Packing Tips for Studying Abroad

My friend Mary Beth’s son Jeff is studying abroad for the spring semester in Rome…lucky, lucky young man…so Mary Beth and Jeff…this blog’s for you!

“I know students (and the general traveling population) want a detailed packing list, and we all get annoyed when someone says “it’s common sense”. So I’ve put together everything I thought you could possibly want or need when you study/travel abroad. (I’ve tried to adapt it for everyone, both guys and girls.) I wouldn’t expect you to pack everything below, so use your own discretion.  At least with this list in front of you, there’s a good chance you won’t forget something you really wanted to bring. So, here is my version of the ultimate study abroad packing list!”  (This is from a Student who actually traveled abroad, unlike me who traveled to Carbondale…but it was the 3rd best Communication School in the country, btw). 🙂

Quick rhetorical question before we get into the good stuff:  do you have a suitcase to pack all this stuff in?


  • Underwear (two week’s worth)
  • Socks (two week’s worth plus a pair or two of wool socks)
  • Undershirts
  • Thermal underwear
  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Short sleeve shirts
  • Sweatshirt/ hoodie (2-3)
  • Sweaters
  • Jeans/ Khakis (2-3 pair)
  • Shorts
  • A belt or two
  • Skirts (for the girls)
  • A set or two of workout clothes
  • Pajamas
  • Swimsuit (for those going to warmer climates)
  • Coat/Jacket ( I recommend at least 2 – one for cold weather, and one that is water-resistant)
  • At least one nice outfit for formal occasions
  • Flip flops/ sandals of some sort (good if you’re going to a warm climate, but also good for hostel showers)
  • Sneakers/ dress shoes/ boots/ rain boots
  • Cold weather gear (i.e. gloves/ mittens, hat, scarf)


  •  1-quart zip-top Ziploc bags with TSA-approved toiletry kit
  • Shampoo/Conditioner
  • Toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Feminine Products (one month’s worth – should go without saying you don’t want to be stuck without those)
  • Brush/Comb
  • Razors/ other shaving supplies
  • Contact lenses and solution
  • Nail clippers
  • Makeup
  • Over-the-counter medicines
  • Tissues/ toilet paper (you don’t want to be stuck in a bathroom when its run out)


  • $300 in local currency
  • Purse/ wallet
  • Important documents (passport, visa, itinerary, plane tickets, ISIC card, etc.), and copies of each
  • Sunglasses/ extra eye glasses/contacts
  • Cell phone (you probably won’t be able to use it in your host country, but it’s invaluable if you’re stuck in domestic airports and need to contact someone for delayed flights, etc.)
  • Laptop and charger (don’t forget, you’ll need an outlet adapter 2 Suitcases + 1 Year = Study Abroad Packing List for the plug on your charger to work)
  • Camera w/cords and charger
  • Sheets/ bed linens
  • Bath towels
  • Enough prescription drugs for the length of your stay (You need to make sure you are allowed to bring them into the country and that you have documentation, either the prescription or a doctor’s note)
  • MP3 Player/ iPod (for long plane/train rides)
  • Sleep sack/sleeping bag (most hostels have sheets, however, some do not, some will charge you for them, and for those people who don’t like sleeping in unfamiliar sheets, I recommend a Cocoon Travel Sheet.)
  • Journal/ diary (you’ll be taking plenty of pictures on your travels, but it’s always nice to have something to write in. Of course I recommend writing a blog, but you may not always have your laptop with you.)
  • Backpack (for daily use and as your carry while traveling)
  • Plastic bottles for toiletries for use in your carry-on or while traveling (the maximum is usually 100ml)
  • Water bottle/ Nalgene bottle  (since the Nalgene bottle is plastic, it’s a lot easier to get through airport security)
  • A few hangers

Packing Tip #1: Rolling your clothes tends to be a more space efficient method than simply laying them  flat in your suitcase.

Packing Tip #2: Pack socks (and maybe underwear) last. They’re great for filling in the random spaces, and they fit in just about every compartment of a suitcase.

Packing Tip #3: I’m not trying to rag on airlines (well, maybe), but no matter how advanced luggage tracking is, they will still lose bags. Save some space in your carry-on for a change of underwear, socks, etc. and some basic toiletries.  These toiletry bags are easy to pack and TSA approved – now you won’t have to worry about getting it confiscated by airport security.

The “How-To’s” and “Do’s and Don’ts” of Packing:  How to Fit Your Life into 2 Suitcases:


The only reason I would suggest actually packing toiletries is because they can be pretty expensive in foreign countries.  However, they take up a good amount of space in your luggage and provide a ton of unneeded weight. It’s really a game time decision, and if it were me, I would sack up and just buy them abroad.  If you want, bring a couple travel sizes of your favorite toiletries, that way you don’t have to run to the store the first time you need a shower. Girls, if you think you’re going to be abroad in a more remote area, seriously consider packing a good supply of your usual feminine type products.

