Dos and Don’ts: Packing Tips for a Long Term Trip

In my humble opinion, packing is LITERALLY the worst part of any trip. I’d take long lines at security and overpriced airport food any day over having to pack. Unfortunately, all three of those things are normally part of any trip of any length, and even more unfortunately, the longer the trip, the more intense all of the above become.

Having traveled to Europe a few times before moving here for the semi-longterm, I wasn’t so nervous about traveling solo. What I was really dreading was the packing! When I studied abroad in Granada (the early posts of what would become this blog) I brought two Big Ass Suitcases with me for just 3.5 months! That was way back when when airlines didn’t need to squeeze every last penny out of their customers and two checked bags were free. In my naive 20-year-old state I didn’t realize that I had overpacked; in fact I thought I did a pretty darn good job packing “my whole life” into two suitcases and a backpack. In retrospect I give myself serious props for lugging that shit around a foreign airport, but now I know that when it comes to packing, bigger is definitely not better.

Although I am still working on my packing skills, I have definitely learned some Dos and Don’ts that I think should be shared. If just one person is spared some OMG-IS-MY-BAG-GUNNA-BE-OVERWEIGHT last minute panic, then I have done my job.

DO invest in a large hardshell suitcase if you can see yourself making more than one roundtrip to Europe in the future. I say this because I didn’t invest in one of these until just last summer and the trip I made before that completely destroyed my wimpy little normal suitcase to the point that large metal shanks were poking out of it and cutting my legs and the legs of the kind souls in NYC who helped me carry my suitcase up and down many flights of subway stairs. Point being, airlines literally don’t give a shit about your luggage… seriously, watch them load the airplane’s conveyor belt after you board the plane next time (and watch this video). Normal soft-shell suitcases don’t stand a chance after a couple of good international flights. Do yourself the favor and get an awesome hardshell suitcase so that you can be just like all of the cool kids.

DON’T bring too many “lazy day” clothes. Oh, how I long for those lazy Sundays in college where I’d roll out of my nice warm bed, throw on my comfiest U of R hoodie and warmest sweat pants and head over to the local diner with my girlfriends to nom on a tasty omelette, some home fries and a never ending supply of coffee and water to soothe my hungover soul. Reality check: you can’t do that here. One reason is that a diner like that pretty much doesn’t exist (maybe it does in Madrid or one of those exotic big cities), and the other reason is that basically no one leaves the house unless they are well dressed with make-up and hair done... ESPECIALLY on a Sunday. Of course that’s not to say that you shouldn’t bring your sweats at all. Definitely do bring you favorite warm ones for (literally) chilling in your house. Even in Andalucía it gets cold inside the houses and you will have great regrets if you don’t bring warm housewear. But just don’t plan on doing your afternoon grocery run in sweats and a sorority t-shirt unless you don’t mind getting stared at by everyone you pass. *Insider tip: If its hot, wear gym clothes and sneakers out to do your errands- people won’t judge ’cause they’ll think you’re going to/coming from the gym AND you’ll be comfy*

DO use a hands-free carry on. I cannot stress this enough. If you have a baby rolly and a big rolly, you will be sad, and that is a fact. Just picture yourself wandering around a foreign city, lugging not one, but two rolly suitcases while looking for your interim hostel after 20+ hours of travel and you will probably understand why this might be the most important piece of advice here. Try to stick with your Big Ass Suitcase that you’ll check, and a backpack of the size of your choice, plus your purse or a comfy tote. You’ll thank yourself when you’re trying to hail a cab from the airport and you have a hand free to wave around, plus my dad always told me that I should only pack what I could lift/move by myself; you don’t want to be dependent on others to help because you brought too much stuff! On the topic of carry ons, make sure you put all of your electronics in your carry on, and other potentially heavy/fragile items (jewelry, cosmetics, travel toiletries).

I have this backpack in a better color. It’s a pretty average size, definitely not a “backpacking backpack” but I love it. (source)

DON’T pack situational outfits or pieces. You know that one shirt that you can only wear if it’s like 72 degrees, because if it’s hotter you’ll get pit stains and if its colder you’ll need a sweater but you only have a navy cardigan and your dark wash skinnys are the only ones clean and navy with dark wash is just too much blue?! Forget it. If an item of clothing has that many conditions or if you have to create a fictional situation in which to wear that slinky dress, do not bring it with you! You’re way better off bringing your clothes that can be mixed and matched. If you can’t wear a specific pair of pants with at least 3 different tops that you already own, they aren’t worth the suitcase space! “But my adorable sparkly gold American Apparel thingy! If I end up meeting a cute guy and he invites me to a new year’s eve party I’ll NEED it!!” No, you won’t. You’ll get creative and think of something else to wear, or better yet, you’ll go shopping and find something. And now you’ll have the space to bring that new something back home with you! You’re welcome.

