GENERAL ADVICE FOR PACKING

The whole reason I started this blog is to share the knowledge that I’ve gained through experience during my semester abroad that I wished I had known beforehand. That being said, not everything needs to have its own mini article; there are plenty of things I can tell you just by listing them out. General ideas, general advice, that sort of thing. I’ve been compiling thoughts all semester, and I want to put them all together.

  • Buy some cheap rain boots when you get to wherever you’re going. Don’t pack them from home, and don’t buy expensive ones that you’ll need to bring home. But definitely find a cheap pair that you can use during the rainy seasons, since it’s pretty much a guarantee that at some point during your time abroad, it will rain. Unless you go to Antarctica, but in that case none of these posts will really apply and you should probably be looking somewhere else for information and advice.
  • Pack your favorite shampoo and conditioner. Get the big bottles! Chances are, you won’t be able to finish them in the time you’re abroad, so you’ll never have to go buy more. If you do, you always can just run out to the store and pick some random brand up. But this is great for several reasons:
    • It takes up more space initially in your suitcase that will be freed up on your return trip home
    • You won’t have to go searching for shampoo/conditioner in your foreign country
    • It’s comforting to have the things you love from home with you abroad
    • You can use these big bottles to fill little travel-sized bottles for when you’re traveling around
    • It’s already one of your favorite products and you don’t know if you’ll be able to find it abroad
  • Pack warm and cold weather clothes. So this one is tricky, because you really don’t want to over-pack. The rule I had been told was to pack everything you initially want to pack, and then remove 2/3 of it. This was a good idea theoretically, but I would like to revise it.
    • **DON’T FORGET TO CHECK COMMON WEATHER PATTERNS FOR YOUR PLACE OF STUDY ABROAD– SUMMER HIGH TEMPS, WINTER LOW TEMPS, WHAT A TYPICAL SPRING OR FALL DAY MIGHT LOOK LIKE**
    • Assuming that you’re going somewhere with all four seasons and typical weather patterns….
    • Step 1: pack everything (clothing-wise) that you want to pack
    • Step 2: remove 2/3 of it
    • Step 3: check to make sure you have
      • 1 pair of athletic shoes that can get dirty (shoes you can hike/run/explore in)
      • 1 pair of casual shoes that you can walk in
        • (ex// flats, nice sandals, vans, etc.)
      • 1 pair of going-out shoes if you really want them
        • (keep in mind you can buy some in your host country, too)
      • 1 pair of boots for colder weather (WEAR THESE TO THE AIRPORT IF POSSIBLE)
      • approximately 5 days’ worth of warm weather outfits — dresses, skirts, shorts, such
      • 1-2 pairs of jeans, maybe 1 other kind of pants
      • a couple tank tops/t-shirts
      • a sweatshirt/cardigan/sweater (preferably one that goes with a lot of stuff)
      • a jacket
      • one outfit (if none of the above apply) that can be worn for a nice occasion
      • a scarf, if you have one that you really like
      • a lighter/heavier jacket, depending on how thick your other jacket is
      • a bunch of underwear (assume you only get to do laundry every 2-3 weeks, to be on the safe side)
      • about 5-10 pairs of socks (or more if you hate to re-wear socks)
      • THAT’S IT. NO MORE. SERIOUSLY.
    • Step 4: review the previous steps to make sure you feel relatively comfortable with what you’ve assembled
    • Step 5: zip it shut

I would like to reiterate that this will seriously depend on where and when you’re studying abroad. What your host country’s seasons are like will vary immensely, so you need to keep in mind the likelihood of some of these things. For example, if you’re planning on living in London for fall semester, it will be very different from what you should pack if you’re going to the south of Spain for spring semester. My big issue was that when I removed 2/3 of what I had packed initially, I was assuming that just because Spain’s winter only gets down to about 40 degrees F that I wouldn’t need many cold-weather clothes, because that’s nothing compared to the Wisconsin winters I’m used to. But the buildings here are not insulated at all, and they’re built to keep heat out, so I ended up having to buy more in the way of cold-weather clothes than I had thought. Also keep in mind the places you’d like to travel. If you’re studying abroad in the south of Spain but you know you want to visit Ireland, make sure you’re being realistic about what that might look like.

I would also like to stress that it is only natural to assume you’ll buy some new clothes in your host country. Don’t freak out too much about packing clothes, because anywhere that you’re going, I promise they will have some variety of shirts, pants, and underwear.

