what to pack when studying abroad in college

10 Top Study Abroad Items to Pack [2023 Updated]

If you ever get the opportunity to study abroad, take advantage. I studied abroad my first semester of college, and it was the biggest blessing. In fact, it’s been over a decade since that experience and I still think about it every day. And I still remember these 10 top study abroad options and how important they were.

Packing when traveling abroad can be tricky, especially if you don’t know where to begin. Pack these 10 top study abroad items and save yourself a headache. Just about all of these should apply no matter the situation, so I highly recommend taking them to heart.

While I’ve already talked about what to pack for your college wardrobe, this is more related to the small things you’ll forget when you head to The Great Unknown when studying abroad. 💼

From there, you’re ready to go explore 🌎✈️

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What to Consider When Packing to Study Abroad

Before you hit the road (or the airport), consider some important factors that impact your packing list:

  • Culture: What’s the culture of where you’re traveling? Is it conservative, similar to home, etc.?
  • Temperature: What’s the weather and how should you dress?
  • Access: Will you have access to the same things you have at home? In most cases, the answer will be no. This impacts what you choose to pack.
  • Cost: Is the cost worth bringing it along with you, or should you buy this later?
  • Space: If you’re backpacking for a long time, you might have very limited space. Conversely, you might have a full dorm to yourself to store personal items.

Now that those factors are out of the way, let’s get into the things you should pack when studying abroad! Get those packing cubes ready for action 🧳

1. A Portable Charger and Converter

First, even if you’re staying in the dorms abroad and will have access to an electrical outlet every night, you still need a portable charger. These babies are useful even at home, but abroad they become a lifeline.

You’ll be spending long days out exploring, and your phone will decide to die just as you were about to take the perfect Louve picture. We’ve all been there, and we all hate it. This is a top study abroad item, and you’ve got to be sure you pack it in your carry-on for easy access.

Additionally, I’m pairing this recommendation with a power converter. Consider what side of the world you’re traveling on and what the conversion requirements are 🔌 The last thing anyone wants is to circuit a fuse!

2. Money Belt

What’s a money belt you ask? Well, dear reader, it’s a flat fanny pack you strap to your body under your clothes to store your money/documents in. Doesn’t it get sweaty and disgusting? You bet it does! How do you get money out in public? Let me tell you, it’s a process.

Get yourself a money belt. We are not out here to make fashion statements, we are out here to keep our money, tickets, and passports safe. While on Semester at Sea, we wore our money belts with pride and traded tips for how to shove them comfortably down our jeans in the Moroccan heat.

It was a learning experience, but I never got robbed or pick-pocketed 🤷🏼‍♀️

While you probably won’t need to wear a money belt all the time while abroad (at least, I hope not), they’re a must when traveling for long periods. You can relax in comfort knowing that your money and documents are safely strapped to your sweaty body.

Honestly, you’ll forget it’s there and you can rarely see it through clothes, so it’s no big deal. As for getting out money, I’d suggest leaving a small amount in your wallet for ease, unless you enjoy reaching a hand up your shirt in public.

Lucky for you, there are some new money belt alternatives that you can hide in your belt, in your bra, etc. I’ve linked some options below 🔒

3. Reusable Water Bottle

Buying water bottles all day can be expensive, and you should carry a reusable water bottle whenever you’re on long excursions. Check in your country if the tap water is drinkable before filling your bottle at public places.

I always fill up my water before I leave my hotel/ship/hostel to avoid buying it later. You can always ask a local cafe or coffee shop if they’re able to fill your bottle up with cold tap water for you. I like using a collapsable or lightweight water bottle that doesn’t take up a lot of space in a bag. Just make sure it’s leak-proof!

4. Over-the-Counter Medication

To really make my point with medication, let me tell you a story about my experience with a pharmacy in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Somehow, on my first day in the city, I managed to get a giant god-knows-what stuck in my eyeball as I walked past a construction site. I’m embarrassed to say this is not the first time this has happened to me, but it’s the first time it’s happened in a foreign country.

