With summer study abroad programs just around the corner and fall semester exchange programs fast approaching as well, I thought I’d share some pearls of wisdom on what to pack for your study abroad journey.
Packing smarter is something I definitely wish I’d done differently (read about my trials and tribulations in my Study Abroad: What Worked (and What Didn’t) post), so please learn from my mistakes!
Your luggage: Packing smart starts with your luggage! Think about what you want to get out of the bag (storage space, easy to carry around, durability, etc.) and that can help you decide what kind of bag you want to buy. I personally took rolling suitcases and put smaller bags inside of them, but students on summer programs might want to consider a travel backpack if they think they will be traveling before, after or during their program. I strongly recommend name brand luggage. You can find great quality bags for discounted prices at stores like Ross and Marshalls (for my American friends). A valuable lesson I learned: rolling suitcases can be great for getting through the airport with minimal effort, but other places may not have easy accessibility and your boyfriend gets stuck awkwardly carrying a 50-pound suitcase down stairs the to the tube during rush hour (thanks, honey!). Don’t forget to save space in your bag for things you might bring back and get luggage tags.
Clothes: Obviously, this wildly varies to where you’re traveling. But some key pieces of clothing include:
- Windbreaker: I can’t encourage you enough to buy a nice windbreaker. It’s awesome for rainy days on campus and easy to pack for traveling.
- Layers, layers, layers!: Instead of changing out my entire wardrobe with the changing seasons, I brought a lot of basic t-shirts, long sleeve shirts, cardigans and light jackets to mix and match with each other. Target and WalMart are great places to get these simple articles of clothing (recommended: 5 solid or simple t-shirts, 5-8 other shirts, 5 solid of simple long sleeve shirts, 5-8 other warm shirts)
- Shoes: … or not. Do not over pack on shoes. They take up more space than you think. I know it’s hard, but if you don’t wear them at least once a week, you don’t wear them abroad. I brought five pairs of shoes: Converse, Vans, sandals, running shoes and boots.
- Jeans: If you’re the type of person that wears jeans, I suggest bringing three or four pairs: light, medium, and black. These colors can easily mix and match with the aforementioned layered shirts.
- Leggings: If you don’t already wear them for pleasure, I recommend packing leggings to go under your jeans if you travel to cold countries. Also, found cheap at stores like Target and WalMart.
- Pajamas: Although I don’t think sleeping in your birthday suit in a hostel dorm room is against the rules per se, it’s definitely frowned upon. Leggings can double as comfortable pajamas or go to a local charity shop and find a fun shirt and some flannel pants.
- Active wear: Even if you’re not an active person, bring something you don’t mind sweating in if you do end up stepping out of your comfort zone on travel (recommended: one warm outfit, one cool outfit).
- Swimsuit: It doesn’t take up much room, so I recommend bringing it on travel as well. If you don’t use it, no big deal, if you need one and don’t have it, you end up searching the city for a swimsuit in the dead of winter so you can go to the hot springs and end up spending $30 on the only one you can find that’s a size too small (this happened to me in Budapest).
- Formal wear: Bring one formal or semi-formal outfit for any special occassions that may arise. My semi-formal outfit also doubled as a going out outfit.
- Tights: It’s not much of a thing in the United States out of formal wear but let me tell you, tights changed my life. You can wear them under skirts, shorts, dresses… the possibilities are endless!
- Socks, underwear, bras: I also recommend bringing thermal socks if you plan on traveling to a cold place (recommended: enough to last you two weeks).
- Shorts: Similarly to jeans, if you’re traveling to warmer countries, I suggest bringing three or four pairs: light, medium, and black to mix and match with tops.
- Scarf, gloves, hat: Choose your weapon for winter warmth. I got all my winter gear fairly cheap at (you guessed it) Target and WalMart.
- Jewelry: If you’re a jewelry person, bring some of your most versatile and portable pieces (nothing too flashy, bulky or expensive).
- Purses: I brought a few different kinds of purses for different occasions: a small wrist wallet for nights out, a large tote bag for traveling (make sure it zips up to avoid pickpockets) and a regular purse.
- Sunglasses: I brought two pairs of sunglasses: my nice sunglasses for days out on the town and my active sunglasses (ones that wouldn’t break your heart if they fell off your face).
