Do not overpack. Lugging huge, heavy bags through airports, train stations, and city streets is exhausting and inconvenient, and may place you as a tourist target. Use website resources like OneBag.com to learn the “art and science” of traveling light.
Consult the webpage of the specific airline you will use and determine the size and weight limitations for luggage on international flights (which can be different from the limitations for domestic flights) as well as for the number of checked and carry-on bags they allow. If you exceed these limits, you will have to pay a substantial surcharge.
Your carry-on should be used to pack essential items – things you can’t live without in the event that your checked bag is lost in transit. This will include your passport, arrival information for your program, medical information, prescription medication, eyeglasses, valuable items, and enough clothing for a few days.
Your passport should be packed in your carry-on bag or onboard personal item. Pack a copy of your passport (picture, personal information page, and visa) in all of your checked bags and in your carry-on. You may also leave a copy at home with your parent/guardian.
Identify your bag
Make sure you have clear identification on both the outside (luggage tag) and inside of each bag you take. A distinctive marker on the outside of your bag (a large sticker, colorful strap, etc.) will help you identify it easily while traveling.
Pack an empty bag
You may wish to pack an empty duffel bag which can lay flat near the top of your suitcase. It works well if you end up buying souvenirs, gifts, etc. and need an extra bag for the additional items for your flight home.
Buy stuff abroad
Many items you might think to pack can actually be purchased abroad, such as: toiletries, batteries, notebooks, office supplies, sunscreen, etc. You may wish to pack a travel-size amount of toiletries to get you through the first few days. If you are very specific about brands, ingredients, etc., you should check to make sure those items are available abroad.
If taking electronic equipment, make sure you have the required adapters (to fit the local outlets) and/or voltage converters. It’s recommended that you leave your low-end electronics (hair dryers/straighteners, electric shavers, etc.) at home and purchase new ones abroad as low-end electronics are more likely to fry than high-end electronics (i.e. laptops, smart phones, which can typically account for a larger range of voltage). Low-end electronics are typically cheap enough to purchase new abroad and you may wish to go in on them with your abroad roommates to ease the cost. Use website resources like WorldStandards to get more information on adapters and converters needed for your destination country.
Take into consideration your destination’s climate as well as the typical standard of dress—students who have been on your program before can help you with this information. Know that most students pack far too much—remember that you may buy clothes while abroad. Take clothes that you can layer, and if you plan to do a lot of traveling, take durable, drip-dry, no-iron clothes. Definitely take comfortable walking shoes.
Miscellaneous items you might want to take
Travel alarm clock, sunglasses, umbrella, small backpack for school books or short trips (could serve as your carry-on too), money belt, and guide book for your country or city. If you plan to travel independently and stay in hostels, a travel sheet (a lightweight silk or nylon bag) and a lightweight travel towel are good investments.