DO bring scarves!! I’m serious about this one. Honestly, I was never a scarf-y person until I came to Spain. I always wanted to be and occasionally I’d specially plan an outfit so that I could wear a scarf with it, but I always got too hot or annoyed by the scarf and would just chuck it into my purse within an hour. But let me tell you a few reasons to bring a scarf or two. Number one: (this one is targeted at those of you coming to Spain) If it’s colder than like 50°F (10°C), almost literally every Spanish woman will ask you why you’re not wearing a scarf and will insist that you are going to catch a cold if you don’t cover up. Even if you explain that you’re not cold or that you don’t really wear scarves, they will marvel at you and will undoubtedly repeat this question the next day if you’re still not wearing a scarf. Number two: scarves can basically turn yesterday’s outfit into today’s outfit. Remember the part about packing mix and match items? Well scarves can add some pizazz to your wardrobe of “plainer” pieces. Just make sure you pack ones that go with lots of your clothes! (ie. if you wear lots of patterned tops, bring solid scarves and vice versa.) Regardless, scarves are sold pretty much everywhere here and can be a super cheap wardrobe reviver if you get bored with your closet.

Pretty pañuelos (Source)


DON’T bring a million toiletries! I know we can all get attached to our favorites… a couple of years ago I would have sworn that my skin couldn’t live with out my St. Ives Blemish and Blackhead Control Apricot  Scrub. I brought 2 bottles of the stuff with me and when I ran out, it was so sad! In retrospect I should have looked at it like ripping off a band-aid. Bring the basics that you’ll definitely need immediately after traveling (contact solution, mini toiletries, etc.) But in terms of your shampoo, conditioner, face wash, deodorant, tampons and shower gel, go cold turkey and adjust to all the changes at once right when you get here while everything is still new and exciting. Maybe thats just me, but I think it helps to get your initial frustrations and adjustments out all at the beginning so that you can start enjoying your new life abroad sooner. If you bring a stock of your favorite shampoo and then February rolls around and you’re cold and wet and then on top of it all you run out, you’re going to curse the day you decided to move to this primitive land that doesn’t even have *insert name brand here* and it will be depressing. Believe me, I’m speaking from experience. You’ll adjust and you’ll be just fine once you find the new Spanish versions of your favorites, and you will have saved yourself extra space and weight in your suitcase.

DO roll your clothes while packing. I read about this once online and it is a serious live saver!!! Roll your clothes into little burritos. Shoes go in first around the edges, and then you start creating tightly packed rows of rolls starting with the heaviest rolls. The lightest rolls will go on top and then you can put your bag of toiletries or other miscellaneous items on top. It saves on space and the bonus is that while rolled, your clothes won’t get as wrinkled. Check out how this pro packer fits ten days worth of stuff into her little rolly and then transfer those skills to fitting 8 months worth in your big rolly!

Pre-packed rolled clothes (source)


Now that you have internalized my top Dos and Don’ts, get to it! Start making a very specific list and stick to it! When you end up with a bit of extra space in your suitcase don’t let yourself throw in “just one more” whatever. And if you don’t end up with extra space… take things out! Honestly, you’ll eventually forget about the things you left at home because you’ll be having way too much fun exploring the world.

Any other master packers out there? Did I forget any other important Dos or Don’ts? What are some of your tried and true packing tips? Let me know!


9 thoughts on “Dos and Don’ts: Packing Tips for a Long Term Trip

  1. seriously!
    thank you so much.
    I recently returned back from a four month trip to China and am now embarking on a year trip to Germany and am freaking out about the longer adjustment. Your post is the ONLY post with good straight up advice.
    Blunt question though, how is the tampon situation in Europe? In China they didn’t have any and that was rough.


    • Hahaha don’t worry! The tampon situation is great! Haha even brands you’ll recognize like OB and tampax. Germany sounds great! Thanks for reading 🙂


  2. This is a wonderful article! And shoutout to Western NY (I’m from Rochester– Webster– originally, since moved to Florida, currently packing over 26 years of my life into boxes in preparation for a year-long excursion around the world)! Thank you so much for the great advice 🙂


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  4. This article was so helpful! I am moving from the US to Spain, and its good to hear advice from someone who actually made the same move. I definitely would have made the mistake of bringing a carry on that wasn’t hands free!


    • So glad it helps! Packing is so stressful. Glad to have another Chelse(a)y in Spain! Start practicing this line for when you introduce yourself…”Chelsea… Como el equipo de futbol” otherwise no one will be able to say your name. Ha! Good luck with the move!


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