Packing 101

So you have been accepted to teach abroad, you have survived the large stack of paperwork to receive your Visa, you’ve purchased your flights, and now you need to actually get you and your stuff to Spain…ummmm HELP?

As I am preparing for another exciting year abroad, I thought it would be helpful to put together some advice for those planning to go exploring.  I can honestly tell you that last year, I was scouring the internet in hopes of finding a blog or website (SOMEONE at least!) to tell me how to pack to for this adventure.  Sadly, I couldn’t really find anyone place that gave great advice; however, I have a friend that I met in Spain who just wrote her own post about this difficult task:

I quickly googled some other expats blogs…there weren’t many:

Still need some help?  Well here is my top 10 for advice:

#1 REMEMBER:  Spain has stores to shop at…in fact there are MANY stores.  So if you can’t fit it in your suitcase, you can always buy it there.  I’m going to stop here, I read that SAME sentence over and over again while I was researching, my parents told me a million and a half times as well, BUT I STILL COULDN’T BELIEVE IT.  I struggled so much trying to reason with myself, my mom, and my friends (all who had assisted in packing) why I ABSOLUTELY couldn’t live without my flowery tank top that was just perfect with my dark-washed skinnies and sparkily sandals.  Yet, that exact outfit never made it to Spain… So first, you should look up the climate of the country or city you will be living in and start planning your wardorbe from there.  Although it will be difficult, really be tough on yourself of how much clothes you are going to bring, and always be asking yourself, “Will I really wear this?  Or can I mix this item with other items multiple times?”

However, even though I have stated that if you can’t fit it in your suitcase…you may actually not be able to buy it in Spain.  Here is a list of somethings that I will definitely be making enough space for:

-Clinical strength deorderant-yea, it’s THAT hot.

-Dry shampoo

-Mascara-if you don’t want to have to spend a pretty penny on it there.

-water bottle- I struggled finding a decent sized water bottle in Spain.

-refillable travel size containers (for your traveling!)

-any medications you are taking.  Medication like birth control  can definitely be bought when you get to Spain.  Bring your RX sheet (the small one you get to do refills) and bring it to your local pharmacy.  Side note about Birth Control; super easy to get without a prescription at a pharmacy!  I just brought mine to there and they found one that had the same dosage.

-a durable carry-on size rolling suitcases:  this is a must if you plan on traveling around Europe.  Many flights within Europe are super cheap, but having baggage is SUPER EXPENSIVE.  For example, my flight to Sweden from Spain cost me a whopping 50 euros (60-70 dollars), but my baggage (two bags) cost me 120 euros (about 140 dollars)!  Make sure to check the measurements to make sure it TRULY is a carry-on bag (go to the Ryaniar website for carry-on demensions).  I would also pack this suitcase in one of your other suitcases…I explain more in #2.

-Sweat pants:  yes, I said that.  Although Spainards dress to the 9’s when they go out of the house (seriously, even when they are grocery shopping), so being seen in sweatpants is a big NO NO.  However, bring them for when you are just lounging in your house (because you will need something to keep you warm!).  I would also suggest bringing your most comfy sweater…to, again, wear around the house.

#2  Travel hands free:  Although you may think you can handle two 50 pound suitcases and your backpack, it’s ALWAYS harder than it seems.  Imagine this:  You arrive to Madrid (or where ever you are traveling to) and you grab your bags and head towards the public transportation (bus, metro, train, etc).  You then realize as you are struggling and sweating to get all your bags on to the train AND find a place to put them all, you realize “Sh*t, I can’t do this.”  For me I realized this while I was trying to nagivate the Tube in London and the ONE FREAKING stop I had to transfer to didn’t have an escalator, so I had to lug (one at a time, I might add) my two bags up to the top of the stairs, only to have to bring them back down.

To remedy this:  bring an awesome backpack.  It doesn’t have to be one of those serious backbacking packpacks, I use my Northface backpack from college.  That way you can still pack some extra things in there (I would suggest an extra set of clothes, your travel size tollietries, your important travel documents, and your electronics).

This is a perfect backpack!

This is a perfect backpack!

