Planning on an AIESEC exchange? Done with all the interviews? Finished with your visa? Congratulations. You’ve made it to the packing stage! I had been on exchange twice before (2 month summer educational exchange and 6 month intercultural exchange ), so I wasn’t panicky. I already had a rough idea of what to pack. This was the first trip however, that I organised for myself. This was the first trip ever with no adult figures. I was the adult. So, I had to decide what to pack. There was less interference from my mom and dad this time around. So then, the problem I faced was how to make sure that I had everything I ever needed under 23 kgs.
First things first, I had been accepted to AIESEC Timisoara (Romania), for the Discover Romania Beyond Dracula Project. Basically, we were a team of internationals travelling around Western Romania to blog, photograph, video the sights that we travel to. We were supposed to break the Romanian stereotypes and I think we did (The tour certainly opened my eyes and broke the stereotype for me). I’ll be posting some of the photos and videos of my team here on my blog later on 🙂 During one of the Skype meetings with the Romanian local committee (LC), I was informed that we were going to travel in short periods of time and that we were going to hike and swim. So, remember to ask your host LC what to bring and what to expect. Also ask your exchange participant (EP) manager if they have information about the country!
I was abroad for 2 months. I spent 6 weeks in Romania and then 2 weeks hopping to France, Finland and Spain. So I had to pack smart because when I arrived in Romania, it was midsummer (as hot as the Philippines, I kid you not), then when I arrived in France, it was the beginning of autumn (15C-19C), and in Finland, although they claimed it was end of summer, it was 16C-11C, and in Spain it was 27C-19C.
Here are a few tips from one AIESECer to another:
1.One way to avoid overweight luggage is to pack a medium-sized one. This literally, makes it physically impossible for you to stuff in more things! My luggage is one of the light ones by Delsey (I forgot what model exactly but it’s the feather weight kind or something like that) in medium and I think the maximum weight it could pack ( based on prior experience) is around 25-27 kgs (depending on the packing skills).
So, by the time I went home, my trolley was fully expanded and she weight a healthy 25.8 kgs. The lady at the check in counter (on my Barcelona- Zurich-Singapore- Manila flight home) was nice enough not to count it against me (I had the standard 23 kgs allowable baggage,) because I only had one carryon, which was a 30L backpack. I was lucky with this. I find that I’m always lucky with my luggage. ( My carryon was close to 10 kgs, good thing she didn’t weigh it.) One friend of mine got charged 100 USD on her way home from our exchange (I don’t know the exact details). So please check the airline fees.
2. Packing wisely means packing versatile clothes. In my project, we travelled around and up to the mountains once in a while but we stayed in the city most of the time. The city weather was unbearably warm. So, shorts and sleeveless shirts were great. The mountains and caves were cold. So, tights/ leggings and sweaters were needed. I packed clothes which easily mixed and matched. I mostly stuck to solid colors so it would be easier. I also packed a lot of scarves! Consider layering.
3. Also remember that it is always better to pack the clothes you always use rather than buy new ones. Sometimes, new clothes have surprises in store for you (i.e. popping buttons, discoloring, uncomfortable static, etc.) They may look great in a dressing room but always keep in mind that you’ll be doing things that you never imagined yourself doing, so pack the things you trust! (This is also a great excuse for shopping. Chuck your old things and buy new clothes when you’re on your exchange! Huzzah!)
4. Pack at least one, nice, going-out outfit. I packed a little black dress and a pretty, bedazzled top. So I had 2 options for when we went out. It does not hurt to go prepared. You’ll want to look your best once in a while! The material of both pieces needed zero ironing. So they looked great even though I unceremoniously stuffed them into my luggage. For guys, try to pack a wrinkle-resistant button up.
5. I packed 4 pairs of footwear. 1 pair of sneakers (which I wore almost everyday), 1 pair of slippers (For dorm/ bathroom/ pool use), 1 pair of casual sandals and 1 pair of dressed-up sandals. On hindsight, I wished I had brought an extra pair of sneakers, because at the end of the trip, mine were so battered I had to chuck them (but, I did get to buy new ones so it’s okay). Another thing to consider is if your footwear has funky cutouts, think of the sun! My feet still have the style of my sandals burned on them by the summer sun.
Moving on, I have a couple of points I wanted to share concisely.
Clothing items that saved me:
- My ultra light down jacket from Uniqlo. I just stuffed this baby in my backpack since it comes with a case and is extremely space efficient. I was surprised that I was able to use this one so much since I expected summer weather in Romania. I did use it almost everyday in France and Finland. It kept my body warm but not too hot, so I didn’t have to keep removing it in between walking outside and entering places such as museums. Also, it makes a good pillow during transit!
- Scarves. Besides the fact that I have an insane obsession with scarves, they are excellent travelling companions. They can keep you warm and they add extra oomph to your outfit without taking too much space. I have to admit that I had at least 2 scarves in my backpack when I went on my exchange (I think I brought a total of 5 scarves in my luggage). In fact, I have this really old, hole-riddled one from Mango that I cannot seem to let go, but it makes the best blanket in plane/ bus/ train rides (besides the fact that I absolutely adore the color and material). Also, when wearing sleeveless shirts/ shorts, having a scarf on hand means that you could go into religious places of worship with no problem (to maintain modesty and observe custom, cover up the skin!)
One clothing item that I had no use for:
Socks. Not that I did not use socks, but i somehow packed truckloads of it! I had at least 10 pairs in my luggage! ( I was able to give some of them away.) Consider bringing at least four pairs of socks.
The weirdest, yet most convenient thing I packed:
Disposable underwear. (Don’t hate!) It was at my mother’s insistence that I brought a pack along. I did not want to buy this at all. However, they prove to be lifesavers on occasions where you’re too caught up in the exchange and have no time to wash. This is one weird thing to consider!
The one thing I wish I had packed:
My handy-dandy steamer. I have a small handheld steamer that I wanted to pack, but my sister told me that it would be too much. I wish I brought it along because even though I packed low maintenance clothing, having nicely
pressed steamed clothes boost the mood. All the girls I roomed with wished we had an iron. So, this is one thing to consider bringing if you have the extra luggage space. Which in the end, I did not have.
Other items that I packed:
- Lint roller, for all your dark clothes.
- Towels- One big body towel and 2 smaller face towels. I bought mine from Aquazorb since they were thin and came in reusable packs. Oh, and you can have your name stitched on the towels so no one can take it from you.
- Hangers, try to pack one that has several clothespins on it.
- Portable weighing scale
- Goodies from the Philippines- I actually brought a lot of these. They took up a fourth of my luggage space, which was okay for me since I would have more shopping space once the program was done. Think of bringing post cards, dried mangoes and keychains to give away as gifts.
- Medicine- I packed a lot of antihistamines (Verlix) because I’m allergic to pollen and dust. I also brought some paracetamol. Neozep Forte, which is a nasal decongestant, antihistamine, analgesic and antipyretic, also helped me a lot during my trips. For ladies who have dysmenorrhea, bring the painkillers that you’re used to! I brought Dolfenal 500mg with me. Finally, I packed Buscopan in any case of an upset stomach.
- Toiletries and makeup.
- Extra backpack and small body bag (for overnight trips).
- Electronics, chargers, hard drives.
- Permanent marker- This was a best seller in my dorm room. We had a fridge, and everyone who brought food into it requested the use of my glorious black sharpie.
So that’s just about it. I hope this post helped you in deciding what to pack and what not to pack. This post is specifically for midsummer-early autumn weather. So please be guided accordingly. 🙂