What to Pack for a Study Abroad Semester in Spain

Hey friends!

2016 was a huge year for me. I spent January through June living in Alicante, Spain, and traveling through nine other countries, visiting Europe, Asia, and Africa all in a matter of months!

Because of that, I’ve gotten lots of requests from other girls who are planning on studying abroad asking about a packing list. I thought I’d share some of the things that I brought with me for my six months abroad. This is going to be pretty specific to my experience in Spain, so if you’re going somewhere else, take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. For example, in Spain, most people dress extremely well, so my Nike shorts weren’t ever going to work for me. However, I’ve had friends who’ve studied in Australia and basically lived in gym shorts and a t-shirt. So, most advice can be taken generally, but some is definitely more specific to my experiences in Spain.

Overall, I brought one suitcase and one huge backpack, but in reality, that sounds like nothing, considering within these bags were all the things I would use for a six month time period. After packing, repacking, and probably repacking again, I finally was able to fit all of my things in those bags. Then, while I was living in Spain, I traveled extensively throughout Europe, so I was constantly relying on my packing abilities to ensure I had everything, but wouldn’t exceed any weight limits for the airlines.

Since I was living in a beach town in Spain, I thought it would be warm most of the time there. Oops. I was super wrong on that, because Alicante didn’t start getting warm until about mid-April. Otherwise, it had pretty chilly temperatures that required me to wear a coat most of the time. So, despite some errors that I learned along the way, I feel like I did an overall pretty good job of planning for what to pack. That being said, I want to share some of my top tips that you can use for packing both in a practical sense, but also a stylish one!

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Consider a Capsule.

As far as what to pack for clothing, I would highly recommend creating a capsule wardrobe and bringing that with you when you travel abroad for an extended period of time. I’d always heard about the concept of a capsule wardrobe, but was always a little unsure about the specifics. The blog Unfancy really opened my eyes on how to create a capsule, so I attempted to create one for my semester abroad. Basically, a capsule wardrobe is a mini version of your own wardrobe that’s all able to mix & match. On the Unfancy blog, Caroline recommends 37 pieces {including shirts, pants, dresses, shoes, and outerwear}, so I decided to pretty closely follow her advice. For more specifics on creating a capsule wardrobe, click HERE. I personally packed a few items under the 37 garment limit because I knew that I also wanted to do some shopping specific to the trends that I’d be seeing in Spain. I’m glad I did this because it allowed me to grab up a few pieces in Alicante that I wore basically 24/7 {I’m specifically thinking of my amazing leather jacket and my favorite pair of fringe booties…both of those items pretty much became invaluable staples}. I also think a great tool for helping plan your outfits abroad would be by downloading the Hanger app to create outfits and visualize all the items that you’ll be bringing with you! The concept of a capsule wardrobe is a  technique that most minimalists use, but I also thought it was a perfect strategy for studying abroad for a semester.

The Pants vs. Shorts Dilemma.

In my mind, when packing for studying abroad, I simply thought about the place – Alicante, Spain, a beach town on the Mediterranean coast. So when I think about a beach town, I think, “Ok, I’ll pack some shorts/skirts, tank tops, and sandals and we’ll be good, right?” Wrong. SO wrong. I can remember the first time I wore shorts and Birkenstocks. My host parents just kind of rolled their eyes, but I had no idea why. I headed out the door and walked to my tram stop, but almost turned around and went back to the house. The sheer amount of death glares and stares I received from teenagers and old women alike was insane. For some reason, it’s super socially unacceptable to wear shorts in public in Spain (and this was also pretty consistent throughout all the other countries I visited in Europe, I just can’t speak for them like I can Spain). So, needless to say, a few of the shorts and shoes I packed pretty much were wasted space and I never wore them except for turning some of the shorts into pajamas, haha.

Use All Your Luggage Space + Don’t Waste It.

