Okay, so you’ve gotten all of the other important things out of the way: choosing your high school travel abroad program, writing your application essay, hitting submit...now onto the things we know you’re really interested in when it comes to getting ready to travel abroad as a high schooler: packing.
Yeah, that’s right. What on earth do you put in your suitcase? Figuring out what to bring (or what NOT to bring) when prepping for a high school travel abroad program can seem a little stressful, which is why we’re here to lay your travel abroad packing list all out for you. So here it is: GoAbroad’s definitive list of how to pack for high school abroad.
Consider your options
What you bring in your luggage abroad is more than just checking off a a travel abroad packing list to make sure you have enough socks (although, always be sure to pack enough socks). It also means you have to look at what kind of travel abroad program you’ll be going on, and then evaluate how you need to go about packing.
Are you destination hopping, or will you have a home base?
So what are good things to bring while studying abroad? The first thing to consider is what kind of high school travel abroad program will you be adventuring with: stationary, or always movin’ and groovin’? That is, will you have a home base, a place to leave all of your things, be able to stack your favorite sweaters in drawers, and unpack your toiletries? Or are you participating in an adventure-style abroad program, where you’re always on the move, going from place-to-place, and carrying all of your belongings on your back?
If it’s the first option, then you most likely will be packing in a suitcase. If it’s the second, you’re going to want a backpack. And not just any backpack—a backpacking backpack.
A few things to remember: although a suitcase can sometimes offer more space, it may also require you to roll it over rocky or uneven terrain. If you’ll be traversing a lot of cobblestone or dirt streets, you may want to bring a backpack regardless.
Always make sure that the suitcase or backpack you’re bringing fits within the standard measurements of bags for the airline you’ll be flying on! This is especially important if you are only bringing a carry-on, as many airlines may charge you extra for an oversized bag or—worse—not let you on the plane at all!
Regardless of whether you’re traveling with a suitcase or a huge backpacking backpack, it’s always a good idea to also pack a small daypack to use on shorter day-trips throughout your travels.
Obviously, the types of clothes and gear that you’ll be packing in your bag depends entirely on the weather and the places you’ll be traveling to. Traveling to Switzerland in the winter? Don’t forget to pack those snow boots and quilted parkas! Trekking through the Andes in the summer? You’ll want quick-drying materials for more athletic activities. If you’re traveling to anywhere in the United Kingdom, it doesn’t matter if it’s summer, fall, winter, or spring—always, always, always pack a raincoat.
But no matter where you go: don’t forget to bring comfortable shoes, and lots of layers. At the end of the trip, your feet will thank you, and layers are always the best option for when you’re not sure of what kind of weather you’ll be facing.
Breaking down the basics
No matter what kind of high school travel abroad program you’ll be going on, there are a few essential items that you’re going to want to include on your travel abroad packing list, no matter what.
- Passport: Obviously when traveling abroad, you’re going to need your passport to enter another country. If you don’t have a passport, apply for one as quickly as possible, since sometimes processing times can take a little bit! And always make sure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your trip.
- A copy of your passport: Yes, in today’s day and age, it might seem silly to photocopy and print out the information page of your passport (the page with your picture and personal details). However, if you somehow lose your passport while abroad, having a copy of it can really come in handy! Having a saved picture of your passport information page is always handy, but not a guarantee, so having that printed version is also a good idea. And if you ever do lose your passport while traveling, don’t forget to immediately report it to the local United States Consulate (or your country of origin’s equivalent). Not only will this eliminate the possibility of someone stealing your identity, you’ll also be able to then apply for an emergency, temporary passport that you can use on your travels and to make it back home.
- A second form of ID: Whether it be your driver’s license/permit or an international student ID, having a second form of identification is always a good idea when traveling! It’s good to have a backup to your passport, yes, but when out-and-about on day-trips while traveling, you may not want to constantly carry your passport everywhere, and having a second form of ID can come in handy.
