Packing to study abroad is a daunting task. How in the world are you supposed to fit your entire life into two suitcases?! And when you arrive in a foreign country, you’ll probably be nervous, jet lagged, and surrounded by people you can’t understand—the last thing you want to happen is to realize you forgot to pack something, further stressing you out. But don’t worry; HC has you covered with a list of all of those last-minute things you might have forgotten to pack in your one to two (gulp) suitcases. So stop stressing, read our list, and get ready to have the experience of a lifetime!
1. An eye mask
Between late nights dancing at foreign clubs, annoyingly loud hostel-mates, and the serious jet lag you’ll have when you first get to your study abroad destination, sleep will probably be on your list of things you miss most from your life in the States (along with peanut butter and New Girl). Skidmore College collegiette Kate Moriarty, who studied abroad in Paris, suggests to “bring an eye mask! Honestly, nothing's better than an instant sleep aid when you're traveling from city to city or when you're still adjusting to jet lag.” For $3.99, this eye mask from Target is a cheap one to get before you leave. That eye mask will be a godsend when you’re exhausted on your Ryanair flight back to your host country after a sleepless weekend vacation—really, though, do they have to keep the lights on the whole time?!
2. Foreign money
From airport food to toiletries to additional travel expenses such as metro tickets or cab fare, you’re going to want some money to start out with when you first arrive in your study abroad destination. Since airports often have really high exchange rates, go to your bank before you leave and exchange some of your US dollars (we’d recommend at least $200) for the currency of the country you’re studying abroad in. Some foreign vendors won’t accept American credit or debit cards, so you won’t want to rely on a credit card for purchases when you first arrive!
3. Extra adapters
Unfortunately, the plug at the end of your American computer charger may not fit in the outlets of the country you’re studying in; outlet shapes and sizes vary across the globe. Before you leave, you may need to stop by your local electronics store and buy adapters so you can plug in your electronics abroad (check out this worldwide plug adapter guide to see which adapter you’ll need for your destination). We recommend bringing multiple adapters, because when you’re trying to charge your computer, your camera, and your backup drive all at once, you’ll be happy you packed more than one. “You never know how many things you're going to want to plug in at once,” says Jamie Blynn, a GWU student who studied abroad in Israel. If you’re planning on traveling to different countries while you’re abroad, you’ll want to buy a set that comes with multiple adapter sizes, such as this one from Brookstone for $30.99.
4. Over-the-counter and prescription medications
If you’re not fully fluent in the language of the country you’re studying abroad in, the last thing you want to do is try to purchase medication there! You don’t want to find yourself saying “it’s all Greek to me” when trying to decipher labels at the pharmacy (unless you’re actually studying abroad in Greece). Not to mention, some countries have more restrictions for buying what Americans would consider OTC medications. “France requires you to have a prescription in order for you to be able to purchase Tylenol and the like, so if your host country has a similar policy, you'll save yourself time and energy by bringing your own supply,” Kate says. However, check with the foreign embassy of the country where you’ll be staying before you pack that Advil or allergy medication—some medicines that are legal in the US are considered illegal narcotics in certain countries. If you’re being prescribed medication in the US, talk to your doctor before you leave so they can prescribe you a big enough supply to last you your semester or summer abroad.
5. A travel alarm clock
Between flights, train trips, and tours, you’ll want something to ensure that you’ll wake up in time for all the awesome things you’ll do abroad. American University alum Lesley Siu, who studied abroad in Scotland, suggests packing a travel alarm clock. “I normally use my cell phone, but I mostly kept it off while traveling internationally to avoid the fees. My friends were thankful I had it too—we relied on it to wake us up for early flights, tours and activities,” she says. “It's easy to carry and small enough to fit under your pillow, so you won't wake everyone up when you're staying in hostels.” When they’re as cheap as this $10 one from Walmart, that’s a small price to pay to avoid annoying your hostel-mates!
6. A deck of cards
With the tons of fabulous traveling you’re sure to be doing, you’re bound to need some entertainment for those hours spent in trains and planes. “A deck of cards comes in so much handy on the plane, train, or on the beach,” Jamie says. Not to mention, they’re inexpensive—whipping out a deck of cards on a train ride rather than an iPod or a Kindle will make you less likely to be a target of theft for those tricky pickpockets.
