The Art of Packing (3): Pack it up, pack it in

This is the third installment in a series on packing. Click here for article #1 and article #2.

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.

Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”

~Susan Heller

We’ve all been there. Packing hell. Angry at your mom for offering to help. Upset with your selection of sweaters. Confused by how many shoes you’ve accumulated. So do us a favor – take a deep breath, start over, and answer a few questions.

1. Do I need to check a bag? 

If you’re going away for a semester, the answer is probably yes. Even the best of packers will check a bag for anything more than one month. Get familiar with your airline regulations – most airlines offer a 50 lbs or 23 kg limit for one bag. SOME airlines will let the first bag fly for free, OTHER airlines will charge. So, double check!

2. Can I carry the bag on my own without assistance?

You don’t want to be that person in the middle of the airport struggling with your bag. Are you more comfortable with a backpack? A rolling suitcase? It may sound silly, but pack it up and walk around with the bag of your choice. Think of the worse case scenario: if the wheel breaks or the zipper bursts .. can you get it together? This is a key consideration when you think of how much your bag will weigh. 50 lbs is no joke.

3. Do I have access to laundry facilities at my destination?

And do they cost money to operate? This will differ depending on your program, so this is a question worth answering. Packing quick dry items made of breathable fabrics will be your best bet. Cold water wash is easy to come by, and can save you a few layers of packing, if you can wash a few shirts in the sink.

4. Can I find this product at my destination?

The answer is 99% probably. First time travelers are amazed when they pack value sized bottles of Pantene, only to find the same shampoo in a supermarket at their destination. Don’t weigh down your suitcase with brand name products in gigantic sizes. Bring small travel-sized items to tide you over, and then shop at your destination: an adventure in itself!

5. Is there anything I shouldn’t bring? 

One thing we caution students about is electronics. Remember that not all outlets and voltages are created equal. An American hair dryer will blow a fuse in a U.K. outlet, so don’t even try it! As with many hygiene products, you can find most electronic abroad. Consider purchasing an adapter to plug in items like your camera or laptop, and search for that straightener abroad.

6. What’s the weather like where I’m going?

Good question. Google it! Remember that even as we’re celebrating winter in the Northern Hemisphere, our friends below the equator are turning toward summer. This will inform your packing choices, so please take a look at the local weather before you leave.

7. Do I have room for souvenirs?

We hope so! You can stash a bag and plan on carrying it on when you return, or even checking an additional bag. Don’t pack your suitcase within an inch of it’s life (we know it’s tempting). Be sure to leave some room for goodies on the way back. Bring us something nice!

8. What happens if I go over the weight limit?

Airlines vary in their regulations on extra bags, but fees can be as little as $25USD to $100USD. It depends on your destination, your other luggage, your airline, the alignment of the stars, and your ability to pack well. If you’re prepared to return home from a semester abroad and pay up at the airport, then at least educate yourself on the exact cost. If you’re cruising back to the States on fumes, pack light.

9. Will the items in my carry-on bag make it through security?

As long as you abide by the security regulations to carry ONE quart-sized Ziploc bag filled with 3 ounce liquids and gels, then you should be ok. Any liquid larger than 3 ounces will be removed from your bag. Be advised that this now includes peanut butter (which is not common in Europe)! Kelly had a brand new container thrown out at O’Hare. Not cool.

10. Will I ever get this @#$%! bag packed?

You will. Keep breathing! If you have more questions, consult with your classmates or our office. Take a look at this video and get some packing advice from returning students, who have experienced the same thing you’re going through:

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The Art of Packing (2): Take Care of Your Carry-On

This is the second installment in a series on packing. Click here to see #1.

You’ve been looking at your to do list for too long. Your eyes have glazed over, your laundry is tumbling through the dryer, and you’ve lost at least an hour on Facebook. Stop avoiding your suitcase! Start small – figure out what you’re taking in your carry-on.

packing a full suitcase

photo courtesy of lighthousepasco

Everyone gets a carry-on. For women, this may seem like a no-brainer because you carry a purse. Be careful! Some airlines are strict on what qualifies as a carry-on, or a personal item. What’s a personal item? United Airlines says it can include (but is not limited to) a camera, an umbrella, an overcoat, or a pet carrier. Side note … don’t take Fido abroad. The best thing you can do is be sure that you understand YOUR airline requirements, as not all airlines are the same.

liquids and gels travel size

photo courtesy of United Airlines

Watch out for those liquids! Airport security will enforce the 3 ounce, 1 bag rule for all carry-on luggage. This means no liquids or gels over the 3 ounce limit, and all packed into a quart-sized Ziploc bag. When you go through the security line, do yourself a favor and remove your bag, for easy review by security.

Yes, you can take larger sized liquids in your checked baggage, but please consider this quote from our buddy Rick Steves:

“Think in terms of what you can do without—not what will be handy on your trip. The world’s getting really small: you can buy Dial soap, Colgate toothpaste, Tampax, Nivea cream, and Bic razors in Sicily. And if you can’t find one of your essentials, ask yourself how 300 million Europeans can live without it.”

