How to: Avoid The Pre-Departure Meltdown

You’re departing soon, and your stress levels are at an all-time high. You’re possibly wondering to yourself, “Why am I doing this? It would be so much easier if I weren’t going abroad.” Easier? Yes. Better? Heck no!

The pre-departure meltdown happens to all of us in varying degrees. If you feel absolutely 100% confident and calm about everything, consider yourself lucky. For the rest of us, here are five tips for dealing with it:

Stay organized / Make lists

Keep on top of everything you have to do and set deadlines (preferably not the actual deadline, for the procrastinators out there). I find that seeing everything laid out is calming, then it stirs up the feeling of a challenge, then you believe, “I CAN do this!” — then you get it done.


The start of my own to-do list. I feel invigorated seeing items get crossed out :)

Don’t leave anything until the last minute

This follows the previous point. When you’re under more pressure, you’re under more stress. When you’re really stressed, you feel the pressure even more. It’s a vicious cycle. Sometimes feeling the pressure of doing things last-minute can be good, but when it’s for a situation that’s totally out of your control, it’s one of the most nerve-wracking feelings. Apply for your passport early, especially if you’ll need a student visa. Don’t wait until the last minute to apply for your visa either in case there are issues or errors and it has to be sent back.

Pack early

This was my biggest pre-departure mistake. I didn’t start packing until less than a week before leaving, and when I pack, I usually do it sooooo slooooowly. I really needed a little pressure here to get me going. A few weeks before departure, I realized I didn’t own any boots and so I went on a mad hunt to find a comfortable pair. The night before leaving, I decided to switch computers, exchanging my 17″ laptop for a tiny netbook, because it just occurred to me that I couldn’t possibly carry my normal laptop. Yep, I realized that barely 12 hours before leaving, because I didn’t think everything through. I finished packing around 1am and had to wake up at 5am to go to the airport. Believe it or not, that was finishing “early” for me! (Usually I’m packing right up until I have to leave for the airport, haha.) So you can imagine how stressful this all was, and it could have been completely avoided. I also didn’t realize how heavy my luggage was because I didn’t have time to do any test runs (see #3 below).

Make a packing list or two, ask someone to check it over in case you forgot something, and pack early so you’ll be able to see how things fit – or don’t.

More reasons to pack early:

  1. There’s time to go shopping if you need something. Yes, you can buy things abroad, but it won’t always be the same price/quality or as easy to find.
  2. You can plan out more practical, versatile outfits instead of throwing anything into your suitcase. By packing efficiently, you can pack lighter.
  3. You can test out how well you handle your luggage. It’s suggested that you walk down your street with all of your bags, and if you can’t do it easily that means you’re bringing too much. (Guess what? It happened to me. Really listen to this advice!) It sounds silly but is worth trying out. I also recommend going up and down some flights of stairs, since not every station will have an elevator or escalator. You’ll also have to lift your luggage onto a train, if you’re planning to travel that way.

Have a going-away party

Or a goodbye dinner, if parties aren’t your thing. Whatever type of event it is, spend time with your closest friends and family before you leave. Being surrounded by people who love you is always nice and puts you in a good mood, especially when they’re really excited for you too.

Tell yourself it’s worth it

Because it is. Remind yourself of all of the great things you’re going to do and experience when you’re outside your comfort zone. Think of all the new people you’ll meet, the delicious foods you’ll eat, the cultures you’ll get to learn about firsthand, and all the adventures that are waiting for you. This will help you to stay positive if you’re in a panic.

To everyone who’s going to study abroad soon: good luck! You have such an incredible experience ahead of you, and I wish I could be going too. Time is going to pass by quickly, so make the most of it and savor every beautiful second of your time abroad.



4 responses to “How to: Avoid The Pre-Departure Meltdown

  1. Love your blog!! I am studying abroad this spring and your packing list and tips are super helpful! Thanks!

    • Hi Megan, thanks for the comment! I’m glad you have found my posts useful :) Sorry I’ve been behind, but I hope to have some new study abroad posts soon! Good luck!

  2. Hello Jennifer, I have a question! … After packing everything for your semester abroad how did you manage to backpack Europe!? I am studying abroad January 2015 until May 2015 and plan to do the same, but I am unsure of what to do with all my luggage.

    • Hi Nicole! I had to throw away some of my clothes, my fleece blanket, and some toiletries. You can see my luggage here:

      I had a school backpack as well that I stuffed into the duffel bag, which I then wore as a backpack. It was still a bit challenging and awkward to carry that and roll along my other suitcase, especially going up/down stairs and through narrower spaces like the aisle of a bus or train. I would definitely downsize as much as possible.

      The friend I traveled with lucked out since her parents visited her towards the end and so they took one of her suitcases home with them. If you’re expecting visitors, you can possibly plan for that. Another option could be to store your luggage in the city where you’re studying abroad, and then make a separate trip back to get it before returning to the US. The difficulties there could be finding a storage place, the expense (it’s ideal if you’re keeping it with a friend for free or something like that), and the inconvenience of having to make the separate trip back to get your luggage. This plan probably makes most sense if you booked a roundtrip ticket to/from the same cities, since you would have to go back to that city anyway to fly home.

      There’s the option to ship your belongings back home, but that can add up REALLY fast and you’re probably better off just buying new stuff later.

      If you plan to pack a lot, my best recommendation is to choose items that you would be okay with throwing away at the end before you backpack. That is what I did (although I didn’t expect to have to give up so much; there were definitely clothes that I miss now!). Otherwise, my next best recommendation is to not plan to come with that much stuff to begin with.

      Hope this helps!

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