It's safe to say that everyone has a love/hate relationship with packing. My travel experience, and therefore packing experience have led to a streamlined process to help guide you through packing for your internship abroad! Packing means our trip is closer and what’s not to love about that? Personally, I know I’m going to pack at the last minute and then pack, unpack, and repack multiple times. We've put our struggles into constructive advice to make your trip a little easier!
Creating your List
This being said, while I do my best packing at the last minute, my actual process starts about a week before I leave. My saving grace for both my sanity and my organizational process begins with an easy way to get started and the ideas flowing.
The list started as my way of channeling my excitement. I quickly realized, it’s an extremely helpful way to start packing! When you’re doing laundry and want to make sure you pack your favorite t-shirt in your carry on, grab your phone and add to the list. If you’re anything like me and would forget your head if it wasn’t attached to your body, start with the obvious: phone, tablet, phone charger, tablet charger, etc. The list doesn’t have to be your bible. There have even been times I haven’t referenced the list once while packing. But because I’ve been adding and subtracting to it for so long (usually on my phone) it’s all committed to memory.
Jot your Ideas Down!
All the ideas about what you’ll need will come to you at all hours of the day. Have a place where you can list them out, easily add and delete to think about what is actually necessary. I make a list for each luggage item I bring:
Practice Makes Perfect
After the list, a few days to a week before, try dragging out our luggage and start tossing in the stuff you think that you'll want to pack/don’t need to use daily. You'll have proactive bonus points if you have everything packed the week before! Personally, I feel like my suitcase ends up just sitting there staring at me and very similar to buyer’s remorse I start getting packers remorse. This means, I have to take EVERYTHING out and repack. Rinse and repeat until D- day when I’m finally satisfied with the bare bones I have now gotten my luggage down to.
If this your first major trip abroad, definitely try packing everything about a week before, just to get a feel for your packing style and what you think you might need! You could end up being perfectly happy with it (you weirdo) OR might want to go to take 2. I’ve perfected the process until I’ve found what works best for me. You’ll soon find your own rhythm.
Choosing your Luggage
First, make sure you have the right luggage. I recommend not taking whatever’s in your basement from 25 years ago, but that’s just my advice. I FULLY recommend 360 degree wheels though. Game. Changer.
Check with your airline
Most international flights allow for 1 suitcase (under 50 lbs), a carry on (dimensions can vary), and a purse. For example, delta allows a carry-on less than 45 linear inches, and a suitcase less than 50lbs. No matter how long your program is for, this is enough space! For my semester abroad, my first long-term trip out of the country to another hemisphere, I was left to my own devices and packed two, yes TWO suitcases. Also, I had to pay extra for that 2nd suitcase. My word of advice: DO NOT DO THIS. Trust me, trust me, trust me, you DO NOT need two suitcases for 8-15 weeks abroad.
Utilize the Space Given
If you’re worried about not having enough room, then utilize all space that is given to you! My friend (whom I called to discuss packing tips) told me he took a backpack and an additional bag on his way to Australia because he was going to use all the space he had. He also advised to take disposable things to leave room for when you come back, such as snacks to eat on the plane, magazines, etc. Anything that you might need in the moment!
Footnote on the amount of luggage you’re bringing. Yes, take advantage of what you can, but are you capable of carrying the baggage you’re bringing? Will it fit in public transportation? Think about your time outside the airport. Can you get comfortably from point A to point B by yourself? You may not feel comfortable taking public transport to your housing, but by the end of your time abroad, you’ll be a pro.
They make these really cool portable scales that are life savers if you’re worried about weight. If your suitcase is at 48 lbs day before D-day, REDO. For some reason dirty clothes are heavier (WTF science), take up more room, and you’re going to want to bring souvenirs home. Make sure you have plenty of room. Be sure to also double check weight restrictions on carry-ons.
Packing for your Internship
Location should be first and foremost when planning your wardrobe. Make sure you research the weather of your city and have a decent understanding of what’s appropriate for that time. On my way to my internship in Spain, I stopped in London to see my bff. My suitcase was full of Madrid appropriate attire so naturally we had to make a run to Primark for shoes and tights so I wouldn’t freeze during my week in London. Paying attention to your location and the climate saves you from paying to buy weather appropriate clothes!
Dress for Success
You’ll get your dress code once your internship has been confirmed! No matter what you’re told about dress code, the first day always dress for success. Don’t go too far with it. I recommend going just a step above the dress code. If it’s a jeans friendly office, try a nice pair of colored pants and a blazer. Personally I prefer colored and printed pants to jeans anyday. Not only do they make your pictures and outfits so much more fun but it makes your outfits transition easily from work to play with minimal additions.
