Packing tips for a semester (or longer) abroad!

How to pack for six months abroad
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My name is Liz and I have successfully packed my life into a suitcase and a carry on for living in a different country for 5+ months two times. Along the way I’ve learned a lot and I’m sharing my secrets with you! So you can find the balance between being an “overpacker” and an “underpacker”. These are my ultimate packing tips for trips longer than six months.

Packing is so daunting especially if you’re going for a long haul trip so let’s break it down. These are my ultimate tips for packing for a long trip or study abroad but I think you can use them for shorter trips too!

Hauling luggage in Paris
First time abroad hauling two suitcases in Paris! Big beginner mistake but we do look cute.

Luggage

Check your airline and see how big your checked bag and carry on are allowed to be and how much they’re allowed to weigh. I would go for about that or less, you should be able to lift your suitcase. You may have to go up and down stairs and you want your journey from when you get off the plane to be as painless as possible.

Get something sturdy and that has wheels that go all the way around. Don’t skimp on luggage like me…my suitcase I bought at Target won’t zip up anymore. I had really good luck buying a good quality suitcase at Marshall’s/TJ Maxx.

Roll your clothes!

First fold them in half and roll them as tightly as you can. Then place your rolled piece of clothes in either a space cube or a plastic bag (gallon or quart sized). I prefer quart sized plastic bags because they’re cheap and you can write in sharpie what’s in the bag. Then seal it off with tape after you squeeze the air out. It makes you so much more organized and saves a lot of room in your suitcase.
Ziploc quart bag for rolling clothesSpace CubesMakeup travel caseTravel makeup case

Ziploc quart bags, space cubes, travel makeup cases

There are also other tricks like putting rolled socks in your shoes, I like to put all my jewelry, makeup and hair accessories also in old makeup bags or reusable cloth bags to keep track of them.

What clothes to pack?!

It’s always overwhelming trying to decide what to pack. My golden rule is to pack clothes that you wouldn’t mind being photographed in but wouldn’t be completely heartbroken if something happened to it. Stick to neutral colors and basics so you can mix and match clothing. Keep in mind you may want to go shopping at your destination so leave your bag about half or three quarters empty. If you get to wash your clothes where you’re staying that’s an incentive to pack even less.

You do not need 10+ of shoes I promise. I stuck to the basics and would buy new shoes as I lost them or they worse out…or if there was a sale. Flipflops/sandals for around the house, warm weather and/or showers in hostels and Airbnb’s. Flats because they’re practical and go with everything. Tennis/shoes and sneakers if you’re going to be doing lots of adventuring. And finally heels if you’re going to a formal occasion that requires it.

Chelsea bootsBlack ballerina flatsGrey sneakersNude strappy heel

My prefered travel shoes: chelsea boots, black ballerinas, sneakers and nude heels

Check the weather for your destination and dress accordingly! There are a million packing lists on pinterest if that also helps. Even if you’re staying abroad for more than one season dressing in layers is the way to go.

The dreaded carry on

So for both of my stays abroad I had a checked bag and a carry on. The first time I had two suitcases and it was a nightmare when you may have to navigate stairs and multiple forms of transportation.

For the carry on I got a hiking backpack which holds up to 35-50 L. I like it because it has a strap for your sternum so your back won’t be killing you. This bag is also amazing because it can squeeze into almost any overhead bin and I can also retrieve it easily. Remember that flight attendants aren’t supposed to lift bags for you so make sure that you can at least put it on your knee and then lift it up.

Pink hiking backpackBlue hiking backpack

Both of these would make great carry ons and bags for other trips!

Don’t forget when going through security to take our your laptop and liquids.

So in your carry on you should back: makeup, valuables, electronics, copies of your important documents and an extra change or two of clothing. These are the things you want to keep on you that you do not want to lose. I like to keep these in a folder I can easily access if I have to.

