The following female packing list for living abroad was submitted by Danni. See all of our packing lists.
I’m a girl chasing a dream to live in 10 different countries before I die. I left for a teaching job abroad many years ago, spent 6 months in Peru and then realised that I could work in other countries and keep moving around Europe rather than retreating to my native country.
I like to stay for 6 months or a year in a new country and always work doing things such as nannying, tutoring, or full time volunteering in exchange for accommodation. I’ve done this in Bolivia, Iceland, Spain, the Czech Republic, Australia and a few other places, and I blog about the experience.
My packing style for living abroad
So now that I’ve reached country number 8, here’s what I’ve picked up from all that packing over and over again. It’s worth noting, I often move from 1 town to another within a country, too, so have packed up my life about 20 times so far. Personally, all the largest items I own (my bike, kitchen appliances, furniture) remain in storage in my home country and I do without them internationally. My usual luggage is a 25kg suitcase and a weekend bag for hand luggage.
Every time I move to another country I have the feeling that most packing information (and boy do I love surfing Pinterest for fabulous packing lists) doesn’t fit with my style of travel. I realise that my semi-crazy goal may not suit a lot of people, but surely there are more of us packing for a whole season abroad. Like 6 months volunteering in Guatemala, an exchange year at a European university or something along those lines- long term but not permanent.
I don’t mean backpacking, because again there is a wealth of information about how to squeeze your whole life into a rucksack. But what if you’re searching for a flat and taking a job transfer for only 1 year?
If that’s you, then here’s my best advice for packing that is tailored to that type of travel – neither shifting your entire life with a removal truck, nor zooming off with a weekend bag. It’s not a one-size-fits-all. After all, why would you pack toiletries if you’re going to spend a year somewhere and it’s sold locally? Your requirements are going to be different for a long term trip. So let’s get started!
>>Ask yourself this question that can change your packing style.
The aim here is to pack what is specialized or expensive, and purchase things like cheap tops and leggings at your destination if you are going somewhere temperate or warm.
- A plastic poncho– In many countries this lightweight option is preferred over an anorak, and they are incredibly portable. With this, you won’t need an umbrella.
- 4 Jumpers/sweaters
- 2 pairs of trousers or jeans
- Quality dresses and skirts to suit your taste
- 1 quality thick coat– I usually wear this on the plane to save space
- 1 lightweight jacket– A neutral colour is best as it will go with anything
- Underwear– To cover 2 weeks before you need to wash, plus socks and quality bras in black, white, and beige (add a sports bra if more athletic than me)
- Thermal clothing for winter destinations– Thermal longjohns and a roll neck top will make any outfit warm
- Bikini and travel micro towel– For pool dipping, beaches, saunas etc
- 2 pairs of warm tights
- Sun hat– The bigger and floppier the better
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- Heavy / bulky shoes– If the destination features a cold winter with possible snow, I wear thick Ugg-style boots on the plane. If not, I wear waterproof zip up ankle boots which are smart casual and cover rainy days.
- 1 pair of ballet flats– These kept me going for months in La Paz and are surprisingly durable.
- 1 or 2 pairs of ‘going out’ shoes– Slip in some heels or wedges if you like for social occasions
- 1 pair of tennis shoes– Suitable for outdoor walking or fitness, plus athletic socks
- 1 pair of cheap sandals or flip flops– For wearing in showers when you budget travel around your new home and for the beach or pool
>>Check out what to pack for moving to Thailand for a year.
- 100ml bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, moisturiser, cleanser, deodorant and toothpaste
- I carry a small clear plastic bag with essentials for the first week and during that time I will visit a local shop to buy full size bottles.
- Bamboo re-usable sanitary pads– In some countries disposable sanitary towels are pricey or hard to get, so these washable eco friendly versions are worth the investment (available from Amazon).
>>Reduce your liquids and pack the best toiletries for carry-on travel.
Electronics and Documents
- Laptop with cable and spare battery– The lighter the better, aim for under 2kg
- Dual SIM smartphone– A dual SIM phone is brilliant as your bank in your home country and other organisations can call on your original phone number and reach you. It’s worth investing in this.
- 500GB HDD plus cable– For back ups and file storage
- Portable tablet plus cable– I usually teach when abroad or work with children, so I bring my teaching resources as scanned files and a small tablet. I can print any pages as necessary at my destination. My tablet also works as an e-reader so I don’t carry any physical books. Load up some good fiction and a guidebook before you go, it may be hard to get books in English abroad.
- Dongle– I purchased mine from Huawei in Iceland and it is god-send and only the size of a USB drive. You will need to visit a phone shop at your destination to buy data but often having the dongle itself is a major saving, as they are quite expensive.
- Power board and international converter
- Quality headphones
- Your visa and certified translations of qualifications– Some countries will require an official translation of personal documents such as your birth certificate, passport and driving licence for visas or other official purposes, so it’s great to have these ready.
