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All About Packing

All of your packing questions, in one spot

Get Insider Tips From Real Travelers 

I used to be a chronic over-packer, waiting until the last minute to shove everything into a suitcase, crossing my fingers it would all fit (and that I didn't forget anything) before rushing to the airport. 

Not any more. After a handful of international trips, I learned (the hard way) how to pack ... and how not to pack. I'm putting all my go-to tips for packing right here to help you pack for all types of travel, whether you're leaving for just a week or heading out to volunteer for a semester. 

Table of Contents

Making A Packing List + Picking Your Luggage

Figure out how long you're gone and what you'll need on your trip 

Your first step is knowing the very basics — Hopefully at this point you know what country you're traveling to and how long you'll be gone. Knowing where you'll be in the world can help you determine what clothes you need (no need for a parka in Haiti, right)? and the length of your trip will help you know how much to pack. 

Make A Packing List 

Our ILP volunteers are in luck. Before you leave, you'll get a Go-To Guide for your country that includes a packing list. We've done our best to put together a packing list with items most volunteers say they wish they would have packed, but as a general rule of thumb: if you love it and use it every day at home, you'll want to pack it with you. Someone in my ILP group in China could not leave home without her slippers, so she packed them. But for me, that was completely irrelevant. You'll need to use your brain a bit with any packing list to highlight what you'll use, and things you think you'll be okay without. 

We also have a walkthrough of how to make a packing list if you'd rather make your own or use it to help you make sure you're packing things you'll need.

Picking Your Luggage 

We'll get into the specifics more when you know if you're packing for a short or long trip, but in general you'll need to pick the right kind of bag for your trip. We have a breakdown of the pro's and con's of different luggage types; maybe a roller bag would be better than a duffle, or perhaps you should stick with fitting everything into a backpack. 

Also, before you fly, make sure your suitcase is ready for your flight with these tips. 

ILP Russia

Packing For A Shorter Trip

For 1-3 week long adventures 

The key word for packing for a shorter trip is "minimalism". You're welcome to pack up 4 bags full of all of your things, but we're guessing you want to know how to fit everything into a carry on or ways to pack for a 2 week trip in a single backpack. You can't do that if you don't prioritize the essentials. 

Your biggest goals will be to minimize your packing list (scale down 6 pairs of pants to just 3, including the pair you wear on the plane), and washing things to make a small amount of clothes last for three weeks. You'll also want to minimize your personal care items by buying things there, or buying everything in a small, travel-sized versions. We go into this in more detail in the posts below. 

Here are our best tips: 

Packing For A Longer Trip

For 1-6+ Month Adventures 

For longer adventures, you pretty much need the same information for packing for a shorter trip, just on a larger scale. One of the more difficult things to manage is changes in seasons. If you will be living in a different country for 5 months, you may run into winter, spring and summer. You pack for three seasons by packing versatile layers. The summer dress you love can be worn with a jacket in the fall, then with thick wool rights and scarf/coat combo in the winter time. Choosing pieces that can be layered for multiple seasons is going to be your best approach to pack light, while still packing for the weather. We get questions all the time of how many articles of clothing is needed for an entire semester abroad, so we've got some tips for that in that link.

One other thing to keep in mind is needing to pack up a supply of your basics; what should you pack and what should you buy there? Since you'll  need more clothes and supplies for a longer trip, you'll save quite a bit of space if you buy things in-country. 

How To Pack Multiple Bags

If you will be traveling for a few months, you probably will have more than one bag.  Our ILP volunteers are typically packing up a 1-2 check bags, a carry on, and a personal item. They'll need to fit their clothes and necessities plus teaching supplies in their luggage, so packing light will help you accomplish that goal. 

Another struggle is knowing what to pack in which suitcase; here's a breakdown of what to put in your checked bag and what goes in your carry on. Don't be that traveler who puts their passport into their checked bag (it happens, and it's a massive pain). Oh, and we have a helpful guide on what to put in your personal item to help make those long flights go back as quickly (and stress-free) as possible. 

But really, what should I pack? 

Don't forget, you'll get a packing list in your country's Go-To Guide that will help outline the items and supplies you will need in your country. We'll mention things like how it's hard to find deodorant in your country or don't pack flip flops because they are considered shower shoes. The list is catered to your country, but you'll want to skim things over and just make sure you're not packing things you don't think you'll ever use. 

... we also have a big guide of things volunteers should pack to help you out even more. 

ILP Adventure

Am I Packing The Right Things?

Don't waste space with certain items 

There's really no room in your bag for unnecessary and useless items, no matter the length of your trip. It's personal, but knowing that you can buy some things in your country or that you actually won't ever wear high heels on your trip to Europe will help you be a master packer. 

These posts include items our volunteers wished they would have packed, wished they would have left home, and other helpful tips: 

Oh and for all of your TSA related "can I bring this on my flight or not" questions, we have a post about things that you can take though security. 

How To Pack Those Random Items

Can I pack that? 

You probably aren't worried about packing up a pair of jeans and hoodie, but what about more fragile (or expensive) items? These tips come in handy: 

ILP Europe

+ Pesky Baggage Policies

Do what you can to avoid paying for baggage fees 

Now that you're all packed up, you'll need to make sure things are conforming to your airline's baggage policy. Baggage fees can range from being terribly inconvenient to outrageously expensive (a few hundred dollars .... yikes). Look at the airline you will be flying with before you pack to help avoid this. You can just do a simple search, like "Delta airline policies" and it'll pull up the guidelines. 

Knowing that you may only get 1 checked bag may convince you to consolidate to save some money. Or maybe you get two free checked bags so you decide to bring over more snacks and supplies to fill another suitcase. You'll also want to check that your packed bags are in the right weight limit. Even just 1 pound over can mean serious charges. Not good. 

Here's more on avoiding baggage fees when you travel. 

One thing to note

If you will be flying multiple airlines to get abroad (like on your ILP semester), which baggage policy do you follow? Most domestic airlines default to the big, international leg. For example, if you are flying Jet Blue to California, but are flying from California to Europe via KLM, you'll follow KLM's baggage policy. 

 While ILP (international Language Programs) does pay for your roundtrip airfare to your volunteer country, volunteers are responsible for paying for all baggage fees, if any. 


Let's be friends.

Still have a couple of questions about packing, or leaving the country, or wanting to start an ILP semester for yourself? We've got you covered. Come learn more about International Language Programs by checking out that link and by chatting with someone who has volunteered with us before. 
Just fill out the form, and we'll get in touch. 

I've got some questions — Text me!