Five things I wish I packed for my semester abroad

Things I forgot that other students might too.


(madame.furie / Flickr)

When leaving to study abroad, many things might be going through your head such as finances, what classes you are going to take and finding accommodation. When beginning to pack, sure, you might have your favorite shoes zipped up in your suitcase, but those black strappy velvet heels won’t help you survive in Europe for five months. Trust me, I know.

I made a list and checked it twice, but it wasn’t until I arrived at University College in Dublin last year that I realized a few additional items would have been helpful.

Anything you forget, you could probably find somewhere there but it is better to prepare in advance since every penny counts. Plus, it may be difficult to locate stores near your new home where those items will be available.

Below are five things that I didn’t think about until I needed them:

A lock:  Since you’ll probably be traveling to other countries, no matter where you’re studying, hostels are the cheapest options while backpacking around Europe, but that means sharing a room with complete strangers. The last things you want to be stolen are your passport, credit cards, money or phone. Some hostels give you little locks for the cubbies they provide, but some don’t.

Luckily, I traveled with a much wiser friend who shared her lock with me. But the times we were apart I had to fend for myself, usually wrapping my purse around the bedpost, or cuddling my backpack during the night to protect my belongings. Save yourself the anxiety so you don’t have to sleep with one eye open. 

A reliable smartphone: Make sure your phone—and its battery —is in good condition before you leave home, and that your carrier allows you to stray from your plan while you’re away. I unlocked my phone with my carrier before I left, so I was able to purchase a SIM card in Europe with unlimited data.

However, my phone’s battery was depleted, which led to it dying constantly even with a portable charger, which left me useless. Google Maps will save your life with its handy directions and will guide you to the most efficient transportation.

Plus, you will probably use your phone to take all of your pictures. You’ll come home with better pictures than I did, and get lost less often. 

The New York Times published an article on how to unlock your phone abroad:

Universal adapter: Remember that some countries have varying electrical sockets. I did bring an adapter that had several distinct attachment plugs for multiple countries. However, half the time I either forgot them or brought the wrong ones. The attachment pieces were small and easily misplaced. I wish I had brought an all-in-one adapter, preferably with multiple USB ports so that I could help out my ill-prepared friends during a weekend trip to a new city with new charging ports. Adapters like this are more compact and convenient for plugging in multiple devices at once when you have limited time to charge up your batteries before the next adventure.

Waterproof bags: You can plan for a lot of things, but the weather isn’t one of them. I bought countless art prints and postcards from various cities that were wrinkled up by heavy rains that saturated my bags. Even my passport got wrinkly and damp, and I am sure that my phone suffered. Keeping a waterproof bag will help you to protect your items from inclement conditions. You could bring a traveler’s bag, or even just a  smaller pouch to throw in any bag you already own.

Bag weight: Most airlines have luggage weight restrictions. When I was first heading to University College Dublin I accounted for heavy bags and just paid the fees. But once I was already there I started traveling around Europe and had less extra money to spend.  I found that budget airlines give you less lee-way, even with carry-ons. Instead of just blindly guessing how much your bags weigh, and hoping you aren’t docked for extra fees, bring a bag weight so that you confidently know you won’t be spending unnecessary money by over-packing. 

These five items would have made my life a lot easier and would have saved me anxiety and stress. Consider packing them before you depart so you are more equipped for your travels.  You could go out and buy these once you’re already there but the budget runs out quickly when you’re an unemployed student living on your own booking flights to different countries every weekend. 

Clicking on the images will take you to Amazon where you can purchase the items before your trip.

Email Katherine Kelley at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @katkelley26.

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