What you bring on your study or travel abroad experience can easily make or break it. What you pack depends on the type of time you are spending (school, travel, multiple countries/cities, etc). With my field notes from my own time abroad, I’ve compiled a list of the items that I think are best and worst for bringing with you. I’ve included pictures of some of the products that I personally used during my trip with the price – most of them available on Amazon. Of course, tailor these items to what YOU think you will realistically need and/or use while traveling.
Travel Abroad Must Bring These!
Microfiber towel: With its quick drying, lightweight material, this towel is a must for any kind of backpacking. It doesn’t take up a lot of space in your bag, so there’s no reason to not invest in one!
Small backpack: This bag came in handy for weekend trips and the actual studying part of my traveling when I had to lug my laptop and books around campus. Luckily, my giant backpack came with a detachable bag that was the perfect size small pack.
Foldable grocery bag: Since most grocery stores in Europe charge you for using a plastic bag, it literally pays to bring a reusable alternative for holding your food.
Scarf: I brought two scarves for the four months I was in Europe, which worked well for me considering I was mainly living in arctic Sweden but I also had numerous hot weather destinations later on my trip. I found that I utilized my lighter, super soft scarf not only as a fashion accessory, but as a blanket, pillow, and shawl as well.
Flat black booties: Key word with this item is flat—as in no heel. Since you’ll be walking EVERYWHERE, your feet will love you forever for wearing comfortable shoes. I also recommend black booties specifically because you can dress them up or down, they match everything, and they are still very practical footwear.
Travel size toiletries: There’s a strong chance you’ll be frequently going on overnight trips during the weekends while you’re abroad. For this reason, it is extremely nice to have an extra set of travel hygiene products—toothbrush, toothpaste, contact solution, soap, and deodorant—so that you don’t have to constantly pack and repack every single weekend. Another added reason to get a smaller version of these essential? Two words for you: airport security. Fortunately, you can usually buy a convenient travel kit containing these products in most drug stores.
T-shirt: My reason for including this item is probably not what you’re expecting. Yes, t-shirts are handy as sleep shirts or for hitting the gym, but they also work well as impromptu pillow cases. Whether you’re at a hostel that doesn’t provide linens or perhaps you have a day or two after you’ve arrived in your new residence before you’re able to get proper house supplies, it’s the little things (like having a pillowcase) that make you feel more comfortable wherever you wind up.
Sleepsack or travel blanket/pillow: These items came in handy for different reasons, even though they have similar uses. Sleepsacks are a compact alternative to carrying bed sheets with you, which was required for most hostels in Sweden since they only provide linens with additional cost. The travel blanket and pillow came in handy for airport all nighters. While sleeping on the plastic McDonald’s benches at the airport was not an ideal option for a makeshift bed, having a warm blanket and a soft pillow made it a little less awful:)
Portable charger: I’m embarrassed to admit it, but one of the first things I look for when I get on trains or arrive at hostels is an outlet. For those moments when you desperately need to charge your phone (especially if you’ve downloaded your train ticket to your phone but you accidentally let it get down to 2% before you’ve boarded the train!!), bringing your own portable phone charger will ensure that you feel slightly less helpless in these situations.
Travel soap: For long term travel, especially backpacking, chances are you’ll have to cave and do laundry a few times to keep things smelling decent. I brought a small bottle of Camp Suds with me that worked well, and if you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can even bring a travel laundry line to hang up your wet items.
Local currency: I recommend converting at least one or two hundred dollars ahead of time to the local currency of whichever place you’ll be visiting, especially because you never know how soon you’ll need cash once you arrive. Yes, there are plenty of ATMs in airports and train or bus stations, but their convenient locations comes at the cost (literally) of excess commission fees and poor exchange rates.
Travel Abroad Leave At Home!
Hair styling tools: I chose not to bring my American straightener and curling iron with me due to the voltage conversion issues, and overall, I did not miss them. While I was studying in Sweden, I co-purchased a Swedish travel hair straightener that I hardly used and ended up being a waste of a purchase. So moral of the story: save your money, save your suitcase space, and just enjoy your natural hair texture while you’re traveling.
Formal wear: Unless you’re planning on going to prom abroad, there is no need for any serious formal attire while you’re traveling. A better alternative is to bring nicer outfits that can double as day and night wear.
Heeled footwear: Long walks, cobblestones, and blisters are not a fun combination, and adding heels to this mix only makes the situation worse.
Expensive tech: Besides a phone, laptop, or camera, bringing any other electronic item is just adding bulky, unnecessary weight to your bag. Another thought to keep in mind is to not bring anything that is really expensive or difficult to replace since your luggage can easily get lost or stolen while you’re traveling.
Excessive clothing: Less is more when you travel. Unless you’re going somewhere exceptionally cold and you need multiple layers to survive each day, then you likely don’t need to pack any more than one big suitcase worth of luggage (I did a large backpack and small duffel, which was still a headache to manage in the airport, on buses and trains, and just walking around with them).
These are all my suggestions for now, and I hope they help you with figuring out what to pack for your adventure abroad! For those of you who have gone on study abroads, do you have any additional suggestions for things to bring or leave at home? Check out Gabi’s suggestions here.
Also published on Medium.