Personally, I think the hardest part about moving abroad for a semester was figuring out how to pack. I spent weeks stressing over every last item, worried that all the American products and conveniences I was used to wouldn’t be available in Italy. Luckily, I had a few good friends who had been abroad previous semesters to fill me in on the do’s and do not’s of packing for study abroad. So if you’re a student preparing for a semester abroad and are not lucky enough to have the advice of other broke, wild, travelers before you, I’m here to be your (virtual) friend and hopefully make your transition abroad a little easier!
Trust me, if you plan to stay in any hostels during your time abroad, do not forget a combination lock. Most hostels will have some sort of locker system in each room, but very rarely do they supply the locks for these lockers for free (and what good is a locker without a lock?). Sometimes they will rent them out for a fee at the front desk, but this seemingly small fee will add up when you’re staying in new hostels every week.
Most often the lockers aren’t big enough to fit all your luggage, but it’s always smart to lock up your passport, extra cash, credit cards and any electronics you’re carrying with you (especially chargers which are very easy to steal). I traveled to Madrid this past spring break with a good college friend and we booked two nights at the Hostel Meeting Point, using my favorite website, hostelworld.com of course. We booked two beds in an 8-bed all female dorm and ended up staying the same night as a middle school field trip. Later that day when we came back from sightseeing, we walked into our room and my friend’s bed was completely empty. Her suitcase, purse, and toiletry bag that had been sitting on the counter had all completely disappeared, including her passport which was hidden in the bottom of her bag. We had an early flight leaving for Ibiza the next morning and my friend wouldn’t be able to leave Madrid without her passport. Immediately we alerted the front desk and, after a bit of scrambling and panicking, we found her luggage in another room where one of the middle school chaperones had mistakenly moved it. Although this particular situation was a clear accident, neither of us would have been nearly as panicked if her passport and credit cards had been locked up with mine.*
*I would just like to make clear that this was not the hostel’s fault in any way. We had a great experience at the Hostel Meeting Point, it was the perfect location from all the sites and the staff was very accommodating. Would definitely stay there again!
A good friend of mine suggested that I buy one of these before I leave, and boy was I glad she did. I brought this compact towel on every weekend trip we went on, and saved myself a lot of money in the process. Most hostels will have a towel renting service at the front desk, but it’s always for a fee and they usually ask for a deposit as well. Usually it’s around €2-5 for the rental but I’ve heard of places charging as high as €18 (Iceland is not a cheap country). Amazon sells these microfiber towels for $22 and they fold up super small to fit easily in your suitcase.
There’s nothing more annoying than only having two days in a new country and worrying about charging your phone the whole time. About a month into my semester, my adapter fried my iPhone’s battery and the charge wouldn’t last more than a few hours at most. I spent too many trips worried about how I would get back to the hostel without google maps when my phone died (cue me stuck at the Apple store in London for two hours while my friends went to see the London Eye). When I moved to New York this summer, I finally invested in a good portable charger. You can spend anywhere from $5-50 on a portable charger but in my experience you don’t need to spend more than $25. Amazon sells this one by Anker for only $25.99 and the charge lasts two days!
This is a fairly obvious one, but make sure to bring any drugs you could possibly need for the semester because it can be hard to find good equivalents in foreign countries. This is especially important with prescription medication. It can be next to impossible to get a prescription from home filled in a foreign country. I stocked up on plenty of dayquil, nyquil and ibuprofen for my semester. Thank God I did because the pharmacies in Italy were not up to American standards and we were sick all the time from traveling so often.
Dual Voltage Hairdryer
If you’re a bit of a high-maintence traveler like myself and can’t travel to foreign countries without your hairdryer, curling iron and straightener, then make sure to invest in few dual voltage appliances before you leave. A lot of times adapters will have trouble with hair tools, and, if you’d rather not have a half melted straightener on your hands or be in the one responsible for a power outage, it’s smarter to order the dual voltage alternatives. The Conair Vagabond Hairdryer is compact, dual voltage and inexpensive at only $13 on Amazon, and you can use it in the U.S. when you get back just by flicking the switch.
Compact Carry-on Bag
Before I left for the semester, I invested in a new carry-on bag that was half rolling suitcase and half backpack. The best part about my new carry-on was that I could roll it around town or in the airport when it was very heavy (all the time), but I could throw it on my back right before I got on the plane. Important traveling tip: nobody questions the weight/size of a carry-on if it’s on your back. This feature saved me a lot of money in luggage fees because, let’s be honest, my bag was ALWAYS overweight. You can find it here on Amazon for $74.99.
Plastic Travel-size Bottles
If you don’t plan on checking a bag every time you travel to another country, it’s smart to stock up on a bunch of these reusable, travel-size bottles. Target sells packs of them for $6.99, you can find them here.
Plastic Flip Flops
Think of hostel showers like dorm showers and never, ever get in one without wearing flip flops. You never know what’s growing down there and you don’t want to be the one to find out. I also wore mine all over Europe exploring new beaches!
Jeans, Jeans, Jeans
Coming from a girl that lives her life in Lululemon leggings, you’ll want a few pairs of cute jeans abroad. Athleisure wear doesn’t really exist yet in Europe, and black jeans seem to be the go-to fashion in most countries. I brought four pairs of leggings and only ended up wearing them once or twice. If you’re really against denim, American Eagle sells a great pair of black jeggings that are almost as comfy as your trusty old Lulus (I wore mine for three months straight until the hostel dryer destroyed them and I had to throw them away in a trash can in Madrid, RIP, literally).
Although it may seem unnecessary, my passport holder really came in handy when organizing all my travel documents. If you’re a study abroad student, you’ll have a Permit-to-Stay or Visa that you’ll need to keep on you when traveling to other countries in Europe. Investing in a nice, passport holder or travel document organizer will really help keep all of these documents straight (losing them means dealing with customs AGAIN and who has time for that?). They’re also handy for organizing RyanAir boarding passes! I ordered mine from coach.com, but Amazon has many cheaper options that will work just as well for a fraction of the price.
Copies of Important Documents
Before you leave, don’t forget to make plenty of hard and electronic copies of your important travel documents. This includes passport, drivers license, student ID, student VISA, Permit-to-Stay, insurance cards, credit cards and any other documents you’re carrying that are crucial to you living abroad legally and safely. I emailed a copy of everything to my parents and uploaded them to my google drive so I could access them from any computer if need be.
Depending on where you’re planning to travel, make sure you come prepared with at least two travel adapters suited for that country. In my experience, it’s easiest to invest in a world adapter if you’re not exactly sure which countries you plan to go to. Since the adapter I purchased from Best Buy decided to kill my phone, I’m not going to suggest you buy that one. My friend used this adapter from Amazon for four months with no issues at all. It also came in handy when we traveled to the U.K. and Malta, where the plugs are different from the rest of Europe.
When I arrived back in the U.S., I tallied up the flights I had taken during the semester. My number was 32 and a lot of my friends had even more than I did! That’s a lot of hours of uncomfortable plane sleeping. Do yourself (and your neck) a favor and purchase one of these amazing J-pillow Travel Pillows before you leave the U.S.
Hopefully these tips will help your transition abroad be a little less rocky! If you have an suggestions for me from your own abroad experiences, please leave them in the comment section below.
Thanks for reading!