You’re about to embark on an amazing experience abroad. You’ll be away from the comforts of home, so of course you want to prepare yourself as best possible. You don’t want to forget a thing, right?
So you pack everything – and I mean everything - you may need for a four-month journey. You feel your back groan under the sag of your backpack and you’ve nearly dislocated a shoulder trying to schlep your suitcase up to the check-in counter, but it’s worth it to be fully prepared.
Your stomach drops when the baggage scale reads well over fifty pounds – and now you’re going to have to pay a hefty fine just to get your belongings on the aircraft. Yikes.
This tragic soul does not have to be you. But over-packing is an issue that a lot of us have to deal with, especially on your first trip abroad. But if your luggage is already overweight en route to your destination, imagine how bad it will be when you’re loaded down with souvenirs on the way back!
To ensure that doesn’t happen, here are some tips from someone who’s been there:
Step 1: Make a list – and stick to it!
A lot of people start on the over-packing path because they’re worried they’ll forget something. Their solution is to bring everything, just in case. Stop right there.
I am a firm believer in lists, so that is always my first step. First, check with your study abroad office or program provider and see if they have a list of essentials for study abroad packing. If not, use your “Google-fu”, there are plenty online. Also, see if you can talk to someone who has recently studied abroad in your country of choice or a similar one. Ask them what was extremely important to have and what they could have left at home (my tip: bring baby wipes and postcards from home, they’ll come in handy more than you think!).
If you know some of your classmates on your study abroad trip, coordinate with them as well. There’s no reason why three different students should each be packing a bulky hairdryer. Divvying up these items can make all of your suitcases lighter.
Finally, make sure you have everything on the list that you need. In doing so, you will have peace of mind by knowing you are fully packed for your study abroad endeavor. Talk about taking a load off.
Step 2: Remember the Golden Rule of Clothing Packing
Think long and hard about what you do and do not need and pack accordingly.
This rule applies the most to clothing – especially if you’re someone who is concerned with being well dressed. I’m on your side, so there will be no judgment from me on this issue, but ground rules have to be set.
This is why there’s a rule to packing for travel, which is this: Set aside all of the clothing you think that you need for your trip. And then put half of it back.
The thought sounds outrageous. A few tears may form. But keep in mind that you don’t need enough clothing to have an outfit a day. No matter where you go, there will be a way to wash your clothes (even if it’s in the sink like I did, during a stopover in Europe!). And if the thought of parting with a beloved item gives you the shivers, look on the bright side – that’s more space in your bag for souvenirs!
By the way, the half rule does not apply to underwear or socks. Pack those in excess. You never know. Heels on the other hand? Just bring one pair.
Step 3: Be firm. Be harsh. Be efficient.
In order to fit all of your things in a carry-on (whether you actually carry it on the flight or not), you need to pack efficiently and intelligently.
So what stays and what goes?
1. Start with the essentials – These are things like your comfortable shoes, the one semi-dressy outfit and a worn-in pair of jeans. Note, this does not necessarily mean the most expensive and beloved items of clothing in your closet.
2. Do your research – Make sure you know what is and is not considered appropriate attire in the country you will be visiting. This is incredibly important and in some places (an example being certain religious sites, like the Sistine Chapel) you may even be turned away if you are dressed improperly.
3. Be versatile - Focus on pieces that can be worn in a myriad of ways in a variety of outfits, rather than packing several individual ‘looks’. One way to do it is to pack within the same color story, so everything coordinates. If you can find some pieces that can transition from casual to dressy (like a nice blouse), even better. Shun repeats.
4. Go all natural - Stick to cotton and other natural fabrics, as they’re both warm and breathable (meaning, you’ll be both toasty and freshly scented during a several-hour plane ride). Don’t bring too many items that you’ll have to iron; it may be a major hassle. Avoid dry-clean only items at all costs.
5. Accessorize – Items such as scarves, belts, earrings and necklaces (if you wear them) don’t take up a ton of space and can make you feel a little better about clothing repetition.
Chances are you’ll be purchasing souvenirs abroad, which includes clothing. For me, this was especially true on my trip to Karagwe, Tanzania, where it was extremely common to have your clothes handmade by a seamstress.
You can also keep in mind that other things that are bulky but common, such as feminine products, may be purchased abroad to save you space.
Step 4: Final Preparations
At this point, you’re fully packed, or close to it. Before you head to the airport, do a dry run.
First, weigh your suitcase. Most airlines charge for bags that exceed fifty pounds (and no, packing a second suitcase is not the solution—we’re better than that), so make sure you’re within the limit. If you’re having trouble, weigh yourself, and then weigh yourself again holding the bag. It’s better to know ahead of time if you’re overweight, rather than learn it at the airport.
Then, roll your suitcase up and down your street. Bring your carry-on, if you have one. You may look weird, but if it is a terrible burden to get your suitcase down the sidewalk, it will also be a terrible burden carting it around a busy airport. This is especially true if you will be in an area with plenty of cobblestones, stairwells or unpaved roadways, which make heavy roller bags even more cumbersome.
Step 5: Victory!
With these tips, hopefully your packing is more streamlined and efficient – with plenty of room for the souvenirs you’ll be buying in country. Try not to gloat too much when your classmates gawk at how small and light your suitcase is.So what stays and what goes?
Start with the essentials – These are things like your comfortable shoes, the one semi-dressy outfit and a worn-in pair of jeans. Note, this does not necessarily mean the most expensive and beloved items of clothing in your closet.
Do your research – Make sure you know what is and is not considered appropriate attire in the country you will be visiting. This is incredibly important and in some places (an example being certain religious sites, like the Sistine Chapel) you may even be turned away if you are dressed improperly.
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