Maybe you’re rushing to pack before your flight tomorrow and need some quick tips on how to fit your life into a 50lb checked bag. Or maybe you’re still months away from departure day, but deciding what to bring on your dream study abroad program makes it feel closer, more real.

Either way, figuring out what to pack when going abroad can be hard, especially when your mind is buzzing with anticipation. You’ve probably thought endlessly about the friends you’ll make, the spectacular places you’ll explore, and the stunning cultures you’ll appreciate. But maybe you haven’t thought much about one critical component—what you’ll pack!

Questions to Ask Yourself

before throwing things haphazardly into your luggage:

What’s the climate like where you’re going? 

Is it mostly hot and humid like Ghana or Panama? Then consider light colors and loose fits to keep you as cool as possible. Think breathable fabrics. Alternatively, if you’re heading to Norway in winter, bring some cozy layers! (Duh!)

What are the cultural norms regarding dressing up or down? 

Italian culture, for example, traditionally calls for dressing up. At least you won’t see many students going to class in sweatpants like in the U.S.

What are true necessities? What can you live without? Which outfits, shoes, etc. are versatile and match lots of things? 

You might want to stick to colors that match with most outfits or layers that you can easily pair with other items. This will make packing easier and save precious room in your suitcase!

Less is better. Less is more (space for what you’ll want to bring back). Exchange students rarely wish they brought more stuff with them—they usually wish the opposite!

Still not sure what to pack to travel abroad? We’ve compiled a list to get you started!

What to Pack When You Go Abroad

1. A notebook and pen
Keeping a little journal can help new memories and languages stick. It’s also a culture shock absorber. Be like Oscar Wilde: “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read…”

2. Sturdy shoes
Good footwear is key while traveling! Particularly if you’re studying abroad in Europe with all those old cobblestone streets—notoriously rough on soft soled shoes.

3. Sunscreen
Because a sunburn is a bummer—and unhealthy. We’re talking a tiny bottle until you can buy some in country. No need to bring a tub!

4. Jacket
Hate to sound like your mom here, but you’ll need one almost anywhere you go. At the very least a rain jacket is essential, even in tropical climates. Umbrellas break.

5. Bathing suit
You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to take a dip!

6. Socks and underwear
Essential items that could easily be forgotten. If you plan on getting out into nature, some wool or synthetic socks are better than cotton.

7. Camera
We know, we’ve all got our cellphones, but what happens when you run out of storage? Capture and keep all those beautiful memories and mind-boggling views.

8. Your standard go-to clothes (shirts, pants, dresses)
It’s important to pack your classic clothes to make you feel at home in a new environment.

9. Small backpack for day trips
You’re going to want a small luggage option besides your big suitcase.

10. Chargers (and plug adapters)
What would we be without our devices?!

11. Travel-sized toiletries
Because tiny stuff is cute, and also, you can just get more when you arrive.

12. Passport, Visa, and IDs (and copies of them all)
Copies are crucial in case you lose anything!

13. Comfy travel-wear
It’s great to have a pair of sweats or loungewear for the plane.

14. A small gift for your host family
The art of gift-giving is imbued with specific cultural meanings, but it’s appreciated pretty much everywhere. Make a good first impression with a meaningful, simple gift.

15. Space for everything you’ll want to bring home!
Trust us on this one.

What NOT to Pack When You Go Abroad

1.       Your most prized (and expensive) jewelry
2.       A pool noodle (we speak from experience)
3.       Brand new shoes you haven’t broken in – beware of blisters!
4.       A closed mind
5.       Stereotypes
6.       Your pet (unless they can fit in a 100ml bottle)

If you haven’t finished applying, but are already packing, then we need to talk priorities…

Apply, Pack, Go!

Questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out to our Study Abroad Specialists at 1-800-AFS-INFO or [email protected]. You can also visit the Ask an AFSer Facebook Group to connect with past and future AFS Study Abroad students!

Warning: Your parents might try and hop in your suitcase before you leave.