How to Pack When Studying Abroad for A Year


Don’t you just hate packing?

A week before my flight to Japan, I started packing my suitcases, thinking I won’t go over the limit of 20 kg anyway. Guess what? I was almost 10 kg over. I tend to either over pack or under pack and I can’t seem to find a happy medium. It was such a frustrating experience and it may not look like a tiring activity, but when you’ve been packing for five hours and you still can’t seem to fit everything into your cases, it’s hard to resist just giving up. I wrote this post because I really hated packing for my trip and I don’t want you to end up like me.

Here’s the thing, though: I am not going to give you a checklist for packing.

I am not going to give you a checklist for packing, the internet is full of posts about that. This video covers some really good tips that I’ve seen on multiple blogs as well. You can also easily Google minimalist packing or packing light for long term travel.

So why am I writing this post if I’m not giving you a checklist, you ask?

I’m not giving you a checklist because I’m going to help you make better packing decisions instead.

Instead of a checklist, I’m going to guide you through the whole thing and to help you make smart decisions because let’s face it: everyone has different purposes for travel and a checklist will certainly help, but it won’t cover all of it.

Here are 7 basic questions you can ask yourself for packing intuitively.

1) How long will I be abroad?

A few days? A few months? If it’s just a few days, the standard baggage check-in of 20kg will be enough to cover you.

If you’re studying abroad like me, you’ll be gone for at least a semester to one whole school year. I encourage you to pack two weeks’ worth of clothes, mixing and matching them into different weather-appropriate outfits. Coming from a tropical country, winter clothes aren’t something I readily have or need, so I just packed a few items I can layer on top of each other for versatility and so I can still wear those when I get back. Since I’m going to Japan, home of Uniqlo, I just plan on buying from there since they’ll be sure to have a nice, budget-friendly collection of winter-wear.

The longer abroad you’ll be, the more you’ll have to consider bringing non-clothing items. Abroad for a few days? Yeah, I can live without my laptop. A whole year in Japan? No way am I leaving that behind! What about appliances, you ask? More on that later.

2) What’s the weather like the moment I arrive at the airport?

Check the weather of the country you’re arriving, and dress accordingly. Nothing sucks more than going to Japan in light, breezy clothes only to find out that it’s raining in the airport and you forgot your umbrella. It’s stressful especially after a long flight

The bottom line: Dress appropriately and pack smartly for the weather upon your arrival. It saves you from the added stress.

3) What’s the climate like?

Similar to above, it sucks packing winter-wear only to find you won’t even reach the country’s winter season, like packing for summer but only being able to stay there for winter. Or worse, packing your brand new sweater only to find it doesn’t even snow, let alone get that cold, where you’re going. Sounds silly, I know, but it happens when you’re frantically trying to fit everything in your luggage.

4) What do you plan on doing abroad?

That is, do you need to bring anything for the activities you’re planning to do? Do you plan on bringing your own scuba gear? Perhaps a rental would be wiser (bring lots of sanitary wipes instead, just in case). Plan on sightseeing and taking lots of photographs? Decide if your smartphone’s camera is enough or if bringing a DSLR would be better. Studying and have a lot of reference books? Books are heavy, so maybe you can get digital copies to save space and avoid excess weight. 

I’m studying in Japan till July next year, so I brought about three books with me –  and already I’m slightly regretting that decision. Paper can unexpectedly pack on weight in your baggage, add to that the discovery that I’m apparently going to need to buy even more books here sometime soon. That said, I’m going to have to make more space for all the art books I’ve been meaning to buy.

Basically, books can get pretty bulky and heavy, so decide wisely.

5) What are easy to buy things in (Country)?

This is advice I’ve read from all over the internet: If it’s something you can easily buy at the country you’re going to, you don’t have to bring too much with you. This is especially true when it comes to toiletries. Most countries have the basic toiletries you need, like soap and shampoo, so you can bring small amounts to tide you over for a few days. If you’re staying at a hotel, complimentary toiletries could save you some trouble.

