As the weather grows colder, I am reminded again of my packing choices. It seems like the colder it gets, the more summer clothes I seemed to have packed—although I distinctly remember when it was stifling hot in September, I could only see how many long sleeves and sweaters I had brought. Living in someplace for four months with so little space to bring your things always presents a challenge. So how do you make the best of a light 50 pounds and a carry on?
First things first, you do your research. Going to Madrid, I looked up weather patterns and average temperatures to have an idea of what types of clothes I should bring. Lucky me, Madrid is a city that can be very hot, especially at the end of the summer when you arrive, but it only gets to an average high of 50ºF (or about 38ºC) in December. This meant my wardrobe had to cover both extremes. To deal with this, I packed many clothes that I could possibly layer in order to make use of both summer and winter clothing. It also helps to create versatile outfits, which will be repeated in four months. No shame. I found that plain, colored t-shirts or long-sleeves are super easy to pair with many outfits as well as wear under sweaters.
In the summer, I would say for girls to bring a summer dress (or two) with skirt options. The younger crowd in Madrid do wear shorts, but I would bring only a pair, maybe two, because you won’t have summer for very long, and then they become a burden you have to repack in December. For guys, bring about a week’s worth pairs of shorts give or take a pair. Shirt options can vary, but it is easier to wear bottoms more often than shirts, so I would bring a bit more than a week of shirts you want to wear for every day and a of couple of nicer, going out type of shirts. But I will warn that the daily wear for the Spanish is definitely nicer than athleisure that’s typical of California and Colorado (where I have experience). Going to clubs also requires a dress code, and if you show up in just shorts and a super casual t-shirt you will probably not get in.
In the winter I advise several pairs of pants, some can be lighter for the autumn days, and several sweater options, and a lighter puffy jacket that you can easily layer over those sweaters. I also think a pair of boots in case of rain or fancier occasions also works well. Scarves are my favorite accessory in the winter—they’re like fashionably acceptable blankets. I recommend bringing a hat or gloves because it does get pretty chilly.
Another thing is to predominantly buy toiletries once you arrive to the country you are staying in, to reduce weight while traveling. School supplies are also something to consider—often you may find notebooks for slightly cheaper in the United States than in Europe, but it is not that much of a difference. I also recommend buying a converter for your residence and several portable adapters to travel easily to libraries or school. I also bought a bigger portable charger, because I didn’t want my phone to die while I was exploring Europe! If you’ll be taking classes that require a calculator, don’t forget yours, but know that a standard calculator and not a graphing calculator is predominately allowed for tests.
For traveling, I recommend an eyemask, no matter how silly it sounds, it really is a life saver if you have overnight or early flights or buses. I also recommend a foldable lighter bag you can use for trips, and even reusable bags for things like going to the beach so you don’t get sand in your other bags.
So, what not to bring?
Well, firstly don’t pack your suitcases absolutely full! This will reduce space for any souvenirs or gifts you plan on bringing home! If you do, it will only create stress in trying to decide what to leave behind—or how much a new suitcase and adding it to your flight would cost. Assess what you really think you’ll wear while abroad and also consider that you might want to buy some clothes while abroad.
I definitely brought too many shoes which adds more weight than extra clothes, you probably don’t need 3 pairs of just tennis shoes. Just choose ones that are easily paired with outfits. I also advise leaving the straightener or blow dryer at home unless you have a dual voltage one, because you won’t be able to use it! Don’t bring things that you don’t use normally or don’t think you would ever wear in Spain, because chances are you probably won’t. Also remember that you may have fees on your cards abroad, try to open an account with a bank that has little or no fees, like Charles Schwab, bringing a card loaded with transaction fees can add up over time.
Over all, packing for four months with no idea what to expect is stressful. I hope that this is a bit helpful if you have any doubts what to pack while studying abroad in Madrid!