The moving process always brings its share of choices and stresses. Belongings to sort, boxes to pack, and logistics to muddle through, all to get to a new place you’ll call home—and hopefully enjoy.
Unfortunately, that stress is unavoidable, even if you’re gearing up for an overseas study abroad program. It substitutes for smaller sizes, and—depending on whom you ask—possibly more stress. Instead of loading boxes, you load a few suitcases, trying to make what typically works for a long-vacation’s worth of clothing last three months. You hand over all of your precious belongings to a faceless airline, trusting they won’t leave you to begin your exciting adventure with few changes of clothes you have in your carry-on.
When it comes to choosing what to pack for those memorable months, you also have to trust that your stateside choices won’t be your international downfall. Unfortunately, when I made my short move to England, I was at times my own worst enemy. However, I left the experience with many tips to make my future travels a bit easier, and hopefully, reader, yours as well.
Before you stuff your bags full of clothing, it’s a good idea to take a look at the climate. Now, you may be thinking: I’ve been fantasizing about visiting this country for years. I’ve watched films set there non-stop. Hollywood has given me enough knowledge of the weather to make great clothing decisions.
Au contraire. As much as we all love the silver screen, we can all admit it’s not known for its fully accurate depictions. And yet, did I use it to gauge what needed to go in my suitcase? I sure as hell did.
Although I watched countless films with Brits navigating misty weather in stylish sweaters and trench coats, I missed the parts where they handled the sweltering Septembers or the mid-40s downpours. As such I packed a few short-sleeve Peter Pan collared-shirts, a few skirts, an abundance of long-sleeve tees and sweaters, and scarves—15 to be exact. Perfect for the last half of my trip, but less than ideal for the first half.
Unless you want to overheat or freeze, do a quick Google and save yourself some trouble.
Since you are moving to a new place —albeit for a few months—you may be inclined to take a collection of your favorite books and movies with you on your travels. Let me offer you the advice I, thinking I knew better, did not take: Limit yourself.
It’s all well and good to want to expand your literary horizons while finding comfort in the movies and TV of home, but books are heavy! And loading your luggage with entertainment won’t get you anywhere but trekking through the airport sweating. I experienced this firsthand when, despite my family trying to talk me out of it, I packed about two dozen books and movies, all of which ended up being a waste of space. Of the dozen or so books I packed, I read one. And when it came to movies, a freak accident led me to buy a new computer with a British DVD player, rendering all my American videos useless. Besides, you’re studying abroad to experience a new culture, so don’t tempt yourself with too many American comforts.
You never know what’s going to happen, the things you may see or the adventures you will go on. But here’s what I do know: I would have been better served packing a handful of favorites and giving myself a little extra wiggle room.
This may seem antithetical to what I just explained above, but if there is something you feel deep in your bones you need to have with you, pack it.
My family was right about not taking so many books and movies, but that did not extend to certain item: my Hunger Games t-shirt. When it came to simply making space in my luggage for practical things, their logic had merit. But, as you may have gathered, I was not operating on that logic.
In this instance, I was operating on a gut feeling, a wish. Being a half an hour out of London, I had the hope of going to the premiere when the third Hunger Games movie came out, and leaving the t-shirt behind seemed like giving up before I was out of the literal airport gate. So, I took it, and two months later, as I stood in the crowd at the premiere in that t-shirt, snapping selfies with the stars, the gut feeling was proven right.
Even if it seems absurd, follow yours, friend. Follow it.
Of course, the most important part of your study abroad moving day is to make sure you can cart all your luggage to your destination. Unlike a regular moving day when you can bring in your stuff in shifts and may be lucky enough to have help from friends or family, this all comes down to you. You only have one shot.
It’s a test of endurance, really: How much can your pack-mule self support without you welcoming your arms detaching from your body? But, it’s difficult to test. A simple walk through your house does not compare to carting bags through terminals and public transit, or heaving them into overhead bins under the heavy gazes of fellow passengers waiting for your bag to topple out and squish you. However, unless you take them out for a full walk around the block (which would be quite the sight), interpreting feelings in your home is all you’re left with to determine if your bags are manageable or you’ll be doing a grueling march through the airport.
As you may have already guessed, I was the latter. All my bags made it to my school, but not without some pain and aggravation as I navigated Heathrow. Quickly, I realized I should’ve left some items behind and while that thought got lost in the magic of London, it resurfaced when it was time to head home and I was leaving with more than I came with.
This is what I really should’ve been preparing for. If I thought moving to England was difficult, getting all my original items back with gifts and other purchases was a much more complicated game of Tetris. For days, I played the keep or toss game with my belongings, and when that wasn’t enough to keep my luggage underweight, I mailed back boxes to the United States for a pretty pence.
(Quick sidebar: if you’re going to reuse a box sent to you, make sure to cover the previous mailing address, or your package could ping pong between countries for weeks. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything).
Unless you want your continental moving day to cost you more than $100 in shipping costs, two ripped pieces of luggage, and a stifling ride home on the plane induced by a thick, wool Weasley sweater, think ahead and pack wisely.