How to Pack Minimally for a Semester Abroad, Without Sacrificing Your Style

The struggle is too real when it comes to over-packing and trying to condense your suitcase for traveling. You want to bring all of your favorite outfits to make sure you look your best at all times. Everyone feels this struggle, even when packing for only a week-long vacation.

So how are you supposed to pack for studying abroad, an event that's even longer and more Instagram-worthy? I've got you covered on how to you fit outfits for five (or even eight months) of class, traveling, sightseeing, and going on adventures?

  1. 1. Pack pieces that you can wear more than once

    It’s best to pack versatile pieces that you can mix-and-match with more than one jacket or sweater and more than one pair of shoes. Everyone studying abroad is going to want to bring those one-of-a-kind outfits that look great for a one-time photo on Instagram—and you should bring a few of them! But leave room in your suitcase for more practical options, too. You’ll thank yourself later when you have more than just a few outfits to wear. 

    "I packed staple pieces, a plain black dress and a grey dress that were both simple as well as nicer shirts and jeans. I also brought jackets, scarves, jewelry, and hair accessories that could be interchangeable with all the outfits," said Laurel Wilson, John Brown University '19. "It was really difficult not to pack my whole closet because I wanted to show off my fashion skills in the city known for fashion."

  2. 2. Leave room for fashion finds

    When it comes to packing, most people think they're going to run out of clothing or wear more than one outfit a day. But the best thing you can do for yourself is know that less really is more. Not only will you be saving room in your suitcase, but it will make the experience of buying something authentic while you’re abroad even better.  

    “I bought a leopard fur coat that I’m obsessed with for only €15. I wanted to leave room in my suitcase when packing because I knew I’d want to bring back a lot of fashion pieces,” says Kailey Thurgood, Durham College alumna.  

    The countries you'll visit while studying abroad are full of local shops and handmade items that you'll never see again. So it's better to leave behind that extra pair of jeans to make room for your future fashion piece. That way, you don't have any regrets about not buying something you really loved. 

  3. 3. De-clutter your closet

    A few weeks before I studied abroad, I went through my closet and got rid of old t-shirts that I didn’t wear anymore, anything that no longer fit me, and pieces that were just out of style. That left me with all of the clothing I wear on a regular basis, and even some cute tops I forgot I owned. Once my closet was organized and I had used Marie Kondo’s method of cleaning out my wardrobe, it was much easier to decide what to bring with me on my study abroad trip, and left me with more room in my suitcase for important things. 

  4. 4. Don't forget your tried-and-true favorites 

    There are some essentials that you can’t live without while abroad, like a jean jacket, your favorite pair of sneakers, or the sweater you’ve had since high school that has always had your back. Even if they’re not as exciting as some of the other more unique outfits you might decide to pack, you’ll regret not having the basics with you.  

    “Some essentials that I wouldn't be able to travel without are definitely a white pair of jeans and my favorite pair of white Steve Madden sneakers,” says Karlie Walter, Sacred Heart University ’20. “I also packed black strap sandals that were perfect for all the walking I did. I was able to get a lot of use out of all the items I brought, and my black sandals matched with almost every one of my outfits.”  

    In a perfect world, you wouldn't have to chose between fashion and comfort. And we're not saying our world is perfect, but our outfits still can be. Try to find items that won't make your legs chafe, won't give you blisters on your feet, and don't require you to wear an uncomfotable bra all day long. There are plenty of stores that offer cute and comfortable clothing, and so many more where you can create a fashion-girl-approved wardrobe without the discomfort. And even after you come home from study abroad, these comfy and cute items will become your go-to basics.

  5. 5. Pack day-to-night looks

    You’re likely thinking: How do I pack months’ worth of clothes to wear to class, museums, churches and cathedrals, but also look cute when I want to go out? The best way to combat fashion brain freeze when you’re trying to pack is to get inspiration from Pinterest, fashion bloggers, and influencers.  

    Before I left for my trip to Italy, I went to Pinterest and searched “day to night looks” that could be worn multiple different ways. I also looked at my itinerary and coordinated which outfits I would wear on each day.  

    When packing for my study abroad trip I focused on wearing "street style" outfits during the day that could be transformed into something more elegant at night. I brought a lot of midi skirts and midi satin dresses because they were cute and trendy when paired with sneakers and a blouse. And I would wear the same satin dress or skirt at night but wear it with a pair of heels, silk scarf, and other accessories. 

  6. 6. Leave room for things other than clothes

    Another thing to plan for is your weekend trips and excursions. When I was in Italy, my group of friends and I took a weekend trip to Florence and wanted to stop in Pisa on our way back to Milan. What we didn’t realize is how hard it would be to carry a suitcase around the cobblestone streets for miles. Take my advice and bring a duffle bag or large day bag so that you can leave your suitcase in your dorm room, and just carry a weekend bag.  

    An important accessory you may consider bringing with you is a camera to document your trip. “I brought my DSLR camera, multiple lenses, my laptop and hard drives. These items never left my sight and they were most certainly some of the best choices to bring along,” says Giovanna Gatta, a graduate of Sacred Heart University. “I still go back and edit some old photos from my travels, usually for my photography Instagram."  

    An easy camera to pack in a backpack or weekend bag is the Canon DSLR Rebel or the Nikon D3500 DSLR camera. Make sure to take pictures of you and your travel buddies so you can remember your one of a kind experience abroad.  

Whether you are studying in a foreign country for a couple weeks over the summer break or going abroad for a whole semester, remember these helpful tips when packing for your travel excursions.