The Essential Study Abroad Packing List

by | Jan 13, 2022 | 0 comments

Your study abroad packing list may be the only thing more stressful than taking the leap to study abroad, but it doesn’t have to be. This simple packing list ensures you don’t forget the essentials when you’re packing your life into a bag for a semester.

The usual lead up to leaving for a study abroad program looks something like this: you apply to a program in your dream location months before you will actually depart (sometimes more than a year), get completely stoked when you find out your app was accepted, and then, wait. You wait, and you wait, and you wait.

Often you wait anxiously at first, but as time wears on, your upcoming study abroad adventure gets put on the back burner. Remember, you still have to get through a full semester, or sometimes even entire school year, before you can take off. You’ve got midterms, finals, parties, internships, and a million other things between now and then.

So what happens? Your study abroad trip drifts to the back of your mind like a warm, distant memory…then bam! It sneaks up on you like a ninja from behind, and catches you totally off-guard.

packing list study abroad

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But here’s the rub. Your semester long study abroad trip isn’t like a weekend getaway to your grandparents’ cabin upstate. You can’t pack last minute and dash out the door. Your study abroad packing list needs to be thoughtfully planned out and you usually need to purchase a lot of items in advance.

Fair enough. So where do you start? Well, in this guide, I’ll rundown the most random packing list items that you probably wouldn’t think about, but just can’t live without.

I mean, you don’t need me to tell you to bring underwear and a toothbrush. So let’s avoid the obvious. Instead, let’s focus on what experience (specifically, my hair-pulling experience), has shown you really need. So whether you’re going to study abroad in Italy, Spain or the South Pole (yes, that’s a thing), here are some key items not to leave home without.

#1 | Local Currency

Think you’ll just show up in the airport in Warsaw and punch out $500 worth of Polish Złoty? Well, what happens when the ATM is broken or out of cash? How are you going to get a cab ride then? Yeah. Pull out cash in the local currency at your bank a few weeks before you leave. This guarantees you have at least a few hundred bucks on hand when you show up, and won’t find yourself in a bind. Plus, your bank often offers foreign currency at a better exchange rate than ATMs.

#2 | Language Learning App

If you’re going to a predominantly non-English speaking country, make sure to sign up for a language learning app like Babbel or Duolingo a few months before taking off. You could also buy a small phrase guide book. Practice here and there where you can around school. Then, hammer lessons in the last few days before you take off. You’ll be happy to have some conversational Italian before getting off the plane in Milan. 😉

packing list study abroad outlet adapter

#3 | Outlet Adapter

This one is pretty simple. Don’t assume every other country uses the same outlets as the US. Because guess what? They don’t. In fact, almost none of them do. Make sure to snag yourself a universal outlet adapter off Amazon in the weeks leading up to taking off. This will avoid a seething email from your mother about how irresponsible you are when your phone dies on the plane ride over and you can’t charge your phone to tell her you landed safely.

feminine products study abroad packing

#4 | Feminine Products

Believe it or not, not every country uses the same kind of feminine products (specifically tampons). So if you have preferences, be sure to pack enough for the duration of your trip. Or, consider getting a Hevea Loop Rubber Menstrual Cup or similar product. They’re affordable, safe and sustainable.

Related PostNon-Toxic Female Toiletries for Your Carry-On Packing List

american gift study abroad packing list

#5 | Canned Gifts

This one is my secret sauce. There’s a good chance you’ll meet someone  that will become special to you  while studying abroad– a local family, professor, classmate or maybe a bartender, who knows. Either way, you’ll feel compelled to give them a small token gift to remember you by. But if you don’t listen to this tip, you won’t have any worthwhile Americana with you to leave gift them. So buy something ahead of time that would make a cool, unique American gift and toss it in your bag. My go-to was a coffee table book with pictures of California.

backpacking study abroad

#6 | Weekend Bag/Backpack

One of the best parts of studying abroad is traveling around the region or country you’re staying in. If you’re packing suitcases, you want to make sure you bring along a small backpack or weekend bag as well so you can easily take off on a bus, plane or train.

On your weekend trips, it’s likely that you’ll stay at a hostel. And if you’ve never stayed at a hostel, you should know there’s nothing to be worried about. As long as you read reviews and choose one in a central location, it’s going to be just fine. That being said, if you’re especially paranoid about sleeping in a hostel or not confident in the cleanliness, having a sleep sack can be a life saver. If you’ve never seen one, it’s basically a linen sleeping bag that balls up into a pouch the size of wallet. They take up no space and might save you an unpleasant sleeping situation in a hostel.

study abroad packing locker

#7 | Padlock

This one goes back to the hostel. Again, unless you really are studying abroad in Antarctica, there is a good chance you’ll travel on the weekends while studying abroad. And whether you’re mingling in a hostel, couchsurfing or crashing with a friend of a friend, you’re going to want to lock up your stuff. A small padlock takes up nearly no space and may save your life (or at least your backpack).

Studying abroad is one of the coolest and best experiences of your life, and you don’t want the first week or two ruined by not having a few essential items that you could have easily obtained at home. So heed my advice. Grab the gear on this study abroad packing list, and go enjoy yourself!

This article is a guest post by John Ross from


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I’m Tara Weber—a Sarasota, Florida based travel blogger and copywriter. On She Needs Less, I share my adventures across our beautiful planet and inspire women to build self confidence and independence so they can live the life they dream of. No matter how unconventional!
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