travel

study abroad 101: how to pack for studying abroad

Welcome back to my “Study Abroad 101” series!  By now, we’ve talked about how to choose a study abroad program, how to budget while studying abroad, and how to plan for weekend travel.  But we haven’t yet talked about a very important factor in all of these things…what are you going to wear when you do all of these things?  And how in the heck are you going to fit it all in 1 suitcase?

To be fair, depending on where you’re going and where you’re staying, you can probably bring two suitcases—but I always try to use only one suitcase.  It’s infinitely easier to get through the airport if you aren’t trying to corral TWO suitcases PLUS a backpack PLUS a purse.  Trust me.  I have been that person.  It is not fun.  Instead, I recommend packing a foldable duffel at the bottom of your suitcase.  That way, when you inevitably shop too much because you’re trying to be as trendy as the Europeans (no? just me?) and get carried away buying too many pieces of Spanish pottery as presents (I have been to Spain three times and that has happened two times), you don’t have to worry about running out of space or having your suitcase be overweight.

Also with regards to your suitcase, I have two secrets: packing cubes & rolling your clothes.

Packing cubes | Packing cubes are my saving grace, my holy grail, they are everything that is right in my world.  I don’t know how I existed without them.  They compress all your clothes really well and, more importantly, they keep everything organized by type.  If your suitcase gets tossed this way and that during the course of your travels, you don’t have to worry about opening up your suitcase to find a jumbled mess of unfolded clothes!

When I pack my suitcases, literally everything (and I mean EVERYTHING, except bulky items like large jackets and shoes) is in some type of packing cube, pouch, or bag.  Toiletries, clothes, accessories, makeup—it all gets its own separate pouch.  Not only is unpacking so quick and easy (just take the packing cubes out, unzip them, and put them in your drawers—voila!), but in case something spills, everything that wasn’t in that pouch stays nice and protected.  It’s also nice to have everything contained so that on the off-chance you have to open your suitcase at the airport, your underwear doesn’t spill all over the floor.  Totally not speaking from experience here.

Rolling your clothes | This is my other favorite tip, and one that has totally made the difference in me being able to fit a surprising amount of clothes into just one suitcase!  Rolling your clothes serves two primary functions; first, it helps you fit a lot more clothes into a smaller amount of space—somehow when clothes are rolled they just take up so much less space than folding!  Second, they help eliminate wrinkles in your clothes that are so common when you haphazardly fold your clothes before putting them in your suitcase.

The final tips I have regarding packing for studying abroad concern what you actually put inside your suitcase.  To avoid overpacking, make sure to consider what you’ll be doing when you’re abroad.  Do you lead a more active lifestyle?  Throwing an extra pair of tennis shoes and running shorts in your bag might be a good idea, but I promise if you don’t exercise regularly at home, studying abroad won’t magically make you a more active person.  When you have the choice between pasta and a run…always choose the pasta.  Always.

The weather and climate in the place you’ve chosen to study abroad can also drastically change what and how you pack.  Like I said in my “How to choose a study abroad program” post, don’t pack for Barcelona if you’re going to Stockholm! If you’re going in the fall semester, keep in mind that even though you’re packing in the summer, you’ll be there until the winter; for the spring semester, chances are it’ll get warm before you leave, so be sure to take this into consideration as you’re packing—no matter how silly you feel packing your winter coat in the middle of August!

Also be sure to think about what activities you’ll be doing while abroad.  Planning a beach vacation in Ibiza or Greece?  Throw an extra swimsuit in there…or take “forgetting” your suite as an excuse to buy a cute new one or three!  What about skiing in the Swiss Alps?  Oktoberfest?  These are all things that might require clothes that that vary from what you wear on a daily basis, and you’ll be better off if you think about them sooner rather than later.  If you’re doing an internship or site visits for your program while you’re abroad, you may need business casual or formal attire.  Look at your program website to double check before you get there!

Those are my favorite tips for packing and the ones that have helped me pack for countless trips over the last few years—I hope you found some of them helpful, and maybe learned from a few of my mistakes too! As always, leave me a comment below or send me a message if you have any questions!

Happy travels!

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