Thanks to our own travel experiences abroad, we’ve developed a quick list of things we will always include in a carry-on bag. We think in terms of being parted with our checked bags, or stranded in an airport for the long haul .. what could we (should we) not be left without? What would you add?
– Contact solution, contact case and glasses.
– Toothbrush, toothpaste
– Deodorant
– Hair brush, comb
– Set of warm socks or slippers for the plane
– Pashmina or scarf to use as a blanket
– Something to read
– Note paper and pen
– Chapstick, hand lotion
– Nail file
– Plastic bag
– Change of clothes
– Safety pins or duct tape
– Laptop or tablet *

*this is up for discussion, depending on your destination, weight of the object and what your airline thinks is a “personal item” Gone for a semester? We say, take it. Don’t put your expensive laptop in a checked bag! 

The Art of Packing (1): Pack like a pro

This is the first installment of a series on packing

So, you’re packing. Not for a weekend in Chicago, or a few days at the beach. You’re packing for a semester out of the country and away from your closet. This is serious.

Not serious like a heart attack, but serious enough that you need to plan ahead. Here are some basic tips to keep in mind, whether you’re packing for a month, or a semester abroad.

We’ve made our own checklist, which we share in pre-departure orientations. Take a peek!

Top 10 Tips:

  1. Practice pack. Lay everything out so you can see exactly what you’re packing.
  2. Review the baggage regulations for your airline. Do you need to check a bag?
  3. Pick the right bag for you. Don’t forget the luggage tag!
  4. Be smart about your traveling attire. Heavy coat? Big shoes? Wear them on the plane.
  5. For clothing choices: Quick dry, and comfortable are key. Do you have laundry facilities?
  6. Sage advice: Don’t pack by outfit, plan to mix & match, make the most of layers.
  7. Stash a bag. Find a place for that extra duffel for the trip home (souvenirs).
  8. Personal hygiene items: remember the 3 oz. / 1 quart bag rule for your carry-on bag.
  9. Medicine: Carry prescriptions / OTC meds in their original container, in your carry-on.
  10. Make a checklist. You’ll be glad you did!

In case you need a visual aid, take a look at Packing like a pro (we love this guy).

Host Family Gifts: Made in the USA

Whether you’re staying with a host family or just visiting a B&B, it’s never a bad idea to travel with some small gifts to share. For the neighbor that brought you homemade recipes during your stay, for your Resident Director who took care of your every need. It’s important to say thanks in your own language, with something that you find special.

Here are some basic ideas, and things to think about while choosing the right gift.

* Price – Let’s be real. We know you’re not rolling in the dough. You’re a college student! Let us be the first to tell you, more is not always best. Your foreign host will not know if you spent $20 or $5, so don’t sweat the price tag. Save that money for Belgian chocolates.

* Size / weight – Remember that whatever you do decide to buy, you’re going to have to pack it. That’s right – in your already crowded suitcase. Likewise, keep in mind that although Bath & Body Works gift packs make a great travel-sized gift, it’s also a liquid. If you’re checking a bag, you’re golden. If you’re flying with a carry-on, anything over 3 oz. is a no no.

* Amount – With your eye on the price tag, you will want to think about how many people you plan on gifting. If you’re abroad for the long term, is it something you can have mailed to you from home if you need an extra? How much room do you really have in your suitcase? We find that traveling with 3 or 4 small items is useful.

* Cultural sensitivity – How much do you know about your destination? In some places, name brand labels are important. In some locations, alcohol is forbidden. In still other places, religious items are not welcome. It won’t hurt to do a little research to find out what is appropriate for your specific city and country, just to be safe.

IES San Antonio Class

Kelly’s students with their Mike & Ike’s

* Story – If you’re going to give a gift, mean it. Just like when you’re bargaining in the markets and talking to shopkeepers, you will find that there is a story behind their wares. My own gift-giving while traveling has ranged from Mike & Ike’s (candies made in my hometown of Bethlehem, PA) and the Moravian Star (a holiday ornament symbolic of my hometown).

* What to give? This is the hard part, right? You’ve thought about all the above issues and still don’t know what to do. Here are some ideas to get you started:

– Candy. Be aware of temperatures as you travel .. no one wants melted truffles in their suitcase.
– Textiles. Dish towels or napkins that are made where you live.
– Games. Do you think Italians are familiar with “bags?”
– Small, portable gifts like hand-dipped candles or handmade gift cards.
– Ornaments. Keep your suitcase in mind when selecting glass or other fragile items.
– Food stuffs. Your favorite hot sauce, or BBQ seasoning. Be careful with the liquids!
– Recipes. Local food can also be delivered on a recipe card; plan to cook together.
– University goods. A mug, postcards, keychains .. the list is endless.
– Clothing. This can be difficult because of sizing, think accessories like hats or scarves.
– Something personal. Do you knit? Make your own jewelry? Fancy photography? Share it.

For some good ideas on what’s Made in Illinois, consult the Illinois Farm Bureau’s magazine Illinois Partners. Likewise, a quick Google search for “host family gift” will point you to many previous discussions in education abroad forums.