Packing For Your Study Abroad Program

Packing for your program abroad can be an intimidating task, especially if you plan on being away from home for a semester. There are some basic things you need to know and be prepared for before you arrive in your host country and some things the PackAbroad Ambassadors learned during their programs. 

Be sure to have a cell phone plan figured out while you are there. Most students will pay the extra fees the first few days and then get a SIM card that is compatible to avoid these extra costs. Your cell plan here in the US might allow you to use your phone normally so be sure to check into that before departure. Speaking of fees, think about your finances. Using your debit card is going to quickly rack these up and you’ll end up spending far more than you should. Some people plan on just using cash and withdrawing large amounts when done to again avoid fees. This will work in some places but not all. Countries like Sweden are moving away from cash use so a credit card might be your best option, especially a travel rewards card. Bank of America Travel Rewards card was very popular on my program, with no fees, banks abroad, and of course rewards. Your health insurance is going to be a requirement from NC State before departure, so going abroad without insurance is impossible. Converters and adapters are also a lifesaver. Converters will convert the voltage coming through your products. Be sure to use these with your electronics and hair tools! I bought a phone charger that was compatible with the plugs there when I arrived and that made my life a lot easier, especially when I was traveling on my weekends. 

When it comes to packing for your program remember you don’t want to overpack and you also don’t want to under-pack. Ways to avoid overpacking would be to leave toiletries and buy them there, the rest of the world has everything (shampoo, ibuprofen, feminine hygiene products, etc.). However some basics are not as easy to come across like sunscreen and if you can get it, the SPF may not be as high as you get it here. It never occurred to me that Spain would be cold when I arrived in January, luckily I brought my North Face in case I went to Germany for a weekend. I did but I used that jacket well into March while in Valencia. Do your research on the climate where you are going. I always describe the air in Europe as ”crisp” because it does not get humid as it does in the US and 70 degrees Fahrenheit is different from a Raleigh 70. When considering temperatures, consider the modesty in places. A tank and shorts are acceptable here but not when going to mass in Italy, knees and shoulders need to be covered. 

Some of the must-haves from Ambassadors included a shawl to carry around in case you needed to cover your shoulders or found yourself needing a towel or picnic blanket. A tote bag will go a long way as plastic bags are not free. You can use this bag for class, grocery shopping, or keep it in your backpack as a backup for last-minute shopping. Good walking shoes you know you like and are comfortable. Chances are you are going to walk a lot more than you do here. These will be worn through by the end of your time abroad, like many other items. When your time comes to head back home toss these things out, old shoes, old sweatshirt, pajamas, give towels and toiletries to friends that are staying longer. Remember your bags have weight limits. Stay organized with packing cubes so when you need to reach in and get something you don’t have to unpack everything. With limited space be sure to pack realistically, you’re not gonna wear heels and they’ll take up space, but sandals will be worn all the time! Research what is worn where you are going and expect to stand out at first. Not everyone understands a North Face backpack and Nalgene are incredibly practical! 

Some other things that are going to make you stand out as an American are apparel with sports teams, universities, and greek life letters. Baseball caps, running shoes, leggings, and athleisure are not seen when not working out. As for guys, khakis and Nike socks are an American uniform; it’s how we spot you. Your appearance takes more time and effort outside of the US so consider putting that time and effort in during your program; wet hair does not fly abroad. Some brands and styles that you see in the US that are also popular in Europe are Veja sneakers, Air Force 1’s, Converse, and Vans but, with a platform. Linen, leather jackets, scarves are their basics. These things are versatile so try to pack in a way that will allow you to get the most use out of what you have. 

Packing for two weeks or five months in another country is a daunting task. There are the basics you need, your favorite items, and a lot of circumstances to pack for. While you might forget some things, you can always buy them there. You’ll learn to live out of a couple of suitcases and be a total pro by the end.