The Most Common Study Abroad Packing Mistakes (And What to Do Instead)

Krista Diamond | May 18, 2017 @ 3:00 PM

Somewhere in between getting accepted into a study abroad program and actually setting foot in a foreign country it hits you: You have to fit your entire life into a suitcase. Packing for a semester or summer abroad can be daunting. You don’t want to pack too much for what might turn out to be an even smaller dorm than the one you’re used to. And you definitely don’t want to forget something essential, like an important travel document or favorite piece of clothing.

If you’ve already read all of the lists of things that you should do when packing to study abroad and you’re still stumped, consider a what not to do approach. Here are 10 common mistakes that college students make when packing abroad and what to do instead.

1. Leaving Your Appliances At Home Because You Assume They’re Not Compatible

Before you start packing, find out if you’re actually going to need an appliance adapter. Most European outlets aren’t designed to fit American devices, but some regions may be compatible. If you’re traveling somewhere that requires appliance adaptors, buy one (or two, or three, or four) before you go and bring your gadgets with you.

2. Bringing Only One Kind of Currency

Some countries are happy to accept US dollars, but that’s not always the case. In addition to bringing cash, bring a credit card and a debit card. Most places accept plastic and you might not be able to exchange your US dollars right away.

3. Not Bringing Enough ID

Err on the side of bringing too much identification. This includes your passport, student visa, driver’s license, college ID (yep, you can still score discounts abroad), health insurance card and copies of your social security card and birth certificate. Pro tip: Make copies of all documents. It’s way easier to replace a lost or stolen passport if you have a photocopy of it.

4. Packing Too Many Liquids

Liquids are a major packing liability. They add weight to your suitcase and they put you in danger of a dreaded shampoo explosion disaster. Don’t pack liquids like shampoo, laundry detergent, soap and sunscreen if you know you’ll be able to get them abroad. That being said, if there’s a toiletry you can’t get in the country you’re headed to, bring it. Just be sure to prevent spillage by placing a piece plastic wrap beneath the cap.

5. Overpacking

Here’s two reasons to become a light packer: 1) Overweight baggage fees (seriously, these can cost you hundreds) and 2) You’re going to want extra space for all of the cool stuff you’re going to buy abroad. Leave space for souvenirs!

6. Making Assumptions About the Weather

Whether you’re spending a summer on the sunny coast of Italy or a fall semester in rainy London, pack for unexpected weather patterns. A pair of shorts, long pants, a rain jacket and a warm sweater are essentials for any study abroad destination.

7. Folding Instead of Rolling

Are you seriously still folding your clothes instead of rolling them? Break this habit ASAP and gaze in wonder at how much space this technique saves. You can also get compression roll-up storage bags for even more space. Just be sure to get the ones that don’t require a vacuum.

8. Not Packing Comfortable Shoes

You might be a public transportation aficionado at home, but plan on doing tons of walking abroad. A sensible pair of shoes is critical. We’re not talking about the ballet flats you keep in your purse for those nights when your high heels are killing you. We’re talking actual comfortable walking shoes. Invest in a good pair and pack them with you.

9. Forgetting a Day Pack

You shouldn’t have to lug your suitcase all around France! Bring a daypack like a small backpack or crossbody bag for spontaneous adventure.

10. Leaving Your Belongings With People You Don’t Trust

You can’t take everything with you, so that means leaving some stuff behind. Leaving your belongings with your friends or whoever’s subletting your apartment might seem like the most economical solution, but it can cost you in the long run. You won’t be able to control who has access to your things if they’re laying around during a party, and you might found out that your subletter is actually kind of sketchy. Rent a storage unit and enjoy peace of mind—and not to mention climate control, online bill pay and month-to-month leases—instead.

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