- Small, unlabeled bottles: Do not bring big, bulky shampoo bottles unless you need a very specific product. Instead, buy empty bottles and fill them with your shampoo bottles from home before you leave to tide you over until you can buy proper shampoo bottles when you arrive at your host university. I would also bring a small tube of toothpaste and a travel size deodorant just to get you through until you can buy proper ones.
- Make-up: Similarly, unless you need or love very specific products, just bring what you have left of your make-up and when you run out, buy more in your host country. Odds are, if it’s a developed country, they will have very similar products there.
- Pads and tampons: I suggest just having enough to last a single cycle. Most countries have a wide range of products you can buy when you get to your host country.
- Prescriptions: Visit your doctor a few months before you go abroad and ask for a few month’s supply in advance before you go. My doctor supplied me with ten months of oral contraceptives before my program. If you run out, your exchange program may have some health plan to help you out. For example, under my insurance plan provided to me by my home university, I could visit the health center of my host university and pay minimum charges for prescription pills. If you do have prescriptions, it may be smart to have the proper paperwork with them in case customs stops you (you should always have prescription pills in your carry-on bag when travelling).
Travel: you can also visit my post on travel essentials, which highlights items to bring specifically for weekend getaways.
- Weekend bag: If you’re going for a long-term study abroad program, it might be wise to pack a smaller, more collapsable bag for weekend trips.
- Hostel comfort: ear plugs, sleeping mask and a padlock all make for a comfortable, safe stay in hostels
- Travel towel and hairdryer: I’ve had too many experiences where the hostel says they’re provided for free and they’re not. Travel towels are light, easy to pack and fast-drying and travel hairdryers can often be to different voltage setting to use around the world (I also used it at university, still going strong).
- Adapter: Obviously, there are different plugs in different countries so if you’ll be doing a lot of traveling, I suggest buying a universal adapter. There is no need for a converter for most products, the only exceptions may be a hairdryer, straightener or curler.
- Scanned copies of important documents: This may include debit cards, passport, visa information, etc. Oh, and keep it in a different bag or location as the original.
- Laptop and charger
- Student ID from your home university (for discounts!): However, odds are they’ll give you one at your host university, as well.
- Adviser contact information: If you’ve been in touch with a certain adviser about your study abroad course, have their information handy as well as any emergency contacts at the university.
- Resources from home: If you’ve found any particular documents to be helpful throughout your university career, you may want ton consider bringing them along for the ride (I couldn’t survive without my periodic table I’ve had since high school or my organic chemistry “cheat” sheets).
- Pens, pencils and highlighters: If you’re like me and have used the same pencil for three years and can’t imagine taking notes with anything else, take them with you!
- School bag: This can also double as a travel backpack if you’re a light packer.
- Memorabilia from home
- Reusable water bottle: A lifesaver on travel and handy to have at university. You can bring it on the plane as long as it’s empty and fill it up as you go rather than spending a small fortune on disposable plastic water bottles.
- Headphones: I also always travel with a back-up pair.
- Portable charger: Another lifesaver. So you can hit the town without worrying about running out of battery or be tied to a socket at a hostel.
- Electronic items and chargers (phone, camera, music player, etc.): Be sure to check the voltage on the chargers to see if you need a converter.
- Passport picture: You never know when you’ll need to make a photo ID in your host country, I needed a passport-sized photo of myself for my railcard.
Do not bring
- Binders, paper, notebooks: I can promise they will have all you need there.
- Books: Whether it’s for leisure or academia, don’t bring books along with you (including travel books. Come on, it’s 2017, everything you need is online). Buy them abroad or invest in a digital device like a Kindle.
- Decor: I know you’re desperate to make your space feel like home, but you can leave that bulky picture frame behind.
Buy there: You can donate these to a charity shop after your program or find other incoming exchange students through your university to pass them along to.
- Large shampoo bottles and other beauty and hygiene products
- School supplies
- Bedsheets and towels
- Kitchen supplies
- Basic medical supplies (Band-Aids, cough drops, antacid, etc,)
This is just a general guide for packing, feel free to adjust it to your personal tastes. Happy trails!