How to,  Preparing,  Study Abroad

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 probably so many things that you use in your everyday life that it feels impossible to fit it all into just one suitcase and a carry-on. However, we assure you it definitely is NOT—you can pack light when moving abroad! To help you get started, we’ve compiled this quick list of the basic categories you’re sure to be considering.

We’ve moved abroad countless times now (often for an indefinite amount of time) and each time we have managed to fit our entire lives into the amount of luggage allowed by conventional airlines without any extra charges. Sound too good to be true? Only if you don’t know the right things to take and leave! Read these tips about the dos and don’ts in terms of the top five categories you should consider when packing:

And once you’ve got that down, see this post for additional effective packing tips and this post about different kinds of packing, featuring a how-to packing video!

1.) Clothes

While everyone is different, a reasonable guideline is to pack three weeks’ worth of clothes. This takes into account that, for some people, that may mean having a total of 21 tops and for others who are comfortable re-wearing, that may mean having a little less. At a minimum, you want to have two weeks’ worth of clothes but we recommend having another week’s worth to get you through the longer process of washing and hang-drying that is typical in Spain and most of Europe. Also keep in mind that you do NOT need a different pair of pants each day. In fact, we’d would recommend only 5 or 6 pairs of bottoms―fewer if you are packing all jeans (they’re so 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. Check out this price comparison we ran to see how many of the same products we used back in the US are available and affordable here in Spain. Still, if you are picky about the brands you use or have a sensitivity and must buy a certain brand of something, you might want to stock up before coming. The longer we live here, the more and more of our regular American brands I find. However, it should be noted that they are sometimes difficult to hunt down and, if only available in specific department stores, can be pricier than you’re used to. 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 and save yourself the hassle of having to look for the exact products in a new marketplace.

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

3.) Medications:

Something that will be major headache to obtain in a foreign country if you are only abroad for a short-term 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 time to take care of it before the last day. Also, check out this full article we wrote on the topic so that you are informed and prepared for how to obtain this ‘vacation override.’

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 us, but it is the policy and it’s never a bad idea to be prepared!)

4.) Electronics:

Your laptop and other personal devices are likely to make the cut of items that are worth your while to bring, although be sure to read up about whether or not you’ll really want to use your American phone in Spain. On the other hand, blow-dryers, straighteners, and electric shavers should NOT. Keep in mind that power outlets in Spain likely have a different voltage than what you’re used to back home (especially different from the US) and you will want to invest in a quality converter/adapter for your expensive devices. Attempting to use electronics intended for use at a different voltage 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. Don’t worry, laptops fair just fine with an adapter since that box on their charging cable provides built-in protection against this issue.

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 we purchased in the States some years ago.

5.) Food:

Again, we feel the need to reiterate that Spain is not the kind of country that has never heard of barbecue sauce, peanut butter, and Tabasco! 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 we’ve heard advice about packing―is pretty widely available now.  Of course, if there is a hometown favorite 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, our advice is not to stress about comfort foods. Check out this “Where Can I Buy That?” article we wrote on the topic of food to give you some ideas of where we find our favorite in Spain.

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 our 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!


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