- Credit or debit card: When traveling abroad, yes—even as a high schooler, you may want to bring a credit or debit card for international purchases. However, do your research! Some banks have very high international fees when you withdraw money from an ATM or make a purchase abroad, and you don’t want that! So get a bank card with fair rates. And don’t forget—always alert your bank before any international travel!
- Proof of return travel: For many countries, you may be required to show proof of return; that is, make sure you you can prove to the immigration officers that you have a plane ticket home.
- Travel/Health insurance: Make sure you have your card, or proof of your travel and/or health insurance all printed out when traveling, in case of an emergency!
- Vaccination booklet: If you’ll be traveling somewhere in which vaccinations are required for entry into that country, then be sure to carry proof of having gotten vaccinated with you.
- Emergency contact list: It’s smart to carry a list of emergency contacts, their phone numbers and emails, and their relationship to you (mother/father/guardian/sibling). Although hopefully you won’t need to ever call them, it’s still a good idea to have their contact information on-hand!
- Copies of EVERYTHING: Always make a paper copy of every single document, ID, and travel plan, and then be sure to carry those copies separately from the originals.
Health and Wellness
If you have any medications or prescriptions that you’ll need to take while traveling, make sure that you have as many refills as you’ll need throughout your time abroad. It may be difficult to get a prescription refill of your medicine in certain countries, and it’s easier to just pack as much as you’ll need.
It’s also a good idea to bring some basics of a first aid kit: over-the-counter pain-relievers, allergy medicines, bandaids, and antibiotic cream are just a few good things to bring, especially if your travel program is more of an adventure travel program that requires intense physical activity.
What kind of electronics you bring is entirely dependent on you and the type of program you’ll be going on. Although having a way to document your travels via photographs is wonderful, and it’s always a good idea to have a way for people to get in contact with you via a cell phone, you might not want to bring a lot of electronic devices with you. Travel allows you to take a break from your daily routine and to fully immerse yourself in another culture. If you’re constantly distracted by electronics that connect you to your world back home, you might not realize what you’re missing all around you.
- Cell phone: Your mom/dad/guardian might occasionally want a “Hi, I’m alive! text every now and then, so bringing your cell phone on your travel abroad program might be a good idea. Your cell phone can also double as a camera! If you plan on using a local SIM card while abroad, make sure your phone is unlocked. Otherwise, you can check to see if your phone carrier has an affordable international plan, or you can just keep it on airplane mode!
- Laptop: If your high school travel abroad program requires any kind of written work, assignments, or blogging, you should probably bring your laptop. But otherwise, it’s probably a good idea to leave your laptop at home! Not only is this one more thing you’ll have to carry, a laptop will also distract you from the exciting experiences around you, as well as make you a potential target for pickpockets. If you don’t really need it, it’s probably best to leave the big, expensive electronics at home. Especially if you’ll be going on an adventure travel program!
- Camera: Whether it’s a fancy digital SLR, an action-ready waterproof camera, or an old polaroid because you’re all about that #vintage lifestyle, bringing a camera along for the ride is a great way to document your amazing adventures abroad!
- Chargers: What’s the point of bringing your phone/laptop/camera if they all die because you didn’t remember to pack your charger? Never leave a charger behind.
- Adaptors: Most countries you’ll travel to will have entirely different voltage levels coming out of their electricity sockets, so you’ll need an adaptor plug to plug your electronics into. Not only will your chargers not fit in the sockets, you could also accidentally fry your hair dryer if you don’t use one of these, so be sure to invest in an adaptor that is specifically for the country/region you’ll be in!
- iPod/mp3 player: For those long plane, train, or camel rides—music is your new best friend.
- Headphones: Just in case you need to jam to some tunes, fall asleep on the airplane, or block out the snoring from your loud roommate (only kidding).
What you choose to bring or not to bring on your high school travel abroad program is, again, entirely dependent on your needs and the type of activities you’ll be partaking in on the trip. Below are a few basic essentials that could come in handy on your travels.
