We have a more updated packing list (including a free printable checklist) in our new article What to Pack for Study Abroad.
It’s a week before you leave for your study abroad semester and you have your two new suitcases sitting in front of you, open, waiting to be filled. You have a closet full of clothes and a whole room filled with everything that you use in your day-to-day life.
Then you realize that you have NO idea what to pack for your study abroad semester.
This scenario happens to every student right as they are about to go abroad. It seems impossible to fit everything that you’ll need into one or two suitcases and one carry-on bag. But it can be done. Here’s a guide for packing for study abroad, including a list of what to bring with you and what to leave behind.
Two tools to help you pack
1. Space bags – They will make your bulky sweaters and jackets more compact by sucking the air out of them, giving you more room in your luggage. They’re also great for when you travel on the weekends with just a carry-on bag, as you’ll be able to fit more into it. Just be sure to get the ones that you can use without a vacuum.
2. Portable luggage scale -You’ll be glad you invested in one of these when you see your friends paying $100 or more for their overweight luggage. You’ll use it flying to and from your abroad destination, but it will also be helpful when you’re flying budget airlines that often weigh your carry-on bag before you board and that will charge you if it’s too heavy.
Clothing to Bring
Of course, you’ll need the basics. Bring pieces that can be worn for both day and night, and that can be layered when the weather gets colder. This list will need to be adjusted depending on what the climate is like where you’ll be studying abroad. And don’t forget– you can always buy something you need when you get there, so don’t overpack.
You’ll be happy you brought:
• More underwear + more socks = less laundry
• Comfy but classy travel clothes — tights, leggings, sweaters, dark jeans, etc.
• At least one business-appropriate outfit, in case you have a presentation or attend a professional event
• Nice shoes — guys, some clubs won’t let you in with tennis shoes on
• Comfortable shoes for walking — if they keep your feet warm, that’s a bonus
• Old flip flops to use as shower shoes for your hostel stays
• A swimsuit for your trips to the beach or pool
• Running shoes and workout clothes to help you keep off the study abroad 15, which are sometimes hard to find abroad at decent prices
• Cold weather gear, like the items on this list
• Cross-body purses and secure wristlets — to prevent theft
• One pair of sweats — practically no other country in the world besides the US views sweatshirts and sweatpants as acceptable public attire, but bring one pair for lazy, chilly days around your apartment
Things you think you’ll need, but you won’t:
• Anything you haven’t worn in 3 months or longer — sell it before you go
• Expensive jewelry and accessories — they’ll break, get dirty, or get stolen
• Flip flops and Uggs — they both scream “American!” and therefore “rob me!”
• High heels — if you often find yourself stumbling out of the club after a few too many, stick with wedges or flats. If you’re graceful in your stilettos, even on cobblestone, only rock them if they’re inexpensive, as rough roads and crowded bars abroad will ruin them.
Toiletries and such to pack for study abroad
Leave most of these things at home and purchase them when you get abroad, unless you have specific brands of products that you MUST use. Shampoo, conditioner, etc. are heavy and take up valuable suitcase space, so bring travel sizes of the basics for your first couple of days, like toothpaste, and then hit the local supermarket for the rest.
You’ll be thankful you brought:
• Refillable 3 oz. bottles, like these GoToobs
• Your preferred cosmetics
• Feminine products — they can be very expensive in some foreign countries
• Over-the-counter drugs — if you have a preference
• Contraceptives — again, if you have a preference
• Prescribed medications
You can skip:
• Hair dryer – you can pick them up for cheap once you’re abroad, with the correct plug.
• Flat iron that isn’t dual voltage – don’t even try to use a converter with it or you’ll fry it. If you’re picky, bring one that fit in an adapter (some don’t, so check beforehand) or just buy one once you’re abroad.
• Extra linens and towels– just buy them there if they aren’t already in your accommodation
Electronics to bring abroad
In the age of smartphones and iPads, it’s hard to leave our electronics behind. Some of them will help make your study abroad semester better, so pack ’em up.
Pack in your carry-on (to prevent damage and theft):
• Laptop and padded case
• Smartphone/ iPad / iPod — to use with wifi, which is free in most hostels and cafes
• Camera — read up on our 5 favorite cameras for study abroad
• Kindle or a book in English — for reading on the road
• Power adapter— skip the converter, they typically don’t work
• Portable hard drive — to back up your photos and schoolwork
• Combo lock — for locking your stuff up in hostel lockers
Read up on how to protect your valuables while you’re abroad so you don’t get stuck with broken electronics– or ones that get stolen!
More posts that will help you pack for study abroad:
8 Smart Pieces of Tech to Get Before Going Abroad
15 items You’ll Be Glad You Purchased Before Going Abroad
Should You Use a Suitcase or Backpack When Traveling?
20 Essential Accessories for Easy Weekend Travel