How to pack for TAPIF, or 7 months abroad.
How was packing this time around the block? Let me tell you, it was stressful, but I feel pretty proud of what I ended up with. I needed to be able to pack for 4 more months than I was abroad in Paris but I knew I needed to pack an entire 50-pound suitcase left after what I learned from studying abroad. I also knew I would be taking many more trips than I did when I was abroad. I didn’t travel very frequently when I was abroad because,
- A) Traveling is expensive. Living in Paris is crazy expensive. It’s just not possible to travel all the time when you’re spending so much money just living.
- B) I wasn’t interested in skipping class or blowing off a test. Even though study abroad is pass/fail, I respected my teachers and my education enough to opt out of traveling right before a test or big project was due. I wanted to make all As, even if it didn’t matter.
- C) I lived in Paris. When will I ever be able to afford to live in Paris again? There are infinitely many things to do in Paris, and as expensive as it is to live there, it’s even more expensive to just visit and have to pay for accommodation and meals out all the time. There were so many things to do and see in Paris that I didn’t want to leave the city every weekend and feel like I didn’t properly enjoy it while I lived there.
But, Le Mans will be different. I’ll have a little more money because I’m going with double the savings I had for abroad, and I’ll be getting a paycheck that will hopefully pay my living expenses and have some room left over assuming I can get housing subsidies etc. Le Mans will be infinitely less expensive than Paris so that will stretch everything farther. Also, I’ll have more time to plan weekend trips and long vacations because as a teacher I’ll have 6 weeks paid vacation. Life is pretty good.
So I want to be prepared for my travels with anything that makes my life easier and can be purchased on Amazon J These are some things I’m bringing other than clothes that I think are really important.
- An external phone charger that holds 4 charges. This was around $20 on Amazon and I know it will make traveling much less stressful. When Bailey, Alex, and I traveled our phones were constantly dying which is inevitable when you’re taking tons of photos, using maps for directions, yelp for ideas, etc. This charger will take care of myself and the friends I’m traveling with, and even if I’m traveling solo, it will be nice to know that I don’t have to recharge the charger after one use if I don’t have the time or opportunity. $20
- A packable towel: When you’re traveling around you’re going to be staying in airbnbs or hostels. Airbnbs very often have towels for you, but not always. And hostels always charge a fee to borrow a towel. Bringing a regular towel around with you is irritating both because it takes up a lot of space and also because it takes a while to dry and who wants to put a damp towel in their bag? The packable towel folds down into a tiny little square no bigger than a two pack of socks and it dries almost immediately after use so that you can pack it back up right away and check out. These are not expensive anyways so it’s worth it in my opinion. I got the Sunland Microfiber Compact Drying Travel Bath Towel (24inx48in) for $12
- Padlock– The padlocks with the spin combination are my favorite because you don’t have to keep track of the extra key. For some reason they are so much more expensive in Europe. You’ll need one to lock your stuff up in hostels both for times you’re in a shared room and times you put your luggage in a luggage room before the check in time. $5
- Packing cubes- So excited to bring these to France. I already used them on my trip to Chicago and my trip to Tennessee for my brother’s wedding. They are a lifesaver for me, but definitely not necessary for everyone. I just love them because they keep me organized and sane. They weigh almost nothing and they come in different brands, shapes, and sizes. You can get double-sided cubes with odor and waterproof sides to put bathing suits and or dirty clothes. Basically, the idea is that when you’re on the go, you don’t have to take everything out of your suitcase to find that one pair of socks you want. You just grab the cube with all your socks and voilà. This is also useful when you in a shared room in a hostel and you don’t want to unpack and go through your suitcase in front of everyone. You grab the cubes you need and go to the bathroom and change and no one has to see anything that you own. I’ll probably post more on this after I use them in Europe.
So, initially, my dad helped me shove everything I owned into my packing cubes and then we vacuum-sealed everything into space bags before getting in the car to drive from Mississippi to Georgia where I will be staying with my brother and new sister-in-law for a few days in Atlanta before taking my flight from ATL to CDG. As I was taking my turn driving while my dad was sleeping I started to realize that the way I packed was all wrong. Everything was just shoved into a space bag with no rhyme or reason other than simply trying to get everything to fit.
