7 Things to Leave Behind When Packing to Study Abroad

Many of us are extreme overpackers. It’s in our nature. We grew up hearing “Be prepared!” We learned that overpacking is always better than underpacking.

However, as you begin packing to study abroad you may wonder, “How the heck do I fit my whole life into two suitcases?!”

Good question.

While it may seem scary to move to a new place with so few of your belongings, overpacking is not worth the trouble. Your back and arms will thank you for leaving behind that 9th pair of shoes.

My experience lugging two checked bags, an overstuffed duffel and a backpack across the ocean taught me that packing a little less would have been a good idea. As I prepare to once again pack up my life and move abroad, I’ve learned that there are things I should leave behind.

Below you’ll find a few suggestions on what not to pack based on my own experience lugging 100+ pounds from San Diego to Scotland.

Here are 7 things that you should leave behind when packing to study abroad.

  1. Books –

    There are these amazing things called libraries. There are also ereaders. I’m guilty of lugging about 10 or 15 books with me when I studied abroad during my undergraduate. I won’t even tell you how many I brought back. Just remember, if you read a book per month, you’re probably not going to start reading 5 per week once you live abroad. Leave them behind.

    Library cards are free. International bookstores also have some really cool books with covers different from the ones in your home country. If you’re a book nerd, you’ll appreciate finding new editions of your favorite books. Don’t bother bringing so many from home.

  2. DVDs/CDs –

    Just as libraries exist, so do online movie and streaming services. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Youtube, Spotify, the list goes on. As a film minor and active member of college radio, this one was hard for me. When I studied abroad I took a pile of dvds with me. In the 9 months I was abroad, I probably watched about half of them.  You don’t need DVDs and CD’s as decoration. Photos take up much less space in your bag.

  3. Shorts/Jackets –

    This one depends on the weather you’ll be living in. If it’s going to be hot all the time, you don’t need a suitcase full of coats. It’s a simple concept: don’t pack for weather you don’t live in.

    If you’re moving to Scotland, you don’t need to pack half a suitcase of shorts. It’s cold. All. The. Time. You’re not going to want exposed legs.

  4. Dresses or Other Fancy Clothes –

    Bringing a couple nicer outfits is definitely smart, but packing a lot of fancy clothes is impractical. There may be the occasional special occasion while you’re abroad, but that doesn’t mean you should pack 11 different dresses or  19 bow ties.

    Pack smart. Bring stuff you’re going to wear more than once. That beautiful dress you love will be there when you get back. Also, you’ll probably do some (or a lot) of shopping while abroad.

  5. Toiletries –

    I promise that other countries have soup, shampoo and razors. Don’t bother loading up on toiletries that will weigh you down. If you’re having trouble zipping your bag, unnecessary toiletries are the first thing to eliminate.

    There should be no sentimental value with a bottle of lotion, so leave it behind. It’s easily replaceable when you’ve settled into your new home.

  6. Extra Shoes –

    Wearability is key. Your closet full of boots, heels, wedges, flip flops, sandals, etc. should not follow you across the pond or wherever you’re going. Try to stick to essentials. You’ll want some sturdy walking shoes, maybe some hiking boots if you’re outdoorsy, a comfortable everyday pair, something nicer for those special occasions and a pair of flip flops.

    If you’re doing walking tours of cities and strolling through 3 story museums, you’ll probably be grateful that you brought a pair of comfy sneakers over that second pair of heeled booties.  If you must pack extra shoes, be sure they’re ones you’ll want to wear.

  7. Bags Without Proper Straps or Zippers –

    Pickpocketing is real. Sadly, robbers interpret your open purse as an invitation to steal your wallet, passport, etc. This doesn’t just happen in the movies. If you’re just holding your purse in your hand, it’s easy for someone to grab it and run. Public transportation is big in Europe. It’s also big for pickpockets.

    If your bag has no zipper, it’s easy for someone to reach into it and steal your money undetected, especially in a crowded subway station or train car. Ditch the designer bag and invest in a crossbody purse with a reliable zipper. For those who don’t carry purses,  be smart about your bags as well. It’s just as easy for someone to steal from your backpack or back pocket. Keep your valuables somewhere safe.

Not every item on this list may be relevant to you,  but think about the things you cling on to, and try your best to not put them all into your suitcase. That being said, it’s okay to take a few ‘clutter’ items. You’re moving to a new country. Whether it’s right away or takes a few months to kick in, you’re going to experience moments of homesickness.

Surrounding yourself with some of your favorite possessions can help your new home feel less foreign. Fill that extra space in your suitcase with sentimental items like a favorite book or childhood stuffed animal, not with a ninth pair of shoes or Costco size shampoo bottle.

Thanks for reading. Happy packing!




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