Packing Advice for Your Gap Year

I am currently at the halfway mark of my study abroad journey, and I am quite sad about it. There are many perks of studying abroad. For example, I am writing this blog post while on a train in London (I am studying in Italy). How cool is that? I was inspired to write this post by my clunky, bright pink, suitcase. It hates the stairs and catches on just about everything and everyone.

 

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Must Pack:

– A duffle bag or backpacking backpack that holds a fairly large amount. It will take you from a weekend trip to spring break, and everywhere in between.

Hint: Many students fly budget airlines while abroad. Who can resist a 10 euro plane ticket that promises to whisk you away someplace brand new and marvelous! The downside is baggage restrictions. On many of the budget airlines, it is a smaller than average and only one bag total is allowed. When your bag is just a little bit over, you can be forced to check it to the tune of 50 euros and up. My recommendation is to check the baggage restrictions before you go.

– A winter coat. The average temperature in Italy generally does not call for a winter coat, but I would have been one happy girl to have had a big puffy coat –just like all of the Italians and their dogs. Even if you do not need a coat in your host city, weekend trips to countries covered in snow can be miserable in thin summery layers.

– Warm socks and gloves of the thickest wool variety (if you want to be less picky, any type, wool or not, will work). Standing in line to see the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam was well worth it, but I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes by the time I inched my way inside. (I wish I could say this was an exaggeration). On top of being outside, the apartments and homes tend to be tile and sparsely heated in Italy.

-An extra pair of shoes and an extra jacket. Sometimes the rain soaks through everything you are wearing and it just won’t dry. Other times you may feel daring and end up in the Venetian Lagoon.

Hint: If you make your way to Venice avoid the slimy steps leading to the Lagoon, it is very easy to slip into the water. I know from a very cold and wet experience!

– A sling across bag. Something big enough to hold everything, without being obnoxious. It is easy to keep in front of you (to deter pickpockets) and keeps you hands free. As in, one hand free for gelato the other free snap the perfect shot.

– A camera and batteries. They can be quite pricy in Europe if you forget or break yours. (Sometimes an iPhone is the best and smallest camera. Remember the photos you are sure to take, whatever the destination, will take up a lot of memory)

– A journal. To record all of the wonderful memories you will surely be making, starting on the plane.

– A multi-subject notebook. The notebooks in Italy can be quite expensive and they are mostly graph paper. I’m a notebook snob and had to shell out more euros that I normally would just for a school notebook.

 

Things that I found particularly helpful:

– Envelopes. Sending all of your postcards in bulk is the cheapest way to do it. I was sending an average of six postcards from each city that I visited. That totals 12 euros for stamps on top of the charge of the post cards. Now I put them all in an envelope. It takes my 12 euros down to three euros worth of stamps to send all six.

– A hat. When a hostel has a particularly raunchy shower, or it’s cold out, something to cover your head is a great option. (Also I love hats!)

– Dark colors. I did not follow this advice. But I quickly changed my wardrobe choices when I realized that the advice was to help me avoid being, “that American.” The one that complains about the foam on their cappuccino and only eats at McDonalds. There are days when I don’t mind being marked as American, but it makes it a lot harder to practice the language when you stick out. I have found that when I wear dark colors Italians tend to speak to me in Italian (people usually speak in English when I choose to stand out). My blonde hair and pale skin are about as far from the typical Italian as it gets, but when I dress the right way, I blend in.

– iPhone or other smartphone. Many people turn off the data plan with their iPhone, or leave it on airplane mode. It is a way to avoid the high data charges while abroad.  FaceTime and iMessage can be a really convenient and cheap/free way to talk to those at home.

-The Google maps app. When lost, it comes in handy. All you have to do is find a place with Wi-Fi and route your destination. When you leave Wi-Fi, the app will still trace where you are. Also helpful, the app will pull up your location when the app is opened, thus you have your whereabouts in the form of a blinking blue dot. This app has saved me more than once.

– A reusable bag (or two) that folds up. There is a charge for plastic bags at the grocery store, and they don’t always give you a bag at the markets. My reusable bag is always handy whenever I leave my apartment. It also doubles as a bag for my dirty clothes when traveling.

– A big, old, warm, comfy, sweatshirt. The apartments can be really cold and the only thing to fix it is a big warm sweatshirt. (big, old, warm, and comfy, are personal preferences – pick and choose as you please)

– Space bags. From getting things home to packing for a trip, they help immensely.

– At least 10 pounds of extra room or 10 pounds of things that you are willing to donate. You will buy things. Like that dirndl in Germany, sometimes you just have to have it (I know I do).

– A small towel. Most hostels do not provide a towel. A scarf works in a pinch, but nothing works like a nice absorbent towel.

– That one thing from home. For me it was my pillow and comforter, (I put it in a space bag). Any one object from home will bring you comfort on a day, that you are sure to have, when you miss home (even if the only thing you miss is your big comfy bed!)

 

I wouldn’t recommend packing:

– Photos in frames. They take up a lot of room and are heavy. However, just plain photos are useful for brightening up a sterile room.

– A closed mind. Things can be different – not better or worse – just different. Studying abroad is a great way to grow and learn. You must set inhibitions aside…only then can you gain all that the world has to offer.

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This post was written by Lauren K.

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