Packing for a semester abroad doesn’t have to be stressful.
Read through this entire post for the ultimate guide on what to pack when studying abroad or use the links below to jump to a specific section:
- Travel Essentials
- What NOT to Pack
These are all the essential things to take abroad. Check out our post on the Best Luggage for Study Abroad for more packing tips.
1. Passport and student visa.
Don’t leave home without triple checking that you have these first!
Some countries require that international students present evidence of their visa when going through passport control. Be sure to have these documents in your carry-on so that they are easily accessible.
Check out our post 6 Ways to Stay in the UK After Your Studies (Without Getting Married) for tips on how to extend your visa.
2. PDF copies of important documents.
Scan copies of your passport, visa, credit cards, and a page of your medical history.
These copies will be essential if your passport or credit cards are ever stolen, or if you need to seek medical attention abroad.
3. Credit card with no international fees.
International credit card fees will add up very quickly during a semester abroad!
There are several cards out there, but my top recommendation is the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
4. 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.
The Charles Schwab debit card and Monzo are 2 of the best debit cards to use internationally.
5. Rolling suitcase.
As far as luggage brands go, Samosonite has alway been my favorite. Their suitcases are extremely sturdy, long-lasting, and lightweight.
If you prefer softshell cases, the Travelpro Maxlite is a great option as well.
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.
Best Luggage for Study Abroad
6. Travel backpack.
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.
I bought my Gregory Women’s Jade 60L Backpack nearly 10 years ago and it is still going.
7. Money belt.
Okay, this dorky thing is probably the last thing you want to wear when when walking around a stylish European city.
However, money belts are wonderful for keeping precious items secure and giving you some peace of mind.
The Peak Gear money belt is great because it is very flat and has deep pockets, so I can fit lots in without bulging out.
8. Travel packing cubes.
If you’ve never used them before, packing cubes will totally transform the way you 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 prefer the bright yellow packing cubes from Bagail because they come in a range of sizes and are very easy to find in my backpack!
A TSA approved lock is essential for safe travel abroad.
Use it to bolt a locker at a hostel or to secure the zips of your backpack on a long train journey.
10. 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!
Hostels can be very fun, social environments.
However, that also means that they can be very noisy –which is why Ear plugs will become your best friend during your study abroad journey 🙂
Wax earplugs are the best for completely shutting out sound, but standard foam ones tend to be more comfortable.
12. Reusable water bottle.
It is safe to drink the tap water in most European countries.
Help save the planet (and save some cash) by bringing a reusable water bottle on your travels.
13. Compact sleeping bag.
Many hostels provide guests with sheets and a blanket.
However, it is always good to carry sleeping bag with you, especially if you’re looking to get off the grid a little bit.
This tiny all-weather one from Winner Outfitters is the perfect sleeping bag to bring for study abroad.
And finally, the most important item on this list!
Don’t forget a journal to record your memories and reflect on your semester abroad.
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
This should really go without saying. My favorite travel-friendly laptop is the 13-inch MacBook Air, as it’s super compact and lightweight.
2. Unlocked smartphone.
If your smartphone is unlocked, you will be able to easily use local sim cards in every country you visit.
Kindles are great when studying abroad for 2 big reasons.
First, because they help you avoid the hassle of carrying around heavy books.
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.
A travel adapter is essential for studying abroad.
Choose one like this that can convert worldwide so that you can repurpose it on future trips.
5. Your home country’s power strip.
This is a 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!
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.
7. 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.
Do not forget this essential gadget!
I recommend investing in a nice pair of headphones that can be enjoyed on the many flights and train journeys you are bound to have during your time abroad.
Smart phones are great for taking photos.
However, if you want to maxmize your time abroad, then buy yourself a camera.
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.
10. Charger cables for laptop, phone, and all other electronics.
Don’t forget to pack any essential charging cables!
From left to right:
Jumpsuit / Dress / Leather Jacket / Shorts / Striped Crop Top / Skirt / Jeans / T-Shirt / Top / Sweater / Flip Flops / Chelsea Boots / Sneakers / Sandals / Purse / Sunglasses
There are a few rules to follow when deciding what clothes to pack for your semester abroad…
Rule #1: 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.
Rule #2: 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.
Rule #3: 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.
Rule #4: 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 destination.
- 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)
- Pyjamas (2-3)
- 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)
- Scarf (1-2)
Though there are a few things to buy before traveling to Europe, most of your toiletries can be purchased abroad. Below are some suggestions of what to take with you.
1. Travel-sized toiletry bottles.
Fill mini bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash so that you can use them on weekend trips.
Once you arrive in your study abroad city, you can buy normal sizes of all toiletries to keep at home.
This multipack from Globe Gear has everything you need and comes in a TSA-approved bag.
2. Tooth brush.
If you use an electric tooth brush, make sure that you have the appropriate converter/surge protector so that it will work abroad.
3. 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.
This mini brush from Royal Formula is super compact, yet still gentle on your hair.
Try to only bring the make-up that you actually wear, rather than packing up your entire collection.
5. 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!
6. 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.
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.
8. Nail clipper.
Another lightweight item that can easily slip into your luggage.
9. 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.
Be sure to have all your prescriptions (such as birth control) sorted for the year!
11. First aid kit.
A small, travel-sized first aid kit will come in handy at the least expected times.
What NOT to Pack:
Leave big, bulky books behind.
Also avoid any books of sentimental that you aren’t prepared to part with.
The last thing you want to do is carry around a backpack of books you’ve already ready but don’t want to get rid of.
A Kindle or e-reader is your best option when studying abroad.
Not only does it help you avoid lugging around a load of heavy books, but it also gives you access to an unlimited number of books written in English, which can sometimes be difficult to find abroad. Especially if studying outside a major city.
2.Big bottles of toiletries
As noted above, the best thing to do is to bring small travel-sized toiletries to hold you off until you have a chance to buy big bottles where ever you’ll be living.
You can then reuse the travel-sized bottles when you go away on the weekends and you don’t have to go through the hassle of hauling extra weight in your luggage.
3. Multiple adaptors
Don’t bother taking multiple adaptors for each of your electronic devices.
Instead, just take one long power strip where you can plug everything in.
4. Straighteners/curling irons/hair dryers
When I traveled to Europe for the first time at age 16, I brought a straightener with me.
Unfortunately I failed to realize the different voltage, which later resulted in me singeing off my bangs in one swoop.
Don’t make my same mistake.
All electrical hair products can be purchased abroad for fairly cheap.
I promise you, it is worth the peace of mind to buy a device that is made for that country rather than risk your precious locks.
5. Room decorations
When I studied abroad, I brought several framed photos, a fake plant, and a small desk organizer.
None of these things were even remotely necessary.
Instead of crowding your luggage with non-essentials, leave some extra space for all the cute outfits and bottles of wine you will want to bring home at the end of the semester.
If there is a wardrobe in your room, it will probably come with hangers.
If not, you can buy them for very cheap almost anywhere in the world.
7. Anything you’ve never worn
There were a few items of clothing that I envisioned wearing in Italy, despite having never worn them at home.
You may find it hard to believe, but I also never wore these items when I studied abroad.
Only pack the things you know you will use.
8. Anything irreplaceable
It’s tempting to take sentimental items away with you for times when you’re feeling homesick.
As sweet as it may sound to bring a treasured ring or granny’s handmade mittens, you need to be prepared to deal with the possibility of those items being lost or stolen when abroad.
I really recommend leaving anything of sentimental value at home so they will be safely there upon your return.