How To Pack for a Semester Abroad

Sofia Ciprian, CSSH'21

Hi! I'm a third year political science and communications major with a women, gender and sexuality studies minor. My combination of majors/minor calls for a lot of writing, which shows just how much I love it. This semester I am studying in Seville, Spain and hope to fully immerse myself in the culture and share all the stories online here.

Flashback to two months ago and you would have seen me, on the floor of my bedroom surrounded by piles of clothing as I struggled to decide what clothing I needed to bring with me to Spain. As I’m sure many of us do, I was imagining how certain pieces of clothing could be absolutely necessary in some random circumstance and therefore, must be packed in my suitcase. Turns out, most of those random events won’t end up happening. There are a few things I wish I had known while I was packing for my semester abroad, which is why I figured it would be useful to share some tips that I’ve learned over my time here.

The absolute main thing to remember when packing to study abroad, or just any long trip abroad in general: You will need far less clothing than you think. PACK LIGHT! This is coming from a girl who absolutely loves to have tons of options and usually has a backup outfit in mind for all outfits. Truly, overpacking will create far more problems than under packing. Especially for those who love fashion, take this as a challenge because it will force you to create new outfit combinations using the same pieces and make them look different from each other. But beyond that, I think something I overlooked was the importance of staple pieces. It is not worth it to bring something that won’t get a lot of use. Even if it is a piece of clothing you love a lot, if it is not something that matches with a variety of clothing or something that can be worn often enough, it will just end up sitting in your closet for the whole semester and you’ll regret bringing it. Especially when it comes to shoes, this is where you should cut back the most. One pair of sneakers, one pair of sandals or flips flops and one pair of boots. Maybe one other pair depending on the climate of where you are going, but anything beyond that will just create clutter. These take up the most space in your luggage, so it really is not worth the trouble of packing more.

Not only should the clothing you choose to bring with you be basic and usable pieces, but also ensure to bring a variety of types of clothing. I am studying in Sevilla, which has a very Mediterranean climate and remains fairly warm until around November. I think I took that statement to heart and as a result, failed to pack enough fall clothing. It is now the end of October and the weather still gets up to the high 70’s, but my body has adjusted to the overwhelming heat of Southern Spain and as soon as the weather drops below 70, I am shivering all day. Therefore, take into account that your body will adjust to the climate of the place you are living, so be prepared to feel cold and warm, regardless of the perception you have of the city. Bring pieces that are easy to layer and are versatile, because you want to be prepared for any kind of weather you may experience. Be sure to read up on the weather in your city, don’t just assume that because you are in a southern, Mediterranean city that you will be in warm weather for your whole semester. (Yes, I am calling myself out.) Talk to friends that have studied in or near where you are studying. Just know what you are getting yourself into. Worse comes to worse, if you have pieces that you can layer with, you’ll be prepared for anything.

Most importantly, leave extra space in your luggage! Shopping will inevitably happen while you are studying abroad, so you should leave some space in your suitcase to take all that new clothing back. Beyond that, I think shopping for clothing in the city you’re in as opposed to just bringing a ton of your own clothing from home is the best idea because you will want to adapt your style to fit into the new culture you are living in. This is something I have really enjoyed doing during my time in Spain. First of all, it’s great because I will now have a bunch of unique pieces to wear once I am back home in the States. It’s also great because it allows me to learn more about the place I am living. Fashion is a big part of the culture and the lifestyle of the people in your new city, so wearing some clothing that reflects this new culture can help you to adapt and acclimate. All of that aside, it will also help you to not stand out as the American tourist all semester. Another perk is that depending on where you are studying, the clothing might be a lot less expensive than most stores in the United States, so it is a great chance to do shopping without breaking the bank. For instance, I got a bunch of sweaters here in Spain that cost around 14 euros each. That is not something you come across often in the States. Overall, there are lots of perks to buying clothes in the city you’re studying in as opposed to only using clothes you packed from home.

I’m sure there are still more tips I will come across and I continue my last month and a half in Spain, but these are the ones that have stood out to me the most so far. Packing for such a long time can be stressful, especially for people who love to plan ahead, but at the end of the day it’s just clothing and you will get by with the stuff you have packed or you’ll buy  the rest of what you need once you get there. Truly, the main piece of advice I can give is to just remember that what you pack isn’t going to make or break your abroad experience.