Sorry to sound blunt here, but if you’re studying abroad somewhere where there are well, um, stores…you can easily pick up plenty of necessities and save precious space by not packing them. I’m specifically thinking about shampoo, body wash, school supplies, etc. that you can buy whenever you reach your destination, so that if you’re really tight on space or close to going over your allotted weight limit, you don’t have to do too much worrying about that. The exceptions to this, from my experience, would be the makeup that you really love and sunscreen. Most of my drug store beauty products were just as easy to find in Spain {or I found something almost identical to it}, but I made sure I brought some of my more hard-to-find makeup because I didn’t want to try to deal with a different brand. Additionally, for some reason, sunscreen was SO expensive. I brought some with me and I was glad I did. I still had to buy some, however, because I forgot to bring mine when I took a weekend trip to Morocco. It ended up coming in the tiniest tube I’d ever seen and was around the equivalent of $28, so that hurt quite a bit. 🙁 Other than that, my only note to add about packing is just to be smart about how you pack your suitcase. Fill your shoes with as many pairs of socks as you can, roll your clothes instead of fold them, and overall use all the space saving hacks you know! Space goes quickly in a suitcase when you’re trying to pack for months on end!

Other Important Details.

There were some things that didn’t really deserve their own entire paragraph, so I created a list below of some random things that are pretty important to bring, so if you want, you can take these into consideration when packing.

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Sunscreen – Like I said before, sunscreen was so outrageous to purchase, that you’ll just save yourself a lot of money by bringing a little with you ahead of time.

WhatsApp – I would highly suggest downloading this app on your phone before you go. Any Spaniard I met used WhatsApp instead of texting, and I also used this to communicate with my parents instead of relying on a crazy expensive data plan. A few weeks ago, WhatsApp rolled out video calling too, so really, this app has all you need to communicate with people in-country and back at home!

Makeup Bag – I think I put this in here simply because I was an idiot and forgot to bring a makeup bag with me. I was also too cheap to purchase one while I was there so I used the same Ziplock bag to keep my makeup in for about six months, haha. This is basically a PSA to not be a dummy like me!

Headphones – In the name of space saving, I would say bring earbuds, so you can just roll them up and throw them in your bag. In the name of crazy loud crying babies on airplanes, I would say bring noise-cancelling headphones. Either way, it’s up to you. Just don’t forget something to listen to music with!

Travel Book – Josh’s siblings gifted me Lonely Planet’s Spain book before we left to study abroad, and by the end of my time in Spain, the book was literally falling apart. I honestly used this book almost every day to not only plan trips all over Spain and use the great attraction and restaurant recommendations, but I also used it to learn about the rich history of the country I was then calling home.

Camera – With the quality of iPhone cameras these days, I mean, you technically could just bring your iPhone and all would be well. But, as I print pictures from the trip, I’m noticing the stunning quality difference between pictures that were taken on my phone and ones that were taken on my camera. I have a Canon Rebel t3i for reference – I absolutely love it!

Adidas Superstars – Ok, granted, I actually didn’t have these while studying abroad, but it felt like every single other individual living in Europe owns these shoes. I purchased mine shortly after coming back to the States, and I basically haven’t stopped wearing them since. They’re great to walk around in, and since you walk a lot more in Spain than I typically do in the U.S., I really wish I had had these to not only be practical, but in style in Spain.

Portable Adaptor – This is an obvious but important piece of advice. It is absolutely key to have an adaptor so you can use your electronics. As an additional note, I brought my flat iron and curling wand from home and simply plugged them into my adaptor, and all worked well. However, friends from my trip either a) tried to do that and their device exploded on them or b) just opted to purchase a new straightener when they got to Spain. Granted, they aren’t that expensive, and it might be a better option than having your electronic freak out and almost kill you, haha!

A Legit Backpack – Ok that sounded dumb. What I mean to say here is that a small, school-sized backpack just won’t cut it. Since I traveled almost every other weekend, I needed something that would carry all my things without a problem. I opted for the Osprey Kestrel 38 oz. backpack, and it even had enough space that I could pack enough things for my three week spring break all in this pack! It really worked out so well and I would highly recommend investing in a bag like this.

A Travel Journal – Oh my goodness, this has been so fun to look back on and read. I wasn’t the most consistent writer by any means during our trip, but it honestly has me smiling, laughing, and even crying to read over my memories now. Whether it’s in paper form like this journal, or even in the form of a blog…I think it’s absolutely vital to write those memories somewhere.

Ibuprofen – Ok so of course first and foremost you need to remember to bring your prescription medication, and make sure that you can get enough of it for however long you’ll be abroad. But, especially if you can’t speak the native language of the country you’ll be in, I think it ultra-simplifies things to bring medicine with you. This for me included Advil I took for cramps, and medicine I take for allergies. While I’m confident that my Spanish is strong enough I could have purchased this without a hitch in Spain, I don’t want to think about the complications due to the language barrier that would have occurred if I tried to purchase medicine in other countries I visited like Hungary or Belgium!

