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7 Essential Tips When Packing for Study Abroad

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You’re probably excited and little bit anxious about your upcoming Study Abroad experience. What will life be like in a new place? How will you fit in? What activities or lifestyle do you need to be prepared for? What’s the climate? How will it all fit into one bag? These are all great questions.

Here are 7 essential things to keep in mind when you are ready to begin packing for study abroad:

1. Suitcase, Duffle, or Backpack?

Consider the terrain. Will your destination have uneven ground, like cobble stones or dirt paths? Imagine your travel path from start to finish and do some research. Figure out if you will be hopping right into a taxi and then using a hotel elevator, or will you need to ride a donkey, ford a river, and climb a tree before you arrive at your final destination. You want to arrive feeling ready for anything, so think it through first and decide what baggage will serve you best.

2. Consider mobility.

Once you have arrived, will you need to move around a lot to different locations? Or could you get away with just a backpack for day trips once you’ve unpacked and gotten settled in? If you choose a rolling suitcase, be sure to check the condition of the wheels. There is nothing worse than having a bag you cannot maneuver. I once had to drag my suitcase across India on a train when my rolling bag lost a wheel. (FAIL.)

3. How much do you need?

Packing for a short trip can be even more challenging than packing for a long term abroad because you still need all the basics. Remember though, in most places, you will be able to buy all of the items you’ll need. When packing, consider your budget and what access you’ll have to local stores. Save room in your luggage by leaving your favorite towel at home, deciding what type(s) of shoes you really need, buying toiletries when you arrive and bringing clothing that mixes and matches easily. Note: Deodorant is non-negotiable. Pack it in your carry-on to avoid making travel enemies. After 3 planes and a 9 hour layover, you won’t even want to sit next to yourself.

4. Planning Ahead.

Fold or roll your clothes. Lay all of your items out on the floor. Take a picture. (This will help you to keep track of what you have, which can help if your luggage is lost or items are stolen. It also allows you to visualize your prized possessions in a more critical way.) Now, looking at the piles, reduce them by half. You’ll need extra space. Remember, you’re likely to bring back a few mementos, so save some room to bring back presents for friends and family. Don’t forget to bring a small gift if you’re staying with a host family or for community members you may meet in your travels (maybe some items from the UVM bookstore?!). It’s a good idea to give a gift that speaks to your culture, is easy to pack, family-oriented and gender neutral.

5. Are you sitting on your suitcase?

If you can’t zip it, button it, or keep it closed at the start of your trip, it’s only going to get more difficult for you. Overstuffing your luggage strains your zippers and can actually cause your luggage to malfunction (broken zippers, lost wheels, etc.). Make sure you have plenty of extra space or pack items that you can donate. Plan to wear your bulkiest clothing and shoes on the plane and make sure to layer. This will help you stay under the luggage allowance weight and save some room in your bags. You can always remove layers and put them in your carry-on if you need to. Now, pack your heaviest items at the bottom. Stuff clothes into shoes and plastic wrap & bag your liquids (if you can’t just buy them abroad).

6. How unwieldy is it?

Now that you’ve packed your bags, can you physically manage all of your personal items without anyone else’s help? This is important, as you want to keep your items safe and be able to adapt easily to new environments. It’s hard to run for the last train or away from a pack of wild dogs, if you are awkwardly dragging 3x your weight in luggage. Keep it simple. Do you need it? Can you access it in-country? Be critical. I spent a year abroad backpacking and a good adage to go by is, “Less possessions, less possessed”. You will be able to move around more easily, and with less stress, if you keep your luggage light.

7. Does my bag stand out?

Strike a balance here. You want to keep your safety and your items’ safety in mind. Don’t be too flashy but make sure you can identify your luggage when it looks like every other black rolling suitcase case that comes off the baggage cart. It’s a good idea to put a distinctive label (strap, tape or ribbon) on the outside of your bag so you can see it coming on the conveyor belt. It’s even better when you can remove this label so you don’t attract attention as someone who “just stepped off the plane” when you’re rolling around a new city.