I have officially been home from my year abroad for two weeks. As I unpack my two massive suitcases, I have been reflecting on 1) how difficult it was to pack for (what turned into) a year abroad, and 2) what I got right and what I should have left behind.
Like everyone who packs for a long-term sojourn abroad, I brought more than I needed. I was happy that I made space for several coats in different patterns, colors, and weights. Honestly, in the cold and cooler months, your coat is all you see. I also wore a ton of dresses and skirts with tights. I didn't need as many jeans or denim-varieties because of this. I also packed too many super warm and wooly sweaters. While I was thankful for these when I was in Austria and Hungary in the winter, I didn't really wear them in Florence since I invested in a good wool coat and scarf.
Unfortunately, there is no master list for what to pack for three months abroad. Generally, I advise people to cut their number of days traveling in half and pack that number of outfits (so for 80 days, you want to pack 40 pieces/outfits). If you stick to a color scheme, you should have no problem making another set of complete outfits (you can see an example of this here).
Here is a basic breakdown of what you should pack if you're studying abroad this spring:
Wool or Heavy Coat (for colder months, i.e. January and February, even March can be chilly depending on where you are studying). If you want to embrace your inner European fashionista, go for something with a bold pattern (like this one) or a bright color (like this one).
Puffer Vest (these are great for layering for extra warmth in cold months or to wear over a light sweater in the spring). I love this one.
Jeans - 1 medium and 1 dark wash (I would also mix up the styles. For example, a light wash pair of relaxed boyfriend jeans, a medium wash straight-leg jean, and a skinny dark wash jean.)
Versatile Tops (in varying sleeve length and fabric weight)
Sweaters (make sure at least one is a cardigan)
Skirts and/or Dresses (make sure they can be layered with tights or boots)
Pants (maybe a pair of colored denim, dressier trousers, or patterned pants)
Shorts (you can't go wrong if one of these is denim)
Tights (they are the easiest way to transition into cooler weather)
Pjs, Loungewear, and/or Workout Wear (I always regret not bringing more lounge wear)
Bras, Underwear, and Socks
A Great Hat (adds instant style and can be worn on the plane)
*Remember fun scarves and accessories can easily be purchased abroad and are a fun and relatively inexpensive way to add variety to your travel wardrobe!
It is best to keep your shoes simple and practical. Remember, you will do a lot more walking in Europe than you are used to! I loved my packable Hunter boots on rainy and chilly days. Cobblestone plus water equals a million tiny and cold puddles. Seriously, these boots are so comfy and light. I wore them on a rainy and chilly day in London when my friend Mike and I walked more than 12 miles. Thanks to my Hunters, my feet didn't hurt once.
1 Secure and Comfortable Mid-sized Everyday Purse (helpful if it fits your computer to go to and from class)
1 Larger Tote for School or Travel (carried on the plane)
1 Clutch or Small Cross-body
*For theft/security reasons, I am anti-backpack
Buy hair dryers, curling irons, and straighteners when you arrive.
Don't bring "going out" shoes. High heels can be easily purchased abroad and since you will only wear them a couple times (most likely in dirty clubs) they aren't worth the room and weight in your suitcase.
Don't waste space on things you wear occasionally or have never worn, or on things that don't fit.
If possible, download required course readings on to your Kindle or iPad to save space and weight.
Consult your physician about your prescription medicines and refills prior to departure and how to adjust time sensitive medicines in a new time zone.
Space bags and packing cubes are great for maximizing space, but be warned, they don't lessen your suitcase's weight!
The more underwear and socks you bring, the less laundry you will have.
Bring small refillable bottles for budget airlines and weekend travel.
Blow up neck pillows are great for sleeping on buses and trains while abroad.
Check to see if your university has a VPN (virtual private network). Many do and when you log in overseas you can access Pandora and Netflix! If your university doesn't have one, you can purchase one online.
Don't forget your student ID, many places offer discounts.