What to Pack for Study Abroad

Don’t know what to pack for study abroad? This is a daunting task, to be sure. Planning out 3-4 months worth of outfits is no easy task, especially considering changing seasons and limited luggage space! But don’t worry, I’ve learned a lot about packing over the years, from two-month backpacking trips to 10-month, multi-continent expeditions. In this post, I share many of the packing tips I’ve learned over the years, particularly regarding studying abroad!

Making conscious decisions about what (and how) you pack is incredibly important for long trips such as study abroad, as airlines are becoming increasingly strict about luggage size and weight requirements. Click here for a complete list of baggage rules and restrictions, organized by airline. And don’t forget to pack your money, important documents, valuables, all prescription medication, a change of clothing, and some toiletries in your carry-on in case your checked luggage gets lost!

See that backpack in the photo above? It held everything that I needed for a two month trip across Western Europe – with room to spare!

Clothing: What to Pack for Study Abroad

For clothing, my biggest tip is to choose pieces that are wrinkle-resistant, dry quickly, and (most importantly) are comfortable. Two-piece coordinating outfits are also a great choice, as you can wear the top and bottoms together, or you can mix-and-match with other pieces to create multiple outfits.

Thinking strategically about what shoes you bring is crucial to avoiding an overweight suitcase! I usually bring four pairs of shoes when I travel: one pair of sneakers, one pair of sandals, one pair of cute and comfortable sneakers, and then another pair of sandals (if the climate is warm) or another pair of cute sneakers or boots if the weather is cooler.

My favorite shoes for traveling are definitely my Olowahu Teva sandals. I can walk for hours in these sandals, and they can easily be dressed up or down. I also bring my favorite pair of Nike sneakers for hiking, going to the gym, or more intense walking. For casual shoes, I usually bring Adidas sneakers and a dressier pair of shoes, like these suede Keds.

I usually advice packing at least one nice outfit in case you are invited to a formal event. Believe it or not, this happens to me pretty much every time I travel! This is especially important if you are staying with a host family, as they will inevitably bring you along to someone’s wedding/baby shower/ etc.

Here are some general guidelines for what to pack for study abroad, although of course they’re dependent on the person, country and climate:

  • a dozen or so tops for various climates and seasons
  • half a dozen pairs of pants/skirts
  • one or two dresses
  • 10-12 pairs of socks and underwear, so I can go over a week without doing laundry, if need be!
  • a jacket or two and a rain coat, depending on the climate
  • four pairs of shoes: running shoes, a pair or two of sandals, and a pair or two of cute sneakers

Packing cubes are a great investment, especially if you plan to do a few weekend getaways while you’re studying abroad! They can save a TON of space in your luggage; these are the reason I’m able to travel so much with just a backpack! Click here to check out my favorite packing cubes, which are a good deal and don’t wear out.

My biggest packing tip for study abroad is this: always bring less than you think you’ll need! I’ve always had enough clothing (usually too much), and anyway, you will undoubtedly want to buy a few things during your travels!

Toiletries: What to Pack for Study Abroad

My biggest advice for toiletries when packing for a long trip is to hit the travel-sized section of your local drug store. For example, my go-to items are the travel-sized toothbrushes, toothpastes, deodorants, sunscreens, shampoos and conditioners. However, you may want to bring dry shampoo and stain remover pens with you, as these products are not as widely available (and more expensive abroad). However, most other toiletries can (and should) be purchased at your destination.

One thing to keep in mind, if you’re a lady, is that tampons are not available in all countries. This has to do with the way that virginity is viewed in local cultures. Pads are often still available, although this may not work if you plan on swimming a lot! Menstrual cups are a good, space-saving alternative if you will have regular access to clean water to wash it with. I recommend testing out a few different styles and brands before you leave to make sure that it fits properly! If you’re worried about rinsing it out, you can just stock up on tampons before you leave and fill that space in your luggage with souvenirs and gifts on your return!

Health & Safety: Pack for Study Abroad

A first-aid kit is always a good idea, but no need to go overboard on this one! Bring one of a reasonable size, like this one, with items that you are relatively likely to need. Remember that your study abroad program will already have an extensive supply of first-aid equipment. And be sure that you know how to use everything in your kit before you leave!

If you take any prescription medications, it’s a good idea to bring a paper copy of your prescription. If it’s a controlled substance (such as adderall), you will want to bring a note from your doctor confirming that you really need the medication. Be sure to obtain a 3- or 4-month supply before you leave, as attempting to refill medications abroad is not recommended. Mailing medications is rarely a reliable option either, so an extended prescription is a must. Ask your doctor for a “vacation override,” which permits many insurance companies to cover the extended-length prescriptions.

Note that your favorite over-the-counter will also likely be unavailable abroad. Consider bringing small bottles of Tylenol, Motrin and anything else you might use regularly. Pepto-Bismol, Tums and anti-diarrheal medications such as Imodium are great for tummy troubles contracted from foreign foods.

If your health insurance covers international travel, you should print an international claim form to bring with you and keep scanned copies accessible on your phone or in your email. If you go to the doctor’s abroad, they will need to fill out this form during your visit. It’s also a good idea to print out photocopies of your passport, drivers license, health insurance card, and debit/credit cards. You should also keep scanned copies of these documents on your email/phone and paper copies in your various suitcases. And if your health insurance doesn’t cover foreign travel, you may want to consider getting short-term travelers insurance.

Travel Accessories: Packing for Study Abroad

Depending on where you study abroad, you will most likely need to purchase an adapter for charging your various electronic devices. Outlets and voltages vary widely between countries, so be sure to check what adapters you might need before you go by clicking here. Personally, I recommend buying a universal adapter (like this one) which works in almost every country.

Travel pillows are a terrific invention, and I never go anywhere without mine. Although neck pillows are easy to find, I much prefer the Cocoon Air Core Pillow Hyperlight. It has a normal shape but is inflatable, so it’s easy to pack and can be used as a regular pillow in a pinch. It’s the perfect size/shape for propping your head up against the window of a plane/train/bus, or for resting your head on those fold-down airplane tables. It also has a removable cover that is soft on one side and waterproof on the other. This product is definitely one of the best travel-related purchases I’ve made!

Another fun and handy accessory to bring is a travel clothesline. These have a suction cup on each end to hang up pretty much anywhere. You don’t even need clothespins – just separate the two twisted pieces of bungee and tuck a corner of your clothing in between them! Homes in many other countries do not have dryers, only washing machines, so this clothesline really comes in handy. Plus, it’s great for drying hand-wash-only clothing.

A few more things that you may want to pack for study abroad:

  • US dollars in case your debit card doesn’t work
  • Some local currency, which you can order from your bank at a lower exchange rate than withdrawing or exchanging at an airport ATM
  • A small bag or backpack for short excursions or trips

You may also want to bring a gift for your host family or roommate, if this applies to you. I find the best gifts are those that can be shared, are not size/style dependent, and can help you bond with your new family. Foods from your home city are often a great choice, especially food mixes that you can prepare together. You may also want to bring gifts such as a puzzle with a meaningful photo, some swag gear from your college or home town, a board game, a frisbee, something you made by hand, etc.

Want more tips for your travels? Check out some of my latest blog posts on finding cheap flights, health and safety abroad, dealing with harassment, the best travel apps, and accessing money abroad! And you can click here to see all of my tips and tricks for travel! Or, if you prefer, you can read about the different countries where I have studied and lived abroad, such as India, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Morocco!

Happy Travels!


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