of her when she’s the only girl in her group of friends who’s in marshmallow-pink sweatpants rather than baby pink. Put yourself in her situation – remember when Pokemon was at its hype and we all had to have that specific backpack for school, coupled with the Digimon lunch-box? Sweatpants and Uggs are this generation’s Pokemon.
Fly an airline that lets you add a bag, rather than charges you per kilo: This is the go-to solution for a dire situation, usually around April time when the Spring/Summer collections come out. I don’t necessarily understand this phenomenon since it always feels like Spring/Summer in Kuwait, but what do I know?
Adding another bag makes everything easier, both for you and for the sake of arguments with your family. If you’re anything like me, this means you’ll be able to carry 7 pairs of jeans with you and a ridiculous amount of shirts and sweaters. Make sure you plan your route to the airport if you go with this option though as carrying two suitcases in the subway can be slightly difficult.
Enjoy the shopping, don’t resent it: The best therapy is retail therapy when you’re not blowing your own money. Use this as an opportunity to go to different cities, check out all the outlet malls, and buy yourself something nice. After all, one of the greatest feelings is when you see your cousin wearing an outfit that you got and looking amazing, right?
Make the most of your space: Make the most of every opportunity, in general, but space especially. Stuff your shoes with your socks, your handbags with clothes, and for the love of god, unbox the shoes. Use the corners of your suitcase wisely, Leave the clothes hangers at home and don’t roll our clothes, as that takes up more space. Put the heavier or thicker stuff on top so that the cover of the suitcase squishes them. You’ll figure it out once you start packing.
Put your books first: At the end of the day, you moved abroad for an education, not just for the clothes. My paranoia about losing luggage kicks in at this point, and so I usually choose to put my books in my carry-on luggage rather than my actual suitcase. This lets me read and do some work during long stop-overs, and gives me the perfect excuse to go shopping on the occasion that my clothes do get lost.
Leave your favourite pieces in Kuwait: Easier said than done, admittedly. You want to show up to class in your favorite jeans on the first day of the semester – not only do they look great; they’re ridiculously comfortable and are a warm reminder of home. That ketchup stain on your right thigh probably tells the story of an outing with your best friend, I’ve been there. But that’s why you buy two pairs! Leave one in Kuwait, and take one with you to school. It goes for your favorite shirts and shoes. If done properly, this should mean that you’d never have to sacrifice your luggage space for gifts.
Look at the bright side: following the agony of packing and the long flight home, you’ll get to see your family. It’s all worth it in the end.
Yara Al Wazir is an activist and student currently based in the UK – her monthly column reflects on her experience of moving away from the familiarity and comfort of Kuwait, to the UK in pursuit of a university degree. She can be reached via twitter on @YaraWazir.