Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Study Abroad in a Carry-On: Packing (6/7)

Tears were streaming down my face as I frantically rushed to fit everything in my suitcase. I had thought that everything would fit perfectly, but alas, it did not. I needed to leave for the airport in ten minutes, and I was stressed beyond belief. I had to make split-second decisions as to what to bring and what to leave behind. Outfits that I had dreamed of wearing quickly dissolved as clothes deemed unnecessary were thrown out of the suitcase in a desperate attempt to make everything fit. I zipped my luggage, and looked back at the house I would leave for six weeks. Clothes, shoes, and toiletries were strewn about the living room floor. They were now my parents’ problem.



This, my friends, is one of the reasons why I’ve gone through all the trouble of showing you how to pack for your study abroad trip in just one carry-on and personal item. I could have just listed my personal packing list, but I showed you how to approach packing lightly. The secret is planning ahead in order to determine what you will need.

I’ve experienced this night-before nightmare too many times, even with the full intention to go carry-on only. Let me tell you, it is not fun. Beginning a day full of traveling alone should not leave me that frazzled. I am the only one responsible for myself, so I need to manage my stress and worries before I leave.

planning to pack

In order to combat this scenario, I suggest that you pre-pack all your items on your packing list a few weeks before your departure. That way, if you have too many things, you have plenty of time to reevaluate and eliminate the unnecessary items. I practiced this a few times before I wrote my blog posts so that I could write the most accurate pieces about my packing process. It seriously helped me mentally and emotionally prepare to leave some things behind.


Even though I like to brace myself for leaving certain beloved items behind (like the bulky sweater that takes up too much space), I have never regretted leaving items behind. I stress more about bringing too many items than too few. Seriously.

Now that I have established the importance of pre-planning, I will share more about my actual packing method.

My suitcase is the Herschel Campaign Luggage in Duck Camo/Paradise. It’s a wild print, but it’s a great piece that is very unique. (Note: On Herschel’s website, the Campaign Luggage is listed as being 24×15.5×9, which is technically bigger than the allotted size for a carry-on. However, I took a tape measure to my suitcase, and it meets the requirement of 22x14x9, even with wheels and handles).

The suitcase is split in two parts, with the top portion being about one-third of the volume, and the bottom portion being two-thirds. When I want to leave extra space for my return, I like to leave the top portion completely free or filled with gifts and other items that will not return with me. I have quite a few items in Peru with my fiancé, so in order to save space I will not be packing anything to return with me in the top.

In the bottom, I will place my shoe bag and my packing cube. In the excess space, I will place my technology bag, makeup bag, solid toiletries, and health bags. That’s it!

In the top, I’m packing my contacts and medical liquids, prescription medication, clothes for my fiancé, gifts for my host family, and single-use products like wet wipes and sheet masks.

I know that my bag looks full, but there’s actually quite a bit of space left. If you need more room, make sure that you are using every possible corner of space. Once the mesh dividers are zipped, it’s really easy to see how much space I have left.

packed suitcase


The personal item can be a bit tricky. I normally take a mid-volume Herschel backpack, but since I’m studying abroad, I’m going to take my school bag, which is a Vera Bradley tote. The backpack would probably be fine, but it doesn’t hold that much, so I opted to take my regular tote that I use for classes. This one is nice because it has multiple pockets, and it zips to prevent theft. It’s just the right size, and it is big enough to use for weekend trips if need be.

When packing, I take this bag very personally (pun intended). It’s best to place any restricted items in here, as well as any items that you might need in-flight. Since they need to be screened by TSA, I always put my liquids bag and my laptop in this bag. If you have a tablet, you don’t need to take it out of your bag, but it’s still a good idea to put it in your personal item.

Again, make sure you pack the most important items in this bag, as you might have to gate-check your suitcase. You might not have to check your carry-on at the gate, but I occasionally do if I’m flying to or from a regional airport or if there is not enough room in the overhead bins. I’ve never had to pay a fine for checking my bag at the gate, but I have been inconvenienced, since I had packed certain items in my suitcase (like face soap) that I needed in-flight.

Gate-checking your carry-on is safe in the sense that you won’t lose your luggage, but it can be annoying. Put your electronics, passport, pen, addresses, itinerary, and prescription medication in your personal item. Even if you don’t have to check your carry-on at the gate, you will need many of these items in-flight, and it’s very inconvenient to dig through your suitcase in the overhead bins.


So, yes, I was able to pack everything in a carry-on bag and a personal item. Although it was a bit challenging, I’m very proud that I was able to accomplish my goal. Stay tuned for my next post, where I share my experience in the airport, as well as my final thoughts about my packing list.


Leave a Reply

Are you human? *