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How to Pack for Your Year Abroad

How to Pack for Your Year Abroad main image

By Charlotte Stevenson

When it comes to moving to study abroad in a new country, sometimes it feels like it would be so much easier if our destination could come to us, or if our wardrobes were simply complex origami structures that we could flatten and then fold back out again to avoid heavy suitcases.

Unfortunately, this isn’t possible, and going on a year abroad means having to pack all the belongings you think you’ll need. Don’t worry though, it’s not as taxing as it first seems. Here are some tips to stay organized when it’s time to start filling suitcases.

Pack light!

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This first one is going to be harder than it seems. Given you’ll probably have to pay to take a suitcase on your light, you should aim to stick to just the one case. An advantage of doing this is it will ensure you prioritize and avoid taking things just for the sake of taking them. Plan your packing by thinking about the pros and cons of taking each item. For example, as much as you like your complete works of Shakespeare collection (pro) you aren't going to need it really (unless you're a Shakespeare scholar) and it will add a significant amount of weight to your case (con). Hence it would be better to leave that portfolio at home or find a compromise (a lighter edition or e-book version maybe).

Learn to love making lists

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Something I have found useful while packing for my move to the Netherlands has been writing lists. These lists have subheadings (each room of the house) so I can organize exactly what I need to take with me from each space. Not only is ticking things off satisfying but it’s also a source of motivation – each red tick means I’m one step further toward my goal.

Your lists will be helpful once you’ve arrived too, as they’ll help you quickly realize what you need to buy that didn’t fit into your luggage. list can contain extra boxes for the things you need to buy that didn't make the luggage cut, such as a duvet and lightbulbs.

Plan for all seasons

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There’s no sense in packing any clothes which aren’t going to be suitable for the weather at your destination. Look through your wardrobe, research the location and make a note of everything which would be suitable during the seasons you’ll experience during your stay. This will be easier for some countries than others. In the UK, for example, the seasons tend to blend into one another so even in summer you’ll find yourself needing a raincoat and a jumper as well as a pair of shorts.

There might be other factors to consider when choosing clothes. I’m currently stocking up on clothes which are suited to cycling because having a bicycle is a must for getting around Amsterdam and a lot of my longer skirts will most likely get trapped in the wheels.

Allow yourself some sentimental items

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It’s OK to struggle when packing because leaving home is always hard. Dismantling your room will leave you feeling nostalgic and sentimental, as you find countless mementos and trinkets that remind you of your friends and family. Make sure you allow yourself a little space in that (not big enough) suitcase to pack some photographs, a journal or letter writing supplies so you can write to your family and friends once you are settled in at university. Having that comfort will help a lot, particularly in the first few weeks when homesickness is at its worst. With time, you will grow used to being far from home, and you’ll end up appreciating seeing everyone during the holidays even more than before.

What to include in your hand luggage

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Make no mistake, hand luggage is just as hard to pack as your main suitcase, largely because your brain (if it’s anything like mine) will get into the habit of putting things that don't fit in the suitcase, but which you are adamant on taking, into your hand luggage. Ultimately, this isn’t really feasible, so follow the same approach of lists and weighing up pros and cons.

No matter how long the journey, whether it be by plane, train or boat, you’re going to be pretty exhausted upon your arrival and it’s unlikely you’ll unpack everything immediately. Give future you a boost by ensuring toiletries/medication and nightwear can be easily found in your hand luggage, as well as any cables, chargers or other electronic devices you can’t live without (not forgetting travel adapters!)

Start sooner rather than later

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This is probably stating the obvious but packing, especially for something this important, takes time. The sooner you get it over and done with, the more time you will have to go and meet up with friends or spend time with family before you leave. With my year abroad still several weeks away, I already know what needs packing and have my supplies nearby, so can spend the next week reading, ticking off items from my summer bucket list and sleeping (need to catch up!). Starting early also allows more time for ordering any items you suddenly realize you’re going to need, so get started!

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