  • Buy some TSA approved luggage locks and combination locks. This was a huge thing for me. A friend of mine had recommended it, and it has been amazing. So you can find TSA approved locks on eBay or Amazon for super cheap, and combination locks at any hardware store/Target/WalMart/etc. and the uses are basically endless. For example,
    • use the combination locks to lock up bigger bags when traveling (take them off when going through security!)
    • use the combination locks to lock a locker when you stay in a hostel
    • use the luggage locks to lock your smaller bags while traveling
    • use the luggage locks to lock your purse when in a crowded space
    • use the luggage locks to lock your bags when you’re not going to be paying close attention to them (ex//at a club, a concert, an airport)
    • any other random uses you can think of; they’re incredibly handy. And they’re cheap, and small, so bringing them won’t be very difficult.
  • Bring hand sanitizer, and Kleenex, everywhere. If you have a purse, throw some in there. If you have a backpack, throw some in there. If you have a duffel bag, throw some in there, too. Seriously. You’ll thank me later. I’ve found that a shocking number of bathrooms in Spain don’t have toilet paper, or soap. Usually it’s one or the other, occasionally it’ll be both. But it’s a rare occasion when there are both TP and soap, so I’d rather be ready. It’s also good for traveling, because both are good things to have (airports are gross, dude). Just make sure the hand sanitizer is 3oz or less (or whatever your standard measurement for liquids in carry-ons on airplanes is).
  • Buy a bunch of the small travel-sized shampoos/conditioners/body wash/face wash/etc. while in America. You know exactly where to find them (Target, WalMart, Ulta), and it’s going to be much harder to find them abroad. So just grab a couple of the little bottles now, and throw them in your bag so you can get on with your adventuring as soon as you land.
  • Pack all your toiletries in your checked bag. This goes back to my previous points about the shampoo and conditioner, being that it’s less that you have to search for when you’re in a foreign country (and potentially foreign language), and it’s more stuff that you can pack initially, use up, and have as free space on your way home (or for souvenirs, duh). Most places will have pretty much anything you could need, but it can be a little confusing to know what you’re looking at when it’s in a foreign language. For example, I tried to buy some hair spray, and ended up buying mousse. Because I couldn’t understand what the labels were trying to tell me. Whoops.
  • IMPORTANT: DON’T PACK YOUR HAIR DRYER/STRAIGHTENER/CURLING IRON. Buy new ones abroad. The voltage of the ones in the US is much too high and will short out most circuits abroad. There might be a way to get around this with converters, but honestly I just bit the bullet and bought new ones because I knew I’d be using them a bunch.
  • If your lights don’t turn on immediately in your hotel room, look for a box on the wall near the door. Put your key card in it. Then you’ll have light. It’s a great idea, the whole energy conservation when you’re not in the room thing, but I was so frustrated and confused when I first arrived in Europe and couldn’t turn on the lights because no one had told me what the box was. So now I’m telling you. You’re welcome.
  • Bring some money in the local currency of where you’ll be staying. At least a couple days’ worth. If you’re traveling in Europe, it’ll probably be euros. Get familiar with the local currency, look at the different kinds of coins and bills, and what the different symbols mean (for example, a comma in the USA signifies something bigger than 999, but in Spain it means a fraction. The period and the comma are switched, so if you’re not paying attention it’s easy to get confused), in addition to exchange rates. I’ll write another post later on cards, budgets, ATMs and more money-related things, so if you want to know more about that, check back.
  • Squish up a duffel bag and pack it in your checked bag. Duffel bags are really nice for weekend trips, and some of the smaller suitcases won’t qualify as carry-ons. Neither will some duffels, but if you find a smaller duffel bag, it will be great for a few days’ worth of things, and not having to pay for a checked bag on your flights. When I came to Seville, I had one large suitcase, one small, and my backpack. I bought a duffel bag here, after realizing that the backpack alone just wasn’t gonna cut it, but the duffel bag was cheap in quality as well as price, and fell apart quickly. So, while you can find them here, for cheap, it might be easier to just bring one from home.

 

 

For more in depth topics, look at the subjects I’ve already covered in other posts to see if one will be more helpful to you.

 

Links to some of the recommended items

I saved a bunch of the links I’d used when packing, so I figured I’d link them below, in case anyone found them helpful.

 

All of this is just supposed to get you thinking, there are no hard rules about what you should or shouldn’t do. It will change depending on where you’re going, how long, what time of year, as well as a million other factors. But these were things that I didn’t find quite so obvious, and that I thought could be helpful. Hopefully they are!

 

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