When it comes to packing (and shopping!) for study abroad, consider asking your friends and family to help by purchasing some of your needed travel items as birthday and holiday gifts.
Our recent alumni shared their thoughts on the best gifts for students studying abroad, and we complied it into a helpful gift guide. Enjoy!
It doesn’t matter what you pack if you don’t have anything to carry it in! If luggage seems like an expensive investment, consider borrowing a set from family or friends, or ask for gift cards so friends and family can contribute to the purchase.
“Some good factors to keep in mind when looking for luggage are: mobility (given where you're traveling, is it better to have a suitcase with wheels or just one with a strap to throw over your shoulder if paved streets are bumpy, hilly, or perhaps even non-existent?) and weather (are you going to be in places where it may be useful to have water-proof or water-resistant luggage to keep your belongings dry?).” – Alexis W. (IES Abroad Siena | University of Washington)
Is your backpack for class or for travel? When you study abroad, it can be for both!
“Ask for a small, functional backpack with many compartments! This is essential when abroad, especially for traveling. What I did was acquire a Herschel backpack and use it both for travels and for class. It could easily fit clothes for a weekend trip, along with my books throughout the week. I definitely loved using that bag, and it made abroad so much easier.” – Emily B. (IES Abroad Madrid | Bates College)
Be prepared to “take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints” with your own camera. While you’re documenting your study abroad experience for yourself, you can also create a submission for our Study Abroad Film Festival or photo contest.
“A camera to document your travels! It doesn't even have to be fancy: your photos will be special because they're yours!” – Gregory V. (IES Abroad Dublin | Temple University)
“An action camera, such as a GoPro! It was so great having such a versatile camera with me throughout my travels. I was able to document things that would normally ruin a camera or smartphone, such as the waterfalls in Iceland and the cenotes in Mexico. Some of my best photos of the Great Wall of China came from the GoPro because it can capture wide frames! My GoPro camera is the one item I can't leave home without--besides my passport of course!” - Allison H. (IES Abroad Paris | University of the Pacific)
Keep a record of your day-to-day thoughts, emotions, and adventures so you can relive your favorite experiences when you return home. A journal can also be handy to draft posts if you plan on blogging on your own site or on IES Abroad Blogs.
“Study abroad should be a time of personal development and growth. [A journal] encourages reflection and documentation of your short time abroad.” – Will H. (IES Abroad Madrid | Haverford College)
“Whether you’re a writer or not, a notebook is a priceless entity while abroad. While you're there you may think that there's no possible way to forget all of your amazing adventures, but it happens! Memories fade and photos don't do experiences justice. Having a notebook to jot down thoughts, travel plans, or even just lists of your favorite cafes to remember as recommendations is seriously vital.” – Grace K. (IES Abroad Vienna | Tufts University)
Universal Power Converter & Portable Charger
Why is it that phones always seem to die at the worst moment possible? Make sure you can charge your devices wherever you go.
“A portable phone charger and a universal power adapter! They sound boring, but I was a lot less stressed than other people on my program when we were traveling because I knew that I would always be able to charge my devices no matter where we were, and they've been useful since then as well.” – Julia M. (IES Abroad European Union | University of Puget Sound)
“Something I asked for and ended up using ALL the time is a portable phone charger! Your phone will most likely be your lifeline while you're in another country - being in a city, I used my phone GPS to get everywhere and a translator app to help with the language barrier, and of course my phone camera. A portable charger is a life saver.” – Haley S. (IES Abroad Milan | Butler University)
Keep your phone, keys, and money safe while traveling with a wallet, belt, or cross-body purse that fits your style.
“In every country I’ve travelled to, a travel wallet has been immensely helpful! My mother gave it to me many, many years ago, and I thought it was a ridiculous and unfashionable gift at first. But in the past few years I’ve used it so much –I’ve even loaned it out to friends!” – Naomi T. (IES Abroad Galápagos Islands | Colorado College)
Comfortable Walking Shoes
Those dress shoes and high heels won’t get you far while exploring a new city or hiking a new terrain. While you can buy shoes abroad, it’s helpful to have your favorite pair ready from day one.
