Living Abroad: What to Pack & What to Leave Home

Written by Maddie Eden, Marketing & Communications Intern

Packing is one of the hardest things to do when preparing for a trip. Is it better to be over-prepared and stuff your suitcase to the brim? Or is it better to pack light, and possibly regret not bringing something?  

I lived abroad in Europe for three months during my sophomore year of college, and these are the things I’m glad that I packed, and some things I wish I had left home: 

Glad I Packed: Packing Cubes 







Packing cubes are a lifesaver – they maximize what you can bring while also maximizing the space in your suitcase! I had a large packing cube for my shirts and pants, and one for my undergarments and socks. I highly recommend investing in a set of packing cubes, both for domestic and international travel! 

Glad I Packed: A Comfort Item 








When I traveled abroad to Europe, I knew that I would be gone for a while, and I knew that I was bound to miss home at some point. That’s why I decided to pack a comfort item (okay, I actually packed two). Comfort items are great because they can remind you of home and are something familiar to you in a place that’s totally strange. I packed a blanket that had a picture of my dogs on it and a stuffed animal. You may decide to bring a small photo album, or maybe a sweatshirt that reminds you of someone you love. Anything that reminds you of home and makes you happy is a good thing to bring. 

Glad I Packed: A Camera






The thing I treasure more than anything else from my trip is the photos that I took. I took more than 1,000 photos in the three months that I was gone, and because of that, I’m glad I packed a good camera to take with me. Many phone cameras nowadays will work just fine, but if you have an actual camera it doesn’t hurt to bring that. I had a small handheld one, while other people in my group had packed large, professional cameras. Whatever you have experience with will work out fine. Keep in mind that cameras are easily lost or stolen, so you may want to think twice about taking a very expensive or hard-to-replace camera on your trip. 

Glad I Packed: A Luggage Lock 






A luggage lock is a small item that doesn’t seem important but is essential for international travel. I used my luggage lock to lock up my suitcase and backpack when we left the hotel or hostel, to make sure that my stuff stayed safe. I also used it to lock my suitcase when I left it on luggage racks when we traveled by rail. Lastly, it was handy to have on my backpack when we were out walking on the streets because I didn’t have to worry about anyone unzipping the pockets when I wasn’t paying attention. I highly recommend investing in a travel lock to give you peace of mind while you’re traveling. 

Should Have Left At Home: Bulky Clothing 








The key to packing light is knowing the right type of clothing to bring. When I traveled abroad, I packed bulky sweaters that took up half of the room in my suitcase. When packing, it’s smarter to pack light, clothing that you can layer. This means it’s versatile and you can mix and match outfits, while also staying warm or keeping cool. Layering is the best way to go whenever you travel. Leave bulky clothes at home. 

Should Have Left At Home: Full-Size Toiletries 





For my trip abroad I thought it would be best to pack full-size toiletries because I didn’t want to worry about shopping for any when I arrived. This was unnecessary, since most hotels and hostels will provide shampoo, conditioner, and body wash for you. Not to mention, full-size toiletries are heavy and take up much-needed space in a suitcase. If you’re really set on having a stocked supply of shampoo or conditioner, try to find a kind that comes in a slim bottle, so it’s lighter and it takes up less space. Also, pack potentially spillable items inside a Ziploc bag in your suitcase in the event leakage occurs. 

Should Have Left At Home: Travel Pillow 






This one is debatable depending on your personal preferences, but I didn’t like my travel pillow at all. I could never sleep on planes or trains, and I got tired of dragging it around when I didn’t get any use out of it. I had friends on my trip who loved their travel pillows though, so don’t let my experience deter you from buying one. Just do your research and make sure you’re investing in a high-quality travel pillow, so you’ll have the best possible experience.  

Wherever you go on your next trip, pack light and pack smart. Your future self will thank you.