13 Gifts NOT to Give Students Preparing to Study Abroad

by Published

If you’re the student preparing to head abroad next semester or summer (lucky!!!!), follow these tips – or at least suggest them to your parents; it’ll make your life easier when it comes to fitting everything in your suitcase (and give you some ideas on the best luggage for study abroad!). 

Afterall, you don’t want to be THAT traveler holding up the line at the airport as you desperately try to figure out how to make your suitcase weigh less. Been there, done that, and it’s never any fun.

Closeup of gifts under a Christmas tree
Give the gift of GoAbroad.com!

Without further ado, here are 13 items to cross off that holiday gift list (not to mention alternative ideas for gifts for people studying abroad!):

1. International Calling Cards

Using international calling cards abroad can be a tremendous hassle nowadays and serve as poor study abroad gifts. From the hidden fees to the never-ending digits you need to remember, it’s not just losing the cards that you have to worry about (though, that’s just as much of a problem). You’ll sometimes need a different calling card for each continent, in order to get a good call rate—not exactly the ideal situation for a student planning to spend his/her spring break country-hopping.

A good alternative to consider for study abroad gifts is Skype Credit. Accessible on your mobile phone as well as your computer, this is a handy and ideal gift for students who are traveling out of the country. Not only does the credit allow you to call other mobile numbers and landlines, but it enables you to send cheap SMS messages, to forward calls, and even connect to over 200,000 WiFi hotspots worldwide using Skype WiFi.

2. Traveler’s Checks

Once upon a time, these were a handy thing to have when traveling abroad and paying for things. Not so much anymore. Very few places abroad, like restaurants, stores, or hostels/hotels, will accept these as a form of payment—and you don’t want to be stranded without a payment method when you need it most. Another fact that makes them inconvenient is having to find a bank that will exchange them for local currency (what a hassle!). As if this already didn’t cut it from the study abroad gift basket, traveler’s checks have been known to have the worst exchange rate of any modern form of currency. Need we say more?

Consider Travel Money Cards instead. This prepaid option allows you to load currencies onto the card online, locking in exchange rates ahead of time so you know how much you’re spending. These cards are typically re-loadable as well, so you can add more money to them when you’re running low. Favorite part: these aren’t tied to your bank account, so if they’re ever stolen, you don’t have to worry about someone having access to the rest of your funds. Check out Cash Passport from MasterCard to learn more about how these work!

Closeup of items laid out to pack away
Make sure you check a money belt off your packing list! Buy now to save later!

3. Cheaply Made Money Belts

This is one expense that’s worth the cost, as it’s a surefire way to keep your cash and important documents close to your body. Rather than have one that’s going to get all twisted under your jacket or shirt, or have the cord that hangs around neck break from a handful of uses, invest in a money belt that will withstand the test of time. You’ll be glad you did.

Reliable, high-quality money belts make great study abroad gifts! Do a little research on the most durable money belts and look over the reviews of people who have already tried out the belts. Does it stay close to my body? Is it big enough to hold all my important documents? Can I easily wear this under my travel clothes? These are some important questions you will need to answer, and one of the best travel gurus, Rick Steves, discusses money belts and all-things-travel and even sells money belts on his website.

4. Books

If you’re anything like us, you like the feel of a real book in your hand. Airlines also never make you put it away during takeoff or landing. That being said, traveling with books abroad can take up necessary space, and once you’re finished reading them, you’re left lugging them around with you. If you’re going to be country-hopping during your study abroad program, this can be particularly difficult (especially if you loved the book, but don’t have room to pack it after buying souvenirs). What’s a reader to do?

Consider electronic options. While there is something to be said about carrying a beautifully written and culturally relevant novel (or any novel, really) with you, consider your electronic options if you are planning on knocking out a summer reading list while studying abroad. Something like an e-reader or a Kindle make perfect gifts for students studying abroad. Added to that, a Kindle won’t blow a holiday budget, and you can stock up on guidebooks and travel memoirs to your heart’s content!

5. Large Laptops

Similar to a 600-page novel, you don’t want to be that student lugging a 17″ laptop in your carry-on. Trust in the fact that your shoulder will eventually despise you. If you’re going to be traveling with your computer from country to country, staying up to date with your schoolwork while on the go, you’ll want something that is easily transportable. Fortunately, there are numerous options for generous gift-givers to consider in the study abroad care package.

Find a travel-friendly size. If you’re a Mac person, the MacBook Air ranks as ideal for study abroad gifts. Small and sleek, you may even forget it’s in your carry on (be sure to double check that it is, though!). For PC users, the Microsoft Surface Tablet is a slick laptop alternative.

Open books spread out over each other
Consolidate packing by going electronic!

6. Hair Appliances

Ever blown a circuit by trying to use a home hair appliance abroad? You quickly realize it was a bad idea. Sure, they sell plenty of adaptors and converters, but if you’re going to be living abroad for an extended period of time, leave the hair dryers, curling irons, and flat irons at home.

Buy abroad instead. If you’re buying gifts for friends studying abroad, do them (and their hair) a favor and encourage them to instead buy these appliances once they’re in their host country. Not only will you save extra space in their suitcase, but you’ll know for sure that they won’t be busting any circuits and annoying their new flatmates.

7. Expensive Jewelry

It is great (and romantic!) to give a beautiful necklace to your significant other or a bracelet that’s been passed down through the generations in your family, but these are the not the trinkets you want to lose or misplace, especially when living or studying abroad. And trust us, your sig-o might come crawling back with a big fat apology and explanation. During that time, it is more than likely that you’ll lose something, but even if that doesn’t happen, it would be a major bummer to have some of your most prized and most expensive jewelry stolen.

