Preparing for a long trip abroad, and need help packing?? I’ve been wanting to do a blog post regarding packing for quite some time, and even have friends requesting that I do one. Since Chile was my second time traveling abroad, I thought I would have the whole packing thing down. Turns out, that wasn’t the case. USAC always suggests that you pack your bag half full so you have room to buy things abroad and fit them in your suitcase on the way home. Especially if you are leaving for a summer session (4-9 weeks), you really don’t need much.
Last year before I left for Spain, I started packing my suitcases about a month beforehand. I wanted to get a head start because I wanted to be extra prepared and make sure I didn’t forget anything. I felt like I packed pretty well for Spain last year, but there were definitely things that I wish I brought more of, or left at home. It’s hard to say what you may need or may not need until you get there. By then, it’s too late. In short, I bought a lot of clothes in Spain because I brought too many shorts and not enough pants. In Bilbao it was cool and rainy most of the time. We had probably three days of complete sunshine the whole time I was there. Definitely check the weather before you leave!
Packing for Chile was a whole different story. I got a little cocky because I’ve done this before so I thought “oh, I’ll have time to pack!” I put off my packing until about a week before my trip and that was a mistake. I was rushing to put the right things in my suitcase and went to the store and bought way too many toiletries. This time around was actually harder for me because I knew the weather was going to be colder down South, so I had to pack sweaters which take up way more space than summer clothes. I also had trouble deciding which shoes to bring if it was going to be raining all the time. When I checked the weather in Santiago, it said sunny/partly cloudy most of the time and the temperature was in the 50’s and 60’s. I thought that wasn’t even too cold, so I brought a lot of t-shirts that I didn’t end up wearing. 50 degrees in Santiago feels like 40, so it was much colder than I expected.
For Santiago, I packed wayyyy too many clothes. I wanted to look “cute” everyday, but that honestly is just not realistic. I brought all the sweaters that I own, when I could have just brought 3 or 4. I even ended up buying 2 sweaters in Chile, and those had trouble fitting in my suitcase on the way home. I did not bring a scarf, but I did bring gloves and a beanie which worked well for me. I didn’t realize everybody wears scarves there, so I headed to an H&M to buy a nice scarf. I also brought too many toiletries. I brought big bottles of shampoo and conditioner and a lot of extra makeup, when I could have just brought travel size ones. Since I was staying with a host family, they provided everything I could need for shower purposes. I would say if you are staying with a host family, don’t worry about bringing the big shower items. They will have them for you. And if they don’t, you can always go to the store and buy some! The good thing is that if you do forget something, there are stores wherever you are going where you can buy those items. No need to stress!
For Spain, I brought a carry-on, a big suitcase, and a backpack that I took with me on the plane. I hated carrying around the backpack because my back always hurt and it was hard to reach in and pull one thing out without taking everything out, because I packed it so tight. This time for Chile, I decided to just pack my carry-on and my big suitcase. I checked the big suitcase and used my carry-on on the planes, as well as a small purse with my important documents for easy access. Turns out, most planes nowadays are too small and cannot fit carry-ons in the overhead bins, so they make you check them. This was not helpful at all and not what I was expecting. It was kind of nice not having to carry it around so my hands were free, but otherwise it just increased the chances of it getting lost. When we missed the international flight in Atlanta, they kept both of my bags overnight, when I had my important items and a change of clothes in my carry-on. That was the whole reason I brought the carry-on was for a situation like that. After that it didn’t matter anymore. I had no bags and just my purse. At that point, I wished I had brought my backpack. So on my way home from Chile, I used my backpack that way it didn’t matter if I had to check my carry-on. It was much more of a relief coming home. So in short, I would suggest traveling with a backpack, and checking the carry-on and big suitcase. Otherwise, your best bet is bringing just one big suitcase, and the backpack. That’s really all you need.
Some ways I keep my suitcase organized is by using packing cubes. One of my friends gave me packing cubes before I left for Spain and they worked miracles. I was able to separate all my clothes and toiletry items in cubes and they fit perfect in my suitcase. I would suggest investing in packing cubes because they make life a little easier. I would also suggest rolling up your clothes, instead of folding them like normal. It gives you a lot more space in your suitcase for shoes and other items that may not fit in a packing cube. You can check out the pictures below to see how the packing cubes keep things organized and not just stuffed in your suitcase.
In short, these few important tips can be a life saver when traveling abroad:
- Pack light!! Even if you think you need that one pair of heels, you probably don’t.
- Pack travel size toiletries and buy big things if you need them at a store abroad.
- Bring a backpack on the plane and check all your other bags.
- Pack a change of clothes and a small toiletry bag in your backpack in case you get stuck somewhere.
- Check the weather before you leave, especially the humidity and precipitation.
- Invest in packing cubes.
- Roll your clothes instead of folding them or throwing them in your suitcase.
- Pack two or three pairs of shoes. One pair of good walking shoes and an everyday pair of shoes (maybe an extra pair of good walking shoes in case your other ones get destroyed, it happens).
- Bring a small day pack for day trips, that way you don’t have to carry your big backpack all day.
- Use your USAC luggage tags so you can easily identify other people in your program and make friends.
- Bring a weeks worth of underwear and socks, that’s all you need. Basically a weeks worth of everything.