Study Abroad Essentials: What to Pack & What to Ditch!

*this post has been modified from its original 8/14/2016 version on*

Spotlight: Copenhagen, Denmark

I am honestly the biggest advocate of study abroad- when else in your life do you get the chance to just pick up and move across the world with a support system? The opportunity to take classes in a different country and really live and experience a new city for more than just a quick vacation is too amazing to pass up, and if you’re on the fence, trust me- JUST DO IT. Although my study abroad semester ended up being totally opposite of what I planned (more on this later…) the only thing I really regret about a semester in Copenhagen is not eating enough pastries and not bringing enough socks. (side note: the socks struggle is so real and I highly recommend that wherever you travel in life, always bring at least two more pairs than you think you need otherwise you might end up hiking to Machu Picchu in wet boots with some gnarly blisters or in Copenhagen with blue toes after a freezing walk to classes…). ANYWAYS, after you decide to study abroad, packing up for the trip can be a bit of a beast! I still struggle with making smart decisions when packing (4 lipsticks when I typically wear none..why not? maybe I will in Europe! (I didn’t)), BUT I do have some solid items I know now were literal saviors and some that were extra pounds in my suitcase. Shoutout to my sorority sisters who suggested some of these to me before I left- honestly lifesavers. So without further adieu, here are my picks and skips for study abroad!

PACK: Classic Black Booties

Regardless if you’re studying in the fall or winter- these puppies are going to give you your money’s worth. Wear them to class, wear them to dinner, wear them to shop, wear them to travel, wear them so you don’t eat it on slippery cobblestones. Two weeks into my semester I bought a cheapo pair because 1. they go with everything and 2. everyone was wearing them. Did I succumb to what was popular? Yes. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Try to find a pair that still shows your style while maintaining versatility, and comfort. Make sure they have a little tread- and are spill friendly! No matter how hard you try, the world will be on your shoes by the end of the semester whether it’s someone else’s beer (or yours), or just street puddles.

DITCH: Heels

Unless you are a magician and/or Gigi Hadid and can strut carefree on streets built before the United States was even established then ditch the heels. But what if I go to a nice dinner? Wear your black booties. Seriously, save your ankles and at least 2 pounds in your pack and leave them at home.

PACK: White or Neutral Walking Shoes

If you thought that the walk from your dorm to your 8am was long then just wait until you’re abroad. Everyone walks everywhere. And while this can be a serious boost to your fitbit steps, it can leave your feet super sore if you don’t have a sturdy pair of shoes! On an average day I would clock 10,000 steps easily, and on weekends when I traveled I would typically walk around 20,000 steps a day! My H&M knockoff white vans didn’t do the trick, and about halfway through spring I invested in some white Adidas. Honestly the best decision; if you’re afraid of looking like a total tourist wearing sneaks with your outfits don’t worry- many Europeans also wear walking shoes as they’re also walking literally everywhere. Check out some options for any style above! (A safe pick will always be adidas superstars- you’ll see at least 5 other girls wearing these out and about!)

DITCH: Heated Hair Tools

Unless you religiously straighten or curl your hair every morning, keep your tools at home! Not only will you use them less often than you’d expect- if at all- they are really hard on electricity converters and could fry your outlet- oops! If you are set on having a blow dryer or straightener while you’re abroad, wait to buy one in country where it is made with a power that local outlets can handle. At the end of the semester, you can either donate it or bring it home for future trips. But save yourself the space at least on the way over- they are definitely not necessary!

PACK: Dry Shampoo

Let me just say this one more time: PACK DRY SHAMPOO. Traveling, much like college, can make your hygiene routine hit the fan. Also, honestly when you’re on a short trip away from your study city, you don’t want to pack a whole bunch of shower stuff that’s going to make a carry-on annoying at security or just uncomfortably heavy. Plus, less time getting ready= more time exploring or sleeping before class. My personal holy grail is the LUSH “No Drought” powder dry shampoo. It smells like grapefruit bliss and makes my hair look better than when I wash it. Plus, with it being a powder, it’s much easier to transport than aerosols!

PACK: Coin Purse/Wallet

Coins are way more significant in most other countries! Buying a water, snack, ticket, or even meal with coins will become a total norm for you. It can be a pain to always pull out your full wallet for these smaller purchases, plus if you’re in a street or flea market it’s much safer to be pulling out a little coin purse than a wallet with all your bills and cards! You can find these in big cities at tourist shops for about 2 euro in cheesy prints, or you can pick up one in the U.S.

