What to Pack for a Semester Abroad

So you’ve made your decision to study abroad! Yay! But now you have to pack for a 3-5 month trip. Have no fear! Use this list to help you get the essentials organised.

1. Neutral Coloured Clothing

As you will be living out of a suitcase for the entirety of your time abroad, you need to be strategic about your outfits. You need to pack clothes that can mix and match to form many outfits, and clothes that you can wear over and over again. A bright pink, sequin dress might seem fun and fresh, but how many times will you wear that in one semester?

The majority of the clothes you pack should be things like:

  • neutral coloured t-shirts (i.e.: black, white, beige, grey, and perhaps some subtle shades of green, maroon..etc).
  • Jeans will never go out of style, and you can re-wear the same pair without every body noticing, so no need to pack more than a couple pairs.
  • Black skinny jeans: you can dress an outfit up or down with black skinnies. You also can re-wear these without people noticing. One pair should do the trick.
  • Cardigans: again, in somewhat neutral colours so you can mix and match to create multiple looks with very few items! See the ‘layers’ section below!
  • Black Dress: I had both a black maxi dress and a black mini dress. When in doubt, one of these will work for nearly any occasion. I was even able to dress the black maxi up for a semi-formal ‘ball’ I attended – and this dress only cost me $8!

You can’t go wrong with black and white!

If you’re anything like me, you’ll be starting to get bummed out by all the boring clothing options. But hang in there! I will tell you how to spice up your study abroad wardrobe without packing bulky, unnecessary items.

2. Accessories

So this is where you are allowed to have some fun! To be honest, you still have to pick and choose so that everything fits in your suitcase, but at least you can add some pops of colour and texture.

Scarves: Great for adding colour or texture, as well as functional for chilly days as you will likely be abroad for multiple seasons.

Necklaces: I would suggest packing one ‘statement’ necklace that you can add to an otherwise simple outfit to really dress it up. Throw in a couple other necklaces that will match your day-to-day to outfits.

Earrings and rings: These things are tiny but make a BIG difference; these accessories will help keep your outfits fresh rather than repetitive. Bring on the colour and sparkle. You can dress an outfit up with a dangly pair of earrings or add some edge for a night out with a few rings and a pair of studs.

Scrunchies are SO CUTE and functional. You can get them in so many textures (velvet, sequin, you name it!) and funky patterns (a bit of cheetah or floral goes a long way). Also consider other hair accessories, like a pretty clip or barrette for when you are feeling classy, or a fluffy hat for those cold days (or, let’s be honest, the days you don’t want to wash your hair). I will say that I have not seen a girl in England wearing a baseball cap, but that’s not to say you can’t!

3. Weather Practical Clothing

I studied abroad in England. It rains there. A. LOT. Thus, I came prepared with a sturdy rain coat. I ended up wearing this more than anything else I packed! I highly recommend North Face for outerwear like this as it has lasted me for years and always keeps me warm and dry. Plus, they have a zillion colours to choose from.

I also packed SO MANY swimsuits, which was not all that necessary (shocking!). Although, I did use 1 or 2 while travelling to Greece. Take a look at one of my few opportunities to wear shorts:

Ahhh..to be on the beach in Greece…

I at least had the opportunity to wear that tank top several times, often times with a cardigan but hey ho!

Take a look at the weather where you will be going and consider what you need and what you can live without. It’s ok to pack one or two ‘just in case’ items (i.e.: a swimsuit) but it’s all too easy to get carried away and then you will be left with hardly any space for the clothes you will wear every day.

You will likely be studying abroad for more than one season – fall and winter or winter and spring, perhaps. If you can get buy with one coat that functions as protection from wind, rain, and cold, then there is no need to pack 5 trendy jackets. Outerwear takes up the most room in your suitcase, so really be picky with what you choose to bring!

Saying that, don’t skimp by picking a really light jacket if you are going somewhere that gets chilly. You will not enjoy yourself if you are getting cold.

For example, I packed my North Face raincoat, and a North Face puffy jacket that squished down fairly small (pictures below). On the coldest days and wettest days, I layered the raincoat over the top of the puffy jacket. That was enough to get me through the mild (but wet) winters in England, and I am always cold!

4. Layers

Cardigans, cotton shirts, scarves… layers will be your best friend. Not only do they add variation to your wardrobe, they provide warmth when the seasons change, or allow you to shed a layer on those days you are walking MILES through a new city and sweating up a storm.

