What to Pack for Study Abroad

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What to Pack for Study Abroad


Though seemingly daunting, packing for your study abroad trip is easier than you might think. With this guide, we’ll be outlining the essentials you’ll need to bring.

It should serve as a great jumping-off point, no matter where your study abroad adventures take you!

What to Pack for Study Abroad: The Essentials

These are the things you definitely don’t want to forget. In fact, everything on your essentials list should be packed in a carry-on bag rather than a checked bag, just in case, there’s a luggage thief on the loose.

Your essentials should include:

1. Passport & Requisite Visa (Plus Photocopies)

Be sure to store the photocopies in a separate place from the originals: these will make replacing both passport and visa at the American consulate a whole lot easier if ever the originals should be lost or stolen.

2. Prescription Medications (and the prescription!)

If you're taking any prescription medications, it's a good idea to get enough to ensure you're covered the whole time you're away. Foreign pharmacists likely will not honor an American prescription, but it’s better to have a copy of it so that you can show it to a local doctor in case you need more.

3. Local Currency

These days, the best way to gain access to foreign funds tends to be to use a U.S. credit or debit card, but you may want to travel with a little bit of foreign currency or traveler's checks, just in case.

4. Travel-Size Essential Toiletries

Depending on your regimen at home, you may find that more toiletries are classed as "essential" than others. We’d classify must-have essentials as deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, and they should definitely be in your carry-on bag.

What counts as "essential" will also depend on the region where you're traveling: some, more urban locales will grant you easy access to a pharmacy or para-pharmacy, where you can get shampoo, deodorant, and moisturizer. Other regions require a trip just to get to the supermarket. Be sure to ask your study abroad coordinator what this will look like in your case so that you can bring more essential toiletries if needed.

We also recommend packing enough shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc. for your first 2-4 weeks there. While you don't want to waste space on things you can buy later, you also don't want to land in your host country and immediately have to worry about how you’ll brush your teeth either! Pack enough of what you'll need while settling in and, once you run low, we're sure you'll have a good understanding of your host country’s supermarket situation.

However, our one exception to the “bring only travel-size toiletries rule” are specialty items such as insect repellent, sunscreen, and contact lens solution. If you need them, pack them, as these things tend to be outrageously expensive in other countries and it’s worth carrying them with you, rather than paying up to three times as much to buy a tiny bottle once you’re there.

5. Power Adapters & Converters

Whether it's for your phone, your computer, or your e-reader, you'll likely want to bring a few chargers on your journey, and for that, you'll need a converter and possibly an adapter. Not all countries use the same electricity voltage, which means that merely changing the shape of the plug might not be enough to make your charger work – and could even be dangerous and short out the device. Be sure to verify which plugs and voltage are used in the country you're traveling to so that you have the right adapters for all your devices.

Of course, there are a few variables to keep in mind that might make this list slightly different for you. Not all regions will have easy access to shops and supermarkets, so depending on where you're studying, you may need to bring more toiletries with you.

6. Face Masks & Hand Sanitizer

Safety first! With the quick spread of COVID-19, it’s best to keep face masks and hand sanitizer with you at all times, to help protect yourself from germs and the chances of getting sick.

What to Pack for Study Abroad: Clothes

When packing clothes for study abroad, you’ll want to adhere to these five essential rules, plus plan accordingly to the weather and region you’re traveling to.

First, light layers are key. Consider bringing an assortment of long- and short-sleeved tops, sweaters, and lighter jackets that you can mix and match depending on the weather, and unless you're studying abroad in the Russian tundra, leave your puffy coat at home.

Second, remember that solid colors make less of a statement than patterns, which can easily reveal themselves as repeat items. Pack an assortment of simpler clothing, and you’ll be able to wear it more often without drawing attention to your reduced wardrobe.

Third, bear in mind the local culture. This will vary greatly depending on where you’re studying, but standards of modesty and the acceptability of casual wear will vary depending on where you go. Athleisure such as leggings as pants, sweatpants, and running shoes are generally frowned upon outside of the U.S.

Fourth, consider your access to laundry, especially when packing underwear and socks. It’s always a good idea to pack more underwear than you think you’ll need, but if you have access to a washer/dryer in your dorm or hostel, that will make a big difference regarding how space in your suitcase these essential items take up. If access to laundry is difficult, consider packing some travel-size detergent packets so that you can wash underwear and socks between loads.

Fifth, remember that shoes take up space. You’ll need three essential pairs: flip-flops for the shower, one comfortable pair of walking shoes (that aren’t running shoes), and one nicer pair to wear when going out or eating dinner. Try to fight the urge to pack any more pairs than that.

We recommend packing a versatile pair of shoes that can go from class to dinner and that can take a beating (so, no, definitely not a cheap pair of H&M flats!). You’ll be surprised how quickly shoes can wear through when you’re wearing them every day. If you’re somewhere cooler, especially a big city, a pair of sturdy boots or lace-up shoes can be your best friend. And no, sneakers are not appropriate for daily use -- you’re not on campus anymore!

Don’t forget to do a little research on what people normally wear in your study abroad city -- you don’t want to be the only person in the city wearing flip-flops, or the fool caught without a raincoat during the rainy season.

What to Pack for Study Abroad: Miscellaneous

Aside from clothes and toiletries, here’s a few more items you may want to consider bringing with you:

  • A small padlock, for hostel lockers
  • A small backpack or day pack, for day-long excursions
  • Feminine products and contraceptives
  • Camera, charger, and SD card
  • E-reader, like a Kindle or Nook
  • Non-electronic activities, like a book, a deck of cards, or a few crossword/sudoku puzzles, for times when you don't have access to electricity
  • Journal to take notes or document your trip
  • Basic school supplies (notebook, pens, highlighter)

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