A lot of preparation goes into studying abroad. For me, one of the biggest issues was planning what I was going to pack. I spent the entire month of winter break before I left laying clothes out in my room, switching shirts, making sure patterns matched, and looking at as many blog posts I could find. I also started a packing list weeks before I left. Now at the beginning of my study abroad journal, I have a list to remember the planning I put into my trip.
When traveling for six months, there are a lot of factors to consider, and you want to be as prepared as possible. While it is always possible to buy clothes when needed, it was nice to know all the money I had saved up could go towards visiting another city, taking a tour of a castle, or indulging in all the gelato and Swiss chocolate my heart desired. Which was quite a lot. So here are the top factors you need to keep in consideration when packing.
Weather: A six month trip means weather of all kind. In Vigo, where I studied, winters are miserably rainy and cold, while the summer is the perfect beach weather. Visiting my friend in Switzerland meant I found some snow, while traveling in Morocco and Southern Spain brought the heat. With no set itinerary for the majority of my travels, and endless possibilities due to cheap airlines and train passes, I had to be prepared for all types of weather.
Culture: One of the most important aspects of traveling is to respect the people in the countries that you’re visiting and to respect their culture. In Morocco, I had to wear clothes that covered the majority of my body, while a lot of cathedrals in Europe expected us to be covered if we wanted to enter. That meant having a sweater or scarf ready to quickly throw over my shoulders, even in the hot summer heat.
Versatility: Not only did my clothes have to be adaptable to the weather and culture, but they had to be versatile enough for countless different activities. My clothes had to be appropriate for university, fancy enough to go out for an evening, allow me to hike up a mountain, tour the Palace of Versailles, and be comfy enough to lounge around my apartment. I made sure all my clothes could serve more than one purpose; for instance, I could workout, go hiking and sleep in the same clothes. (I promise, I always washed them after working out). I also made sure each top and bottom could be paired with multiple other pieces of clothing, that way I could stretch my closet as far as possible. This is easier when you use a lot of neutral colored, solid clothing, with a few standout pieces with classic designs.
Space/Weight Limit: Of course your luggage and the airlines also put a limit on you, unless you want to pay over-priced fees. Weigh your luggage at home before leaving for the airport. I bought a hand scale from amazon before leaving and brought it with me. It’s small and compact, and now I never have to worry about over-packing.
Transportation: Other countries don’t rely on cars the way that the United States does. This means, upon arrival, you might have to hop on a train, grab the metro, catch a bus, or walk. It’s vital that you’re able to easily take care of all your own luggage. My roommate had an immense amount of luggage, which required my help to move once we arrived at our apartment. Make sure you can lift your luggage above your head in case you need to put it on a train rack, you can walk and run with it easily, and you don’t require anyone else’s assistance, because you might not always have someone. The best advice is to try to limit the amount of luggage you need, and the size of your luggage.
This brings me to the luggage that I used on my trip. I was determined to limit the amount of luggage I needed. Previously on international trips, all which had just been a week long, whether to Mexico, Spain or China, I had relied on a normal sized suitcase as my checked luggage. But I knew I didn’t want that as an option this time. I had three pieces of luggage when I left: my checked suitcase, my carry-on, and my personal item.
Checked Luggage: I ended up using a carry-on sized suitcase for my checked luggage. I didn’t tell anyone this goal, because I knew I would be teased endlessly if I wasn’t able to do it. My parents were immensely surprised when I walked out of my room, ready to head to the airport with a small sized suitcase. But size doesn’t necessarily mean anything. When weighing in my bag at the airport, it weighed over 48 lbs! I had made it weigh just as much as a normal suitcase is allowed to weigh for flights, and I ended up shocking my parents for a second time.
