This is the best piece of advice I ever gave myself:
Before you pack up your life into three suitcases and move halfway around the world for an indefinite stay, live out of those three suitcases for a month first.
Actually, at first I was living out of three suitcases, a few paper grocery bags, and some piles.
But over the course of a month I got so sick of digging through all that stuff to get to whatever sweater or book or hygiene item I needed that I purged. Who needs more than two pairs of shoes, anyway? I certainly don’t need three grey cardigans, (probably.) And hey, they MIGHT have paperback versions of those books in Turkey. Ya never know.The result:

(I think this is pretty good, considering it holds a winter’s worth of bulky clothes, books, office supplies, and doubles of all my toiletries, but it’s worth noting that twice on the ride to Dulles my mother said, “You know, before I traveled in Europe I probably would have over-packed, too, and taken as much stuff as you’re taking.”
“I think this is pretty good, mom, considering I’m planning on staying for months.”
“Oh, yes, yes. Of course! And I would have too!” and then launched into her new theory of minimalist packing while I tried to concentrate on how much I will undoubtedly miss her.)
(Love you, mom.)

I would like to take a moment for another (ahem, Lufthansa, ahem) unpaid plug: Lufthansa is amazing. Lufthansa makes me want to be German.
In a small travel miracle, on a packed transatlantic flight I got a window seat, and there was nobody sitting directly next to me. The drink cart came round at appropriately frequent intervals, and the booze was free. There were plenty of pillows and blankets. Not every single movie on my personal movie screen sucked. (Although the one I watched, “Killers” with Ashton Kutcher and Katherine Heigl, did.) The hot meal was a little MRE-ey, it’s true, but in the “morning,” (Seven hours after we left Dulles at sundown) we got a perfectly civilized breakfast of rolls and cheese and fruit. With your choice of coffee, tea, juice, water, or wine. Two and a half hours later on the flight from Frankfurt to Istanbul, they fed me what could, if you sort of squinted, be taken for a charcuterie platter- some slices of preserved meat, two sticks and a blob of cheese, a roll, some fruit- how lovely! And did I mention everyone who worked for Lufthansa was intimidatingly attractive, nice, and multilingual?

At the end of the nice flight, I had a short wait at the Visa Counter, and a long, long wait at customs. It was stuffy, and I didn’t have enough hands for my coat and my bags and my magazine and my bottle of water. Somewhere ahead of me in line a kid was screaming, and somewhere behind me in line a German girl was having a very loud, very pretentious conversation about politics in a nasal tone. Sweat was pooling between my boobs and in the small of my back and I suddenly felt exhausted and grubby and oily.
On the other side Susan picked me up and together we wrestled my bags across this impossibly huge city- on and off of trams and buses, up and down flights of stairs, through a crowded square and down into a shopping center that we’ve dubbed “the Port Authority of Istanbul,” and then we were finally on the ferry from Europe to Asia. The wind from the Bosporus dried my sweat and fluffed up my lank hair and I thought,
“This is it. This is home, now.”


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