What to Pack for Your Study Abroad Experience

Dear Dana,

If packing for a weekend trip is difficult for you, packing for your study abroad semester/year could quickly turn into a nightmare! There are so many things that you use in your everyday life that fitting it all into just one suitcase and a carry-on seems impossible. However, I assure you it definitely is not and so I've compiled a quick list of the basic categories you're sure to be considering.

I’ve moved abroad a total of four times now and each time I have managed to fit my life into the amount of luggage allowed by conventional airlines without any extra charge. Sound too good to be true? Only if you don’t know the right things to take and leave! Read these tips about the do’s and don’t’s in terms of the top five categories you should consider when packing (and see this post for additional effective packing tips).

Solid, neutral colors are best for layering and repeating.

Solid, neutral colors are best for layering and repeating.

1.) Clothes: While everyone is different, I think a reasonable guideline for all is to pack three week's worth of clothes. This takes into account that for some people, that may mean having a little bit more than 21 tops and for others that may mean having a little bit less, but either way you will easily make it through with two weeks’ worth of ropa and have another week’s worth to get you through the longer process of washing and hang-drying. Also keep in mind that you do NOT need a different pair of pants each day. In fact, I would recommend only 5 or 6 pairs of bottoms―fewer if you are packing all jeans (heavy!) or perhaps a few more if you are counting work-out pants and different options for casual and dressy attire.

Pro-Tip: Remember that solid, neutral colors allow for less noticeable re-use and planning layers allows for more combinations and options for multiple seasons.

2.) Toiletries: Keep in mind that Spain is by no means an underdeveloped country and you will be able to find everything you could need in this department. Still, if you are picky about the brands you use or have a sensitivity and must buy a certain brand of something, I recommend you stock up before coming. The longer I live here, the more and more of my regular American brands I find. However, it should be noted that they are sometimes double or triple the price as back home (and only available in specific department stores). If you’re only staying for a semester, it’s in your best interest (financially and in terms of peace of mind) to simply pack the bottle or two of what you really like to use.

Pro-Tip: Be sure to pack liquids over 100ml in your checked bag!

Specific products like this sunscreen used to be on my list of must-pack but I have since found them here in Spain, although at higher prices.

Specific products like this sunscreen used to be on my list of must-pack but I have since found them here in Spain, although at higher prices.

3.) Medications: Something that will be major headache to obtain in a foreign country is your specific prescription medications. It is 100% recommended to see your doctor before you leave (most study abroad programs will require a medical examination anyways) and ask for an advance on all of your prescriptions. Insurance companies usually allow for a 'vacation override' in order to receive your prescriptions in advance but this may require a few phone calls and the approval of your doctor so give yourself some leeway to take care of it before the last day.

Pro-Tip: Prescription drugs should be packed in see-through plastic bags with your written prescription included in case you are stopped at customs. (This has never happened to me, but it’s never a bad idea to be prepared!)

4.) Electronics: While your laptop and other personal devices are likely to make the cut of items that are worth your while to bring, blow-dryers, straighteners, and electric shavers should NOT. Keep in mind that power outlets in Spain have a different voltage than what we’re used to in the US and you will want to invest in a quality converter/adapter for your expensive devices. Attempting to use American electronics in Spain can result in overheating (think singed-off chunks of hair) and failure to work properly when you return home. Protect yourself and your beauty electronics AND save space in your suitcase by following this two-birds, one-stone advice. Laptops should fair just fine as that box on their charging cable seems to protect them quite well.

Pro-Tip: Consider waiting until your arrival in Spain to purchase a high-quality adapter. It will cost you much less and the models here are much less heavy than the kind I got in the States some years ago.

Besides, if you're lucky like me, Mom or Dad can put some of your favorites in the mail!

Besides, if you're lucky like me, Mom or Dad can put some of your favorites in the mail!

5.) Food: Again, I feel the need to reiterate that Spain is not a backwards country that has not heard of barbecue and Tabasco sauce! In years past, it may have been advisable to bring your own favorite sauces, snacks, and/or drinks but nowadays you can find most of your favorites if you know where to look. Even sriracha sauce―which is the main food good I’ve heard advice about packing―is pretty widely available now.  Of course, if there is a hometown or family recipe that you just cannot live without that requires a difficult-to-find ingredient in the US, chances are it will be more difficult to get here and you may want to bring it. But ultimately my advice is not to stress about comfort foods.

Pro-Tip: Take this opportunity to dive into the local cuisine and, who knows, you may end up with a new comfort food!

So those are my main tips when it comes to packing. As you get started, many more questions and concerns may come up, but this should get you started in the right direction. If you have any questions about the availability of specific products, give us a shout-out in the comments below. We’re always here to help!