I’ve studied abroad several times and this is a basic list of what you should bring for a semester of studying abroad, but of course, remember that each location will require specific things.
What to Pack:
- Important documents (passport, visa, itinerary, plane tickets, etc.)
- $100 in local currency (make sure you have enough cash for a few days until you can find an ATM) [I recommend waiting to get this until you land in your host country, the exchange rate is almost always more favorable.
- Extra eye glasses/contacts
- Enough prescription drugs for the length of your stay (You will need to check to make sure you can bring them into the country and that you have proper documentation, i.e. a doctor’s note)
- Backpack (for day trips and daily use) – You should use this as your carry-on so you’ll have less luggage.
- Gifts for your host family and others (try to get ones that are specific to the region where you live)
- Computer w/charger
- Camera w/cords and charger
- Adapters (changes the shape of the electrical plug) /converter (reduces or increases the current’s voltage)
Clothing/Shoes (In general pack a week’s worth of clothing)
- Jeans (2-3 pairs) [can substitute a pair or two with skirts or khakis if going to warmer climates]
- Sweaters/Hoodies (2-3)
- Long sleeve shirts (Make sure they are good for layering)
- Underwear (one week’s worth)
- Pajamas (2 pair)
- Warm slippers
- Socks (a week’s worth) (you should include a few pairs of wool socks if you’re going to colder climates)
- One set of workout clothes (if you plan to)
- Thermal underwear (silk preferably for colder climates or the adventurous sort)
- Coat/Jacket (water resistant with zip pockets and removable lining)
- One nice outfit (dress pants/skirt/dress) for special/formal occasions
- Decent walking shoes
- Flip flops (especially for showering at hostels)
- Warm hat, gloves and scarf (for colder climates)
Toiletries (If you aren’t picky, a lot of these items can be found in your host country)
- Disposable razors (and other shaving supplies)
- Brush/Comb (and hair ties if you have long hair)
- Tissues (highly recommended as many countries don’t keep toilet paper in stock in the bathrooms)
- Feminine Products (one month’s worth) [nothing beats arriving in Egypt and realizing how impossible to find Tampons are]
- Contact lenses and solution
- Over-the-counter medicines (aspirin, anti-diarrhea, anti-nausea, etc.)
- Nail clippers and nail file
- Suntan lotion (if going somewhere sunny) [This can be really expensive or hard to find in other countries. I recommend packing at least a small bottle.]
- Alarm clock (though a cell phone works well too)
- Small plastic bottles for toiletries for use in your carry-on or while traveling
- Refillable water bottle
- MP3 Player (especially for long plane/train rides)
- Travel books for the region(s) you will visit (these can be found at the places you plan to visit too if you don’t want to haul them around)
- Umbrella or rain coat
- Playing Cards (good for long train rides and lighter than a pile of books)
- Journal (to write your memories in – journaling really helps students deal with culture shock – some people suggest writing online, but generally you won’t be able to do that/might not have internet access daily while you’re traveling so having something you can physically write in every day or night is a good idea)
- Thin lightweight towel (preferably microfiber so that it will dry fast when you’re traveling)
- Linens, bedsheets, and towels (Check with your program to see if these are provided, otherwise you may just want to buy them abroad because they tend to be heavy and take up a lot of room)
- Sleepsack/sleeping bag (if you’re planning to do a lot of traveling you may want one, but most hostels either have sheets or let you rent a sleepsack for the night which is better than carrying one around constantly)
How to Pack It:
DO NOT bring more than two normal-size suitcases and a carry-on. If you’re only going for one semester, you only need one normal-size suitcase. Most students pack more than they need. You will be able to buy many of these things in your host country so you should pack just enough to get you through until you can go shopping.
Bring clothes that are easily layered for various climate conditions, do not need ironing, can be drip-dried, and are comfortable and durable. Also, remember that dark clothing does not show stains and dirt as much as light-colored clothing does. Most importantly make sure that all of your clothes are interchangeable, i.e. any of your shirts can go with any of your skirts/pants, etc. This will provide you with many more “outfits” on a daily basis even with limited clothing items.
Put tape over the tops of containers with liquids to prevent them from opening and place them in plastic storage bags to prevent them from leaking onto other items in your luggage.
A lot of the toiletries mentioned can usually be found in your host country. But they might not have a specific brand if you’re picky. Also, some things just don’t work the same (deodorant in Japan, toothpaste in Korea) or aren’t used as prevalently (Tampons in Egypt).
Remember that most electrical appliances will not work because of the different electrical current. Generally, laptop computers will work but you will probably need an adapter. It is usually better to just buy small electrical appliances (like hair dryers, curling irons, etc.) in the host country.
Lastly, you should keep your money, important documents, valuables, prescription medications, a change of clothing and some toiletries in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost. (I’ve had this happen several times so it is not unlikely).