how to pack for an extended trip abroad

Well, here I am: only a few days out from my departure to Bogotá, Colombia, where I’ll be in teacher training for two weeks before heading off to Barranquilla through the end of the year. At this point, I am ready to go. It’s been months of planning, talking, and making sure logistical things are taken care of before I leave the country for several months, so it’s been a long time coming, yet I can’t believe it’s really here!

So how does one pack for an extended trip abroad? First off, to prep for an adventure like this, I made some fairly radical changes to my closet and to my shopping habits starting months ago. Leaving my job in March means I’ve been living on what I’ve saved to prepare for this break, so it’s been a fairly spartan lifestyle for me in terms of any extras. It’s good practice for what my time in South America will be like: down there, I’ll earn a meager monthly stipend that covers the basics and that’s about it, so shopping for new clothes won’t exactly be a priority. Not really being able to shop these last few  months of funemployment has been a bummer for me (who doesn’t love shopping and new stuff?!) but it’s also been a tremendous lesson in self-control and learning to keep my closet in check. I’m actually pretty good about not letting my wardrobe get completely out of hand, though I’ve definitely made a few acquisitions in the past few months, mostly in preparation for Colombia (you may have seen a few on my Instagram feed lately).

When it comes to packing for a long trip/sort-of-moving adventure like this, where does one even start? I do have some experience in doing this: I studied abroad in Spain in undergrad for a semester, and packing for that was about the same deal. Because I’ll be in one climate for a couple of weeks (Bogotá sits at over 8,000 feet above sea level and it’s been super rainy and cool lately) and a completely different one for the rest of my time down there (Barranquilla is on the Caribbean coast and is about 90 degrees and super humid year-round), I’ll be packing for every type of weather, though heavier on the warm-weather side.


IMG_9821My closet for the next 7 months.


To prepare for this packing job, I started paring down months ago (selling or donating what I no longer wear/like/need) and adding ONLY what I felt I couldn’t live without, which I feel I did a decent job at, all things considered (e.g. a couple vacations, seasons/temperatures changing, endless temptation here in Austin). Leading up to my departure date, I made a mental list of the items I know I’ll use a ton down there and things I feel I’ll absolutely need. Here’s the complete, exhaustive list of what made the final cut and is getting loaded into the two suitcases that are coming down with me:

Patagonia warm waterproof jacket
J. Crew denim jacket
Uniqlo super light rain jacket
Sanctuary green military vest
tan Esby jumpsuit
gray cotton jumpsuit
black and white Alethea print jumpsuit
black Loft jumpsuit
Loft floral print long-sleeved dress
Paige boyfriend jeans
black Genetic Denim pants
long-sleeve Equipment silk shirt
long-sleeve Dusen Dusen shirt
blue and white short-sleeved Mango top
red graphic print t-shirt
black-and-white-striped t-shirt
black graphic print t-shirt
orange J. Crew shorts
J. Crew Factory navy and white romper
J. Crew factory red print short-sleeved dress
Ace&Jig blue short-sleeved dress
Loft tropical-print short-sleeved dress
Plante raw silk black dress
Knitted Dove multicolored sundress
Madewell black silk sundress
Kühl purple sundress
gray J. Crew cardigan
black J. Crew cardigan
1 pair black tights
3 sports bras
4 regular/everyday bras
black capri leggings
2 pairs of running shorts
1 Lululemon tank with built-in shelf bra
2 athletic-type shirts made of wicking material
15 pairs of underwear
2 sets of pajamas
2 swimsuits
1 swimsuit cover-up
8 pairs of socks
black studded Caboclo shoes
blue Brooks casual sneakers
brown short Frye boots
lightweight gray Crocs sandals
heavy Chaco sandals
Lucky Brand brown and black sandals
Paez casual canvas slip-on shoes
gold Fly London wedges
orange New Balance running/athletic shoes
small box of jewelry
1 pair of sunglasses
2 pairs of regular glasses

When I look at this list now, it seems super long and that I’m at risk of overpacking, but here’s the thing: being prepared for essentially all climates is no easy feat, and when I’m teaching in the classroom there are rules on things I can’t wear (e.g. no shorts), so I still need to look professional when it’s 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity outside. When I was in Spain packing to come back home after my semester abroad, I ended up just throwing away one or two pairs of shoes that I had absolutely worn to death and, frankly, I didn’t want to see anymore. I also recall cutting the legs off of a couple of pairs of pants and making shorts when the weather got warmer. I’ve definitely had to get creative and do more with less in the past, so I’ll be dusting off those skills and getting back to basics in Colombia!

And here’s where you come in, faithful readers: any helpful tips for packing and preparing for an extended trip abroad? Am I totally missing the mark in my prep work and packing list here? Please share (and do it now, because I leave less than 48 hours from the publish date of this post!)

One thought on “how to pack for an extended trip abroad

  1. Rachel

    Liz, this is great! I think you’ve prepared so very well. I love that you made a list not only to help your shopping, but also to keep yourself focused.


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