Packing for an International Trip When You’re Completely Clueless

You might want to stop reading now if you’re looking for my well-tested tips on packing for international travel. In the title of this post, I’m the completely clueless one. (Remember the whole “hardly ever leaves Idaho” thing?)

But I’m also a planner, so I’m not letting myself stay completely clueless.

Reduce Cluelessness Tactic 1: Work With What You Know

I’ve never been overseas or on longer trips before, but I do have experience with short domestic trips — not a bad place to start.

I’ve mastered the art of packing light, or at least gotten decently good at it, from years of low-budget U.S. travel. I once spent four days in Seattle with nothing but a backpack that weighed about 5 pounds (I had to haul it everywhere with me and didn’t want it to become a drag).

The trick is taking mix-and-match clothes in fabrics that could survive being rolled up tight, limiting myself to one or two pairs of all-purpose shoes and leaving behind anything I could easily borrow or buy if needed.

I’m adopting the rolled packing strategy for Italy and allowing myself one pair of sneakers and one pair of sandals (I’m not much of a shoe person, which helps).

The tougher part has been figuring out what I can easily get when I’m there. With my lack of international experience, a part of my brain seems convinced that traveling to a small town in Italy actually means time-traveling to a small town in medieval Italy.

I’ve turned to my usual strategy of reading and researching until my pesky brain quiets down. Which brings us to …

Reduce Cluelessness Tactic 2: Work With What You Can Learn

The beauty of traveling with a study abroad group is all the resources the program provides. USAC ensures every student is well-prepared with a Study Abroad Toolkit, a packing list and a blog full of tips and tricks from people who have been through it before.

I’ve been able to email Viterbo- and Italy-based staffers with questions that help fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge. We won’t know much about our apartment until we get there, but I do know it will have a washer — a huge advantage for such a long trip, because we only have to pack a week’s worth of clothes. (Though we’ll also have to learn to line-dry.)

The Internet is a pretty helpful resource in general. I’ve spent some time on YouTube learning about Viterbo and googled all the places we’re staying.

Google Maps is a magical way to virtually explore a new town, and the map of Viterbo — which despite its medieval architecture is a perfectly modern European city — assured me we’ll have no trouble finding anything we discover we need.

But my experience and research can only cover so much — I still don’t know what I don’t know. Which brings us to …

Reduce Cluelessness Tactic 3: Work With What Everyone ELSE Knows

I have friends who are globetrotting pros — including some who have studied abroad in Viterbo or other locations through the FIDA program — and I’m a firm believer in pestering others for advice.

Here are some of their words of wisdom:

Briana: “Roll your clothes. Use packing cubes. And, clothes can be washed in the bathtub and turn into a great activity if needed.”

Stacey: “I pack light and I pack layers. You can always figure out the laundry once you are there.”

Sayantani: “Depending on the country, watching Rick Steves’ videos on YouTube was very helpful.”

Jennifer: “Put everything in gallon sized zip lock bags. Helps with organization, humidity, keeping things clean, etc. I also always use a nice big camping backpack, rather than a suitcase.”

Shane: “Pack light and launder often.”

Christina: “If you’re like me, once you’re done packing take about… half of it out. You can find laundry and might also want space/the opportunity to bring mementos and cute European clothes back. Pack things you would be okay with donating or leaving behind, if needed.”

Jess: “I travel abroad a few times a year for anywhere for a week to 3. Roll clothes. Take a travel sized tide pack. Take twice as much money as you think you’ll need!!!”

Melanie H.: “Pack items that are easy to mix and match, so you have a greater number of variations.As someone mentioned above, roll your clothes…also fabrics that just don’t wrinkle easily are lovely. Pack less than you think you need. Clothes and toiletries are easily come by most places, and you’ll have fun experiences acquiring them. Plus, usable souvenirs are the best kind. I still have two scarves I bought at a flea market in the Cotswalds that I wear all the time, and every time I put one on it takes me back there.”

Lindsey: “You don’t need that many clothes. Honest. No, even less. Like one pair of nice pants and one pair of jeans, and two or three skirts/shorts. Maybe one of the skirts is nice and you ditch the dress pants.”

And my favorite, from Melanie W.: “I think the most truthful advice goes something like this: make great plans to pack light, yet somehow end up with too much stuff. Don’t wear most of it. Purchase all the cute/interesting/overpriced things you come across while traveling, only to realize that you could have found that stuff back home for cheaper. Do it all over again the next time.”

Hey, sounds like I’m on the right track! And if you wandered onto this blog looking for advice, I hope you found something useful, too. If you’ve got your own tips to share, let me know in the comments.

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