Reader Question: How to Pack To Study Abroad
Reader Mike asks,
I recently found out that I have been accepted to an abroad program to the south of France. I will be going there for a semester starting at the end of August and coming back towards the end of December making my trip a total of around 4 months. I am totally lost on what to pack and was hoping you could offer some advice on what to bring. Merci trés bien!
Great question Mike! as a former study abroad participant, I think I can give you an idea of what you’ll need style-wise to
blend in compete with the Europeans.
I studied in Athens, Greece the spring semester my sophomore year, and somehow managed to pack everything for my four months in 1 checked bag, 1 carry-on suitcase, and 1 backpack.
I honestly couldn’t tell you how I did it, but I can tell you I didn’t end up wearing half of what I packed.
After having to redistribute items both on the way there and on the way back I learned my lesson. Don’t pack everything you think you’ll need, and nothing that you’ve never *actually* worn before. If you haven’t worn it yet, you won’t wear it when you get where you’re going. Besides, you need to leave room for all the ridiculous souvenirs you’ll bring home for yourself and your friends and family.
Let’s start with your travel outfit, because that will come right out of your bags.Gap, $60; Sweater –H&M, $20; Jeans – Uniqlo, $50; Belt – Dockers, $28; Shoes – Vans, $50
I don’t know where exactly you’re from, Mike, but most places in the U.S. are hot hot hot in August. Try and catch a overnight flight, because I’m putting you in layers. The more your wear, the less you have to pack. Planes are too cold for shorts anyway, especially when you’re on board for 10+ hours.
Beyond that, it never hurts to dress well. I know you’re just going to be sitting for several hours, but you don’t need to wear sweatpants. You really don’t. If you do I GUARANTEE you will get weird looks when you land in Charles De Gaulle or anywhere else in the European Union. Dress chic and make them think you’re one of them, since the French aren’t exactly known to be the most welcoming.
My first (and more important) piece of advice in regards to the way you pack is:
Pack a week’s worth of outfits in your carry-on bag.
I studied abroad in Greece, and a girl in my program had her luggage lost. You always assume this isn’t going to happen, but it did, and she had to go shopping right away because the clothes on her back were the only ones she had with her. So since this is the back-up bag, and therefore most important, let’s start by packing that one.
Pack as much as you can without going overweight. It’s better to have lots of room left in your checked luggage to bring stuff home than to be missing everything you need/want.
1 Polo – Lacoste, $98
1 Windbreaker/Raincoat – J.Crew, $118
1 Pair of Jeans – Uniqlo, $50
2 Pairs of Chinos – Uniqlo, $40
1 Pair of Chukkas (or equally dressy casual shoes) – Clarks $120
1 Swimsuit – J.Crew, $70
3 Basic Tees – Merona, $12 (for 3)
A week’s worth of Socks – Gap, $18 (for 3 pairs)
1 Hoodie – Old Navy, $19
2 Pairs of Shorts – J.Crew, $65
A week’s worth of Underwear – Fruit of the Loom, $19 (for 7 pairs)
This list doesn’t include the extra carry-on bag (probably your backpack or laptop bag) you get to put under your seat. Use this bag to hold your computer, money, a folder of all of your necessary documents (and copies of each document), nausea/headache/sleeping pills, snacks (that you bought after the security checkpoint), books, and no clothing. If you end up being overweight with your overhead compartment carry-on bag, put your windbreaker/raincoat in this bag. This means the rest of your clothing and shoes go in your checked luggage.
Hopefully your luggage will land when you do so you’ll have all this stuff once you get there:
1 Pair of Jeans – Uniqlo, $50
1 Crewneck Sweatshirt – Old Navy, $18
2 Short Sleeve Button Ups – Saturdays NYC, $98
3 Basic Shirts – Merona, $12 (for 3)
1 Pair of Waterproof Shoes – Tretorn, $85
1 Winter Coat – Canada Goose, $550
1 Pair of Flip Flops (for hostel showers) – Old Navy, $8
A week’s worth of workout shorts – Old Navy, $13-17
A week’s worth of socks – Gap, $18 (for 3 pairs)
A few pairs of dress socks – Gap, $ (for 3 pairs)
2 Long Sleeve Shirts – H&M, $10
2 week’s worth of Underwear – Fruit of the Loom, $19 (for 7 pairs)
1 Button Up – Gap, $60
1 Sweater – H&M, $20
1 Pair of Workout Sneakers – Asics, $90
This should leave you plenty of room in your checked bag for any other goodies you need to bring from home, such as your favorite movies, some books, pens and pencils (you will still have class) etc. To keep you from including things you don’t need and wasting precious reserve space, here’s a list of what not to bring.
WHAT TO BUY WHEN YOU GET THERE
France has amazing beauty and grooming products, so try theirs. A shampoo bottle for 4 months probably weighs as much as your favorite pair of jeans, and which would you rather sacrifice in luggage weight? The answer is the shampoo bottle.
I bought a lot of clothes when I was abroad (including a full length winter coat with a large collar) that I’m not really sure how I squeezed all of it into my luggage to bring back home. Don’t do this. Buy 1-2 actual clothing items (like the perfect leather jacket or some shoes you could never find back home) and then stick to buying really cool accessories.
Get yourself a beret and scarf to pick up the petite coquettes like a true Frenchman would. Or buy one of those crazy Russian fur hats to keep you warm when it starts to snow. Buy an Italian leather belt. Or Chelsea boots in England. Accessories will fit you longer than skinny jeans.
I totally understand collecting a tee from every place you go. There are plenty of cool ones, and your friends back home definitely won’t have the same one unless you buy one for them. If you plan on doing this, bring half as many tees as I suggested so that they get worked into the allotted packing space.