Mix and Match
Cute office pencil skirts can easily be paired with a crop top for fun outside of work and some converse for a chill look. Cold location? Same concept, except instead of a crop top, throw on a cute sweater and for outside the office? Add some sneakers, a hat, scarf and voila! Plus, skirts and tights take up less room than trousers. Guys, dress pants, cool funky t-shirt and a blazer for the office. Blazer off, hat on for outside fun!
In a warmer climate, wear a fun, printed dress. Throw on a blazer and a cute pair of flats for the office. Repeat the same outfit on the weekend with a different pair of shoes, no blazer, & the right accessories for a completely different look.
Make an Entire Wardrobe from a Few Key Pieces
I recommend packing the minimum amount of clothes for the maximum combinations of outfits and keep the material in mind. I found a great example of this on Pinterest here. Cotton may breathe well, but it wrinkles super easily. My favorite trick that I still use today, you can take a cute non-work appropriate shirt, tuck it into something high-waisted and slap on a blazer or cardigan and all that shows is the cute part! This works especially well with open backed shirts. Now you just have to hope the air doesn’t go out.
A simple outfit can be completely changed with the right accessories: Jewelry, makeup, shoes, and scarves! Guys, same concept. Wear a cool t-shirt under your dress shirt, you can leave the top unbuttoned and be trendy, or don’t let it show until the end of the day when you can remove the dressy layer.
It IS about the Price Tag
Never worn it before? Does it still have the tag on it? Put it back. Unless you specifically bought it for this trip and you haven’t worn it yet I can (almost) promise you won’t wear there. There’s a reason you didn’t like it and your physical location won’t change that. This may sound strange, but bring clothes you’re comfortable in. Duh, right? Yes I mean literally comfortable, but we all know of an outfit that we like that looks cute and it’s fine, but there’s just something that feels off about it. When wearing it, something just doesn’t feel right. Ya know? Yeah, don’t bring it. You’re already in a new place feeling slightly out of your element, you don’t want your clothes to add to that. Plus, you’re going to find cool stuff there you’ll want to buy.
Getting Down to (undergarmet) Business
Underthings. I wish I could give solid advice here, but I am that girl. When going away for a 2 night weekend, I take 5 pairs of underwear. YOU JUST NEVER KNOW. So my trick of the trade for my weird obsession: Put them in a ziplock baggie (gallon sized obvi) suck all the air out and put it away in a pocket of your suitcase. I’m also low-key terrified of my suitcase breaking and in dramatic movie fashion all my underwear comes flying out. This prevents all of that. Also, you will have a washer and dryer at your location so if this is not your paranoia then no worries you can take a normal amount of underwear.
Packing your Non-Clothing Items
For me, this is the hardest part. I apparently get really attached to my cosmetic items. Guess what? Wherever it is you’re going, the people shower and use all the same products as you do. (WHAT? I KNOW). If you just said “Duh Lauren,” remind yourself of that when you’re packing and have your whole full sized beauty routine packed away and have fun out of space. Rather than bringing your full-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body-wash, leave in conditioner, shaving cream, face wash, everything, scale it down.
Travel-Sized is your Friend!
Go to target, get the travel sized version of everything or the travel sized bottles to put your own stuff in (even better). That will last you long enough to be comfortable shopping in your city. Do this for the rest of your large bottled products, toothpaste included. Besides, who knows what kind of brands you’ll find over there that don’t exist here! Even better, use Dr. Bronner's 18 in 1 soap that’s a little bit of everything. Now you only need 1 bottle! I prefer the peppermint one. Tingly = clean.
I found this AMAZING mango conditioner when I was in Spain, did I buy it? Yup. Did I feel a little guilty because I had already brought my own? Yup. Did I have to leave ALL OF IT behind because I had no room returning? You guessed it, Yup!
Pro-tip: Coconut oil is your friend. Combined with a washcloth you now have a morning face wash. Combined with some cotton, or another washcloth, it becomes a makeup remover! 2 in 1! Going on a weekend adventure? It’s now your in-shower body lotion.
Gallon-Sized Plastic Baggies are your Friend!
Take from your list from and put everything into a gallon sized ziplock baggie (by category). If it all doesn’t fit you have too much stuff. Plain and simple. Also, the baggie makes it easy to pack, and to find. I recommend putting the small, easy to lose items like socks, underwear, jewelry, etc in the baggies. All the shower stuff together because if you’re traveling in a hostel, you can just grab the whole bag on your way to the shower. Bam!