#3  Don’t pack specific outfits (see #1 for my issues with this).  Pack clothes that can easily be mixed and matched.  I personally don’t wear many patterend shirts, so for me I could easily pack different tops that would work with a wide range of pants, cardigans, sweaters, etc.  One way to help spice up your wardorbe are SCARVES!  Seriously, they are such a lifesaver when you are traveling.  No one will recognize that red shirt you wore the day before when you wear that navy blue printed scarf.  If you don’t own many before you go, do not fret, europeans have this down and EVERY store sells cute, fashionable ones for very cheap.

#4  Make sure to pack adapters AND converters for your electronics.  For those of you who get confused (hey I still call adapters converters, and so on) of which is which:

Left:  The converter; Right: The adapters

Left: The converter; Right: The adapters


I would suggest bringing a few adapters, so you can charge more electronics at once.  As for converters, definitely bring one (you will need to use it in England), but your camera charger and/or laptop may need to use it as well.  I have Apple products, so they have a built in converter within the charger so there is no need to use one.  My big fancy camera also had a converter in the charger, but my point-and-shoot camera didn’t.  I would take the time to ask if your electronics need a converter or not, before heading over.  As for purchasing said items, I bought a kit at Target about 4 years ago and it has worked perfectly fine for every trip I have taken.

#5 SHOES, SHOES, OMG SHOES.  Yes, this will be rough.  If you are in dire need of space and/or weight, this would be the item that you can take out.  First and foremost, make sure you have an awesome walking shoe.  Don’t even kid yourself with the dream of taking taxis, or that you won’t be walking a lot.  My choice of walking shoes, are TOMS (not so great if it is raining…), converse, and boots.  As much as flats are super cute and really tone down the fact that you ARE American, 3 hours of walking will make you want to cut your feet off.  If you are super serious, I would go even further and purchase a pair of Chacos.  Yes, they are kind of ugly (OK super ugly), but I wore them all throughout Italy, and I felt like I was walking on pillows all day.

Back to boots.  If you don’t own a good pair of boots right now, don’t fret.  Europe is the HOME of awesome boots.  Just make sure you try them on/convert your American size to European size before purchasing.  Also, Spain has awesome shoe stores…I will admit that I came home with more shoes that I left with…

#6 Outerwear:  First.  Before you do anything, RESEARCH THE CLIMATE of where you are going to.  There are websites that give you a general description of the different seasons.  Since I am in the South of Spain, it is hot during the summers and milder during the winter.  So, I packed my pea coat, a fleece with a hard shell (AKA wind resistant and waterproof outer layer), and a raincoat that double as a great spring jacket when it was cooler (see picture below for where I got it).  For me and my travels, those were all the coats I needed.


If you are thinking about bringing your GIANT winter coat (those from MN will know what I am talking about)…really think about it.  Where are you going to travel during christmas break and in January?  If you are planning on going to Germany, Austria, Poland, Budapest, Prague then you will need one.  Although I had scratched the idea of exploring those countries during winter time before I had arrived to Spain, that quickly changed once I got around to planning my travels.  So I had to shop around Sevilla to find a decent “winter” coat (AKA a REAL winter coat).  Luckily for me, Mango had a great one that I used and it only cost me about 80 dollars!  Moral of this story:  I would suggest NOT bringing your winter coat, and if you TRULY need one, hit up the stores!

#7 Cell phones.  This is probably one of the more stressful items.  Here is what I did:  I brought my iphone from the States…but I also purchased an unlocked iphone to use while I was abroad.  However, the unlocked iphone didn’t really work out because I didn’t purchase a plan with a good data plan.  SO, two phones later (that is a whole other story) I bought a basic pay as you go flip phone that I used for phone calls.  While I used my American iphone for Whatsapp (download it, all the Spaniards use it to message each other over wifi) and iMessaging my friends back home.  My second year, I brought my new iPhone 5 and had Vodafone copy my SIM from my Spanish flip phone and put it into my iPhone!  I do a pay as you go data plan that is around 15 euros a month. 

Some other great apps to download before heading over:  Whatsapp, Viber, and LINE (all are messaging apps that only need WIFI).  To make calls back home via your American iPhone you can download Magic Jack (you need to register BEFORE you get over) and Viber.  A good map app is Citymaps2go, its free and it has awesome maps for many european cities along with tourists sites, restaurants, AND IT WORKS WHEN YOU HAVE NO WIFI (disclaimer:  you do have to download the map before when you DO have Wifi).  Skype, this is a definite must.  Download it to your laptop, tablet, and cell phone, so you can communicate with your friends and family all over the world (I skyped my mom when I was in Budapest and got to show her the AMAZING views from the place I was staying at, she nearly died it was SO cool).

