I remember from when I was preparing to study abroad in Paris that packing was a daunting task—it’s hard to imagine what all you’ll want or need in the next four months. So, here I’m going to share some of my packing experiences and tips with you, and I interviewed a few returned study abroad students for their best tips as well!
The returned study abroad students whose responses I think you’ll find incredibly helpful are:
Rachel: Oviedo, Spain
Hannah: Rome, Italy
Tom: Taipei, Taiwan
Allie: Oviedo, Spain
Emma: Rome, Italy
Evan: Buenos Aires, Argentina
What were you most thankful you had?
Jenna: My umbrella was a lifesaver! I brought a little packable one that fit in my tote bag or the side pocket of my backpack, so it was easy to carry around with me. Whether you’re in your host city or traveling elsewhere, you don’t want to miss out on exploring because of the weather!
Rachel: I received a pair of Blundstone Chelsea boots for Christmas right before leaving to go to Spain. Those were awesome because it’s pretty rainy in Spain, and they were versatile enough to wear to class, fancy restaurants, and bars/clubs. I also wore my tennis shoes almost every day to go on walks or hikes!
Hannah: I brought some funky, wide legged pants that I wore a lot! Also, during the fall the weather stays warm for such a long time in Rome (seriously it was like 70 in November), so I ended up wearing a lot of sundresses and jumpsuits during the fall semester. During the first few weeks, it was absolutely scorching hot, so I wore dresses to just try to stay cool. I also wore sneakers all the time because I walked everywhere.
Tom: In Taiwan it’s super hot and rainy, and I had this pair of rubber Birkenstocks that I literally wore the soles out of. Don’t underestimate climate charts, rainy subtropical means rainy subtropical.
Allie: I had a pair of Adidas sneakers that I bought right before I left. I wore them all the time. They were good for walking and they also went with pretty much everything, so I could wear them out as well.
Emma: A good pair of rain boots and rain jacket. I invested in some pretty pricey boots but it was worth it. It rains the first few weeks in January so I wore them constantly.
Evan: In addition to my schoolbag, I brought a smaller backpack that I could take with me whenever I went adventuring throughout the city and beyond. It was perfect for hikes and day trips. It was water-resistant so my belongings were never damaged even when I got stuck in freak rainstorms.
What did you forget to bring abroad that you wished you had?
Jenna: A warm sweater. I tried to avoid packing anything bulky, but I underestimated how cold it would get in Paris and in some of the places I visited. I also didn’t think about how my lifestyle might be different abroad: I was outside and walking around a lot more in the cold than I normally am at home, so I didn’t have enough layers for some of those colder days.
Rachel: I did not bring an extra phone charger. This was a huge issue when my iphone 6 decided that it would charge only with my cord and no one else’s, and then I had to run to three different stores to find one that would work for it after my first one broke.
Hannah: I definitely should have brought some sort of boot/rain shoe. For some reason I thought being abroad would mean there wouldn’t be any bad weather, but there was. I only brought a pair of heeled boots, so my Docs or some sort of chelsea boot would’ve been helpful.
Tom: I didn’t think that 50 degrees (the coldest it got in Taiwan all year) would feel cold, but your body adjusts to a new normal and once you’re used to 80s all the time, 50 is freezing. I bought two sweaters while abroad and wore them constantly.
Allie: It rained a ton in Oviedo, and even though I knew this beforehand, I still didn’t bring a good shoe to wear in the rain. The only pair of boots I had were heeled boots that weren’t at all helpful in the rain. I also didn’t bring an umbrella, but that wasn’t too hard to find once I got there.
Emma: I forgot to bring a school bag. My two carry ons were a hiking backpack and a duffle bag. The few weeks I was there I had to carry everything in a hiking backpack to and from school, not ideal.
What did you bring abroad that you never used/wore?
Jenna: I brought a bunch of leggings and other activewear. I like to workout and wear activewear all the time at home, so I thought I’d need them, but I didn’t have a gym in Paris and there was so much else going on that I didn’t workout much. Activewear isn’t worn casually in Paris like it is in the US either, so I really never wore any of it.
