Study Abroad Packing Guide: The Basics

This semester, I am studying abroad in London, England. I considered myself a fairly efficient packer; I have two years of experience schlepping the entire contents of my Wellesley dorm to and from my home in San Diego. However, if I’ve learned anything in my first few weeks abroad, it’s that airline weight limits are no joke. For my entire semester abroad I fit everything I thought I needed in two large suitcases and a duffle. Feeling pretty proud of myself, I was in for quite a shock at LAX. It turns out, both of my large suitcases were overweight, and the airline wanted to charge me $400 in overweight fees. I franticly rearranged my belongings at the counter, exposing my personal items to the world, and I ended up with an obnoxiously heavy carry-on that was solely full of shoes. To prevent any last minute surprises like this one for anyone else studying abroad, I’ve compiled a list of the dos and don’ts of packing when you are going abroad.

What not to pack:

  1. Sheets/Towels: These take up far more space and weight in your suitcase than you would think. Provided that you are studying in or near a city, you are going to be able to find cheap sheets and towels that you won’t feel bad about having to throw away at the end of the semester. For those coming to London, Primark is your one-stop-shop for both of these!
  2. School Supplies: Chances are, your classes at whatever university you plan on attending are going to be very different from your classes at Wellesley. Consequently, you are not going to need a fraction of the supplies you would need at Wellesley (i.e. binders, dividers, hole punchers, shredders, tissues to wipe your tears, disappearing ink, etc.). I recommend leaving all your school supplies at home as pens and staplers are used around the world.
  3. Drugstore/Pharmacy Needs: Like school supplies, wherever you study will most likely have a Walgreens equivalent with their versions of your products from home. While you should make a stock pile of your prescription medications before leaving, it is not necessary to pack shampoo, conditioner, make-up wipes, or any other daily basics that you would buy at CVS in the Ville. That said, if there are products from home that you know you cannot live without (i.e. certain face products or a particular brand), I would be sure to allocate some space in your suitcases for them.

Now that you know what not to pack, here is what you should pack:

  1. Large (and Lightweight) Purse/Backpack: Regardless of your prefer to carry your school supplies in a purse or a backpack, make sure its large and lightweight. Most likely, your walk to class is going to be longer than it is at Wellesley, and you are not going to want to be weighed down by a heavy bag. This bag can also double as a suitcase short trips, which I can almost guarantee you’ll be taking. You will be in a new country! Embrace it. Explore it. I would recommend picking one or the other as you are not going to have the room (or hands) for both. Nylon is your new best friend.
  2. Comfortable Shoes: I cannot stress this one enough. As previously mentioned, your daily commutes are going to be longer than they were at Wellesley. Also, especially in European cities, people either walk or bike far more often (and for much longer distances) than Americans do on a daily basis. Save yourself from painful blisters by investing in comfortable pairs of both casual and going out shoes. Your feet will thank you, I promise. Learn from my blisters.
  3. A Personal Item From Home: While you are probably not going to have the time or money to personalize your room as you probably did at Wellesley, make sure to bring something from home to help you settle in. For me, this was my Temperpedic pillow and pictures of friends and family. While my pillow was not necessarily the most practical thing to bring from home, the pictures were a super easy and a space conscious way to bring some of San Diego and Wellesley with me to London.

*Bonus: By following this packing guide, it will encourage you to get out and familiarize yourself with your new city during your first few days. Also, no matter what your budget is, you are going to want to shop or bring souvenirs home from your time abroad, so do not forget to leave room for those!