How to pack for a year abroad
Rosie Maher studies French at the University of Leeds and spent her year abroad as a Language Assistant at Lycée Blaise Pascal in Colmar, France. Here are her top tips for packing your life into a suitcase or two! For an insight into life as a Language Assistant, read her blog.
Have you ever packed for a holiday, reached the destination and then had that sinking feeling of “oh…I forgot to pack that”? With all the admin-induced and language-competency related stress flying around, it’s no wonder that – though important – packing for the year abroad is often left until the last possible moment, and then becomes a stressful affair.
Until you actually reach your destination, it can be difficult to ascertain exactly which things you 100% need to take with you. My advice: read the Mole Diaries for your country (and region, if possible!) for further guidance, read blogs by previous year abroad students (they may give you some helpful pointers on what to pack and what to leave behind) and check through any year abroad packing lists published online – including the ones on this very site!
Once you’ve done that, here are some things you should consider when it (finally) comes around to packing your things.
1. Can you carry it?
Be sensible about how much you take; ideally, only take what you can carry. Most (myself included) can survive out of one large suitcase (or rucksack) and a smaller carry-on bag for the year, if packed carefully. When I first arrived in France, I took a bus from the airport to a station, then the train to my town. If I hadn’t been able to carry my own luggage, it would’ve been a disaster! The bottom line is, unfortunately, you can’t rely on others to help you. Therefore, it’s much better to pack a manageable amount and be self-reliant.
2. Make sure you’ve packed the essentials.
This means things that you cannot function without, or things that will be (nigh on) impossible to replace in your host country. Things like your passport (handy for getting out of the country in the first place), any other relevant government-issued ID, your EHIC (if you haven’t got one, they’re free and you really should get one!), glasses/contact lenses (if you wear them), prescription medicine (if this applies to you, you should ensure you have enough to last you until you’re next back in the UK, and carry a note from your doctor if necessary), and some money in cash are all vital essentials.
Take your phone – but be careful of roaming charges when abroad, and keep use of it to a minimum until you have a local SIM. Write a list of essential items, then get someone else (like your mum or dad) to check it in case you’ve missed something. Don’t forget all your paperwork!
3. Remember an adapter (and an extension cable!).
Just to be awkward, the UK has a different socket to other EU countries. Keep that in mind – and remember to take that adapter with you! You can buy cheap ones from Wilko’s (in the £1-£2 region).
Whilst most EU countries use two pin plugs, Swiss sockets can be different – so if you’re headed to Switzerland make sure you do your research! I was given a Skross World Travel Adapter for my birthday before I left – it was so useful when it came to travelling around Europe, and I’d highly recommend getting something like this if you plan on visiting lots of countries which all use different adapters. Another invaluable thing to take with you is an extension cable – it’ll save you buying a ton of adapters and means you can have lots of British sockets at your fingertips!
4. Pick clothes wisely.
This will probably take up a large chunk of your packing, so make sure you’re packing the right things. Establish whether or not you’ll be required to wear “office wear” to work (if you’re on a placement, or teaching); if you’re not, it’ll save you some space. I worked in a school last year, through the British Council Language Assistant programme, and the dress code was fairly casual – jeans were acceptable. Remember that you’ll be away for autumn and winter – and in the case of many language assistants, you won’t see summer in your host country. Pack plenty of warm clothes, but also pack layers. Roll clothes so they don’t crease, and wear the heaviest/bulkiest clothing when travelling.
5. Does this exist in my host country?
99% of the time, it will. If it doesn’t, you can probably find an equivalent. Moral of the story: if it doesn’t fit in your suitcase and isn’t too expensive to buy, just buy it out there. Marmite lovers should stock up before departure, or risk being totally ripped off by foreign supermarkets. Toiletries are also ridiculously expensive in France; much to my disappointment, they didn’t stock Herbal Essences shampoo. If you have room for a bottle in your suitcase, take one!
6. Some other miscellaneous items:
- Get a set of passport photos done, scan them in and print off multiple copies; you’ll need them if you want a railcard, or any other card which needs a passport-quality photo of yourself. It’ll save you a bomb, and as long as you print them on photo paper, no one will ever know the difference.
- Take a USB: you can have scanned copies of important documents on it, and when the photocopiers at my school required you to print from a USB it was invaluable!
- Pack some slippers. You may laugh, but when you move into your continental European abode you will realise why they are essential: carpets, it would seem, are not the thing abroad. If your flat is a little on the cold side (as mine was) your feet will feel it; life is better with slippers (or even just flip flops).