Pro-tip: This is where those free shampoo sachets, soap samples, and small bottles of lotion from malls and hotels come in handy.

Pro-tip 2: I only read this online, but if you’re going to Japan, bring your own deodorant! Japanese don’t sweat or smell much (it’s in their genetics) so their deodorants aren’t as strong. Bringing your own could still be a wiser (and smellier) option.


Under the same question, if you have hobbies and want to keep doing it while abroad, are the tools readily available? For example, I do calligraphy and painting and I’m going to Japan, so that’s pretty lucky because I’ll have a lot of access to Sumi ink, G nibs and a whole department store called SEKAIDO that carries all the art supplies I’ll ever want. I am, however, still going to bring my oblique nib holders because I’m not sure if Japan has those.

For hobbyists going to Japan, they have Tokyu Hands which has a craft section on a whole new level because they carry materials for various hobbies like origami, woodworking, and even leather crafts. Definitely a go-to if you’re into arts and crafts, thank me later.

Those were the basics, now we go into more nitty-gritty things.

6) Should you bring your (appliance)?

This is a something I don’t really see much while researching, but something you should look into if you’ll be abroad for a long time, like studying abroad for as long as a semester or longer, is if you should bring your appliances with you.

The first thing you should look at when it comes to appliances is the VOLTAGE. Don’t know anything about it? It’s okay, I’ll explain it in the best way I can. I’ll be using the voltage in Japan vs. the Philippines as an illustration:

The voltage in Japan is 100V, while in the Philippines voltage is 220V. What does this mean? Let’s say I brought a hairdryer from the Philippines with me. If I plugged it in Japan, which runs on lower voltage, it will short circuit my hairdryer and break it. What if the opposite is true, and I want to bring a takoyaki maker from Japan when I go back home, won’t it explode? Not if I run it through a converter.

There are devices that are multi-voltage, which means it can run on any voltage supply. An example of this would be laptop chargers and most cell phone chargers. Check your device label and make sure it says 100-240V.

If it’s compatible, the next thing you want to ask if it’s worth hauling overseas. I went here to Japan with no appliances whatsoever and I just plan on buying the essentials here. My university happens to hold a bazaar for household items at a very cheap price, so you can check with your own university if they hold similar events or have any shops nearby which have what you need.

Last, also look if the plugs are compatible with the sockets there, otherwise, you’ll need an adapter. If they aren’t , don’t worry because department stores and appliance stores carry a lot of adapters. (For those of you curious, yes the plugs in Japan are the same with the Philippines.)

7) Should you bring medicine?

If it’s your prescription medicine or basically anything you cannot live without, don’t forget to count that in. Bring enough for the duration of the trip, too. Vitamins, aspirin, and other OTC or over-the-counter medication can be readily purchased abroad.

Here in Japan, medicine is VERY expensive, so you should consider bringing some OTC medicines with you.

Important: make sure you read this memo from the Ministry of Health if you’re planning to bring any personal medicine to Japan. Also this one because some drugs might be legal in your home country but illegal in Japan (Vicks???) It also talks about bringing cosmetics, narcotics, and personal medicine into Japan.

“Yakkan Shoumei”(薬監証明)is a special import certification you have to get ahead of time if you’re importing more than one month’s worth of prescription medicine, and if you’re bringing 24 or more pieces of, say, liquid lipsticks. Getting a Yakkan Shoumei takes a few weeks so if you like bringing a lot of lipstick with you, just bring 23 sticks to avoid this step. You will also need a certification if you’re bringing in medical devices.


Phew, that should cover most of the important concerns. I hope this post helps you out when you’re packing for a long trip abroad. When in doubt, always be sure to do your research to save you in the long run so you don’t run amok around the house like I did. How about you, what’s your worst packing experience?

Love and light,


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