- Reusable water bottle: Bringing a reusable water bottle is a great way to be environmentally-friendly and save money! If you’ll be on a travel program with a lot of physical activities, this might be a great option for you, but keep in mind that in many countries, purchased bottled water is the norm. This is often because the tap water is not necessarily safe to drink, and although using a reusable bottle might be the best for your wallet and for the environment, it might be safer to just buy the bottled stuff on your trip.
- Locks: Bring 1-2 combination locks with you to lock up your luggage, and especially to keep things safe and protected when staying in hostels.
- Packing cubes: These small, zippered bags keep your clothes organized and saves you packing space.
- Journal/diary: Live-tweeting and blogging your experiences abroad is a great way to connect with an online world of travelers and to share the way you see the world. However, it can sometimes be exhausting, only doing things for the Insta. Bringing a physical journal or diary that you can write in gives you a chance to really express your true feelings, without worrying about what someone on the internet thinks about it.
- Sunglasses/Hat: Strolling the streets of Paris? Make sure you’ve got some sweet shades to soak up the view. Hiking through Costa Rica? Pack some solid, polarized sunglasses and a hat to keep you shielded from the sun!
- Daypack: No matter what kind of travel you’ll be doing, it’s always a great idea to bring a smaller backpack (besides the main bag you packed in) for daily use. Make sure it can fit your camera!
- Linens/Towels: Check with your program provider to see if you’ll be required to bring your own bed linens (this is a great way to save money at hostels, so you save yourself a rental fee) or towels (whether staying at a hostel or camping in a tent, it’s always a great idea to have your own quick-dry towel available).
When packing your toiletries, just remember: despite what you think, you really do not need to bring your entire bathroom. Although you should bring the essentials, you’ll easily be able to purchase replacements at pharmacies and grocery stores abroad.
- Toothbrush and toothpaste: Although you’ll definitely be able to find these abroad, it’s always a good idea to bring your own so that you can brush along your trip.
- Deodorant: No one wants to smell you coming, so be sure to bring some deodorant, or you won’t make any friends abroad. Just kidding, you’ll still make friends, but they won’t be able to breathe properly through their noses.
- Shampoo/conditioner/soap: If you can find a three-in-one combo of all of these products, you’ll be able to save space and weight in your bag! Also keep in mind, again, that you can find most if not all of these products abroad. However, if you’re particularly attached to a specific kind of shampoo, make sure you pack enough for the entire trip! You can pack it in a small, travel-sized shampoo bottle so that you can pass the airline restrictions and save space.
- Facial products: It might be a little more difficult to find that exact shade of foundation that you love while shopping in a Hanoi grocery store, so be sure to bring any makeup, face-wash, or acne medicine that you’ll need during your time abroad.
- Nail clippers: Trust us. A day will come when you’re scaling rocks on the cliffs of Greece and you’ll trip, injure a toe...and for the rest of the trip, you’ll be limping along in pain. Unless you bring nail clippers! They will quite literally save your trip, so be sure to pack some.
Extra tip: if you’re packing in a carry-on bag, make sure that all of your liquids fit the liquid restrictions of the airline you’ll be traveling on! Otherwise, you’ll lose all of your fancy face wash to airport security.
Faced with the excitement of a few weeks, month, or even a year abroad, it can be tempting to go out and buy a brand new wardrobe for yourself. When deciding how to pack for study abroad and looking at enticing mall sales, we’d instead recommend saving that money for souvenirs that you buy on your trip, but we also understand the need to rock your best looks on the steps of the Acropolis.
Just make sure when you’re shopping that you buy clothes that you’ll actually wear and feel comfortable in! Besides the general tips below, just make sure the clothing that you pack is appropriate for the places where you’ll be traveling, in terms of climate, activity, and culture.
That is, if you’re going to be backpacking through northern Europe, you can probably dress a little more athletically. If you’re exploring the city streets of Tokyo, you might want to get a little more dressed up with a bit more edge. And if you’re visiting the markets of Morocco and you’re a woman, take the local customs into account, and dress a little more modestly.