Although I had to deal with a debacle of cell phones, I know my friends successfully unlocked their iPhones or just took our their American SIM cards and purchased monthly plans from a European cell company.  If you want more information my friend who I mentioned before has an AWESOME post that explains cell phones in greater detail:

#8 If you are teaching abroad, make sure to include some fun things from your hometown!  I included postcards that my city hall created that I handed out to students as prizes.  I brought extra American currency to show in my classes, as well as plenty of coins (pennies work great as prizes or motivators for your students).  I also printed out pictures of my family, friends, university, and town to pass around while explaining my life in the US.  As for teaching materials, I had recieved my TEFL certification, so I brought some of my books with that had great teaching ideas.  I also have really technologically advanced friends who helped me put age appropraite movies on my computer so use during my private tutoring.  If you aren’t as lucky as me, no worries, Youtube is great for this too!

#9 Bring copies of important documents.  Yes, I know I sound like my mother here, but just do it for that ONE time you will need it.  Make copies of all the of the documents you recieve from the goverment, university, program, or school.  Make sure to have copies of the first page of your passport along with your visa as well.  For Auxillaries, make sure you have a copy of the letter for the Junta saying that you DO, in fact, have a job, you will need that to get your TIE/residency card when you arrive to Spain.  I also made copies of my debit and credit cards (front and back). A sidenote with your back accounts:  I put my mom on all of my accounts so that she could communicate with my banks when I couldn’t get a hold of them, due to time differences.  I HIGHLY suggest you should do the same. Although your passport is really your ultimate form of ID while you are abroad, I still made copies of my driver’s license, birth certificate, and social security card.  My mother also made sure I had copies of my health care policies (not super necessary because I didn’t get sick), but it has directions about how to file a claim.  I also applied for my International driver’s permit through AAA ( in case I decided to brave European roads.

I would also get all of these copies notarized so they are considered REAL documents.  You can do that at your local bank or notary.

#10 Do roll your clothes when packing.  Here is a little overview of how I get my packing done.

First, put socks and underware INTO the shoes you have pain stakingly decided to bring.  Sounds crazy, but it is a space saver and it helps your shoes to keep some shape! Put all your shoes on the bottom of your suitcase or around the sides of it.  Then, roll or fold (whatever is easiest for the coat) your coats and place on top of your shoes. Third, roll up all of your jeans, pants, leggings, and shorts, and put those on top of your coats.  Finally throw in your tops and any extra tolliteries or other items you need on top.

I wouldn’t suggest doing the vaccuum sealed bags, because what if you don’t have a vaccum in Spain?  If you can find the bags that your roll to seal them, go for it.  I personally don’t use them because it makes more space, but doesn’t get rid of weight.  Speaking of weight, remember to weigh your bags a head of time.  Go through your suitcases a couple of times before you call it quits, always trying to purge it of one item.  I know, this is going to be the rough part…maybe have a friend or your mom there to reason why this item is necessary/slash you JUST HAVE to have it…BLAH BLAH BLAH. My friends who helped me just took out stuff themselves saying that it was more room for souvieners for them (umm who said I would be buying stuff for you guys?).  Just remember, the less weight you go over with, the more things you can bring back.  Trust me, I spent three days going through my stuff before I came home, trying to get rid of stuff because I had THAT much stuff to bring back.

Dios mio, overwhelmed yet?  Stop, take a deep breath.  Re-read if you need to, and then get’r done!  Remember, making a list is always super helpful, you can literally list every item you need to make sure you don’t forget anything!

Hasta Luego!

2 thoughts on “Packing 101

  1. Thanks for the double shout out, Amy!! These are definitely some great tips for packing. I’ll be moving to Mérida in September and as I recall you’re a bit of a geek for history; Mérida is the city in Spain with the most Roman ruins… so you have to come visit! We’ll have 2 extra rooms 🙂 Safe travels and enjoy the rest of your time at home!

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