If you’re anything like me, you always forget something no matter how “over-packed” you think your suitcase may be. Living out of a bag for weeks, months, or even a year is difficult- especially when you’re a girl.
When I officially found out that I was going to be spending 6 months studying in Getafe, Madrid- I panicked. How on earth was I supposed to pack enough belongings for both summer and winter weather? It may seem impossible, but it’s much easier if you know what to pack and what to leave behind.
Here is a list I came up with after discussing with my travel partners Emily Demirjian and Sapna Sundar about the things we found essential that we remembered to bring, as well as what we realized was necessary when it was too late.
When you’re limited to 1 suitcase and 1 carry-on, it’s challenging to pack what you need without packing too much.
- Filtered water bottle: Even though tap water is free, you can’t drink it everywhere you travel. Before you leave your house/dorm/apartment/etc., fill up a filtered water bottle to save yourself from falling into the touristy trap of having to spend money on an overpriced bottle water… Only if you’re allowed to drink the water where you’re completing your education abroad of course!
- Cameras: Your entire time abroad will be a Kodak moment and you don’t want to be stuck somewhere with a dead battery. As much as disposable cameras may be outdated, bring a couple. If something happens to your phone, or camera and it seems like the end of the world-it’s not. Disposable cameras are cheap and great for picture frames and boards!
- Fast-Dry Towel: This is something I wish I had heard of before traveling around Europe. They are relatively cheap on Amazon, around 20-30 bucks. I found out about them when I was at a hostel in Paris and one of my roommates had one hanging up. You don’t want a heavy wet towel weighing you down when you’re living out of a backpack on the weekends. Most hostels have towels available to rent so it isn’t absolutely necessary, but they come in handy.
- Medicine: I never got sick during my time abroad, but my friend Emily got sick more times than I can count. When we went to the pharmacy to find her medicine, it was impossible to find something equivalent to what she took back in New York. Bring over-the-counter medicines you may need instead of wasting time trying to find Ibuprofen in Seville when you could be sightseeing.
- Journal/Book/Magazine: More likely than not, you will be somewhere without Wi-Fi. Bring your favorite book or magazine to read on long train/bus/airplane rides to save yourself from boredom. A small journal is also important if you want to keep track of your memorable experiences to reflect back on later. Writing builds alone time and it allows you to reflect on everything you’ve experienced.
- Portable hard-drive: Just like with your phone, something may happen to your laptop. A portable hard-drive is good to keep important documents, pictures or even movies you want to watch while being abroad! Prepare for the worst, that way even if it doesn’t happen- you’re staying safe instead of sorry.
- Clothes for almost every occasion: Don’t over pack clothes, but don’t forget important items either. You will inevitably need a jacket. Pack light, but pack for every season unless you’re going somewhere where it’s always warm and it never gets cold or vice-versa. When I first arrived in Madrid, it was in the 90’s, but when I left in January it was similar to the winter weather we had back home. If you’re planning on traveling, you never know what the weather is going to be like in other countries, so be prepared.
- Contact lenses and solution: I didn’t have to worry about packing these- but it’s extremely important to have enough contact solution to last you while you’re abroad. It’s super expensive to ship stuff overseas and you want to be able to see all the cool stuff J
- Appropriate toiletry items: I suggest you bring travel-size bottles and plan to refill them with stuff you can find at the local Carrefour or whatever their local Wal-Mart may be. You don’t want a big bottle of TRESemmé shampoo weighing your suitcase down. You may want to bring some bobby pins and safety pins if you can; they always come in handy even though you can usually find them wherever you are.
- Alarm clock: A small portable alarm clock is important if you’re a heavy sleeper like me and want to wake up early to site see! You won’t need to spend more than 10$ and it will come in handy more often than you think!
- Important documents: This is one of the most important things on the list! Photocopy all of your important documents and have extra copies of your passport photo. Again, life happens and you want to be prepared if you lose your passport, insurance card, etc. If you have copies of important documents, it will be much easier to get them replaced.
- Zip-lock bags: These come in handy for the most random things. They make it easier to travel with snacks, toiletry items and other items you want to keep protected. There were so many times I wished I had packed a few zip-locks while I was traveling.
- Headphones: This is probably a given, but if you’re a music lover like me, you’ll use your headphones ALL the time. I was constantly downloading new Spanish songs to try to learn the words so I could sing along to them when I heard them out.
- Student ID: A lot of places offer discounts or free entrances for students, so be sure to bring it! You will probably be given a student ID through your University abroad, but for some reason I never received one so my University of Kentucky student ID was extremely useful.
- Deck of cards: I brought a deck of cards on accident, but they came in handy pretty frequently. Cards are universal and always a good time with friends or even when you’re alone.
- Map: You should always have a map of the city where you’re living. If you don’t have access to the Internet and need help navigating around, maps are a great go-to!
- Umbrella: Travel-size umbrellas are also a good idea. You want to be prepared for all type of weather. It’s no fun touring around cities if you’re soaking wet.
- Pictures: No matter what duration you’ll be spending abroad, bringing photos helps you feel more at home. I had pictures with my family and closest friends taped on my full-length mirror. This prevented me from becoming as homesick because even though they were thousands of miles away, I still got to see them everyday.
- The right amount of shoes: It’s easy to pack too many pairs of shoes, but it’s completely unnecessary. Bring a pair of flip-flops, tennis/hiking shoes, comfy every-day shoes and a pair of going out shoes as well as shower shoes if you want. I didn’t bring shower shoes, but it’s always a good idea for your personal hygiene.
- Enough cash: It’s hard to tell you exactly how much converted money you should bring, but be sure to bring enough. It’s usually cheaper to get it before you go abroad unless the conversion rate changes drastically while you’re abroad. It’s also a good idea to have some “just in case” money hidden somewhere if something happens.
As always, bring the travel size of everything. The less weight you have to worry about, the better. And most importantly, remember to leave space for souvenirs!
Photo and post by: Ashtin Morgan
Ashtin is an Education Abroad Peer Ambassador studying Journalism and Spanish. She is a Junior and participated in the UK Exchange Carlos III program in Madrid, Spain