Packing for anything can be a nightmare. Packing for a year abroad is almost impossible. You will forget something so just accept the inevitable. However, there are a few tips/tricks to help you remember the essentials and have everything you need for your time away.
The first stop for any packing is to make a list. There are a few good "ready made" lists which can give you a good starting point such as:
These lists are great but they ignore something obvious, the destination! If you're going somewhere hot and sunny then it is unlikely you will need thermal underwear. UNLIKELY. When I was living in Madrid there was snow in the mountains so only forgo warm clothes if it is extremely unusual for the temperature to drop below 10°C. Similarly if you are going somewhere cold, having a good winter coat will be essential but thin camisole tops might be a little optimistic. With that in mind I've created some top tips for packing for your year abroad.
1. Give yourself plenty of time
Packing for a year abroad is not something that should be taken on lightly. You want to have everything you need, and you don't want to have things you don't, so making sure you find the time to properly plan will be crucial. It may help to do things in stages, as this breaks the task down to a more manageable size. For example:
Stage 1: Knowing what you'll need - do your research (see the tips below) on the climate and culture.
Stage 2: Divide your clothes into piles (e.g. trousers, tops, shirts, formalwear, thermals - these categories should be based on the research you did).
Stage 3: Accessories and knick knacks (bags, belts, books, etc - these are easily forgotten in the chaos.
Stage 4: Shoes (personally I do these last otherwise I take too many impractical heels. When you have limited space you prioritise more efficiently).
Stage 5: Make sure you know what is in which suitcase/bag otherwise you might spend hours hunting around for it. I try to make a list as I go along.
2. Check the climate/culture
Not just in the place you're going to but also in nearby states or countries that you would like to visit. There can be a wide temperature difference both within the same country and between countries, so make sure you have at least one cold weather/hot weather outfit. It's also a good idea to check if there are cultural differences. Some places are much more conservative than others and you may end up in trouble if you don't respect dress codes.
3. LAYERS ARE YOUR FRIEND
It has taken me a long time to get my head around this. When I was in Spain I had two thick jumpers and a hoodie and just wore them on repeat and hoped nobody noticed. Thankfully things have changed since then. In order to get layering right, get the basics and play with combinations. Check out this really helpful article on layering for tips on combining different options.
4. Don't pack everything "just in case"
Being strategic with your clothing will make it much easier. That pink skirt that only goes with that one top you own? Don't even think about it. Only bring clothes you know go with at least two to three other items in your packing. Think about what you will be doing, studying at university? Casual clothes and one or two smart outfits for networking events/summer internship interviews. Internship? The workwear essentials (1-2 full suits, shirts, blouses and proper knee-length skirts), some dress up/dress down items and a few casual pieces.
5. Don't forget that you can buy things when you get there
Can't squeeze in your warmest, fluffiest pair of slippers? Leave them. Slippers are quite cheap/easy to get. Similarly toiletries for example weigh down your luggage unnecessarily and take up valuable space. Unless it is something difficult to get in the country you're going to, or it has very high sentimental value, it is probably easier to just get it when you're there.
6. Have regular breaks.
Packing is stressful. Go outside, get some fresh air, have a cup of tea (typical Brit). You'll make better decisions.
I hope this has helped those of you embarking on a year abroad. If you have any questions send them through to firstname.lastname@example.org or get in contact with me on Twitter or Instagram