I decided to do a little mini-series on packing for study abroad. I think packing is the WORST thing about pre-departure. How do you fit five months’ worth of stuff into one suitcase?!
Here’s the good news: it’s completely doable.
My first post in this series (logically it should be the last so I’ll fix it later) will show you what I packed.
I’ll be making a more detailed post about what to bring and leave behind, but for now here are some quick general packing tips for a semester abroad:
- DON’T OVERPACK. I know it’s tempting and especially girls think we need to have everything, but truthfully it’s not necessary and becomes a burden to carry a lot.
- Don’t pack anything you won’t realistically use/wear (ie: running shoes if you don’t exercise regularly. If you don’t practice this habit at home, what makes you think you’ll do it abroad? Good thing I dodged a bullet there…)
- Choose versatile clothes that can create many outfits.
- Pack according to the weather for the months you’ll be abroad. Sites like BBC Weather and Wikipedia show the average temperatures and rainfall so you can know what to expect.
- It’s better to bring clothes you can layer for warmth, instead of strictly winter clothes. This helps with packing for different temperatures.
One of my favorite things about studying abroad was that I could be completely low-maintenance with my appearance, and having a minimal closet was refreshing. Don’t worry about having only a fraction of your closet. Nobody is going to judge you for wearing the same shirt twice in a week, or for wearing the same coat every day. When your friends look at your pictures, they’re not going to be thinking, “Ew, didn’t she wear that last week?” They’ll be thinking, “WOW look at all the cool places she’s traveling to!” etc.
With that said, here’s my packing list for spring semester in Barcelona (early Jan – end of April, plus 5 weeks around Europe), including what I wore on the plane:
*** Remember you can adjust the quantities based on your own preferences and style! ***
- Shorts – 3 pairs
- Jeans – 4 pairs
- Skirts – 3
- Tights – 2 pairs
- Cardigans – 2
- Tank tops – 9 (thin ones for layering)
- Long-sleeved shirts – 5-6
- Dresses – 3 (all casual)
- Jackets – 2 (one thin, one medium)
- Coats – 1
- Rain jacket – 1
- Scarves – 5
- Belts – 1
- Casual shirts – 7-8
- Dressier tops – 3
- Underwear – one full week’s worth
- Socks – 7 pairs (various lengths) and 1 pair of fuzzy socks for sleeping
- Pajamas – 1 shirt, 2 bottoms (one long pants, one shorts)
- Gloves – 2 pairs
- Indoor slippers
- Walking shoes – 2 pairs of Keds
- Sandals – 2 pairs (note: NOT flip flops!)
- Everyday boots – 1 pair
- New toothbrush + holder for traveling
- Toothpaste – travel size
- Face wash – travel size
- Facial lotion
- Lotion – travel size
- Shampoo – travel size
- Conditioner – travel size
- Small bars of soap – travel size (at least 3)
- Chapstick – at least 3, bring extras!
- Contacts + solution
- Deodorant (both regular and travel size)
- Makeup bag, makeup remover
- Hair ties, clip, etc.
- Anti-itch lotion for bug bites
- Shaving razors
- Nail clipper
- Hand sanitizer – travel size
- Mini lint roller
- Set of adapters and converters
- Netbook and charger
- DSLR camera w/case + charger + memory cards + extra batteries etc.
