To Pack Or Not To Pack

The Intercultural Communication Course Blog 
Authors: Kathryn Ficca (UMD), Katie Mahon (UMD), Cara Traub (UMD), Alexi Zacarias (Penn State)

Packing for studying abroad can be difficult. How is it possible to pack everything you’ll need for 4 months in such limited space? Here are a few tips for what items you should pack and what items you can leave at home.


When packing for your semester abroad it is important to bring these few essential items with you. One of the most important things to do before leaving is to make one or two photocopies of both your passport and visa. After getting these photocopied it may be useful to laminate them in order to keep them in good condition. It is imperative that you carry your passport on you at all times, and having a photocopy can allow you to leave your real passport locked away in your apartment while carrying the photocopy around with you throughout the day. Carrying your photocopy will be useful if something bad were to happen to your belongings such as pickpocketing or simply misplacing them.

It is also important to bring over the counter medicines. Packing these can be easily forgotten since many figure you can just buy medications abroad. However, you should pack the over the counter medicines you use most because it can be difficult to decipher Italian labels in the pharmacies and Italy may not sell the exact same products as in America. This can be problematic because you are never exactly sure what medicine you are buying and if it is the same as what you take at home. Save yourself the stress of attempting to read Italian labels and being unsure what medication you’re consuming by simply packing the medications you use the most.

Also, don’t forget to bring a suitcase for traveling on weekends and travel size toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, and face wash. Make sure one of the suitcases you bring is small enough to bring on as a carry-on. You will probably be traveling a lot during the semester and you don’t want to have to worry about checking a bag. If you plan on flying on budget airlines, make sure you check their carry-on requirements closely because some of the cheap airlines require smaller dimensions than the standard carry-on size. This can help you avoid spending unnecessary time and money in airports. Along with the carry-on suitcase, you should bring toiletries that are small enough so you can carry them on for the flights. If you plan on staying in hotels you could just use the toiletries they provide, but if you’re going to stay in hostels or Airbnb’s, you’ll have to make sure to bring your own.

Another item that you should bring is a journal, so you can jot down memorable experiences of your trip along with simply writing about your day to day activities. Keeping a journal will allow you to look back on your time abroad and easily share them with your family and friends. Your journal will also become a time capsule of your experience because after you return home and get back into full swing, your trip will start to feel more and more distant. With your journal you will be able to not only remember the day-to-day activities but also see how you have grown as a person over the duration of your travels.

There are so many items that you want to pack and it can be difficult to eliminate stuff, but there are some items that you should leave behind when packing to go abroad. To begin, you should not pack heavy liquid bottles in your suitcase. Coming from the United States to Europe is a long and exhausting traveling process. The last thing you want is your jumbo sized shampoo and body wash to explode all over your clothes. My roommate arrived to our apartment the first day being here to find her double sized lotion bottle cracked and clothes covered in coconut scented moisturizer… not something you want to deal with after traveling for over 15 hours. Aside from this catastrophe that could happen, packing heavy oversized bottles of liquid really takes up weight in your suitcase. That weight can be used for more clothes, accessories, and shoes. Although not all brands here are the same as the United States, you could find a lot of the brands you need along with brands that are similar. I bought most of my necessities here. Another thing you may want to leave home is expensive, real, and meaningful jewellery. These items can easily be lost and/or stolen. Jewellery can be stolen from an unlocked hotel, apartment, or hostel. You can lose it if you take it off for a specific reason and leave it behind when traveling.

When traveling through Europe it is very easy to get disorganized with all your belongings. It is really important to keep things like your passport, money, and credit cards in a place that is safe and secure. These items also should be stored in a place that is easily accessible. This isn’t only important for traveling, but also going to the bars and clubs. There have been a countless amount of stories of people getting their wallets and phones stolen because they aren’t being aware of their surroundings. Losing a phone and everything in your wallet is not as easily replaced as it can be at home. Some people wait weeks to get their new credit cards mailed to them or have to by a really expensive replacement for their phone while being here.