How to Pack for a Multi-Cultural Study Abroad Experience

by Emma Rattenborg

Packing can feel like enough of a challenge when you’re going to one place for a short amount of time, let alone compared to when you are going on a study abroad trip covering several countries and several climates over several months. Truth be told, packing for a trip like this is not fun, but it doesn’t have to be a total pain your arse. In fact, with the right frame of mind, packing is just a byproduct of daydreaming the adventure to be had.

So set your stress aside (ain’t nobody got room for that their carry on!) and instead fill your pack with all the actual essentials for the best trip ever, including...

1. Culturally sensitive clothing.

We scream this from the rooftops! Are your travels spanning across cultures that are vastly different from each other? Will you be dipping your toes into the pools of more progressive capital cities as well as more traditional rural areas? Will you be weaving in and out of various religious norms and contrasting interpretations of appropriate modesty?

Pack your bags with items that will not offend the natives of the countries you will be visiting. You don’t want to have to revamp your wardrobe every time you cross a border, and it’s better to be more conservative and modest whenever possible. Keep it cute, but keep it practical and culturally sensitive, too.

2. Good luggage.

This is exceptionally important because of how much you will be traveling during a multi-country study abroad program. Determine what will work best for you, while putting your study abroad program into consideration. Whether it’s fitting everything into a backpacking backpack to be as minimal as possible, purchasing a large duffel bag, or sticking with the classic, rolly suitcase, we suggest paying more upfront for the convenience and comfort of traveling with your belongings; pay for high quality equipment whenever possible (and save yourself the back aches in the future).

3. Comfortable shoes.

If you are setting off on a trip to multiple different countries, you are going to want happy feet the whole way ‘round. Proper walking shoes are vital to study abroad satisfaction. It never hurts to bring a pair of good quality adventure shoes, like Chacos, or a more stylish pair that has a good sole. It may be tempting to stock up on good "2-for-1" deals, but those shoes rarely do you any favors in the comfort department. Keep your shoes neutral colored to ensure re-purposing with different outfits.

Girl overlooking a mountain view

4. Ogres are like onions.

Donkey: They stink? 

Shrek: Yes. No. 

Donkey: Oh, they make you cry. 

Shrek: No. 

Donkey: Oh, you leave em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs.

Shrek: No. Layers.

Onions have layers. Ogres have layers. You get it? We both have layers.

Packing layers is essential; they are a godsend when it comes to traveling to different climates or during different seasons. Finding a light down-jacket or shell that can be packed into a small pouch can be a life-saver, and takes up next to no room. Warm socks, a hat, and a fleece are also useful to have. Even if your destination is warm, buses and flights can get cold (and sometimes it’s nice to have super snuggly gear to cuddle up in).

5. Consider your style. 

This is actually a really important part about packing for a multi-cultural study abroad experience. While you may want to be as practical as possible, it is important to think about what you are comfortable wearing! Even if you are going to a country where you have to be more modest, find clothes that suit your personality that also allow you to cover up! You don’t want to feel like you are wearing a stranger’s clothes! 

6. A day pack.

Day trips are a huge part of traveling, and having a small backpack can be much nicer than having a satchel or bag, especially because the weight is more evenly distributed and your belongings will be kept more safe. It can fit a lot more and is better suited for any activity, whether it be going for a hike or just walking around the town. This can also be a carry-on if you have a duffel too.

Girl wearing a scarf

7. Snacks.

Although there will be convenient stores and markets to get food in, squeezing your favorite snacks into the empty nooks and crannies of your pack is a wonderful idea. Not only will a lot of the food items be foreign in the convenience stores, but you’ll also get cravings and a taste of home can be nice. Plus, it is never fun to be looking for food when you have passed the hunger threshold (#hangry), and having a Cliff bar on hand can at least give you more time to look!

8. Scarves.

This one is directed toward the ladies, scarves are an amazing accessory to bring abroad. Not only does it allow you to change your outfits up, but it can also help you quickly dress more modestly. This is especially helpful in more traditional countries and cities, especially if you intend to go to religious sites, such as mosques. Scarves are a great way to add flavor to an outfit without taking up a lot of room, too!

9. Clothes for transport.

There is one thing that really sets a multi-cultural abroad experience from a single country one, and that is the amount you will be traveling! It will sometimes seem like you are constantly getting on a new plane, train, bus, or boat, and you are going to want to be comfortable! Bringing a pair of sweats that pack well and a sweatshirt can be important, just don’t go overboard because they can take up a lot of space!

10. Clothes that can be worn with everything.

By bringing articles of clothing that go with everything else you packed, you will get the most outfits possible, while packing like a minimalist. Plain t-shirts, tanks, and long sleeves go great with leggings, jeans, and skirts (for you ladies). Having clothes that you can dress up and down and layer are key. Plus, once you throw that scarf on it will make for a travel-perfect outfit.

Now that you’ve stuffed your pack silly with your “must-haves” for your study abroad trip, the next challenge arises: where are you going to put all of your lovely souvenirs?!