Packing your bag for a semester abroad is a challenge because you often will be on exchange for multiple seasons: winter, spring/autumn, and summer. Personally, I struggled a lot while packing my bags for my Erasmus program in Lima. So, what should you pack and what could you leave at home? Here you find the answers on all these questions and more: 9 study abroad packing tips.
In case you go on exchange to Lima or another city in South America, this article will particularly helpfull to you. However, most packing tips are applicable to other destinations as well! A packing checklist will follow soon, so stay tuned.
The study abroad packing tips (Lima & South America)
1. pack as minimal as you can for your exchange
There are three reasons behind this study abroad packing tip. Firstly, Peru is a beautiful country with beautiful souvenirs. Accordingly, you do want to bring alpaca sweaters home, and gloves, and heads, and blankets and whatever not. The second reason is that Peru is cheap, especially when you buy clothes at the local department stores like Oechele and Saga Falabella. But also, big brands like Nike and Levi’s are almost half the price compared to Europe. Lastly, when you live out of a suitcase for half a year, you might want to buy something new once in a while when in Lima (for instance second-hand clothes) and it is nice if you have space for this in your suitcase.
TIP: put your backpack in your suitcase and fly it back as hand luggage on the way back.
2. Leave your white/vulnerable clothes at home
In Peru and more countries in South America, washings are done with cold water at home (a luxury) as well as at a lavanderia (a washing store). The advantage is that your clothes will not shrink. However, they will also not become as clean as in your home country. Consequence: your white clothes are cream-colored by the end of your semester abroad. The clothes you really do not want to ruin you can better leave at home!
TIP: Pre-treating your clothes with Vanish stain remover really helps to your clothes clean in the cold Peruvian water. A package is quite expensive, so buy in a group and share or steal some from your parents before leaving!
3. bring warm clothes to South America too
Winter in Lima, 17 degrees Celsius, cannot be that bad I thought. Wrong: it was actually really cold. You will be wearing long sleeves, pants and spring coats at least until the end of October. It does not help that some houses don’t have windows that close and that pre-drinks and social activities are sometimes outside as well. Therefore, make sure that you bring enough jeans, buy yourself a warm alpaca sweater in the first week and do not forget to bring a nice autumn coat from home: I missed my leather jacket so much, that my mom brought it to South America when she visited me in October.
TIP: If you are in Lima, go to the Inca market in your first weeks and get a super good quality Alpaca sweater.
4. Check luggage requirements before you book flights
An important study abroad packing tip for every exchange student… Because might you not pack as minimal for your exchange as you thought you would and do you need to fly home an extra suitcase home, this can get really expensive. So, check beforehand how much it costs to book this extra luggage. Lufthansa, for instance, charges $150 per extra piece on intercontinental flights (ouch). KLM, on the other hand, allows you to change your checked luggage for a surfboard for free (read more on their website)! Another way to get stuff back home is by letting people that visit you fly back some souvenirs: thank you, parents, for solving my luggage problem!
TIP: Want to bring a surfboard on Exchange? Buy a big surfboard bag, stuff it with clothes and book with KLM to bring it for free.
5. Bring your hiking gear to South America
Going to Asia I never brought hiking shoes/clothes, but in South America, I really regretted not bringing them. This continentreally is home to some first class hiking because of the Andes. Take the Salkantay trek, Laguna 69, Colca Canyon, the Qiotoula Loop in Equador, the list goes on. All of them you could complete in sneakers… until it starts raining though.
You can ask your friends in Lima if you can borrow their gear when you go on a hike (like backpacks, rain clothes, throwers). Two birds one stone with this sharing: less consumption and less luggage. I, for instance, borrowed my entire gear for the Salkantay trek from my exchange friends. Still, I wished I had my own shoes, so I would add them to my packing list. Also, such that you can break them in at home already.
TIP 1: Trekking shoes are even better than hiking boots because you can run/train with them as well.
TIP 2: Might you be considering the Salkantay trek, it is good to know what exactly you pay for. We explain it in the article below!
6. Pack with student exchange different activities in mind
The different activities are exactly what makes packing for your Erasmus program so difficult. Take, for instance, Peru with its many climates: you will go to university in Lima (dress a bit conservative), travel to the northern beaches with their eternal summer (beach clothes), visit the jungle (long sleeves against insects, but airy because of the heat), hike the Andes (warm clothes, hiking gear and rain clothes) and go clubbing (party clothes). The packing tip for every student exchange, therefore, is to bring key items that can be used for several occasions and are easily combined, clothes that can be layered for instance.
TIP: there are no strict dress codes in the clubs of Lima, so you can go fancy and casual according to your preference. You will want to bring those party sneakers though because your shoes get ruined otherwise. And girls, you can leave your heels at home (I did not wear them once in 6 months).
7. Bring your usual travel items to Peru
Peru and its neighbors have so many beautiful places to visit and you will definitely be traveling around and the same will apply to any other student exchange destination. So, bring some of your basic travel gear: for instance, a good backpack and a rain cover. Moreover, mosquito protection and tiger balm (against itches) are also a must to pack, as they are hard to find of good quality in South America. Also, bring a fanny pack to carry your valuables, these are also incredibly handy to bring clubbing girls!
TIP: might you not have a backpack yet; I am an incredible fan of my Osprey Ariel! After 4 years of traveling, putting this backpack on changed my perspective on what a bag should feel like.
Read more about places to travel to in Peru in our Peru-Travels section!
8. Buy a good camera & arrange your tech stuff
Or phone for that matter, because these memories you will want to keep. Nothing is sadder than looking through your photos of that great hike and not being able to zoom in because it is all pixels (we had this with our trip to the great wall of China). A relatively cheap, yet super good camera we recommend is the Sony Alpha 5100 🙂 We make the all the photos for the blog with its little brother the Sony Alpha 5000 (but it’s no longer sold new)
We experienced theft not to be a big problem, but making backups is always really important, of your camera, laptop, and phone. So, consider buying cloud space or an external SD drive (no moving parts, so more robust than an external hard drive). Lastly, might you have a second phone at home, good to bring for usage during your evenings out! How to charges these devices? Sometimes with the US sometimes with the European plug, so bring both!
TIP: Bring a converter! Peru switches between European and US power plugs.
9. Bring food and souvenirs from home
From home you say? Yes, from home! Whenever I travel, I bring porcelain Dutch clogs and ribbon in the colors of the Dutch flag. I, for instance, brought 40 sets, (a bit excessive maybe, but I loved handing them out with a personal note). If you packed light, you could also bring candy from home (or cheese). Especially when you just arrive, it is nice to have some familiar food with you… OMG, especially good chocolate! Because in the Netherlands, these bars only cost €1, in Peru €4,5 and they don’t taste good. Oh, and you can always give food away to your friends, they’ll love you for it.
TIP: pack light and fill the left-over space with food and gifts from home for in Peru.
There you have it, 9 things I concluded about packing my bags for my semester abroad in Peru. Actually, I preferred to give 10 study abroad packing tips, but I am empty after 9! Do you have that last perfect advice? Share it with the rest in the comments!