My advice on what to pack for a study abroad really has more to do with what you shouldn’t pack than what you should. Generally, the less stuff you have to drag around, the better. Also, you’ll want to bring home some cool things home to remember your experience.
Shoes are probably the biggest thing you will pack, and they tend to be pretty heavy. Ideally, you want three good pairs of shoes. You can always pick up things from thrift stores if you under-pack. I picked up a cheap pair of tennis shoes to hike and run in at a thrift store for less than 20 euro.
1: Walking shoes. Europeans are generally too cool for tennis shoes, but you’ll want something comfy. If you want to challenge the status quo and rock a comfy pair of Nike’s, go for it! If you’re looking to blend in well, bring something a bit fancy but very comfortable. I went for red converse high tops and stood out a bit, but was happy with my choice.
2: Sport shoes. Whether you’re a runner, hiker, or biker, you know what you need here. Be realistic about your fitness needs– you’re probably not going to become an instant marathon runner or career hiker in one semester. Most people bring a pair of tennis shoes to get some exercise in between classes. Hiking boots are a big commitment because of their size, and I was fine on most hikes in tennis shoes.
3: Outfit shoes: If you want to go out at night and dress up a bit or take a cute picture in front of the Eiffel tower, these are your shoes. Again, comfort is a priority here. Even if you’re using these shoes for a limited purpose, the Eiffel tower might still be a five mile walk from your hostel. If you want heels, look for a shoe with a flat platform that doesn’t create pressure toward the front of your shoe when you walk long distances.
Shoot for strictly one week of clothes.
1: Shirts: Seven summer shirts, three thicker winter shirts.
2: Jeans: I brought two pairs of jeans and lived. A bit gross, but it works.
3: Comfort clothing and pajamas: One pair of stretchy black pants, flannel button-down
3: Layers: Three heavy sweaters and a sweatshirt
4: Weather clothing: Winter parka (yes, I used this for three months in Spain), mid-weight jacket, scarf, petite gloves
5: One skirt (neutral), one dress
6: Shorts: One pair, max. Europeans have a thing against jean shorts for some reason but I wore mine anyway.
- Jean and leather jackets are really popular in Europe, so the mid-weight jacket is a good chance to dress up your outfits
- There is so little rain in Spain that the rain jacket really wasn’t worth my effort
- I threw away all of my underwear and socks on my way out for extra space
- RESEARCH THE WEATHER: Spain was actually really cold, and a lot of my peers were freezing as well. One of the oddities of Spain is that the temperature fluctuates drastically according to the sun because there are rarely clouds. When I looked at the weather averages, I missed the fact that the mornings and evenings can be freezing starting in October.
- Europe is obsessed with neutral colors and minimalism which is convenient because a) you don’t have space for a complex wardrobe anyway and b) you’ll be able to mix up your outfits more easily with colors that don’t clash.
- A small wardrobe doesn’t have to be a boring one. You can put some interesting pieces into the list I wrote out and have fun with a limited selection.
- If you have money to spend, wait until you get there and don’t use your budget all up front. Spend some time observing what looks good and what you like, then make thoughtful purchases. A lot of people in my program (including myself) seemed to blow their fashion budgets on summer clothes and didn’t have anything left to stock up on warmer clothes when winter months arrived. Also, stocking up on clothes at Macy’s beforehand isn’t the best use of money because you’ll find things you want in Europe more.
Bring full bottles only. If something is half full, it’s not worth your effort. Also, do your best to slim it down to a small makeup bag.
Jewelry: Two necklaces and a bracelet, maximum.
I didn’t have enough contacts to spare after getting an infection and ended up wearing my glasses for the last two months. Be aware that you won’t be able to fix medicinal things easily abroad, so get more than enough to last. Birth control, your favorite deodorant, toothpaste you can’t live without… whatever.
A personal lock for hostels, carry-on suitcase for small trips, camera, school supplies, school backpack, laptop, external hard drive for pictures, charging cords, deck of cards, purse, travel sized shampoos and conditioners for trips, folder for important documents, several copies of your passport…
- You will burn out any hair dryer or straightener you bring, no matter how expensive your converter is. If you can’t live without a straightener, pick up a cheap one at Primark. Europeans also tend to appreciate a chill “I just woke up like this” look which doesn’t involve much processing. I was totally down to cut that time out of my morning and follow suit.
- It is also easy to burn out your Mac computer on a cheap converter. Stop by the apple store and pick up a 13 euro conversion piece to be safe.
- Don’t spend a mint on poor quality electricity converters in the US. I paid $30 for a huge converter that broke within the first two months. Converters in Europe run around 10 euro and are generally less bulky.
- Phone external battery pack: These are nice if your phone runs low at the end of the night and you don’t want to get stuck in Paris without google maps in the dark.
These are the things you shove in at the end if you have space. Towels, contact solution, bed sheets, a tapestry for bedroom decoration, laundry detergent packets– anything that falls into a necessity category for you. These things can be bought once you get there, but you’d be surprised how much you can save by having a towel set ready to go. I also really enjoyed my wall tapestry. It barely took up any space in my suitcase and made my apartment look lived in.
Don’t be too concerned with becoming a “new you” abroad. More often than not, people will think it’s “super cool” that you’re from the US. The things that make your appearance different are things that make you unique with cool things to offer a potential friend or roommate. You might even be surprised to find someone interested in learning how Americans dress.