Packing to study abroad is a daunting task. How in the world are you supposed to fit your entire life into a suitcase?! Remember, AUCP host families most likely won’t be able to give you a walk-in closet, so you have to pack light. That said, here are a few last-minute things that you just won’t want to forget:
Extra adapters & transformers
Unfortunately, the plug at the end of your American computer charger will not fit in a French plug! Outlet shapes and sizes vary across the globe. Before you leave, buy universal adapters so you can plug in your electronics abroad and even when you travel in other countries. We recommend bringing multiple adapters, because let’s face it, they’re easy to lose. Plus, when you’re trying to charge your computer & your camera all at once, it will all be worth it. Bring a transformer if you need to change voltages, to avoid frying your host family’s circuits!
From airport food to toiletries, you’re going to want some money for your trip in. Since airports often have really high exchange rates, go to your bank before you leave and exchange some of your US dollars (we’d recommend at least $100) for Euros. Most airport vendors do accept American credit of debit cards, but international transaction fees can be a killer, and it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Over-the-counter, vitamins and prescription medications
France requires you to have a prescription in order for you to be able to purchase some items that are OTC in the states. You’ll save yourself time and energy by bringing your own supply. Vitamins and contact solution are also much more expensive. If you’re being prescribed medication in the US, talk to your doctor before you leave so they can prescribe you a big enough supply to last you your semester or summer abroad.
A deck of cards
A deck of cards is a universal pastime. What better way to bond with your host family than whipping out a deck and starting a game of poker, or teaching them a new game? It’s also worth noting that since they’re inexpensive, so while travelling, cards are less likely to make you a pickpocket target than if you were playing on your iPhone or reading your Kindle.
Photocopies of important documents
Losing your passport or visa is unfortunate—and, well, it does happen. Pack copies of your passport, visa, credit cards, prescriptions, and other important documents in each of your suitcases when you travel, in case you lose the real things. At the AUCP, we provide students with an International Student ID card (ISIC) that serves as identification on a daily basis. That way, you can leave the real docs in a safe place.
A gift for your host family
Bring a gift for your host family. After all, your host family will be helping you adjust to the culture, housing you, feeding you, and sometimes helping you with chores such as laundry, so it’s always nice to show your appreciation by arriving with a gift. Bringing something specific to your state or hometown, such as a coffee table book about your state or city or a food item that is only found in your town, will make a great impression on your hosts.
A sweater & other layers
Oh yes. Although Provence is sunny, it can get VERY cold! With the local wind Le Mistral that blows through Provence, you’ll be glad that you brought that one extra long-sleeved shirt, scarf or cardigan…
A checklist of things to do
It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the routine once you arrive. But don’t forget, you’re in France to learn French! See the sights! Meet people! Make a list of things-big and little- that you absolutely want to accomplish: hiking the famous Sainte Victoire mountain, asking your host mom to teach you a recipe, seeing an Opera in Aix or going to a concert in Marseille, eating escargots, buying and reading a French magazine or watching and understanding a French soap opera. Make your list, add things as the semester or summer goes on, and see how many things you can cross off by the end!
Space in your suitcase
While this isn’t really an item—you’ll want room in your suitcase for all the things you’ll buy when you’re abroad! Pack only the items you’ll absolutely need, because those overweight luggage fees can be a killer—often several hundred dollars—and once you add in your purchases, shipping your stuff back to the States is simply hors de prix.
A trick for cutting down on space? Leave the extra toiletries at home. You can easily buy toothpaste, shampoo and shaving cream in France. Another space-saver is to ask yourself: how many tshirts, sweatpants & loungewear do I really need? Not much, since you’ll always be on the go! In France, your college hoodie will just make you stand out like a sore thumb – it’s pretty American-looking. Definitely not the goal when you want to be part of the culture! In general, the French tend to be dressed nicely and with class, meaning they can transition directly from a day of classes to an evening out. So ditch the sweats + tshirt + gym shoe outfit in the name of cultural integration, and space saving !
Packing to go abroad can seem scary, but it doesn’t have to be. With these items packed in your suitcases, now all you have to worry about is getting from where you are to the South of France. Provence awaits!