Ah, packing — that mix of excitement and frustration we all know too well! Let’s face it, most of us end up packing at the eleventh hour and then proceed to play a game of packing Tetris. But don’t worry! Based on decades of helping young people on their travel journeys, we’ve compiled a list of ways to help you pack for your internship abroad.
Here’s some practical advice to simplify the process and ensure you’re all set to pack for your internship abroad.
1. Create a list early.
It’s a good idea to start brainstorming early about what you’ll want to pack for your internship abroad — nothing concrete, but a way for you to jot down all of the things you think you might want to bring. Consider starting your brainstorming list at least a few weeks prior to your departure date so your ideas will have plenty of time to flow. The truth is that ideas are going to come to you at all hours of the day and throughout the week, so maintaining an easy-access list will help you both logistically and spare you your sanity. It’s your call if you’d like to keep the list on your phone or go back-to-basics with pen and paper, but either way, make sure to keep it somewhere easily accessible. You’ll find yourself adding and removing items when you start analyzing what’s really necessary to bring.
2. Practice packing in advance.
After you feel like you’re in a good place with your list — whether that’s a few days or a week before departure — take out your suitcase and start adding items that you’ve decided you want to pack, but likely won’t need to use before you leave. If you’re someone who can pack everything at this point, that’s amazing — you’re very proactive! If you’re someone who packs and then obsesses over whether or not you’ve packed correctly (hello, packer’s remorse!), then this is a great time to take out the items you’ve put in your suitcase and repack. With time to spare, you won’t feel as stressed about needing to rearrange or whittle everything down.
If your international internship experience is going to be your first major trip abroad, you’ll want to give yourself as much time to pack as possible. It takes time to get to know your packing style and habits, and you may need to go through some trial and error when figuring out what items are a non-negotiable for you.
You might be totally happy with the end result after your first attempt at packing, but if not, don’t worry — it takes many people a few tries! You’ll find your own rhythm.
3. Choose the right luggage.
There are so many different styles of suitcases and luggage out there — it can be incredibly overwhelming. While there are many factors that come into play when it comes to picking the right suitcase for you, here are a few things to consider:
✈️ Airline Requirements
The majority of international flights will allow you to check one suitcase that’s typically 50 pounds or less, bring a carry-on bag on the plane, and a personal item, like a purse. That said, each airline is different, so before you choose the luggage you want to bring, you’ll want to look at your airline’s website or any other documentation they sent you about your flight that outlines baggage requirements. Many may offer you the option to check an additional suitcase for a fee — and while ultimately this is your choice, we highly recommend leaving that second bag at home. If you pack wisely for your internship abroad, you won’t need to bring another full-sized suitcase.
🧳 Repurposing Your Luggage
When choosing the right luggage to bring for your internship abroad, you’ll want to consider if you’ll use any of them for traveling once you’re overseas. Will your bags fit on public transportation if you need to use a train or a bus? Will you be able to carry the bag(s) from Point A to Point B? Will any of them work for a carry-on on a domestic or short flight abroad that may require even smaller baggage than your initial international flight did?
👀 Luggage Weight
There’s nothing more anxiety provoking than getting up to the check-in kiosk at the airport to find out your baggage is not only overweight, but so overweight that they need you to open it up and transfer items to your carry-on right then and there. Be proactive and consider purchasing a portable scale so you can weigh your bag at home to avoid the frustration. It’s also a good idea to choose a suitcase that isn’t incredibly heavy to begin with before you’ve even put anything into it.
4. Consider your location.
Deciding what to pack can be determined largely in part by where you decide to do your internship abroad. You’ll want to research the weather of your host city at the particular time of year you’ll be there to have a solid understanding of what is likely appropriate for the season. Paying attention to details like this will save you money and the headache of needing to buy weather-appropriate clothes upon arrival.
You’ll also want to consider what the locals in your host city tend to wear so you can more easily blend in as a young professional. Your college hoodie may be appropriate in the US, but you’ll stick out like a sore thumb in major metropolitan cities, like Paris or Milan.
5. Be mindful of your internship’s office culture.
You’ll know what the office’s dress code will be like after your internship is confirmed. Regardless of what is communicated to you, though, it’s always a good idea to dress nicely on your first day — you just don’t need to go too far with it, depending on the culture. Consider going just a step above dress code. For example, if your employer says it’s okay to wear jeans, consider a more business casual pant with a nice shirt or blazer on Day 1.
6. Mix and match.
While you’ll of course be spending a good chunk of your time abroad at your internship itself, there will be downtime for you to explore your host city and the surrounding area, too! Pack clothes and items that you can easily transition between work- and after-work activities. This way, you’re not overpacking your suitcase with two different categories of clothes, but can maximize what you’ve brought by mixing-and-matching your pieces.
7. Bring a comfortable capsule wardrobe.
Here’s the truth: You don’t need to pack your entire closet for your internship abroad. Really, we mean it. Consider bringing a wardrobe that gives you the maximum combinations of outfits possible. You’ll thank us later. Plus, if you’re thinking about packing things in your closet that you’ve been meaning to wear but just “haven’t had a chance to yet,” we suggest leaving it at home. Odds are you won’t wear it abroad either! Plus, if you bring it with you and decide you ultimately aren’t a fan of the piece or don’t feel good in it, you just lost precious room in your suitcase. You want to be comfortable in everything you packed.
8. Toiletries don’t have to be tricky.
Rather than bringing full-sized bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, shaving cream, and more, consider travel-sized versions or buy reusable containers that you can transfer your products into to cut down on weight and waste. After you’ve used them up, you’ll be at a point in your internship abroad where you’re comfortable enough to shop in your host city — living like a local! While there’s a decent chance the exact line of products you use at home won’t be sold in stores abroad, you’ll be able to purchase something similar or you’ll get used to life without it.
Pro-tip: If you’re packing toiletries in your checked bag, put them into ziplock baggies or other sealable containers in case they happen to open in transit.
9. Master the carry-on.
It’s a good idea to think about your carry-on bag in the context of a few scenarios:
😄 Holding your entertainment and travel essentials
While the vast majority of airlines have WiFi or in-flight entertainment at this point, not all do. In case yours doesn’t, your carry-on bag can hold your laptop, phone, chargers, and whatever else you may want to bring to keep you entertained throughout your journey. In addition, it can be a place where you keep other travel essentials, like important papers, a sweater (in case the flight is cold!), a book, etc.
😖 Being the back-up in the event something happens to your checked bag
In the event something goes awry with your checked bag in transit, your carry-on bag can serve as your back-up. It’s always a good idea to pack a spare set of clothes and undergarments, some travel-sized toiletries that fall within the airline’s liquid regulations, and whatever else you might need to get through a day or two without your main luggage item.
🙃 Being your day trip or weekend bag while abroad
As an intern abroad, you’ll more than likely be going on amazing adventures during your downtime from the office — and you’ll need a bag! Most people reuse their carry-on as a small weekend bag, as it’s usually the perfect size for a few day’s worth of clothes and basic travel items.
Ready, set, pack!
Packing for an internship abroad can feel daunting and overwhelming, but we hope this post provides you with a little clarity and guidance for making the process as seamless as possible. Here at AIFS Abroad, we’re here to help our interns and study abroad participants every step of the way.
If you are just starting your research process and are interested in interning abroad, we’d love to chat with you further. Get in touch with our team to learn more about how you can find a career you love through an internship overseas.