Here I am in Barcelona, wearing a long sleeve shirt (in neutral colours of course!), a denim button up over the top, and a nice big scarf.. because as I afore mentioned, I am always cold. And there is Chris, in just a t-shirt…ha!

Also, here is an example of the importance of both layers and neutral colours. Notice this is the same dress I wore on a (rare) sunny day in Lancaster, England (picture in front of castle at the start of this post), this time layered with the essential tights and denim jacket as it was much cooler weather.

It is typically sunnier in London, so I had the chance to use my sunglasses, as well. Yay! Doesn’t often happen in the north of England!

5. Photographs

This isn’t a necessity, I suppose, but it sure did offer me a great deal of comfort in my moments of homesickness!

The first thing I did when I moved into my new dorm room abroad, albeit on day 5 when my luggage FINALLY arrived from the airport (it got massively lost…that’s a story for another time), I taped up loads of pictures of my friends and family from home above my bed. Especially in the beginning when everything is new and unfamiliar, you will be relieved to look around you and see your loved ones’ faces.

It also provides you with easy decor as your room will be very bare. My room felt so empty – even the closet was half empty which is a first for me. The photos brought some colour and fun and hid some of that intimidating white wall space. They hardly take up any space in your suitcase and you will be so happy to have them.

6. Multi-functional Shoes

Also, bring VERY FEW pairs of shoes. They are by far the heaviest thing you will pack and they take up a lot of space. Learn from my mistake – I brought RAIN BOOTS. In my defence, it rains essentially every day in England. But no one wears rain boots here. WHAT A WASTE OF LUGGAGE SPACE!

Peep my converse: by far the shoes I got the most use out of.

These pair, hard to make out here, unfortunately, were so cute.

They were hightops and white with subtle gold swirly/aztec type patterns on them. They matched everything and were so comfy!

You also will likely not wear high heels. At all. But if you’re someone who is really into their heels, just bring one pair that you can rock over and over. I brought a pair of black ankle boots with a small heel that were dressy enough to get me through the rare ‘fancy’ occasion but also could be worn on a night out in town. I never felt the need for stilettos!

Peep the converse again! This time in London. Trusty ol’ things 🙂

With the power of hindsight, I present to you the ultimate list of shoes you will need:

Cute sneakers: Think converse or keds. You can wear these to class or to explore the streets of Rome. Comfy and fashionable!

Sturdy sandals: If I could only recommend one product for the rest of my life, I would recommend Chacos! They are the most comfortable sandals EVER. They have great arch support and the strap adjusts every which way until they fit perfectly. You can wear them in the water, too! Great for the beach. They are also really cute and there are so many colours and patterns to choose from. You can even customise them! They are on the pricey side but I have had mine for over 5 summers now and there is minimal wear and tear on them.

Flip flops: If for nothing else, take a pair for the shared shower spaces.

Frivolous, fun shoes: Pack at least one pair for those nights out and social events. Again, try to choose a neutral colour so you get a lot of use out of them!

Active Shoes: This depends on YOU and your interests/hobbies. I had to pack my running shoes, which I also used for small hikes, etc. If you are an avid hiker and are going somewhere with opportunities, bring along your hiking boots.

7. Access to Foreign Currency

Or at least an idea of how you will access your money.

For example, many students on my study abroad program had a travel card, such as Travelex. This allows you to load money onto a card online from your bank account back home, which then makes spending from the card, or taking money out at an ATM easy. Side note: ATM’s in England and other parts of Europe suck your card all the way in. Don’t panic! This is supposed to happen! It will spit your card back out at the end of your transaction. Just thought that might help you avoid the mini-heart attack I had to endure during my first ATM fiasco.

Other friends of mine brought cash over and set up a bank account in their host country. Do your research and do what works best for you; just don’t show up unprepared because it will stress you out!

8. School Supplies

You are studying abroad, so don’t forget a couple notebooks and pens at the very least! This may be something you can buy when you arrive, but if your a little Type-A like me, you might want specific supplies you know you can get from home. Honestly, notebooks are different in England…don’t even get me started! You also may want to bring a backpack which you can use for both you classes and as a carry on for all of your travels!

BEST OF LUCK 🙂

While I personally was really paranoid about what kinds of clothes I should pack for my time abroad, the experience taught me that you really don’t need very much. You will be so busy exploring THE WORLD and trying new things that it won’t matter that you have worn the same shirt twice in the same week…or four times…

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