What sets study abroad packing apart from all the must-have gear out there for backpacking, general travel, and volunteer abroad? While you’ll find tons of useful accessories stuffed into a volunteer abroad packing list, the nature of study abroad calls for its very own assortment of hand-dandy treasures that will make your experience all the more fantastic.
Study abroad is a breed of its own, usually opening up opportunities to live abroad for months to a year at a time. The more diverse the destinations, seasons, and activities, the more Tetris-like and daunting the packing predicament becomes. You’ll never learned known the true meaning of struggle until you try condensing a years’ worth of things to take when studying abroad into 100 pounds. Only then will you be able to look in the mirror and confidently proclaim, “I can do anything.”
Although there’s the occasional weekend excursion roughing it in hostels, most time studying abroad is spent hunkered down in a homebase, where the “studying” portion (supposedly) takes place. Do you pack more functional, portable clothes or fancy stuff that won’t make you stick out like a sore thumb in your new home? Only the wiser, future “you” will ever know. This beloved blend of exploration and education gives way to a special little mix of goodies to help you along your study abroad journey.
If you’re leaving in a few weeks on your study abroad program and still have an empty suitcase while reading this article, don’t panic just yet. Discover tons of things to take when studying abroad, even the ones you never knew you needed!
Where to buy your study abroad gear
Times may be changing, but there are still oodles of brick-and-mortar establishments at which to things to take when studying abroad with a good, old fashion transaction. Trying on a new functional jacket is usually a good idea before jetting off around the world, where you won’t be able to make returns!
Students with a budget and a flexible packing list will find most of their basic needs at large retailers like Walmart and department stores in malls. If you’re heading toward a study abroad destination with the opposite weather of home, you’ll find all the off-season gems waiting on the sale racks. Outdoor travel specialty stores like REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Patagonia carry tons of equipment and durable travel clothes for shoppers with a bit more cash to spend. A heavy duty Columbia coat may seem like a hefty investment for a study abroad trip, but the high-end gear will last you a lifetime.
[To help pay for your new gear: 15 Little-Known Study Abroad Fundraising Ideas]
Of course, the most convenient place to browse all your options side-by-side, like the best luggage to study abroad, is online (it’s the 21st century, after all)! You can scroll through thousands of choices on Pinterest or dig up countless reviews from real customers on blogs who’ve already taken the latest and greatest equipment on test runs. Once you’ve sniffed out your dream study abroad backpack, buying is as easy as a click Amazon Prime or a stroll into the store.
Stocking up on the best luggage for study abroad (AKA your lifeline)
The age-old mystery: How to relocate abroad in just two check-in suitcases while preparing for all possible scenarios, natural disasters, and social interactions?? The enigma demystified: Get your hands on the right luggage. You may want to pass up grandma’s trusted 30 year-old green floral print suitcases this one time.
The single most important asset you’ll take on your study abroad trip is a reliable suitcase (or backpack, if you’re ultra-adventurous and obsessed with mobility/convenience). With secret compartments galore, a flexible exterior, and a durable build, we think the Thule Subterra ($350 on Amazon) is one of the best luggage for a semester abroad on the market. Its lightweight frame means you can fit more of your actual stuff without the overweight airline fees. Did we mention this luggage also breaks into two pieces? With a detachable rolling bag and duffle, you won’t have to worry about lugging an extra day pack for weekend excursions. Hello, versatility.
- Equally functional: Eagle Creek No Matter What Flatbed 32 Inch Luggage
- Parents aren’t paying?: American Tourister Luggage Fieldbrook II 4 Piece set
- For the backpacking type: Osprey Farpoint 55L
Once the luggage situation has been taken care of, the fun has only just begun.
How on Earth does one squeeze the massive pile of clothes, shoes, and essential electronics into a tiny rectangle? Packing cubes, my friend. At $27, the New Chic 6-piece waterproof packing cubes are not only reusable for the journey back home and beyond, but they also make your belonging super accessible if you need to live out of your suitcase for a time.
The “secret pouches” are completely opaque to store all your super secret study abroad possessions like that childhood teddy you can’t live without. It might seem like an extraneous purchase, but packing cubes will keep you super-organized, making it one of the best things to bring on study abroad.
