The Packing Dilemma: How to Fit Your Life in a Suitcase


By Emma Way

Senior Elm Writer


The hardest part about packing is figuring out how and where to start. Once you get past the emotional conundrum of stuffing your life into one suitcase, things get a little easier.

Packing for a semester abroad is a lengthy process that began, for me at least, the day I decided to spend six months in Italy. Before I was even accepted to the study abroad program, I was already mentally preparing my list of things to bring.

I started donating clothing I didn’t care about, figuring there was no way I could bring it anyway. Only the items I cared for most would make the 4,000 mile journey with me to Milan, Italy.

When it finally came time to physically pack, I was overwhelmed. Even though I had traveled outside of the country before, this trip was three times the length and covered three seasons (freezing, less freezing, and hot).

I was terrified of weeding out my favorite outfits in a jungle of clothing that I call my closet. Unlike college where I could just squeeze everything in a car or two, I had to be selective. Selective not only with clothing, but with everything from nail polish to DVDs to snacks to shoes. Clothing seemed like the most daunting task, so I decided to save that for last.

My sanity is generally based around my access to my favorite television show, The Office, so I quickly decided that, no matter what, every episode of the awkward sitcom must accompany me to Italy. I have every episode on DVD, but bringing along a full box set would take up so much of my suitcase. Instead I loaded up my external hard drive with the series and many more to remind me of home or to serve as a quick pick-me-up whenever needed.

In addition to a hard drive full of movies and television to last me a lifetime (or a week with the way I can power through any good show on Netflix), I moved onto my book collection. Whenever I travel, I tend to read a lot more. Something about not having unlimited phone usage always makes me want to read, so I knew I’d need plenty of reading material for six months.

I also knew that lugging a college textbook would be less than ideal. Instead, I opted for a lighter option – a seven inch Kindle Fire. With entertainment and my textbook out of the way, I moved onto toiletries.

In all honesty, there is not really one toiletry item I’m bringing I can’t purchase in Italy. That’s not the case for every place Washington College sends their students, but for me, I am pretty much set. Still, I wanted to bring some of my favorite products with me to ensure that I won’t go without what I have established as my necessities. For carry on liquids, make sure no product is over 3.4 ounces, and it helps to put everything in a quart sized bag.

Then it was onto to personal effects like photographs and other sentimental items I will probably cry over in moments of homesickness. Pieces of home are much more valuable during an extended time away as opposed to another sweater or a couple of DVDs. Bring something that reminds you of home, like your favorite snack or a photograph of your family, to help curb what is an inevitable feeling for many.

Finally, it was time to tackle clothing. Fitting three seasons worth of clothing was trying, but not impossible. Students will have access to a washer and dryer at every university to which WC can send students. This means you don’t have to bring six months worth of clothing – you really only need two weeks worth.

Although it was difficult to narrow down my closet into a limited selection of outfits, it helped me realize just how little I really need. Pack a handful of outfits to wear to class, a few outfits perfect for traveling, and a couple nicer looks for fancier occasions. Rinse and repeat for all the seasons you’ll be living through while abroad, and you’re done.

Then there’s the common tips like rolling your clothes, bringing towels you can toss at the end of your trip, layering up on the airplane (I’m talking at least three sweaters), and removing your products from the boxes they came in. These were all very secondary in my packing for studying abroad because emotionally preparing to fit my life into a suitcase was a much bigger dilemma for me.

With packing out of the way, I feel unencumbered by all the junk, I left behind at home. It will be refreshing to explore somewhere new, and it sure will be easier without four or more suitcases holding me back.



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