- Compact camera + charger
- Portable harddrive
- USB drives – 2 or 3 (1 gig each)
- iPhone and charger
- Folder with all important documents, itineraries, contact info, and orientation handbook
- Passport and photocopies
- Extra cash, already converted in Euros
- Mini first aid kid (really, a bag of bandaids and Neosporin will do)
- Thin fleece blanket
- Gift for host mom
- Bags for dirty laundry – the kinds you get in hotels (yes I took them at every hotel we were at! They’re great for separating your dirty clothes on weekend trips)
- Mini English-Spanish dictionary
- Money belt
- Mini flashlight
- Glasses case + cleaning cloth
- Extra pair of glasses
- Two guidebooks (Europe and Spain)
- 5-year diary
- Mini keychain Swiss Army Knife
- Tissue packs
- Small bag for going out
- Keychain (for the house keys; leave your own keys at home though)
- Deck of cards
- Foldable waterproof tote bag
- Pens for writing
- TSA luggage locks – 2 or 3
- A couple of Ziploc bags
I packed this into one rolling suitcase, a duffel bag, and my school backpack (just the normal size by Jansport):
I knew I was going to buy a few things while abroad – not necessarily clothes – so I packed clothes that I bought cheaply for this trip only, or older clothes I wouldn’t mind tossing at the end. I also planned to throw away one of the pairs of old Keds and the blanket. I ended up having to throw out more to make room in my luggage, but I didn’t bring a lot of new things so that was okay.
What I should have left behind:
- Maps: They were country maps and I actually didn’t open them before packing them. They weren’t useful at all, unless I wanted to do a roadtrip.
- Rain jacket: It didn’t take a lot of room, but it also didn’t get any use. Just the umbrella was enough for me.
- Dressier tops: I brought them in case of a formal event or potentially clubbing, but given the infrequency of clubbing and the non-existent formal events, I could’ve done with only bringing one nice top.
- Some of the scarves: I usually wore only two of the ones I brought, and I also bought a new one abroad that became my new favorite.
- My contact lenses: I thought I’d wear them more often while abroad, but I used them less than 5 times. I didn’t even touch the big bottle of contact solution that I bought for the trip. This is more of a personal choice since I only bought contacts a few months before leaving, and I prefer glasses out of convenience.
- USD: For some reason I can’t quite remember now, I brought along a small supply of USD with me. I guess I thought it was for the airport, both when I left and when I came home, in case I needed to buy something. It ended up being an extra thing to worry about, and I converted most of the money anyway in Spain and not necessarily with the best exchange rate I could’ve gotten, either. Also I didn’t empty out my coin purse so that was extra weight (you usually can’t exchange coins, only bills). It would have been better to exchange my last euros for USD before coming home, not doing it the other way around.
Things I didn’t bring, but wished I had:
- Multivitamins: My mom suggested this, but I stubbornly refused. I don’t have the best diet so I lack a lot of nutrition. I severely lacked calcium for all those months because we were drinking soy milk without additives.
- Memories of home: I didn’t print photos or bring little knickknacks… nada. My roommate Phoebe brought photos that she hung up in her room so she’d see them every day, and I thought, wow that’s sweet.
- Sunglasses: According to the second packing tip I mentioned, I never wear sunglasses at home so I left them behind. They would’ve been nice for the Sahara Desert which was blistering hot and bright!
- Travel journal: Inspired by Phoebe, who did a lot of journaling and scrapbooking at the dinner table. I didn’t think I would write by hand because my handwriting is terrible. I started to type a journal, but in 10 years it won’t be nearly as cool to be scrolling through, instead of flipping pages. So I bought three school notebooks (one per month) but only used one… oops.
- A new deodorant: I packed the one I’d already been using at home, and I ran out and had to buy more. Why is deodorant so expensive in Europe??
- A lead pencil and eraser: I had to buy these for my sketching class because using a pen wasn’t working well. They weren’t hard to find, but they were also expensive.
- A regular padlock: To use with the hostel lockers (read more here).
- Waterproof flip flops: For showering in hostels
- A backpacking backpack: I wish I’d brought one instead of the duffel bag. I’m definitely investing in one the next time I travel abroad!
Extra note for ladies: Don’t bring a full supply of feminine products if you don’t have to. I only packed a few and then bought some later. Be aware that the quality in Europe may not be the same as in the US (it is definitely not the same in Spain).
I hope this helped you to pack for a semester abroad. One last tip is to e-mail the final list to yourself so you’ll have it to reference when you need to re-pack to go home.
- What NOT to Bring
- What to Bring (coming soon!)