Email Address:

Phone Number:

Study Abroad Blog

Flight Credit Get a Flight Credit worth up to $1,000 when you apply with code* by September 12, 2024

How to Pack Your Entire Existence into a Carry-On

October 03, 2019
by Catherine Pierce

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have included my credentials as an EXPERT packer to preface this guide.

  • I once brought only a carry-on for two months of travel.
  • I packed everything for my trip to Seville, Spain, in one hour.
  • I made it through the London Heathrow TSA in less than 5 minutes (nearly impossible).
  • My friends and family hire me as a private consultant for every long weekend excursion.
  • I have moved nine times in 3 years.

1. Plan/Research:

2Planning seems like an obvious step. You were fleshing out the itinerary for your weekend trips before your semester abroad finalized. You poured over your 4-year plan to figure out exactly what classes would fulfill each credit. You even workshopped a caption and an alternative caption for at least three Instagram photos of you in front of an international monument. However, efficiently planning for every square inch of your luggage requires a certain tactfulness. You only have so much space. 

For example, you need to know the climate of your city AND any destination you plan on visiting. Will it be cold? If so, you must account for your bulky layers taking up more room. Look into which products you need and if they will be accessible in your host country. Do you have a specific prescription? How long will it last? 

Another important aspect is a wardrobe that will allow you to blend in and comfortably navigate your new environment. It can affect how authentic your experience is in each country, the relationships you form with locals and your safety. Do the people typically dress conservatively? Is it unheard of to wear workout attire outside of the gym? Seemingly, insignificant aspects of your appearance can signal your tourist status. For example, in Spain, women are not tackling miles of cobblestone in stilettos. 

You have to consider EVERYTHING and then some.

2. Pack light:

Relax. Do not let the first step incite a panic that leads you to bring all of your possessions “just in case” you “might” need them. You can get by with a lot less than you think.

*Insert soapbox monologue about Minimalism* 



min·​i·​mal·​ism | \ ˈmi-nə-mə-ˌli-zəm  \

Definition of minimalism

1: a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme sparseness and simplicity.

Minimalism is a lifestyle change that everyone can integrate into his or her life. You do not need to wear the same three pairs of jeans on rotation to be a minimalist. It can be consolidating your make-up routine to two or three variations. It can be leaving your shoe collection at home and only bringing pairs that will mesh with all of your outfits. A capsule wardrobe is your best friend!

3Capsule wardrobe


cap·​sule | \ ˈkap-səl  , ward·​robe | \ ˈwȯr-ˌdrōb 

Definition of capsule wardrobe

1: A collection of a few essential items of clothing that don't go out of fashion, such as skirts, trousers, and coats, which can then be augmented with seasonal pieces. (Famous London boutique owner Susie Faux coined this concept).

Pick articles that can be interchanged with each other to create entirely new looks. You can make two weeks’ worth of clothes stretch for months without ruining your Instagram feed. Trust.



for·​give | \ fər-ˈgiv  , fȯr-\

forgave\ fər-​ˈgāv  , fȯr-​ \; forgiven\ fər-​ˈgi-​vən  , fȯr-​ \; forgiving

Definition of forgive

transitive verb

1: to cease to feel resentment against (an offender): PARDON

//forgive one's enemies

You cannot expect yourself to live without wants. You do not need to bring that pair of Nike Cortez’s but you should because it will make you happy. Allow yourself to bring a few unnecessary items. If you are an accessories connoisseur, have that be your splurge. If you are a skincare fanatic, bring all 12 steps. Most of us are slaves to consumerism (and that is okay). ☺

3. Be realistic

Living abroad will push you out of your comfort zone and facilitate a lot of personal growth, but you probably won’t completely reinvent yourself. 

Therefore, if you do not use it or wear it in the states do not bring it. Easy.

Speaking of easy; it is easy to be swept up in the glamorous aspect of your study abroad. Do not forget you will also be attending classes and lounging around your homestay/apartment. Include some sweats, as they will make a 12-hour day of lectures and homework bearable. Additionally, bring an agenda! It is ALWAYS vital but especially when you are juggling assignments, program sponsored cultural activities and travel!

Lastly, account for Murphy’s Law (whatever can go wrong, will go wrong). Make two copies of your passport and visa in the off chance your original is lost or stolen. These copies should pack these in separate compartments for safekeeping as well as any extra cash or back-up debit cards. 

4. Organize

1Organizing may seem like the most mundane part of packing; it definitely is.  However, it is also muy importante! Consistently staying organized at the beginning; middle and end of your journey will determine your success. Why?


1. You will make it through security/customs quickly. 

2. You won’t lose/forget anything. 

3. You will have a stress-free preparation process for weekend trips. 

The best way to organize is by compartmentalizing everything using packing cubes. Once broken up into categories (tops, bottoms, outerwear, intimates), you can utilize the rolling method (self-explanatory). For nicer garments, utilize a special folder-style packing cube. Then you can avoid wrinkles and minimize the space taken up by bulky pieces such as sweaters and winter coats. 

Shoes can be placed in separate dust bags to prevent the soles from dirtying your suitcase. 

Hack: Dollar store shower caps make incredible “dust bags.” 

Pack toiletries in a separate hanging organizer (hostel-friendly) that accommodate for accidental spills and wet shower bottles. 

Put loose items like travel documents in headphones in designated pockets or organizers.

5. Buy there

If you are not dead-set on your sulfate-free-brand-name conditioner, buy your full-size toiletries at your destination. It will give you a chance to try something new, not to mention speed up the check-in process. You might enjoy the customary beauty products or stationery of your host country more. Another plus? The more space in your carry-on, the less you have to carry.

Arguably, the best part of leaving a little extra room in your suitcase, besides not hauling 50 extra pounds through metros and across terminals, is bringing back all your *exotic* souvenirs! 

Hack: Buy functional keepsakes from your time abroad. For example, Italian leather loafers or a handmade Peruvian quilt will have more sentimental value than a keychain, and you can continue to appreciate them!

Catherine Pierce is the Fall 2019 CEA MOJO Blogger in Seville, Spain, and is currently studying at University of Houston.
Load more comments
Thank you for the comment! Your comment must be approved first




Receive a $1,000 Flight Credit when you apply by September 12, 2024

Get your flight credit code and access to Passbook in two easy steps. With Passbook, you can track your favorite programs and courses, save flight credits, and watch videos on the destination you're interested in.

Apply Now

Step 1 of 2

Step 2 of 2

*By providing your mobile number, you agree to receive recurring text messages from CEA CAPA Education Abroad notifying you of important program deadlines. Message and data rates may apply.

Privacy Policy   |   Mobile Terms   |   Flight Credit Rules

Your flight credit has been added to your Passbook. Apply now or view your Passbook to begin the next step in your journey.