How to pack for a semester abroad

Kylie is a recent graduate of Loras College, where she earned her B.A. in English Literature & Creative Writing. As a student she was involved in campus publications, studied abroad, and loved her classes to pieces. She currently lives in Saint Louis, where she spends her free time exploring, befriending the local bookstore cat, and swapping TV theories with friends. You can find her at www.aboveabroad.blogspot.com.

The night before leaving for my semester abroad in Dublin I remember sitting on the floor of my room, suitcase open in front of me, and wondering how the heck I was supposed to fit four months of clothes into a fifty-pound suitcase. I had spent the day packing, unpacking, and repacking several times over. I ended up adding an extra checked bag, and a carry on duffle. It seemed hopeless.
In hindsight, I can picture that open suitcase and throw out half of what was in it—clothes that didn’t fit, things I’d never worn before and certainly wasn’t going to start to any time soon. There were impractical shoes and useless t-shirts. While that initial day of packing was painful and seemingly endless, it has since taught me
1. Pack clothes you will actually wear. Everyone has pieces they turn to repeatedly—a favorite shirt or cardigan, a jacket to wear with literally everything. Pack these things. If you don’t, you’ll miss them and probably feel a little lost when getting dressed in the morning. If nothing else, they will help alleviate homesickness when it finally does creep up on you. Do not pack clothes that do not fit, you never wear, or need to be dry-cleaned. These things will only take up valuable space on the way there and even more for the trip home.
2. Wear items multiple times. I remember being horrified the first time I saw the washing machine I was supposed to use for a semester. The washing chamber looked like it could hold a large loaf of bread, and maybe a few socks. This was misleading—that little cylinder could hold a full load and then some. So, after washing all of my clothes from the first week, I looked around the room for the dryer—there wasn’t one. Instead, we were supposed to hang our clothes on a line outside. This made zero sense to me, seeing as the weather was in a perpetual state of gray and damp. But, that was better than leaving my things in a soggy heap, so I hung them up, and, what do you know, they were dry in a few hours.
I realized this wasn’t something I wanted to do every week, so I took to wearing shirts two or three times before tossing them in the laundry basket, was diligent about deodorant and liberal with perfume.
3. Layer. While the weather in this part of the world is fairly predictable—think perpetual, rainy autumn—there can be sudden changes. Pack long-sleeved shirts (Old Navy has a great, affordable collection) and sweaters, and a couple pairs of good jeans (nothing artfully ripped or flashy). A dress or two is always a good investment, for a break from the monotony of jeans and an excuse to dress up if the opportunity arises. For the day-to-day your best bet is to start with a shirt and sweater/cardigan combination, and add on a jacket or scarf depending on the forecast. If you plan on traveling to other countries during your semester overseas, this trick will only make packing for side trips that much easier.
4. Accessories. After wearing the same navy cardigan/white tank top combo a few times, it may start to feel old. Bored? Throw on a necklace. Your hair refused to cooperate with the morning mist? Wear a headband. Accessories are you saving grace from boring outfits. Jewelry and hair aside, tights are a smart way to keep warm and change up your daily routine—wear them under shorts if the weather turns warmer, or try on a patterned pair to keep a solid-colored outfit interesting.
5. Pack dark colored clothing. Since you won’t be washing your clothes after a single wear, and considering everything should match relatively well to give you the maximum options in your morning layering routine, stick to a darker palate. Navy, black, red, purple, gray, and some white basics will give you a closet for almost every season and help you blend in a little more.
6. Good walking shoes. I’m not talking about we’re-spending-all-day-at-the-zoo-with-kids walking shoes. Do not bring your running shoes unless you plan to run in them. I’m talking good, sturdy leather boots (no Uggs please). They’ll last longer and match almost everything you wear. And you know those charming cobblestone streets you see in photos of Europe? Well, they’re everywhere and not quite so charming if you try walking on them in heels. Stick to flats—they’re kinder to your feet and easy to dress up or down. Oh, and while it does rain often, rain boots may be a waste of space if your trying to economize on checked baggage.
7. Invest in a decent pea coat. At some point in the near future you will (hopefully) be working at in an internship, or sitting through job interviews, or traveling for work. For all of these you will need to look like a professional adult, and while it may seem daunting to invest in a business-casual wardrobe, you’re going to have to bit the bullet and do it. Anyone can throw together a great interview outfit, but if it’s the middle of February and you show up with your trusty of North Face fleece over that outfit, you will instantly send the wrong message. There is a place for that trusty fleece, but an office setting is not it. Invest in a decent pea coat now and it will serve you well for years.
8. Scarves. If I could only offer you one piece of advice for your semester abroad wardrobe, it would be to pack scarves. Everyone wears them. Everyone, men included. If you haven’t discovered the magic of scarves yet, let me give you an overview: they can make anything look slightly fancier; they keep you warm; it’s like having an at-hand blanket; there’s practically an infinite number of ways to wear them; if you spray them with some perfume you’ll smell nice all day. Scarves are the greatest fashion invention ever.
I would encourage anyone with the chance to study aboard to do so—it is a rare opportunity for travel and self-exploration. Above all remember to enjoy yourself and try take in all your host country has to offer. Safe travels!

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