Studying Abroad: Packing

My fellow study abroad students about to embark, you arguably face the most annoying part of preparing for your trip, packing. The following will show a list of things that I did pack, what proved to be absolute necessities, and what you most definitely can leave at home. Also, let me start by saying, if you wear it at home, bring it abroad. You already know you love it and you will want to wear it. Don’t be afraid: anything that has gotten too much wear, maybe shoes that you have tread too much on, there is a solution; Donate! And voila, more room in your suitcase. My packing consisted of several components:

  1. One large 50 lbs suitcase
  2. One collapsable duffel in my suitcase
  3. Carry ons:
    1. My specialized camera bag that doubles as a purse, as you are allowed one purse or personal handbag with a carry on, this is often my conspicuous room saver. I stuff a lot of things in there!
    2. A bookbag. You need a bookbag. Hell, you could live out of your bookbag when you take trips. It should be big enough to stuff all of your necessities, double as a school bag (mostly for your laptop. not many books you need to carry at all). And of course, your smaller bag (duffel, suitcase, bookbag they NEED to be under the maximum dimensions for plane flights (ryanair,easyjet) or the train! Otherwise, look out for ridiculous fees.

The one suitcase; probably a mistake on my part, because don’t forget that you need to haul these around the metro and upstairs, unless you want to take a cab (more expensive, but easier process). I would recommend two medium-sized suitcases if you need it! What I Brought with Me Outerwear

  • 2 Coats
  • 1-2 Jackets
  • 2 Cardigans
  • 1 Hoodie
  • 1 Workout Jacket
  • 2-3 Scarfs
  • 2 Hats
  • 1 pair of gloves
  • 1 stockings


  • Riding Boots
  • Tennis Shoes
  • 1 Converses
  • 1 Pair of Flats

*Remember, you need to be able to walk in these shoes, a lot. They should be basic and versatile so that you could go from school to jump on a train or flight or explore the city. Anything you forget, you can buy there. But, you can’t easily replace good walking shoes or boots! Shirts

  • 1 Thermal Shirt
  • 5+ Long sleeved shirts
  • 3+ Basic T Shirts
  • 2 Undershirts/Camisoles
  • 5 Blouses (Can double as layering/ going out/weather getting warmer)
  • My favorite short sleeved/quarter sleeved shirts (Whatever I wear often, and works with anything!)

Don’t be afraid to re-wear clothes. You don’t want to bring your whole closet, only the essentials for the weather and the amount of time you will be there. Layering is essential. If you wear the same shirt, so what? Throw a chambray shirt, a scarf, or a cardigan on top of it, and you have a different outfit. Also, you’ll be in Spain; great fashion and style, add things there! I highly recommend H&M, Zara and Mango (pricier options), Pimkie, Pull&Bear, etc. There is of course El Rastro, which I absolutely loved! And don’t forget your shopping streets, like Calle Fuencarral & Princesa. Pants

  • 2 Skinny Jeans
  • 1 Bootcut Jeans
  • 1 sweatpants
  • 1 shorts (just your favorite pair, you won’t need to break these out often!)
  • 1 skirt (black, tight- can wear stockings underneath with boots and can serve as a good transition piece)

Workout Clothes This really depends on what you want. There is a gym at UC3M Getafe that you can pay membership for. It was a little pricy for my budget, or join one for a much cheaper price in your neighborhood. Or could stick to at home and outside workouts like I did. El Parque del Retiro is beautiful and a great place to run/walk/workout. I also had a cute little park by my apartment, which was lucky. I usually workout out of the gym; when I moved into my apartment, I bought a yoga mat from the Chino store for around 5 Euros. Surprisingly, it held up!

  • 2 leggings
  • 2 sport bras
  • 4 shirts
  • 1 workout jacket
  • 1 pair of tennis shoes
  • 4-5 pair of workout socks ( I always lose socks! Bring more if you need to, they are so easier to stuff in your suitcase, and you’ll need socks for boots during cold weather, converses, etc.)

Undergarments Bras: Let’s face it, there are many different kinds depending on what kind of outfit you plan to wear. Come prepared!

