I spent ten months studying abroad in university. Never having been to Europe before, I packed up my things and was shipped off to the University of Plymouth in England. I didn’t return home to Canada once during the entire time, and let me tell you, it was a learning experience!
One suitcase and a backpack were all I had with me when I landed on foreign soil. In retrospect, I could have done a lot worse packing, sure. But I definitely could have done better. So, here are my recommendations for what to bring if you’re embarking on a similar adventure.
Here’s the hardest part — how to decide what of all your beloved outfits to bring along? I was not strict enough with myself. Listen: you can buy nearly everything when you get there. Pack statement pieces that you can’t live without, sure, and enough basics to get you through a week, maybe. But there’s no sense in bringing every shirt and camisole and pair of leggings you own, even if that’s all you wear. Budget for a wardrobe when you arrive, even if it’s basic. In the UK, places like Primark and Next can help you get started.
Are you experiencing winter where you’ll be? If so, boots are expensive and if you already own some, it might be easiest to just wear them on the plane so you’ll have them with you. I brought a pair of leather knee-high brown boots, and a pair of brown leather dock shoes. Both are staples for me and I picked up running shoes for cheap after I settled in. Fancier shoes for going out are abundant and pretty low-cost, if you aren’t looking to invest in designer pieces.
I have a fairly rigid makeup routine so bringing along a cosmetics bag was necessary. But in terms of shampoo, lotions, anything you can buy at a drug store, don’t bring it along with you. It’ll be fun to try out new products, anyways.
If you’re studying, you will inevitably have a laptop. Get a back-up drive, they’re so small these days and will absolutely save you if something happens to your laptop while travelling — I got off a plane once to find that my laptop, which had been in my carry-on, had a complete motherboard failure and I lost everything. Don’t let this happen to you. I also travel with a tablet as it is lighter and great for outings. I stopped into a coffee shop every time I got lost to use their wifi and google maps. Also great for on-the-go blogging.
Cancel your phone plan. Or at least put it on hold. You don’t need it when you’re travelling abroad for extended periods. If it’s useful (like an iPhone or other large tablet-like phone) bring it along to use on wi-fi. Otherwise just forget it and pick up a new phone when you get there. I got the cheapest and saddest phone for 10 pounds and then used a pay-as-you-go service while I was in England. It could send texts and make calls, and even had a game on it. Plus it was absolutely indestructible. Did the job admirably.
I’m not here for camera-shaming: use whatever you’ve got, and use it well. I alternate between taking photos on my iPhone, my point-and-shoot digital camera, and my Nikon. I travel with all three; I’ll leave the big ones at home if i’m going out at night, or in a big city I don’t feel safe lugging it around. There’s a time and a place for each one, but I’ve never been disappointed with a simple iPhone shot to preserve the memory.
In general, don’t bother bringing any. You’ll need adaptors, and some things just fizzle out. Hair dryers, curlers, and straighters are all out of the question — I fried my straightener so please learn from my lesson. Evaluate if you really, really need one, then buy it there. I could surrender my straightener for a good blowdryer, if the situation called for it. And generally any electronics that need a grounding plug should just be left behind — if you have a Macbook, get the little thing that lets you change the plug for the charger. That’s one piece of technology you don’t want exploding in your face.
This is something I almost forgot, but my Mom was good enough to help me out with. If you’re making friends from other countries, or need to give a thank-you gift to hosts while travelling, bring along something from your country to give as a gift. I had a bunch of maple candies and tiny maple syrup bottles (which, by the way, I never found for sale in the UK). I ended up cracking one open for my own pancake use, actually, but that’s neither here nor there.
At the end of the day, you’re going to have to fit it all in one bag, and bring it all back in the same thing. If there’s room in your suitcase going over, that can be filled on the return trip. Shipping things back can be expensive, but might be worth it if you’re collecting amazing souvenirs through your extensive travels. I was lucky enough to have my family visit me and help bring back all my junk after my year abroad — a favour they love to remind me about!