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The Essential Packing List for Traveling while Studying Abroad

July 13, 2010

If you are studying abroad (or planning to), chances are that you will be doing some traveling, either within your host country or to nearby countries. As a student that typically means traveling on the cheap, probably getting there via bus (possibly by train in Europe), and staying in hostels once you arrive at your destination. During my first 3-day weekend trip in Argentina last week, I discovered that there were many things I wish I had packed that I hadn’t, and others I had packed that I didn’t need. Thus my “Essential Packing List” was conceived…  This is purely based on my experience and preferences but I hope some of it will help you with your packing choices as well!

A Quick Note: I recommend investing in a decent backpack if you are planning on doing a lot of traveling while you are abroad. This is something I didn’t do and now wish I had. If you are going to be lugging your things around for days on end, you will want it to be as pleasant and back-pain-free of an experience as possible so a good backpack will be well-worth the investment.

DO Pack:

  • Enough pants/shorts to last you half of the time you will be traveling (i.e. 2 pairs for 4 days), or less
  • Enough shirts, underwear and socks to last you the full time you’ll be traveling, or less
  • Weather-appropriate attire – and if you are going somewhere with unpredictable weather like Iguazu Falls, pack for rain or shine!
  • Sports bras (for girls) for the bus/train – you are not going to want to spend hours and hours wearing a tight bra, trust me
  • A swimsuit – if the weather will be nice; many hostels have pools
  • Travel-size toiletries – and only the essentials! You can also buy toiletries when you arrive but you might not be able to find small bottles
  • A towel – most hostels will allow you to use one for a small fee but they are not included like they are in hotels!
  • Shower shoes – I use plastic flip-flops; those hostel showers can be pretty nasty sometimes!
  • A good lock – most hostels have compartments to lock your bags in (especially important if you are in a shared room) and a good lock will keep them safe and give you peace of mind. I recommend combinations since you can’t lose them as easily as a key!
  • HAND SANITIZER – you will thank me when you discover bathrooms in busses/trains as well as all of the other places you are going to encounter germs and no soap when you travel
  • A good book – or two, depending on how many hours you will be spending on the “road”
  • Snacks and beverages for the trip – at the very least, buy a big water bottle and a bag of chips to stay hydrated and tide you over if you don’t get enough food. You might want to buy an assortment of your favorite snacks and drinks for longer trips, especially since your friends may have forgotten to buy anything. They might be heavy at first but they will be gone before you arrive!
  • A blow-up travel pillow – this sounds silly but these are great because they don’t take up any space or weigh much of anything, and believe it or not they can really help make you more comfortable on a long trip
  • A shawl/sweater/small travel blanket – you’ll want to pack at least one of these in case the bus/train gets cold (which they often do!)
  • Cash (carefully hidden, preferably on your person) and a back-up means of accessing money (kept in a different place than your cash, in case one gets lost/stolen)
  • A camera – and your charger/extra batteries, as well as extra memory sticks if you have them
  • Your passport – even if you aren’t leaving the country there are often passport checks at various places within a country and you won’t want to be the person stranded without yours!
  • Your ticket(s) and copies of any reservations/reservation #s

DON’T Pack:

  • Too much – I know the list above looks large but you can really get it down to very little if you pack carefully. In this case packing light is especially important because you will literally be carrying everything around on your back for your entire trip! Keep this in mind when you are packing and keep it as light as possible!
  • Dressy clothes – unless you know you have to go to a black-tie event somewhere, jeans and a shirt are probably about as fancy as you are going to get when you are “roughing it” in hostels and inexpensive bars/restaurants
  • Hair dryers, flat irons, or tons of makeup – get into the travel spirit and leave the primping behind for a few days! You’ll be glad to have less of a load to carry and besides, you’d probably find it difficult to primp very well when you’re on the road and staying in hostels anyway.
  • Your laptop – it’s heavy; you won’t want to risk it getting stolen; and most hostels offer computers with internet to use for free anyway

That’s all I can think of for now. Get ready for an adventure!!

In a Hurry to Get to School,
Maki 😉

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