How to Pack for Your Study Abroad
You’re off on one of the biggest adventures of your life. Studying abroad is a massive experience that will change you forever.
You’ll make amazing friends, see some incredible things, experience thrilling highs and crashing lows, and you’ll never quite be the same again. I can promise you that.
There’s all kind of preparation you’ll need to be doing before you head off on your year abroad. You’ll need to be getting yourself into the right headspace.
You’ll need to be finding somewhere to live, doing lots of life admin and making sure you have a vague idea of what’s awaiting you in your new, temporary home.
But you’ll also need to be thinking about what you’re going to take with you when you go.
If you’ve never been away from home for an extended period before, you might be wondering how on earth you’re supposed to survive for months on end just living out of a suitcase. Or a couple of suitcases.
The good news is that’s it’s really not as tough as you might think. I’ve spent two years living in both Brazil and Mexico on year abroad work placements. So, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to pack, no matter where you’re heading off to.
Let’s get stuck in.
Less is more
The amount you can reasonably take with you will very much depend on where you’re going, and what your plans are.
Are you moving to a city that’s relatively easy to access? Are you planning on moving around a lot? Will you be going traveling for a long period at the end?
Think about what you’re going to be doing, and whether you really want to be dragging two massive suitcases around with you, and forking out to fly with them.
The fewer things you can take with you, the better.
A good tactic, I’ve found, is to lay out everything you’d like to take with you on your big adventure, and then cut that in half. Be brutal. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you adapt to a smaller wardrobe, and forget about all the stuff you’ve left behind.
Opt for a backpack
I had long trips planned for the end of both of my long stints abroad, and the last thing I wanted to be was weighed down with huge amounts of stuff when I was traveling around. So I limited myself to one 60-liter backpack, and a day pack.
I did find myself accumulating stuff whilst I was there, and had to have a cull before I headed off on my travels, but I essentially survived a year on just the contents of that backpack.
I was in tropical climates both times, so I didn’t need large amounts of bulky clothes with me. But even if you do need a large suitcase for all those winter clothes, make sure you take a medium-sized travel backpack with you too so you can head off on trips here and there.
Think outfits, not individual garments
Just as when you’re packing for a long-term backpacking trip or trying to squeeze everything you’ll need for a week into hand luggage, the key is to think in outfits rather than individual pieces. Don’t pack any top or bottom that can’t be paired with at least three other garments.
Think about a basic color scheme, and pack things that work within that. That way, you’ll be able to mix your look up all the time, swapping different skirts, trousers and tops in and out, and making sure you wear everything in your suitcase.
You can always ship things
This won’t be feasible for some people, as a shipping service would have never managed to deliver a suitcase to where I was living in Mexico.
But if you’re worried about not having enough stuff, you need bulky clothes or you don’t want to be weighed down, then considered shipping your stuff, and traveling light.
That way you could even pack a few bits and pieces to decorate your room and make you feel at home.
Think about what you should buy when you’re there
A good friend of mine went out to Canada for her year abroad. She bought lots of bits and pieces before she went, but she decided to buy a big, bulky coat suitable for sub-zero temperatures when she got there, because it would be cheaper, and better equipped to do the job.
Wherever you’re going, there might well be things that you could buy when you’re out there, rather than worrying about it before you go or spending over the odds.
You don’t need that extra pair of shoes
You might have 50 pairs of shoes at home, but you really don’t need to take them with you. Depending on where you’re going, a pair of flip flops, trainers, pumps and a nice pair of shoes for going out in will probably be more than enough.
You might want to throw in a pair of walking boots or a pair of heels, but the fewer shoes, the better, as they’re bulky, and you need to prioritise the things that are going to get the most use.
Throw in a few memories
Don’t pack picture frames, but take a few photos that you can stick up on your wall to remind you of the people you love back at home.
If a small cuddly toy or a good luck charm is going to comfort you during low moments, throw that in too. You’re never too old for that kind of thing. You’ll be happy you used the space for it when you have your first, inevitable, bout of homesickness.
Take a few gifts
If you’re nervous about making new friends, or if you’re staying with a host family, then taking a few little presents along that are typical of your home country can win you a lot of brownie points and help start conversations. Small edible treats are always a good idea.
Another suggestion is small bracelets or trinkets. When I was in Brazil, a Colombian girl had brought some bracelets in the colors of the Colombian flag that she gave out to all the new friends she made, and it was a lovely touch, that really helped her to bond with people.
Whatever you do, just remember to pack as light as possible. After all, you’ll be far too busy having fun and making the most of your experience abroad to worry too much about the contents of your wardrobe.