Mastering the Carry-On
This is very important. You should approach your carry-on in two ways. 1. Entertainment and travel essentials. The things you need to feel human and survive your flight. 2. Spare essentials should something happen to your luggage.
1. Entertainment and Travel Essentials
Most flights are going to have some sort of entertainment provided, however, NOT ALL WILL. This came as a surprising shock when I told my little sister not to worry about her flight to the UK. Of course it will have in-flight entertainment. It didn’t. My bad.
- Download your airline’s app before D-Day. To be perfectly honest, they’re usually pretty useless UNTIL you get on board and turns out, that’s where all your entertainment is!
- Important papers: Wallet, Passport, ID, etc. Like I mentioned above, my personal advice is to have them in a small cross body that goes inside your carry-on for most of the journey but also something you can keep close to you on your body at all times.
- Sweater - Airplanes ARE FREEZING. Yet somehow when I get to customs, I’m sweating like I’m bringing illegal seeds into the country. I’m pretty sure they crank up the temperature for maximum impact.
- Bring at most 1 book. If for some reason you have the longest flight ever, there’s a bookstore in every airport. You don’t need to take up precious space on books (this is coming from a book lover). Better yet, download both audio and regular books on your phone/kindle/tablet.
- Cord charger, wall adapter, outlet converter, and portable charger, headphones (again ziplocks are your friend) Heads up iPhone 7 users, bluetooth headphones ARE NECESSARY when taking long trips. Can’t charge and listen at the same time. Learned that the hard way.
- Liquids - again baggie, this time quart sized - TSA rules, not mine. And not every airport is the beautiful Heathrow and provides them for you so I’d recommend bringing a couple. Be smart about what you’re bringing on. I like to put all my beauty products in the bag, liquid or not so they’re all together: Toothpaste, deodorant, mascara, coconut oil, 1 tiny sephora test tube of perfume (DO NOT USE THIS IN THE AIRPLANE), contact solution, etc.
Just in CaseShould something (knock on wood) happen to your luggage and it gets delayed, or you have an extra long layover and your luggage is already on the way without you, you need to be prepared.
- 1 extra outfit: I’ve never had to use it but leggings & a t-shirt. Again, keep it simple.
- Extra underthings: same concept as before, ziplock baggie and 2-3 extra pairs because again, WHO KNOWS.
- Shoes: Sneaky tip: Where your large bulky shoes to the airport on the plane. For example, if you’re bringing a pair of tennis shoes, wear them to save space in your suitcase and then switch out for your flip flops once you’ve gotten on the plane. Personally I like to keep them on as your feet swell when you fly and that causes unfortunate blisters from even your most well worn flats and sandals. To each his own.
Get into your Groove
As I mentioned, you’ll develop your own packing style and rhythm. Whether you’re a last minute packer like myself or have your suitcase waiting by the door for a week, I'm hopeful that I've given you at least one helpful tip that you'll use when packing for your internship abroad.
To Wrap it Up
At the end of the day, this could have been pages on pages of advice but to summarize it even further. Less is more, combine items where you can. For me that’s the coconut oil I mentioned. It serves so many purposes that it saves me from bringing so many bottles! Want to get even crazier? Remove the liquid shampoo and try out a shampoo bar. Roll your clothes, don’t fold. It doesn’t change the weight but it certainly allows for optimal organizing. Bring snacks in your carry-on. You’re already going to be tired you don’t need to be hangry too. Take everything in stride. It’s your D-day, but it’s about a million other people’s D-day’s as well.
Be polite, take deep breathes, give yourself plenty of time and be patient. Hydrate, walk every couple of hours on the plane, keep the blood flowing. You never know how a friendly attitude could change the outcome of someone’s day. Follow TSA’s rules and you’ll be just fine. Remember, you’re about to be living and working in an entirely new country! Don’t let anything get you down.
One time, I gave up my optimal seat so a boyfriend and girlfriend could sit together. I was silently condemning them the other time, but I couldn’t say now. When I get to my back of the plane, window blocked by the airplane wing seat, I was stopped mid-instagram picture complaint with a bloody mary the couple had bought for me to say thanks. Turned my frown upside down!
Remember, this is just the first tiny fraction of your time living and working abroad. You’ve made it up until this point; I think you’ll be just fine! When in doubt, Pinterest & Youtube are your friend, the more space you have the better, the less you have to carry the better, and attitude is key. Keep these in mind and your internship is sure to be a success.