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How to pack for exchange

Written by Elyse Popplewell.

6 months! A variation of climates! Adventures you haven’t yet planned! One bag?

One bag or two?

  • I took one checked luggage bag abroad and it’s suited me quite fine. To give you context, I’m in Italy, where it was really cold upon arrival but has given me some hot days lately, so I’ve experienced both ends of the climate. I still managed to fit everything I wanted in one bag. For 6 months, one bag is definitely enough if you pack with consideration!
  • The benefits of one bag:
    -Easier to transport to and from the airport when you’re family aren’t there to help you.
    -Cheaper than two checked bags.
    -Forced to think carefully about what you actually need.
  • The benefits of two bags:
    -You’ll have enough room to bring back all the things you accumulate on the way.

What’s the go with carry on?

  • My carry-on luggage back from Australia to Italy was a small suitcase that fit into the size restrictions for carry-on luggage. Airlines usually allow you a smaller bag or laptop to carry and put under the seat in front of you as well.
  • When you arrive to your destination for the semester, you’ll likely want to travel around a bit. Consider what the likely mode of transport is: bus? train? plane? car? For me, the most common mode of transport around Europe is train and plane. When you use budget airlines, they tend to offer smaller luggage allowances!
  • If you’re doing the backpacking thing – think carefully about what you need for these kinds of adventures!
  • Wheels or no wheels? Well, my carry-on luggage had wheels and that was superbly welcomed when I was walking long distances to and from airports, bus stations, and so on. But, it meant that unlike a duffle bag, my luggage capacity was well established. Duffle bags usually allow for more items because of their flexible shape, but you often lose out on the wheels. Although, there are a few great brands that will offer you a duffle bag with wheels. Win win.

The essentials

  • Tooth brush, tooth paste, hair brush, sunscreen…yeah, you can buy all of these things upon arrival. But when you’ve gotten off your 20 hour flight and it’s 3am and it’ll take you a few days to find the grocery store – you’ll be very happy that you’ve got these things to make you comfortable. If you’re not going somewhere sunny, the sunscreen can wait.
  • The bed linen and towel debate continues. I knew my bed wouldn’t have linen upon arrival and I’d need to buy some, but it really wasn’t worth using my luggage space for linen. I decided I’d be sleeping on the mattress under my coats the first night and I’d buy linen the next day. I did bring a small microfibre towel (handy for travels during the semester too) but brought a proper bath towel at the cheap home store the second day.
  • Underwear and socks. Essentially, bring many pairs. You’re not going to be as efficient with laundry as you think you will be. Plus, if you travel during semester you’ll not have the luxury of underwear washing on the go, so stock up.
  • Adaptors. I’ve found that lots of countries offer adaptors that they say fits Australian plugs, but they’re awkward fits. Best to bring one for your laptop and one for your phone.

The actual essentials

  • Anything medical: Bring panadol, nurofen, and hayfever tablets. Presumably, where you are going won’t be too far from a pharmacy where you can pick these up. But when you’ve got a throbbing migraine and you’re in a non-English speaking country, you really wished you’d packed some panadol in your luggage so that you don’t have to test your foreign medical jargon too early on. Obviously if you are asthmatic, diabetic, or have any kind of controlled condition – be extra prepared. A back up puffer will make your life that much easier (and safer!).

Bureaucratic Essentials:

As a rule of thumb, you’ll need:

  • At least 5 passport sized photos of your good-looking head.
  • Your actual passport, but also copies. Keep an electronic copy on your phone or computer.
  • Copy of your insurance.
  • Transcript of academic record from UTS. This is more for your host University.
  • Your VISA (if you require one), and an electronic copy of it too.
  • Keep a copy of your flights in (and out, if you’ve booked them) in case you need to produce them to authorities of your host country at any point. Better to be extra prepared than not at all.
  • Keep an electronic copy of your signed accommodation contract.
  • Bringing extra ID with you won’t disadvantage you in any way. I brought my driver’s license and UTS student ID with me as a back up.
  • Medicare card – particularly if your host country has a bilaterial agreement allowing you to use your medicare card.

Shopping upon arrival

  • The diversity of the shops available for you upon arrival will really depend on where you’re going. Shopping for the climate won’t be too hard, so don’t stress if you’ve only brought one jumper and you’ve gotten a rude cold shock.
  • I kind of went into this with the idea of “I don’t want to have to shop when I arrive, because that eats into my travel budget. I’d rather just pack everything I need and then enjoy the experiences with my money, rather than have to deal with buying a jacket because I didn’t predict just how cold it would be.” But, upon arrival, I still needed to buy an extra few layers, but I also wanted to wear what everyone else is wearing here. I wanted to buy the sneakers that all Italians seem to love!

The things you probably wouldn’t have considered packing

  1. Small speaker. Nothing huge and dramatic, but one of the size-of-your-palm speakers you can connect to your phone via bluetooth. No doubt you’re going to be having some kind of apartment-party, maybe evening chills on a beach in Mexico, or maybe just to give your own accommodation some good vibes when you’re cooking. I didn’t bring a small speaker and was surprised at the amount of occasions where I wish I did!
  2. A deck of cards. It’s a classic souvenir to pick up a $2 pack of cards with the city’s tourist sites on the back, so don’t worry if you forget this one. Back home I never play cards, but abroad there’s been so many occasions where a pack of cards is the perfect bonding tool. Maybe it doesn’t need to be a classic deck, you could also bring Cards Against Humanity and stir things up.
  3. A few small gifts from Australia. You could sweeten your new friends/flat mates with Tim Tams, or caramello koalas. I brought some soap bars with Australian sun sets on them that a local lady in my suburb makes, and I gave them to my flat mates and kept a few for special people I would meet along the way. For not a lot of effort, you’ve already anticipated being very thoughtful to the people you’ve met. And who won’t like caramello koalas?
  4. On the topic of Australiana… An Aus flag can be really handy at times. During marches, during Eurovision (didn’t you know we were a part of Europe?), or during Instagrammy photoshoots in front of sites, a flag is handy. Also, why not share some vegemite with your international pals?
  5. Bits of home. I brought some photos of my best friends to sit on my bed side table, and have an abundance of other photos available on my phone. I’m not much of a sentimental person, though. If you have a travelling teddy, or a pillow case unlike no other, maybe a Christmas card from nanny, or a book you always go back to – make room for them! However you think you’ll beat homesickness and power through is worth investing some luggage space for.

Don’t forget!

Pack things that will make you comfortable and happy. It’s no use cutting yourself down to plain white t-shirts and then wishing you had at least one nice top for a night out. I brought 5 bottles of nail polish, much to the shock of my minimalist mum, and don’t regret the extra 300grams of luggage for a second. Nail down the essentials first, then fill your bag with what you want.

Oh! And…

Pack a big smile, you’re in for a wild ride and it’s going to be the best time of your life thus far.


Global Exchange


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