If packing up everything for a semester abroad trip in a couple of suitcases seems a little overwhelming …. just use this packing list.
To make sure I don’t forget anything while packing, I make a list — it's like a formula to follow so you won't ever for get anything else again. So whether you need to know how to pack light for an international trip or a quick weekender, you'll be set.
Head's up: Our master-guide to packing for an international trip is full of every other packing tip you'll need to know.
Follow this formula and you’ll be set:
- Make (Hardcore) Categories
- Be Very Specific + Fill Out Your Categories
- Leave Some Room
- Walk Through Your Routine
- Add In The Extras
Make (Hardcore) Categories
I usually get a big legal pad to do my list on because the whole list ends up taking up a few pages. To start, I make some categories for all the things I'll eventually pack. Each page is dedicated to a single category (like "clothes") and those big categories are broken down into subcategories (like "pants").
Here's a breakdown of all the subcategories my "clothes" page:
— Tops (Shirts & Sweaters)
— Shoes & Socks & Tights
— Jackets & Coats
— Dresses & Skirts
— Gloves & Scarves & Hats
Feel free to cater your categories — if you'll be visiting or volunteering in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, you probably doesn’t need a category for “Gloves & Scarves”.
You can modify a packing list like this if you don't want to brainstorm your own categories or subcategories.
Along with "clothes", I'll have main categories like "Phone/Computer/Camera Gear", "Journaling Stuff", "Make Up and Toiletries", "Snacks" etc.
I also make a "to do list" category where I can list what I need to do before I leave on my trip: it's usually full of things like “buy luggage locks” or “call the bank to tell them I'll be using my credit card throughout Europe".
You know, things like that.
Be Very Specific + Fill Out Your Categories
Ok, now you have your categories, start writing things down below your sub-categories.
The key here is being very specific! Under “swim”, write down all you need for a day at this hidden Mexico Beach. Your black swimming suit, your striped one and the one with pineapples, a towel, sunglasses, flip flops, sunscreen, your “going to the beach” dress and anything else you need.
I like to list the specific pieces of clothing just to make my life easier. If you’re specific, actual packing will be easy because you’ve listed which shirts to pack, not just how many to toss in your bag.
Leave Some Room On Your List
As you do some research you might find things that you forgot to add in your subcategories.
You may be reading through the guidebook (you get that at ILP training before you leave) and find out that it rains a lot in your Chinese city. Time to add “rain boots”, “umbrella” and a “rain jacket” to your list.
You might find out that tights are hard to find in Lithuania, so you’ll need to pack 6 pairs instead of just 1. Leaving some extra room around your categories will make little additions like this a total breeze.
I also have a "Random" main category for last-minute additions.
Walk Through Your Routine
I like to start my packing list pretty early, maybe two weeks before I actually leave — I’m the type of person that forgets something super obvious like toothpaste if I pack the night before.
If you start your list early, you have time to walk through your daily routine a few times and make sure everything you use in one day is on the list (things like face wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, and makeup).
If you do this in enough time (like 2 weeks before you leave) you can also add in the things you don’t use every day (like tweezers or nail files) and make sure they get on the list, too.
Add In The Extras
You can be as organized as you want with these lists. When I’m packing for a big trip, I like to make a packing list for my carry on and a packing list for my personal item. That way, I can stash snacks, my phone charger and other things I always pack in my personal item when I fly.
I also make a separate list of my perfect outfit for long flights and make to sure to put those items on my bed, not in the bottom of my suitcase.
Pro Tip: Sometimes, I need to write down things I haven’t purchased yet (like a pair of solid, warm boots for life in Russia) so I’ll still put it on my list, but with a little $ next to it, so I know I need to run to the store before actually packing. Do whatever works for you to help you remember things and stay organized.
Thinking about putting this packing list to the test yourself? How about spending a semester in one of ILP's countries? Or going on a gap year and spending even more time abroad? We've got a guide all about how to make that happen!