January 1, 2013
We don’t return home to the U.S. that often nowadays, although now with the two grand children we would like to. The long flights are becoming a bit hard on us. But when we do go home, we try to make the best of the opportunity and pick up items that we either can’t find here in Thailand or things that are much more expensive here than back home, or brand name items that just aren’t available here in Thailand. We travel very light on the way out, armed with a few essentials and our list, but are packed to the weight limit on the flight back.
Everyone has their own list of “stuff” to get back home, and your list might differ from mine. Sometimes the list is supplemented to by friends, both Expats and Thais, who knowing that you’ll be traveling home, ask if it wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience to pick up some “stuff” for them. I’ll leave the answer to you. But when my neighbor asked me if I could pick up a chain saw for him from Sears, well, I found a polite excuse, something like where we are going there aren’t any Sears stores around (as if any place like that existed in the U.S.)
Since first coming to Thailand, I am happy to say that the list of items that aren’t available here keeps getting shorter, and prices on imported goods continue to drop. But we still seem to fill our airline weight quota coming back. In the hopes that this will give you an idea of what kinds of things we have trouble finding here, and help you figure out what you might want to pack with you when you come, I am listing the things that we try to bring back from our trips home.
Bringing clothes bought abroad is especially important if there are certain brand names of clothes that you prefer and that are not available here. I love those Haggar pants that I get from J.C. Penny that have those elastic, expandable, waists. They come in really handy after Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Chinese New Year’s dinners when my waist expands a couple of inches at one sitting.
Also, those Expats of the larger variety (you know what I am talking about) may not be able to find clothes that fit here in Hobbit-land. The biggest (no pun intended) problem is finding underwear and shoes in the really large sizes. I just met a Canadian who is about 6’6” and wears a size 14 shoe. He told me he found one shop in the whole country that had size 13. That didn’t help him though. So he buys his shoes back home. I have a friend who always buys a certain brand of dress socks that he can’t find here. As for me, I haven’t worn dress socks, or real shoes for that matter, in years.
You can get most electronic gadgets (laptops, smart phones, mp3 players, tablets, game players, cameras, etc.) right here in Thailand. I mean, just about every shopping mall has a big camera outlet and an Apple Store where you can get Macs, iPhones, iPads, or “i” just about anything else. The trouble is the price (although prices, except for the absolute latest models, seem to be dropping daily – you judge, I just bought a 16GB flash drive on sale for $6).
The Android tablet I have was bought on one of my trips home. It has a 10.1” screen and is exactly what I need. I got it for $295 back home. The similar Samsung Galaxy 10.1” Note sells for 22,000 baht here, or $720. I was going to write that cameras are cheaper back home. The equivalent of my Olympus that I got at Wal-Mart for less than $300 used to be over 12,000 baht (about $400). But I just looked today and the prices for cameras have dropped big time. TVs and DVD players are well priced here and since they work on a different system than in the west it is better to pick them up in country. And of course DVDs and CDs are all of the “Long John Silver, the pirate” variety, so they are much cheaper here than back home.
You can buy things quite cheaply off of Amazon.com and eBay of course, and then have them shipped here. But I have yet to develop a large enough trust in the local postal services to attempt that.
Prescription meds are fairly priced in Thailand. The imported ones cost about what they would back home and the Thai made meds are much cheaper (but make sure they are of the correct strength and quality – best bought at a good hospital or reliable pharmacy). As an example, the Thai variety of “the little blue pill” that so many old dudes rely on here costs a fraction of the imported variety (talking about Vitamin “V”, of course).
When I still lived part of the year back in the U.S., I used to buy my prescription meds here in Thailand and bring back enough for the rest of the year. I figured that each year I saved enough for one plane ticket by doing that. When you know exactly what you need you also save the cost of going to a doctor and getting a prescription. Most are available just by going to a good pharmacy and telling them what you want.
