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.
Need more packing info?
This packing for an international trip guide is crammed full of tips.
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. Or, move it to a note on your computer if you want to have a digital copy — I've done both and like either option.
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"). Having big categories that break down into smaller subcategories makes it harder to miss all the little things that you may skip over if you just start writing things down.
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 Caribbean or Africa, 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. You know, things like that. Here's a more comprehensive list:
- Electronics (Phone / Computer / Camera)
- Make Up + Toiletries
Health + Personal Supplies
Journaling + Art Supplies
- Wallet + Documents
Carry On Essentials
Things To Do Before Departure
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".
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 the 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 Go To Guide for your country (you get that at ILP training before you leave) and find out that it rains a lot in your city. Time to add “rain boots”, “umbrella” and a “rain jacket” to your list. You'll get access to a packing list for your country too, so that can be helpful.
You might find out that tights are hard to find in in your country 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.
Then 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? We have a few locations all over the world and are here every step of the application process to make sure you have all of your questions answered.