Study Abroad Packing Tips: What to Pack (or Not!).
You may think that you need your dictionary, guide book, and city map, but exploring the city and “living like a local” is the best way to figure it all out.
I’ll admit it: I am a serious over-packer. I’m the kind of the girl who will pack seven separate outfits for a weekend trip. The kind who never trusts that the hotel will have a reliable hairdryer. But after spending the past semester studying in Europe, I realized that my over-packing was kind of a problem. For one thing, my two HUGE suitcases took up nearly half of my teeny Rome apartment. In addition, I ended up with stuff left in my suitcase that I hadn’t even unpacked after nearly four months of living in Rome. I realized in about three weeks that I should have packed lighter and kept to the essentials. While the over-packer in me would leave you with a much longer list, I’ve since downsized. Here are some “must-haves” to make your time abroad easier… without going over the airline limit.
1. Toiletries that you “need” and can’t get in the country you’re staying in.
That’s not to say bring every single hair product that you’ve ever used, of course, but if you happen to be picky about shampoo, conditioner, or face wash, you may not be able to find “your brand” abroad. In that case, make space in your suitcase for a few bottles. I only used two bottles of my favorite conditioner, and it didn’t take up much room at all – just make sure to keep your liquids sealed in a plastic bag.
2. Two great weather-appropriate jackets.
The thing I wish I did before I got to Rome? Look up the weather. I assumed that Rome would be far less cold than it actually was and I wished I’d packed a heavier, waterproof coat, in addition to my wool jacket. My advice would be to figure out the weather in your country and bring one for the warmer months and one for the colder months.
3. A smaller duffel bag or backpack.
Even if you aren’t planning on traveling very much over break, having a backpack or duffel bag that meets airline requirements and is comfortable to haul is a great option to have.
4. A few favorite DVDs.
Okay, yes, you’re in another country and you should be exploring. But on nights where the weather is too terrible to go out or you have a major exam the next day, it’s great to have the option of chilling out with a movie in your dorm or apartment. Plus, if you’re staying in a non-American institution, you can watch Mean Girls as a inter-cultural experience for your peers!
5. Three or four international adapters.
You can buy them in the country you live in, but it’s easier to just pick up a few at home. Believe me, you’ll want to have the option of charging multiple things at the same time. Great options available here.
6. A pre-made list of “must-dos” for the semester.
With classes and exploring the city, sometimes it can be hard to get to everything that you initially wanted to do at the beginning of your time abroad. Make yourself a checklist and keep it in a place where you’ll be able to look at it. Believe me, it will be a lot better to drag yourself down to the museums when you’ve already committed to going on paper.
7. Your student I.D.
You’d be surprised at how many discounts your I.D. can get you. Though you may not need your school I.D. while abroad, bringing it could get you discounts at a variety of museums and other sites.
8. A good camera.
While you may think that your iPhone will suffice for photos, the sites that you will see will be way too breathtaking for the resolution on your phone. Unless you have a super fancy phone cam, go for a digital that can really capture the magic. There are lots of options for compact DSLR cameras so shop around to get the one that best suits your needs.
9. Several pairs of solid walking shoes.
Yes, you may look amazing in those heels, but trust me, the cobblestones in Europe will kill them… and your feet. I would recommend bringing one or two pairs of sturdy, cute, “go-with-everything” boots plus a pair or two of cute flats for going out. And don’t be afraid of wearing sneakers to class… not everyone in Europe is high-fashion all the time.
10. A cross-shoulder bag.
In high-crowd areas like tourist attractions, keeping your items in your sight is important. A cross-shoulder bag allows you to see your bag in front of you, and is less likely to get stolen since it’s harder to rip-off. As always, make sure you keep an eye on your bag, no matter what you are carrying.
And here are some things that you can skip:
1. A million different pairs of pants…
Please, please, please bring pants. But six pairs of pants (at the most!) should suffice. Ideally, pack pants that you can wear more than once a week (so don’t bring a ton of brightly colored pants, girls). Dark wash skinny jeans are your best friend!
I came home from Rome with about fifteen scarves, because they sold them everywhere and were completely adorable. The other countries I traveled to also sold really cute scarves everywhere. They’re reasonably priced and you’re way better off buying them there so you can say, “Hey, I bought this in Europe!”.
While it may be tempting to bring some books to read “in your spare time”, you will most likely be spending your free time exploring. If you love reading, invest in an e-reader with a cute cover and pre-download enough books to last the semester (I was never able to connect my Kindle to the WiFi in my apartment, so I’m glad I did). Paper books simply take up way too much space in a suitcase.
4. Food products.
Unless you have a specific food need (a real need, not a “but I love my almond butter!” kind of need) I’d skip out on bringing food abroad. For one thing, if you go to a developed country, they’ll probably have a similar – if not exactly the same – product that you can enjoy to fend off cravings. Why waste the precious poundage? And honestly, even if they don’t, waiting for that first scoop of peanut butter back in America will make it taste all the more sweet.
Sure, you may think that you should bring your portable dictionary, your guide book, and your pop-out map of your city abroad, but exploring the city and “living like a local” is the best way to figure it all out. Plus, any info you really need is available on the internet. That’s not to say that these things are worthless – they’re totally great. Just read up on your city before your trip, copy any interesting information down, and bring on the adventures!