Everyone gets excited when it’s time to pack for a trip abroad, maybe too excited. Half of the things that you think you absolutely need you most likely will not. You will sometimes find items cheaper abroad than in the U.S. Pack only the essentials. It's important to research local dress customs and pack accordingly. There are many destinations where you want to pack very conservative clothing so you won't stand out. Anywhere you travel, if you stand out as a tourist you are an easy target for pickpockets. Pack smart!
Pack lightly! If you cannot carry your luggage, you’ve packed too much. A great tip when packing is to pack once, take everything out, ask yourself if you really need everything, and pack again.
Leave room in your suitcase for souvenirs while abroad. You do not want to have to buy another suitcase only to find out the airline fees for another bag are $140. Check airline luggage allowances before departure. Leaving room in your suitcase beforehand will allow you to buy even more beautiful souvenirs for everyone back home (and for yourself, too).
Items you should buy abroad (and leave abroad)
- Bed linens (they'll often be supplied by housing services), towels, toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, razors, sunblock, and school supplies.
Hair dryers, curling irons, and hair straighteners should all be bought abroad. Countries run on different wattage/voltage systems and hot electronics do not have built-in converters or surge protectors; these items often overheat and can blow fuses. To avoid breaking your expensive hair styling tools you should buy these abroad or purchase them from online stores before you leave. Most of the time, it's cheaper to buy these items abroad.
If you are going abroad and are expecting cold weather, save room in your luggage by wearing your bulkier clothing on the plane.
When you are thinking about how many jeans, shirts, skirts, or shorts to pack – pack with layers in mind. You can always take articles of clothing off if you are hot. You will also want to buy clothing while you're abroad. Most people who go abroad start to dress like a local because their fashion is way cooler and ahead of all the fashion in the U.S. (Europe, China, and Japan are usually one or two seasons ahead of the U.S. in fashion.) It's fun to look like a local and wear traditional or ethnic clothing.
For students studying on short-term programs, you may want to get in touch with other students you will be traveling with as you can share some items such as adapters, hair dryers, shampoo, and conditioner. Since most programs are either on-the-go or in areas with limited WiFi access you may want to consider leaving your larger electronics such as laptops at home, as your hotel room or homestay may not have a safe in the room. (Depending on where you are traveling, finding a laundromat can be difficult.) A friendly tip – if you do not have access to a laundromat and you absolutely need to wash your clothes, bring a small bottle of handwashing clothing soap or pick one up abroad. Washing your clothing by hand in your shower or sink is better than not washing your clothing at all.
Regardless of how long your trip is, the most important item in your suitcase will be your walking shoes. A sturdy, comfortable pair of shoes is absolutely essential as you will have long days of exploring your new city. Many older cities have uneven, cobblestone walkways that can be dangerous if you are not wearing sturdy footwear.
While abroad, you're going to be doing a lot of walking so don't overpack shoes. Pack only the essentials - walking sneakers, comfortable flats or sandals, and one pair of low heels.
Many males tend to underpack. It is important to pack nice “going out” clothing but not to overdo it. Many places will not let you in unless you are dressed to impress. Sneakers are not allowed in many nightclubs. Some essentials guys should add to their packing list:
- A nice pair of pants
- A dress shirt
- Comfortable sneakers or boots for colder climates