What to Pack When Studying Abroad

Student in airport
Student in airport

By Megan Stahlsmith, student study abroad ambassador

The weeks leading up to your departure date can be thrilling but also incredibly stressful. Do you have all your paperwork turned in? Are the flights you booked okay or the super sketchy, super cheap site you bought them off actually a scam? Is the weather going to be terrible when you fly out so your flight is canceled leaving you scrambling to even leave? One of the hardest questions you have to answer is what am I going to pack?

You are going away for months. Seasons are going to change. You need clothes, and if you are anything like me, you are very attached to each article of clothing you own. Packing is very stressful, even after you arrive you aren’t sure if you packed enough or you are worried you packed too much. The best way to combat this stress is to plan ahead and be smart about what and how much you pack.

Find the right suitcase

When I went abroad, I had a backpack as my carry on, a suitcase as my checked bag, and a large purse as my personal bag. Often, I would gate check my backpack because everything I needed was in my purse and I did not want to worry about shoving it into the overhead compartment. If you do not have a short layover, you should consider doing this as it saves some hassle.

I do highly recommend getting a good travel backpack. They are perfect for weekend trips. I traveled with the Tortuga backpack and it has been the best and most-used Christmas present I have ever received. I have run through many airports with that on my back and it was not terrible. It was comfortable, supportive, and I was able to fit enough clothes and shoes to last ten days. Other companies that have good backpacks my friends have used are Osprey and REI.

suitcases and backpacks

Wear layers

I cannot emphasize enough how important layering is when you are abroad, especially in Europe. One weekend, you could be freezing in the fjords of Norway and the next you could be laying on a beach in Barcelona. You have to be prepared for all weather while sticking to just a backpack and a suitcase. The best way to do this is to pack clothes that could function in all weather, you would just have to add a jacket or sweater.

Back to basics

Yes, you can pack that crazy print shirt you love so much, but it is hard to make it work for more than one outfit. My suggestion is back more basic clothes with neutral colors that are easier to mix and match with other items you brought with you. Bring one or two fun items that could liven up your basics. If you are going to Europe, just pack all black and you would fit in perfectly!


Pack clothes that can easily transition from day to night. You can wear a black dress casually with sneakers and a jean jacket. Put on a pair of heels and you are ready to go out on the town or to a symphony.

More Tips for Packing

  • Learn how to roll your clothes. This saves a lot of room in a suitcase and you can put some clothes in boots and shoes to conserve more space. 

  • Pack for two weeks. This should allow all your clothes to fit in your suitcase comfortably with room left over for souvenirs.

  • When in doubt, go to Pinterest. There are LOADS of ideas on what to pack for studying abroad there, the options are endless.

  • Make sure you have at least a change of clothes in your carry on. Bags get lost, you would not want to be stuck with dirty socks and underwear while waiting for your clothes to arrive. 

  • Buy big bottles of shampoo and conditioner once you arrive. They just take up space in your suitcase.

  • Pack socks and underwear, you can throw away when you come back home to maximize space for souvenirs. 

  • Remember, there are probably stores where you are going. If you forget something, it is not the end of the world. Just go to the nearest H&M and pick up something cheap that you would not feel bad about leaving behind in favor of cooler souvenirs.