A Portable Charger – This is such a duh thing that I’m sure you all are thinking I’m ridiculous for even having to mention this. But seriously you guys, my portable charger saved my life so many times when my iPhone would unexpectedly die even though it said it had 60% left. I was always having to reference my apps like WhatsApp or my offline maps, or Airbnb to message my hosts in the places I was staying, so a dead phone would have been a terrible thing. I just wanted to emphasize how important this item is and how many times mine actually saved my life!

A Cross-Body Purse – Before I left, my Dad took me shopping for Christmas and I picked the cutest cross-body out from Nordstrom (similar) that was on sale. I used this so much not only to keep my belongings safe where I could actually have a secure way of carrying them, but also because this bag was big enough to carry my camera inside it, too. This made for a perfect bag to take out with me sightseeing because I didn’t have to have an extra camera bag or a backpack, but it also was super cute!

With that being said, those were just a random assortment of items that I really didn’t want to end this post without mentioning, because they truly helped me so much! I hope you enjoyed this post, but if you have any more questions about specifics, I am definitely here to help! Shoot me an email at olivia.adropintheocean@gmail.com or drop a comment below and I’ll be sure to give you all the help that I can.

Have a great week + happy Monday!

Olivia

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9 Comments

  1. November 28, 2016 / 7:21 pm

    I’ve always been interested in traveling abroad, and neatly packed suitcases appeal to my OCD. Thank you for taking the time to post this! It’s always nice to find a helpful checklist to make sure you don’t find out you forgot something mid-flight!

    • November 29, 2016 / 10:19 am

      Thank you so much! But yes, I completely agree ~ packing lists are so handy to have because it’s super unnerving to be mid-flight and be panicking about what you forgot at home! 🙂

  2. December 8, 2016 / 4:22 pm

    These are such helpful tips! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • January 22, 2017 / 11:27 pm

      You’re so welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

  3. December 26, 2016 / 11:51 am

    As for the shorts they are acceptable in France! I’m doing study abroad here now and people wore them all the time when it was warmer and even now with tights! Great article! Totally agree with the sneakers thing too! It surprised me since for some reason I thought all Europeans wore chic flats and gasped in horror at sneakers. Lol that assumption was quickly corrected!

    • January 22, 2017 / 11:27 pm

      Hey Lauren! I’m so glad you commented about the shorts, because I definitely wish I would have gotten to check out more of the different trends in different countries! I also followed the link to your blog and it looks like you’re having an incredible time right now in France! 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your time abroad!

  4. Geraliz Jimenez
    January 7, 2017 / 5:09 pm

    Hey!
    Thank you, this was very helpful. I’ve been looking for packing tips for awhile now since I will be leaving for Seville in less than a month! I wanted to ask you, since you stayed in Spain, if you know what the weather is like from Feb-May and if coats and boots should be what I pack. Or should I pack lighter clothe? I come from a colder area in the states where we currently are wearing snow boots and heavy coats, so I’m a little stumped on what type of clothe I should be bringing over there.

    • January 22, 2017 / 11:25 pm

      Hello! So sorry that I am just now seeing this! I am so exited for you that you will be in Seville ~ you’ll have an absolute blast! My favorite coffee shop, Torch Coffee is also in Seville so I’m super jealous, hehe! The weather throughout Spain is definitely very different. So, when I was in Seville in March for Semana Santa, it was the warmest place I was for most of my semester. At least at that time, I was wearing a short sleeved shirt and jeans everywhere and I was even a little toasty in that most of the time! I would definitely recommend wearing layers. So maybe bring something like a leather jacket or jean jacket but also be wearing a t-shirt underneath that you can just wear if you get too warm! If you’re planning on doing much traveling though throughout Spain, I would definitely bring a coat. It doesn’t need to be like a parka or anything, but I wore a medium weight coat in Madrid and Barcelona all the way towards the end of March or beginning of April. You’re lucky though that you’ll be in Seville, which typically should be fairly warm! I hope you have so much fun!!! 🙂

      • Geraliz
        January 25, 2017 / 10:35 pm

        Thanks so much! (: I will definitely try and visit Torch Coffee! I’ve already been looking for the best coffee shops. 😄

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