What to Pack for a Study Abroad Trip

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Packing for international travel is a real skill. It not only takes careful consideration of what to take with you, but also how to arrange everything to maximize space and the protection of your things. This post has a few lists for you to consider when putting together your luggage for before you travel to your study abroad adventure. Let’s get started!

What to Bring — This is a big one, and I briefly mentioned it in my College Basics: Study Abroad post. You won’t want to bring everything that you think you will need during your stay. While you are probably right to think you will need it (although I did end up taking a few things I never used, like that random book I thought I would be into), you can pick up a lot of basic needs products once you get there. Think carefully about what you really need to take:

– Climate/weather appropriate clothes

– Some personal hygiene products (enough for a few days)

– Medicine/medical equipment — anything you absolutely require

– Computer and other essential school supplies

– Camera and/or other expensive tech

Everything else, like sunscreen, additional clothes or weather-specific accessories, full bottles of shampoo and toothpaste, beach towels, sandals, etc., can be bought there and probably for a reasonable price. I was pretty excited in Germany to find a version of TJ Max, it was fantastic. I was able to buy new shoes, a winter coat, a winter hat, new sunglasses, and a few other things at really cheap prices. Because of limited packing space (it happens to the best of us) I did end up leaving a few things behind, like most of the people I studied with. And that’s okay: you can donate clothing and goods, or you can leave things behind for future students.

Clothes to Pack — Despite myths and rumors, one can wash one’s clothes in a foreign country. There are laundromats and there might even be a laundry room where ever your university has set you up. What that means is, you can bring as little clothing as possible to save luggage space, to travel easier, and to save room for the newer, fancier clothes you’ll buy while you’re abroad. That’s what I did and it worked out great. Although I did donate my winter coat before leaving, I brought back a few culture specific t-shirts, some new pants, shoes, and Word Cup national team hat. Over time, then, my wardrobe added up and I was comfortable as a regular human being, opposed to a tourist or traveling student. Here, though, is what I took with me to start.

– 3-4 t-shirts

– 2-5 work shirts (dress for my study abroad was fairly casual)

– 2 pairs of shorts

– 2 pairs of jeans/pants

– enough socks and underwear to make it through a week at a time

– a hoodie / sweater

– a light jacket

– an extra pair of shoes

I mean, just look at my weekly laundry: 

IMG_4858
There’s barely anything there!

Packing clothes efficiently came down to two things for me: folding/rolling up the clothes and using space saver vacuum bags. These two techniques made it so that my luggage was packed tight with a lot of room, and it was very neat. Nothing was sliding around, getting wrinkled, or swallowing up my mp3 charger. The space saver bags have been great for me. Even when I’m not traveling I use them to store winter clothes in the summer. They really make traveling a lot easy and more convenient. 

Tech and Etcetera — I have always tried to be a neat person when packing and traveling. Something about knowing my things are in particular places and that they will still be there when I arrive at my destination minimizes the stress of long trips. For the things like computer plugs, chargers, headphones, and other tech I typically use a ziplock bag. You can see in this picture that I have one in the upper left corner of my checked bag. It’s a really easy way to keep things together—have you ever thrown things into a bag before traveling and then found that every single piece is in a different part of the bag or, at least for a while, seems all together missing? Yeah, me too. 

IMG_4797
Yup, two bags was all I needed to get started on my year-long abroad program.

      -A quick note on cellphones—smartphones with cameras and apps make sense to take, but generally you are either not there long enough for a cell phone plan or you won’t want to afford it. There are international plans you can get before you leave, which are probably the best idea, considering signing contracts in foreign languages can end badly. During my time abroad I just bought pre-paid phones with call and text. They were cheap, useful, and didn’t get me caught in a contract.


Toiletries — As I’ve mentioned, it is best to pack light. Here are the basic hygiene products I take, and in the small travel sizes. For an image of the basic men’s products you can see some options here and you can find some women’s products here. I don’t take everything in the pics, but you can get an idea of how big the products I have listed are. 

– toothpaste and toothbrush

– small shampoo and body wash

– face wash

– deodorant

– brush or comb

– over the counter pain killer

School Supplies—You can find school supplies anywhere. If you’re studying abroad you are studying at a school and schools generally carry school supplies. Duh, right? So, don’t worry about packing a bunch of notebooks, highlighters, rulers, and whatever else you might need. Now, if you are particular about what you use, as I am with pens and sometimes paper, then bring those things along. Products in foreign countries will be similar, but they likely will not have the brand you are looking for. When I left for my first international study experience I picked up a notebook, folders, highlighters, and my books once I got there. I didn’t see any use in lugging those things across the Atlantic. And don’t worry, the prices are about the same—and, anyway, you’ll get to have the experience of shopping in a foreign place!

What you bring with you on your abroad experience won’t necessarily make or break the trip. You can always pick up odds and ends while you’re there, and I don’t doubt that you will want to buy souvenir clothes and the like before coming back. My advice on what to pack comes down to this: Save space on the way out so that you can pack all of the things you want to bring back.

Enjoy your travels, stay safe and of course, study hard!

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