Every semester we ask our ILP volunteers what they wish they had brought with them for their semester abroad. And every semester we get the same responses. Here's what they suggest!
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You're headed to go live in another country for four months, so the biggest question is "What should I bring?"
We have a huge guide about packing for your international trip here, but there are a few things that I ALWAYS bring. They're my must-haves if you will. And honestly they're not just my must-haves because I see our volunteers recommending these same things. So while there's a million things to think about when packing, here's a few to start with.
- Something cozy
- Cheap sandals
- Over the counter meds
- Something fun
- Yummy snacks
I can't even tell you how many trains, planes, and buses I've been on where the air conditioning is cranked high. Even if the most humid of places like Thailand, I'm still shivering on the bus. To combat this, I have this small blanket that I just always bring. Not only does it keep me warm and cozy, but it's also just a little comforting piece of home!
I have a friend who always brings a large scarf and it does the same job. If she unwraps it, it sprawls out to be a like a sheer blanket. The pro to a scarf is that it doesn't take up as much space in your bag or you could even just wear it right off the plane and save space in your bag.
You can even find blankets that work well for backpacking. True backpackers know that saving space is critical, so it carries over well when you're packing for travel. There are backpacker blankets like this one that are made to be able to get stuffed into the smallest of cases, perfect for carrying on a plane or a bus. You can find all kinds of blankets the vary from around $20 up to even $100 or more, so just do your research to find the right one for you.
Now there are a lot of different types of shoes to bring depending on where you're going, but on basically every trip I need sandals that I can quickly slip on like flip flops or Jandals. You're probably not going to wear them when you're out exploring for the day or teaching your ILP classes, but I still wear them so often that they make my must-haves. Staying at a hostel on vacation? You'll probably want to wear them in the shower. Having a beach day? You'll want them. Running down the street to pick up a chocolate snack at the grocery store? You can throw them on.
You're volunteering in Ukraine and in the middle of teaching your class your throat aches. You have a cold. No big deal, right? You head to the grocery store and try to find some Tylenol PM, but everything is in Ukrainian and you don't recognize most (if any) of the brands. Well, you can pull up the translation of throat on your phone and hope the clerk picks out something right for you.
Or you can just open your suitcase and pull out the OTC meds that you brought. I'd rather take something that I am familiar with and already know how my body reacts to it.
So what should you bring? Bring it all. Basically anything that you keep in your medicine cabinet at home, plus ILP will have some recommendations if you're going to particular countries where volunteers recommend specific things. I always bring something for headaches, stomach aches, sore throats and colds, nausea (like ginger chews or Dramamine), flu, and digestive issues (like Tums or anti-diarrheal). On top of that I also try to be proactive by bringing supplements like vitamins, protein powders, and probiotics. Of course this is hugely personal, but that's my list to give you an idea of things to think about. It takes up space in your bag, but when you're sick it'll be completely worth it.
You can pack them in your checked bags and shouldn't have a problem if they are in their original packaging. Just bring them.
This is a BIG one. Probably the most common response that volunteers give when asked what helped them the most in adjusting to living abroad is having their Netflix, Instagram, calls-home-to-mom kinda fixes.
The rule of thumb is if you use it every day at home you're going to want to use it on your trip. I bring both my laptop and my phone because I use those every day. Even if I don't have international data, I still use my phone all the time while I'm traveling for everything from taking photos, to calling my family over Facetime when I'm connected to wifi, and even downloading Google maps to help me get around the city.
*ILP volunteers in the past have had things stolen, so that's just something to consider. It doesn't happen frequently, but just be careful with your things like you would at home. Don't set you phone down on a bench and turn around to take a photo on your DSLR of the sunset. You know?
Oh and don't forget those headphones. I actually bring two just in case I lose one of them!
You're going to be surprised by how much free time you have on your ILP adventure. I mean you're volunteering for 20 hours per week Monday - Friday, but beyond that? Free time. It's like having a part time job, and ILP doesn't plan out things to do for the rest of your day. We have tooooons of tips on how to make the most of your semester and fun things to do in different cities, but it's up to you. And even when you're traveling around, you'll find that there's always times you're just waiting around like layovers and it'd be nice to have something to help pass the time.
Bring books, cards to play while traveling on vacation, your journal, and your sketchbook. Bring your slack line. Bring group games. Do you have Spike Ball sitting in your parent's garage and have the option of borrowing it? Do you own a mini projector where you could hook up your laptop and have movie night with your group? You name it, just bring it.
China doesn't seem cold, but many areas are humid cold which cuts to the bone, so pack leggings to wear under your clothes when you need it. While living in Europe, you'll be scolded by the locals if you're not wearing the standard gloves, scarf, and hat. Many areas do not have indoor heating like you're used to so there may be nights when you're wearing layers on layers on layers, so pack 'em!
Even in hot and humid countries like the Dominican Republic and Thailand, you'll want a sweatshirt or something to keep you warm when you're on an air conditioned bus traveling across the country.
Of course how many layers you need is based on where you're going and what the weather is so you'll have to use your best judgement, but I at least always bring a pair of warm socks and a cozy sweatshirt no matter where I'm going.
You'll for sure what a small backpack that you can use on the daily. They're super useful for carrying your school supplies to campus if you planned lessons at home. There's going to be a lot of times you're just out exploring a city for the day and it's helpful to have something to carry all your things from your water bottle to your money to your phone. I usually need something bigger than a purse when I'm out all day (or for the weekend) and backpacks do the trick.
If it's in your budget, you might even want to bring a bigger, backpacker's size backpack — I don't know about you, but I like to travel with a backpack instead of hauling a rolling suitcase around the cobblestone streets of Estonia.
Wondering what type of backpack you should bring? Click here to see our top 5 picks.
Right now you're probably so excited to try authentic and local food from your country. But after a month or so of eating the authentic food you're probably going to be longing for a familiar bowl of mac and cheese. Maybe you didn't like mac and cheese before, but trust me you're suddenly going to want it. You're going to go down for dinner after a couple months living in the Dominican Republic and think to yourself, if they serve rice and beans one more time I'm going to lose it.
Do yourself a favor and bring something that you're familiar with for those days when you need some comfort food. It's perfect to bring "just add water" things like hot chocolate, easy mac, oatmeal and other light weight comfort foods. You can buy peanut butter in a lot of places, but it will be expensive. You can find ramen in most countries, but you could also throw in a pack or two in your bag if you want. Bring candy or snacks that you can share with your friends that you meet abroad. Just go ahead and make room for those Swedish Fish, okay?
Pro tip: I find that it's easy to find chocolate (Snickers is pretty much everywhere), so I like to bring sour candy or Jolly Ranchers instead. It's also pretty easy to find things like chips and pretzels, but harder to find cheesy snacks so I like bringing Cheetos or Cheezits.
Join us on an adventure around the world!
We're currently accepting applications to come join a group of ILP volunteers for a semester abroad in countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and more!
There's no experience needed, it's just a really budget friendly way to travel. Plus you're never alone because you're always placed with a group ... built in travel buddies. Living abroad for four months is the type of experience that is meant to stretch and push you out of your comfort zone, allow you to see and experience other cultures, and have those adventures that you're going to remember for the rest of your life.