This time of year, adventurous college students head off to conquer the world. Only one unpleasant task stands between those chosen few and the glory of a semester abroad: packing. As I prepare for my trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, I’ve been stymied again and again by the prospect. How can I possibly fit four months into one or two suitcases? Luckily, I’ve collected a few helpful hints to jumpstart your packing job – and mine:
1.) Make a list
When I’m going away for a weekend, I can throw mismatched clothes into a duffel bag and take off with the best of ‘em. But I’m heading out for four months, and there’s nothing worse than landing in London and realizing you’ve forgotten your deodorant. Believe me.
Make a packing checklist. If you’re thinking big, divide it into sections: clothing, toiletries, school items, and electronics. Consider everything you’ll need in a week, plus essentials you’ll need for weekend or longer side trips if you plan to take them.
Check your program materials to see if a packing list is included. It may contain specific items necessary for your stay that you haven’t considered.
2.) Think realistically
How much of your clothing do you really wear in a given week? As nearly every college student knows, if you’re layering items, you’ll often be able to wear the same items more than once a week.
I like to think of packing in terms of essentials, favorite items and splurges. Your suitcase(s) should probably be around 75% essential items, 20% favorite items and 5% splurges. Take the time to consider everything carefully—I mean, how often are you REALLY going to wear that faux-fur mini skirt while you’re hiking in Patagonia?
3.) Stay organized
Do yourself a favor and pre-sort your clothes. In your suitcase, make piles for tops, bottoms, undergarments, etc. Use compression bags to save space, but keep in mind that most airlines have a weight limit for checked baggage. In many cases, packing over 50 pounds in one suitcase will land you with a fee. Check the airline’s website to be sure.
4.) Plan for future trips
Are you preparing for any weekend or spring break travel? My program includes a weeklong study tour, so I know I’ll need a small-ish suitcase that works for that trip as well. I’ll bring one that’s partially empty to allow more room for purchases. I also plan to come back with at least a few souvenirs. I like to lay a flattened, empty duffel bag on the bottom of my suitcase. That way I have a bag that’s useful for both weekend travel and capable of holding what won’t fit in my suitcase on the way back.
5.) Consider it all
Be sure to look into whether you’ll need converters or adapters for electronics. Consider opening a checking account with lower transaction fees—CapitalOne is a particularly good option.
Examine a few options in terms of cellular phones, as it might be cheaper to get a SIM card or prepaid phone at your destination.
And order a little local currency from your bank before you leave. In general, it’s good to have enough to get yourself from the airport to your final destination.
Photo: o5com at flickr.com