Save Money and Effort as a “Suitcase-Savvy Expat”

Coffee? Why on earth would you take coffee with you to Mexico?”

A friend asked me this 15 years ago. It does seem strange to take U.S.-purchased (but Mexico-produced) coffee to Guanajuato, the city where my husband, Barry, and I live part of the year. But back then, high-quality Mexican coffee was produced to export and wasn’t easy to find unless you lived in Veracruz, Chiapas, or another coffee-growing state. (What did Mexicans themselves drink? Nescafé! Many still do.)

Times have changed. While I never take coffee to Mexico now, I do pack other products from the U.S. Here’s what I take to Mexico from the U.S., and what I bring back from Mexico to the U.S.

What We Bring to Mexico

Electronic items and gadgets. If we purchase a laptop, printer, iPad, keyboard, phone, camera, or any other electronics, we always buy it in the U.S., where these products are more competitively priced.

Foodstuffs. While international and specialty items are much more available in Mexico now than they were 20 years ago, they can still be hard to find and are more expensive than in the U.S. Teas are sold in Mexico but with limited selection. Barry and I like Good Earth teas (with cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices), Earl Grey, lemon-ginger, and other flavors that are either not available or more expensive.

Health and sports products. Vitamins are expensive in Mexico, so we stock up in a U.S. dollar store, along with ibuprofen and sunscreen. And I’ve never found nifty gadgets like my pedometer in Mexico.

Books and other reading material. I much prefer reading on paper than digitally, so before leaving the U.S., I visit my favorite used bookstore and stock up. An expat-run English-language library exists in Guanajuato, but it doesn’t necessarily carry the books I want to read. Barry gets hand-me-down New Yorkers from a friend and takes them to Guanajuato to read at leisure.

My favorite pens. I order these from Amazon. (Amazon exists in Mexico, but not all products are available, and shipping is expensive.).

Clothing. I know the kind of socks I like, and since I’ve never found them in Mexico, I stock up in the U.S. And although I did once keep a pair of hiking shoes at our Guanajuato home, I now wear an Italian brand of shoes that are so comfortable and lightweight that I just take them back and forth with me. Barry always takes his beloved moccasins to wear around the house.

Rugs. We own a beautiful rose-red carpet that I bought for pennies many years ago when I worked in Kazakhstan. We weren’t using it in our smaller Eureka, California apartment. Because you don’t have to pay to check your first suitcase when flying internationally, I was able to roll it up, stuff it in a large bag, and bring it for free.

Gifts. Occasionally we buy something in the States to give as a gift. For example, one of our contractors had a fascination with bears, so Barry bought him a bear calendar. And our handyman was delighted when we gave him a cordless electric drill.

What We Bring to the U.S.

Magazines. For Spanish practice, I pack back issues of Selecciones, the Spanish-language version of Reader’s Digest, and Mexico Desconocido (Unknown Mexico), a travel magazine.

Notebooks. I’m very fond of Mexican lined notebooks, which I use for journals. I always visit my favorite papelería and buy a couple before leaving.

Lightweight plastic mug. I finally found the perfect lightweight coffee mug in the pueblo mágico called Cuetzalan, deep in the state of Puebla. I’m in love with this mug and take it whenever I go camping or traveling. I wish I’d bought two!

Repaired clothing. One of the many benefits of living in Mexico is that, unlike in the U.S., you can easily and affordably get clothes and shoes repaired. Jesús, from our favorite sastrería (tailor shop), inserts zippers into Barry’s pants’ pockets so he can keep his passport, cash, and other valuables safe. And I had heel straps riveted onto my backless sandals.

Stock up on colorful tablecloths and napkins.

Tablecloths and other woven goods. We stock up on beautiful, colorful tablecloths and matching napkins made in Mexico that are great as wedding, birthday, and housewarming gifts.

Supermarket products. At a Guanajuato supermarket, Barry found a particular epoxy glue not available in the U.S. And I love the handy mini-broom that clicks inside its own pan, which I’ve never seen anywhere else.

Sweatpants. Barry brings back inexpensive sweatpants he finds at Mexican tianguis (open-air markets).

Mezcal. Some expats bring back mezcal, because the selection of this spirit similar to tequila is much wider in Mexico.

Even with airline restrictions, it’s not difficult to bring many things in one direction or another, and for the comfort these favorite items provide, we find it really worth it. There’s nothing better than sipping Earl Grey tea in my favorite mug while I cozy up in my chair reading, every so often admiring that rose-red rug from Kazakhstan beneath my feet.

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