- Camera, cable and memory card
- Colour photocopy of your passport and travel insurance policy– It’s safer not to risk losing your passport by carrying it with you, but you do need proof of who you are, so a photocopy is a good compromise.
>>Read reviews of the best female backpacks for travel.
- Small parasol– For anyone sensitive to the sun this is a fantastic addition and looks chic as anything
- Packing cubes– it’s incredible how much space these save and how well they compartmentalise your packed items.
- Reimann SPF– I swear by this sun cream that lasts for 10 hours after application, as it saves so much time.
- Miniature notebook with crucial numbers– A phone can always fail, so I keep numbers such as the local embassy and my host or point of contact in the new country on paper. In a pinch, I could use this to make a pay phone call and still contact essential people after landing.
- Small indoor sleeping bag– For trips and visits with friends to explore your destination
- 1 month supply of any essential medications or prescriptions– For prescribed medicines also carry a letter from your doctor stating that you need them (which may need to be translated also).
- A reusable BPA-free water bottle– Carry it empty through security and then fill it up in the airport before you board.
- Earplugs and eye shade– In your handbag for the journey and then used on any long bus trips
- A small shoulder bag for day trips in my new home country
Do you have any other tips for packing to live abroad?
About the author: Danni is a small town girl on a mission to break out and live in 10 countries before she dies, ideally taking everyone with her. Follow her journey or take your own first step at Live in 10 Countries – or tweet her your experiences on Twitter @live10countries.
Great list! Though I’m not so sure about a parasol. not really my style but you look great with it! I love the inclusion of reusable sanitary pads though, so eco and budget friendly!
Rather than a parasol I would just take a cute purse-friendly umbrella! A plastic poncho can help when the wind is terrible, but only an umbrella will keep my face dry and my glasses from making me blind. And it can double as a parasol easily.
Another option in the menstrual product department is a mentrual cup. Easier transition for those of us who don’t feel comfortable in pads and only used tampons.
I was living in Taiwan for a few months a couple of years ago taking time off from work. I took only a carry on luggage (2 jeans, 2 sweaters, 2 tees, 2 pairs of shoes, 1 packable down jacket) and a handbag. I bought new clothes and bags while I was in Taiwan and in other Southeast Asian countries. When I came back, my cousin gave me a luggage to be my checked bag (yeah, I got books and other stuff too; could not help to buy things there).
I visit Europe for one month a year. I only took what I wore and a 2nd pair of pants and footwear. I made a point to buy tops, knits, and jackets from charity shops (pants and shoes are hard to find good fit). I treated my charity shop buys as souvenirs.
2nd the purse umbrella. Parasol is not practical and not luggage friendly. I also have a cute lavender nylon poncho.
Most medication, especially painkillers I buy local. Asian countries the painkiller is more potent (I found 1000mg gel tablets in Bangkok). The local insect repellent also works better for creepy crawlies. I like to try local medicine. If it works for locals, it should work for me.
Enjoyed your list very much… Some things I’d like to add after some years of travelling around. Hope this helps! 🙂
1. Scanned copies of essential documents uploaded onto Google Drive or your preferred cloud storage
– You can print them out whenever you need them and you can save the space of all the printed papers.
– My experience is you hardly need to show any hard copies, unless you are applying for a visa or official documents at a government institution.
2. Passport photos
– Carry a couple in your wallet, and you don’t have to rush off to a Photomaton if you need.
– In some countries they are hard to find and/or expensive, plus you want to look good in the photos. If you take them in a rush, you might not look super.
3. Flipflops > Sandals (most of the time, especially if you’re heading off to the tropics)
– They are easy to kick off and put on, especially in Asian countries where it’s polite/common to go barefoot indoors.
– Sandals with velcro strips are annoying to put on and off if you need to go in and outdoors many times a day.
4. Prescription medication
– Be extra careful about this. Many countries have restrictions about what you can bring in — even if you carry a doctor’s prescription letter. Some seemingly innocuous medication have gotten travellers into big trouble (eg. Japan, some countries in the Middle East)
5. Spare ziploc bags
– If you’re the kind who likes to organize your things and keep them separate
– Handy if you want to separate wet from dry stuff, or insulate toiletries from leaking
6. A dry bag
– If you plan to spend a lot of time at the beach and/or doing water sports (kayaking, diving etc)
– Very cheap in Thailand/Vietnam if you’re heading that way, so you can buy these there
I absolutely loved your list. I’m planning to move from Beirut to Montreal for a year, which is a drastic change weather wise. The message you put upfront was really inspiring, to pack what is specialized or expensive. In my case, I am packing several boots/snow proof shoes as this will be the weather most of the time. I also loved the tip about a good dress!
Nancy E Perry says
This is a wonderfully inclusive list that is very helpful ~ many thanks! The only other thing that I could think to add is a small stash of an item you might be particularly fond of if it is difficult to find there or very expensive. (For instance, peanut butter if you are planning on spending a long time in Scandinavia.)