  • 2-3 most comfortable and versatile T Shirt Bras
  • 1 Bralette
  • 1 Strapless Bra
  • 2 Sport Bras

Remember, you need enough during laundry time- bring extra if necessary. Plus, buying lingerie abroad becomes a tad difficult, but definitely isn’t impossible. Just remember, Spain doesn’t have Victoria Secret if that’s your go-to. Underwear: I will not disclose unwanted information, don’t worry. Just bring enough for the week + laundry day. I probably brought more than that with me. Travel & Misc.

  • Ziploc bags (flights, incoming, outgoing Europe, and within Europe).
  • 1-2 reading books, depending on your preference & habits.
  • 1 small over the shoulder bag. Make sure your purses have distinct closures (i.e. zippers, covers, etc.) Often, pick pocketing and theft can be a threat. Just make sure you are aware of your surroundings, and when on public transportation and walking, you use the strap crossed over your shoulder and have the opening face you. You will notice that many people that wear back packs or purses will put them right in front and hold them when on the metro.
  • 1 collapsable bag. I used it for grocery shopping and beach trips!
  • 1 travel pouch w/ travel bottles (a must, you will need soap, shampoo, conditioner with you when you travel. Maybe even moisturizer or lotion if you’re into it.)
  • 1 extra padlock (2 in total. One for your bag, one for your locker when you stay in hostels)
  • Travel bag (I stuck with the bag pack and duffel).
  • Camera (small is good, but if you have a DSLR like me, bring it! Just use your phone for efficiency! Keep in mind, it takes up more room, but balance the advantages and disadvantages. If you have a small camera, it could have more megapixels/zoom/takes up less space, etc.)
  • Brush & Comb. Obvious, but duh. I had a mini one to bring with me for travel days.
  • Ponytails & Bobbi pins. You know that you’ll need them!
  • Make-up bag (Great for storage as well when traveling. I only brought the essentials for me, which is very very basic. For me, I need chap stick, some concealer, and mascara for daily use. Foundation, blush/bronzer duo, eye shadow, eyeliner- that is all for going out/occasions. A small palette will be the most useful for space and efficiency!).
  • 1 travel toothbrush/toothpaste
  • Shampoo/Conditioner: Up to you. I brought mine because I knew it would last and it’s not very large. You will absolutely not want to buy shower products on your first day in Spain, after jet lag, and a 14 hr flight. Just a heads-up.
  • 1 Packet of Makeup/Cleansing wipes. Easy for travel instead of bringing extra products!
  • 1 mini hand-sanitizer if you want to!
  • 1 travel blowdryer (While this is usually in debate, if you have a collapsible travel dryer, it is great for your apartment, travel if you need it).
  • 1-2 towels (apartment, hostels, travel, beach, etc.) You will need them even when it sounds a little excessive. Of course, you could be like me and opt out and buy abroad, but that can be annoying when you’re buying towels the first night at your hostel.
  • 2 deodorants (1 regular sized, 1 travel sized).
  • 1 small perfume (I brought a small one and it was helpful! Perfume in Spain is a bit expensive).
  • Of course, converters/adaptors. I got two-in-one. It was huge. Bring two or so small converters. They are handy everywhere, you will need them! And the smaller ones are better for travel or perhaps when you are studying for finals at La Bicicleta (awesome place, you should go!).

Female-specific: ‘Hygiene’ products. Depends on your preferences. Bring them if you are not comfortable trying other brands/types abroad. You can find all of these personal products abroad, but remember that the prices for familiar brands are more expensive. To be honest, an easy way to avoid bringing this was bringing birth control with me. Yeah, five months worth from the Student Health Center. Yes, you have to pay for the other packs, as only the first pack is free with insurance. I just kept them in my makeup/travel bag and it was worth it. Remember to pick a new time in Spain, because of the time difference. If you can’t get this in time, don’t worry, it won’t be a big deal. It’s up to you and your preferences! What I Should Have Brought Probably more versatile clothes, the ones that I wore a lot at home and missed. I did only pack one suitcase, but I made it work.

