Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Study Abroad Series: 4. 10 Tips for Study Abroad Packing

For those of you about to study abroad, I've made a list of 10 important things to keep in mind before you jet off to Europe/Asia/Latin America/Australia/if you're going to Australia please record some men talking and send it to me drooooool. Some of these SEEM obvious, but read what I have to say because there are some small details in there that people tend to overlook (not just me, but my friends who have studied abroad as well!).
Any of you dream about studying abroad, about to study abroad, or already have?
Let me know in the comments!
1. Make Copies of Everything! (Extra copies of passport, visa, international health insurance, birth certificate if you're dealing with those needs like I had to, credit card in case it gets stolen, directions/phone numbers/contact information for arrival.) You'll likely be able to make copies of everything pretty easily later on, but it might cost more money/be out of your way/you may lose something along the way and need a copy immediately, so just be prepared.
This is much harder on cobblestone streets, so don't be this lady.
2. Don't Overpack. Such a typical piece of travel advice but it's true. First study abroad I took two checked pieces of luggage, second study abroad I took one and a carry on duffel bag. I had too much stuff both times. Only bring toiletries you can't get abroad or are expensive abroad (some countries don't really carry tampons and deodorant, peanut butter is expensive in Europe and Asia, etc.). Don't bring duplicates of shoes/clothing items. I thought I packed light and only wore 1/2 of the clothes I brought.
Sort of a random photo but I like, so I put
3. But Pack A Lot Of...Necessities. If you take birth control, vitamins, have prescription meds, get motion sick and need to take something during travel, have allergies, use special sensitivity toothpaste or face lotion, make sure you have enough to last the month, semester, year, summer, whatever. It took me a long while and a bit of a fight for my insurance to give me five months supply of birth control for my semester abroad. So make sure you have what you need and do it in plenty of time. Also, underwear. You can do spring break with two shirts and one pair of pants but you NEED 7 pairs of clean underwear. That's life, people.
4. Know the Climate. It sounds so simple but REALLY look at the typical climate/temperature of where you're going. I assumed Italy would be warm for spring semester and we only got to wear our summer clothes the last two weeks of study abroad. And we weren't prepared for the rain in Florence. AND I checked the climate before I left, I guess I just didn't believe it (Under The Tuscan Sun tricked me, dammit!).
Learn how to use the exchange rate boards if you don't already!
5. Exchange Rate. Look up the exchange rate. Memorize it. Live by it. 5 dollars, 5 euros, and 5 pounds are NOT THE SAME. They're not roughly the same. Especially when buying flights/tickets/while traveling, make sure you know if the ticket is in dollars, pounds, euros, won, yen, etc.
6. Phone. If you have a smart phone (I'm guessing most of my readers), and are taking it abroad, explore your options. International phone plans on your current carrier are probably not the best for longer term study abroads. They're costly. You can get your phone unlocked (different policies for different networks but it was so easy and quick to do through Verizon for my iPhone) and rent an international SIM card for whatever country you are studying in or a general European SIM. You can also rent phones/SIM cards once you get there. Pre- and post-paid options available. Many schools/programs also offer deals. Look into that.
These are much prettier than the ones I have!
7. Adapters/Converters. Easy to forget about, but buy adapters (adapt the plug so that the prongs fit into the right socket) and converters (converts the energy so that it can be used on different electrical currencies) as necessary. And don't forget to PACK THEM. I won't get into adapters vs. converters or what things need what (there is already informational overload online on those topics). Also, don't forget that if you're traveling while abroad, the other countries you are visiting may need different adapters. For example, Italy and England require different adapters.
8. Don't bring...School supplies (paper, folders, binders) that are the wrong size. They use A4 in Italy and Korea (and elsewhere), so my folders/binders/paper were all too small for the GIANT PAPER. You can bring some for personal use, but some of my professors only wanted the correct size paper (aka NOT the 8.5 x 11 paper I had). If you're going to school there, there WILL be a place to buy school supplies. Bring black pens if you want, they often require things to be written in pen (again, you can buy once there).
This is the luggage scale I have, about $10 with shipping in the US
9. Buy a Travel Scale. You can buy one on Amazon for less than $10, and it comes with a battery. It's really helpful when making sure your luggage is underweight while traveling abroad, and it will be important to avoid the hefty overweight fees on your international flight back home. If you are even one pound over, international flights can charge you an extra $100 to check your bag. Just invest the $10 or whatever it may be. It's worth the peace of mind and you can use it forever.
Victoria's Secret Stretch Hip Pack $29.50
10. Safety Items. The truth is, you will be a tourist while you're abroad. You will be a target for pickpocketing. If you're a girl, take a purse that zips AND latches shut, but also one big enough to fit your phone, water bottle, camera, Chapstick, or whatever else you might need for a full day out exploring. I know people who have had their purses zipped open and robbed without them even noticing. People also had phones stolen right from their hands (they did notice that one). This was in Florence, Italy. So buy a safe purse, definitely nothing that is open at the top. I found a lot of cheap options at Forever 21 and Nordstrom BP. Also consider buying an invisible fanny pack (a super thin one that goes under clothes and is hidden) for carrying cash, card, key, passport, ID, etc. It sounds stupid but once I took a girl I just met to the hospital and we only knew her first name and she saved herself by having an invisible fanny pack with all her information in it! Even Victoria's Secret has something similar, but much cheaper and thinner clasped versions can be found online.
There are my 10 tips for those who are gearing up to go abroad! If you have anything to add, leave a comment below so others can have even more good ideas of what to pack, leave behind, and prepare!

Thanks readers!



  1. I laughed when I read number 4! I guess it's reassuring to know that others have had similar experiences. I once took a trip and looked at the temperature (which was pretty mild) and packed accordingly. But what I didn't check was the humidity, which was around 99%, and I was uncomfortable the entire trip.

  2. I am looking forward to study abroad as well. So, this is quite informative. All the best for your future endeavours!


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