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HC Study Abroad: Packing 101

To all my lovely collegiettes: hello from abroad! This year I’m studying at Worcester College, Oxford, and I’ll be popping in periodically with tips and tales from across the pond. First on my list: the dreaded packing. Packing can be difficult even in the best of times, and trying to figure out what to bring with you whilst you’re abroad for upward of 3 to 4 months is definitely not an ideal situation. Especially if you find yourself in the same boat I did: trying to pack for 10 months in one suitcase and one carry-on. Basically, it was a nightmare. So many seasons, so little space.

I somehow managed, though, and, two months later, I’m finding that I did a lot better than I thought I had. The only real necessities I’ve had to purchase so far have been a pair of black tights – which I accidently (stupidly) sorted into the box of things that I intended to leave behind – and a pink feather boa (long story short, I really wish I’d had room to throw in a few more costumes). In fact, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I should be set for the year with what I brought with me – something that I’m pretty proud about given my usual tendency to grossly over-pack.

 

So here I am, bringing to you some of the advice that I found most useful whilst packing, as well as a couple of things I really wish someone had told me two months ago:

1.Definitely listen to all those study abroad brochures when they say that a good pair of sneakers is essential. I didn’t, and it’s been my biggest regret so far. Sure I brought trainers, and they’re great, but trying to throw them on with anything other than a t-shirt and yoga pants is a little much. What I’ve been missing most are my Keds and Converse – all of which I left back at Hopkins because they were deemed too “heavy” or “bulky” when it came down to the nitty-gritty of packing. If you asked me now, I would gladly swap out an extra pair of jeans or flats for some casual sneakers any day.

 

2.Scarves will save you every time. Seriously. Just swap out your scarf and, even if you wear the exact same thing on back-to-back days (it’s okay, we all do it), it’ll look like you have a brand new outfit. I brought five and I’ve worn them all multiple times.
 

3.The one thing I got the most mixed advice on pre-packfest was how exactly to go about with the whole packing business – as in, should you roll your clothes or lay them as flat as possible? To be fair, there was definitely more support for rolling, but some people totally swear by the latter. So I tried it both ways. Mythbuster: rolling is definitely the clear winner.

 

4.Stash your accessories inside your shoes to save space.

 

5.Along those lines, don’t skimp on the accessories. Jewelry is one of the few things that really takes up no space or weight at all and really does wonders for making it seem as if you brought more than you actually did. (Other things on this list are socks and underwear. You’ll want to try and limit the number of times you have to do laundry as much as you can, and having extras of these really helps.)

 

6.Look up the baggage requirements of the airline you’ll be using before you start packing. It’ll save you so much time and grief. Seriously, it’s so much easier to convince yourself that you can do without something if you make yourself set it aside before you put it in your suitcase.
 

7.Pack a couple of full outfits at the very top of your suitcase. It’s tempting to layer the bottom with jeans and use your socks and underwear to fill in all the little spaces, but make sure you take the time to plan out at least two to three days’ worth of outfits – accessories and all – and keep them within easy reach. Why? Because odds are you’ll probably be living out of your suitcase for the first few days (for an orientation or maybe just because you decided to head out early) and there is nothing more annoying that having to rummage around upsetting a perfect packing job just for a pair of socks. Take it from a girl who’s had to completely repack both of her suitcases twice now – it’s not fun.

 

8.Remember that you will buy things. Potentially a lot of things. Save some space in your suitcase for the return trip.

 

9.Even though mine has been working pretty well, I would say leave your hair straightener (or hair dryer) at home and just plan on buying a new one when you get to where it is you’ll be studying. Maybe I’ve been fed one too many horror stories about US appliances that have blown up and set whole rooms on fire, but it just really doesn’t seem worth it to me.

 

10.Finally, be prepared to get to the airport only to discover that at least one of your bags is horribly overweight. Like, 13 pounds overweight (not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything). Because it will happen. And when it does happen, be prepared to be super, super nice to the person checking your bags. More often than not, he/she will be nice back and sympathize with the girl who managed to pack for a whole semester/year in just two bags (because, let’s face it, it really is a pretty impressive thing) and let it slide.

And there you have it: everything there is to know (or everything I know, at the very least) about getting your gear together for studying abroad. Got any other tips or tricks you like to keep in mind? Leave a comment!

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