Rachel: I brought a lot of books that I had hopes of reading, but I didn’t need more than 2 for flights. I bought more once I got there anyways.
Hannah: Skinny jeans! No one in Rome wore them, so they stayed in my suitcase most of the time. Instead, a lot of people wore wide-legged jeans or boyfriend jeans, etc. Also, Italians don’t wear shorts or short dresses even during the summer, so I barely wore some of the mini dresses that I brought.
Tom: I was about to say “I never wore this suit and dress shoes” but then I remember when last minute I was a plus one at a friend’s wedding, so, you never know!
Allie: Honestly, I brought a lot of clothes that I just never wore (jeans, dresses, etc.) because I ended up wanting to shop a lot while I was there. The fashion in Spain was obviously different than in the U.S., and I ended up buying a lot of clothes at local stores. At the end of the program, I donated a ton of clothes that I brought from home and hadn’t worn in five months, because my suitcase couldn’t possibly fit those plus all the new clothes that I bought. Also, I brought a hair straightener that I couldn’t use with my converter and had to buy one there.
Emma: Shorts. Everyone in Rome wore pants no matter what the weather was like.
Evan: I brought too many pairs of shoes! I only wore about three pairs: sneakers for more active days, sturdy canvas shoes for walking, and a nicer pair for when I wanted to dress up. The others all added a lot of weight to my bags and they sat in my closet for four months.
What is the best tip that you have for packing for study abroad?
Jenna: I recommend bringing toiletries like toothpaste and shampoo with you. You might think that because you can get them once you arrive you should save the space, but I found bringing them to be a lifesaver because 1) I had them right away and didn’t have to go out after a long flight to find them and 2) the space they took up in my suitcase on my way to Paris was filled with souvenirs and gifts on my way back!
Rachel: Research the expected weather for the whole time that you will be abroad and plan accordingly! Also, you will definitely want to buy clothes once you get there so that you can fit in more with the locals—so save money and pack light! You don’t want to end up paying hundreds of dollars in overweight bag fees like I did.
Hannah: Pack as light as possible! Also, try to bring your toiletries with you, so you don’t have to buy them there. That way, when you use up all your shampoo, conditioner, etc. and you buy new clothes throughout the semester, you’ll have extra room to bring home the clothes that you bought in your host country.
Tom: Typically, on your return flight, airlines don’t weigh your carry on. I shoved half of my wardrobe and my entire bookshelf into a Nike duffle bag and pretended it wasn’t 70 lbs.
Allie: Don’t bring large containers of items that you can buy when you arrive (shampoo, soap, large containers of lotion, etc). It’ll just add way too much weight to your luggage. For toiletries, only bring what you definitely know you won’t be able to get while you’re there. Like, if you use a specific shampoo/conditioner you don’t think they have in your host country. Or, if you want to bring stuff from home, bring smaller amounts/travel size containers. Also, roll up your clothes when packing your suitcase. It’ll give you more room. And put your heavier items (shoes, jackets) in your carry-on(s).
Emma: Always pack a change or two of outfits in a carry on. They lost my luggage on a weekend trip to London and I didn’t get it back until I returned to the airport two days later. Luckily I had put a few pairs of clothes in my carry on just in case.
Evan: Pack as lightly as possible. Don’t forget the essentials, but try to leave behind the items you’re on the fence about. You’ll have more room to fit all the gifts and clothing you buy while you’re there.
Conclusion and Takeaways
One last thing I want to mention is how much to pack because this is another question I get a lot. I personally packed a checked suitcase, a carry on, and a backpack. This seems to be average, but I do know people who packed less. Remember when you’re packing that you can get most items you forgot once you’re abroad, so try not to worry too much!
Some of this advice is conflicting, but that is because there is no one right way to pack to study abroad. Remember to take others’ advice for what it is, based on their experiences. Only you know yourself, and only you know where you’re going and what your needs will be. However, there are a couple things everyone seems to agree on: bring a good pair of shoes (preferably waterproof) and research the weather before you go. Good luck and happy travels!