Packing for Study Abroad

The time is coming to pack up, to squeeze the suitcase shut and kiss your family and friends goodbye, to start a new chapter of your life in a different country, perhaps even on a different continent. And so the question becomes: 

How do you pack an entire life into a suitcase or two?

As I prepare to pull my suitcase from its closet in my rented room and close the zippers on the life I created over the last four months in Madrid, I am reminded of the days of agonizing that went into closing that suitcase the first time in my room in Raleigh.

So after surviving and thriving over four months living from my suitcase, here are a few of the tips I found most helpful for packing for my time in Madrid.

1.    Bring Only the Necessary

When packing for study abroad, you might be tempted to hoard away everything you might ever need in case of an emergency or special event: snow coats build for Arctic adventures, dresses worthy of the Met Gala, hair straighteners, curlers, bottles of shampoo and conditioner, pounds of perfumes and soaps, and so on and so forth. Madrid is not a desert settlement in the Sahara –so save suitcase space and only pack the clothes and toiletries you can’t live without, anything else you might need awaits you here.


Pack basics: two or three favorite pairs of jeans, your favorite sweaters and shirts to layer for Madrid’s notorious chilly mornings and sun-kissed days, a trusty “night on the town” outfit or two, something to keep cool in during the hovering heat of summer, and a light jacket, scarf, and gloves for the nippy days of winter. If you love fashion, check out Madrid-based fashion bloggers and recreate a few of their outfits with the clothes your bring. Versatility is key.

Now for shoes! My biggest suitcase filler on the way to Madrid were the (far too many) pairs of shoes that I brought – from ballet flats to knee-high boots to ankle boots to two pairs of heels to peep-toe sandals to sneakers. Don’t make this mistake! If I could do it again, I would cut my list down to this: sneakers, one pair of heels (dress shoes or dock shoes for men), one pair of sandals, and one pair of boots.

Minimalism is the word when it comes to packing for study abroad – and remember to leave space in your suitcase for a few pieces of Madrid style that will last you long into your future; these can accent any piece you bring from home.


2.    Carry a Piece of Home

Homesickness can hit the most seasoned of travellers. To combat it, bring along a favorite piece of home to store in your home during study abroad. Be it a favorite blanket to cover a foreign bed, a trusty yoga mat to sprawl across your floor, a speaker to blast your favorite music, a poster of your favorite movie or band, photos of your family and friends, a dog-eared book whose pages have been turned a few too many a time, or a journal or sketchbook – these little details can make all the difference on a day when home seems a little too far away.

3.    Make Madrid Home; Take Madrid Home

When you get to Madrid, check out your new room and then fill in the gaps. Do you love plants? Check out a local garden store and buy a potted plant to brighten up your room. Take a trip to the Corte Ingles to buy a rug if your floor feels too bare; buy a few postcards and tack them up for a spot of color; check out Tiger and Zakka’s inexpensive strand lights and little decorations to lighten up your space and fill out any blank corners. Pinpoint a few staples of fashion that you’ve fallen in love with and invest in these pieces for Spanish flair in your everyday wardrobe.


How did you pack for Madrid? Let us know your suggestions in the comments!

By Heather Keleher