Obviously the type of clothes you’ll pack are entirely dependent on where you’ll be going, what you’ll be doing, and when you’ll be going, so feel free to interpret these packing tips as you see fit!
- If you’re traveling somewhere in the winter, or where the temperatures will drop below 50 degrees fahrenheit, pack a heavier winter coat that is at preferably water-resistant.
- When traveling in slightly warmer temperatures and locales, pack a light jacket.
- A raincoat is more practical than an umbrella, and can be packed tightly in your suitcase/backpack.
- When it comes to shoes, less is more. It’s tempting to pack every pair in your closet, but you’ll only end up weighing yourself down.
- A versatile pair of tennis shoes are great for day-trip exploring, as well as more athletic activities.
- When traveling to warmer destinations, be sure to bring a pair of sandals.
- It’s always good to have at least one pair of dressy shoes/sandals for days and evenings out in town!
Tops and bottoms
Always try to stay with neutral colors and tones when picking out clothes to pack, so that all pieces can be mix-and-matched with each other.
- 2-4 short-sleeved tops
- 1-2 long-sleeved tops or 1-2 light sweaters
- 1 heavier sweater or fleece (even if you’re heading towards warmer weather, you’ll want this on chilly nights or on the airplane)
- 2-3 dresses (if you’re a lady, dresses are a great, comfortable and versatile option while traveling!)
- 2-3 pairs of shorts, pants, or skirts (for the ladies)
- 7-10 pairs of underwear
- 2 bras and 1 sports bra for women
- 3-5 pairs of socks
- 1-2 swimsuits
Remember: the less you bring, the better! You can always do laundry while you’re on the road, so if you’re traveling for 30 days, you don’t need to bring 30 pairs of underwear. Bring enough for a week or a week and a half, and then do some washing!
Program-specific packing tips
It can be difficult to outline general packing tips on how to pack for high school abroad without delving into specific programs, so let’s dive into the nitty-gritty-details.
Cultural Immersion Programs
If you’ll be on a program abroad that mostly stays in one place and focuses mostly on immersing you in the local culture, you’re going to want to blend in. There’s no better way to learn about the people and traditions around you than to attempt to live the daily life of locals. And yes, that includes dressing the part. In certain cities in Europe (think Paris, Seville, Rome), or major cities in Asia (Seoul, Tokyo) or South America (Santiago, Buenos Aires), wearing casual, athletic wear—as is often common in the United States—is not the norm.
You’ll want to wear darker colors, such as dark jeans or black pants, dressier shoes, and that hip leather jacket you just got for the holidays wouldn’t hurt either.
Adventure Travel Programs
If you’ll be backpacking through the wilderness, engaging in athletic activities like zip-lining through New Zealand, and sleeping under the stars, you obviously will want to pack more athletic clothes and gear than if you were to participate in a program in the center of London. Things such as technical gloves, waterproof cameras, and quick-wicking layers are your best bet for any kind of adventure program.
It’s still a good idea to pack one nicer outfit for any days you may go out for a nice meal or time out on the town. However, you’ll mostly want to pack as lightly as possible, as you’ll most likely be carrying everything in your backpacking backpack, and—as always—wear comfortable shoes you don’t mind walking in for days at a time.
Work Placement Programs
If you decide to go on a high school travel abroad program that focuses on providing you with some professional work or internship experience, you’re going to want to pack much more professional clothing that is office-appropriate. Before leaving, be sure to do some research on the office customs and ways of dress in the country you’ll be working in, so you know what are good things to pack while studying abroad, and so you’ll be all set on your first day of work.
Get ready for takeoff!
No matter where you’re traveling or what you’re doing, when you’re trying to figure out how to pack for high school abroad, just remember that you should pack about half of what you were planning on bringing. The more room you leave in your suitcase, the more alpaca sweaters you can bring back from Peru! Comfortable shoes, layers, and clothes you feel comfortable in are some of the most important components to a well-packed bag and a complete travel abroad packing list for an adventure overseas. And always remember: roll, don’t fold!