The most dreaded to-do before any trip is packing, but packing for an entire semester abroad is on a whole other level. How do you pack your entire life into one checked bag and one carry on?! Are you stressing? Don’t. Luckily for you, I am here to go over everything you will need so you can feel calm and confident heading off onto your next grand adventure. After reading this packing list you will be prepared for anything that comes your way while studying abroad. Without further ado, the ultimate study abroad packing list.
Cold Weather Items
Europe in the Spring can be very cold and unpredictable so start by packing warm layers and transitional pieces. Since you will be arriving in January, a heavy winter jacket is essential! Plus all winter accessories (that don’t take up too much space in your luggage) like hats, scarves, and thick, fuzzy socks should be included, too. The thick socks are a must when you’ll be touring old churches or strolling along river banks. These walks can get very chilly. One thing that might take up space but is worth it if you already own a pair– rain/snow boots. Even though they are clunky, they will be heavily used across Europe, no matter what city you’re studying in.
So let’s get down to the numbers. In our experience, you will need to pack a winter coat–maybe your ski jacket if you plan on exploring the Alps, a raincoat, a jacket (jean or leather), and a light cardigan. Pro tip: to save space on packing, wear your heavy winter coat on the airplane. Next on the list is long sleeves and sweaters. Long sleeves are perfect layering options and transition from winter to spring, pack four. Be selective in packing sweaters, only four are advised and consider including bold pops of color to brighten up those cloudy winter days. Not to mention they look great in those travel shots you’re dying to take.
Some of you may be hesitating at packing these cold-weather items– sure southern Italy may never get too cold, but have you considered any trips you might be taking during the semester? Maybe your dream destination is the Swiss Alps? The UK in winter? Maybe even Iceland? Having at least a few cold-weather items can open up the possibilities for all your travels abroad.
Let’s start with the basics. A good rule of thumb is to pack two weeks worth of socks and underwear. Next, take a mental note of your daily routine. What do you wear day to da–to class, to work out, or to lounge? Pack a few minimal outfits and follow the “capsule” rule- where every piece can be mixed and matched with each other, no matter what combination. For bottoms think “4, 3, 2” with four pants/jeans, three shorts, and two skirts. Leggings are also a travel godsend so make sure to pack at least three pairs–more if you plan to work out often.
As far as tops go, you will need versatile pieces that are both comfortable and can be dressed up or down. In our experience, we have been set with five casual tops, four “going out” tops, and three basic tanks. Also its Europe, so you can’t forget about the dresses. Three casual sundresses and two nice dresses for wearing on your nights out should be included. There’s nothing like wandering around the cobblestone streets of Rome, stopping for a rooftop aperitivo, and feeling your dress flutter in the breeze. Lastly, don’t forget about pajamas. Pack a few options that can double up as casual shirts and leggings.
So we’ve already talked about rain boots, now we can talk booties. You want to pack two, one brown and one black. Like the song, make sure your boots are made for walking. They will need to make it through miles and miles of all-terrain; wet cobblestones, grassy hills, and sticky pub floors to name a few. Next, pack two pairs of sandals, which are lovely because they take up barely any space in your luggage. That’s a hard pass to sandals with heels, ladies! Trust me, you and your feet will thank me. There’s nothing like spraining your ankle the first weekend abroad and hobbling around for a month. Also, remember to pack a pair of flip flops. Whether you’re walking on a sandy beach or tiptoeing in a hostel shower, keep your feet protected. Lastly, pack a pair of athletic shoes. You could be hiking in the Austrian Alps or going on a particularly long walking tour of a beautiful city, and you’ll want your feet as comfortable as possible.
Bring only refillable travel size shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste. You can buy full-sized items when you get to your destination, and then use the travel size for your weekend trips. Ladies, try to condense your make-up bag to only the necessities and remember most European cities have Sephoras and other stores that will have many of your favorite shampoos, facial creams or replacements if you run out of anything. The more space you have for clothing and shoes, the better.
Hairdryers and other grooming tools? Leave them at home. If you straighten your hair every single day, buy an iron in your host city (or Amazon) that is meant for a European outlet. If you’re still thinking of bringing your one from home, make sure you have a good power converter since appliances in the US run on a different electrical output than European ones. We’ve blown enough fuses in old apartments and have learned this the hard way. RIP hair wand circa 2018.
Exceptions: deodorant and specialty hair cream. If you have a specific deodorant you use back home, we would advise bringing a full size. European markets sometimes have limited and confusing deodorant products. Also if you found the perfect hair curling serum or leave-in conditioner that you use every day, pack it.
- Phone + Charger
- Laptop + Charger
- Universal Adapter
- Portable Charger
- Luggage Scale
- Noise Canceling Headphones
- Small Speaker
Forgo bringing a medium or large sized purse and opt instead for a travel backpack and a small crossbody purse. Those two will keep you covered in any situation. For traveling in comfort, pack a travel neck pillow and a small foldable blanket for those long plane, train, and bus rides. Pack a pair of cheap sunglasses or buy new ones abroad, but don’t pack expensive designer sunglasses. They probably won’t make it to the end of your trip. A reusable water bottle will definitely come in handy. This is 2020, stay hydrated in an eco-friendly way. Save the turtles. If you have space in your luggage a quick-dry towel is helpful, but can also be bought abroad.
An often missed opportunity is to bring some small “homey” items to decorate your new space. Bring printed pictures of your friends and family to hang up in your new room and feel a little more connected to back home. Pack a college t-shirt repping your home university or your favorite pair of sweats. Small sentimental items can go a long way if you start to feel a little homesick.
Keep in mind, a mantra if you will, “pack light.” You might reinvent yourself on the inside in Europe as the confident, world traveler you will become. However, it’s highly unlikely your entire taste in clothing and activities will change. So when deciding whether or not to pack something, think about this: If it is a staple in your wardrobe back home, it will probably be a staple in your wardrobe abroad. Pack it! If you’ve only worn something a few times, it’s uncomfortable, or it doesn’t fit, but you think it could work in Europe–don’t pack it. Edit down to your must haves.
Another main reason for packing light? You’re going to shop. End of Season Sales and spring/summer items are going to beckon you from each of your host cities–and you know you’re going to want to go home with a leather jacket or a new pair of shoes to remember your time abroad. Take some time to think about what souvenirs you might want to buy in Europe like a bathing suit from Greece or a trenchcoat from London. If you plan on buying a clothing item as a souvenir, save space in your luggage and don’t bring a similar item with you.
Here’s the thing. Only you know your personality and needs. If you feel anxious about not packing enough clothes or you feel like you will get bored with just the basics or homesick for your fun pieces back home, consider buying a second checked bag. It might be a good option for you if the contents inside add up to more than 50$-100$ bag fee. If you are considering this, make sure your second luggage is a duffel or a bag made for smaller weekend trips, so when it’s empty it can be squished down and fit comfortably in your new place. Plus, you can easily put it on top of your large roller bag to walk around with ease. Trying to roll around three suitcases through an airport and train station–not a good look. Lastly, now you’ve got the perfect travel-sized piece of luggage for your weekend adventures all over Europe.