Three Essential Items to Pack for Study Abroad

Tags: Study Abroad,backpack,boots,purse,2018,essential packing

By Michaela Meyer, WSA Intern​

I recently returned from eight months abroad in London (check out our London detour here), and one of the questions people always ask me is “What do you wish you knew before you left?”. Well, to be honest, there is nothing I would have done differently. I was as well prepared as anyone can be for my time abroad, and this is in no small part due to the wonderful products I have listed below. I don’t guarantee that these products will work as well for you as they did for me, but if the idea of packing for a semester or year in Europe leaves you feeling a bit lost, here is a good place to start.

1. The 2976 Boot from Dr. Martens

By far the most important item on my list. One of the biggest mistakes people make when packing for abroad is bringing too many pairs of shoes with them. Shoes are HUGE space-hogs, so it’s important to bring as few pairs as you can get away with. I knew that meant finding a very special pair of shoes which could multitask and replace several others. The 2976 Chelsea style boot from Dr. Martens fit the bill. I wore them nearly every day while abroad, and walked hundreds of miles throughout thirteen different countries with them, and they are still in great condition. While they are admittedly not cheap (I paid $120 for mine), they are of a quality that is extremely hard to find these days, and I wouldn’t be surprised if these boots lasted me another 30 years! I got mine in the brown, “Crazy Horse” color and they went with everything. I even wore them with dresses on a couple occasions! They were also unbeatable for comfort. I was truly impressed that I could walk upwards of twenty miles in one day (as occasionally happens when you are touring Europe) over cobblestone streets and be in less pain than when I walk five miles in a pair of running shoes. They kept my feet warm when everyone else’s were freezing (especially useful on the snow-covered Swiss Alps), and dry in the pouring rain (I can’t tell you how many hours I spent out in the elements on rainy walking tours of various European cities). An added bonus was that I could slip them on and off at the airport. I bought several pairs of cheap wool socks to wear with them and still consider the combo one of the smartest purchases I have ever made.

2. The Tortuga Travel Backpack

The kind of luggage you bring abroad with you is important. Obviously you’ll need a couple of large suitcases to haul your entire life across the Atlantic and back again, but beyond those two trips you won’t be using them much. After a couple weekend trips you’ll be an expert at packing everything you need in a carry-on small enough to get past Ryanair’s strict guidelines. Many of my friends bought a cheap carry-on suitcase once they got to London, or used hiking backpacks they brought from home, and while this worked well enough for them (besides the occasional broken handle), I highly recommend buying one of Tortuga’s travel backpacks. They are specifically designed for travel in Europe and other urban areas. After the founders of the company, Fred and Jeremy, backpacked through Eastern Europe and both had their backpacks fail on them, they set out to make the best and most practical travel backpack around, and in my opinion they succeeded. Their design opens from the front, like a suitcase, instead of from the top like a hiking backpack, making it far easier to pack and get things in and out of. It is surprisingly comfortable, even when packed to the brim, and I lived out of it for an entire month when I traveled through Italy, Switzerland, and Germany during my winter break. Coming in at $199, I can understand why you might be leaning towards that little $20 suitcase at Primark, but I cannot tell you how secretly superior I felt to my friends as they struggled to drag their luggage across cobblestone streets, up and down endless flights of stairs, and through crowds of people while I walked freely. Tortuga's products are undeniably high quality and they have fun features, such as an easily accessible laptop slot (it comes in handy at the airport, believe me). Still not sure you can afford it? Apply for the Tortuga Backpacks Study Abroad Scholarship, and you could win a free backpack, plus $1000. I love my Tortuga backpack, and I can’t imagine my study abroad experience without it.

3. The Anti-Theft Classic Essential Messenger Bag from Travelon

Chances are that by now you've heard so much about the theft and pickpockets in Europe that you are likely to walk off the plane clutching your bags to your chest and staring down anyone who walks by with a paranoid look in your eye. While it’s true that theft is a problem in the tourist capitols of Europe, all it takes is a little extra care to prevent yourself from being a target. That being said, it’s not possible to be alert all the time, which is why I was overjoyed when my Grandmother bought me this bag as a going-away gift. Travelon specializes in making theft-proof bags. This one is made of a slash-proof mesh-wire material, has wire in the strap to make it cut-proof, it can clip on to tables and chairs, it has RFID blocking slots, and the main zippers clip in place. Travelon has a ton of variety so you will have no problem finding the right style for your needs. They even have stuff for the boys! I chose the Classic Essential Messenger Bag because it was the right size for me, and I got it in black so that it would go with everything. I always stayed cautious and aware of my surroundings while out and about in busy European cities, but this bag gave me an extra sense of confidence and security which I loved. It’s a lot easier to access than the hidden fanny-pack style of travel wallets that a lot of people have, and you can carry more stuff too. I never had anything stolen from me while I was abroad, and who knows? Maybe I have this bag to thank for that.

These are the three items I found to be the best investments and the most useful during my time abroad. Other recommendations? A passport case with slots to keep all your important stuff together, luggage locks with the button that pops out when TSA has opened them, and a nice heavy jacket with a hood and big pockets. Dr. Marten’s, Tortuga, and Travelon have you covered for the basics.


Mallory Dirks, Simpson College

Happy Backpackers

I chose to do this rather than book my own trip in Rome - I wanted to experience one organized/sight-seeing trip rather than a relaxing vacation like many of my others had been. Two friends and I signed up for WSA Rome and don't regret a thing. We met wonderful people, were led by an awesome tour guide Rhianne, and got to see everything I wanted to see in Rome. Plus eat all the best food. There is an optional dinner on the last night that we didn't do right away, but we ended up going to it, and it was SO worth the 20 euro. I made memories and friends, and got to see a beautiful, historic city thanks to WSA!!

Mallory Dirks, Simpson College ~ University of Roehampton, London, Fall 2015

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