Packing for your study abroad trip can be an overwhelming task.
First there’s figuring out what you need. Then, when half of what you own is piled up next to your luggage, you have to decide what you can travel without. And then, once you’ve made your ultimate study abroad packing list (ours is here), you need to make sure you can get it through security and onto the plane.
The good news is we can help. Here’s a brief guide to how students should approach packing for these flights.
Let’s start with a simple rule: If it isn’t vital, it shouldn’t make it into your study abroad luggage.
It’s going to be tempting to pack that bulky sweater or an extra pair of shoes for your trip. The key word here is “extra.” While you probably can’t get by without layers or at least one pair of shoes, it’s important to take the most versatile pieces of your wardrobe to save space. That’s because …
Most airlines have size and bulk restrictions: In the U.S., the standard for most checked luggage is 50 pounds. However, there are budget airlines in Europe and Asia that only allow a maximum weight of 20kg, which translates to 44 pounds. Expect those tighter weight limits to be strictly enforced.
You’re going to need space for what you buy: Unless you’re already budgeting for shipping costs (and that might not be a bad idea if you’re staying for a full semester or even an entire year), you should leave plenty of room in your bag for gifts, souvenirs and any new clothes you buy while on your trip. Our advice: Use packing cubes or a suitcase with sections to partition your checked bag. If you leave at least a third of your checked bag empty on the way out, you’ll have far less of a dilemma about what to bring back.
Remember that you’re going to have to carry what you bring: Your luggage can still be a problem after your flight lands. Most students will call the same room or apartment home for the entirety of their study abroad trip. But if you are changing home bases semi-frequently, remember that you’re going to need to lug everything with you. Traveler’s tip: have a transportation game plan for when you arrive, given you’re likely to have multiple large bags. Taking public transit by yourself likely won’t be feasible.
Yes, it’s weird, but you can’t bring that on the plane
“Rules are made to be broken,” said no TSA agent. Ever.
Students who aren’t frequent fliers might be a little confused about what has to go in their checked bags and what can be in their carry-on bags. And while some rules are going to be obvious (leave those guns and knives at home, fellow students), others aren’t nearly as intuitive. Here are a few lesser-known restrictions to keep in mind when packing for your study abroad flight from the United States:
Peanut butter: Let’s start with one of the weirder ones. Peanut butter in a jar must be in a container that’s 3.4 ounces or smaller to comply with the Transportation Security Administration’s liquid sizing procedures. On the other hand, you can carry an unlimited supply of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because it’s inside solid chocolate. You’re welcome.
Razors: We all need to shave at some point, but your preferred method will dictate how you can transport them. Disposable razors or razors with cartridges can go in your carry-ons, but straight razors and safety razors must be checked.
Batteries: Lithium ion batteries – like the ones that power your laptops or cell phones – must be packed in your carry-on luggage. Why? In an extreme circumstance, they could catch fire in the cargo hold. (All other daily use batteries are fine to check, though we recommend saving space and buying them when you get to your destination.)
Shampoo and deodorant: You want to look your best while studying abroad. But those 3.4-ounce limitations on carry-on liquids won’t do you any good if you’re going overseas for more than a few weeks. Our suggestion: Research what’s available where you’re studying and – assuming they have the grooming products you need – take travel-sized products to get you through the first week. One more tip: Small containers like this from Amazon should get you through security and be reusable for weekend trips to other cities.
Sports equipment: The rule of thumb is if you could use it to bludgeon your seatmate, you can’t take it on the plane (grim, but true). So while a baseball and a glove are fine for your carry-on, a baseball bat or a golf club would have to be checked.
Get your carry-on strategy right
We never check a bag if we don’t have to. But we understand that’s not possible when you’re taking such a long trip. But even when you have no choice but to check, you still want to get your carry-on strategy right, as it could get you out of a few significant travel binds:
Always put your electronics in your carry-on: So you don’t really have a choice on the laptops because of the lithium ion batteries, but there’s almost no reason to put any electronics you’ll be relying on for your stay in checked luggage. If you do, there’s a reasonable chance at least one of these two things will happen: they’ll get tossed around (baggage handlers at airports are often referred to as “throwers,” after all) or they’ll get stolen during a security search (happens all the time).
Keep your liquids with you (if you can): Ideally, you’re only going to bring a few travel-sized liquids and buy the rest there. If you put a large shampoo or other liquid in your checked bag, there’s a risk it will explode while in the flight’s cargo hold and leak onto the clothes and other essentials you’re relying on for your trip.
A few clothing essentials can be crucial: Pack a few must-have pieces of versatile clothing in your carry-on – we recommend at least a light jacket, a light shirt, a pair of underwear and a pair of socks – in case your luggage is temporarily lost. Sure, you might have to wear the same things for a few days until you’re reunited with your bags, but you’ll be glad you aren’t washing clothes every night until it shows up.