- For an ultra lightweight option, try Tortuga Backpack's Outbreaker Backpacking Cubes ($59 for 3-pack), made from similar material to parachutes!
Sleek, sexy, and different color options available?
It seems almost too good to be true, but then again, the Boma 13L Daypack from Cotopaxi has all that and more. Its padded shoulder straps and internal laptop sleeve make this a great pack for commuting to class or crazy hikes through the jungle. At just $40, it’s also stands on the affordable end of the quality daypack spectrum.
Trust us—you'll want to pack a smaller adventure pack to keep you going on all of your day trips and explorations around the city. It's the perfect companion for towing your camera, external battery, a good book in case you find an all-too-adorable cafe, your water bottle, and your other on-the-go necessities.
- Equally stylish: Fjällräven’s Kånken Backpack
Passport and travel document holders aren’t just for dads.
With those study abroad trips that have you galavanting across countries at a time, you’ve got to have a well-organized place to store different currencies, transportation cards, and your documents.
Roomi’s Travel Wallet and Passport Holder ($9.99) holds all that and even a phone, comes with a wrist strap, and lets you retrieve the most important things in life like a pro.
- Equally convenient: Hello Wanderer Versatile Travel Wallet
Don’t sacrifice hydration in the name of convenience. Studying abroad is hard work, and that means your need to keep yourself in tip-top condition to go out and adventure to your fullest. A collapsible water bottle like Hydaway is one of our favorite things to pack for study abroad, as it easily stashes away when empty into a size small enough to fit into a pocket. Colorful, leak-proof, and BPA-free, the Hydaway will carry you through the toughest mountain treks and 3-hour long lectures for $20.
- Equally hydrating: Try the HydraPak ($23) for a similar collapsible design!
How do you cart around shower essentials through hostels, dorms, and airports?
Zipper up your shampoos and toothpaste in a BAGSMART Hanging Travel Toiletry Bag ($29) all in one easy to access place. The bag’s ambiguous style suits both ladies and gents, with a hook to hang up in even the grungiest of showers when you’re really roughing it on a side trip.
For more of a feminine touch, the Pattern Toiletry Pouch on mochithings ($48) is also a useful roll-out hanging bag for bottles and tubes, but with a ton of whimsical patterns to choose from. You’ll be the most chic travel expert in the study abroad crew.
- Equally handy: LL Bean's Large Organizer ($39)
Electronic things to take when studying abroad
Who knows where the wind will take you on your study abroad adventure or after, so it’s better to invest in an adapter that you can use anywhere. The Kikkerland UL03-A Universal Travel Adapter has worldwide compatibility in over 150 for just $8. With a few adjustments to the prongs, any country is far game. That’s a lot places where you could be charging your phone.
Equally universal: Flight 001’s 4 in 1 Universal Travel Adapter
Let’s be real, who has just one electronic device to charge at any given time?
With our backpacks filled with phones, tablets, laptops, and e-books, there’s a constant need for some battery juice to keep life running smoothly. This $39 Universal Cable Travel Organizer Wool Felt Case built-in 4-Port USB AC Adapter is a jumbled mouthful to say, but it’ll keep up to four devices nicely organized and charging in a good looking felt case. No tangles, no missed messages, just a nice collection of full batteries.
- Equally effective: RAVPower 22000 Portable Charger 22000mAh 3-Port Battery Pack
Lost or stolen bags are the bane of any study abroad-er’s experience. Even after acquiring the best luggage for study abroad, your well-dressed hopes and dreams or favorite conditioner can proof away within a moment of unattended baggage. A K-berho Mini Anti-lost Tag for $20 will track your apartment keys, purse, backpack, or prized possession while you’re on the road, so that you can avoid any unnecessary heart attacks.
- Equally helpful in a pinch: Tile Mate ($20)
Little things for the road
Wrap yourself up in a divinely warm blanket while whizzing off to Italy on a frigid airplane. Sure, it may look like a toga, but when in Rome...This Jersey Travel Blanket isn’t just any only blanket—it’s a life-saving, shroud of comfort for the easily chilled travelers out there. For $25 this foldable blanket comes tucked away in an easily transportable pouch.
