Studying Abroad? Here’s What to Pack and What to Buy Once You’re There

published Dec 29, 2023
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overhead shot of a messy suitcase on a bed with blue and white checkered sheets and person going through the clothes in suitcase
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Packing is one of the first and most common dilemmas students face when preparing to study abroad. With limited space in both your luggage and your housing for the semester, each item you bring needs to be chosen carefully and thoughtfully. Although you may worry about hurting the feelings of your belongings that don’t make the cut (or maybe that’s just me), it’s important to think about what you really need to squeeze into your suitcases, and what you should just plan to buy once you reach your destination. 

When I was getting ready for my study abroad semester, I made the decision to pack very lightly. That made it relatively easy to get myself and my bags to the United Kingdom, but I have to be honest, it was pretty shocking to arrive in a foreign country with minimal items — and minimal knowledge of where to shop for the things I needed. My first week in London was a blur of running around Islington trying to find bed sheets and dish soap (or “washing up liquid,” as it’s called across the pond) in shops I hadn’t ever heard of before. 

But in the weeks following my arrival, I came to appreciate my ability to pack lightly and figure out the rest as I went along. Now, I’m happy to share my thoughts on what to pack versus what to buy with the next class of students going abroad. (Spoiler alert: You’re going to be fine, even if you forget something.) 

Credit: Miljan Zivkovic / Shutterstock

Home products to pack with you:

1. Travel plug adapters 

Having an adapter with you right when you land is crucial because it ensures you’ll have a fully charged phone as you navigate a brand-new country. This way, you won’t have to buy one in the airport (which will almost definitely be overpriced) or make your way through an unfamiliar store when both you and your phone are running on low battery. 

2. Compact towel 

Not all housing accommodations will provide a towel for you upon arrival, and you will most likely want to take a shower when you first get to your new home. It’ll still be useful once you buy a full-size towel abroad, too, because you can bring it with you on any weekend trips you take during the semester.

3. First aid kit and over-the-counter medicine

Something I learned when I moved abroad is that the medicine you can buy over the counter can be very different from what you can buy in the States. Being sick while at school is stressful enough, but not having access to your usual collection of medicine can cause extra stress and confusion. I recommend bringing the medicine you’re used to having, as well as Band-Aids and any other first-aid supplies you usually keep on hand. 

4. Travel-size shower products 

Don’t bother packing full-size shower products; they’re heavy and will take up a lot of room in your suitcase. But I recommend having mini toiletries so you’re able to take a shower as soon as you arrive. You can keep them for your weekend trips, just like your travel towel.

5. Photo prints 

I regret not bringing printed-out photos with me to my study abroad dorm. I didn’t want to do too much to decorate my room, since I knew I was only going to be there for a few months, but it would have been nice to have a few mementos from home to spruce up the place. Printing out photos is easy to do at home, and they’re easy to toss in your luggage.

6. Slippers 

Having slippers to wear around my dorm makes me feel at home; I think they’re totally worth the space they took up in my suitcase. I have these from Amazon; they’re so comfy and easy to walk around in. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Home products to buy once you’re abroad:

1. Small household appliances 

Depending on your accommodation, there may be things you are not provided but that you’ll want to buy there. This may include items like a bedside lamp, iron/steamer, and portable fan. You can survive the first few days without these items, but they are easy enough to buy abroad, or order online to your address abroad. A lot of the household things I have bought will go to my friends who attend school here after I return home, so I don’t have to worry about trying to get them home with me. 

2. Bedding 

Your accommodation will most likely say if they will be supplying a linen package for you. Even if they do, the quality isn’t always great. My linen package got me through the first few days, but I bought nicer sheets and a mattress topper after I settled in. I suggest asking students who are from the country you are studying in where to buy things like this — they’ll know better than you!

3. Cleaning supplies 

You will definitely need to buy these abroad. I purchased items like surface spray, toilet cleaner, bleach, sponges, and paper towels. (You may be able to ask your accommodation for a mop and vacuum.)

4. Inexpensive decor 

I love picking up postcards when I travel, and they make great room decor. I think the decorations you use in your room abroad can come from the things you find along your journey. Fairy lights and candles are also great for your room’s vibes, and easy to buy online or in the city you’ll be living in. 

Isabella Hussar

Journalism and Political Science

Isabella Hussar is an aspiring journalist at Rutgers University. She is published in Rutgers' Daily Targum and HerCampus, and works for Rutgers' School of Communication & Information. If she's not in her cozy college apartment, you can most definitely find her in New York, where she's trying a new restaurant or taking Instagram photos of her outfits.

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SchoolRutgers University '25
MajorJournalism and Political Science
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