So you’ve decided you want to study abroad. Congratulations! But as moving day approaches, you start to realize that a big feat lies between you and your dream destination: packing. Whether you are going for 6 weeks or 3 months or 1 year, it is not easy to pack your life into a suitcase or two. I am an American student studying in Florence, Italy. I have listed a few things I learned from moving here.
One Suitcase or Two?
If you can reduce the necessities in your life to the bare minimum to make them fit into one suitcase, do it! I am usually horrible with overpacking but I somehow managed with one large suitcase, one carry on suitcase, and one very large “purse” (okay, okay it was an overnight bag). But, if you cannot live without 9 pairs of shoes, figure out the smartest way to take them. Many international airlines give you one free 50 pound bag, but the second will cost you between $50 and $200, depending on your airline and final destination. Start thinking about this before you book your flight!! Some airlines may offer a cheaper ticket but the extra baggage fees are outrageous. Taking a second bag is likely a better option than trying to ship your things though, as I found out a 16 pound package to Italy may cost you more than $270. Also, check the overweight fees for your airline. Maybe you can live with 60 pounds and it may be cheaper to do that. But, remember you will want to buy clothes and souvenirs at your new home.
I’ll Just DIE If I Don’t Have…
What can you not live without? Start asking yourself this now. Be realistic. Chances are you will have to learn to live without certain things. This will sound scary to my fellow packrats, but as hard as it is, there is something refreshing about weeding out some of the clutter in your life. When you start packing your clothes, start with that mound of dirty clothes on your floor. If they’re dirty, that means you’ve worn them. Don’t waste your time going through your closet pondering about that shirt you always think you’ll wear but never do. Take the clothes you’re most comfortable in and the ones you know that you will wear. If you pack a bunch of things you won’t wear, you’re really going to feel like you don’t have anything to wear.
Master the Art of Mixing and Matching
Your best bet for packing your clothes: bring plain solid colors that can be worn in layers. Shirts with really cute patterns are great, but they are hard to match with bottoms and are too recognizable to be worn consistently. But, plain solid shirts can be disguised in many ways to create new looks, making your wardrobe feel much bigger. For example, a plain black fitted v-neck can be worn under a button up or with a long necklace or with a sweater. These types of shirts are easy to dress down for the day but with some cute accessories you can wear them out at night. Also, if it is going to be cold, make sure to bring some plain long sleeve cover ups. You can change out tank tops under them or wear them over short sleeves or dresses. This gives you several warm outfits without having to pack a bunch of bulky sweaters. Same goes with plain long sleeve shirts – you can put them under just about anything. As far as bottoms go, really dark jeans and plain black leggings and pants go with everything. But, don’t be afraid to get creative! There are some really great ideas on Pinterest (see picture).
I Need MY Shampoo!!!
I am a child born from American consumerism; I am used to having a choice between 37 different kinds of shampoo and toothpaste. But, I am very brand loyal; I will find one product that works and stick to it. My best advice: get over it. I tried to pack 3 months worth of every product I use, but I quickly realized a bitter truth: I could either pack those OR I could pack more clothes. Brands are global these days, so chances are you’ll be able to find something familiar to you. Here in Italy, I’ve found Dove, Pantene, Garnier Fructis. Colgate, etc. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but shampoo is shampoo. If it cleans your hair, you can live with it for a couple of months.
Leave the Hair Dryer. Yes, Really.
I know, I know. The thought of not having your hair dryer is unbearable. I was told to leave mine behind, but I simply couldn’t. On my very first day I plugged my high wattage hair dryer into my converter and within two minutes I blew up my hair dryer, my converter, and I blew the breakers in my whole apartment. It was the dead of winter and everything shut off, heat included. Seriously, leave the hair dryer at home. The plugs in Europe are not meant to handle them. Buy a hair dryer when you get to your new home; they are not that expensive and it is worth it to save the space in your suitcase. The same goes with straighteners and curling irons. If the watts are not properly converted you can ruin your straightener or fry your hair.
Mind the Weather!
Do your research before you pack! Are you going during the summer? The winter? I had heard the Europe has “wet winters,” but I never imagined that it would rain here in Florence as much as it does. I made the very big mistake of leaving my rain boots at home. Luckily I did pack a waterproof coat.
If You’re Going in the Winter, How’s the Heating??
