5 Packing Essentials for Traveling Abroad

We list some commonly forgotten items to pack for study abroad in a foreign country.
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In my column here at CF,  I've focused mostly on furnishing, decorating, and packing (or unpacking) college dorms or apartments. While the vast majority of us will have the same bookend experiences of packing to leave for school and packing to leave from school, many of us will also have opportunities to study or travel abroad during our time spent as students.

Packing for travel, and for apartments, hostels, or student dorms abroad, can be a quite a bit more challenging than the familiar routine you've established for going back to classes at your university.

For one thing, you don't have nearly the same amount of space, and for another, you've got to anticipate what you'll need when you're abroad, what you would be better off buying once you arrive, and what you absolutely cannot do without from home.

Right now, I'm backpacking around Europe (and writing this article from a windowsill in a German student dorm!). Traveling alone for the past month has certainly made pretty clear what I love having packed in my bag, and what I honestly wish I could toss out every time I heave it over my shoulders.

In this article, we'll talk about 5 living essentials for studying or traveling abroad, whether you'll be staying in a furnished student dorm or living by your wits in some 50-person room in a hostel in Amsterdam (take it from me: not worth the euros you save). Ready to jet-set? Let's get started!

1. Medical Essentials

My parents managed to drill this into my head before dropping me off at JFK. The truth is, you absolutely can't enjoy your time abroad if you aren't healthy, and I learned this the hard way in Europe.

Instead of hauling a gigantic first-aid kit around the globe with you, think about ailments that you're prone to, or that are particularly common in the regions you'll be headed to. Make sure to bring Tums, ibuprofen, antihistamines, and a good-old stock of Band-Aids, as well as a supply of antiseptic wipes. And of course, don't forget to bring any prescription medications.

It can also be handy to have a doctor's note to prove that you have been vaccinated against whichever diseases for which a country may require proof of immunization. Lastly, be sure to bring your insurance card with you, or clarify what sort of healthcare you're entitled to as a study abroad student. You really do have to be prepared for all sorts of emergencies, and it is well worth the (minor) extra weight in your bag.

2. Ear Plugs


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Ear plugs are total lifesavers. Buy them, stuff a pair or two into a small travel case or old-school film canister, and thank yourself. I thought I could sleep through anything, packed ear plugs last-minute, and realized that "anything" does not include the snores of a 65-year-old Brazilian man in the bunk next to mine in Munich.

3. A Neck Pillow

Neck pillow

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Chances are, you'll find yourself in a middle or aisle seat in a bus or plane, with no greater desire than to lean against something comfortable. As bulky as these may seem, they're a much better option than hauling your Pillow Pet with you, and you'll have to shell out a fortune for them in the airport. So, buy a neck pillow before you leave - believe me, you'll get a lot of use out of it!

4. A Microfiber Hair Wrap

Microfiber hair towel

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Okay, mom, you win this one. Although mine came from China, these flat-cornucopia-shaped beauties are the best friend of girls with shoulder-length or longer hair everywhere. It dries your hair faster after a shower than any normal towel, takes up a fraction of the space, doubles as a wash cloth in times of need, and to top it all off, the towel itself dries quickly.

5. Something to Record Memories With

This can be your laptop, but if you're traveling out of a small suitcase or backpack, suddenly an 8-pound laptop just won't make the cut. Try an iPad or netbook if you really want something electronic, or invest in a classic Moleskine and journal as you go.

If you plan to journal, just make sure to purchase pens that can survive flights and cabin air pressure changes without exploding all over your things! If you're traveling in a rainy area, consider buying a notebook that can be written on in any weather (a favorite of rowing and swimming coaches worldwide).

If you're going to invest in a camera, buy for optical zoom, not megapixels. Bonus points if it has a panoramic option. Or just kill two birds with one stone: use your phone as a camera, and spend long flights or train rides looking back at all your pictures.

What do you think?

What are your travel or study abroad living essentials? What did you think of our list? Anything you'd add or take away? Let us know with a comment!

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