I knew that upon my arrival in France I will be spending 3 days in Paris with Alex, then going on to Le Mans where I’ll be staying in a private room that my contacts reserved for me for my first week there while I look for housing, and then before that week is even up I’ll be going to London for the weekend. Between getting to France and getting back from London, I’ll need access to a lot of the things that are vacuumed in my suitcase and I can’t very well open those things up and get them shut again. Since I don’t have a place to live yet, I don’t have the ability to just unpack when I arrive. I’ll need to live out of a suitcase for my first week or two, so I had to eliminate and re-organize my suitcases so that my smaller carry on would contain everything I need for the first couple weeks organized in packing cubes perfectly for accessibility and my sanity, and then my large checked bag needed to be the one with the space bags but still more organized than before. (Side tip– I put a dryer sheet in every cube so that my clothes will smell fresh even though they’ve been in a suitcase for an undetermined about of time.)
It took ages to narrow everything down but it was necessary because I was determined to only take with me 1 large 50lb checked suitcase, 1 small carry on suitcase, and 1 medium sized duffel bag (specifically the weekender Vera Bradley bag, which I really recommend because it has a lot of great pockets and a trolley sleeve so you can slide it over the handle of your suitcase which is extremely nice). I spent an entire afternoon figuring this out and this is the system that worked for me.
- I put everything I wanted to bring in piles organized by type. Pants, skirts, sweaters, etc.
- Then I counted and wrote down how many of each item there was and if one pile seemed to have more sweaters than necessary, I tried every sweater back on to make sure I totally loved it and liked it. As silly as it sounds to try stuff on again, doing so with the knowledge that you have to cut something out really helps, at least it did for me.
- I went back and forth with every pile, trying to make sure I could justify everything I had and eventually I had a pile a foot high and a foot wide of clothes I wasn’t going to bring after all.
This is what I came up with,
7 plain t shirts/v necks
One gold sweater shirt
One casual cute shirt
One dressy shirt
3 sports bras
4 work out tops
2 work out capris
1 yoga pant
1 pair of light cloth pants
1 light leatherette jacket
1 light vest
6 normal weight scarves
3 thin scarves
10 heavy sweaters
4 cardigans (2 black, 1 navy, 1 grey)
2 long sleeve light shirts
19 pairs of normal socks
All my undergarments because you can never have enough.
So obviously, this is not a formula! Everyone is going to need different amounts of different clothes because everyone has their own style. Additionally, depending on the weather the amount of sweaters and scarves will obviously changing accordingly. Not only did I have to pack clothes, but I had to pack the things I knew were important to me—150 tampax pearl tampons, a razor with extra blades (I feel like those will be really expensive in France), bath and body works lotion, etc. Something I learned from Dana was that at the end of the day, only you can decide what’s the most important to you. For instance, de-tangling hair cream–they don’t have this in France. I spent my entire 3.5 months searching when I was abroad! So you can bet I’m making room for two bottles of that.
From that point on, I packed up all my winter clothes that I knew I wouldn’t need my first week in Le Mans. I definitely recommend putting sweaters and scarves in a space bag. They are so bulky and take up so much room otherwise that it’s worth it to suck out the air and it increases your space by double. Then I put other less immediately necessary things in the checked bag like my exercise clothes, dresses, other pairs of shoes etc.
After that, my carry-on suitcase was clear to hold all my regular tops and skirts, hairbrushes and just generally things I would need in the next few weeks. I definitely recommend trying to keep everything you need (other than your liquids which I have to be checked no matter what, obviously) for the beginning of your trip in the one carry on in the most organized manner possible if you’re doing TAPIF and you don’t yet have housing before going to France (which is more common than not). You don’t know how long it’s going to take to find a place and it would be annoying to have to constantly be looking between two different bags for the things you just need to start out with that first week or two.
I feel so much better now, knowing that my bags will be manageable on the Paris metro and then on the train from Paris to Le Mans, and knowing that for my trip to Paris, Le Mans, and London my first week abroad, everything I need is in its proper packing cube in the one carry on-suitcase. I leave for Paris tomorrow and I don’t really believe that it’s happening, but I’m happy that the worst of the pre-departure preparations are over. I have my visa, and I’m packed. My next few days will be pure fun with my best friend in Paris before I have to get down to business finding housing in Le Mans.
Oh, and if you were wondering, I got so much packing and packing gear and traveling advice from Sonia’s Travels. She makes awesome youtube videos I’ve been watching to prepare for my trip.