You guys. I did it. Four and a half months have passed and I am finally home in sunny San Diego!
As I talk to many of my friends gearing up for their semester-long trips around the world, I have been thinking a lot about what I brought, what I wish I had brought, and what I wish I hadn’t brought. These tips aren’t just for study abroad, but any long-term trip you happen to be taking.
Choosing Your Bags
I brought with me two bigger suitcases, a duffel bag, a tote, and a crossbody bag. It felt like a lot, but I don’t feel like I overpacked. I packed the duffel inside of one of my larger suitcases, so on the way home, I had plenty of room for anything I purchased while traveling.
Something that was very important to me when choosing the bags I was going to bring was that they had zippers. Living in Europe and especially in Spain, I was constantly on high alert when it came to pickpocketing. A zipper isn’t your only line of defense against pickpocketers but I think it definitely helps!
I do wish I would have brought a slightly bigger crossbody bag because I really only fit my wallet, phone, and sunglasses in this tiny bag. The plus side was that I didn’t carry around junk I didn’t need, but it would have been nice to fit a little more.
Something to also consider is that if you plan on traveling, airlines like Ryanair have size requirements on their carry-on bags which are smaller than the standard American sizes. Bringing a smaller carry-on suitcase can help you avoid the stress of oversized bag fees, and teach you how to live with less!
What To Bring
The most important tip I have is to bring clothes that you know that 1.) you love 2.) look good on you 3.) you are actually going to wear. Chances are, you aren’t going to have a full-length mirror to check yourself out, so make sure the pieces that you bring make you feel confident. Many of these pieces in my wardrobe included staple basics that I could mix and match for countless outfit combinations. They were easy, and always came in handy when I didn’t know what to wear.
You have to remember that absolutely everyone abroad is an outfit repeater – and literally, no one cares! Everyone in your group is in the exact same boat, so don’t try to pack a million outfits that you don’t need.
I’m not here to tell you to bring 6 tank tops, 3 pairs of pants, 2 sweaters etc. etc. However, I will say that I recommend bringing a few pieces that you can wear in hot weather and clothes you can layer for warmth in colder temps. I went from 100-degree heat during August in Spain to below freezing in December in Germany, and I definitely didn’t anticipate needing so many cold weather layers.
Nothing is more magical than Christmas! Read about my trip to 7 of Cologne’s most famous Christmas markets HERE
Bring comfortable shoes! When exploring new cities on a budget, it’s always cheaper to walk instead of spending money on taxis and public transportation. It’s a win-win because you can see more of the city while also getting your extra steps in. There were days where we would rack up 13 miles or more, so make sure you are bringing shoes that you have broken in and won’t kill your feet halfway through the day. If you’ve been eyeing that pair of Adidas which you know you’ll wear all the time, bite the bullet and buy them, but make sure you wear them plenty before you fly out. You can thank me later.
Three words. Universal outlet converter. This baby saved my life, I will link the one I have right here. I liked this one because it had multiple plugs and worked with outlets from the UK, Europe, Australia, and China. On the topic of technology, I would also recommend bringing a portable charger, extra phone cords, and an extra pair of headphones. Unfortunately, these things tend to get left behind, so having a back up is super handy.
Bring your workout clothes! Your normal life doesn’t stop when you travel abroad. You’re going to want to get into a routine which might consist of joining a gym or going on runs through your new neighborhood. Even if this doesn’t sound like something you would do, pack some workout leggings and a sports bra in case you come across a hike you feel like adventuring on.
What To Buy There
The reality is that being in Europe, you are going to want to shop. I went in with the mindset that I wanted to spend my money on experiences rather than clothes, which I did stick to (for the most part.) The thing is though, that you are absolutely going to want to buy that trendy overall dress or those platform Superga sneakers, so build a little wiggle room in your budget & your bags for these fun purchases.
Because of space and weight constraints, I’d suggest leaving most of your toiletries at home and making the supermarket or pharmacy one of your first stops in your new city. Not only is it important to know where this is, but toothpaste, shampoo & conditioner and face wash are pretty universal. Of course, you are going to have your holy grail American products that you can’t leave behind, but trying new brands abroad might introduce you to some new favorites. That being said, If you do decide to bring your go-to cosmetics and toiletries, make sure you have enough to last you the semester.
The same advice goes for anything you might need for classes. Maybe bring one notebook and a few pens with you, but if you’re the type of person who needs a planner or other miscellaneous office supplies, you can pick that up pretty inexpensively. Remember, you are there to study! (wink, wink)
What To Leave At Home
You feel like you have to bring your entire life with you, but there is plenty that you can live without for 5 months. In my opinion, you can ditch the heels and most of your going out dresses and rompers. Definitely bring one or two options for a night out and a pair of booties or sandals that you can wear to a club/bar, but space is limited and not worth sacrificing for a pair of wedges you’re only going to wear 3 times.
Leave behind most of your sorority/sports/college t-shirts. Again, maybe bring one or two of your favorites that you lounge or work out in but odds are you won’t wear these anywhere but at home or to class.
I’m glad I limited myself to bringing jewelry that I know I would wear every day. I have lots of statement pieces that I’m sure I would have only put on a handful of times. It’s heavy, and gets tangled in your bag!
Up To You!
Here are some miscellaneous items that you may or may not want to pack with you!
- E-Reader – download tons of books easily in English
- Hairdryer/straightener/curling iron
- External hard drive – you never know what could happen to your computer
- Plenty of Advil
- Slippers – especially for Spain!
- Refillable water bottle
Happy travels friends! Comment anything you have found useful during your stay abroad.