How To Fit Your Life Into Two Suitcases

Packing for study abroad finally made easy

How To Pack Study Abroad Luggage

Packing for Study Abroad: It's not as daunting as it looks

A long while back, I wrote a post called, “2 Suitcases + 1 Year = Study Abroad Packing List“, which included a detailed packing list and a number of helpful notes. I realized that, since in its entirety it was longer than the Bible, a lot of people probably didn’t get to the most important part – the helpful notes! So I’ve decided to cut the notes out of that post and expand on them in this post, “How To Fit Your Life Into Two Suitcases”. Don’t forget to revert back to “2 Suitcases + 1 Year = Study Abroad Packing List“, and feel free to print both out as your complete guide on how to pack when your studying abroad!

Check the local weather in the country of your host institution:

It sounds pretty common sense, but it’s the most important thing you can do. When I was in Scotland, it didn’t get above 55° F for almost my whole stay. It would have been pointless for me to fill half of my suitcase with shorts, but I wouldn’t have known it never gets warm in St. Andrews if I hadn’t checked the weather. won’t steer you wrong (most of the time).

Pack at least one nice outfit for formal occasions:

Some countries, especially in Europe, dress much more formally for important social events. I’m don’t mean shirt and tie for guys or cocktail dresses for girls, I’m talking black-tie/ tuxedos and ball gowns. In fact, St. Andrews probably had some sort of formal dance or event that required a suit at least once every week or so. Now I’m not saying you need to go out and buy a tuxedo or ball gown – I made it through most formal events with just a black suit and bow tie; however, it’s something to keep in mind. Guys, I would invest in a bow tie – they’re inexpensive and if there aren’t too many bright lights at an event, it can magically turn your black suit into a tuxedo.

Packing Tip #1: Rolling your clothes tends to be a more space efficient method than simply laying them flat in your suitcase.

Sneakers/ dress shoes/ boots/ rain boots:

I’m sure you won’t have a problem figuring out which shoes to pack, but just remember a pair of good walking shoes. A lot of the streets in Europe are cobblestone, and while at school or while traveling abroad, your feet will get extremely sore after only a couple of hours if you don’t have a good pair of shoes/ sneakers – sorry girls, flats probably won’t cut it.


The only reason I would suggest actually packing toiletries is because they can be pretty expensive in foreign countries. However, they take up a good amount of space in your luggage and provide a ton of unneeded weight. It’s really a game time decision, and if it were me, I would sack up and just buy them abroad. If you want, bring a couple travel sizes of your favorite toiletries, that way you don’t have to run to the store the first time you need a shower. Girls, if you think you’re going to be abroad in a more remote area, seriously consider packing a good supply of your usual feminine type products.

Packing Tip #2: Pack socks (and maybe underwear) last. They’re great for filling in the random spaces, and they fit in just about every compartment of a suitcase.

Sheets/ linens/ towels:

A wallet's worst nightmare

See if your host institution provides these for you. Talk about taking up unnecessary space in your suitcase – even if your host institution doesn’t provide them for you, you’re probably still better off buying them when you land. If you do feel the desperate need to pack sheets or towels, try and bring sets that you won’t mind throwing away (or donating) at the end of your stay – it’ll free up massive amounts of space for your journey home. Uncomfortable sleeping in sheets that didn’t come from your own home? A lot of people I went abroad with used one of these Cocoons.

Socks/ underwear:

This one time, I advise you to load that suitcase up with as many pairs as you can. The more you bring, the less often you’ll have to do your laundry (which can get costly). If they don’t fit in your suitcase when you’re packing to come home, no worries, they’re cheap enough to throw away and replace.

Space Bags

My one piece of advice – be careful. Yeah you can fit more in your suitcase, but guess what – more stuff equals more weight. If you pack you entire luggage to the brim in space bags, there’s a chance you’ll pack so much that you’ll be over the weight limit. As a matter of fact, get one of these portable luggage scales. Making an attempt to stay under the weight limit will save you a lot of time and stress especially when you’re packing for those weekend trips.

Don’t Forget To Make Use Of Your Carry-on Bag:

Although your carry-on will be full of a lot of stuff to keep you entertained – i.e. laptop, iPod, cards – it will probably still have a decent amount of empty space. Fill it with odds and ends, DVDs, chargers and cords, and anything else that’s light and/ or flat.

Packing Tip #3: I’m not trying to rag on airlines (well, maybe), but no matter how advanced luggage tracking is, they will still lose bags. Save some space in your carry-on for a change of underwear, socks, etc. and some basic toiletries. Zip-loc bags are great for keeping your toiletries together and they’re TSA approved!

And there you have it, how to fit everything (or almost everything) on your study abroad packing list into two suitcases.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!

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