DITCH: School/Sorority Branded Clothing

While a t-shirt or two and a hat are totally fine for relaxing and snapping a cute reppin’ pic, nothing screams “I’m an American college student target me with your sketchy offers” like a Derby Days tee and logo hat. I loved wearing my ball cap when in nature areas or at the beach, but try to avoid it in tourist trap areas. At school, I live in sorority tees and school hoodies so I absolutely love them, but they’re definitely not essential to your study abroad wardrobe. Pick one or two faves, and give the rest a break till next semester.

PACK: Ear Plugs & Sleeping Mask

Sometimes the most fun hostels and apartments are also the hardest to sleep in- plus you never know when that overnight train or bus is going to be your cheapest way to get to Berlin! Throw some ear plugs and an eye mask in your bag and you’ll be set for whatever accommodations you find yourself in. You never know when your room won’t have blinds or one of your hostel mates is such a loud snorer that they literally wake up everyone in your room (tbt to Rome…).

PACK: Travel Sheet/Sleeping Bag Liner

Holy cow has my sleeping bag liner been a lifesaver! While there are a lot of quality, inexpensive hostels out there, some of the cheap ones are cheap for a reason. While the sleeping sheet won’t protect you from bed bugs, it does offer you a barrier between yourself and questionable sheets. Plus, you can stick your valuables inside the liner with you for safe-keeping if your hostel doesn’t offer a locker. These liners also can help with temp regulation! I found my sleeping bag liner at REI and take it with me everywhere.

PACK: Blanket Scarf

These things are like the Windex of the accessories world. Some of the trains/airplanes/buses/buildings you will find yourself on are colder than the Polar Express. You can use your blanket scarf as a scarf (duh), a wrap/extra layer, a blanket, bunched up as a pillow, or as a layer between yourself and whatever you’re sleeping on. Yes, it takes up a bit of space, but most of the time you’ll find yourself wearing it while in transit anyway!

PACK: External Phone Charger

Slow free wifi eats up your phone’s battery, and on long days you want to make sure you have a working phone in case of emergency or just in case you really need some music on that flight back. You can find some inexpensive external chargers at stores like Target.

DITCH: Non-versatile Cl0thing

If you can’t pair it multiple ways with the other clothes in your suitcase then don’t bring it.

PACK: Reusable Water Bottle

Constantly buying water bottles adds up! Check if the country you’re studying in has drinkable tap water, and drink up. Most cafes will fill your bottle for you at their tap, and then you can spend that money on a bus ticket or coffee instead!

PACK: Copies of Your Cards/Passport & Emergency Money

Keep a copy of your passport and cards in a safe place while you travel (i.e. locked up back at your room while you travel on the weekend). If your passport or cards become lost or stolen, having copies makes the replacement process 10x easier. Keep extra U.S. dollars with your copies just in case your cards don’t work/are lost or stolen and you need to exchange money.

DITCH: Bulky Headphones

Purse and suitcase space is precious people! Stick to some classic earbuds to keep your bag lightweight. Plus, designer headphones like Beats can be targets for petty thieves on trains.

DITCH:Sentimental or Real Jewelry

Being in transit makes keeping track of small jewelry tough, and flashier items can attract unwanted attention. Unless it is an item you wear on your person 24/7, consider keeping it at home.

DITCH: Makeup Outside of Your Everyday Routine

Toiletries take up so much weight! As fun as it is to imagine rocking a crazy lip or bold eye shadow on a night out abroad- you probably won’t. If you don’t use it regularly at school, don’t pack it for abroad.

PACK: Canvas Tote

In most grocery stores abroad it costs extra to receive a bag for your groceries or clothes. Pack a little canvas tote that folds up really well to help save your budget & the planet. If you don’t already have one at home, Forever21 has tons of cute options!

PACK: Flip Flops

Common room showers. Need I say more?

PACK: Guidebook & Journal

There’s something really special about traveling around and not having 24/7 access to Google on your phone. Consider picking up a guidebook for your base country; perfect for making sure you make the most of your time abroad and getting yourself around the city without a phone. Bring a journal to keep track of all your adventures- you’re going to want to remember this.

PHEW, that was a lot.

I hope this list will help you conquer the inevitable packing for study abroad! Don’t let it stress you out too much- most places where people study abroad have access to clothing stores and drug stores, so if you forget anything it’s not the end of the world. Also, no matter what you pack your experience will be incredible! Happy packing y’all!

ohh caroline

Think I missed something/ have some of your own packs or ditches? Leave a comment below and let me know! 

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