‘How on Earth have you fit a semester’s worth of stuff in that?!’ is a question I’ve been asked more times than I can count during the last few months. Something that I had not foreseen at all – many folk were amazed by my only having brought one suitcase to live in Scotland for a semester.
The key is the ancient travel rule of ‘Don’t bring more luggage than you can handle yourself, whereby you will avoid looking like an absolute doofus’ that I religiously abide by. I cannot say that I wouldn’t have liked to have certain items on me from time to time… But that is the key: liked, not needed! Sure, it would have been quite fashionable to have my beloved dressing shoes – but I did just fine with trainers and then winter shoes. Clothes specially designated for parties? Très chic indeed, but bringing something I could wear both for classes and to go out has done just as well of a job while also saving luggage space. Well, you get the gist. I consider my ‘Project One Suitcase’ quite a success overall, nonetheless I have learnt a useful tip or twenty along the way, and those I would like to share with you in this article!
Whether you have already travelled a lot or lived abroad, or this is your first big venture, I daresay packing for an exchange is different from any other packing situation. Not a vacation, not just one big academic conference. Not necessarily moving away from your home country for good, but not simply ‘another trip’ either. Yet it also is all of these to some extent, which is what makes packing for a semester (or two) abroad so unique. Although I had packed many different pieces of luggage before, this time I found myself staring at the wall contemplating a specific item quite a few times. So, without further ado, here is my take on the must-have list:
- Camera – That is if you are at all passionate about photography. For me it has proven to be one of my absolute top items and it has given my exchange an afterlife in the form of all the photos now pinned on my corkboard. Especially recommended if you struggle to find the time and place to use your camera often back at home – for me that in combination with the legendary Scottish landscape was an absolute no-brainer (but hey, the famous hundred towers of Prague are pretty motivating, too).
- Power bank – Pretty self-explanatory, yet crucial.
- Kitchenware: tea towel, Tupperware, one item of cutlery each, a good water bottle – Especially during these strange times where one might have to begin their exchange in quarantine, these can be a gift sent from heaven. These are all compact enough that bringing one item each will easily save you having to buy for instance a whole cutlery set.
- Swiss army knife – Partially belonging in the previous category, it will, however, save your life not just in the kitchen. Sounds like quite the cliché item, but it is legendary for a reason!
- Basic medication – Here you might be thinking something along the lines of: ‘Rubbish, that’s unnecessary, I’ll just pop into the pharmacy or have a mate get it for me’. Cue yourself getting sick while all of you are still quarantining… Been there, done that, would not recommend. Spare yourself the nerve and pack some basics; any specialised medication, including painkillers that work for you, are a given.
- Thermometer – Also known as the biggest mistake of my packing – because why for the life of me would I need a thermometer, right? Well, how about because 2020 (2021)? Somehow one gets paranoid about having a temperature even though you are perfectly fine (sidenote: we strongly discourage anyone running a fever or any other COVID-19 symptoms from travelling anywhere at all!). We hope you won’t need one to check for an actual fever, but trust me that nothing feels as reassuring before leaving for the airport as checking that your temperature is perfectly normal…and nothing feels as strangely nerve-wracking as not being able to do so.
- Printed out photos – Wonderful to have not only when quarantining, they weigh nothing and will give your room a wonderful pop. Whether it’s photos of your loved ones to keep close, or a more designer photo assortment, these are an absolute classic.
- Towels, plural – Trust me, nobody wants to do the laundry that often due to only having brought one towel.
- Clothes you will actually wear – This might sound sarcastic, but bear with me. The amount and type variety of clothes I have seen at the bottoms of my fellow students’ suitcases that have proven utterly useless for the semester has brought me to this point. I myself have only identified one culprit – a very formal just-in-case shirt – but from heels through cocktail dresses to a t-shirt that only goes with one pair of pants, these somehow always sneak their way into our luggage. A hack I would recommend is to think about situations rather than items of clothing, for example hiking or sightseeing instead of ‘oh that’s a pretty sweater’. Try to avoid packing clothes you never wear anyway – you’re still going to be you, not a dream-conjured self that wears a different colour blazer to class every day. ‘When in doubt, toss the heels for your favourite hoodie’ is my mic-drop final piece of one-suitcase wisdom.
I will spare you the usual document copies talk (I mean, do throw these in there anyway); hopefully this list has made your life easier. If you have any proven tips of your own, don’t hesitate to share them with the others via commenting on our socials!
On behalf of ESN CU Prague
30 January 2021