Packing six months (or more!) of your life is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of studying abroad. Fear not! The seasoned travelers at Souvenirs have your back.
Two major things to keep in mind while you plan your packing:
- For packing minimally, bring things you know you will not be able to get abroad and things you physically can’t live without.
- For packing smartly, research the country you’ll be in – specifically the local style and the weather – to determine the wardrobe you bring.
Let’s start with the major key stuff: Important documents
ALWAYS have your passport. You literally can’t get anywhere without it!
Study abroad letter/documentation is crucial to prove your trip, specifically when going through customs. Have it handy at the airport.
Bring your state-issued ID because carrying around your passport everywhere you go once you get to your host country isn’t a good idea.
Bring your school ID too to get student discounts.
Make copies of important documents like your passport, study abroad documentation, birth certificate, credit cards, etc. Have one copy in carry-on (to have on-hand if something happens to the originals), one copy in your checked bag (if something happens to your carry-on) and leave one at home with your parents (if something really bad happens to your stuff).
What everyone is concerned about: Clothes
Before you start packing, research the fashion of your host country to determine the style of clothes you should bring and research the seasonal weather to determine the type of clothes you should bring.
Most countries dress more formally than the U.S. (at least more formally than U.S. college students) so be prepared to dress nicely in public. Jeans, jeggings and leggings are easy to dress up or down depending on your top.
Pack enough clothes that will get you through a two-week period or however long you go before doing laundry (about 12-14 shirts, 6-8 pairs of pants). But for socks and underwear, the more you bring the less you have to do laundry!
Bring clothes that will allow you to fit in with the locals because a) it’s cool and b) dressing like a tourist is not only a fashion crime, but it is also a threat to your safety. The more you look like a tourist, the more likely you will be targeted for scams or attacks.
Black is a popular color in most countries especially in Europe that helps you blend in (and avoid embarrassment). In addition, bring neutral colors you can match with many things to create a variety of outfits.
Pack at least one nice/formal outfit for fancy occasions or going out.
Bring clothes you will be ok with throwing away when you leave your host country in order to make room in your suitcase for the new clothes or ~souvenirs~ (get it? Souvenirs?) you buy there.
Scarves are great for accessorizing and staying warm. Wear one on the plane to use as a blanket.
Wear your heaviest/bulkiest clothes and shoes on the plane. It’s good to layer clothes too, not only to save space in your luggage but because the temperature varies in the cabin.
If the shoe fits, don’t bring it in every color
Shoes are heavy and take up a lot of space, so it’s important to pack these carefully. Four or five pair is a good amount.
Most importantly, no matter what styles you chose, make sure your shoes are comfortable for a lot of walking.
Like outfits, pack at least one nice pair for formal events. For ladies, booties are easy to dress up or down.
If you plan to stay in hostels while traveling, flip flops are a good idea for showers (though they are usually cheap and easy to find in your host country).
Staying connected: Electronics
Not all outlets are the same worldwide, so an outlet adapter is crucial – you can’t charge without it! Bring multiple adapters for your devices if you’re going to charge them simultaneously, plus, like any charger you’re probably going to lose some.
If you bring your laptop, make sure your password is strong, and back up your files on an external drive before you leave and continuously back it up while you are abroad.
A portable phone charger is always handy.
Good earbuds/headphones are a must. Pro tip: To block out snoring, wear noise-cancelling headphones and play white noise from an app (there are free apps galore).
Download an app for converting prices quickly and easily.
Beautification necessities: Toiletries
Pack all liquids in mini or 3 oz. containers (and remember to put them in plastic baggies!) so they don’t add too much weight to your luggage. When you arrive at your host country, you can buy big versions there. Before you buy big versions, the mini ones will come in handy for your first few showers. But don’t throw out the mini containers – use them when you fly with budget airlines and can’t check bags.
Bring products you may not be able to get abroad, like your favorite foundation or face wash.
Pack enough prescription drugs and contraception to last the duration of your trip. (You may have to consult your doctor about this.)
Pain relief medication is always a good idea for headaches and other minor pains. Pack motion sickness medication too if airplanes aren’t your thing.
Definitely bring hand sanitizer because free bathrooms with soap and water aren’t always available.
A quick-drying microfiber towel dries fast and is compact, and is also great for the beach because it doesn’t pick up sand.
Ear plugs are another way to block out snoring.
Some other good stuff
Ladies, a quality purse is crucial. Make sure it is made well and with good material. Cross-body is best because there’s less chance of it getting stolen off your body.
Money belts feel dumb, but isn’t losing all your money and IDs dumber?
Take about $300 cash in local currency. Exchange the cash at home because you usually don’t have to pay an exchange fee. Cash is good to have right away when you get to your destination in case your credit card doesn’t work immediately. Also take about $50 cash in American dollars if you need to exchange it for other currency.
Bring a journal to write down everything you do to remember your experience!
Invest in a nice neck pillow for the plane – your vertebrae will thank you.
Bring an empty water bottle that you can fill up after going through airport security.
Pack non-perishable comfort foods that remind you of home, like candy or tea.
Things you DON’T want to pack…
Clothes you *might* wear. Only pack things you are certain you will use.
Comfy/lazy clothes like sweatpants for wearing in public. The U.S. is the only country that wears this types of clothes while other countries are more “posh” and formal, so be prepared to dress nicer than your study outfit.
Large electronic appliances like hair dryers or straighteners. The different voltages can blow fuses or even start fires. Buy these products in your host country instead.
Valuable jewelry. It’s at risk for being stolen.
In your checked bag
Roll your clothes to fit most efficiently.
Put your bulkiest clothes like sweaters and pants in air-tight vacuum-seal bags to save space. Just be careful because they get heavy quickly.
Packing cubes are also great for stuffing things efficiently into one space.
Pack big stuff first, then little things like socks and underwear last because they are good for filling space.
Put some local currency cash along with those copies of your important documents in your checked bag in case something happens to your carry-on.
Remember to leave room in your suitcase for ~souvenirs~!
In your carry-on
Pack these things in your carry-on. Put the most important things in there because it will always be with you – just make sure it is secured well on the plane.
Use a backpack as your carry-on then use it for weekend travel.
Leave room in your carry-on in case you need to transfer items that over-weigh your suitcase. When that happens, take out heavy things like shoes and sweaters.
What are your best tips for packing for study abroad? Leave a comment!