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How to Pack for a Year Abroad

Packing for a week can be challenging. Packing for a year overseas can be downright intimidating. But, it doesn’t have to be! Through trial and error, we’ve settled on a reliable packing list, and we’ll use this article to explain how to pack for a year abroad. 


In addition to writing about his and Jenna’s travel and work adventures, Chipp is a CPA and founder of Walutes Capital, a real estate development and accounting firm. Wearing this “other hat,” Chipp offers real estate investment and development consulting services to clients. If you’d like help with your own real estate investing journey, contact Chipp here to set up an appointment! 

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General Thoughts on Packing for a Year Abroad


First thing’s first: you’re going abroad - not to Mars! In other words, you don’t need to pack every single item you may or may not use over the next year. You need the essentials, things that fall into one of the following two categories: 1) you’ll use them every week; and 2) you can’t (due to availability or cost) buy them overseas. 


For example, do you need shampoo? If you have hair, yeah, you probably do, and you’ll use it every week (or day). But, do you need a year’s worth of shampoo? No! Bring an initial supply, then just buy some more at a local store. Will it be the exact brand from home? Probably not, but who cares? If you’re traveling for a year, flexibility is critical. Plus, a huge part of the joy of travel is experiencing what local economies have to offer. 


This leads into the other category - things you can’t get abroad. For instance, your laptop. Can you buy one overseas? Yeah, in most places you can. But, if you’re anything like us, it’s probably cost-prohibitive to just go and buy laptops all over the world. Instead, high-cost (or unavailable) items like this should definitely be part of your packing list. 

In the next sections, we break our packing list down into four separate categories to help you stay organized. If this is your first time abroad, we also highly recommend checking out our full, downloadable international travel checklist here.

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Packing Category 1: Pre-Travel Logistics 


This category doesn’t include things to pack, per se. But, the below pre-travel items set a solid foundation for any trip, so we highly recommend factoring these logistics considerations into your packing plans: 


  • Confirmed travel budget: A budget doesn’t have to be set in stone, but you need a solid plan for daily spending and big-ticket purchases (e.g. flights, excursions, lodging) so you don’t run out of money. 

  • Plane ticket purchased and hard copy of reservation: Having a hard copy of your flight confirmation can come in handy when airlines “lose” your reservation…

  • Initial lodgings (at least first week) confirmed with hard copy of your reservation: At a minimum, you’ll want to know where you’re staying the first week - gives you time to get acclimated to a new place, and you won’t have to stress about where you’re sleeping after a long flight. 

  • Confirmed plan for transfer from airport to first lodging: Related, confirm exactly how you’re going to get from the airport to your first lodging before you leave (e.g. bus, Uber, taxi, public transport, hotel shuttle) - will significantly reduce your arrival stress. 

  • $100 cash in local currency: Ideally, you can find this before leaving - good to have some local cash on hand when you land somewhere. Alternatively, we use airport ATMs inside security upon arrival to make sure they’re secure. 

  • $100 cash in US dollars: Think of this as your break-glass-in-case-of-emergency cash. Keep it stashed somewhere safe in case you absolutely need to use it. 

  • Debit card and back-up (held in separate places): After being pick-pocketed in Athens, Chipp’s a huge proponent of back-up debit cards to make sure you always have access to cash. 

  • Credit card without foreign exchange fees and back-up (held in separate places): See back-up rationale above. We use credit cards for all point-of-sale transactions - better than having your bank account emptied if a debit card is stolen or used fraudulently, and most travel cards don’t charge a foreign exchange fee, which can save you a lot of money over time. 

  • Confirmed international phone plan or Google Fi SIM card: Travel is far easier when you can use your smartphone! 

  • VPN subscription: VPNs 1) help keep your data secure, and 2) allow you to access US websites otherwise blocked overseas. 

  • Downloaded (i.e. offline) Google Maps data for destination: If you don’t have service or just want to save data, this is a great technique for still being able to use your smartphone to navigate a new place. 

  • Confirmed major holidays in destination country: You never want to show up in Rio and not realize it’s Carnival! 

  • List of key phrases in local language, as required: You don’t have to be fluent, but knowing a few key phrases (e.g. hello, goodbye, please, thank you) can go a long way towards building rapport with locals. 

  • Guide book for destination: You don’t need a 1000-page tome, but a short guidebook can give you some really useful information for finding your way around a new place.

Camping in Namibia during our year abroad

Camping in Namibia during our year abroad

Packing Category 2: Clothes and Baggage 


When it comes to packing for long trips overseas, we try to embrace a rule Chipp learned in the Marines: ounces add pounds. As you gradually add more and more small items, your total weight builds. Traveling abroad, it’s best to stay as mobile as possible, packing what you absolutely need and buying what you can locally (e.g. picking up a few $1 tank tops and a $5 bathing suit in Thailand instead of bringing 30 t-shirts from home…). 


Additionally, how you plan on traveling will play a huge role in what you pack. For example, if you’re going to the opera and eating at Michelin-starred restaurants, you’ll probably need some nicer clothes. On the other hand, if you’re hitch-hiking through Europe, you can get away with a far, well, less formal look…


  • Comfortable walking / casual shoes: Instead of bringing walking shoes and “going out” shoes, see if you can get a decent-looking pair that check both boxes - saves space. 

