Cultural Experience | Packing Lists

8 Do’s and Don’ts of Packing for a Semester Abroad

Packing can easily create stress and extra baggage, but it doesn’t need to.

Here are some packing tips I learned from my semester abroad.

The Don’ts

1. Don’t over pack

Over packing for a semester abroad. It may seem relatively harmless mistake, however, when packing to return home, an over packer might not find this mistake quite as harmless.

When preparing to study abroad, I told myself I wasn’t going to over pack, as I usually do. I chose one suitcase, one carry-on size bag and a backpack. That amount of luggage held more than enough items for a full semester abroad. The backpack served as my weekend bag for the duration of the semester. Over packing is much more than just a hassle to lug around; it’s an already full suitcase to bring home in the end. What are you going to do with all of the beautiful items you collected throughout the semester? Buy another suitcase? No need for that.

image suitcase packing

Tip: To avoid over packing, pack then go back through and take half of what you put in, out. This way, you’ll remove all of the items you impulsively threw in or “just couldn’t” leave home. It’s not like you’ll never see these clothes again; they’ll be in your closet when you return home.

2. Don’t vacuum pack your clothes

It might seem like a great idea when you’re heading across the pond, but you’ll regret it on your way home. You don’t need to bring so many clothes that vacuum packing should be necessary. Also, getting your hands on a vacuum with the right extension while abroad might prove to be harder than you think. You’ll be stuck with an overflowing suitcase before you even pack all of your purchases from the semester.

3. Don’t pack outfits

Organizing your clothes in outfits before packing might be helpful and give you a better idea of what you have chosen to bring, but packing only outfits isn’t the best idea. Bringing clothes that work well for many different outfits and match with a lot of your other clothes is smart. You have limited space and packing outfits that you’ll wear only a few times is less practical than bringing a number of shirts, a number of bottoms etc. that will all work together.  Move past wanting to wear something super specific, or limit the number of specific items you allow yourself to bring.

4. Don’t bring too many pairs of shoes

Shoes take up a lot of room in a suitcase, and when it comes down to it, you’ll really only wear a few pairs during a semester abroad. Converse and Birkenstocks were my everyday shoes. I wore them to class, to the grocery store, out at night – really anywhere I needed to go. As it got colder, the Birks stayed in my closet, but my converse were still my go to. I brought two pairs of boots to match different outfits, and a pair of rain boots because I knew that my home city was a rainy one.

Many of the streets in Europe are cobblestone, so heels really aren’t practical. I brought one pair and they sat in my closet the entire semester. I literally didn’t wear them once. One pair of boots that I brought had a wedge heel, and I liked wearing those out at night, but they weren’t so tall that they became impractical for class. Think about what you will actually use because, again, you can always go shopping!

The Do’s

1. Do bring toiletries

Bringing all of my products was one of the best decisions I made during my time abroad. I was told that there would be different products on the shelves in the stores in Italy where I was going to live, so I bought enough shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, lotion etc. to last me for the semester and packed it away in my suitcase. I not only had anything and everything that I could have possibly needed, but I had space and weight – which are even more valuable. These items weighed quite a bit and took up a good amount of room in my checked luggage, which allowed me to fit everything, including my purchases throughout the semester, in the same bag on my way home.

2. Do pack for any weather

Packing the wrong clothes was my packing downfall for my semester abroad. With limited space, it is important to remember that you will experience all seasons while abroad. Clothes that match with everything and are good for layering are the best pieces to bring. Don’t bring a shirt that you want to wear one time, because that’s a waste of space. Also, you can go shopping while you are abroad, and you’re probably going to want to at least once!

I studied abroad in the fall, and it got cold a lot quicker than I expected it to. I packed more clothes for warm weather, and ended up wearing the same few sweaters I brought for much longer than planned.

Do a little research about the weather in the city where you will be living. Make a quick list of places you hope to travel to, and check out their weather as well. While shopping is a great way to get something you didn’t bring from home, you don’t want to spend all of your money on clothes when you only have one weekend in Paris (or maybe you do!).

3. Do bring something to make your room feel homier

It’s nice to make a dorm room, or guest room in a host family’s home, feel more personal. I brought one sarong, which I used as a tapestry on my dorm wall to make it feel more comfortable. The sarong doubled as a blanket for the plane or in a hostel and quickly dried if I wanted to use it as a towel. I brought some pictures of my family, as did my roommate along with a map of Europe. Only a few items make rooms feel much more like home.

4. Do plan to buy some things there

When I was packing for my semester abroad, I purposively didn’t bring or buy (something I didn’t already have) so that I could get it in Europe. Coming from the South, I didn’t have a heavier coat. That is something that I knew would take up a good amount of room in my suitcase, and I wouldn’t need it right away. I waited until it started to get cold in my new home, and went shopping. Studying abroad in Italy, the land of leather, provided great opportunities for new boots or a new bag or purse. You’re going to want to shop, so don’t bring everything with you.

*Featured Image Credit to Emily Wellmeier

Hannah McIntyre

Spring Hill College | 19 stories

My name is Hannah McIntyre and I am a senior at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala studying public relations, advertising and writing. During the fall semester of my junior year, I studied abroad at the Spring Hill College Italy Center at the University of Bologna in Italy. While there, I travelled to 11 countries and 21+ cities. Being abroad taught me so much about myself and prepared me for life in ways I didn't even know I needed.

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