How to Pack Clothes for a Semester Abroad

Packing to study abroad is very different from packing for a week-long vacation. You will need more stuff, of course, but you can’t bring a new outfit for everyday you will be gone.

With TSA restrictions, 50 pound weight limits, high fees for checked baggage, and all the other stuff you will start to stress about as you’re packing, your wardrobe can be carefully thought out and curated so that you don’t overpack, but you also don’t have to get sick of the same outfits over and over again.


Here are some guidelines to consider as you pick your perfect pieces:

  1. Choose a color palette

You will want to be able to make as many outfits as possible with the fewest amount of pieces you can bring. The easiest way to do that is to make sure all your clothes work together, so choose a few colors that are common in your closet and stick to those colors consistently with each item you pack.

My colors were black and white with muted, earthy neutrals and some versatile pops color, like baby pink and maroon. All of these colors compliment one another. So, with just 2 pairs of pants and 3 different tops, I can make 6 outfits from 5 pieces. This saves so much space as opposed to packing 6 different shirts with 6 different pants that can only create 6 outfits.


  1. Pack your basics

By basics, I mean those pieces that you wear on a weekly basis and simply cannot live without. These can be the pieces you think are kind of boring, like a plain, white tee, but you can mix and match or dress it up and down to create so many different looks.

But, your basics can also be a pair of trousers with a simple pattern or a solid colored blouse with an interesting silhouette. They don’t have to be boring pieces, but everyone’s basics are different. You just have to identify which items in your closet are your basics. Then, you can use your imagination to style them in unique ways.


  1. Find versatile pieces

Once you have your basics down, you can build off of them with versatile pieces to change up each outfit. These can be (ideally) small things like accessories, or they might be a bit bulkier, like jackets or flannels that you can layer over and under your over clothes.

Layering will be your best friend when you study abroad. Not only will it help you seamlessly switch from season to season with the same clothes, but you can easily switch up an outfit by adding one piece onto it, as long as you can think of different ways to use that piece. For example, I added a black slip dress to my wardrobe because I could wear it as a dress with a cardigan or blazer, but I could also make it look like a skirt by layering it under a blouse. If I was really in a bind, I could even wear it as a nightgown! I know it sounds a little out there, but if you get creative with your pieces, you really don’t have to bring a lot of clothes at all.

In terms of accessories, a versatile piece might be a silky scarf that you can use to tie up your hair, drape around your neck, or even tie around your waist as a belt.

Don’t feel like you have to pack every single thing I mention. If you don’t wear accessories or you don’t see blazers as a necessity, then you won’t reach for it throughout the semester and it becomes a waste of space. Remember, the whole point is to pack less, so pack what you love. If adding a single dress will help you leave out that black skirt, lacey tank top, AND an extra pair of pajamas, then by all means, use that dress to its fullest potential.

Finally, after you’ve picked everything you want to bring, count every single item, rethink, and put things back if you can. I brought around 30 pieces, and even that was probably a little excessive even though it looked like a tiny amount of clothes when it was hanging in my wardrobe. For each piece, try and visualize all the different outfits you can create, and if you can’t think of very many, then consider leaving it.

When you pick a number to restrict yourself to, it will leave some wiggle room for those last few minutes when you’re about to zip up that suitcase and you remember your favorite sweatshirt that you forgot to pack. When that happens, you don’t want to be shoving that sweatshirt in your suitcase only to realize it won’t fit and you have to drag everything back out and rethink your whole wardrobe along with your decision to study abroad and your major life choices. Trust me, I’m saving you from multiple mental breakdowns in the future.

Remember to relax. It is very possible to pack light and slayyyy the fashion game. If you are choosing studying abroad, then you’re already doing great as the adventure of a lifetime awaits you. So happy packing and bon voyage!