But there are many over-the-counter meds that we have come to rely on that are not available here. Multi-vitamins are very expensive here but quite cheap back home. Generic drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen are sometimes hard to come by and they’ll try to sell you an expensive name brand. Things like Glucosamine, something that we old joint-challenged codgers use, are much cheaper back home. And various band named over-the-counter drugs that you might like are not sold here in Thailand (e.g. Preparation-H, Alka- Seltzer, Alieve, Tylenol Cold).
Here are some foods that we brought back from our last trip. Cheese (about 30 lbs), Pepperoni, hot dogs (10 lbs of the Costco brand, which disappeared in about 2 weeks), Gravy Mix, Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix (for making a great sour cream dip), and some Large jars of spices. I just wish I had brought back some more hotdogs; they are almost worth the trip alone.
I have always been an avid reader. Maybe that is why I like to write. It used to be very difficult getting the latest books, or even the classics, here in Thailand. And the ones you could get were quite expensive. If you read as much as I do that can be a problem. What I used to do on my trips back home was to go to my neighborhood thrift store or second hand store and pick up lots of used books for 50 cents to a dollar. I love reading mysteries and detective novels and I would come back with a year’s worth of reading from each trip.
Not anymore though. I now do almost all my reading on my PC or my tablet. I have conversion software (Calibre) that can change eBooks to any format, PDF, EPUB, or MOBI or more. I get all my reading material on line and have a friend who has downloaded more than 3,000 eBooks. I think I am set for life. And if you are wondering if your favorite types of books are available electronically, here is an eclectic list of what I am currently reading: Moby Dick, Melville; Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman; The Dexter mysteries, Lindsay; Wolf Hall, Mantel; and Cloud Atlas, Mitchell. Yes, I know, I read a lot at one time, but that’s what hyperactive children do. But it shows that just about anything is now available electronically. So, unless you still like the feel of a paper book in your hands, there is no need for trips to the thrift store to buy used books anymore.
Children’s Books and Toys
Children’s books are another animal though and I think it is nice for kids to hold that physical book in their hands while they learn to love reading. Sadly, good children’s books are hard to come by here. You can go the Amazon way and I would love to hear from anyone who has done that successfully here. Please let us know. Until then, those with little ones might want to plan a visit to a good book store on your next trip home and stock up on good children’s books. This is what I did long ago when my kids were small. Their favorite books were by Richard Scary and Dr. Spock.
Toys are also something that you might think about. There are lots of toys sold here in Thailand but the quality is usually low and I don’t think a lot of them would pass the safety regulations we impose on toys back home. That of course would be your call.
Each of us has our own cosmetics preferences. My wife, who doesn’t use much makeup at all, still makes a short list. You might make one too. I have mine. If you have ever seen the movie Hannibal you may recall that Hannibal Lector sniffs at the Edward Norton character and condescendingly comments on his after shave, “Something with a ship on the label.” Well, that brand is Old Spice. And the Old Spice after shave and deodorant, not available here, are definitely on my list. Hannibal might not approve but he’s a fictional serial killer so I don’t worry too much about his opinion.
Small hand tools of the brands you prefer (I like Craftsmen) can be brought back. I once brought back a lawn mower, but I was crazier then.
And in a category all by itself is chocolate. I have to admit that I am a chocoholic, but I am very picky. You can buy fairly good chocolates here but not the brand I like. When I visit home (or when someone is coming here and asks me “What can I bring you?), a trip to Trader Joe’s is in order. This great store has these 1+ lbs bars of Belgium chocolates to die for. But don’t give me any of those regular bars. It must be with almonds. I usually pick up 10 pounds of the stuff and keep them in the freezer, taking out only one or two pieces a night. It is a type of meditation in will power.
When Thailand begins to carry Trader Joe’s Belgium chocolates with almonds, I may not need anything more from back home.
P.S. I just got the news that our blog, Retire 2 Thailand, had more than 25,000 visits in 2012. I don’t write this blog for profit. My payment is the good feelings I get when I can help those thinking of retiring to Thailand in making their decisions about retirement and maybe then, if it is right for them, making their moves here. This year has been very lucrative. Thanks to all my readers.
Have a good, happy and healthy 2013