A TRUE Packing List for Studying Abroad

If you’re going abroad I’m sure you’ve searched and scanned over a million packing lists already, but how do you know what you really need? With limited space and weight limits, packing is one of the hardest parts of prepping for abroad. Here is a list of things that most lists don’t mention that I used EVERY SINGLE DAY during my study abroad. 

  1. Download and pay for Spotify. Pandora doesn’t work abroad and with Spotify you can download songs and playlists and then go offline. This is super nice when you’re traveling on trains and planes because it works on airplane mode! No data or wifi needed.
  2. A digital camera- don’t rely on your iphone to take pictures abroad. Sure it’s great and I still used my phone a ton but having a camera no matter what kind or size will help you capture your memories so much better.  **Pro tip- If you’re taking a larger nice name brand (Cannon, Nikon, etc.) tape over the logos with black electric tape to reduce the chances of someone trying to steal your camera- the electric tape stays in place without ruining your camera with stick residue so you can peel it off later when you get home.
  3. Download an offline translator or dictionary if you’re going anywhere where they speak a different language. I used the translator download to my PC and loved it! It was great for taking notes in class when wifi wasn’t available. I’m sure there are tons of apps for phones as well!
  4. Google Maps app… no not the one that’s already on your phone, GOOGLE MAPS specifically lets you download specific areas so that you can use them offline with no data. I used these for every city I visited just to be extra safe!
  5. A USB flash drive. As crazy as it may seem to us Americans, not all university lecture halls abroad have wifi. So if you want to be extra safe to save your notes and papers take a USB and save everything to that. It can also be helpful for class transfers once you return home. That being said SAVE EVERYTHING YOU DO ABROAD AND BRING IT HOME. DU tries their best but transferring classes back can be a nightmare- trust me- so be ready to have proof of all the course work you did.
  6. Netflix. Even if you borrow a friends for a few months while you’re abroad, it’s nice to have a little cure to homesickness with a few days off on a Netflix binge. You may think you’ll be too busy for TV, but you’ll want some downtime like you’re used to and if you’re in a country that speaks another language, a quick flashback to English is a good mental break.
  7. 2-4 outlet converters. You don’t necessarily need the big wattage/voltage converters, you just need the outlet converters that come in convenient small cubes. 2-4 may seem like too many, but trust me it’s not. It’s worth the $20 investment to have what you need. I even took a power strip to connect to a converter and I was so glad I did. I could charge my camera, phone, laptop, and still have a plug free!
  8. 2-4 padlocks. The kind without keys are best that way you don’t have to worry about losing keys. But locking suitcases and belongings up in hostels is super important and it’s nice to have more than one on hand. I had 4 locks in 3 different kinds and I used them all, all of the time.
  9. Invest in a good pair of semi-fashion sneakers. These could be converse or nike sneakers, but you’ll end up running more than you’d like to admit. I made countless close calls running through airports and train stations. HOWEVER, don’t freak out; this is more of a cultural thing over there and it’s not the end of the world if you miss a connection, the transportation is much more frequent (in Europe at least) and so you’ll be able to catch a later one. Just always be ready to run when traveling, not only to make connections but also for emergency reasons; you never know what could happen so being ready is best. Sandals are hard to function in so my advice would be to leave them at home or only wear them strategic places.
  10. Invest in a good passport cover that is easy to get your passport in and out of. I used mine so much, it really helped keep my passport protected and easier to find in my bag. There are some really cute ones too!
  11. Grapefruit seed oil (check it out here to purchase). This may seem totally crazy but this stuff is great at combatting tummy problems caused by eating local foods. You mix a few drops in with your water and it helps to kill bacteria in your stomach that may cause you to get sick due to eating local foods your system may not be accustomed to. I’ve used it in third world countries where you can’t drink the water, and it worked great! *disclaimer to still be wise about where your food is coming from; this isn’t a miracle product but it does help significantly.
  12. And finally, about $50 in local currency. Before you leave determine the currency of your location or even your layovers and then order that currency from your bank. If you wait until you land in-country you can get hit with bad rates or high fees in the airports and train stations and you’ll be forced to exchange anyway so that you can get to where you’re going buying subway or bus tickets. Once you’re settled, you can find a local bank to do more exchanging at an honest rate.

So you may think all of those things are obvious, but let me tack on a few of the things that you SHOULDN’T take abroad.

  1. ½ the clothes you think you need. Suitcase room is so limited and you’ll end up buying stuff wherever you go, so leave some wiggle room in your bag to come home.
  2. Books to read “for fun”. You may think you want to pack a book or two to read while you’re traveling, but let’s be honest, you’ll never get around to reading them and they’ll only take up room in your bag. If you get there and really want a book, check out your university library or a local library or flee market. They’ll be much better and cheaper and you can leave them in country when you are ready to come home. There are also online rental options, such as OverDrive, where you can use your library card to download eBook rentals, making books accessible at any place and time!
  3. Your water bottle. All of us here at DU are super attached to our reusable water bottles. But abroad they don’t use them and you’ll most likely losing it. Get used to the idea that you may have to buy a water bottle once a week and just refill it.
  4. A U-shaped neck pillow. It’s just one more thing to pack. I used my sweaters and jackets instead and it worked just as well without being something extra.
  5. School supplies. Wait until you arrive in country to purchase school notebooks and things. It’s just a cheap and you won’t weigh down your suitcase.