Packing for a Semester Abroad in Europe

I am one of those weird people who loves packing. When we were kids, my sister and I would make packing lists and cross-check them two weeks before a trip, because we’re both those weird people who love lists (type-A runs in the family). Packing always gets me excited for the trip to come 🙂 After a semester of weekend trips abroad, I am fairly confident that I can pack right before I leave. In fact, my friend Alayna and I packed for our Portugal trip all the way up to leaving our host home for the midnight bus to Lisbon, and we did just fine. However, when packing for an entire semester, I remain a strong proponent of choosing order over spontaneity. Below is my packing list for a semester in Spain, along with some suggestions of what I wish I had and had not brought. Of course, you should adapt this list according to your needs, living situation abroad, etc. I packed in one medium suitcase, one backpack, and a large purse.


  • Plug adapter: I recommend getting one that includes all parts of the world so that it’s ready for any and all future trips! (Plus, continental Europe and the United Kingdom use different ones). You can find these at Target, Walmart, Best Buy, etc.
  • Smartphone and charger: if you don’t plan on getting and international plan (I didn’t and I didn’t miss it), then turn off your cellular data and keep your phone on airplane mode. That way, you can use it when you are connected to wi-fi without major charges. You can also save maps while you are connected to wi-fi and use them without data across the city you’re navigating (not the directions, but the map with location services).
  • Laptop with case and charger: To download photos so you have space on your memory card or phone…um … I mean, to do your homework… But don’t carry your laptop on short trips.
  • iPod and charger: I brought my 2nd generation iPod nano (talk about old!) to run with rather than carrying my iPhone, with the thought that if something happened to it then it wouldn’t really matter. However, I could have done fine without it.
  • Camera with charger and extra memory cards
  • I don’t believe in Kindles/Nooks (paper books forever!), but if you do, I’d recommend bringing it.


  • Planner: Good for keeping track of assignments (yes, study abroad does involved actual studying) as well as weekend/day trips!
  • Pens, pencils, and highlighters
  • Notebook: For classes and a small one to carry as you travel for notes, directions, etc.
  • Thumb drive: Trust me, you do not want to rely on pulling up homework via email with some of the wi-fi mishaps I had while in Spain.
  • Language dictionary: Helpful for school and host home life!
  • Journal: So that when you get caught up in school and return to travel blogging three years later, you have the details and your first reactions recorded. Plus, reading back through a travel journal is a fun and fascinating past time!

*Note: You can also get paper, pens, etc. in your host city. I just brought my own since I already had them and there was room in my suitcase.

Important documents

  • Passport and copies stored in a separate place/one left with a trusted adult at home (also make copies of your visa if you have one)
  • Credit/debit cards and copies (in case one gets lost or stolen): Even if you don’t usually use a debit card, you will need it to withdraw cash; not every place accepts credit cards.
  • Student ID card (home and host university): Your ticket to many discounts across Europe.
  • Travel itinerary: Include flight and accommodations and leave a copy with someone at home.
  • List of important phone numbers (in case you can’t access your phone for some reason): Also learn what the equivalent of 9-1-1 is wherever you are studying.
  • Cash: I brought a very small amount of US dollars for flights in and out of the States, plus 80 euros or so for a taxi from the airport and incidentals.
  • Money belt: I honestly could have done without it. Just use a purse with zippers and inner pockets.
  • Wallet
  • Map of the city where you are living (I got my map once I arrived)
  • Your purse should be unassuming and preferably a cross-body bag to make theft more difficult.


  • Toothbrush/case
  • Toothpaste: regular-sized and travel-sized for weekend trips
  • Floss
  • Deodorant: a couple regular-sized and travel-sized
  • Face cleanser and moisturizer: regular-sized and travel-sized
  • Lotion: a couple travel-sized bottles should last you
  • Shampoo: travel-sized
  • Conditioner: travel-sized
  • Body wash: travel-sized
  • Baby oil: travel-sized; I used this in lieu of shaving cream–easier to carry and it works really well.
  • Razors
  • Small perfume
  • Hairbrush/comb
  • Your normal hair products: regular-sized and travel-sized
  • Ponytails, bobby pins/clips, any accessories you normally need
  • Hygiene products: much cheaper in the US than in Europe, so I do not recommend waiting to buy them there.
  • Cheap foam flip-flops: for hostel showers
  • Chapstick: I brought quite a few, but I use it a ton (did you know that some scientists think that you can actually become addicted to wearing chapstick? That would totally be me).
  • Make-up products: Most of the people I observed in Europe do not wear as heavy of make-up as I see in the US, but bring/wear what makes you comfortable. I brought one of everything except for double eyeliner and mascara.

*Note: You can buy a lot of these products in your host city, but some of the brands may differ or be more expensive depending on the product, so if you have sensitive skin and specific brands you know won’t make you break out, I would bring those products with you. I brought one hair product I like and bought all my shower stuff in Spain.

**Note: Do NOT bring hair dryers, curling/flat irons, irons for clothes, etc. Even though you have an adapter, these products are not set up to withstand the change in electricity flows, and they will fry. If you really need one, borrow from your host family or buy a cheap one there.


