There are times when you’re abroad and you really just want that snack from home. Mostly though, the days when you’re homesick, tired of the local cuisine, and miss your cat are the days you’ll wish you had brought that pack of pudding in your suitcase instead of that extra pair of jeans that stopped fitting after a month in your new home.
My first year in China I was the kid bringing three suitcases full of clothes, most of which did not fit nine months later because all of the rice stuck to my hips (likewise, my friend Keith had the same issue, only he lost weight).
You can bet my second year was a lot different. I brought one suitcase of my clothes, a backpack for my electronics, and then a second suitcase packed full of homeland flavors. My nanny thought I was insane and said, “That wont last long, why bother bringing it?”
Because it wasn’t meant to be eaten quickly, nanny!
My plan was to bring enough goodies to treat myself a few times each month, for those special occasions or difficult days. As I come to the end of my second year and my treasure trove dries up, I can tell you that I am very glad for this decision, as are my fellow expats.
As a result, I’m writing you this guide of items you might consider bringing with you on your long adventure abroad.
Can’t I Just Buy This Food Abroad?
Often you can find something online, or in an import store if you live in a big city. I personally lived in Shiyan, Hubei, China. This is a fairly small city with only a handful of imports- generally the Western imports are limited to pasta, and candy.
If you live in a much bigger area, you can probably find something to satisfy your heart. However, you’ll still find the import stores are limited and may not contain exactly what you want.
The food abroad may also be more expensive than in your home country. If you have the space and weight capacity, you might as well throw some extra things into your bag, or swap your unnecessary items out for these consumables goods (which means their previously occupied space is good for gifts and souvenirs you bring home).
The internet is wonderful, but even foreign sites similar to Amazon are limited in what imported products they may have from the West (I couldn’t buy pickles anywhere, not even Tao Bao). Personally, I’ve also had the issue of not being able to order things online by myself until more recently
(I definitely suggest finding a friend, coworker, or neighbor willing to help you order items online no matter what. Often you can find cheaper products on there, or things not easily found in your city.)
Notes on Bringing Food
This isn’t meant to be used quickly. We’re thinking about what’s cheap, easy to take on a long trip to a new country, reminiscent of home, and can be stretched out over a year. Ideally you plan to bring one flavor or treat per week or two you are abroad. In my experience, I found I might not use anything for a month, but then I hit a rough spot and use a few treats in a week. I also try to be careful about using these foods since they tend to be higher calorie!
Suggested Foods to Bring Abroad
We’ll break these down by type. Please note that things I’ve listed might be available abroad, but in my experience have tasted very different, or the flavor I liked was not available. Furthermore, this is from the perspective of being in a small sized city of Shiyan, Hubei, China. Finally, I’ve included foods my fellow expats brought, which tended to have a slant toward their region (for example, I’m from South Carolina and brought biscuit mix and gravy, while the Texan Tunafish and Louisianian, Keith brought Cajun spices).
- Gatorade (powder form)
- This was important because I found myself sick a lot the first year abroad. It helped to hydrate me when I was suffering from street food poisoning.
- Lime juice
- Mrs. Dash
- Beer salt (lime flavor)
- Vanilla Extract
- Gravy powder packets (white, brown, red eye, etc)
- Alfredo sauce powder
- I actually brought one liquid jar of sauce for Tunafish, since she had been in China for a month already. I figured it would be a good dinner for her to have one month in. It’s very heavy though, and risks breaking.
- Chilli powder flavoring
- Parmesan cheese (powder form of course)
- Hot sauce
- Dressing: Ranch, Thousand Island, Caesar, etc
Food Mixes and More
Here’s where I’ll say Tunafish bought me a stove for my birthday at the end of our first year of living abroad (it’s a good size and only cost 300 RMB on TaoBao). This meant I could plan some baked dishes when we returned for a second year.
- Cake mix and icing!
- Plan this out. One for your birthday, one for a bad day, and one for a holiday.
- Biscuit mix
- Muffin mix
- Jello mix
- Pudding mix
- Cereal: I brought Captain Crunch
- Chips: Tunafish wanted Flaming Hot Cheetos
While bringing food is not necessary, and you may want to completely immerse yourself, being abroad can be a really difficult experience at times. This is why I suggest bringing some flavors from home to help you along on those tough days.
- Pack light
- Avoid jars with water content
- Seal your packets in bags so you don’t lose any precious food (and you also have a Ziplock bag to use abroad, which may not be easy to find in your new home).
- Make an online ordering contact
- Very early on you should learn how to use your Amazon-like website. If you’re in China, you just need someone to set up your account, and to translate the texts pointing you where to pick up your packages.
- Buy a large toaster oven upon arrival. They’re pretty cheap (online), and it seems like every range of person will be happy with one. My friend is able to cook herself gluten free baked items, our allergic-to-everything friend can bake potatoes (adding some diversity to his chicken and rice diet), and I can make anything my heart desires, so long as the ingredients are available.
- Bring some food!
- You’ll have ample opportunity to eat the local cuisine, so there’s no shame in bringing some food with you. It’s also great for entertaining your new friends that are very interested in eating foods foreign to them.
Have any ideas of light, easy, cheap food to bring abroad? Send me a message and I’ll add it to the list.
Check out my other Expat Guides for ideas on living, teaching, and traveling abroad. Thanks for reading!