Packing tips if you are studying abroad

packing for a tripA semester or year abroad can be some pretty exciting stuff—new places, new faces and a chance to explore the world. But then you have to start thinking about what to take with you. Studying abroad should be about new experiences and learning new things, not about lugging everything you own along for the ride. Read on for some packing tips on what to take and what to leave behind.

Packing 101

Although it may sound obvious, the key is to not over pack. So how do you do that? Start by asking some basic questions about where you are staying:

  • Will you have somewhere to do laundry?
  • What will the weather be like?
  • How many bags can you bring/do you want to bring?
  • Does your host or school you are staying at provide sheets/towels?
  • How long will you be gone? One month? Three? A year?

Next, it is important to consider the restrictions of the airline you are flying. recommends in their post “What to Pack” that most airlines let you check two bags, but they must conform to the airline’s weight and dimension limitations. The post also recommends having a change of clothes and copies of all your important documents in your carry-on, in case a checked bag is lost. (It happens!)

The Ultimate Packing List

The following list is a recommendation if you are studying abroad for a year. If your trip won’t last that long, or there are items you don’t think you will need, you can obviously pare things down.

  • Underwear (two week’s worth)
  • Socks (two week’s worth)
  • Long-sleeve shirts
  • Short-sleeve shirts
  • Sweatshirt/hoodie (2-3)
  • Sweaters
  • Jeans/Khakis (2-3 pair)
  • Shorts
  • A belt or two
  • Skirts (for the girls)
  • A set or two of workout clothes
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit (if you are going somewhere warm)
  • Coat/Jacket (one for cold/one for rain)
  • At least one nice outfit for dressing up (may be optional)
  • Flip flops/sandals (good for warm climates, but also good for hostel showers)
  • Sneakers/dress shoes/boots/rain boots
  • Cold weather gear (i.e., gloves/ mittens, hat, scarf, thermal underwear, plus a pair or two of wool socks)

On the API blog, Makena S. posted “The Essential Packing List For Traveling While Studying Abroad” some packing don’ts. Leave behind the hair dryers, flat irons and bags of makeup. She also encourages fellow students who might be backpacking that “packing light is especially important because you will literally be carrying everything around on your back for your entire trip!”

Making it all fit

So you’ve figured out all the requirements from the airline, what you need and how long you will be gone. Now how do you make those things fit together? Nate Nault’s Study Abroad Blog can help, with his post “How To Fit Your Life Into Two Suitcases.” His first tip is to roll your clothes rather than lay them flat. Next he suggests “Pack socks (and maybe underwear) last. They’re great for filling in the random spaces, and they fit in just about every compartment of a suitcase.”

You’ve got the clothes covered, but what about toiletries? You probably don’t want to use up a lot of space in your luggage for them. At most, consider packing travel-sized versions of your basic needs in a TSA-approved Zip-loc baggie in your carry-on. You can always buy more when you arrive.

Last, but not least, either include a fold-up bag for any purchases you may make or leave some room in your existing bags for those items. One great way to accommodate any souvenirs is by packing clothes that you don’t necessarily want to bring home. You can throw them away or donate them at the end of your stay to free up some room in your bags.

Studying abroad is an adventure and these packing tips can help leave you as unencumbered as possible to fully embrace your time away from home.

Did you learn the hard way when traveling that a certain item was essential or simply a hassle? What are your thoughts on packing dos and don’ts for studying abroad? Share your tips and suggestions in the comments below.

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