If you are a college student studying abroad, all those forms, procedures and lists of required items can be overwhelming. This semester, when I was applying, it felt like I was being bombarded at all sides with papers, deadlines and “helpful” advice. But no one was telling me how they managed day-to-day. Well, here’s a list of comfort items that will keep you sane while you are abroad at a new university, in a new country and culture.

  • Flip-flops: Most universities have communal showers and if you are doing some hostel hopping on the weekends, flip-flops can save your feet from dreaded and disgusting foot infections.
  • Backpack/Weekend Bag/Handbag: No one wants to lug a giant suitcase for a weekend in Paris (it’s not very romantic) and no one wants their giant Prada bag pickpocketed or stolen outright. Get a small bag for weekend trips and an anti-theft backpack or purse for daily outings.
  • Playing Cards: No better way to make friends then to teach each other a card game.
  • Small Flashlight/Booklight: Walking back from a club in Barcelona and find yourself in a street without lights? Or trying to read after “lights-out” in a hostel? A small flashlight or booklight can save the situation.
  • Local Cell Phone: Don’t buy an international plan from your cell provider here in the States. It’s a rip-off. You’re better off getting a prepaid cell to call and text all your new friends.
  • Laptop: Many universities have excellent computer facilities. But some don’t and it can be really comforting to have your own set-up. Find out from your particular host university if they have a wireless/ethernet etc. network and what are the rules for internet connections.
  • Skype/iChat: With that new cell you can’t call home but Skype is free for all and iChat is great for mac users. Video or audio chat and IM for free? Yes please! Skype is great because you can even pay a little extra to call a real phone from your computer.
  • Digital Camera: You are going to have all these great adventures and need some way to document it all! Don’t forget a big memory card and all the cords to hook your camera up to your laptop.
  • Facebook/MobileMe: Facebook is another great way to keep in touch with friends and family and to share all your photos. MobileMe is an online service from Apple that gives you an online hard drive of sorts (great for backup), an email address and an online photo gallery to share with loved ones. Either option is a necessity for students to keep in contact with home.
  • Tampons: If you are a young woman, you know how scary it can be to find yourself someplace strange without these when you need them most. Especially when what your host country calls a tampon, in fact appears to be a medieval torture device. Bring along 1-2 months supply (just stuff them into a side pocket of your checked baggage) until you figure out whether you can deal with the native variety or need a care package from home instead.
  • Comfy Walking Shoes: The “duh” on every travel list, but totally necessary. Many countries do a lot more walking than Americans, who do most of their walking to and from the car. I wouldn’t recommend tennis shoes, mostly because it’s basically like wearing a huge blinking sign: “I’m an American!!!” Same with baseball caps. Find a pair of nice comfy shoes and a stylish beret or knitted cap.
  • Journal: Even if you aren’t Bridget Jones, it can be really helpful to have a journal. It helps deal with stress, problem solving, culture shock, and memory. Get a fancy leather one or a composition notebook- it’s all the same: a record of your thoughts and feelings.
  • Tissues: So, not every toilet comes with toilet paper. In fact, not every toilet is a toilet. Sometimes its a bush. Or a hole in the ground. Or behind a bench (true story btw). Carry a pocket pack of tissue in your purse, backpack or whatever. You never know.
  • ISIC: The International Student Identity Card is an essential for all young travelers and study abroaders. It’s an internationally recognized ID card and has great discounts, basic travel insurance and very basic health insurance. Most universities require you to have international health insurance to go abroad and often ISIC covers it. For about $25 bucks it’s quite the bargain.
  • Electrical Adapter: Most laptops can handle the higher voltage of outlets abroad- but the plug usually doesn’t quite fit. Find out the type of plug your host country uses and get an adapter. Other electronics may not be able to handle the +220 volts of power abroad. Check the fine print on your device and decide whether to buy a converter and bring your hair dryer or buy one when you arrive and give it away to a friend when you leave.
  • Deodorant/antiperspirants: Avoiding all stereotypes about the French, some countries have very different ideas about underarm sweat and body odor. Some countries don’t have sticks and only use sprays, some just use deodorant without the antiperspirants and some don’t have those weird Secret commercials. Stock up on your favorite before you go.
  • DVDs &iPod: So, you are homesick and you still have 3 months before you head home. What do you do? You pop in The Philadelphia Story or The Godfather and fall asleep to the latest Flaming Lips album. Your own little slice of America.

For a great list of the essentials versus the comforts check out Michelle’s list on her blog, Culture Shock. Or check out this more general list. Happy Packing!

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