One of the most common questions people ask about study abroad is what on earth are you supposed to pack when going to a country you have never been to for several months?! It can be difficult to know what you are going to need and what you will want to wear seeing that you will be there long enough for the seasons to change.
I was lucky to have studied abroad for two semesters. The first semester I spent in Argentina, and I severely under packed, struggling to stay warm with the two sweaters I had at the end of the semester as Buenos Aires entered winter. The second semester, I went to Chile and WAY overpacked, bringing jeans and tops I never even wore once. Here are a couple of tips that I learned from my experience to help you find that sweet spot between overpacking and under packing when preparing to study abroad…
1. First, research your airline.
What are the weight limits for your airline, and how many bags can you check for free? Be aware that some airlines (specifically those while traveling once you are in your host country) do not let you have a carry-on AND a personal item, and those fees can get pricey!
2. Research your host country/host city.
Know whether or not you will be able to buy clothes, cosmetics, etc there. The clothing stores are incredibly expensive in Argentina, but in Spain, it can be really cheap when going to stores like H&M (Yes, they have it there!). If you are going somewhere where you can buy clothes, take fewer things…you can always get something you need (or want) there! If you will not be clothing shopping abroad, be sure you have all you need for all of the types of weather – rain jacket, coat, scarf, etc. You do not want to have to spend $50 on a sweater because you forgot to pack warm clothes or $60 on a bathing suit because the weather is all of a sudden perfect for a swim! On that note, be familiar with the weather. If you are going to the Southern Hemisphere, remember that the seasons are switched. Get an idea of what the difference in weather will be like when you get there versus when you leave.
3. Save room for your souvenirs.
I found that the best strategy was to bring one carry-on backpack (my personal item), one 50lb checked bag (depends on your airline!) and an empty duffle bag. This gives you the opportunity to fill up that duffle bag with gifts for your friends and family. This way, you can bring this as a carry-on on your way home, so you know you won’t lose the treasures you gathered over the past months! So, do not leave with all of the space in your bags taken up!
4. Layers, Layers, Layers
Don’t bring that one shirt that can only go with that one pair of jeans. Bring shirts, jackets and such that can be mixed and matched, so you save room by having multiple outfits out of a fewer number of clothes. Your host mom is not going to think you are a notorious outfit repeater.
5. If you don’t wear it in the USA….
….you won’t wear it abroad! Trust me. You won’t. Trade it in for something you wear all the time! OR save room for new things from abroad!
6. But, listen, those shoes would make for the best pictures…
Only bring comfy shoes! I tried to bring those cute, horribly uncomfortable sandals…and I NEVER wore them! No matter where you go, you will be doing a lot of walking. Bring those shoes that you like because they are comfortable, not because they are cute and give you thousands of blisters. Not to mention, there are plenty of fashionable shoes that won’t hurt your feet…so break in all of your shoes BEFORE you leave. Also, shoes are much heavier than you think, and they also take up a lot of space. So, if you are trying to lighten your load, take out a pair of shoes first!
7. Cosmetics, Shampoo and Deodorant, OH MY!
If you have a special type of mascara or deodorant that you cannot live without, bring enough of it for the entirety of your time abroad. After researching your country, determine if you can save yourself some space and weight in your bag by buying your shampoo, conditioner, and other items while you are abroad. You might not find the exact same brand, but it will still do the job!
8. Still can’t fit it all?
Lay out all of your items you are packing in piles and have someone in your family, a friend or a third-party person look at everything. Let them tell you what they have NEVER seen you wear before, what you won’t need, what you have too many of, etc. My mom did this for me and saved me from some major overweight fees.
9. Your Important Documents
Make copies of ALL of your credit cards, IDs and passport. Keep these copies with you in your carry-on and put them in a safe, hidden place in your apartment once you get there. You do not want to be bringing your actual copy just to go to the grocery store or while walking around Buenos Aires or Florence.
10. H20 Baby!
Bring a water bottle! I accidentally left mine on the plane from CHS to ATL…literally my FIRST stop. The entire semester, I had to use plastic water bottles that were (1) bad for our planet and (2) pretty gross after some use. Buying a water bottle there was pretty pricey, and to be fair, I was being pretty stubborn. However, you never know when there will be a water fountain or not…that being said, you could be traveling for a long time with no where to buy a water or get some to drink! Bring a sturdy water bottle that is easy to carry but still holds a lot of water. Also, this is a fun way to collect stickers from throughout your program!
11. Write it down!
My favorite thing I brought home from my time abroad was my two journals. Each day, I wrote down one memory/happy moment/thing I learned, and at the end of the semester, I had a collection of big and little moments to share with my friends and family! If writing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of apps to check out where you can caption your photos or just type a quick note from the day (a super neat one is called JOURNO). However you go about it, I promise that you will not regret writing down those small and big moments while abroad.
I hope these tips (1) made you incredibly excited for your upcoming study abroad program and (2) helped you figure out what on earth you are going to take with you on your big adventure! Suerte!