Packing the Essentials
To pack or not to pack, that is the question
When preparing for any length of trip abroad, what to pack is always a major question and can become a source of stress. You do not want to take too little, but you really do not want to take too much either. There is also a weight limit that most airlines enforce for your check bag, or else you will have to pay extra money which is never fun at the airport. Obviously the majority of things you will pack are clothes. I do not want to focus on the clothes too much here because we all have different preferences, but I will say that I have rarely thought “I should have brought more clothes”. It is usually the opposite, “I didn’t need all these clothes”. It is better to take less and just do laundry while traveling, which usually becomes an adventure in of itself.
Here is a brief list of 10 items that have become essential to my own travels and may help you as well.
This is first on the list because it will be the most important, eventually. It is a long-term play. You might feel silly using up valuable packing space with an empty book, but trust me, that book will one day be one of your most tangible memories from studying abroad.
So many things happen while studying abroad. It is impossible to remember them all. However, keeping a journal can combat the forgetfulness. Though it may not seem desirable or necessarily fun to write a short summary of your day all the time, your future self will thank you if you do. Going back and reading your entries once you have returned home will pull at your nostalgia heart strings in all the right ways.
• The Right Shoes
Bringing the right shoes will not necessarily make a trip, but bringing the wrong shoes will definitely break one. If you are not comfortable with your shoes, then you will not enjoy walking around a city. Few things ruin exploring a new city more than blisters. My number one recommendation for travel shoes right now is Lems Boots. The perfect travel shoe should be a perfect mix of style, comfort, and ability to handle any terrain. Lems ticks all these boxes and even one more. They are unbelievably flexible and foldable. This makes for easy packing, which is usually pretty tricky for shoes/boots. Find out more: lemsshoes.com
• The Backpack
For a longer time abroad like a semester or year, then you might opt for a more traditional backpacking sized pack since you will need more room. If you are planning on taking some weekend trips while studying abroad, then make sure to also bring a smaller bag that can be your go-to carry on that fits everything you need for the weekend.
• Portable Phone Battery (Mophie)
Phones have become incredibly useful, maybe even essential, for traveling efficiently. While traveling around it can be difficult to try to locate an outlet. Even if you post up at a Starbucks, then you will have to stay there while it charges. The Mophie, or similar portable battery, fixes this. You can charge whenever you need it. It will also make you look like an absolute hero if your friend’s phone dies while traveling around and you can save them.
The debate you might be having in your head while packing is probably along the lines of phone vs. camera. With our phones having great cameras in them, it is very easy to take pictures of your adventures while not having to be an actual photographer. Also carrying a larger DSLR or similar camera is just another thing to worry about getting stolen. That all being said, I often regret not bringing my real camera. The image quality is just better. Really though, both are great options.
• Book / E-Reader
There will be a lot more downtime during travel than you might expect; long flights, delayed trains, waiting for your laundry to dry in the hostel bathroom (ok maybe that is just me). Actual books are good for shorter trips, but if you will be traveling for longer then the books will end up taking a lot of room. Opting for a Kindle or Nook takes up less packing space and holds more books.
Reading a book that is set in your host nation can make you feel more in touch with the land. Reading about Frederic Henry during World War One Italy in Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms while on a bus from Rome to Naples made the long drive much more interesting and now I have a real connection to the story.
• Go-To Jacket
Depending on your destination and season you might need a jacket. Something waterproof is always a plus. If it also has a hood, then you will not have to worry about packing or carrying around an umbrella in the case of rain. This jacket should be the thing you always wear on the plane, because you do not want to waste valuable space in your bag or backpack with a bulky jacket.
Nothing really new here on this point. Staying hydrated is always important, but even more so while traveling as there will likely be a lot of walking. Water, in certain places, can be more difficult to find or more expensive than you might think. Bringing a water bottle from home and filling it up in the morning before you head out wherever you are adventuring that day can save you a few dollars. I recommend Camelbak or Swell.
• Something Sentimental
While studying abroad there will most likely be times when you feel a little homesick or at least crave something familiar. Packing something small and sentimental that reminds you of home can help with that feeling. Obviously, this object will different for everyone, but I always pack a small American flag to keep with me.
This is a tricky one. If you are studying abroad, then you will probably need to take your computer for assignments and all that fun stuff. However, if the trip is shorter, then it may be better to leave the computer at home. Traveling with something very valuable and expensive in your backpack can be a point of concern. It becomes another thing to worry about. Ultimately, I have always opted to bring it along, but do whatever is most comfortable.
Apart from the list above, a major piece of advice I can offer is to not be afraid to leave some things behind at home. You can always buy stuff when you arrive. Buying a shirt or scarf can become part of the abroad experience. Even buying small things like toothpaste offer an opportunity to experience what the normal parts of life are like in foreign places. So if all other reason fails, just take good old Frank Sinatra’s advice; Pack a small bag.