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For Community-Driven Global Development

Four Lessons I learned From Packing to Go Abroad

Packing to go abroad can be a stressful experience, especially when packing for the unknown. You ask yourself; how many outfits, gadgets, self-care products, etc. you need to pack and it can become immediately overwhelming. Of course, there are the obvious necessities that one has to pack like clothes, cash, passport, medications, toiletries, and shoes - but through my travels, I have learned some essential lessons that have helped me to decide what to pack.

If you’re traveling abroad to volunteer or do an internship, like the many you can choose from with FSD, you need to think about not only what you will be comfortable in, but also what is culturally appropriate. But what you’re comfortable wearing and what is culturally appropriate might not be obvious until you arrive, so you may want to be prepared to change your wardrobe as soon as you arrive! Here are a few tips on how to pack for an internship abroad.

1. Consider Climate (not just weather)

Spend some time researching the climate (not just weather) in the country you are going to visit. You may be traveling to a whole new biome which means you need to consider the different climate, elevation, or season. Even if you are traveling to a similar biome to your own, it’s important to consider the season  and pack accordingly. For example, Argentina is in the southern hemisphere, so anyone traveling from North America in June should expect winter weather. Additionally, altitude will factor into what type of clothing you should bring, since higher altitudes tend to be cooler than lower levels. And don’t forget to think about humidity! In Udaipur, India, it is not uncommon for humidity levels to reach 90% - so on top of packing for the heat, remember to pack for the humidity.

2. Consider Culture

When traveling abroad one has to account not only for the possible change in weather, but the change in cultural customs. India is one of many examples that values body coverage when it comes to clothes compared to North America’s typical casual attire. Researching Indian attire is not enough to assist you in your packing, instead, you will be better prepared for your trip if you research the specific regions that you plan on visiting. Within India, there are many different cultures, religions, ethnicities, and climates that determine the attire. For instance, Indian women in urban areas dress more western with a mix of traditional clothing such as wearing a kurti (or kurta) with jeans. A kurti is a long collarless shirt that can surpass the knees or go just above the knees. Indian Women’s fashion does not end at the kurti. There is also the sari (saree), the salwar kameez, and the lehnga choli. Each of these types of clothing communicate different messages about one’s background. If I hadn’t done my research I may have been communicating the wrong messages about myself.

3. Leave Space for Souvenirs

Another tip to take into consideration when packing is how much you plan to bring back home. I always over pack, especially when it comes to clothes and shoes. When going abroad you may think it is better to be safe than sorry, but be honest with yourself and bring clothes that are versatile and culturally appropriate. Do not waste room in your suitcase when you have limited space and only 50 pounds. Clothes and shoes are the easiest and most realistic items to cut down on in order to create room for all of the goods you will bring back to remember the experiences you had abroad (good or bad). In Argentina, many volunteers choose to bring back mate cups and tea. In Kenya, you may find a beautiful Maasai blanket or a beautiful ebony wood carving.

4. Think Practically

As mentioned previously, you don’t want to overpack when going abroad, but you also want to be practical in what you pack. You may want to bring electronic adapters and portable chargers depending on where you will be. It is always a good idea to pack a spare outfit (including underwear) in your carry-on bag, just in case! Don’t forget to pack your essential documents in an easily accessible part of your carry-on. And it is always a good idea to pack a few snacks for the trip since airline food does not have a reputation for quality.

Traveling abroad can be a stressful process; starting with your packing list and ending with the flight home. There are always many lessons to be learned, and your comfort on your trip begins with packing. Such a simple task, yet so vital to the trip. Researching your destination shows you care about other cultural practices, and helps you better represent your own country.  Hopefully, these tips will help reduce your stress and improve your experience abroad.

This article was written with contributions from Coco Bernard