A Complete Guide to Packing for Study Abroad

Since getting home in December I’ve been preparing to write this post and here it finally is! Packing for my semester abroad was stressful and I have no doubt all of you starting to pack are feeling the same way. I spent over two hours with a friend trying to figure out which shoes each of us were going to bring for the semester. We definitely talked about our packing as if it was life or death. Almost every girl I know has too many clothes and shoes to bring everything they love abroad with them, but hopefully with this post I can help you pick what to bring and what to leave at home. 

Choosing Suitcases:
When it comes time to pack for study abroad, one of the biggest decisions you’ll make is which suitcases to bring with you. I know some people who can get away with one checked bag and one carry on, but for most of us that would be an impossible feat. I originally wanted to bring one extra-large suitcase, a medium sized suitcase, and a carry-on duffel, but luckily I was reminded of the ever present weight limit of 50 lbs. An extra-large suitcase will easily go over weight, so if you’re going to bring more than one checked bag opt for 2 medium (25in) suitcases and a carry-on duffel bag. 
When you start packing those suitcases remember that you are going to buy so much stuff abroad that will weight a lot and take up a lot of space. If you don’t want to pay for expensive shipping to get everything home leave plenty of space and weight in your suitcases. On the way to Madrid each of my suitcases had extra space and only weighed about 37 lbs. On the way home each suitcase was filled to the brim and weighed 49 and something pounds. I’m telling you, when you get bored of the clothes you packed (and I promise you will) and decide to go shopping you’ll be thankful for the extra space. 
Bringing some type of duffle bag is definitely important, which is why I used mine as my carry-on. For everything weekend trip you are going to want something bigger than just a backpack (though I did use a backpack for one trip) and smaller than a carry-on sized suitcase. Even if you aren’t flying on budget airlines with crazy luggage restrictions, chances are you’ll be carrying your luggage a lot as you check in and out of hostels/airbnbs etc so you aren’t going to want anything heavy.
I am no light packer, but everyone must make some compromises when it comes to the clothes you pack for study abroad.
– Know the weather of your study abroad location and where you’ll be traveling
– Only bring what you wear at home, not the things you wish you wore. Living in a new country won’t suddenly make you wear that jacket that has had the tags on it for 6 months. 
– Pack plenty of your favorite basics. Striped tees, grey and black sweaters, skinny jeans, leather jacket, etc
– Pick 2 or 3 special tops that might only work in one or two outfits. You will get bored of the basics and those fun tops will be perfect for a night out. 
– Colorful layers are your friend. My maroon blazer, army green vest, and other almost basic layers made me feel like I wasn’t wearing the same thing everyday. 
– Have a few different tops and bottoms for going that can be mixed and matched. I always go with all black, it will never look the same!
By the numbers… 4 jackets, 1 vest, 2 sweaters, 3 cardigans, 2 blazers, 5 pairs of pants, 5 skirts, 4 dresses, and as many tops as I could fit while stilling staying under 40lbs 🙂
Shoes are easily my weakness and it took me a long time to figure out which shoes to bring and which to leave at home. 
– Again, know the climate you’ll be in. I brought more sandals and flats with me to Madrid than my friends studying in Prague and they brought more boots than I did. 
– Comfort isn’t everything, but it’s important. The thousand year old cobblestone streets are not a joke and you are going to want to be wearing supergas instead of slippery sandals when you’re walking around all day (speaking from experience here).
– Bring fewer heels. I love heels as much as the next girl, but it’s not worth it to bring 3 pairs of heels when you will only break them out occasionally. Try bringing a pair of heeled boots or low wedges that can be worn for multiple occasions. 
By the numbers… 5 pairs of flats, 1 pair of moto boots, 1 pair of heeled boots, 2 pairs of sandals, 1 pair of wedges, 1 pair of casual sneakers, 1 pair of athletic sneakers (I should have eliminated 1 or 2 pairs of flats)
Bags & Accessories: 
– When it comes to bags keep it simple. Think 1 small, 1 medium, 1 large and then be done. 
– Pick-pocketing is a real threat in many countries. I had far too many friends get wallets, phones, etc stolen because they didn’t have safe bags. 
– A small crossbody should be dressy enough to wear out at night but still casual enough to be worn during the day while traveling. 
– A medium sized crossbody that can hold a umbrella, sweater, etc is also a must-have for travel and local sightseeing. 
– A larger tote bag is great to use for school (and safer than backpacks against pick-pocketing). 
– Scarves (for both warm and cold weather) are great for adding color/pattern to basic outfits
– If you like accessorizing with jewelry then bring a few of your favorite pieces, but leave behind your most precious/expensive pieces. 
Everything Else:
– Only bring school supplies if there is something sold in the US that you cannot live without. You will be able to find some version of school notebooks and binders in whatever country you are going to. 
– Same rule goes for makeup and other beauty products. Bring enough of your favorite foundation and concealer for the semester, but don’t bring a 4 month supply of shampoo. 
– An external hard drive is a must-have. You will be taking hundreds of pictures and will easily run out of storage space. Instead of dealing with subscribing to a cloud service while abroad just bring along a small external hard drive. 
– Don’t forget an umbrella… I did and definitely regretted it when it started pouring on me.
– If you’re going to a country where english isn’t the local language bring one or two of your favorite books. When you’re home sick having an old book you’ve read five times will be really nice (especially if you can’t go out and buy a new one).
– Bring more than one adapter/converter. I spent the entire semester getting annoyed that I had to switch between charging my computer, phone, and camera all the time. There are plenty of cheap american to european adapters out there so make sure to buy one or two extra on top of a great travel adapter.
– Save space and needing an additional adapter by buying a hair dryer when you arrive. While you might not want to risk having a bad straightener a good hair dryer can be bought anywhere. 

The most important thing to remember when packing for your semester abroad is that almost anything you forget can be brought abroad and on top of that, the things you pack aren’t even what matter. I won’t lie and say you won’t think about the pair of boots you left at home every once in a while, but I can promise you won’t be thinking of them when you’re traveling to new cities and making incredible memories. You will forget about everything you left behind the moment you get to the airport (unless you forget your passport. Don’t do that!). Study abroad is about pushing yourself, learning that there are plenty of things you can’t control, and so much more. The first step to learning these lessons is packing your life into two suitcases and being ok with it! 
If you have any specific questions about study abroad packing please shoot me an email or ask in the comments below!
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