Bring the cheap stuff. A great way to still travel with jewelry (and give it as gifts) is to only bring what is called “costume” jewelry. It’s cheap, it might break, but the colors are fabulous and work well with a variety of outfits. Added bonus: you won’t be lamenting over its loss if you misplace it during your stay at a hostel.

8. “High Maintenance” Clothing

If you’re going to be studying abroad for a year, it doesn’t make sense to pack clothing that is appropriate to only one season. If you’re studying abroad in a developing country, it also doesn’t make sense to bring clothing with specific cleaning instructions like “dry clean only.” Either the outfit will be ruined or you won’t end up wearing it. Consider where your friend is heading before hitting the mall to shop-til-you-drop. If your friend is headed to Europe, for example, scan over these basic packing tips to help you get started.

Purchase/pack “low-hassle” clothing. Instead of packing clothes that will require a ton of work and upkeep, consider purchasing a few low-hassle items that you can mix-and-match with other outfits. Keeping a similar color scheme and purchasing clothes that are wrinkle-resistant are also helpful tips to taking a sensible wardrobe (including practical shoes) abroad! 

Macbook air on a table with coffee and a journal
Macbooks are the only books you need!

9. Full-Sized Travel Products

Things like toothpaste, shampoo, hand lotion, antibacterial wipes, and chapstick make for great stocking stuffers and perfect gifts for people studying abroad. On the flipside, packing things like a full-sized bottle of shampoo and conditioner (or even the super-sized bottles) is not ideal for the study abroad student. Just like hair appliances, these things will be available for purchase when you get in-country.

Stock up on travel-sized products before departure. Say you’re a student who’s traveling to a country where items like shampoo or deodorant may not be readily accessible. Consider stocking up on the travel-sized products of those items. They won’t take up as much space in your suitcase, and you can also make sure to have some in your carry-on. Be sure to adhere to TSA regulations with all those liquids, though!

10. DVD’s/Games

The film and gaming industry has its downsides when it comes to releasing their products around the holidays. While they make great gifts, they don’t really make great study abroad gifts. Different countries have different DVD Region Codes, meaning that a DVD purchased in the United States may not work in Europe unless you convert your device. Keep in mind that this can only be done a handful of times on a device before it is “locked” to that region. Furthermore, DVD’s take up precious packing space you may need for more necessary study abroad essentials.

Experience the real world. Everyone loves their games and movies, but don’t forget that you’re going to be living in a new country—get outside away from the screen and experience it! For those rare times when you’ll need a break and want to binge-watch TV until the sun comes up, consider setting up a Netflix account or requesting gift cards to purchase apps on your device. If you have an iPhone or iPad, Apple Store Gift Cards will be your new BFF.

11. Breakable Trinkets

A framed photo of your family or friends is a nice thing to have on your bedside table while living far from home. Keep in mind, though, that trying to travel with full-sized prints can be a different matter. The same thing goes for trinkets that are liable to break when traveling with them. Anything from a glass ornament to a hand-crafted snowglobe to a homemade treasure your little sibling made for you fits in this category!

You break it, you buy (aka lose) it. Stay on the safe side and limit the number of breakable items you bring from home. Nothing speeds up a heavy bout of homesickness like a broken item that carries memories from home. If you happen to receive these kinds of gifts while you’re actually abroad, make sure you’re savvy on all the tips regarding getting your stuff home in one piece!

View of Florence, Italy
With the perfect gifts in hand, study abroad in a breathtaking location like Florence, Italy!

12. Non-Durable Luggage

Luggage is a fantastic gift to receive as a study abroad student! Just not the kind that’s going to have the zipper break after a few uses or have seams that start to tear. Just like a good money belt, invest in some durable luggage. You’ll be using it a lot while traveling, and you’ll want it to hold up during your adventures. For those gifting the luggage, also keep in mind where the student is traveling and how long they’ll be gone.

Choose the right size and quality for your trip. One size does not fit all when it comes to luggage. Instead of just assuming that any luggage will suffice as gifts for study abroad students, chat with the student and see what is the best luggage for study abroad trips instead of just picking a fun color off the shelf. Will they need a backpack for trekking Machu Picchu? How about an oversized satchel for their studies in London? If you discuss these items beforehand, you’ll both be happy with the results!

13. Gift Cards

Ah, gift cards. A saving grace of a gift when you’re struggling to figure out what the “person-who-has-everything” needs – not to mention sensible backup gifts for students studying abroad. Or are they? What about the student who won’t be able to use them while abroad? Sure, they could always shop online, but the shipping costs would be exorbitant (not exactly an ideal way to utilize the card…).

Travel Money Cards are great alternatives, but there’s a way to get even more involved with a student’s travels. You could also consider setting up a campaign on FundMyTravel, an online crowdsourcing platform to raise funds that go toward meaningful travel. Use this to donate funds and ditch the gift cards! Necessities like airfare, program cost, and accommodation costs quickly add up. Using personal networks to fundraise and meet financial goals is not just a smart decision, it’s the gift that keeps on giving and helps to make studying abroad a reality for any student.

Here’s to happy trails!

Purchasing gifts for study abroad students near you is an excellent way to contribute to their experience before they even embark on the journey! Whether you opt to give the best luggage for study abroad, a new laptop, or anything in between, combine these tips with your good intentions to really provide your student with top-notch items!

OR…be the best gift-giver ever and give the gift of GoAbroad.com, the most helpful resource for finding study abroad programs and travel inspiration.

Gift yourself (or a friend) the joy of MyGoAbroad today!