7. Books or magazines in English
If you’re studying abroad in a non-English-speaking country, after weeks of ordering food, writing papers, reading textbooks, and conversing with the locals in a foreign language, sometimes it’s nice to just relax by reading something that doesn’t require a bilingual dictionary at your side. Not to mention they also make for cheap travel entertainment! Just make sure you don’t load down your suitcases with too many books—they’re heavy, and that 50-lb limit for checked baggage on airlines can be reached quicker than you think (and you’ll probably be so busy abroad that you won’t make it through a ton of books, anyways!).
8. Your US cell phone (and charger)
While your American cell phone may be about as useful as a paperweight while you’re in your host country, it can be extremely helpful while traveling to and from your study abroad destination. Keep it charged and in your carryon luggage during your journeys from and to the States in case you need to contact your parents about flight delays or other important happenings while you’re still traveling stateside. Also, if you have a smartphone, it can still be useful abroad even if you can’t use it to call or text; keep your cell in airplane mode to access your apps and other functionalities that could come in handy during your travels.
9. Photocopies of important documents
Losing your passport or visa is one of the scariest things that could ever happen to you abroad—and, unfortunately, it does happen to some collegiettes. Pack copies of your passport, visa, credit cards, prescriptions, and other important documents in each of your suitcases when you travel, in case you lose the real things. “I kept a photocopy of my passport on me at all times for identification purposes and as a reference in case I ever lost my real passport, which thankfully never happened!” Kate says. “Everyone in my program carried photocopies, and since access to scanners is often limited—or nonexistent—abroad, I was glad that I'd made my copy in advance.”
10. A small umbrella
The rain in Spain may stay mainly on the plain, but even if you’re living in the Pyrenees, you’re bound to see some precipitation at some point during your study abroad experience. And there are few things more awkward than arriving to class soaking wet because you had to walk a mile sans rain gear in a downpour.
11. A pashmina
It’s no secret that Europeans love scarves, but they’re not just useful as a fashion accessory—a pashmina could come in handy in a variety of situations. “A pashmina is definitely the best thing I brought with me for traveling,” says Elizabeth Tomaselli, a collegiette from Eckerd College who studied abroad in Italy. “I used it as a pillow on the planes and buses and trains, a blanket when it was chilly, a head scarf in the rain, a shawl when I went to the ballet, and even a scarf. It was perfect!” And if you wear one on the plane with you on the way to your destination, not only will you be super comfortable and stylish, you’ll also save room in your suitcase. Sounds like a win-win to us!
12. A gift for your host family (if you’re staying with one)
Bringing a gift for your host family is customary for study abroad students. After all, your host family will be helping you adjust to the culture, housing you, feeding you, and sometimes helping you with chores such as laundry, so it’s always nice to show your appreciation by arriving with a gift. Bringing something specific to your state or hometown, such as a coffee table book about your state or city, a keychain with your college’s logo, or chocolate that is only found in the US, will make a great impression on your hosts. Just be sure to e-mail your host in advance if you choose to bring a food item to make sure that they’re not allergic.
13. Space in your suitcase
Okay, so this isn’t really an item per se, but trust us—you’ll want room in your suitcase for all the things you’ll buy when you’re abroad! Pack only the items you’ll absolutely need, because those overweight luggage fees can be a killer—often several hundred dollars—and shipping your stuff back to the States is even worse. “When I lived in London, I found that I brought too many things, clothes in particular,” says Sean McFarland, a University of Pittsburgh alum and one of HC’s former Real Live College Guys. “I honestly wish I brought about a week's worth of clothes because while there, I bought a ton of clothes anyways. When I came home, I had to ship it all, which wasn't cheap.” Nahja Martin, a collegiette from the University of Pittsburgh, also wished she had packed less for her study abroad experience in London. “The worst feeling is having to put back that adorable blazer for only 10 euros because it won't fit in your suitcase!” she says. A great way to ensure that you’ll have enough space for all the things you’ll bring back is to pack your clothes in a suitcase inside another suitcase, Russian doll-style. That way, you’ll have a whole suitcase available for new clothes and souvenirs to bring back home.
Packing to go abroad can seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be. With these items packed in your suitcases, now all you have to worry about is which of the cute dresses you brought will be best for relaxing at a café with that cute foreign guy you’re bound to meet. Ooh la la!