Final weeks in the USA – Packing, FACT, and Shopping

It’s been a few months (oops!) since our last update, but for good reason!  The last two months have been an absolute blur of activity, transition, and change.  Over the next few weeks Mel and I will update the blog to help fill the gaps.  We’ve heard from many of you along the way and we are grateful to have such a great support network.  So, how did we get here? Well, there was a lot of packing…

Class finishes at FSI

I’ve been a student at the State Department’s academic arm, the Foreign Service Institute, since January 2022.  In the last six months, I’ve amassed quite the transcript including a wide variety of courses.  I spent the second half in my job specific training course.  I learned all about property management, housing and leases, motor pool management, shipping and warehousing, and government acquisitions. The purpose of the course was not to graduate a cohort of experts. Rather the purpose was to give general overview to the areas of work and resources required in our first assignment.  Once my General Services Officer (GSO) training concluded, Mel and I prepared to head to the next course in Blackstone Virginia. 


Mel’s parents, Tom and Rhonda, were able to come spend a little more than a week in Arlington to watch Naomi while Mel and I attended Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training.  This weeklong, offsite course is a requirement for those serving abroad under Chief of Mission (COM, known also as Ambassador) authority. 

Since we are hoping Mel can get a job at the embassies and consulates over the upcoming years it made sense for the both of us to attend this course in the same week.  So, for one week Mel and I were classmates and colleagues.  I’m not so sure she was as excited about it as I was!  Due to severe weather in the forecast for our last day of training, the instructors sent us home a half day early.  We headed back to Arlington to spend a couple days at home before Tom, Rhonda, Mel, and Naomi would head back to Wisconsin for a week.  (Mel will write that post soon).


Mel and I took advantage of Tom and Rhonda around to put the final touches on our suitcases and packing preparations.  Since we had already done one State Department move before, we had a better understanding on how to organize and sort our things. 

To recap, we each get two suitcases to accompany us on the airplane, up to 600 lbs of stuff to be sent via air, and then even more stuff that will take a slow boat across the ocean and then finally make its way to us in Saudi Arabia.  That boat shipment (household effects, HHE) included bulky stuff from Arlington that we didn’t have an immediate need for as well as the stuff from our Appleton apartment that has been in a warehouse since we left in January.  We had all of our belongings in Arlington mostly segregated into piles that would eventually ship via each of the three methods. 

Thankfully Mel and I had some packing “rehearsals” where we packed our suitcases and took inventory on what went into each suitcase.  Since the suitcases would be the last things to leave the apartment, we wanted to make sure that we were under the weight limit and that no item would be left behind.  Additionally, we wanted to make sure we had the right mix of toys, books, medicine, toiletries, clothes, and whatever else we would need in Saudi Arabia before our 600 pound shipment of stuff would arrive.

The movers would come and pack everything up while I would be in Arlington by myself, so it was important that Mel and I were aligned on what goes where before she would go back to Wisconsin.  We got most of the way there with plenty of room left in each suitcase.  Which is good because we knew that extra space would fill up with last minute stuff in the final days.  (spoiler alert, which it did)

Consultation Days and Packing

Tom, Rhonda, Mel, and Naomi left for Wisconsin the Sunday before Memorial Day.  After dropping them all off at the airport, I spent the rest of my day physically moving things around the apartment.  Naomi’s room became our unaccompanied air baggage (UAB, the 600 pounds of stuff to ship via air) room.  Our living room and dining room table became our HHE staging area and our bedroom became the place for suitcases.  I unplugged our devices, wrapped up cords, and sterilized the apartment before the movers arrived later that week.  We had everything prepped so well that the movers only spent about two hours total packing everything up.  Granted, we didn’t have nearly as much stuff as we had in Appleton.

The rest of the week I used my authorized “consultation days.”  Before each move, employees get consultation days to meet with collogues and offices that they might deal with in their next assignment, button up loose ends at the current post, square away visas, doctor appointments, pack out, vehicle shipments, and well, you get the idea.

I also used that week as a geographical bachelor to spend Memorial Day morning running around and visiting the war memorials on the National Mall.  That afternoon I spent walking around the entirety of Arlington National Cemetery.  I was thankful for the opportunity to reflect on such a day of remembrance.  As I had time after my other work completed, I visited some the Smithsonian Museums, had my last few runs along my favorite trails in DC and Arlington, and mentally prepared for the upcoming move.


One of the big complaints we’ve heard from folks who have gone through these permanent change of station (PCS) moves is the extreme cost and high spending associated with the move.  While Saudi Arabia has great shopping, Western brands, and access to Amazon Prime (with a three-week shipping delay.  RIP same day delivery), there are many things that are best to just buy before you go.  We ended up buying things like shoes, clothes you know you need and can’t get shipped overseas, personal care items, accessories, medicines, toys and electronics.  Its difficult to do so much spending at one time, but it is one of those necessary evils of living abroad.  Sure, life would go on just fine without the stuff, but sometimes it’s the little comforts that provide joy and stability in a time of great transition and change.

The Final Week

I took the train with the stroller to Raegan International Airport to pick up Mel and Naomi early in the evening on that next Saturday.  Mel and Naomi made the trip back to Virginia without the safety net and extra hands that Tom and Rhonda provided on the trip back to Wisconsin. That next and final week, I had one class that I needed to take before departure.  While I spent most of the day completing both synchronous and asynchronous coursework, Mel and Naomi spent time visiting our favorite parks for the last time. 

I also made several trips to the Saudi Arabian Embassy to complete the visa paperwork and process.  There were many last-minute trips to Target across the street and Amazon purchases.  Since we were trying to finish all the food we had in the apartment, there were also many trips to Chipotle down the street for the quick, oh-so-comforting, and familiar burrito bowls for dinner. 

It’s a good thing that Mel and I had practiced packing so much in the previous weeks.  When we weighed our bags the morning before we left our apartment for the last time, we were within 2 pounds on every single piece of luggage.  Practice might not make perfect, but it sure did help.

3 thoughts on “Final weeks in the USA – Packing, FACT, and Shopping”

  1. Tom Dietzler (Mel’s Dad😎)

    Thanks for a really clear and complete description of your exit process. And just know, forever, that Rhonda and I loved every second of the time that we were able to spend with the three of you. Our week with Naomi will also be enshrined in our memories as a beautiful and precious time for us. If it was helpful to you, all the better, but it was immensely important to us, and we will always be thankful for it… Thank you for allowing us that opportunity and God bless you in all that you do. Also, thank you for your service to our country, what you’re doing is outstanding in so many ways…

  2. Beth Crawford here (ancient friend of Tom and not so ancient friend of Rhonda). Thanks Tom for sharing the the Blog site. Noel and Mel, lovely and entertaining blog site. Excellent detail and so excited to learn of your adventure. I pray it is a wonderful life adventure for your beautiful family.
    I know a little about having loved ones live so far away as my daughter Shawna (due any second with her firstborn son) and her toddler Emily and husband Flo live in Frankfurt, Germany. Vacations are lovely as they come and stay with us for 3 weeks at a time twice a year and then we head to them a few times. Hope Gramma and Grampa and other loved ones can come see you ?
    Thank God all the time for messenger phone service and the ability to connect instantly with Emily.
    Looking forward to reading updates and hope you love your time away from home and are able to keep in touch in ways that make you feel well connected to home.

  3. Debra Van Nuland

    We hope your getting to know your new destination and home and it is a smooth transition. It starts out slowly, but will soon fly by. Enjoy the time away and cherish the adventure! We all will miss you and we’re wishing you all the best!

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