Cultural Experience | Italy

Study Abroad: Packing 4 Months into 2 Suitcases

Not Packing All of Your Favorite Clothes Won’t Matter Once You Arrive!

So you’ve been accepted to your dream study abroad program…now what?

This was me during the spring when I got accepted to my school’s program in Florence, Italy (where I am right now!). Once I got accepted, it hit me that it was going to take a lot of work and planning to get from being accepted to actually sitting in a classroom in Italy (or by the Ponte Vecchio sipping a glass of Chianti).  How was I supposed to start packing for 4 months away from home in a few suitcases?

Before packing, get all of the technicalities out of the way. Make sure your passport and visa (if necessary) are valid and ready for travels. You’re flight should definitely be booked; if you know you’re definitely going to do the program, it cannot hurt to book early. One of the things that I did not do was set up a cell phone before I came abroad. While there are plenty of phone options here, having a working phone when I landed in Italy would have been more comforting than having nothing. It all depends on what you want, so just start getting organized for your trip as early as you can. Speaking of  starting early…here are some tips for packing once all of these technicalities are out of the way:

Start early.

It is never to early to start thinking about what you want to bring abroad (or not bring) which will make packing far easier. If you know you’ll get a hair dryer while abroad- which is highly recommended for the different electricity voltages- remember the amount of space that will leave you to pack other essentials. Or if you know you need sneakers for your walking city, why not get them early so you are not last minute shopping?

Always have pen and paper.

Or somewhere to write down lists. Every single day- in the car, at the store, at work- you will think of small things that you’ll  want to pack, so try to keep a pen and paper or  list on your phone so you can make a  master list when it comes time to do a final check of the items you’re packing.

Do a spring cleaning.

You’ll be surprised the amount of things you’ll find by doing a full out cleaning of your room. Go through all of your drawers and closets to get rid of old clothes or items you will not need while abroad, nor want when you return home. Leaving home and returning to a clean room will be worth it!

Display everything.

During your clean- sweep, try to display all of your clothes. Let’s face it, coming to a foreign country, you’re probably going to care a lot about how you look, so clothes are probably the single most important packing items. Try using a portable clothes hanger to display all of your clothes (so they are not hidden your closet). This will let you start to think about the specifics you will want to bring with you.

(Displaying your clothes remind you of all your options!)

Have a fashion show.

After seeing all your clothes displayed for a few days and creating imaginary dream outfits, try everything on! Things are not always as cute on your body as they are in your head. And you certainly don’t want to find that out as you are getting dressed to go out for you first night in Paris or Sydney. Keep in mind the cultural differences. Tight dresses and mini skirts are not necessarily considered lady-like in other cultures!


Once you know you that your dream outfits will impress the locals, create piles. A definitely pile of your favorite jeans and tanks that go with anything and a maybe pile of less versatile pieces that you’ll pack if there is room.

Know your limits.

Your weight and size limits that is. Every airline has different limits for checked and carry-on luggage. In fact, my airline allowed only one carry-on and one checked bag and had size and weight limits for both bags.  Check the fees for overweight and a second checked bag- an overweight bag for my flight cost $100 and a second checked bag cost $100. Instead of risking the overweight limit, I decided early on to check an additional bag.

Weigh often.

You’d be surprised how much weight deodorant or a pair of shoes can add to your luggage. And the airlines are rarely lenient about limits, so its better to be a little under than flirting dangerously close with the limits.  The last thing you want when taking off  to your destination is to be forced to empty items out of your luggage in order to drop a few pounds from your bag. It is probably worth investing in a luggage scale so you can track how close you are to the weight limits.

Be rational.

I have an obsession with colored pants. When I am at home and have tons of options for tops to wear with my green dress pants,  that is great. But when I am packing my life into two suitcases, that is irrational. So although it may hurt to leave your green pants hanging in your closet for four months, or wide-brimmed sun hat laying on your dresser, you will be glad you saved space for more functional pieces.

More packing tips and advice from College Tourist here

No shopping sprees.

You are going to be spending plenty of money on your trip and shopping while abroad. There is no reason to go buying brand new outfits for your trip. As long as you have any essentials, you may as well wait and buy that new bag or leather boots once you get to your study abroad destination.

Pack the oldies.

Packing old shoes and tanks that you will not mind throwing away will save lots of space and weight in your luggage for you returning trip. Your bag may be way under the weight limits on your flight to Europe, but after purchasing souvenirs for your friends and family in every country that you visit, you’ll be adding plenty of weight. Save yourself the stress and bring things you don’t mind giving up. This will also be helpful in the worst-case scenario- that your bag gets lost.

You’re not under packing.

Most study abroad destinations have stores too. If you did not pack shampoo, remember other countries wash their hair too, and there will plenty of toiletry options once you get there. You’ll be glad you under packed when you’re flying back home with all of your new purchases!

Don’t stress.

With the technical details finalized, packing should be fun. Get excited to wear you maxi dress down the streets of Milan. After stress-free packing you’ll be more than thrilled once you step onto your plane to begin your new adventure in a foreign country. Remember this will probably be the most exciting and memorable few months of your life so far and not packing some of your favorite skirts will be the least of your worries once you step off your plane in your new home!

Meg Powers

George Washington | 4 stories

I am currently a student at George Washington University studying Information Systems and Statistics. I love baking, country music, and recently got the travel bug while studying abroad.

3 responses to “Study Abroad: Packing 4 Months into 2 Suitcases”

  1. AbroadStore says:

    I enjoyed reading your post. Your written entry possess a whimsical flow to it. I like how you emphasized checking the weight of the suitcase. Possibly the most under-rated packing item to not have on hand is a digital luggage scale (

  2. […] Study Abroad: Packing 4 Months into 2 Suitcases […]

  3. […] Study Abroad: Packing 4 Months into 2 Suitcases […]

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