Packing can be one of the most stressful times in preparing for your trip. Having a quick and simple guide for packing will help you prepare, and make your time in-country an easier experience. Here are some quick and easy insider tips to think of while packing for your time abroad.
Bring what you use on a daily basis. You know better than anyone else what you use everyday, but what if these items aren't available to you when you go abroad? Important items such as birth control, feminine hygiene products, and black hair products are not found everywhere around the world. Many simple everyday items we use at home can be found abroad, but for those that don’t, it’s best to find out beforehand! Before leaving, research if important items like these are available in your destination country.
What else should I bring? Water is something that we may take for granted, but depending on where you go bottled or filtered water may be limited, especially on excursions. Bringing a filtered water bottle can easily solve this issue. While filtered water bottles can range from $50-$150, this can make a big difference in your water intake and help save you from experiencing dehydration and testing water supplies that may be an issue for a sensitive, foreign immune-system. I brought my filtered water bottle with me to four countries so far, and it has always come in handy!
Another life-saver abroad was my peppermint soap. Many products abroad have known or hidden chemicals intended to lighten your skin tone. If you are unable to read the label, and you are in a country where people often use lightening chemicals, there is a good chance it is also in the soap you buy from the store. On two separate trips abroad, it was impossible for me to find skin care products without chemicals used to take away my melanin. I was in-country for about four months before realizing these products were damaging… good thing I brought my soap! When traveling to a country with a hot climate, this soap is great way to cool down and give yourself a refreshing break from the heat.
You can’t go wrong with a gift for your host family or new friends. You may not have met your host family before, but bringing a gift is a good way to start a conversation and get to know each other. In some cultures, it may even be customary to bring gifts when you come from abroad. A gift you bring can be something from your hometown or the area you live in. For example, if you live down the shore, salt water taffy is a great gift that represents a little bit about where you come from. This gift is also something can be enjoyed by the whole family. You may not know the family dynamics before the day you arrive in-country. Post-cards from your area will also be a cool way for your host-family to see where you’re from. Your host-family is most likely just as you are curious and interested about your culture, as you are theirs!
Other gift tips include bringing something your family will enjoy that may not be common in the host-country. For example, if tea is a large part of the culture think about bringing a variety of interesting loose teas that they may not have tried before. If you are interested in spending a bit more money, putting a spin on something used regularly in the culture, like gifting a small set of stainless steel tea cups versus the traditional, will be a unique way to connect with your host.
Pack what you need, but do not overpack! As a chronic over-packer, I understand the temptation to bring everything you have at home to make yourself comfortable in new country. Overpacking can not only cost you time, money, and an embarrassing airport situation, but it can cost you memories! What you have at home, you will eventually return to after your trip, but the unique and priceless paraphernalia that you find abroad may never make its way back into your life. Overpacking your bags means less room for you to bring back your new favorites from abroad. Minimalism, a growing fad aimed toward simplistic living, has recently gained popularity, particularly in Japan. The Zen Buddhist concept centers around the idea that paring back on possessions lends more time to focusing on being truly present in your life. Neurological behavioral studies have also pointed to the fact that an increasing number of options, such as clothing choices, can have an adverse effect leaving you with regret over an imperfect decision and missed opportunities.
Choosing outfits that can be mixed and matched can leave room in your suitcase. Before traveling, it was suggested to me to bring 4 tops, 4 bottoms, one pair of sandals (if you’re going somewhere with a hot climate), one pair of sneakers (for excursions and work outs), and one pair of nice shoes (for when you go out). “What?”, was my original response. “There’s no way this will be all I need for a two month trip.” By following this advice, I ended up with more outfit choices than I needed. Having clothing choices that can be worn with multiple tops or bottoms, will not only save you time getting ready in the morning, but will leave you with close to 20 outfit choices! It’s even better if these options are versatile, and can have the flexibility to be dressed up or dressed down. Just take some cultural considerations for what might be considered appropriate dress in that country.
Bring a couple of options for various occasions! When going to study abroad, it’s easy to anticipate your time going to school and coming back, but what about everything in between? Bringing an additional outfit for the gym outfit, a semi-formal outfit, and two nicer outfits that can be mixed and matched, will cover your needs to attend versatile functions. Who knows, you may be invited to a wedding!