These are the items that you really shouldn’t travel without. They range from being absolutely essential (you aren’t going anywhere without your passport and visa!) to HIGHLY recommended (travel packing cubes will save your life!).
Passport and visa. Don’t leave home without triple checking that you have these first! Some countries require that international students present specific paperwork to the immigration officer upon arrival. If that is the case, be sure to store those items in your carry-on so that they are easily accessible.
PDF copies of important documents. Be sure to scan copies of your passport, visa, credit cards, and a page of your medical history. If any of these items are ever lost or stolen (or if you get ill or have an allergic reaction) these copies will be essential. It might also be worth printing a few hard copies to carry with you, though having electronic images of each should suffice.
Credit card with no international fees. Do not study abroad without a credit card that won’t charge you extra for every international purchase! Though the charges might seem relatively small at the time, they will add up very quickly, especially if you’re abroad for several weeks or months. Kill two birds with one stone by applying for a credit card that does not charge any international fees and that allows you to earn air miles with each purchase. My favorite credit card is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. There are no international fees, and you will earn 2x points on all travel-related spending, such as airfare, hotels, and car rentals, as well as 2x point on all dining purchases. All other spending earns 1x points. Additionally, Chase Sapphire Preferred offers 50,000 bonus points for those who spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three month of opening an account, which is the equivalent of $625 in travel money! No time like the present to start building up those air miles so you can start traveling for free!
ATM card with no international fees. An ATM/debit card is equally essential. In Europe, it is very common for smaller shops and restaurants to only accept cash. Most debit cards will charge you an arm and a leg every time you withdraw money from a cash machine. In my experience, a Charles Schwab debit card is by far the best as they are an online bank and therefore do not penalize their customers for using other bank’s ATMs. In fact, all ATM fees are reimbursed at the end of every month, guaranteeing that users are only charged for the exact amount that they withdrew at the exchange rate available at the time of that withdrawal. Don’t be intimidated by its reputation as an investment and brokerage company — Charles Schwab does not require that users maintain a brokerage account or own any stocks. Simply use their Checking Account services, and enjoy free ATM withdrawals!
Rolling suitcase. As far as luggage brands go, Samosonite has alway been my favorite. I find their suitcases incredibly sturdy and long-lasting. Though you will likely only use a rolling suitcase for the flights between your home country and study abroad destination, it is important to use one that is well-made, light weight, and also large enough to carry all your belongings.
Travel backpack. This is potentially the most important item that you will buy in preparation for your trip. I bought my Gregory Women’s Jade 60L Backpack nearly 10 years ago and it is still going. Good travel backpacks are essential for weekend trips while studying abroad and they will most certainly come in handy for all your fun backpacking adventures in the future 🙂
Money belt. Okay, these admittedly are not the coolest things to wear when walking around a hip, European city. However, money belts are wonderful for keeping precious items secure and giving you some peace of mind. I really like this Eagle Creek one because it’s very flat and has deep pockets, so I can fit lots in without bulging out.
Lock. A small lock is just one of those things that constantly comes in handy. Lock the zips of your backpack together to thwart petty thieves during long train journeys or in hostels without lockers. I use this TSA approved one.
Travel packing cubes. These cubes are the sort of thing that you might never think you’ll need, but that become indispensable once you finally use them. realised you needed until you finally used them. For me personally, they totally transformed the way I travel. Not only do they make a HUGE difference in the amount of available space in your bag, but they also work well to help you separate clean clothes from dirty ones. All travel packing cubes are pretty similar, but I bought bright yellow eBags because they are the perfect size and very easy to find in my bag!
Quick dry towel. Regular towels are really big and bulky, adding a lot of weight to your bag. Quick dry towels are much lighter and thinner, and dry out very quickly — hence their name! These can be found at most camping and outdoor stores, and range in size from a wash cloth to a full sized towel. I prefer REI’s medium sized one as it is just big enough to dry my whole body, but doesn’t take up unnecessary space.
