Packing for a Semester Abroad

A few years ago I read a story in Vogue about a girl who moved in her freshman year at Yale with just one duffle bag of stuff. I learned then what true glamour was. Only “citizens of the world” could move somewhere and not need stuff from home to feel at home. I, on the other hand, came to Wesleyan with a whole car-load of stuff to compensate for my insecurities.

When it comes to travelling, though, I try to pack light. I always have my violin, but besides that I have never taken more than one 25-inch suitcase and a medium purse for a carry-on on any of my trips abroad, which have lasted up to 2.5 months. I hate having baggage, emotional or physical. In fact, I think the two are linked. Sure, luggage is a sign of worldliness, but too much luggage is a sign of neediness. So, in preparation for my semester abroad in Prague, I told myself that I was going to be glamorous from beginning to end, beginning with duffle-bag girl as inspiration. Translated, that’s four months (including a harsh winter), in one suitcase not to exceed 50lbs (and keep in mind I have lots of shoes and dress well). So far, so good. I’m about half-way through packing and my suitcase (I went for a slightly larger one this time, 28 inches) is about half-full.

I’m sure I’m not the only one going through this right now, though some of you probably allowed yourself two suitcases. I laid down some simple guidelines for packing light, below. Feel free to disagree/add/share whatever.

1. Skimp on toiletries. you can buy all of that stuff once you’re there. There are only two exceptions to this rule: tampons and condoms. When it comes to those two, I like to stick with what I know: comfort and security take priority over all else.

2. always have room for a small battery-powered alarm clock (battery so you don’t have to worry about different plugs/voltage).

3. No need to put on the wacky hipster layers. Bring the basics and the most versatile pieces in your wardrobe. Nothing fussy. Once you’re there, observe the street fashion and adapt accordingly. I know I won’t be spending four months in Prague dressed in Wesleyan-chic the whole time. I plan to be at least semi-Prague-chic by October. For inspiration, see The Sartorialist

4. OIS (office of international studies) tells you to pack everything then take half of it out. I don’t like this strategy because it’s risky (I tried it once and regretted not having the stuff I threw out), but they do have a point. People tend to throw in too many clothes. A fully-functioning wardrobe, no matter what size, is all about porportions. Say you pack five shirts and only one pair of pants: congrats, you packed light. However, it’s a problem if the shirts don’t look good with the pants. To combat this problem I pack slowly and carefully. I seriously consider every piece before putting it in, whether I need it, what I would wear with it, so on. Since I know exactly what I packed there is less of a chance of ending up with too many green shirts and nothing to match them with, or clothes I would never wear. 1 exception: never question bringing underwear. The more the merrier.

5. Shoes take up less space if they fit snugly. Position shoes not as pairs but separately, wherever they fit well.

6. There is always room for sentimental stuff. When I was eight it was a stuffed bear. This is a bad idea. stuffed animals are a waste of luggage space. Instead, opt for flat things like pictures. Bring a picture of your blankie. Don’t bring your blankie. I will be carrying unpretentious acrylic paintings on cardboard painted by my best friend from home.

7. Cultivate a low-maintenance glamour. If you can, get a haircut that grows in well and does not require upkeep. Low-maintenance hair means not needing a hairdryer, curlers, hairspray, clips, special brushes, or whatever. A really put-together actress/musician friend of mine spent a year traveling without any hair products or tools and she looked great every day. It also helped that her travel wardrobe was stylishly simple and effective (see 3 and 5).

9 thoughts on “Packing for a Semester Abroad

  1. Anonymous

    how about just looking like a dirty study abroad student instead of worrying so much about your clothes and appearance to the point of manic packing and fashion strategizing

  2. Anonymous

    how about just looking like a dirty study abroad student instead of worrying so much about your clothes and appearance to the point of manic packing and fashion strategizing

  3. Anonymous

    how about just looking like a dirty study abroad student instead of worrying so much about your clothes and appearance to the point of manic packing and fashion strategizing

  4. Estrella

    bring an extra empty bag with you in case you buy stuff. send stuff back early if you can. BE SAFE AND TELL ME ALL ABOUT YOUR ADVENTURES!!!

  5. Estrella

    bring an extra empty bag with you in case you buy stuff. send stuff back early if you can. BE SAFE AND TELL ME ALL ABOUT YOUR ADVENTURES!!!

  6. Estrella

    bring an extra empty bag with you in case you buy stuff. send stuff back early if you can. BE SAFE AND TELL ME ALL ABOUT YOUR ADVENTURES!!!

  7. Anonymous

    also, packing ahead of time and spending a week living out of your suitcase is a good way to figure out if you have forgotten something.

  8. Anonymous

    also, packing ahead of time and spending a week living out of your suitcase is a good way to figure out if you have forgotten something.

  9. Anonymous

    also, packing ahead of time and spending a week living out of your suitcase is a good way to figure out if you have forgotten something.

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