Liquids and makeup

Only bring what you usually use daily! I was so nervous about my brand new naked palette getting shattered in my carry on so it’s best to not go too crazy. Liquids, creams, gels and sprays larger than 3.4 ounces even if partly empty must go in your checked bag. For your carry on it’s as many 3.4 ounce products you can put in a clear quart sized bag. See TSA guidelines here. You can use another plastic quart bag or get something a little more durable.

Quart sized bag with travel containersTSA approved clear quart sized bagSqueezable travel tubes

Don’t pack:

  • A full size towel- travel towels exist for a reason.
  • Blankets/pillows- they will be provided where you’re staying most likely.
  • Your expensive straightener/curler/blow dryer- if you’re going to a country where the voltage is different sparks could fly and goodbye $300 hair straightener even with an adapter. You can always buy a cheap one abroad.
  • Full sized shampoo/bodywash/lotion- stick to travel sized and then buy products in that country, you may discover products you like abroad.
  • Travel towel

Travel towels are one of my favorite inventions.

Don’t forget:

  • If it helps make a packing list and cross things off as you go.
  • You can check into your flight online usually the day before to make sure you have that prime window seat.
  • Get to the airport 3 hours early for international flights.
  • Don’t wear makeup on a long haul flight, you will break out! Do yourself a favor and pack a sheet mask you can use on the plane and/or when you get off. My personal favorite is a full face sephora mask and the charcoal strip for your nose.
  • Call your bank and credit cards, tell them what countries you’re going to and how long so they don’t freeze your card. Sometimes you can do this online in addition to ordering foreign currency.
  • The adapter for the place you’re going to! I got one at a grocery store for $5 and another at Marshall’s for $6 find the one you need here.
  • A portable charger, neck pillow and medicine like advil, tylenol or pepto bismol in the case you don’t feel well.

Green tea face maskTravel adapterPortable battery Travel neck pillowTravel WalletPeel off charcoal mask


May you have safe travels and an empty seat next to you on your next flight!

xoxo Liz

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links from Amazon

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12 Comments

  1. randomthoughtsbyhaya
    February 25, 2017

    These tips are so useful for people who are traveling !

    Reply
    1. Thank you!

      Reply
  2. Heather Foltz
    February 25, 2017

    I needed this before my husband I did this for our honeymoon…We like pushing our boundaries and learning about how we react in different situations together! GREAT READ.

    Reply
    1. Thank you! The good thing is you learn how to pack for future travels 😊

      Reply
  3. findingfin
    February 26, 2017

    The roll your clothes is definitely a life saver when it comes to space saving! Love your blog!

    Reply
    1. Thank you so much!

      Reply
  4. bolaoyebade
    February 26, 2017

    omg, bless you for this post! i was just thinking the other day that I really need to work on being a better “packer”. every time i travel i say “im not gonna overpack this time…” and i fail almost every time. your tips are really helpful, though. i just need to really discipline myself for next time!

    Reply
    1. Thanks girl! I try, packing is an art and it takes so much trial and error. My sister’s really the best but she couldn’t help me this time so I had to do research.

      Reply
  5. Rebecca
    February 26, 2017

    Like you, I’ve mastered the art of packing just what is necessary for long travels/stays. During my first year as a TAPIF assistant, I came with two suitcases (necessary back then, because I was young and naive and spent too much on souvenir items for my family back home), but this time, I came with a single suitcase and am surviving comfortably!

    In agreement with you on rolling clothes; as for carry-ons, I’ve fudged my way with them, since many of the airlines I’ve taken were fine with me taking my backpack, a small personal bag, and one or two plastic bags of food on board! No need to check in that way!

    Reply
    1. That’s definitely a good tip about the personal bag, I’ve done that too! Then I consolidated it all in one carry on when I hop off the plane.

      Reply
  6. Danielle
    February 27, 2017

    These are great tips! I bought a voltage converter to bring with me to France, do you think my hair styling tools will survive? lol

    Reply
    1. elisabethaking
      February 27, 2017

      If you have a converter for the voltage it should but be careful!

      Reply

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