Ear plugs. Hostels can be super fun, social environments, but that also means that they can be very noisy. Ear plugs will become your best friend during your study abroad journey 🙂 I find that wax earplugs are best for completely shutting out sound. However, they feel uncomfortable in my ear and so I prefer standard foam ear plugs like these.
Water bottle. Save money by carrying around a water bottle and filling it up with tap water!
Compact sleeping bag. Many hostels provide guests with sheets and a duvet, however is is always good to be prepared, especially for those looking to get off the grid a little bit.
Journal. Perhaps the most important item on this list! Don’t forget a journal to record your memories and reflect on your semester abroad.
There are a few rules to follow when deciding what clothes to pack for your semester abroad…
First and foremost, be realistic. If you never wear something at home, then you probably won’t wear it when you’re abroad. You want to bring clothes that you will feel comfortable in and get the most use of.
Secondly, bring things that are functional. I’m not talking cargo pants here, but rather things that won’t easily wrinkle, fade, or shrink. Be wise when selecting which materials to take with you.
Next, be sure to bring things that you can mix and match. You want to be able to make as many different outfit combinations as possible with as few different pieces of clothing. One of the reasons that I list ‘statement piece’ as a must-bring item on this list is because something like a lightweight sequin cardigan or a floral bralette fits easily into a suitcase and can shift an outfit from day wear to evening wear.
Finally, remember that you will likely want to do a bit of shopping while you’re abroad. Instead of stuffing your luggage to the brim, allow some space for all the cool European piece you’ll pick up along the way!
NOTE: This is a basic list that should be adapted to your own personal style and the climate of your study abroad location.
- Tops (6-8).
- Jeans/pants (1-2)
- Shorts (1-2)
- Skirts (1-2)
- Tights (3-4)
- Casual dresses (2-3)
- Formal outfit (1)
- Statement pieces (1-2)
- Undies (14)
- Socks (14)
- Bras/sports bras (2-4)
- Swimsuit (1-2)
- Sweaters (1-2)
- Cardigans (1-2)
- Jackets (2)
- Winter coat (1)
- Gloves (1)
- Purse (1-2)
- Sunglasses (1)
- Workout clothes (3-4)
- Pyjamas (2-3)
- Scarf (1-2)
Save yourself the hassle of transporting heavy bottles of shampoo and shower gel by purchasing most of your toiletries upon arrival! Most European cities will carry the same products and brands as those found in other Western countries. The only major exceptions are powder deodorants (these exist, but gels and spray deodorants are much more common in Europe), as well as certain speciality brands. Below is a list of items that students should purchase before studying abroad. Everything else (such as tooth paste, contact solution, face lotion, etc.) can be bought abroad, saving you lots of space and immense hassle.
Travel-sized shampoo/conditioner/body wash. This is a great travel hack. Bring mini bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash to tide you over until you get settled and can buy regular bottles. Then, be sure to save the small bottle so that you can reuse them for all your weekend trips!
Tooth brush. If you use an electric tooth brush, be sure that you have the appropriate converter/surge protector to ensure that it will work abroad.
Hair brush. Try to pack one that is small and light weight, so that it doesn’t add a lot of bulk to your backpack when traveling on weekend trips.
Make-up. Try to only bring the make-up that you actually wear, rather than packing up your entire collection.
Menstrual cup. Tampons and pads are generally very easy to find everywhere in Europe. However, menstrual cups such as the Diva Cup are much more environmentally friendly and affordable, so it might be worth considering investing in one!
Wash cloth. A loofah or wash cloth is also easily purchased abroad, but these are small enough that it’s often easiest to just bring one along from home.
Razor. If you use a lesser known brand (i.e. anything but Venus), be sure to bring enough disposable heads to last you through the semester.
Nail clipper. Another lightweight item that can easily slip into your luggage.