  • 2-3 pairs of leggings (I wore one of them on the flight there, because who wants to sleep on a plane in jeans?)
  • 2 pairs of jeans (black and/or blue)
  • 2 short skirts
  • 1 black maxi skirt: You will need to dress conservatively if you visit Vatican City. I also thought I might wear the skirt in Morocco, but it was cold and I wore jeans instead–it was not a problem.
  • 3 dresses: one nice, two casual
  • Swimsuit/cover-up
  • 2 dressier shirts
  • 5-7 casual shirts: v-neck t-shirts are your friend. In northern Europe you might want more long-sleeves, but if you are primarily living in southern Europe then I would just bring short-sleeves and layer when it’s colder.
  • 1 chambray shirt: versatile and nice and light for layering.
  • 1 sweatshirt: I did not bring one and ended up buying one at my university. Don’t wear sweats out and about in Europe, but you’ll want it hanging out around your host home in the winter, especially without central heating. Plus, it makes a great extra pillow!
  • 3 sweaters: I brought two neutral cardigans and wore a pullover on the plane.
  • 2 pairs of capri leggings
  • 2-3 pairs of gym shorts: all of your workout clothes can double as pajamas before you work out in them.
  • 4-5 t-shirts: for working out or around the house
  • 1 workout jacket
  • 5 tank tops: in neutrals for layering
  • 1 pair of black tights
  • 2  weeks’ worth of undergarments and socks
  • Coat: what kind depends on where you are living. For Spain, I brought a fleece-lined waterproof coat that worked out well.
  • 1 pair of ankle boots: I bought a neutral brown, inexpensive pair that would match everything and wore them out walking so much that it was one less thing I had to bring back.
  • 1 pair of Converse: or any other flat shoe that you are comfortable walking in.
  • 1 pair of athletic shoes
  • 1-2 pairs of sandals
  • 1 pair of black ballet flats: in case you want to dress up for something. It’s not worth it to try wearing heels as you walk on cobblestone streets.
  • Limited jewelry: don’t bring anything that you are worried about losing. A couple of small pieces that match everything will do.
  • 1-2 scarves: these will help you dress up those plain shirts, plus it’s a cute way to blend in in Europe. You don’t need to bring too many though, because you can always trade with your roommates and you will more than likely purchase at least one scarf on a trip. I bought scarves for my mom, my sister, and myself in Morocco, so I wore all three throughout the rest of the semester.

*Note: Neutral clothing (black, grey, brown, navy, white) will help you blend into the crowd better, plus it makes packing light much easier!

**Note: Especially if you are staying with a host family, be conservative about laundry and prepared to wear some items more than once–this is why tank tops for layering are great.

***Note: Do not wear Greek life clothing in Europe. It screams “American tourist” and it’s also just obnoxious.


  • Any prescription medications you need, plus whatever pain killers you usually take for headaches etc.
  • Melatonin to help you adjust to the time zone
  • Sunglasses
  • Book
  • Small umbrella
  • Reusable water bottle: fill it up once you’re inside the secure area of the airport so that you can stay hydrated during the flight. It’s also great to have on trips–buying expensive disposable water bottles while traveling or at home is just stupid. And awful for the environment.
  • Extra plastic shopping bag or two for packing shoes/laundry for weekend trips
  • A couple Ziploc bags: useful for packing a snack for a day of exploring (if you’re here all semester, check out the local grocery stores or markets for lower-cost and healthier snacks).
  • Padlock for hostel lockers: I ended up just purchasing a small one at a hostel.
  • Gift for host family: this can be small and simple, perhaps something that represents where you are from since you are there to share your host family’s culture for the semester. I brought a small piece of art of a major landmark of my city, the St. Louis Arch, and a classic St. Louis dessert, gooey butter cake.

General Packing Tips

  • Roll your clothes instead of folding them to save space.
  • Space-saver bags (glorified massive Ziplocs) are your best friend, especially on for long excursions like the 10 days that my friend Alayna and I backpacked to Berlin, Salzburg, and Munich.
  • Wear your largest pair of shoes on the plane (as long as they are comfortable and you can take them off/put them on fairly quickly).
  • Pack socks and other small items inside your shoes to save space.
  • Pack an extra set of clothes and your mini toiletries in your carry-on!!!!! When I arrived in Spain, my suitcase was lost for five days, and I am incredibly glad that I was prepared for it.
  • Make sure your carry-on backpack fits the size requirements of smaller budget airlines, like RyanAir, for weekend trips.
  • If you are using a regular (non-travel) backpack as I did, you can add a layer of theft-prevention by putting safety pins across the double zippers. It’s not as good as using a lock or secure travel backpack, but it does make it harder for a thief to open your bag while you are walking to a hostel or train station.
  • Resist the temptation to over pack! If you forget or run out of something, you can probably find a version of it in Europe. Leave space for the treasures that you will inevitably take home with you 🙂 (My entire backpack on the way home contained pottery and glass, that was fun in security).


Happy packing and happy travels!




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