Sheets/ linens/ towels:

See if your host institution provides these for you. Talk about taking up unnecessary space in your suitcase – even if your host institution doesn’t provide them for you, you’re probably still better off buying them when you land.  If you do feel the desperate need to pack sheets or towels, try to bring sets that you won’t mind throwing away (or donating) at the end of your stay – it’ll free up massive amounts of space for your journey home.  Uncomfortable sleeping in sheets that didn’t come from your own home? A lot of people I went abroad with used one of these Cocoons How To Fit Your Life Into Two Suitcases.

Socks/ underwear:

This one time, I advise you to load that suitcase up with as many pairs as you can. The more you bring, the less often you’ll have to do your laundry (which can get costly). If they don’t fit in your suitcase when you’re packing to come home, no worries, they’re cheap enough to throw away and replace.

Space Bags:

My one piece of advice – be careful. Yeah you can fit more in your suitcase, but guess what – more stuff equals more weight. If you pack you entire luggage to the brim in space bags, there’s a chance you’ll pack so much that you’ll be over the weight limit. As a matter of fact, get one of these portable luggage scales How To Fit Your Life Into Two Suitcases. Making an attempt to stay under the weight limit will save you a lot of time and stress especially when you’re packing for those weekend trips.

Don’t Forget To Make Use Of Your Carry-on Bag:

Although your carry-on will be full of a lot of stuff to keep you entertained – i.e. laptop, iPod,chargers, cards – it will probably still have a decent amount of empty space. Fill it with odds and ends, DVDs, chargers and cords, and anything else that’s light and/ or flat.

More Packing Tips for Study Abroad

1. Identify your Belongings:  Display your name and permanent address, as well as your overseas contact address on labels outside and inside your luggage, this way, if your outside label is lost, your belongings may still be identified.

2. Check with airlines to learn about their policy regarding luggage:  Most airlines allow international travelers to check two pieces of luggage, up to 70 pounds, and to bring one small carry-on. Make yourself aware of your airline’s policies.

3. Limit yourself to the essentials:  You will no doubt acquire things overseas. When packing for your trip, try to limit yourself to the 2-bag rule so that you aren’t bogged down on your return trip.

4. Pack all your valuables in your carry-on bag.  I repeat…Pack all your valuables in your carry-on bag: This includes traveler’s checks, cash, identification cards, visa, and passport.

5. Keep your passport with you at all times. In addition, bring two photocopies with you and store them in different locations.

6. Establish contact ties with the IEEP office! Leave a photocopy of your passport, visa page, travel itinerary, and overseas contact information with your study abroad advisor.

7. Keep in touch with your relatives. Understand that this is going to be taxing experience for your relatives. Please be sure to remain in contact with them throughout your trip so that they are aware of your well-being. In addition, also leave with them copies of your passport, visa page, travel itinerary, and overseas contact information, as well as credit card numbers and other important information.

Safe travels Jeff…have the time of your life!  Remember to call, text and skye your Mom, Dad and Kathleen!



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  1. Don’t bother changing currency at home, too expensive and as long as your card has a VISA/MasterCard/Maestro logo on it it’ll work pretty much anywhere. Every airport has ATMs, and I’ve been to a lot of them, so withdraw on arrival and you’re good.
    Also: Ladies, remote location (in terms of female hygenic products) means something like rural developing countries these days – so to study abroad, forget about it. Same goes for toiletries of all kinds – the first day’s worth if you got excess weight allowance.

    Your total shirts that you intend to wear day-to-day doesn’t need to exceed what is elementary for two weeks, usually it’s a good idea to buy locally anyway, especially going to a different climate or culture.

    Rain-boots are unnecessary, one pair of decent-looking but watertight shoes for everyday, one pair of sports shoes and, depending on what you’re going to do a pair of shoes to go with your nicest formal wear (of which one set is plenty) should be enough.

    There’s a general decision to pack for 1 week (or 8 days to be safe) or two weeks – depends on how regularly you want to do laundry.

    Leave: the second fancy dress, the second and third hoodie (the first too if you’re going to buy one from the host university), leave everything you don’t wear on a regular at home and don’t buy anything new for the trip. Actually, leave everything that doesn’t fit in a bag you can carry by yourself for a few minutes if necessary.

  2. We are packing for a daughter who is studying abroad in Rome over spring semester, so she will catch a bit of cool/cold weather, a lot of spring and a bit of summer. We are packing clothes that can be layered, things that will match each other, and a few things that can be left behind! (She is taking an old “ready for the trash” light-weight winter coat that can be tossed at the end of the season. My husband has purposely taken old shoes on travels that could be tossed at the end to allow a little extra space for souveniers.)

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