Packing for a semester abroad can be tricky, and it’s hard to make sure you’ve got everything you need. To help you out, I’ve compiled a list of abroad must-haves — things you’re definitely going to wish you had at some point — by selecting five items I overlooked in my packing and five things I’ve found I’m really thankful to have.
Let’s start with the things I forgot (and deeply regret that I don’t have):
- Sewing kit. I spent my first day in Russia walking all over St. Petersburg with my friend Nadine. The two of us trekked from cathedral to cathedral, stopping anywhere that piqued our interest. It was amazing, but my TOMS hardly survived it. Though this was only our first port, I’d had them for years (which I’ll get to in #2), and St. Petersburg thoroughly wore them out. One thing I could have used was a sewing kit to mend the holes that formed where a few of my toes were.
- New TOMS — or shoes in general. Don’t be as stupid as I was and bring a pair of TOMS (or any shoes) that are already a little worn out. Walking around cities and visiting all the famous monuments will take a toll on them, and you’ll be kicking yourself when you no longer have any shoes to wear except athletic shoes (which just scream, “HI I’M A TOURIST”), flip flops and heels.
- Adapter. This one might be a little easier for people who are spending an entire semester in one place, but for people like me who live on a ship where there are American outlets, this can be a bit more difficult. Even if you’re in a situation like mine, odds are, you’re going to stay in a hotel or hostel at some point, and when that happens, you’re going to need an adapter. My roommate Maggie and I spent a week traveling independently from Antwerp to Amsterdam to Paris, and we had a great time eating Belgian chocolate and visiting the Red Light District and seeing the Eiffel Tower, but I didn’t have an adapter to bring along to make sure I could charge my phone. Thankfully, Maggie had one, and we found a way to share it between the two of us.
- Sundress. This one’s just for the girls (sorry guys!) Walking around Brazil the past few days has made me wish I brought a casual dress with me. Not only does it serve as a great beach cover-up, it’s light enough to wear in hot weather and doesn’t scream tourist like I’m sure my Nike shorts and fraternity t-shirt do (I’m ashamed of me too).
- Band-Aids. Blisters happen. Europe has a lot of cobblestone roads (you can pretty much kiss flat sidewalks goodbye), and those cobblestones will do a number on your feet. After walking all over Rome one day — to the Vatican, the Colosseum and back — I was in desperate need of a Band-Aid (again, thanks a lot TOMS/me for being stupid while packing). While I wasn’t equipped with a first aid kit, one of my friends was a little more prepared than I was, so my feet got the care they needed.
- Cash. Sometimes things go awry and you can’t pay with a card or withdraw cash from an ATM. Bring some American money with you just in case, and find a nearby cash exchange. (This SAVED me in Russia and a few of my friends in Brazil as well.)
- A journal (that you actually plan to write in). So many of my friends brought journals with them that they haven’t updated since Poland (our second port, for those of you who were curious). I, on the other hand, made a commitment to myself to keep up with my journaling, and I’ve been able to do so for the most part. If you can, I suggest you bring along a journal and do the same, because there’s really nothing better than being able to relive that night you spent with friends at a silent disco in Dublin or how scared you were on the Ferris wheel you went on in Antwerp months, or even years, later.
- A protective wallet. Before I left, my grandma gave me a wallet that protects credit cards from being scanned (and thus your information from being stolen). So far, I haven’t had any run-ins with credit card info theft, and while that might just be because no one has tried to steal my information, it might also be the wallet at work. Either way, better safe than sorry — especially when you’re out of the country.
- A scarf. This one also might pertain to the girls more than the guys, so again, apologies boys. As I mentioned earlier, my friend Nadine and I visited a lot of cathedrals while we were in St. Petersburg. These cathedrals were beautiful and ornate from the outside, but the detail of the architecture and design was arguably more incredible from the inside. But you can’t enter many Russian cathedrals without covering your head out of respect, so a scarf is a necessity in Russia or any other country with similar reverence standards.
- A backpack. Whether visiting a local beach or traveling to a different city for a few days, you’re going to need something to carry your stuff in (and lugging around a massive suitcase just isn’t practical). My backpack has proven to be useful when I traveled between Antwerp, Amsterdam and Paris independently (though I’ll admit it got a little heavy after a while), when I spent the night at a lovely bed and breakfast in Ireland, when I spent a few nights at an Air BnB in Rome and when I visited the picturesque beaches of Barcelona, Rio de Janeiro and Carcavelos, Portugal.