You would think the most stressful part of the holiday season is crossing off every gift on your shopping list. Well how about checking everything off of your packing list? With many of you leaving for Europe, Australia, South America and more in the coming weeks, the question lingers: “What the hell do I actually need during my study abroad experience?” With airlines clamping down on your allotted “free” luggage and the desire to bring your whole life, let alone your favorite shoes and your family picture album, packing for purpose and efficiency becomes quite the conundrum.
Keeping up with the holiday cheer, we are going to do this to the tune of the “12 days of packing while going abroad.” If it makes you more festive picture one of Bus2alps‘ finest guides singing along.
On the 12th day of packing, I packed for life overseas….
1. Clothes - Ok, so I am pretty sure you planned to bring clothes, but what clothes? Keep in mind that you may be abroad for 4 – 6 months, and the weather will likely change drastically in your time. If you are headed to Europe in January, pack a heavy coat. Whether you are headed to Southern Spain, the Swiss Alps, or Prague, remember it is still winter the first few months you are there. Do not bring your entire wardrobe and bring clothes you are willing to throw out. Study abroad is an opportunity to outfit yourself with all new clothes that match a completely new, unique style. Leave your suitcase the room to bring these home. Do not bring your ski or snowboarding gear. This will take up large spaces in your allotted luggage. Once you are in the Swiss Alps, you can rent high quality versions of your favorite snow swag for the same price as overweight luggage.
To get an idea for the weather in your city, have a look at: http://www.weather.com/outlook/travel/vacationplanner/vacationclimatology/monthly/ITXX0067
2 - Comfortable Shoes - Comfortable day-to-day shoes are essential because you’ll probably end up walking a lot, and if you are in an old city, you get to do it on cobblestone. YAY!!! Beautiful, charming, but hell on your feet without the proper footwear. If you find yourself in need of footwear from dress shoes to running sneakers, you can find a pair once abroad. If you wait you are in luck; Italy, Australia, England and most other cities supply sweet kicks you can’t get in the States.
3 - Medicine - Honestly your hard earned money should be spent on traveling, booze, and really anything except for shipping medicine overseas that you left on your dining room table. Pack your own meds, and bring vitamins- you’ll want to be healthy all semester and while there are plenty of pharmacies, they might not have exactly what you’re looking for and it’s easier bringing your own supply.
4 - Food - Again, they will have food no matter where you go, and the local food will be fantastic. However, if you are impartial to things like Peanut Butter (like myself), keep in mind some of these classic US dishes are either not to be found in your local grocer abroad or will cost you a large amount for nothing. Cheap and weightless are oatmeal packets. Especially if you are headed to Southern Europe, breakfast can be very basic. Add a little American fuel to your European morning.
5 - Debit and Credit Card - Travelers cheques and exchanging money at the border is a thing of the past, and we don’t recommend bring blocks of gold to exchange direct for Euros. Your Debit and Credit Card will claim the exact exchange rate of the day and you will only have to pay your bank’s fees, which is extremely minimal compared to the sheisty exchange points you will find in most major cities.
6 - Copies of your docs - You should always travel with your original passport, especially when traveling across country borders. You should also have several copies of every major document (passport main page, passport student visa page, your credit and debit cards). Store these in a safe place in your apartment. If for any reason any of your originals go missing, it makes life at the Embassy or with your bank that much easier.
7 - Outlet Converter/Adaptor - These can be bought in Europe, but it is good to have one with you ahead of time. A good investment is a Universal Converter, which can be bought at a Walmart or Radio Shack. Especially if you are in Europe or Southeast Asia, voltages and outlet sizes will be different in each country you visit. The Superman of converters will cover you anywhere you go so your Blackberry never dies. Note: If you like to blow dry your hair or charge your laptop, double check with the sales associate that the convertor or adaptor you buy is appropriate for the voltage of your appliance.
8 - Backpack - These things are great for your books for the classes you plan to attend, but even better for travel. You will likely travel a lot, and you will likely be traveling on modes of transportation that limit luggage size. Some buses, trains, and all discount airlines will charge you for checking large and heavy luggage. Your backpack is the perfect size to fit all of your weekend belongings and fly under the radar of the excess baggage fees.
9 - Travel size things - Because that is the best word to describe these “things.” In collaboration with the 8th thing you should bring, travel size toiletry containers, towels, etc. allow you to shrink your bulky belongings into a travel friendly compartment. In addition, any airline you fly will restrict you from carrying on large liquid bottles. Putting your shampoo in travel size bottles will prevent you from having to wash your whole body and shaving with a bar of soap.
10 - iPod, Kindle, Game Boy (the original) - Travel times by bus or train, or waits in airports can be lengthy, especially if you are traveling around Australia. Bringing a small electronic device that you can listen to, read, or interact with will keep your brain occupied, especially if you are traveling alone.
11 - Journal - Whether you are studying, or extending your travel, you are likely going to be away for at least 4 months. In this time you will see incredible things, travel frequently and try so many new things they may all start to merge together. In addition, you will undergo a massive personal change in your outlook on life. Keeping a journal will help you keep track of early memories you will possibly forget, give you a way to chart your own personal growth, and provides an outlet for you to vent, reflect, and fine yourself.
12 - An open mind - Pack as much of this as you can because it will not take up any space in your suitcases. You are going somewhere very unlike the world you have spent the last 20 or so years of your life. London may look similar to New York City, but it is not. The menu at a restaurant in Florence may have similar dishes to the one you go to at home, but Italy is definitely not the United States. You will go through culture shock, you will get frustrated that every store is closed from 1pm – 3pm when all you need to grab is some hangover, I mean headache relief (should have packed the meds), you will have a travel mishap (whether it is missing a train, booking the wrong day for a flight, paying too much for a leather jacket). These things happen. I know it is hard to tell you this now, and even when they are occurring, but these can be your best times abroad.
Keep an open mind and pack as many memories and experiences (good or bad) you can into those suitcases. It is the only one an airline won’t exploit you for having excess.
Happy Study Abroad Days everyone!