What to Pack and What Not to Pack for Studying Abroad

Blog by UCC Student Ambassador Christine Kannapel


Packing is an infamous dilemma for every student studying abroad, especially for several months. Everyone knows it! Why else would there be travel blogs and tutorials on how to pack your clothes to maximize suitcase space? Why else would I be writing this?

If you are reading this, then its more than likely that you, like myself during pre-departure, have a suitcase that is overflowing with items you “might” bring and items you’re “definitely” bringing on your study abroad trip. The pile of things you are not bringing is next to null. Still, one haunting question remains: what is actually worth packing into that sacred suitcase space?

This blog post is derived from my personal experience of discovering what I wish I had with me and what I wish I had left home. Below, are a few steps that helped me, would have helped me, and that I hope help you!

Note: I am currently studying in Cork, Ireland and will be until April. Thus, this post is most helpful for students who will be studying at the same or a similar latitude. However, these steps are meant to be informative for every prospective study abroad student.

Step One: Be strict, be simple!

Looking back, I wish I had been stricter with myself throughout the packing process. Not once have I worn my off-the-shoulder tee or my white denim short-shorts! In fact, I have consistently been grateful for my jeans, joggers, sweaters of varying thicknesses, and my water resistant jacket. Of course, there are have been beautiful sunny days here in Cork, but alas, my poor white denim short-shorts are abandoned in a drawer dedicated to items I will be taking home over my Christmas break. If only I hadn’t brought them in the first place!

The best way to be strict with yourself, as to avoid my white denim short-shorts mistake, is to thoroughly research the weather patterns of your country of study. Yes, that means read various blogs, research general weather forecasts, scan through hashtags on Instagram (a must for my fellow trend followers), and flip through a Fodor’s guide to Ireland. All of these methods will give you an idea of what people are wearing where you are going. The more you know about the environment in which you will be studying, the more confidence you will feel when you’re packing.

Do not be like me and succumb to the last minute: “Oh, but maybe there will be one day that these white denim short-shorts will come in handy.” Stop yourself there! Remember? You researched and you know that those white denim short-shorts will waste space. If you absolutely need shorts once you arrive, Penneys or T.K. Max will offer you a variety of inexpensive options.

If you are a runner or like to hit the gym like I do, I’ve found that the best packing solution resides simply in workout tops, leggings, joggers, and a pair of sweats to wear over shorts on the way to the gym. Frankly, I only brought enough “gym outfits” for the number of days I hoped to workout in a week. There are a plethora of active wear stores; only bring the minimum in this department. Luckily, active wear is amongst the most transportable variety of clothing!

Another tactic in being stricter with yourself is to simply remember that any spacious corners leftover in your suitcase are destined to be filled-up with souvenirs. The promise of future treats is a perfect bribe to enforce inner-strictness!

To summarize, pack simply and sparingly.

Step Two: How to dress for the weather (without lugging your rain boots across the Atlantic Ocean and various countries)

When I visited Scotland three years ago, I learned the hard way that it’s better to leave your rain boots at home. So, this time I did and promised myself that I would buy “wellies” once I arrived in Cork. Then of course, several rain boot worthy storms hit Cork within my first month of living here.

Set aside money to buy a pair of waterproof or resistant boots (or both, like I did) when you arrive. I promise, you will get your moneys-worth!

If it’s not already quite clear, deciding on which shoes I would bring to Cork was a big deal. I kept it simple and brought a pair of black Nikes (I’m insisting that they are still “in”, because they are so comfortable for long distances and for treading across cobblestone) and ankle boots to serve as a dressier shoe.

When it comes to coats and jackets, I went overboard. This however, is something I don’t regret and I suggest you go overboard too. I brought one compact rain jacket, a warm water resistant jacket, a down coat, a down vest, and one light jacket, which I wore almost everyday in the slightly warmer August weather. The minimum I suggest packing is at least one down coat for winter weather, a rain jacket, and a light jacket that you can layer easily.

Also, bring a fleece. Not just a sweater(s). A fleece! On that note, I’d bring a beanie, a versatile scarf, and gloves to wear out and about. One windy day I was fed-up with being cold and madly bought all three! The good news is: T.K. Max. That’s it, that’s the good news.

Step Three: Toiletries, toiletries, toiletries!

Those who have been to Ireland or the United Kingdom will know the joy that is Boots! Boots has everything: makeup, hairdryers, eye-contact solution, cold medicine, seasonal flu shots…the list goes on. I only brought the toiletries I absolutely needed and purchased all else at Boots.

Of course, and you probably already know this, pack with traveler sized everything when it comes toiletries! Though I bought regular bottle sizes of my products upon arriving, I’ve kept my travel-sized items ready for adventures abroad.

Step Four: Which bags to bring and how to pack them!

The moral of the story here is to be conscientious of your luggage and your clothing while you pack. I packed enough clothes to last seven days a week, with substitutes for the fall, winter, and spring months. Learning how to roll my clothes and properly use compact cubes made all the difference. Also, be aware of how you intend on presenting your luggage at the airport, i.e. as a “personal item,” “checked item,” or “carry-on.” When I decided on my luggage, it came down to three questions:

  1. Will my personal item serve as a weekend getaway backpack as well as one to use around town?
  2. Will my giant-roller suitcase be an albatross or a blessing?
  • To answer this question: roller suitcases are only a blessing.
  1. Will my duffel bag be a practical carry-on or just another large, heavy bag?
  • I ensured its practicality by leaving plenty of empty space for souvenirs, etc. In fact, I only packed my coats, jackets, and hiking boots in it. Those of you studying for one semester may think about bringing (or buying before you head home) a small, empty duffle bag to pack overflow items in. I intend on using my duffle as my going-home-for-Christmas bag as well.


This blog post could go-on and more steps could be added. However, had I found those four specific steps on one blog post prior to landing in Ireland, I would have been more satisfied with my luggage and what it contained. Practicality and self-control are the two major forces at work. I advise holding them close!

P.S. Just one more thing about T.K. Max: they have EVERYTHING. They have lunch boxes, containers, sheets, reusable shopping bags, and bathroom/kitchen supplies. In other words, they have things you may overlook and will most likely need on a daily bases. 

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