How much of what to pack for your year abroad

How much of what to pack for your year abroad by jainaj

This article was written by Lois Bentall and Vicky Warrell, published on 3rd March 2013 and has been read 26528 times.

A crucial question that all year-abroad students face: what to pack, and how much of it. Vicky and I were volunteering in Orion, Russia - a tiny therapeutic community in the Russian countryside. Our nearest and only shop had a very limited and sporadic stock of items, so we had to pack many things that perhaps you could buy when you reach your destination.

Though this list isn't complete by any means, we hope that this might help you, the reader, decide how much to pack when going on your year abroad, and guide you to not over-pack as we did.

1. Toiletries

Disclaimer: This is only an average of the usage of 2 girls - the contributions of others would be greatly appreciated to improve the accuracy of this, that's what the comments section is for. Obviously some brands are more concentrated than others, and are sold in wildly differently sized bottles and packages. 

These products last for:

  • Bottle of shower gel 250ml - 2 months 
  • Bar of soap - up to 2 weeks 
  • Tube of toothpaste 100ml - 1.5 months 
  • Deodorant can 250ml - about 2 months, up to 2.5 
  • Shampoo bottle 500ml - more than 6 months 
  • Conditioner bottle 400ml - more than 6 months (based on washing hair every 3 days) 
  • Face-wash 150ml - 2 months (using once a day) 
  • Hand cream - 75ml - up to 3 months 
  • Lip balm - 1 small pot up to 3 months

Hand sanitiser is great if you're caught without water in the country or out and about in the city, and you only need a small bottle (100ml) to go a long way. 

Solid shampoo and conditioner bars (like those from Lush) last a long time for their diminutive size and save loads of weight and space. At a guess, I'd say they last 1.5 to 2 months - about as long as a standard-size shampoo bottle.

Don't forget to put your liquids and toiletries in separate bags so they don't leak over your clothes, and of course make sure you're obeying any baggage rules that may apply to you on your journeys.

2. Medicines

Really think about how much medicine you'll need: hay fever medicines, multivitamins, painkillers, cold & flu sachets and so on. Buy bigger packs and minimise the amount of packaging you bring with you. If you take any medication that you worry you can't explain in the native language, take it from home, especially prescription medication.

3. Clothes

Find out what you can about washing facilities in advance, and if you'll need to bring your own washing powder. Don't over-pack clothes and find yourself with less room for other essentials/home comforts/teaching aids. I went crazy and brought a 2.5 week cycle, and Vicky brought a 1.5-2 week cycle of clothes. I think Vicky was far wiser to pack fewer clothes and do her washing more often, as she had more packing room for teaching aids. A lightweight travel towel takes up much less room and weight than a full-on cotton bath sheet (as I learned from Vicky once more).

4. Shoes

Take a comfortable, preferably worn-in pair of trainers for everyday use. If you're going to be in the countryside, then a pair of rugged boots with grip is ideal. If it's likely to snow, combine the two and get a pair of grippy snow boots from an outdoor shop. If you're inclined to pack party shoes then take a small, light and versatile pair (such as black dolly shoes).

5. Electronics

If you have any electronics which need batteries, don't forget to pack ample, or even better take rechargeable batteries and a charger in order to save on packing space and weight. 

Take a spare memory card for your camera to make sure you can capture every moment. 

2 plug converters should suit most people most of the time, and make sure you take the corresponding chargers for all your electrical equipment. 

Save space by taking a cheap travel hairdryer rather than your usual salon-style one. 

It gets really dark at night in the countryside; we were both very grateful for our rechargeable torches.

6. Pens and Paper

Bring more than you think you need if you're not going to be near a shop - you might be writing a lot of diaries, or handing out pens and paper. Don't be as silly as me, and pack a fountain pen but leave all your ink at home. A nice thick-lined notepad and a pad of blank paper will serve you well.

7. Dictionary

Take a pocket dictionary for those moments when Google Translate isn't so near to hand.

8. Teaching Aids for TEFL

As well as the aforementioned notepad, pens and paper, we brought quite a few teaching supplies with us, but still found plenty lacking.


We recommend:

  • Felt-tip pens and fresh packs of coloured pencils - schools with limited resources often have ropey old ones, and the kids love new sets that work. 
  • Sticky stuff like blue-tack, sellotape, PVA glue and glue sticks have all come in handy, as well as scissors. Blu-tack is apparently not available in Russia. 
  • You can pick up very cheap little watercolour paint sets from value stores. Paintbrushes may need to come with if you want to use PVA glue and paints. 
  • Projectiles for class games such as small toys and tennis balls liven up lessons. 
  • Smaller children love English nursery rhymes and songbooks, and a Bingo set will liven up lessons about numbers. 
  • 'Well Done' or 'Good Work' stickers or similar: we didn't bring any ourselves but these would be good motivators for children. 
  • Little flags of your country, postcards and tea-towels with maps of your country on to use in lessons. 
  • Elastic bands and craft materials are also useful for craft activities - something extracurricular or as part of lessons - we've enjoyed making friendship bracelets in our free time when actually that was meant to be something for the kids!

If you want to take or - bring back - more than your luggage allowance will permit, here is a 5% discount on shipping your stuff with the brilliant SendMyBag.com - just click here!

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