Carry-on and Personal Item: For Christmas, (just a few week before I left), I received the Osprey Farpoint 55 in black. This bag fit perfectly into the overhead bins, and on one occasion, even fit under the seat on a plane. The bag has an attachable smaller day bag, which I used as my personal item. I never walked around with the day bag attached to the main bag. Normally I just carried it over one shoulder, or in front of my body. The main body opens completely, so it is easy to pack and unpack, or find objects without the need to entirely unpack. No more digging around in the bottom of your bag!
Sometimes I felt like my bags were too bulky, or annoying to carry. Compared to many of my friends though, I actually had a pretty easy time. The Osprey bag came with weight-bearing straps that displaced most of the weight of my bag onto the frame, and not on me. This is not a bag with an outside frame, so it wouldn’t be very useful for hardcore hiking or outdoors backpacking. But for traveling, it was perfect.
My Packing List:
- 2 pairs of jeans: 1 blue, 1 black
- 4 skirts: 1 striped, 1 red midi-length, 1 chambray, 1 black
- 7 dresses: varying in style, fabric and color
- 12 shirts: 3 v-necks, 3 long sleeved, 1 chambray button up, 1 athletic, 2 collared tank tops, 1 soccer/football jersey, 1 light-weight dressy shirt
- 3 pairs of shorts: 1 blue jeans, 1 polka-dot, 1 athletic
- 2 coats: 1 raincoat, 1 light trench coat
- 3 scarves: 1 heavy knit, 1 colorful, 1 lightweight
- 2 camis: 1 white, 1 black
- 3 pairs of tights: 1 black, 1 floral black, 1 maroon
- 2 pullover sweaters: 1 black, 1 white
- 2 cardigans: 1 black, 1 grey
- 1 pair of leggings
- 8 pairs of shoes: 1 pair of flip flop (for hostel showers), 2 pairs of sandals, 1 pair of oxfords, 1 pair of ballet flats, 1 pair of slip on shoes, 1 pair of tennis shoes, 1 pair of boots
- 3 swimsuit pieces: 1 bottom, 2 tops: bikini and tankini
- 1 ear warmer
- 2 pairs of gloves
- 1 umbrella
- 1 blanket
- 2 towels: hand and bath
- socks: ankle to knee lengths
- undergarments *determine on your own
A few of the items pictured above are not the pieces I actually brought along on the trip, as I took these pictures after my return. I had brown boots, red canvas sneakers, a striped long-sleeve shirt, three different v-necks, and a lighter pair of bluejeans. Throughout my trip, I threw some items away as they became worn out and didn’t fit anymore, including the items of clothing I just listed. Leaving Spain, I also left my blanket and towel behind in my apartment for the next students living there to use. This freed up space in my bags for other items; like the dress and desert pants from Morocco, sweatshirt of my university in Spain and new shirts I got in Barcelona. I also bought a towel while in Scotland, and as it was smaller than the one I originally brought with me, this was the one I traveled with near the end of my trips. I spent about the last 7-8 weeks of my trip just traveling from one spot to another. During this time, my checked luggage was at a friend’s place in Switzerland, so I just had the clothes that could fit in my backpack with me.
My bags also held my computer, two cameras: point and shoot Canon and DSLR Rebel T3 Canon, phone, all the chargers I would need, toiletries, items from my purse, medication, jewelry, a journal, two travel books, the first Harry Potter book in Spanish, a Spanish phrase book, a notebook, and a lot of snacks (including a jar of Skippy creamy peanut butter). It was really easy to find items such as shampoo and toothpaste once I was there, so you can just bring travel-sized items for when you first arrive. But, if you rely on specific makeup, or a special product, I would advise bringing enough of it for your time there. There is not as much variety in stores in Europe, so expect to compromise on certain things.
I realize this list is quite extensive. If I had headed over to Europe for the same amount of time but was just backpacking, I would have limited my luggage even more. But, having an apartment in Vigo to act as a base, I had a bit more freedom to bring more options. This was especially nice because I did go to university. So if you are planning on going abroad just for travel, no matter the amount of time, limit your wardrobe even further. You don’t want the hassel of having so much luggage!