Packing for your semester abroad

February 22, 2017

by apaparis

It’s hard to believe, but it’s been a full seven weeks (!) since I arrived in Paris. Many students from my home university are just departing on their study abroad adventures, and I feel incredibly lucky that I’ve already gotten to spend so much time in Paris.

I can safely get myself home from the airport without a cell phone or Citymapper, the handy iPhone app with maps and real-time transit; I know the best crêpe places in my neighborhood, and I’ve already pointed a few visiting friends in the right direction for sightseeing and shopping. I never thought I’d be able to give Paris advice after just shy of two months of being here!

With a little time to reflect on my travels and sejour in Paris in general, I can safely say I’ve done one thing almost completely right: packing my bags.

There’s plenty of advice out there, and I think we’ve all heard it (though many of us didn’t quite obey it). Lay out everything and divide by half. Pack in the same color family for easy matching, etc.

The challenging thing about packing for a semester is the same thing that’s challenging about the semester itself: the mystery of it. How can you be prepared for the unknown? So, before I started packing, I thought about what I did know. I looked up the weather in Paris for each month, with highs and lows and historical precipitation. I also knew that I had the tendency to over-pack, and that most things I needed could be purchased in France.

I won’t itemize my list, but here are some major points and how they worked for me:

  • I brought just one checked duffel (20 kilos) and a 40L backpack. In the checked duffel, I laid my school backpack flat and just packed on top of it. In retrospect, probably could have gotten a 50L backpack, but I was afraid of airplane regulations – definitely something to consider! Also, for five months, I really, really don’t think you need more than one checked bag. I brought a small cross-body that I put inside my backpack, and carried my backpack and a larger tote on-board.
  • I only brought clothing that I love(d). If it sat in my drawer at school or at home, odds are it would sit in the bottom of my drawer abroad too – and this idea was definitely the move.
  • I brought stuff in the same color family and it’s definitely worked thus far. It doesn’t hurt that Paris loves the gray/black/navy neutral situation; it also doesn’t hurt that the French love scarves – which can definitely change an entire outfit!
  • I thought about who would be visiting me later in the semester, and worked out a system of exchanging items for others. For example, I didn’t bring my sandals or shorts with me as I’m lucky enough to have a family member bring them to me in late March!
  • Layer, layer, layer! Enough said. One season’s base layer is another season’s going out shirt!
  • If you think about something and think you really may not need it, leave it at home! You’ll be happier you left it, I promise.

Happy packing and even happier travels!







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