In my opinion, the hardest part about moving abroad for a semester was figuring out how to pack. I spent weeks stressing over every last item, worried that the American products I was used to wouldn’t be available in Italy. Luckily, I had a few friends who had already lived abroad to fill me in on the do’s and don’t’s of packing for a semester in Europe.
If you’re a college student preparing for study abroad (and aren’t lucky enough to have the advice of other students before you)… I’m here to make your transition abroad a little easier. So here’s what you should pack for your semester abroad!
For more ways you can prepare yourself for study abroad, check out my post The Best Travel Apps to Download for Europe.
If you plan to stay in any hostels during your time abroad, make sure to pack your own lock. Most hostels will have some sort of locker system in their dorm rooms, but very rarely do they supply the locks for free. Sometimes you can rent them out for a fee at the front desk, but this seemingly small fee will add up when you’re staying in different hostels every weekend.
Usually the lockers aren’t big enough to fit all your luggage, but it’s always smart to lock up your passport, extra cash, credit cards and any electronics you’re carrying with you. Especially chargers which are very easy to steal.
I visited Madrid in spring of 2017 with a friend from college and we stayed two nights at the Hostel Meeting Point. We booked two beds in an 8-bed all-female dorm and ended up overlapping with 30 students on a middle school field trip.
When we came back from sightseeing later that day, we walked into our room and my friend’s bed was completely empty. Her suitcase, purse, and toiletry bag that had been sitting on the counter had all completely disappeared, including her passport which was hidden in the bottom of her bag. We had an early flight to Ibiza the next morning and she wouldn’t be able to leave Madrid without her passport.
We alerted the front desk immediately and, after a bit of scrambling and panicking, we found her luggage in another room where one of the middle school chaperones had mistakenly moved it. Although this particular situation was clearly an accident, neither of us would have been nearly as panicked if her passport and credit cards had been locked up with mine.*
*I would like to make clear that this was not the hostel’s fault in any way. We had a great experience at the Hostel Meeting Point, it was close to all the sites and the staff was very accommodating. We would definitely stay there again!
My friend suggested that I buy one of these before I leave, and I was very glad she did. I brought my microfiber towel on every trip we went on, and saved myself a lot of money in the process. Most hostels will offer towel rentals at the front desk, but it’s always for a fee and they sometimes ask for a deposit as well. Usually it’s around €2-5 for the rental but I’ve heard of places charging as high as €18!
Amazon sells microfiber towels for only $22. They fold up nice and small to fit easily in your suitcase!
There’s nothing more annoying than only having two days in a new country and worrying about charging your phone the whole time. A month into my semester, my adapter fried my iPhone’s battery and the charge wouldn’t last more than a few hours at most. I spent too many trips worried about how I would get back to the hostel without Google Maps when my phone died.
…Cue me stuck at the Apple store in London for two hours while my friends went to see the London Eye.
When I moved to New York in 2017, I finally invested in a good portable charger. You can spend anywhere from $5-50, but in my experience you don’t need to spend more than $25. Amazon sells an Anker Portable Charger for only $25.99. Just plug it in overnight and it’ll charge your phone fully 3-4 times!
This is a pretty obvious one, but make sure to stock up on all your medications before moving abroad. It can be very difficult to find good substitutions in foreign countries. This is especially important with prescription medication. It can be next to impossible to get a prescription from home filled in Europe. I stocked up on plenty of Dayquil, Nyquil and Ibuprofen for my semester and I was very happy I did! We were sick every weekend from traveling so often.
If you’re a bit of a high-maintenence traveler like myself and can’t travel without your hairdryer, curling iron and straightener, then make sure to invest in few dual-voltage appliances before you leave. Many voltage adapters are not compatible with hair tools, and, if you’d rather not have a half-melted straightener on your hands or be the one responsible for a power outage, it’s smarter to invest in dual-voltage alternatives. The Conair Vagabond Hairdryer is compact, dual-voltage and inexpensive at only $13 on Amazon. You can also use it in the U.S. when you move home, just flick the voltage switch!
Compact Carry-On Bag
Before I left for the semester, I invested in a new carry-on bag that was half-rolling suitcase and half-backpack. The best part about my new carry-on was that I could roll it around town or in the airport when it was too heavy (all the time), but I could throw it on my back before I got on the plane. I learned quickly that nobody questions the weight/size of a carry-on if it’s on your back. This feature saved me a lot of money in luggage fees because, let’s be honest, my bag was ALWAYS overweight. You can find it on Amazon for 59.95.
Plastic Travel-Size Bottles
If you don’t plan on checking a bag every time you travel to another country, it’s smart to stock up on a bunch of these reusable, travel-size bottles. Amazon sells leak-proof packs of them for $12.99, you can find them here.
Plastic Flip Flops
Think of hostel showers like dorm showers and never EVER get in one without wearing flip flops. You never know what’s growing in there and you don’t want to be the one to find out. Flip flops also come in handy when you’re traveling to beachy destinations!
Jeans, Jeans, Jeans
Coming from a girl that lives her life in Lululemon leggings, trust me when I say you’ll want to bring a few pairs of cute jeans. Athleisure wear doesn’t exist in Europe, and black jeans seem to be the go-to fashion trend in most countries. I brought four pairs of leggings and only ended up wearing them once or twice.
If you’re really against denim, American Eagle sells some great pairs of black jeggings that are almost as comfy as your trusty old Lulus! I wore mine for three months straight until an Italian dryer destroyed them and I had to throw them away in a trash can in Madrid. RIP, literally.
Although it may seem unnecessary, my passport holder really came in handy when organizing all my travel documents. If you’re a study abroad student, you’ll most likely have a permit-to-stay or visa documents that you’ll need to keep on you when traveling to other countries in Europe. Investing in a nice passport holder or travel organizer will help keep all of these documents straight.
They’re also handy for organizing RyanAir boarding passes! I ordered mine from Coach, but Amazon has a lot of budget-friendly options that will work just as well for a fraction of the price.
Copies of Important Documents
I cannot stress this one enough – make sure to pack copies of your important documents for your semester abroad. I would suggest making both hard and electronic copies. This includes your passport, drivers license, student ID, student visa, permit-to-stay, insurance cards, credit cards and any other documents you’re carrying that are crucial to you living abroad legally and safely. I emailed a copy of everything to my parents and uploaded them to my Google Drive so I could access them from any computer. I also printed out a copy of my passport so I could keep the real thing safely locked up in the hostel.
Depending on where you’re planning to travel, make sure you come prepared with at least two travel adapters suited for that country. It’s easiest to invest in a world adapter if you’re not sure exactly which countries you plan to visit.
Unfortunately, I had some bad experience with the first adapter I purchased after it murdered my phone battery. My friend used this adapter from Amazon for months with no issues at all. It also came in handy when we traveled to the U.K. and Malta, where the plugs are different from Italy.
When I got back to the U.S., I tallied up the flights I had taken during the semester. The answer was 32, and a lot of my friends had even more than I did! That’s a lot of hours of uncomfortable plane naps. Do yourself (and your neck) a favor and purchase one of these amazing J-pillow travel pillows before you leave the U.S.
Hopefully these tips will help you pack for your semester abroad and make your transition a little easier! If you plan on doing some traveling outside of your country, check out my guides to the most-popular study abroad destinations in Europe! Like…The Best of Florence, A Weekend in Paris, How to See Barcelona in a Weekend, A Beginner’s Guide to the Amalfi Coast and Czech-in’ Out Prague.
As always, thanks for reading and don’t forget to follow my adventures on Instagram @madisonsfootsteps!
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