  • Flip flops / shower shoes: These are great for hanging around a pool and, if in a hostel, avoiding a nasty case of athlete’s foot! 

  • Rain shell / travel jacket: A light, waterproof jacket is a must wherever you’re going. And, the added benefit of these types of jackets is that they fold up nice and small for ease of packing. 

  • Warm layers, as required: If you’re traveling to a colder place, have layers (e.g. long-underwear, sweaters, hoodies, etc) to wear under the above travel jacket if it gets particularly cold. 

  • Hat: While baseball hats may scream “I’m an American,” it’s good to have some sun protection, whatever style of hat you decide to bring. 

  • Sunglasses: Always good to have sunglasses, especially if you’re heading somewhere 1) tropical, or 2) during the summer. 

  • Week’s worth of t-shirts: We’ve settled on a week as a good attire rule-of-thumb - gives you enough breathing room between needing to find places to do laundry. 

  • Two or three “nice” shirts: In addition to t-shirts for walking around, having two or three nicer shirts for dinners out and shows gives you some flexibility.

  • Jeans: One pair of jeans goes a long way - can use them strolling around a city or with a nicer shirt if you’re heading out to dinner. 

  • Comfortable shorts/pants for hiking and long city walks: If you plan on hiking or really exploring a city, some hiking-style travel pants or shorts are a great option. 

  • Nice slacks or skirt: One pair of nice slacks or a skirt doesn’t take up too much room in your bag, and it’s nice to have if you go out to a fancier type of meal/event. 

  • Week’s worth of socks/underwear: See above rationale on having a week’s worth. 

  • Bathing suit, as required: Depending on where you’re going, don’t forget a suit. But, you can also probably buy a cheap one overseas if you want to save some room. 

  • Money/document pouch: They may seem goofy, but these low-profile, under-the-shirt pouches are reliable, safe places to store passports, cash, cards, and other key documents when you’re moving from one lodging to another. 

  • Travel backpack (men’s pack / women’s pack): For traveling overseas, throwing a bag on your shoulders instead of rolling it makes life significantly easier, especially if you’re using public transportation. 

  • Daypack for plane travel and local excursions: We also highly recommend a daypack - great for loading gear for flights or local excursions. 

  • Packing cubes to organize your stuff: While not necessary, packing cubes can significantly organize your pack. 

  • Mesh laundry bag: These bags barely weigh anything, and they’re great for 1) keeping your dirty clothes separated, and 2) carrying those clothes back and forth from a local laundromat (NOTE: bringing some detergent pods isn’t a bad idea, but you can definitely buy them overseas in most places). 


Packing Category 3: Personal Electronics 


Most of these items fall into the unavailable / cost-prohibitive category, which makes packing them make more sense than buying them abroad. Yes, we’ve certainly forgotten a power adapter in a South African Airbnb and had to buy a new one, but minimizing those situations is the goal here: 


  • Phone/charger: We’ve had to buy replacement chargers overseas, but it’s certainly better to have one when you leave home. 

  • Headphones: Great for watching movies and listening to music on international flights, and your own ones are usually far more comfortable than the free ones the airlines provide. 

  • Laptop/charger, as required: If you plan on working remotely while traveling, don’t forget your charger!

  • Portable laptop monitor and cable, as required: For “digital nomads,” an extra screen is a must!

  • International power adapter: If you’re leaving the US, you’ll need to use a power adapter to plug your electronics into different styles of international outlets. 

  • Camera/charger/lenses, if into professional-style photography: Just be careful traveling with a super expensive camera - one of the most commonly stolen items when overseas. 


Packing Category 4: Health, Hygiene, and Sleep Travel Items


Lastly, there are certain health, hygiene, and sleep items that 1) you’ll need right away so want to have on hand, and/or 2) you won’t be able to find abroad: 


  • Toiletries: Don’t go overboard here - just what do you absolutely need. You’ll be able to buy more toothpaste and deodorant wherever you are…

  • Travel-sized hand sanitizer: Getting sick on the road is the worst, and sanitizing your hands before eating goes a long way to avoiding nasty bugs. 

  • Prescription medicine w/ copy of prescription, as required: If you have to take prescription medicine, make sure you have enough of it for the duration of your travels and a copy of the actual prescription - don’t want a foreign airport security guard accusing you of drug trafficking! 

  • Multivitamins: Like hand sanitizer, a daily multivitamin can help keep you healthy on the road. 

  • Emergency medicine (e.g. “Z-Pak”) for food poisoning: If/when you get hit hard by food poisoning, it’s good to have a few Z-Paks on-hand to quickly get back to 100%. 

  • Sleep mask and earplugs: These are great for getting some rest on planes and if you’re staying in a particularly loud place (or if the call to prayer blares from a mosque right outside your window!). 

  • Sleeping pills: Always good to have for 1) passing out on a long international flight, and 2) helping with the first few days of time-change adjustments. 

  • Condoms?: If you’re a single traveler looking to party overseas, better safe than sorry! 


The above list certainly isn’t all-inclusive. Depending on your unique situation, you may need more or less. But, if, at a minimum, you use the above as a foundation for packing for a year abroad, you’ll be fine overseas!

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Affiliate Disclosure


We’ve included affiliate links on this page. If you click on a link and end up buying something, we may receive a commission (without adding any costs to you). This helps us pay the bills, and we only promote products and services that we personally use and wholeheartedly endorse. Thanks so much for the support!


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