Your Ultimate Spanish Homestay Packing List

Maple Buescher headshot
Maple Buescher
April 24, 2024

Breaking news: packing for a semester abroad is hard.

We all know the basics, of course — clothes (fewer than you think), your medications (more than you think), some school supplies, some books. And IES Abroad’s provided packing lists can help. But there are so many iterations of programs in so many different parts of the world that it’s hard to know exactly what you’ll need.

For instance, I spent my semester in Madrid living in a homestay. It’s the single best part of my semester abroad; I highly recommend living with a local family if you can. But packing to live with a family is a bit different from packing from a dorm, where you’ll mostly be inside your own room, or an apartment, where you might have a private bathroom or shower.

Here’s what I wish I’d known to pack for a Spanish homestay.

  • A robe

Forgetting my robe is one of my biggest packing regrets. It wasn’t troublesome enough that I spent money on another in Spain, but it definitely would have been nice to have. Depending on the layout of your homestay family’s house, you may have to walk through public areas to get to the bathroom. It would’ve been very convenient for me to have a robe, instead of juggling clothes to change into with the towels and toiletries in my hand.

Relatedly, shower shoes! This is a matter of personal preference, but you’ll be sharing a shower — a pair of flipflops or slides, like you wear at your US college, might make you feel more comfortable. 

A final note about the shower: Spain, after suffering through a series of droughts, is concerned about water usage and conservation. Most showers are 3 to 5 minutes long; certainly don’t ever take a shower longer than 10 minutes. Pack your toiletries and plan your shower routine accordingly; you might not have time for all of the products you’d use in the US.

  • Slippers

Bare feet in the house are a cultural no-no in Spain. You’ll probably get away with changing into clean, unused socks when you get home, but shoes inside the house are definitely a bad idea.

A simple pair of house slippers is the most common solution. There’s no need to go shopping; you probably already own something similar. Don’t worry about the style, just be sure to bring something comfortable that you’ll only wear inside the house.

  •  Tupperware

Depending on your program, you might not get every meal with your family. IES Abroad Madrid homestay families provide two meals a day, and I’ve opted for breakfast and supper. But my family is nice enough to let me use the kitchen to prepare sandwiches, which I take to school in my backpack every day to eat between classes and cut down on food bills.

I had a weirdly difficult time finding Tupperware to carry my sandwiches in Spain — mostly, it just took me awhile to find the appropriate store, since massive outlets like Walmart and Target that sell everything from Advil to zucchini aren’t common in Madrid. If you have a simple set of a few storage containers that packs down well and won’t take up too much valuable real-estate in your luggage, bring it along. A lunchbox might not be a bad idea, either.

Ziplock bags will also serve you well in a homestay; if you’re permitted to keep food or leftovers in the fridge, you’ll want to organize and neatly package yours. But those can be easily bought on location.

  • An extension cord or power adapter with multiple outlets

This one’s tricky. Do your research with adapters, and be sure to check the voltage capacity of your various devices. I am not giving advice on how to handle charging abroad.

What I am saying is that you may have fewer outlets than you’re used to. My room has just one plug (not even the outlet with two plugs common in the States), meaning I have to be mindful about when I need to charge my phone versus my laptop — and I can’t do any of this when I need to use my desk lamp. Taking a device that can turn one outlet into many can be handy. You can easily find adapters that plug into one outlet and turn it into multiple.

On that note, don’t pack anything with very high voltage, like a hairdryer; those might overwhelm your adapter, and it’s better to buy on-location.

  • A gift for your host family

Arrive with a token of your appreciation for their generosity in hosting you. Consider something unique to your hometown that your host family won’t have seen before. I brought special chocolates and a board game for my host siblings.

  • Decorations, but nothing to hang up

You wouldn’t put command strips or sticky-tape on a stranger’s wall; even putting it on your host family’s wall, where you’re a guest for a few months, is in my personal opinion pushing it (unless you’re given explicit permission, of course). Instead, bring decorations that can rest on your desk, like a tabletop calendar or framed photos.

Pro tip: photos of family and friends can also be a great conversation starter if you’re still shy about how to talk to your family.


Above all, think about what you use in your day-to-day life at home, or what was in rotation while you were in high school; those are likely to be a more accurate litmus test than what you use while living in a dorm or your own apartment now. Pack wisely, pack lightly, and remember that in a crisis you can find almost everything you need (or something comparable) once you’re abroad. Happy packing!

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Maple Buescher headshot

Maple Buescher

Hi!! My name is Maple and I'm a junior at Bates College, where I am a member of the sailing team, the orchestra, and everything in between. I am the Editor in Chief of our student newspaper and am interested in pursuing a journalism career.

2024 Spring
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