Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What should I bring? Everything and nothing... bring yourself!

I recently received this comment:

I have a request 
Can you please make a post...
a list of things that you should bring to Libya ( from electronics to food ) If you've lived In the US or Europe your whole life, but decide to live in Libya. I'm getting ready for my trip now...seems like a never ending list ....help please.. Thank You

This is something I get asked quite often. And I'd have asked the same thing before I came here (but there wasn't internet in 1989). The result for me was that I brought all kinds of things that I didn't need and left behind things that would have been useful. 

When I arrived, life in 1980's and 90's was miserable in Libya. I came to Libya pregnant with my first child and brought nothing related to babies with me thinking that Libya was the land of big families and there was sure to be tons of everything related to babies.... wrong! There was practically nothing. Luckily, my husband had to travel to Egypt and came home with a suitcase full of baby clothes and I also had my mother send me cloth diapers from America. I had six kids in 9 years and it was a continuous struggle to clothe, diaper, and feed them simply because the shops didn't have the merchandise to buy. I never threw out any of my kids clothes as they were all handed down to child next in line. Whenever we found baby formula we would buy cases of it and stockpile because we never knew if we'd see it again. Thank God I'm past all that now. Over time things changed and products are being imported. 

Nowadays you can find almost everything you need for babies here. And there is a lot of everything else too. One problem is that you may find something one day and then not find it again. This happens a lot with imported specialty foods, cleaning products, toiletries and cosmetics. If I find something I like, I stock up on it. 

When they first brought Doritos here my American friends and I were thrilled beyond belief. And then the supply dried up and we were all having Dorito withdrawal (yes, that really happens!). By chance one of my students was working for a grocery distribution company and I told him to be on the lookout for Doritos. When he found them I bought 14 cases - enough to completely fill my car so there was barely enough space for me to sit and drive! I shared them with friends and we were content for a while. The shops have Doritos all the time now (thank God!), but they still haven't brought Fritos.

When I came here I made the mistake of bringing small appliances with me. First problem was that the current is not the same here as it is in the US so we had to use converters and these didn't always work very well. I had bought a super duper blender mixer do everything appliance that cost a small fortune.... and then one of the parts broke. The only way to replace it was to get one when I visited 'home'. Needless to say, the part was expensive and could only be ordered and sent by mail - it arrived a day or two before I travelled. Then when I got it to Libya it worked for about two weeks and broke again. What a waste of money. I learned my lesson and buy appliances here. You can get a warranty on most appliances and they are reasonably priced. We did have to hunt to find a waffle iron which we found after a twenty-year search. We've used it about 4 times so far and probably could have lived without it, but if there's space in the cupboard we've got to fill it. 

If you like to read books I recommend bringing an eBook reader. I had a Sony reader for quite a while and now I have a Galaxy Tab that works even better and I bought it here. You can get iPad and Galaxy Tab here but they are probably cheaper outside Libya. The same goes for iPods.  Most small gadgets are costly here if you can find them. 

Medicine is another thing. I suggest bringing enough to last for a while and when you get here look around to see if your meds are available here.  

Quite honestly, I think that most ex-pats should travel light anyway. The more junk you bring with you means the more junk you have to move again in the future. We all like to surround ourselves with 'things' and pieces of 'home' - but is all that really necessary? Being a minimalist when you're travelling and living in various places is a really good idea! I cringe when I think of all the ex-pats that, at the beginning of the uprising, had to leave all their belongings behind and pack up only the absolute essentials in a carry-on bag. Most of their houses here were looted after they left and they lost everything. 

If you're an ex-pat worker you're probably travelling in and out of here, and you probably have colleagues and other ex-pat friends who travel frequently and would be willing to bring you back things you needed. But if you are moving here with plans to stay for a while chances are you will eventually run out of all the things you hoarded in your suitcase or shipping container. Eventually you're going to have to learn to make do with what's available. A big part of moving to a different country is learning how to survive on what's around you. It's all part of the adventure.

What do you think? What is there that you cannot live without?


  1. You should bring to Libya lot of money, the rest you can buy here,but things are expensive now.

  2. What is there that you cannot live without?
    Nice and lovely people is all i need, food and a roof over the head!
    greadings from austria.

  3. I agree 100%! I keep it all down to four suitcases. It's hard too because Turkey has so many fun and fabulous souvenirs for the home.

  4. So so true! I was told to bring paper products to Libya, I had no idea what that meant and I still don't? We arrived with enough diapers to last for 12 weeks and then we had oodles of them in the shipping container. By 2002 baby formula was everywhere (and cheap), the food products that I missed were the Asian foods, curry paste, palm sugar etc but the occasional trip to Malta meant we could stock up.

    The discoveries I made in Libya outweighed any of these things though. Libya soup and Libyan people are two things that I really miss.


  5. I want Fritos in Egypt too. I want regular corn chips without all the flavor/powder crap. I'd have to say bras. I don't know about Libya but bras here suck.

  6. When I came I was told bring kleenex, I thought wedding napkins, and once I got here there was no paper at all so I used the wedding napkins but not for the wedding. Now you can get it all so it's just any small item that you adore that you should bring lots of until you get out again or know someone who will bring it in for you.

  7. I would mostly recommend medicines, vitamins, imodium, and anti-bacterial eye/ear drops (if you have kids). To ease the transition bring a small supply of your favorite soaps, shampoos etc, but mosts thing can be found there (especially if you will be in Tripoli).
    Through searching, you can find alot of asian and indian food products now, and american cereals - though you will pay alot for them. I have kids so school-type english workbooks, books in general, and craft supplies are a must. Definately don't bother with small appliances, or any kitchen items. Baking soda was something I had a very hard time finding, so I later brought a couple boxes (for cookies), I believe they use bakers ammonia but can cause problems if the cookie is not baked properly. One other thing I got sent over was "fly-strips". Not attractive, but useful! I hate flies! They have "bug spray" there, but I don't want alot of chemical around the kids.

  8. for the kids: cloth diapers, warm underwear, the book "How to treat ill kids", games, longsleave uv-protection clothes to swim with
    for me: e-book reader, warm blanket, warm underwear, knitting tools, laptop

  9. For an expat without children Libya has everything required a day to day life. For families with children some concerns apply. I only know the childless part.
    For me, Tripoli was a surprise when I arrived in 2008, I was expecting something in the level of other African cities I visited and also the information online is scarce and outdated.
    Tripoli is growing at a staggering speed, in 2.5 years I noticed huge differences, the same does not apply to the rest of the country, so the location is very important.
    The expat network works very well, people love to share experiences. One might even get an email or text adverting to a special product in a particular supermarket or shop.
    The thing the people need to bring the most is an open mind and pinch of adventurous spirit.

  10. The one thing I really missed was my Tupperware - finding decent storage containers has been a challenge. I brought all my spices and am so glad that I did - but then I love to cook and use a lot of spices and have found there are not a lot of them available here in Egypt - and Libya was no different.

  11. Thank you for the lovely comment, I have heard too many negative comments from expats and this seems very realistic from my experience!

  12. Thank you ,I reaallly appreciate it :)


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