There are a few little traps and snares but packing for a weekend abroad or a beach holiday won’t pose that much of a challenge to most of us. What about a super long trip though? We’re talking a semester or even a year abroad here. Having to basically squeeze our entire life into a suitcase can often leave us somewhere between clueless and despaired. As you’re reading this article you might actually be facing this challenge this very moment. Don’t worry – these semester-abroad-proved tips will take the guesswork out of packing for your adventure:
1. Take your time and do your research
Obviously packing for a year will require a little more time and planning than packing for a week. So be sure to prepare a few things before you even start throwing stuff into that suitcase
Research culture and climate of the place you’re going to
If the culture you’re going to is similar to your own this might not be that much of an issue but be sure to do your research if you’ll be travelling to a different cultural space. This might for example affect your choice of clothing (In some western countries it is perfectly acceptable to come to the office in flip flops, in others… not so much). Also, consider which climate zone you are going to during which season(s) and what the weather will be like. I strongly recommend not to rely on average temperatures as they give you no information on how much the temperature may vary. In my hometown the average temperature in August is 18° C. Chances are, you’ll either melt on a 38 °C day or freeze to death on a 4 °C night. So make sure you get your information from people who have actually been to this place (three cheers for travel blogs!).
Research what you’re allowed to take with you
When travelling by plane find out what you are and aren’t allowed to take, especially if you’re not a frequent flyer. While some limitations are no-brainers (knives, guns etc.) others might not be so obvious (for instance, in Europe taking a ladies’ shaver in your cabin luggage is usually fine while a bottle of plain ol’water is strictly prohibited). Same goes for customs – be sure to research what you are and aren’t allowed to bring into a foreign country. For instance, you might not be allowed to bring food or muddy hiking boots due to biosecurity regulations.
Also, check in advance how much luggage you’re allowed to take with you in total. This depends on your airline(s) and you should receive this information upon booking your flight or on your airline’s website. If you’re travelling with multiple airlines always go by the regulations of the most restrictive airline to avoid problems later down the road.
Make a list
Writing down everything before you start the actual process of packing is particularly useful when packing for a long trip. It will help you not to forget anything and checking off every item you put in the suitcase can prevent you from having to dig through your entire luggage to make sure your snorkel / fav boxershort / backup alarm clock is really in there.
Get in the right mindset
Be aware that you can’t be prepared for everything and that you don’t have to be. I can assure you that during such a long time abroad there will always be situations you haven’t exactly planned. But in most places on this planet there are shops to buy the necessities and in most situations you aren’t fully equipped for I strongly recommend to relax, improvise and enjoy life. (No, during my semester abroad I hadn’t packed for a party with the motto “everything but clothes”, a company anniversary and being stuck at a creepy ghost hotel in the middle of nowhere… and yet I lived to tell the tale.)
2. What to actually pack (let’s get into it!)
Pack only for occasions that are dead sure going to occur
Those would be everyday life (like walking around town, having lunch with friends and so on), sleeping and maybe hiking and camping, partying or working at an office (depending on your plans). You won’t have room in your luggage to pack for weddings, funerals or attending the Oscars so don’t even think of wasting space for things you most definitely won’t need.
Pack for about 2 weeks
Now while your stay will obviously be longer it’s usually a good idea to opt for two weeks’ worth of underwear, socks etc. Let’s not waste water by doing laundry every couple of days only because we’re running out of undies. I usually put them into Ziploc bags to keep them organized (especially the socks!) in my suitcase or backpack.
Maximize the number of outfit combos
Try to be equipped for as many occasions as possible with as few items as possible. This means that most items should match and should be versatile in terms of both temperature and occasion. I therefore recommend sticking to one color family (like black, grey and white or brown, gold and cream) and wearing layers. A nice top + cardigan combo can replace a warm sweater and could be worn at the office as well as for a dinner with friends.
Pack multipurpose items
For instance, avoid taking pajamas. Instead, take leggings and a tank top / boxershorts and a t-shirt to sleep in as you can always include those into a regular daytime outfit as well.
Choose your shoes carefully
I know equally many guys and girls who are gonna have a tough time when it comes to choosing which shoes to take and which shoes to leave at home. I can almost assure you that in a different place you’ll be walking more than you would at home simply because you don’t know your surroundings yet. You might get lost or you might just walk instead of figuring out which of the 23 buses to get on for that 5 minute ride. You’ll most definitely go out and explore your new temporary home so it comes down to this: if in doubt pack the more comfy pair of shoes. Choose about 2-4 pairs (including the shoes you’ll be wearing on the plane) and be sure these are sufficient to be equipped for the occasions that are going to occur. An example combo would be: everyday sneakers, sports/hiking shoes, a pair of dressier but still comfy shoes and a pair of flip flops (as they take up minimal space they don’t really count as shoes…)
Get a “travel version” of everything
You can save a lot of space in your suitcase with items that are specifically designed for travel purposes. A great example would be travel towels which are a lot lighter, dry a lot faster and take up minimal space. So glad I got them for my semester abroad!
