Tips & tricks

Your Study Abroad Cheat Sheet

Your Study Abroad Cheat Sheet

Happy New Year’s Eve! It’s crazy to think that at around this time FIVE (wait, what?) years ago, I was getting ready to spend a semester abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was super, super ambivalent about going (I had barely spent any time out of the country and was so in love with my college that I didn’t want to leave!) but like most people who study abroad, I had an absolute blast and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

It’s funny to think about how much technology has changed since my experience away, though. I didn’t even have an iPhone back then (my friends and I all bought cheap European phones that we would refill or “top up” every time they were running low–do people still do this?), I brought my digital camera everywhere (I’ve barely touched it since, oops!), Instagram was barely a thing, and Snapchat didn’t exist at all yet. When we were walking to friends’ houses, my flatmates and I would write down directions on post-it notes. Uber wasn’t a thing yet, but we took taxi cabs when necessary, although they were cash-only and required some preparedness! Basically, I was living in the dark ages 😉

Things that haven’t changed: I was always the group photographer, talked to my family and friends back home constantly (although it was via Skype, email, or Facebook messenger!), and I kept a blog (aka a password-protected Tumblr that I only shared with close friends and family, ha!).

If any of you are in the same boat and are about to spend time overseas (many graduate programs have an abroad component these days, too!), this packing list is for you. Of course, my suggestions may not apply to you if you’re going somewhere completely out of the ordinary/have different tastes and preferences, but many of the ideas below are pretty general and should come in handy whether you’re going to Australia or Argentina!

1) Peanut butter. If you like peanut butter, you’ll understand that you can only go so long without it. Of course, they did sell peanut butter in Scotland, but it wasn’t American peanut butter 🙂 Pack a big jar of your favorite type–you’ll thank me later!

2) Reusable water bottle. This is perfect for weekend trips, workouts, going to class, etc…no need to worry about lugging plastic bottles from the grocery store to your flat or paying for overpriced bottles at the airport.

3) Journal. If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to jot down notes (or even simple things like directions) while traveling. A journal will be fun to look back on when you’re home and is portable enough to bring anywhere.

4) Clothes, but not a TON of clothes. Again, this depends on where you’re going, but I found it helpful to bring items that are versatile and are easy to wear again and again. I brought a couple of dresses, a few pairs of pants, a range of tops, a Patagonia pullover, workout gear, and a few pairs of shoes (including a truly pair of riding boots that I had to get re-soled thanks to the cobblestone that’s all over Edinburgh!). As for coats, I brought a peacoat (a classic!) and a raincoat. I also purchased Bean Boots prior to going abroad, and they couldn’t have been more useful for travel (I was on a program that took a few hiking/outdoorsy trips). I discovered Primark while I was abroad, and it was a game changer (it’s basically a cross between Forever 21 and Target and has everything from home supplies to cheap apparel to accessories and more. I ended up purchasing clothing that actually lasted quite awhile but also bought items that I didn’t feel bad about tossing at the end of the semester, such as sweaters that I purchased for about 4 pounds each (less than $8). I also bought tons of scarves (probably like 10!), and those were great additions to my otherwise limited wardrobe. For themed events, my friends and I usually purchased items at Primark or at the thrift stores that were all over Edinburgh.

5) Earplugs. I always kept these in my room in college, and they’re a lifesaver. In my flat abroad, my room was right next to the kitchen, and that meant that I would often hear my roommates socializing in there after I’d gone to bed (#earlybirdproblems). Rather than passive aggressively pounding on the wall (which I may have done a few times, oops!), pop in some earplugs and kiss the outside world goodbye.


Don’t forget other must-haves like converters for your electronics, a camera, basic first aid and cosmetic supplies, etc. As for beauty supplies, I brought my own makeup but ended up purchasing a hair straightener in Scotland. I already owned a hair dryer from a previous trip to the UK, and I brought that with me as well. The hair straightener was so-so, but the weather in Scotland wasn’t super conducive to stick-straight hair anyway! I ended up experimenting with new hair styles and lived with it, haha. Despite all of my preparedness, I did have a few fiascos–for example, I was wearing Invisalign at night at the time, and I opened the next set of retainers only to find that they were fit to someone else’s mouth…whoops! My camera also broke halfway through the semester, but thankfully my mom was able to bring me a new one when she visited in March. All things considered, though, I was very fortunate that I didn’t have luggage stolen (other students on my program did), get mugged (this happened to one of my guy friends), or get sick other than battling a small cold.

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