Study Abroad Preparation – Packing essentials and planning: DONT FORGET A THING!

I have just over a month until I am set to embark on my study abroad adventure in Spain for the duration of summer 2014. It’s quite the mix of emotions, while I am not leaving for a very long period of time, it is still intimidating to know I will be fully immersed in a new culture and language for the entirety of my summer vacation. To best prepare myself, I have started packing really early, to make sure I maximize the utility of what I bring while minimizing the volume of stuff I haul across the pond to sangria-land.

NOTE: This post is essentially just a summary of little things to not forget when making a journey overseas, just little helpful hints/things to remember to help out people when packing. I obviously haven’t listed every little thing that one may need, but it’s just a summary of things I have learned to bring over the course of a few big trips overseas, and I hope it helps anyone looking for ideas for packing.

For starters, let’s begin with a tour of my suitcase. I bought it earlier this year at Urban Traveler, a travel boutique in Minneapolis on sale for a deep discount. It is a travelpro, an excellent brand to invest in for luggage to have for the rest of your life. The manager of the store registered me for the lifetime warranty when I purchased it, and if anything ever happens to it I can always bring it in for free repairs. My mom has had her travelpro suitcase since she started as a flight attendant in 1978. That’s a lot of trips, and her suitcase has held up perfectly throughout it all. It is durable and just small enough to meet carry-on requirements.
Some may think I am insane for trying to pack for 2 months in a carry-on size suitcase, but in reality, it is way more insane to over pack an excess of clothes, shoes and other crap that I would never use during my short summer stay in Spain. I know that if I pack three pairs of jeans, I will only wear one pair, probably only once.
This brings to light the discussion on proper apparel to bring to wear in a foreign country. Europeans just know how to dress, this is indisputable fact, applying to both men and women. This is discussed on many travel blogs and in advice sections for students studying abroad. Wear daisy dukes and a tight T-shirt and you’ll look like a complete moron and stick out like a sore tourist thumb in any European city. Because it is so hot in Spain (my iPhone app says it’s already in the 80s there, very exciting for a Minnesotan) I plan on bringing a lot of light dresses and skirts. Dresses are great to pack because they take up so little space. One pair of jeans should be fully sufficient, and only two pairs of shorts. This may sound extreme, but wearing short shorts looks tacky when no one else is, and being dressed tastefully is a good habit to get into, I hope to continue to maintain it when I return home.
Two swimsuits, one for tanning, and a more modest suit in case I get the opportunity to do more “water sports” type activities
This summer my main exercise is going to be walking around European cities, and excessive walking calls for good quality shoes. There is nothing worse than trying to explore a city while suffering from blisters and other pains from unsupportive shoes, or listening to other people in your group complain about their foot pain. Sandals are difficult because cute, fashionable sandals are typically cheaply made and more durable, comfortable sandals are, well, ugly. I have found a happy medium between decently fashionable and walking-comfortable with my Taos sandals which are pricey but definitely worth it. 

Tennis shoes are also a frustrating thing to pack, as they look stupid and touristy with most outfits and take up a lot of space, but for long days of hiking through medieval cities and attractions, they are extremely necessary. Black is a good color option because they wont get dirty and look slightly less stupid than wearing bright white sneakers with jeans. Closed-toe flats are essential for women if planning on touring churches, and a pair of black ones will compliment almost any outfit. When analyzing whether or not to pack certain items, evaluating the utility of the item is essential. Getting maximal use out of a few items instead of wearing a million different things one time each is so important, and typically Europeans tend to dress in that way. Having one good quality, versatile black dress is way better than having five cheap dresses that are only good in certain situations. This highlights another poor quality of America, we are obsessed with consumerism and owning many useless items instead of a few high quality ones. I can’t even count how many pairs of cheap jeans or tops I’ve had that get holes in them after just a few wears.

Moving on from clothing, here is just a list of other packing essentials for a summer abroad
1. Adapter – be aware that these are NOT converters and have no effect on the voltage difference in European electricity systems, they only change the hardware allowing for devices to be plugged in. Hair dryers and other heated tools will break if plugged in to just an adapter, I learned this the hard way when flames shot out of my hairdryer and completely ruined it.
2. Sunscreen and aloe – if you’re like me, you will get sunburned.
3. Travel sized set of toiletries to accompany full sized items – for light packing on weekend excursions.
4. Travel journal and plenty of pens. I always regret not writing down names of restaurants and short stories from my travels, this summer I hope to be diligent in documenting my adventures
5. Folder or something similar to keep travel documents all in one place. There is nothing worse than scrambling to find a train ticket or boarding pass and feeling the panic of it being lost forever right before boarding, I got mine in the dollar section at target for $1.00
6.Reusable water bottle – many experiences have led me to fully understand that there is no free table water in Europe. Bringing a water bottle to refill on long days of walking through city streets is essential, just remember to empty it before going through security.
7. Enough of your favorite makeup to make it through the summer in case the country you’re staying in doesn’t sell your brand/shade/whatever
8.Band-aids: to cover up the blisters incurred from walking miles through city streets

9. All the over-the-counter pharmaceutical needs, cough drops, Day-quil, Nyquil, emergenC vitamin C packets, makeup remover, ibuprofen, vitamins, anything you could ever need.
10. Day-trip bag: For weekend excursions, you won’t want to bring your entire suitcase, so having a smaller backpack that can fit a few changes of clothes and a toothbrush is essential
11. Medications – any prescription medications should be in their original Rx bottle and you should bring enough to last the entire trip. This is something that should be taken care of in advance to avoid drama with insurance companies not paying for early refills or increased refill amounts. Talk to your pharmacy about getting prior authorization (vacation overrides) for these issues

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