Hair accessories. This includes hair straighteners, curlers, dryers, clips, ties, etc. Of course, all of these items can be purchased abroad to avoid the hassle of packing them and (in the case of the electrical appliances) risk miscalculating the wattage, but some may prefer to bring these things from home.
Prescriptions. Be sure to have all your prescriptions (such as birth control) sorted for the year!
First aid kit. My favorite first aid kits are sold at Target and REI. Alternatively, you could always opt to make your own first aid kit, piecing together emergency essentials such as Ibuprofen, Neosporin, bandages, gloves, etc.
The following are all the basic electronics you will likely need during your semester abroad. Keep in mind that the voltage, the number of watts the product draws, the frequency, and the plug on the power cord will all differ from home country and where you choose to study abroad. The easiest way to avoid damaging your electronics is by protecting them with the appropriate converters and surge protectors.
Laptop. This should really go without saying. My favorite travel-friendly laptop is the MacBook Air, as it’s super compact and lightweight.
Kindle. Kindles are great when studying abroad for 2 big reasons: first, because they help you avoid the hassle of carrying around heavy books, and second, because they give you unlimited access to books in English. I studied abroad in Florence in the pre-Kindle era, and though there was a lovely little English bookstore near the Duomo, it didn’t sell a tremendous variety of books and was usually pretty expensive. Best to avoid both of these issues by buying an e-reader.
Unlocked smartphone. If your smartphone is unlocked, you will be able to easily use local sim cards in every country you visit. Though you might not think you’ll want to use your phone much while travelling, having the option to comes in very handy when you are lost and in desperate need of Google Maps!
Converter and a home country power strip. This is another time-honored travel hack. Rather than haul around 5 different converters for each of your electrical appliances, simply bring a power strip from your home country so that you only need 1 converter and can simultaneously charge several items at once. Voila! I prefer the Belkin surge protector as it helps keep my appliances safe and allows me to charge several things at once!
Head lamp. Like a lock, a head lamp is one of those items that will constantly be of use even if it seems a bit silly to pack in the first place. These are great for when you’re rummaging around your backpack in a dark hostel room and need both hands. Petzl is a really reliable brand, but almost any head lamp should do the trick.
Flash drive. A flash drive may seem a bit dated now that Google Drive reigns king, but these tiny storage accessories take up zero space in your luggage and have the potential to come in handy when there is no internet and you’re desperate to transfer data.
Headphones. Do not forget this essential gadget!
Camera. Most smart phones nowadays take excellent photos. However, if you want to best capture your time abroad, it is in your best interest to bring a camera along. DSLR cameras are reliable and top of the line, but in the last few years mirrorless cameras have become increasingly popular amongst travelers looking to lighten the weight of their camera bag. They take high quality photos and are much smaller than traditional DSLRs. I have always been a Nikon person and so will always recommend their gear, but it’s best to invest in something that suits you.
Charger cables for laptop, phone, and all other electronics. Do not forget any cables!
These are our favorite apps to download before studying abroad apps. Covering everything from navigation to translation, currency exchange and free international text messaging, these apps will definitely come in handy during your year in Europe!
Google Maps. Absolutely essential for finding your way around foreign environments.
XE Currency. Instantly convert a foreign currency with this super handy app.
TripAdvisor. A great way to check reviews of restaurants, activities companies, hostels, etc.
WhatsApp. For a one-time purchase of just 99 cents, you can communicate with anyone in the world!
Skype. A great way to call friends and family while abroad.
Skyscanner. Find the cheapest flights possible with this app, which is very possibly my favorite of the list!
GoEuro. The Go Euro app is another great tool for finding the cheapest buses, trains, and flights around Europe. Perfect for anyone studying abroad!
Google Translate. Another essential app that quickly translates between almost any two languages.
Duolingo. This is my favorite language learning app as it prompts users to play short games and exercises to quickly pick up phrases.
What do you think are the top 5 more important items to pack for your semester abroad? Is there anything else we should add to this list? Let us know in the comments!