- Equally warm: Flight 001’s Travel Blanket
Take the power of the internet with you wherever you go with Karma Go WiFi Hotspot ($150). Lab reports, term papers, and research assignments aren’t going to complete themselves, yet your study abroad destination is begging to be explored and enjoyed. That only leaves one choice to pack up academic obligations and take them with you to the corner cafe or city park. Karma has a 6-8 hour battery life, fast connection, and portable size for optimum efficiency!
For a few more functions on top of portable wifi, the HT-TM05 TripMate Versatile Wireless N Travel Router ($44) can transfer files from a phone to a USB storage device, charges electronics, and streams media via USB. Welcome to the future of convenience.
Long-haul flights don’t have to be the most dreaded part of a journey. Start your study abroad experience right with a trip right into dreamland on a Trtl Travel Pillow for $30. True to its name, the pillow wraps around a neck, transforming its owner into a...well, turtle. An internal neck support covered in soft fleece fabric props up the head in a way that beats the traditional bulky U-pillow. For die-hard believers of the U-shape, the Adjustable Inflatable Neck Pillow from Lewis N. Clark ($17) may be a better fit.
Dress for success as a student abroad
Here are 2018's absolute closet-staples that you've gotta fit in your suitcase whether you roll, squish, smash—whatever you gotta do. These'll make sure you're ultra-prepared for the adventure head.
The right travel jacket is like asking your genie in the bottle for unlimited wishes. This Women's Ultimate Travel Jacket (or men’s) is $159 on UncommonGoods, and comes packed with 15 drool-worthy travel features that eliminate the need for a few other items on our list of things to take when studying abroad. Boasting pockets galore, a built-in inflatable neck pillow, gloves and an eye mask, there aren’t too many other perks you could of a jacket. With all these game-changing innovations, we couldn’t find a similar jacket to measure up.
As if travel packing weren’t hard enough, study abroad packing for women in particular is one of the most daunting challenges any lady will have to face. Camis, bottoms, tops, dresses, 20,342 types of bras, and a mountain of shoes later, you’ve got what seems like a workable amount to pack away.
Cut down on your outfit compromising with a ELAN Convertible Dress ($48) to wear 8 different ways. You’ll never know when you’ll need a little black dress, but it’s best to have it with you anyway in the form of several other outfits.
- Equally versatile: The Versalette ($118)
Durable, versatile, and comfortable are the magic words for an everyday shoe you can use for almost every occasion. For a pair that will last through the adventures and endless walking of a study abroad program, we suggest lightweight, reliable slip-on classics such as TOMS or Vans. Prices vary by style and color, but you’ll get the same snug fit with all!
Sometimes a study abroad destination is consistently hot, stick, sandy, or wet and the last thing you would want to do is trap your toes inside a suffocating shoe prison. The Sanuk yoga-sling sandal lets your feet breathe free, while having all-around support that ensures your sandal stays put as you traipse around. Perfect for hot-weather destinations, the Sanuk is $38 and offers a student discount.
- Equally supportive: Chacos Women’s Classic
For the gentlemen, we suggest the Teva Universal Classic ($50)—a true classic reminiscent of the strap sandals your dad wore with socks in that 80s beach vacation picture. Sandals with socks may be a style faux-pas these days, but there’s a good reason that sandal design got big in the first place. Adjustable straps, quick-drying soles, and a cushioned footbed make these guys a travel favorite.
- Equally sole-ful: Chacos Men’s Classic
Now go forth and shop for study abroad with a purpose
Whether you’re an online shopping pro or an in-person purist, you can now run off and collect the must-have things to take when studying abroad. However, before going on a shopping spree, remember to keep in mind your specific study abroad program duration and activities when considering what to take with you. There’s no one-size-fits-all packing list, and many essentially may even be obtainable once you’re abroad!
Once you’ve gathered up your gear, you can begin the most difficult part of the study abroad journey, packing. Read up on some more pro packing tips for study abroad to fully equip yourself for the challenge ahead.