Another surprise: Italy does not heat buildings the way America does. In America, I was fine with wearing short sleeves under a heavy coat because the buildings were so well heated. Here I sleep under 3 blankets with sweatpants and a fleece and I’m still cold. If you are coming to Europe in the winter, make sure you bring slippers or warm socks. It’s not as cold here as it is in my hometown, but I am cold all the time, which I am not used to. I’ve had to buy several sweaters here because if I don’t wear long sleeves everyday, I freeze.
Pack a Bag.
I know this sounds counterintuitive, but it’s important. If you plan to go on day trips or weekend trips, you need to have a bag big enough for you to get what you need in it, but smaller than your full-sized suitcase. I recommend a backpack or something with wheels. I went to Paris a couple of weekends ago with Ryan Air, which is a cheap airline here in Europe. They only allow you to have ONE free carry on bag. Your purse, camera bag, laptop bag, etc. must all fit in the same bag. And they are very strict about what size the suitcase can be. It is definitely something to consider before embarking!
Should I Bring My Heels???
I like wearing heels out as much as the next girl. But, Florence is mostly cobblestone. My program advisor told me not to bother bringing heels and that Florentine women don’t wear them. I thought, yeah right…they’ve all probably just learned to walk on cobblestone in heels. But she was right – the women here do not wear heels. And, if they do, people certainly do notice, but not in a good way; more in like a “I really think she just broke her ankle” kind of way. And, I kid you not, as I was thinking about writing this post last night on my walk home, I saw an American girl walking barefoot down the streets in the pouring rain carrying her 5 inch stiletto heels. Do some research to see what the streets are like!
The Money Situation.
I have found that the best way to exchange currency is by using an ATM. Take out the maximum amount they allow you to each time and then you just have one fee. It depends on your bank, of course, but you may get charged an international fee every time you use your card. But, don’t forget to tell your bank you are moving and will be using your card in different countries. Be careful with currency exchange places on the street and in the airport because they will rip you off (I learned that only after losing about $50). If you have cash, your best bet is to go to a legitimate bank to change out your money.
Things I Am Glad I Packed..
1. Leggings and Tights – Again, it is cold here. Sometimes I will wear two pairs of leggings or I will put a pair of tights on under my jeans. Works wonders. Plus, they don’t take up nearly as much room as jeans do.
2. Leg Warmers – This may sound silly, but they work very well and they allow me to wear dresses with tights for my internship without freezing.
3. Scarves – Not only are they warm, but they can really liven up an outfit and expand your wardrobe.
4. Extra Rechargeable Camera Batteries – My camera (Canon SX260) is amazing, but when I turn the GPS on it kills my battery. There is nothing worse than being on a day trip with a dead camera battery.
5. A Waterproof Coat – Big wool coats are great until it starts pouring down rain. Then you’re just wet, cold, and miserable. I brought a coat that has a liner you can take out and wear by itself. It has been great because it acts as a winter coat, a light raincoat, and a zip up fleece.
6. Copies of My Passport – They want a copy of your passport for everything here; I needed one for my landlord, my school, my internship, a company booking a flight for me, and to get a SIM card for my phone. Plus, it’s much safer to carry copies than the actual thing, because if it is stolen you will be in a very bad situation.
Some Things I Wish I Had Packed..
1. Coffee Thermos – Drinking a cup of coffee while you’re running to work is an American thing. The Italians prefer to stop and enjoy their caffè, which is great unless you’re not used to factoring that extra time into your morning and can’t for the life of you make it out the door 15 minutes early to do that. To go cups are very hard to find, and if you do find one, it would be considered a child’s serving in the US. If you enjoy sipping coffee on your way to work, bring a thermos. I haven’t even been able to find one here to buy.
2. Refillable Travel Sized Bottles – If you go on any flight within Europe where you won’t be checking a bag, you have to make sure the liquids you are taking comply with the flying regulations. It was very unnerving traveling to Paris with no way to pack shampoo, lotion, etc.
3. Tennis Shoes – I was so concerned with getting three pairs of boots and flats here that I forgot to pack a pair of tennis shoes. Although people don’t really wear them here, if you plan on working out or playing a game of soccer you’ll definitely need them.
4. Rain Boots – I’ve ruined two pairs of boots by wearing them in the rain here. Rain boots are a pain to pack, but they might be nice to have. If you don’t want to pack them, get a pair when you land.
The best advice I was given when I found out I was coming here: Don’t try to pack your life in a suitcase; but pack enough of you to start a new one.
Did I miss anything? Leave us a comment and let me know! Or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions.
Check out our other blog posts: Studying Abroad? Best Free Apps to Have Under Your Belt and Student Discounts in Florence, or visit the When In Florence Facebook page for more information about studying in Florence.