As a very mediocre Spanish speaker, I attempted several times to find eye drops in a local store that could offer me some relief. I played really awkward language charades with the pharmacist trying to express my eye issue with my hands. Eventually, one of the pharmacists took pity on me and I found some kind of eye drops on MY LAST DAY THERE. I was suffering for DAYS!

The moral of my embarrassing Buenos Aires eyeball incident is that this all could have been avoided if I thought to pack over-the-counter eye drops. Before you leave, put together a small kit with the basics. While medicine is readily available in most parts of the world, it can be really hard to get through the language barrier, and things might not be the same as you are used to.

This also goes for feminine hygiene products which are usually limited in other countries. While you can bring full sized products, I would recommend getting the individual pouches of pills/medicine if you can. They save a ton of space and you can easily carry some in your handbag or carry on.

5. A Portable Quick-Dry Travel Towel

Next, I one of the top study abroad items I wish I remembered was a portable quick-dry towel. This is such a versatile item, and I needed it so. many. times.

Now, I use these all the time at home for camping, traveling, hiking, and even the beach.

These quick-dry towels aren’t like your home towels. They dry super fast, they’re super light, and you can easily pack them in any sized bag. I’ve used them for:

  • Beach/pool days
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Drying rag
  • Sweat bandana
  • Packing cushion for fragile items
  • Cleaning
  • Seat cover

Literally they do it all. They’re cheap, and you won’t regret bringing one when you study abroad.

6. Location-Appropriate Clothing

Depending on where you’re traveling to, you’ll want to also bring some appropriate clothing. This can have to do with both climate and culture. For example, when traveling in South East Asia, I brought shirts that covered my shoulders. In Morocco, I brought a headscarf for places of worship.

One versatile recommendation for women would be a headscarf. Not only can you use this for fashion and comfort if the temperature drops, but you can also slip it over your head for a cathedral or temple as needed. Of course, read up on the cultural norms of wherever you’re traveling when packing to study abroad.

7. Kindle or eReader

Admittedly, I didn’t read much when studying abroad, but that’s probably because I didn’t have a kindle at the time. However, you’ll never catch me traveling now without one.

Whether you’re ready a book for fun or for class, an ereader is one of the best things to pack when studying abroad. You’ll undoubtably find yourself looking for entertainment without any phone service or wifi. Having an ereader that doesn’t draw from your phone’s battery makes a huge difference.

8. Clothesline

Bringing a clothesline with you when traveling abroad might sound ridiculous, but this is actually a very useful item. Many parts of the world don’t have AC, drying machines, and so on. That means you might find yourself getting a bit creative.

You can use a clothesline to dry your towels, hand wash clothes, or even just make your own privacy curtain. You never know, and this is something I’ve never regretted bringing with me.

9. Thank You Notes

I found myself wanting to hand out thank you notes on more than one occasion. These notes would have been great for giving to professors, kind folks, host families, and more.

Giving someone a special keepsake means a lot, and it doesn’t take a lot of effort on your part. If you can, give something that’s symbolic of where you’re from. My favorite is postcards, but you can definitely get creative.

Either way, versatile thank you cards will show just how much you care.

⚡️ Pro tip: Leave your address so they can write you!

10. Your Own Travel Blog

I know, I know, you can’t pack a travel blog. But you definitely need one! I love reading friends study abroad blogs, and I even kept one myself while I was on Semester at Sea!

Now, I love looking back on it and reliving the moments. You can host a free blog at WordPress.com, Blogspot, or Tumblr, but if you want to have much more space and freedom, consider purchasing a self-hosted blog. You can get started for around $10, and I’ve got a great guide for getting started here!

Discover the Top Study Abroad Items to Pack

There you have it! Those are the top study abroad items to keep in mind when you’re packing. I sure wish I knew about all of these when I first headed abroad! Now, they’re a part of my regular routine.

What do you think is most important to pack when you’re studying abroad?

Need more study abroad inspiration? 🌏

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Hey, I'm Sam! I'm the blogger and full-time writer behind Samanthability. I blog about starting your own blog and rocking post-grad life. You can find me exploring Seattle, binge-drinking iced coffees, and reading spicy romance books. I'm glad you're here!