If you’ve ever travelled – or thought of travelling, or listened to a friend talk about travelling – you likely know the do-and-don’t basics.
Don’t try to bring weapons, large quantities of liquids or anything else on the airport’s no-no list in your carry-on. Do keep any important documents – like tickets and your passport – and valuable items – such as electronics and jewelry – with you at all times. Don’t wear shoes with complicated buckles or laces when going through security checks. Do pack a change of clothes – or at least underwear – in your carry-on in case your luggage is lost.
Those tips are helpful for any traveller, but they don’t speak to the specific needs of students packing for a study-abroad trip. Packing for a semester abroad is nerve-racking, especially if it is your first long international trip. Trust me, I remember the panic of packing for my study abroad trip all too well.
Instead of packing in a panic and regretting your choices later, learn from my mistakes and follow these handy do’s and don’ts:
Don’t pack toiletries
It sounds crazy, but I’m not actually suggesting that you go a whole semester without toothpaste, deodorant or other necessities. To put it a different way: DO remember that other countries have stores too.
Instead of stocking up on six months’ worth of your favorite products, pack travel-sized amounts of toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, shampoo and other items. Travel-sized toiletries will last you a few days until you can get your bearings and get to a store.
Toiletries can take up a huge portion of your limited luggage real estate. Although you may balk at having to buy a different brand, spending a few months without your favorites will be worth the weight and space you save.
Do pack specialised hygiene/medical items
While soap, shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste should all be readily available, more specific hygiene or medical items may be harder to find. If you have specific health needs, make sure to pack enough of your prescriptions or other medical necessities.
As for the ladies: Don’t assume your host country will have your feminine product of choice. Do a little research to ensure you won’t be left in the lurch when your special friend comes around.
Don’t bring too many personal items
It’s tempting to bring all your favorite reminders of home, but be wary of packing too many security blanket items. Take a few items – a framed photo, a small memento – but don’t take more than will fit on a small nightstand. Not only will they take up too much room in your suitcase, but holding too tightly to memories of home may keep you from making new memories.
Remember that we live in the internet age. Movies and TV shows are available online. Favorite photos, music and entertainment can be stored on the Cloud. Video chat apps like Skype and FaceTime make it easy to connect to loved ones at home.
Finally, don’t take anything that can’t be replaced. That heirloom music box or autographed memorabilia should stay safely at home.
Do bring personal gifts for your hosts
If you’re going to stay with a host family, show your appreciation by bringing a gift or two.
Say no to boring, thoughtless items like mugs, keychains and T-shirts. Instead, bring them something unique and personal; local offerings that are specific to your hometown or state are always a great idea. Take a local delicacy – something that travels well, doesn’t need refrigerated and won’t melt or break – an artisanal craft or a book about your area. If you opt to bring food, pick an item that doesn’t contain major allergens, and be sure to check travel guidelines.
Don’t forget that other countries have stores too, reconsider what you consider essential and remember that you’re going to end up buying new items and souvenirs. Make sure you’ll have room to bring them home with you, so you’ll always have mementos of your semester abroad.
Don’t pack outfits
Don’t make the mistake of packing occasion or season-specific items of clothing. This doesn’t mean you can’t pack a coat or an outfit for fancy occasions. What it means is don’t pack a multitude of outfits that only serve one function – especially multiples that only serve the same function.
You don’t need to bring multiple dresses or suits and you certainly don’t need to bring your entire drawer of loungewear.
Do pack versatile clothing
Versatile clothing is a suitcase packer’s best friend.
Pack clothing you can layer, mix and match, and that is appropriate for multiple settings. Jeans can be dressed up with a nice shirt for class or an evening out, or paired with your favorite hoodie for relaxing in your room. Make sure to pack a comfortable, well-supported pair of shoes that can be paired with most of your outfits. Trust me, you’ll do a lot of walking and a lot of standing and waiting. Blisters should be avoided at all costs. Go through this guide to essential closet basics to know exactly what you should take – and what you should leave behind.