When it comes to packing for an extended period of time away, there is no such thing as ‘too soon’. Packing last minute means forgetting vital items, packing things you’ll literally never need, and rushing to shove every nearby item into a giant suitcase just before you leave for the airport – and then probably having to pay more for the excess weight.
Here’s how to pack for a year abroad – and stay sane (and excited!) in the process.
When to pack
Get started at least a few months before you go. This sounds absurd, I know, but you’ll soon realize that you might have gaps in your wardrobe and need to purchase new items. And purchasing them at home may be more financially responsible than going shopping mad in your destination (you’ll want to save your budget for fun trips and excursions).
Starting early will also stop you from panic-buying a new winter coat that you don’t actually like to prepare you for a winter in Tokyo, or realise that all the bikinis you grabbed on your way to the airport before flying to Miami don’t fit – it’s far better getting it all sorted well in advance.
It goes without saying that you’ll also need to have all your clothes clean. Give yourself time to get everything washed and dried, so that you don’t have to dash to the laundrette and have to navigate instructions in a foreign language when you first arrive.
What to pack: the essentials
The obvious answers include your passport, ID, tickets, bank or currency cards which can be used abroad and cash, copies of important documents, including health insurance papers, but there are a few other very important things to consider when packing.
Firstly, pack for the seasons you’re going to be experiencing. There’s no point bringing what you might always wear at home if your new city boasts 35-degree days year-round or is buried under two feet of snow every winter.
Several good pairs of shoes are also key and a comfortable pair of trainers are essential for exploring and getting to know your new city on foot.
Bring a decent camera if you have one, or make sure you have the best phone with the best camera you can afford. You’re about to spend six months or a year making thousands of memories and meeting new friends, so you’ll want to have the means to document them.
Finally, check whether you’ll need power adapters so that you’re able to keep your phone and camera fully charged. European two-pin plugs won’t cut it in the UK’s three-pin sockets. The same goes for the US where the plugs are different again.
What to pack: if your suitcase still has space
Bring some home comforts to make your new room feel a little less alien when you first arrive, like your favorite bed sheets, some photographs, and perhaps one or two edible treats which you might not get in your new city – anything that reminds you of home.
How to pack
Don’t just throw things in your bag and hope that you’ve got everything covered – a last-minute dash won’t cut it when you’re packing up your life for a whole year (or close to a year).
Keep adding to an ‘I’ll pack this’ pile in the months before you leave and, when you’re finally ready to commit to your suitcase, lay everything out on your bed and sort out per category. This helps you visualize what you’ve got sorted and what you might be missing: Have you got enough pairs of socks? Do you really need 19 different t-shirts?
During this phase, be critical and ruthlessly take out non-essentials items which you don’t need/won’t wear, but also make sure you have the basics (and your favorites) covered.
The practicalities of luggage
Hard suitcases are the way forward for a longer trip. They are easier to carry even when pretty heavy, and they keep everything safe during your trip. Carry-on luggage alone is far too little, and a backpack simply isn’t good enough when you’re preparing for a new life abroad.
Remember to put valuables in your hand luggage, and any toiletries in a waterproof bag in your suitcase. Though you can buy these anywhere, you might feel like bringing a bottle of your favorite shampoo to get you started in your destination, and you don’t want to find that it has oozed out over all your clothes when you arrive.
Keep important documents like your passport, flight tickets, bank cards and cash in a separate waterproof folder in your hand luggage, in a pocket that’s easily accessible. This is also a good place to keep your phone charger as you’ll definitely need soon after you land.
Top tip: Invest in packing squares. These cube-shaped fabric ‘boxes’ keep all your clothes in organized sections and all fit neatly into your suitcase.