So you decided that you are going to spend one of your eight semesters of college studying abroad… smart choice. When it comes to packing for an entire semester, the task can seem daunting. Sure, it’s easy to remember to pack sneakers and pants, but what about all of the little things that may make your life easier when traveling throughout Europe? I have put together a packing list for a semester abroad of useful items that most people may not think of, along with some general tips and tricks for when it comes time to squeeze as many items into your suitcases as TSA allows.
Semester Abroad Packing List
1. Reusable Water Bottle
Fun fact: You have to pay for water in most European countries. Kiss the idea of free, cold water goodbye for the next four months, and get used to paying for bottled water or seeking out drinkable tap water. Most hostels and bars will fill your reusable water bottle for you free of charge, which will end up saving you a tremendous amount of money.
2. Luggage Lock
When I first heard about hostels in Europe, I stressed over the thought of having to protect my belongings as I slept. Turns out, hostels provide you with lockers or bins so that your things can be safely locked away… if you bring a lock. Before leaving for Europe, pick up a few luggage locks at a travel store. When I flew, I frequently locked my luggage to ensure that my belongings were safe and was glad that I always had an extra one handy.
Photos are an excellent way to relive a special moment, but writing your thoughts and feelings down is even better. When I was studying abroad, I spent some time everyday journaling what I saw, how I felt, and what I did. I am so glad that I did this so that I can always remember the places that I visited and the experiences that I had.
4. Watch/ FitBit
Before studying abroad, I recommend investing in a watch, or even better, a FitBit. Having to constantly pull out your phone to check the time puts you at more of a risk of pick pocketing. I found it to be much more convienent to be able to see the time easily on my wrist. I saved up for a FitBit Charge 2 before I studied abroad so that I could see the time along with how many steps and miles I had walked. Somedays, while sightseeing major European cities, I walked more than ten miles!
5. Comfortable Walking Shoes
A must for all the walking that you will be doing. I often wore Adidas sneakers because they were super comfortable, but still cute.
6. Umbrella/ Rain Jacket
Since you will end up spending a lot of time outside, be sure to pack a small umbrella that can easily fit in a carryon. Additionally, I bought myself a fashionable rain jacket before I left for Europe that kept me warm and dry in style. A pair of waterproof shoes, ideally rain boots, are also a good idea.
I highly recommend purchasing a backpack for Europe. I constantly used mine as my personal item for flights and used it for class. Also, a backpack is perfect for sightseeing because it stores and consolidates everything that you have, including a camera and water bottle, so that you don’t have to hold anything. A few of my friends just used a cross-body bag and found it to be impractical. Choose a backpack that is secure or that can be locked so that nothing is stolen out of it. My backpack had a hidden pocket on the rear side of the bag (that faced my back) where I stored my money and passport.
8. Shower Shoes
Just like college, be sure to pack your shower shoes. Flip flops are a necessity for showering in hostel’s communal bathrooms.
9. Portable Chargers & Converters
Although most trains and buses are equipped with outlets, a portable charger is a good idea to have while traveling. Your phone will loose battery quickly from all of the photos you take and from international cell phone service, so definitely invest in a portable charger before you go. It is smart to always have a working phone on you in case of emergencies. Additionally, converters are necessary. Most countries in the EU use the same outlet, but if you visit the UK you will need a different converter. I bought myself this converter kit before I left and it worked out great.
10. Medication & Toiletries
European grocery stores will sell everything that you need, but most of their brands are different than the US. If you use specific products that you know probably won’t be sold, make sure to buy extra and bring them with you. Also, European pharmacies are fantastic, but they don’t have all of the same medications. I packed myself medications that I would need incase of illness, along with a first aid kit.
If you can, go abroad with a nice camera. The camera that I brought to Europe with me was a DSLR Canon T5i Rebel. Before I left for Europe, I took a beginners photography class in Boston (link here), so that I could use my camera to its full ability. I am so glad that I did this because the photos that I took came out incredible and now hang on a wall in my room.
12. Luggage Tags & Passport Cover
Luggage tags are necessary while traveling so that luggage can be easily spotted and returned to you if lost, which unfortunately happens more often than not. Additionally, before I left for Europe, my sister gave me a passport cover which protected my documents adorably.
13. Eye Mask
Useful on overnight flights and bus rides to block out the sun and makes it easier to sleep.
14. Headphones & Ear Plugs
Headphones are a necessity while traveling, along with ear plugs to help you sleep more comfortably on public transportation and in noisy hostels.
15. Neck Pillow
If you plan on traveling Europe as inexpensively as possible, you may wind up traveling via overnight bus. If so, you should purchase a neck pillow to make sleeping in a seat more bearable.
Semester Abroad Packing Tips
I hope that this packing list for a semester abroad is helpful to you! The most difficult part about packing for me was choosing what clothes were appropriate for the classy, European style and the changing seasons. I was advised against packing graphic t-shirts, along with packing interchangeable clothing and dressing more conservatively- this helped me to blend in more with the locals and become less of a target.
I packed six pairs of shoes, which I found to be enough and more fall/winter clothes than summer clothes. Additionally, I packed everything in two large, 50 pound, checked bags and in one small, carry-on suitcase. Aside from having to manage all three suitcases in the airport at the start of the semester (my family took home one of the large suitcases when they visited in November), I thought that this was a good amount of storage.
Make sure to leave yourself room for souvenirs while packing, because you will end up buying a lot as you travel throughout Europe. You can do this by rolling your clothes instead of folding them.
Another clever packing tip is to flatten a foldable duffle bag on the bottom of one of your suitcases and pack over it; it takes up minimal space and this bag can act as a weekend travel bag, or as an extra bag to check in the airport on the way home.