How to Pack for Study Abroad (and a very snowy DIA!)

by Heidi Obermeyer

So I am currently in Denver International Airport waiting to leave for…. Berlin! 🙂 Via Washington and London and then onwards to Tegel. But check out my view right now:


It is blizzard centrale out there! Although I must say, if given the choice, I would rather take off than land in the snow because I feel like getting a plane going is probably easier than stopping on a runway that you can’t see very well. Inputs on this? Neither of those options is probably the best idea, but I’ve got to get out of here somehow!

Anyway, onwards to the packing….

I have always wanted to do one of those cool posts where you take pictures of everything you’re taking with you and then talk about why your way of packing is the best. My way of packing is maybe not the best, but it’s gotten me through a few long trips and a few more short ones while indulging in my strange propensity towards having a lot of different pairs of shoes with me (which earns me negative light-packer points). BUT…. if you are not the best light packer like myself, and enjoy clothes-ular variety while you’re away from home, then the Heidi method may be for you!

I started out with my biggest, most annoying stuff to pack: winter jackets. I take 1 peacoat for lookin’ fancy and 1 ski-ish coat for lookin’ fancy and being warm.


Then I add coats I’ll need when it gets a little warmer out too- like a rain jacket (absolutely necessary for Germany) and my lighter white leather jacket (absolutely necessary for looking like a too-cool-for-school biker chick).  Along with those are a few scarves (easy to pack so I don’t really set a limit for myself, but you can see in the picture below that I’m taking at least one really warm one) and 2 pairs of gloves- one that’s nice and one that I can wear when if I go running and it’s cold out. We’ve also got one sweater in the mix and a sweatshirt, which I like to use to sleep in (sometimes apartments are cold!).


Next up I picked out the shoes that I was going to lug across the ocean. A few good things to ask yourself to figure out if you really want to bring something: 1. Are you going to be kicking yourself later for lugging this across AN ENTIRE OCEAN OF WATER AND WHALES and then having to bring it BACK across the same ocean having only worn it, like, twice? and 2. Can you throw it away at the end of your stay since it’s halfway to ruin already? I bring a lot of shoes, but they’re also going to get worn out and gross while I’m in Germany, so I’ll have tons more room on the way home for the cool stuff I might acquire whilst abroad after I throw out the things I’ll wear through.

Also pictured are my bean boots (for when it’s really snowing), lots of tights (also easy to throw out at the end if I want to) and scarves.


I also do this weird thing where I bring toiletries with me. I could easily buy everything I really need abroad, but in a few select cases I know I can’t get what I want (but if I try sometime… I just might find… I get what I neeeeeeed!) in Deutschland. Those select cases are basically everything I need to maintain my luscious red locks, which are a color that you just can’t find in Germany in my experience. Because I did a good job this time, I also took some hairspray bottles and a little scrubber do-dad with. Of note: don’t forget enough of your prescriptions/contacts to see you through your time! There’s my stack of contacts sitting there too. I also like to bring medications I’m familiar with that I can just buy at home, like ibuprofen and some cough drops and such (especially since I’ve been sick the last few weeks). It’s not that you can’t find them abroad, but I just like having them with and not having to go on a medication hunt whenever I first have a headache in a new place. Plus, who knows if you’ll need a prescription for things you wouldn’t need one for in the States?


Another fun tip: if you squeeze the air out of bottles, they are significantly less likely to explode because there’s no air inside them to expand while flying. So far I have had no explosions with bottles I’ve done this too in flight- not too bad!


Going along with the whole weird-extra-amount-of-room thing, I also brought towels with on this trip (so they’ll be toss-able/donate-able at the end too) since I’ll be moving into an apartment that probably won’t have towels for me, and I don’t want to have to hunt for them upon arrival.

Also pictured are my 3 bags for this trip- 1 backpack, for school and day trips if necessary, 1 “going out” purse for lighter journeys at home, and 1 normal purse for work/whatever. I brought way more bags with me to Munich, but it turns out that these are the ones that I really use (although if I were going to be near the mountains again, my camelback would probably be in there too). I brought a bookbag last time thinking I would use it all the time, but you just can’t beat a classic backpack. Another tip there: Now is not the time to experiment with new ways of doing things (or in my case, carrying my school supplies). Stick with the tried-and-true stuff that you love.


Next up was shirts. And boy, I have a LOT of shirts. Since I’m going to be interning until April, I brought somewhere between 7-9 dress shirts with on this trip, most of which I like to wear on a normal day as well. Double function=win!



And then to compound the versatility of those shirts, I also brought around the same number of cardigans in various colors. #basicworkclothesrules #stilllearningonthatone



Next were all my… what do you call them… recreational shirts? Basically all of my not-for-work shirts. Since they’re mostly made of thin materials, I brought a lot of them- probably around 10.



Then I put all of my shirts in a big pile and marveled at them, and then folded them into a big round blob, which I put into a vacuum bag this time around. I hadn’t needed vacuum bags before, but I got some for this trip and I do like how they separate everything into big packets that you can kind of toss around if you’re looking for anything.



In another vacuum pack I put all my workout clothes- again, with crappy shirts I can throw out if I want to. There’s my high school tennis t-shirt sitting there too. Holla!



Finally I found all of the non-clothing items I wanted to bring. I love writing letters while I’m gone, so I brought both my watercolors (not pictured here) and nice markers with me. Also in my bags are some pictures and postcards I like, a notebook I use to write down recipes and quotes, a nice pen, and my school notebooks and planner (since they still have room after last semester). I put all of my electronics and their chargers/cables (kindle, computer, camera, external harddrive, ipod, iphone, and jambox speaker) into my backpack along with smaller toiletries (for lookin’ so fresh, so clean on the plane). Keeping electronics with me also keeps them safe from getting too jostled around on the trip.



Finally, after 3 vacuum packs and my pants (about 5 pairs) plus suit (which fits into the fancy schmancy suit holder on my huge suitcase) I was able to fit everything. It all went into my large suitcase, small hardcase carry on suitcase, backpack, and purse, with the plan of checking the two larger bags. Voila! And I can still mostly carry it all!



I also kind of cheated this time around- I packed another small duffel bag full of the summer clothes I’m going to want, under the assumption that I would be having visitors who could bring a bag for me from the States and probably check one back full of all my winter stuff or things that I don’t need anymore when they leave. I just left it at my brother’s for whomever would be visiting at a good time of year for a trade-off. Tip for getting stuff home too: You can fit way more into a big checked duffel bag for $50 than you can into a big-ish box in Germany for 70 euros back to the States, so I like to check bags back with my friends if possible. Just something to think about! 🙂


So that’s my packing story! I’m really excited that I managed to cut down so much from my packing for Munich way back in September of 2011. Do you think I forgot anything? Any supremely awesome packing tips that I need to add to my list? Let me know! And next time I post, I will be in Berlin! Hooray!