What to pack
Packing is an art. It’s deciding what you don’t need, what you can’t live without, and then taking a few things you thought you needed out because your suitcase won’t close. You really don’t need as much as you think. Here are a few considerations when deciding what to pack.
Do some research on the weather in your study abroad location for the time you’ll be there. Remember how much Virginia changes from August to December, and be ready for weather to change wherever you decide to study. Things to consider are changes in temperature between day and nighttime (especially in very dry zones or in high altitudes), seasonal changes, and locations where you plan to travel on your breaks. don’t make assumptions about what you think you know–do the research.
If you’re studying in a city you’re going to pack differently than if you’re doing field research in a rainforest. Many old cities have cobbled streets–high heels are not a good idea. If you’re hiking you’ll need good boots, but make sure you break them in months before you travel, and maybe take an extra set of laces. If you’re going to be wading for samples, take some water shoes. If you’re going to be far from a pharmacy or grocery, take extra granola bars and biodegradable shampoo. If you’re likely to go clubbing, make sure you have clothes that are appropriate where you’re going (look at the Instagram of the local hot spots to see what others are wearing).
Many countries have a different voltage than the United States, and you can easily fry your electronics. Most cell phones, tablets, and computers automatically adapt to different voltage, but check to be certain. Hair dryers and curling irons, however, do not adapt well. You can carry voltage converter, but it takes up extra luggage room and it will likely not be that effective. The chances you’ll blow out your hair dryer are pretty high, so just leave it at home and find ways to do your hair without it. If you’re an avid reader, an e-reader is a good idea because books are notoriously heavy. Unless you’re really into photography, you can probably do with just your phone and don’t need a big camera.
You should consider what kids of travel you’ll do as you’re deciding not only what to pack, but also what kind of luggage. If you’re planning on traveling around, it’s usually easier to do with a camping pack. Look for a good frame pack. As you’re navigating natural spaces as well as public transportation, narrow streets, cobblestones, or lots of stairs, you’ll be glad you left the big suitcase behind. If you really prefer a suitcase, get one that has a hard case and label it with something bright like a colorful tag or ribbon, so that it stands out in airports. You’ll also want a small day pack for shorter excursions. Women who carry a purse–make sure you have a cross-body bag with a sturdy strap that won’t easily be cut or snapped.
There are a few items you need no matter where you go. Of course your passport, but also take your student ID, as it can frequently give you discounts at historic, cultural, or natural locations. Take a bathing suit, even if you don’t think you’ll need it. It won’t take up much room and you never know when you might use it. You’ll be able to replenish most of your toiletries, but it’s good to have extra feminine products, contraceptives, and medications. Don’t forget your chargers and take an extra quick charger for airports. A few small gifts for your host family and other people who help you along the way. Try to get something that is local to you and is meaningful. Ferrum College gear is always a good choice!
You need to consider cultural differences so that you don’t wear things that are either offensive to locals or simply that make you stand out too much. Students in the U.S. generally dress more casually than people in most countries. Flip flops are generally considered beach wear and not appropriate for city streets or for class. Shorts are much the same, especially for women. If you’re going to visit religious places, women should always carry a scarf to cover their shoulders or their heads, depending on where you are. Bright colors may not be used much, and baseball caps tend to immediately label you as American. Sticking out is not only culturally insensitive, but it can also make you a target for pickpockets. Do your research in this situation, too. Contact the study abroad provider for advice, or look at their social media posts to see what other students are wearing.
Length of time
Obviously, a six week internship is not the same as four months of coursework. Make sure you plan accordingly. Medications are an especially important thing to include. Count what you have and get extras of any prescriptions so that you’re covered for the time you’re gone. You’ll have access to laundry facilities, but take plenty of underwear and socks so that if you go some time without a washer, you won’t need to buy those items. Don’t take a giant bottle of shampoo if you’re going for several months. They have shampoo where you’re going, and liquids are heavy and take up precious space in your luggage. While you don’t need tons of clothes, take layers so that you if the weather changes you’ll be prepared.
You’ll want some way to communicate with your family and friends at home (and with our Center for International Programs), and a way to communicate with your new friends locally. There are a number of things you can do with your cell phone, the most expensive of which is to use your U.S. carrier’s travel plan. If you’re going to have access to wifi, consider using video calling apps such as Facetime to talk to folks at home for free. You can also use Whatsapp, which is the most common messaging app used in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. In East Asia there is also Line, Wechat, and Kakaotalk. You can check this article for what’s used in the place where you’ll be. Another option is to switch out your SIM card. In many countries, this is simple to do in a cell phone store and you can pay for the amount of data and number of minutes you want to use. You just add more money to your card when you run out. This is a convenient way to have local cell service while still connecting with your family by wifi.
What not to take
Knowing what to leave behind is just as important as knowing what to take with you. Do not pack a hair dryer, curler, or straightener. They are heavy and will probably not survive the trip. Don’t pack sloppy clothes, or clothes with lots of writing on them (this does not include your Ferrum College gear–by all means take that!). These are things that most people in other countries simply do not wear. Too many clothes are also a problem–just pick out simple pieces that you can mix, match, and layer. Don’t take all your favorite shoes. You really only need one pair of everyday street shoes and one pair of nicer dress shoes. If you plan to hike or to work out, then also take shoes for those activities. You don’t need anything else–promise.