Chargers and adapters / voltage transformers
When taking any kind of devices like your phone or camera don’t forget to also bring their chargers. When travelling to a place with different wall sockets and maybe even different line voltage be sure to get matching outlet adapters so you can use your devices abroad.
The really important stuff
Definitely doublecheck if you have:
– All your valid documents like passport, international driver’s licence, international student ID etc. In some countries your documents still have to be valid a certain amount of time after you’re planning to leave the country.
– Your visa if necessary.
– A suitable way to access your funds. For my trip to New Zealand I got this free credit card that allows me to withdraw cash at every ATM in the world without having to pay a fee. This is particularly great when traveling to or through several countries with different currencies as you can just get the respective currency easily once you’re there.
– A sufficient amount of any medication you might need. Unless you’re dead sure you can get your medication easily at your destination be sure to bring enough for your entire stay. Seriously ladies, we wouldn’t wanna run out of birth control pills half way through our semester abroad. According to my experience doctors will usually prescribe you more medication if you explain to them that you’ll be staying abroad for a longer period of time. Be sure to pack the prescription or a note from your doctor as well!
– All your tickets. Print them out and don’t forget to store them online as well in your mailbox, dropbox, cloud, on your phone etc to be able to access them in case you lose the paper version. Same goes for a copy of all your other important documents.
All these important items should be in your carry-on during the flight which leads us directly to the next part:
3. What goes into your cabin luggage
Usually you’ll be allowed to take a small suitcase / bag / backpack and an “accessory” (like a smaller handbag) as your cabin luggage. Don’t underestimate how much you can fit in there! Generally your cabin luggage should contain everything you’ll need for the flight (inflatable pillow, book/tablet/computer/kindle, snacks…) as well as everything you’ll need to survive for about 2-3 days. One reason for that is that especially on longer flights you might have unexpected delays or even overnight stays somewhere along the way. Another reason is that your luggage might not arrive at your destination right away and it could take several days until you get it back. So make sure you have everything that’s important on you at all times: all your documents, credit card, any kind of medication, toothbrush, travel sized shampoo, toothpaste etc, some underwear and socks, another outfit and your sleepwear. Also, put everything into your cabin luggage that could break easily if stored in your checked luggage to keep it safe. Doublecheck if your luggage meets the requirements (especially when it comes to liquids) to avoid problems and delays during security checks. You can get travel sized containers for your liquids in drugstores as well as in online shops like Amazon+.
4. What not to pack
So now that we’ve kind of figured out what to pack there are a couple of things I would strongly recommend to leave at home:
Shampoo, bodylotion etc.
You’ll have to buy those at your destination sooner or later anyway. Throw some travel sizes into your hand luggage and get the full sized products once you’ve arrived and settled in.
Things you’d hate to lose or break
Depending on where you’re going and what you’re up to during your time abroad you might consider leaving things at home that are very precious to you. Remember that you could lose or break your watch or your phone on hiking trips or other kinds of adventures. The limited amount of clothes you’ll be taking will be worn over and over again and might look pretty worn down by the end of the trip. So although you wanna bring things you like and feel comfortable with don’t bring your most valuable/delicate/expensive items.
Things you can easily get at your destination
Consider getting basic items like sunscreen, socks or plain t-shirts once you’ve arrived. If you’re not looking for anything fancy you can get these things for a couple of bucks just about everywhere in the world. This will definitely be WAY cheaper than paying for excess luggage at the airport. Sometimes other countries also have a wider product range because certain products are simply more popular there (an example would be tents in places where outdoor activities are very popular). You might consider getting these kinds of items at your destination as well – just be sure to do your research in advance!
Clothes and shoes that aren’t worn in
Now this might not be very relevant when it comes to a new tank top but it sure is when it comes to hiking boots. Try to avoid packing a lot of new gear for the trip that you haven’t tested at home.
Everything that’s provided at your accommodation
Depending on where you’ll be staying there might already be a blowdryer/towels/shampoo and so on. It’s well worth finding out in advance what you don’t need to bring.
Which are your tips and tricks for packing your suitcase? Please share them with us in the comments!