“Definitely a comfortable pair of shoes that you won't mind wearing anywhere and everywhere! I'd recommend a stylish pair of sneakers that will be super comfy for lots of walking but also super cute for photo ops!” – Nicole S. (IES Abroad Rome | Penn State University)
“Comfortable walking shoes and socks – comfort wins in a foreign county.” – Jeena P. (IES Abroad Buenos Aires | Rhodes College)
Reusable Water Bottle
Save the environment and your wallet by bringing your own water bottle with you to class, your internship, and while traveling.
“If studying in Europe, depending on where you go, you normally have to pay for water. By having a reusable water bottle and carrying it around everywhere with you, you can save a lot of money.” – Victoria T. (IES Abroad Madrid | The Catholic University of America)
Check out the predeparture information for your program to best understand what type of weather you can expect in your study abroad location.
“The best thing I asked for as a gift before going abroad was a durable and versatile coat. I got one that has a rain coat outer shell and an inner thermal shell that can be attached and wore together when it is cold or detached and worn if it is raining or just a bit chilly. It was very convenient to have!” – Keara C. (IES Abroad Dublin | Knox College)
“I wore my raincoat every day and I loved that it went down to my knees. It is Ireland after all, you will be happy you have it. Stay dry!” – Allison G. (IES Abroad Dublin | University of Iowa)
Hiking & Camping Gear
If you plan to explore the outdoors, do some research on pricing to decide if it’s worth buying equipment at home or once you’re abroad.
“Especially for students in Christchurch, I would suggest any hiking/camping/outdoor gear if you are planning on doing a lot of exploring around. Gear that a lot people ended up buying in New Zealand that could have been cheaper buying in the States were: backpacking backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, rain jacket, hiking boots.” – Camille N. (IES Abroad Christchurch | Indiana University)
“A LifeStraw is an incredible investment for young travelers- wherever you go, it makes drinking water safe and usable for human consumption. They work great for hiking, backpacking, camping, or other travel in areas without potable water. Definitely recommend!” – Gwen M. (IES Abroad Cape Town | University of Vermont)
Browse your program’s predeparture information or contact a recent alumni to get an idea of anything that would be particularly culturally-appropriate to bring to your study abroad location.
“The best gift I got in the lead up to my study abroad program was a pair of slippers. I had heard from others who had studied abroad in Spain that the houses were cold and that it was common to wear shoes in the house, so I figured they'd be a good thing to ask for as a present. Oh my goodness, am I glad I did! Houses in Spain did tend to be very cold and my host mom was a real stickler about us wearing some type of shoe in the house at all times. I had to laugh as she even scolded me once for walking from my bed to my desk barefoot!” – Ellie G. (IES Abroad Granada | Macalester College)
“Students planning on studying abroad in Japan should ask for gifts to give to people when they go to Japan! In Japanese culture it is courtesy to bring gifts from your home country when visiting someone's house or even seeing friends after a long time. These are also good to have if at the end of the semester you want to give a gift to your professors to express gratitude.” – Maya B. (IES Abroad Nagoya | University of Pittsburgh)
At the end of the day, it doesn’t hurt to have a little more spending money for traveling or day-to-day expenses like laundry and groceries.
“I would recommend Airbnb gift cards! Some of the best places I stayed while abroad were at Airbnbs and I still prefer using Airbnb while traveling around the United States, definitely a great gift idea and a good way to save a little money while traveling!” – MollyMaeve L. (IES Abroad Dublin | University of Iowa)
“Visa gift cards are also super useful to have while traveling.” – Autumn O. (IES Abroad Dublin | University of Minnesota)
“Ryanair or EasyJet vouchers - If you are studying abroad somewhere in Europe, these will definitely come in handy when booking weekend trips. Airline vouchers are a great excuse travel somewhere new and exciting!” – Amy R. (IES Abroad European Union | Skidmore College)
Grab your luggage, and let's go! Find your perfect study abroad or internship program in one of 30+ locations around the world.
Already picked a program? Check out more resources on preparing and packing for study abroad:
After studying abroad in Christchurch, New Zealand, Mallory Rotondo (IES Abroad Christchurch, Spring 2014 | Purdue University) went on to become an early intervention speech-language pathologist. Read on to hear how this IES Abroad Scholarship recipient’s study abroad experience gave her the skills necessary to be a more understanding clinician.
Jeff Rosenthal (IES Abroad Madrid, Spring 1982), had an unforgettable experience studying abroad in Madrid, thanks in part to his warmhearted homestay mom, Señora Carmen. Jeff shares, in his own words, how he returned to Madrid to find his homestay residence was still the home he cherished and remembered.