  • Leggings! Great for boots, winter, etc. but Spaniards also wear these jegging like skinny jeans, so it won’t be a big deal.
  • 1 pair of Nikes; just something to lounge around in your apartment or for hostels. I opted for the comfiest pair of sweatpants!
  • Flip-flops: Hostel showers. That is all.
  • Towels
  • Travel dryer (I had a wonderful roommate that gave me her extra. Shout out to Alicia!)
  • Extra converter (especially for travel, a smaller one is needed)
  • Extra pair of walking shoes, but was easily bought abroad.

What was absolutely necessary PassportExtra passport photos. You will need these for traveling, identification, etc. The extra passport photos are for your Abono Transporte, as well if you lose anything. Absolutely, bring around 4 or so. You can do this abroad if necessary as well. Copies of all of your passport, identification, important papers. Please, bring them! I had a copy of my drivers id, birth certificate, passport, etc. IF by any circumstance, you need to get a new passport, you’ll need it. The extra passport pictures can also be used for a ESN card/ bank account at Santander/etc. Laptop. It is basically the only thing that you need for school. Notebooks, pens, all of those are things that you can buy abroad easily, either on campus or off. You will not need to buy textbooks. Everything is accessible using their school site, very similar to Moodle once you get used to it. Journal. Use it however you want to. Write a couple of sentences daily. Use it during culture shock. It usually helps to write it down. I saved a lot of ticket stubs, postcards, etc. in my journal. But absolutely, write new Spanish words down too. You’ll learn so many, from school to the metro to going out with new friends! A travel guide. I used Rick Steves. It was comprehensive and helpful when preparing to pack and travel. I always marked places I wanted to go, barrios to explore next on the map, and checked off things I had done. But absolutely, use this as a rough guideline. Don’t do every tourist thing because you think you need to. Get lost in the city that you are in, and explore and live like a local. Those are often the best moments of being abroad. ESN card. At UC3M, the ESN group is for the Erasmus Student Networks. These trips are with all the international students, and are so much fun, cheap, and absolutely recommended! Meet friends on these trips and meet up people to travel with. Also, don’t be afraid to branch out and meet locals as well; I met a majority of my Spaniard friends with my roommates and going out and just talking to people. Don’t be shy! Everything travel: duffel bag with perfect dimensions, padlocks, makeup bag for necessities, converters, towel, etc. Medicine: Sounds silly, but as someone that is often sick, the medicine and vitamins I brought were essential. Advil, Mucinex, Vitamins, EmergenC (Great for jet lag!), Allerga for allergies. Waterbottle: Water can be more expensive than alcohol, so yeah, bring one! Especially for travel, you can put in your backbag and use it and refill it during the day so you aren’t constantly buying bottled water. Cash. I exchanged at the airport in Madrid once I arrived. The exchange rate was good, and I needed it for the hostel I was staying at. Also, you will need cash for your deposit. Most places only accept cash for your future knowledge. It is rare that you will use your credit card. Debit/credit cards: Debit cards are great for ATM withdrawals. Make sure that your bank has a low international fee. 1-2% is perfect! For the UC3M students, I recommend a Santander account. It is free to set up with the school as a student. That way you can transfer money into that account, and use it without international ATM fees. It will save you a lot of money in the long run. Use your credit cards for large purchases, like booking flights, transportation, or hostels. A Budget. Immaterial, yes. Essential, of course. Know how much money you are leaving with, especially what is yours, what your parents are helping you with if you are lucky enough, savings, etc. Use that knowledge to adapt to Madrid, and how much you will spend monthly on average, (rent, groceries, going out, ATM withdrawals). Set an amount for your monthly withdrawals for the ATM. A roommate of mine was especially fiscally responsible and planned a very prescriptive budget, where she took out 2-3 months out in advance in order to acquire less ATM fees. Once you arrive: Abono Transporte Apply at an Estanco/tobacco shop; depends which campus you are traveling to! I used the Cercanias everyday to school at UC3M Getafe, from the Nuevos Ministerios station (above Atocha), to Getafe (Las Magaritas stop). Of course, get the metro app on your phone when you need help traveling on the metro. Getafe: B1,  Leganes: B1, Leganés Central  Colmenarejo: B3,Torrelodones How to get to your campus: If you need help with this process, look here: Hope this helps! The best way to learn how to pack accordingly is research…and trial and error. Comment if you need more advice about packing, traveling, or more. My expertise is Spain-specific but can adapt accordingly to country.


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