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9 Tips: How to Actually Pack for a Semester Abroad

You would think that packing for a semester in a tropical country would be a piece a cake; all you need is swimsuits and shorts, right? Sadly, you probably won’t be going to the beach every day (the nearest one is two hours away!), and you’ll actually want to bring some warm clothes. Here are some things that I wish I would have known while packing…

1. Adventure sandals

If you plan to do anything outside in Costa Rica, you’ll want a pair of these. While I opted for Keens (which can double as a light hiking boot when paired with wool socks), many people on my trip wear Chacos. Both are great for most of the adventures you’ll have, but also bring hiking boots if you plan to hike or camp in the rainforests. Tennis shoes could also work in a pinch, but they take a while to dry out.

 Two of my friends showing off their Chaco tan lines

2. Other shoes

A lot of people here wear sandals, flats, or boots, but only bring them if you wear them back home. If you come during the rainy season, rain boots or waterproof boots/shoes will be your best friend. Trust me when I say there is nothing worse than sitting through class soaking wet.

3. Adventure clothes!

If you decided to study abroad in Costa Rica, the adventure is amazing! You could be doing anything from hiking, to ziplining, to whitewater rafting, to volcano boarding, so be sure to bring enough workout clothes (they dry quickly!), including leggings and sports bras for the ladies.  Be sure to bring two swimsuits as well: one to wear and one to dry!

 You want quick drying clothes and shoes
when having an adventure!

4. Laundry bag

My Mama Tica gave me a laundry bag to put my socks and underwear in the washing machine, and it has saved them! I know other people whose socks have been lost or destroyed in the washing machine.

5. Sweatshirts and sweatpants

Even though Costa Rica is a tropical country, it can get cold in the mountainous regions at night! They’re also great for changing into after you get caught in the rain or on long bus rides. You can bring multiples, but you only truly need one of each.

6. Clothes you actually wear back home

Strange as this sounds, everyone packs like they hope to dress and not actually how they dress back home. While Ticos do dress up for class, bring what you will be comfortably wearing everyday. For example, I brought way too many jeans when I packed. Do I like wearing jeans at home? You bet. Do I wear other pants and leggings? Yes. Did I pack them? Nope.

 Enjoying fresh juice at the
Saturday morning market

7. An umbrella AND a raincoat

Ticos tend to use umbrellas, which are great for walking around the city, and it keeps you mostly dry during the hardest rains. The raincoat is perfect for all of your weekend trips and hikes, as carrying an umbrella through the rainforest doesn’t end up working out too well.

 Trying (and failing) to stay dry

8. Bring lots of sunscreen!

Sunscreen and heavy-duty bug spray are like gold here! While you are able to find them, chances are the bottles will be fairly small and not as high as you need them to be. If you’re a gringa like me, you’ll need to apply it all the time.

 The sun is so much stronger near the equator!

9. Bring toiletries/medicine from home

While you can probably find good replacements for lotion, shampoo and conditioner, if you have an American brand you like, bring it! All American toiletries are much more expensive here, and some you may not be able to find at all. That list definitely includes contact solution as well. Cold medicine is also a lot more expensive, so if you’ll be abroad for a semester, I would highly recommend it. Plus, you’ll be sure to have more free space and weight on your suitcase for the trip home!

 

Kathryn Moorhead is a Summer 2013 Seville, Spain alumna, CEA Alumni Ambassador at Iowa State University, and a Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in San Jose, Costa Rica. 



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