Packing 101: The Little Tips No One Will Tell You Before Going Abroad

It’s not too difficult to find packing lists for most long-term trips these days, but there a few everyday things that you may not even realize you need to pack.

As a girl who loves her skincare, hair care, and shopping, I’ve got you.

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

Electronics

First and foremost, electronics are a lot different in Europe. From voltage to outlets, there are a few things you’ll need to know.

Voltage

Don’t bring your hair straightener. If you do, make sure it’s under the voltage requirements. Last I checked, Italy runs on a 230V supply, which is different than the US.

I’ve seen people absolutely fry their hair or have their straightener blow up in their face because they plugged in something that’s made for US voltage standards. Let’s avoid that as best as we can.

My tip? Buy a cheap hair straightener, blow dryer, or curler when you get to Europe. If you have roommates, you could all pitch in for one, or buy one of each and share.

Hair accessories are actually a lot cheaper in Europe. You can find a decent €10 ($12) hair straightener at the store. It’s worth the purchase, instead of potentially frying your $75 straightener from home.

(I’ve seen someone use their straightener just fine, but it may not be a chance you want to take. Your choice.)

Adapters

Italy uses the basic European plug in: Type C or Type L.

England is pretty much the only place in Europe that does not use this type of plug, but I bought a variety pack just to be safe – and in case I wanted to travel outside of Italy or Europe!

Here’s the link to the one I bought on Amazon: World Travel Adapter Kit by Ceptics

The adapters with multiple outlets are okay to use, like the one I used that has 4 plug-ins. I was a little hesitant due to voltage differences, but I didn’t have any problems with it. Although I also didn’t have more than 2 (maybe 3) things plugged in at a time.

Pharmacy & Beauty

Bathroom Essentials

Ditch the big bottle of shampoo in your suitcase. There’s plenty of shampoo available, with many of the same brands, in Europe.

One thing I wasn’t too fond of, though? The conditioner in Italy. It was very liquidy and not the best quality. I did thankfully buy a cheap one (we’re talking less than $2), which made it a lot easier to toss at the end of the semester.

The bath products are SO CHEAP. While we’re at it, a bottle of liquid laundry detergent that lasted my whole apartment a few weeks was less than $2. Amazing.

Shampoo was maybe $2-5 for a big bottle, and worked just fine. If you like to use a special hair product, of course bring that, don’t let me stop you! Just keep in mind that you certainly don’t need to. Not only is it heavy in your already-almost-50-pound suitcase, but you’ll also use a LOT less of it than you think. Maybe get a smaller sized bottle if you just can’t part from your favorite shampoo bottle.

Feminine Products

In case you didn’t know, Europeans don’t really use tampons.

Sure, you can definitely find some somewhere, but they aren’t as readily available as pads. If you’re particular to what you like to use (like me, packing 80 tampons in my suitcase… oops) make sure you bring some along.

Also, FYI, you CAN have someone from the US mail you some if you need them. You don’t need to be me and pack more tampons than you could ever need in 3 months. (At least I was prepared.)

Snacks

I won’t lie: I brought a small bag of goldfish in my carry-on.

If you have a snack you just can’t seem to take a 3-month hiatus from, bring it along. There’s no shame in packing some Cheez-its or Goldfish. (Your friends may be jealous:)

Amazon is readily available, so you can always order what you want or need. Packaging and mailing internationally can be a little difficult at times, though. Sometimes a package can arrive in just a week or two, and sometimes… it just won’t simply arrive. (My roommate can attest to that.)

Drinks

I brought a little bottle of Mio and Crystal Light Lemonade (not even an ounce, small, easy to pack). It was nice to have these, since I didn’t have a lot of my favorite drinks over in Italy. Mio Energy was much appreciated.

Packing Cubes/Foldable Storage

Photo by Vlada Karpovich on Pexels.com

I brought a collapsible storage cube that I ended up finding really helpful once I got to my Florence apartment.

In our school apartments, we each got a wardrobe with hanging space and hangers, along with shelves. I put my storage cube on one of the shelves and fit all my underwear and socks in it so that they weren’t just in a pile on the shelf.

I got it from Shein for less than $10!

How Do I Pack Jewelry?

Just another tip I learned from my family: Roll necklaces.

Lay it out flat on a t-shirt, the long way or whichever direction it’ll fit from end to end, then roll the shirt up. Roll it up perpendicularly against the piece of jewelry – so if the necklace lays from top to bottom, with the charm (or bottom of the chain) towards the bottom end of the shirt, roll the shirt from side to side, or sleeve to sleeve. You want the necklace to not overlap itself at all.

Then when you’re unrolling your shirt, it’ll still be laying there, untangled. You don’t even need any extra jewelry box.

How Many Suitcases?

I brought one big suitcase and my backpack as a carry-on. This was more than enough room for my clothes.

Don’t forget, you’ll buy clothes while you’re there! If you leave the US with two absolutely packed suitcases, how will you make it home? I ended up buying a small carry-on suitcase in Florence to bring gifts home in. It was about $50, which was about the best deal I could find and it worked just fine.

If you want to bring a second one because you can’t seem to fit everything in one, my advice is this: Don’t stuff the second one. Leave at least half of it for room to bring more things home in. This will be a life saver!

Cameras: How to Travel with Film

If no one ever told you, you CANNOT put film through an x-ray machine. It will expose any film and destroy it from being used.

This doesn’t mean you can’t bring film, just make sure you take precautions when you’re going through the airport. I put my Polaroid camera and film packs in a plastic ziplock bag in the front pocket of my carry on, so I could easily take it out when I got to the bag-check station. I simply asked the workers if they could hold on to it while my bags went through the x-ray machine. They can manually examine any bags you request, without any trouble.

How to Pack Your Carry On

You don’t want anything breakable in your checked bag, and you need to keep any electronics on you. Cameras and laptops should stick with you at all times. You’ll probably want a phone charger and some everyday items such as deodorant, hand sanitizer, skincare or makeup items, water, and any snacks you may bring along for the long plane ride.

The most important thing is this: Underwear. An extra pair of clothing.

Sure, you may never need that extra t-shirt. But what happens when your luggage gets delayed because there was an unusual wind storm in Amsterdam and you don’t get your luggage for 5 days? Sound familiar, fellow Florence students? We were stuck in quarantine upon entering the country and I ended up hand-washing my underwear every night in the sink until our suitcases arrived fashionably late. You just never know.

That’s About It… Now What?

There really isn’t much more to it! Whatever you bring or don’t bring, you’ll survive with what you have. As long as you have the necessities, you’ll be fine. (Double check for that passport, airline passes and paperwork, wallet, ID(s), and school laptop.)

If you’re looking for an in-depth list of what you should pack, I’ve got it first-hand, right here in A Suitcase Abroad: What to Bring. Still worried you’re forgetting something or have a dire question before lift-off? My inbox is open.

Happy, safe traveling.

Yours Truly,

Cat Taylor

Let me do the packing for you.

A Suitcase Abroad: What to Bring

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