A couple friends have already asked me about how I’m going about packing for an extended trip abroad. And to that I can only give the answer that is true for most everything in my life, “wingin’ it.” I don’t really have a strategy for this. I’ve not got a checklist of what kind of clothing I’ll need, or how I’m going to mix and match x,y, and z for maximum wardrobe efficiency, or how i’m going to best fit all this stuff in my suitcase. Really, so far, all I’ve done is take all my stuff out of my closet and lay it out on the bed and look at it.
Which, truth be told, is probably the best strategy there is.
Packing for a long-stay is a little different from most other types of overseas travel, and while you can go about some things much the same, there is one key difference::: this time, you’re not going to sight-see. You’re going to make a home. And as such, the priority for packing isn’t so much “comfort and efficiency” so much as “things I love and want by my side for the next year.” Getting all your things together and picking out what is most important and most loved is really the way to go. For me, this apparently means lots of clothes, a couple books, and my favorite mug.
The biggest newbie mistake I made when packing for Poland was simply not saving room in my suitcase for things I used regularly, falsely assuming I could go on without them in Poland. Not true. If its something you love and enjoy now, you’ll definitely feel its absence when you don’t have it. In my case, i decided not to bring my favorite purse with me, in favor of an easier-to-pack bag. As a result I spent most of my first week abroad trying to track down a worthy replacement. I also spent a lot of time trying to track down some underwear I liked because I didn’t bring enough (more difficult than you think when the sizing isn’t what your’re used to). True, you don’t need to feel you need to pack everything, Europe (and most places I imagine!) do have stores stocked with everything you need to live so if something is forgotten you can always buy it on the other side. but here’s the thing. This is good advice, especially for people with limited space in their suitcase. I totally wholeheartedly agree and would give anyone this same advice without a second of hesitation. In fact, it’s a lot of fun to peruse stores in other countries and buy cool products you can’t find at home. BUT, it’s ok to make room for familiar products and things you like! Call it little comforts of home. I’m a bit brand-loyal when it comes to things like makeup, and it’s hard to find a worthy replacement in America, let alone in a country where you barely read the language. When you’re in a strange place and feeling homesick, shopping for necessities–even just finding the right store—can be overwhelming. the last thing you want to do is spend 20 minutes standing in a drug store aisle debating with yourself over whether the aerosol can you’re holding contains mousse or hairspray….or something else altogether.
So, What I’m Packing to Go to Paris (a condensed list):::
1. A selection of makeup, face wash, lotions, etc. They’re all things I know I’m going to use over the course of my time abroad, and plus, it’s a lot cheaper to buy them here with a stack of Beds Bath And Beyond $5-off coupons than it is to pay full price in Euros for them later. As a budget-concious student, it was worth it to buy them all now, especially since I knew I still had plenty of room in my suitcase for them. However, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend everyone do this.
However, I would recommend everyone bring along a small selection of medicine (I’ve got Ibuprofin, Mucinex, Dayquil/Nyquill, and a small first aid kit), just in case. Nothing sucks more than feeling awful and having to trek out in the cold to explain symptoms to a pharmacist in an foreign language when you really just want to be home drinking tea. Plus, I seem to be much more prone to getting sick abroad than I am at home, so its just peace of mind to know I have things to take care of myself.
2. Clothes. Clothes are the hard part. Bring things you feel comfortable in, Don’t bring x, y, and z that you never actually wear just because you think it’s cute and you assume you’ll want to be more stylish when you get to Europe. You won’t. You’ll still be wearing things you love and feel comfortable in now, style doesn’t actually change suddenly and dramatically with a move to Europe…it takes time. And if it does, You’ll probably find this is the sort of thing you’d rather buy when you get there. Don’t worry about whether or not you’re going to “look American.” As long as you’re not wearing a neon tracksuit, chances are none of the locals are going to be noticing your clothing or using it to judge your nationality. I promise, no one has time for that. Even the french wear white tennis shoes sometimes. Stick with your staples first, then fill in with other things. If you’re like me and wear your levi’s every day you can, pack them. Buy an extra pair (I did). Bring some easy-to-wear sweaters, tshirts, cardigans, and dresses. Stay away from things that need special care and ironing, unless you’re willing to buy an iron or know you’ll have access to one. Also keep in mind it may be harder to motivate yourself to carry things to be drycleaned or to a laundromat as frequently when you don’t have a car. take more “accent pieces” such as scarves, jewelry and belts.
3. Fun things. This is stuff like your favorite books, your computer (and cables to connect your phone, camera, ipod,etc), maybe a few trinkets to set on your desk. Bring some peanut butter if you must (you can buy it easily in Europe, contrary to popular opinion, but it DOES taste a little bit different). In this category, I’m going to bring a few favorite cups and mugs, some books, my Bible, a few notebooks some command hooks and stickers for hanging up some things on the wall (As I did in Poland, I’ll decorate by sticking up postcards from places I visit). I’m bringing some supplies in case I want to do some embroidery. I’m also bringing along a few “North Carolina things” to give to people, and preparing a small gift for the lady I’ll be renting my room from. I’ve also got a carefully organized notebook full of all my important infomation regarding my move and France.
This is all fitting in one checked bag, one carry-on, and a “personal item” (the large blue purse in the picture—doubles as a great overnight bag too). Its actually less of a challenge than it sounds–the hard part is just getting it all together and figuring out what you need and whats missing. The really hard part is just getting to this point, but once you do, you can start stuffing everything into the bags and feel confident you’re prepared 🙂