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Packing for a Semester Abroad in Europe: Fall Edition

Studying abroad is a life changing experience. Packing, however, is not. Predicting what you will need for three to four months in a country you’ve probably never been to before is difficult and stressful. Year after year I receive frantic last minute emails from students stressed about what to pack. So here is my wisdom, after years of practice, for packing for a semester abroad in Europe in the fall (obviously the clothing list will change slightly in the spring and summer).

First thing first, you need to decide what you can and can’t live without. There are certain things that I have learned I like bringing with me and other items I don’t mind buying whatever is nearest and/or cheapest when traveling. Take some time in the weeks before you leave to take notes on items and/or toiletries you couldn’t live without while abroad. While you want to avoid over packing, bringing little comforts, like your favorite dry shampoo or face cleanser, can make a huge difference when you are thousands of miles away from the creature comforts of home.

For example, these are the items that I like to bring with me:

  • Splenda (everyone always laughs at me for this in Florence, but I love it!)
  • Certain Dry Deodorant (I have yet to find decent deodorant in Italy.)
  • Rodan and Fields Skin Care (I am very particular about my skincare.)
  • Make Up (Although I can get replacements for items I run out of at Sephora.)
  • Bumble and Bumble Shampoo and Conditioner (Shampoo is easy to find, I just love mine.)
  • Blowpro Dry Shampoo (Like the deodorant, I have yet to find a decent replacement abroad.)
  • Advil (It’s definitely nice to have a supply of your favorite over-the-counter medicines.)

And here are some examples of items I don’t mind buying once I arrive:

  • Toothpaste
  • Body Wash
  • Mouth Wash
  • Razors
  • Contact Lens Solution
  • Tampons
  • Sunscreen
  • Blowdryer/Straightener/Curling Iron

Now on to the hard part, clothing.
I typically suggest anywhere between 40 to 50 articles of clothing for a three to five month period abroad. Anything more than this and you will definitely be over your bag’s weight limit. This 50 lb weight limit is especially challenging when you have to pack cold weather clothing. But your bulkier items can be wore or carried on the plane to save space and weight.

When selecting your clothing items you need to research the average temperatures and weather patterns for the region you will be living in. But don’t limit your packing to that particular weather forecast. Remember one of the bast parts of studying in Europe is how easy it is to travel once you are there, like an impromptu weekend in Switzerland. Trust me you will want to take lots of weekend trips. Packing different sleeve lengths and weights will ensure you can layer for any weather condition you might encounter. In addition to differentiating your tops, you also want to pack around one color to ensure everything you pack can be mixed and matched. For example, in this post I demonstrated how just 26 items could turn into more than 30 complete and unique looks!

Here is an example of the clothing items I would pack for a fall semester abroad:
1 Rain Jacket (with hood, and make sure it is water resistant, this sounds like a given, but it’s not)
1 Wool or Heavy Coat (for colder months)
1 Blazer
1 Puffer Vest (I would even bring two for colder climates like London/Paris)
Three Pairs of Jeans – 1 light, 1 medium, and 1 dark wash.
(I would also mix up the styles. For example, a light wash pair of relaxed boyfriend jeans, a medium wash straight-leg jean, and a skinny dark wash jean.)
10 – 15 Tops (in varying sleeve length and fabric weight)
5 – 10 Sweaters (make sure at least one is a cardigan)
5 – 10 Skirts and/or Dresses (make sure they can be layered with tights or boots)
3 – 4 Pairs of Pants (maybe a pair of colored denim, dressier trousers, or patterned pants)
1 – 2 Pairs of Shorts (you can’t go wrong if one of these is denim)
3 – 5 Pairs of Tights (they are the easiest way to transition into cooler weather)
A couple sets of Pjs, Loungewear, and/or Workout Wear (I always regret not bringing more lounge wear)
Plenty of BrasUnderwear, and Socks
A Great Hat (adds instant style and can be worn on the plane)
*Remember fun scarves and accessories can easily be purchased abroad and are a fun and relatively inexpensive way to add variety to your travel wardrobe!

My clothing MVPs (most versatile pieces) over the years have been my chambray button-up shirt, denim jacket, (any) navy striped tee, colorful J.Crew fluted skirts, and puffer vests.

It is best to keep your shoes simple and practical. Remember you will do a lot more walking in Europe than you are used to!
1 Pair of Riding Boots (wear on the plane)
1 Pair of Wellies (preferably the lighter travel kind that roll up)
1 or 2 Pairs of Ballet Flats
1 Pair of Comfortable Walking Shoes (I like Converse, Superga, Toms, and Vans)
1 Pair of Running Shoes (you will need them more than you think, like hiking in the Cinque Terre or climbing Mount Vesuvio)
1 Pair of Flip Flops (can double as apartment slippers or hostel shower shoes)

1 Secure and Comfortable Mid-sized Everyday Purse
1 Larger Tote for School or Travel (carried on the plane)
1 Clutch or Small Cross-body
*For theft/security reasons, I am anti-backpack

Bathing Suit (but if you aren’t a difficult size, this too can be purchased abroad)

Other Packing Tips:

  • Buy hair dryers, curling irons, and straighteners when you arrive.
  • Don’t bring “going out” shoes. High heels can be easily purchased abroad and since you will only wear them a couple times (most likely in dirty clubs) they aren’t worth the room and weight in your suitcase.
  • Don’t waste space on things you wear occasionally or have never worn.
  • If possible, download required course readings on to your Kindle or iPad to save space and weight.
  • Consult your physician about your prescription medicines and refills prior to departure and how to adjust time sensitive medicines in a new time zone.
  • Space bags and packing cubes are great for maximizing space, but be warned, they don’t lessen your suitcase’s weight!
  • The more underwear and socks you bring, the less laundry you will have.
  • Bring small refillable bottles for budget airlines and weekend travel.
  • Blow up neck pillows are great for sleeping on buses and trains while abroad.
  • Check to see if your university has a VPN (virtual private network). Many do and when you log in overseas you can access Pandora and Netflix! If your university doesn’t have one, you can purchase one.
  • Don’t forget your student ID, many places offer discounts.
  • Try to pack only ONE checked bag and invest in quality, lightweight luggage.
  • Invest in a good, sturdy camera. Your pictures will be your greatest souvenirs!

    And Finally, Don’t Forget:

    Everything else you will need should go in your carry on. You can read more about what to bring in and how to pack your carry on here!

    Hope this helps! Feel free to email me and ask any other study abroad questions you might have. 

    And be sure to check out my posts on My Top 10 Travel Essentials, How to Avoid Jet Lag, and the Top Five Study Abroad Mistakes.