Luggage Planning

  • Before packing, students should check with their airline regarding luggage weight and size limitations.  This is often posted on airline websites, listed under the international flights section.
  • Do not plan on taking excess luggage. Airlines often charge very high rates for extra bags, and some refuse to accept them at all. 
  • Students should start planning what they wish to take with them several weeks before they are scheduled to leave, to allow time to narrow down a packing list to the absolute essentials.
  • Students should keep in mind that they may be doing overnight excursions or weekend trips during their semester or year abroad.  Many students find it convenient to travel with one large rolling bag or large backpack, plus a medium-sized backpack that can be used for overnight trips and can serve as a carry-on bag during the flight. 
  • When selecting bags, keep in mind that overseas flights, as well as airport conveyer belts are notoriously hard on luggage. Avoid taking bags with attachments that could get caught on anything.

Luggage Identification

  • Put labels on both the outside and the inside of all bags, including all carry-on bags.
  • Labels should contain the student’s complete U.S. address and telephone number, as well as the program address and telephone number. This will enable bags to end up in the proper place if they do not arrive at the same time as the student traveler.

What to Pack

Packing List.  When considering what to pack, students should be sure to carefully read the information that their individual program provides and consult with Whitman students who have studied on that program previously.  Some items will be readily available abroad (and may even be less expensive), but other brand name products that are common in the U.S. may not be available at all where you are going.

Take clothes that can be layered.  Keep in mind that in most other countries homes and classrooms are not heated as warmly as they are in the United States.  In some temperate climates, there may be no central heating at all.  Students who are going to be in a location that does not have harsh winters (like New Zealand and Taiwan, for example) may therefore need to take warm socks, sweaters, and long underwear for added warmth indoors. In general, OCS recommends that students take clothing that can be worn in layers so that they can adjust to varying temperatures. 

Local customs.  Students should pay attention to their program’s advice about appropriate clothing within the local culture.  In some locations—particularly in large cities—people may dress more formally than in the U.S.  For instance, students who wish to blend in with locals in European cities should avoid wearing casual athletic wear (like shorts or baseball caps).  In many countries, men do not wear shorts in public unless engaging in sports.  In some more traditional cultures, women may need to cover their legs, shoulders or arms for modesty. 

Formal outfit.  Students should take at least one formal outfit in case they receive an invitation to a formal banquet, wedding, a meeting with a government official or some other special occasion while abroad.

Condoms & Birth Control.  Students who think they may be sexually active while abroad should take condoms and contraceptives with them, as contraception may not be as readily available in your host country, or might be very difficult to seek out.  Some students have reported that the quality and variety of condoms in some countries is problematic.  Remember that HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases are worldwide problems – students who are sexually active should be sure to use condoms.

Feminine hygiene.  In many countries, there are a far smaller variety of feminine hygiene products than in the U.S. In certain countries, tampons can be very expensive or difficult to find, so female-bodied students should consider checking with past participants, as well as with their program, to find out what hygiene products will be available to them. 

Consider packing the following:

  • A sleep-sack sheet or sleeping bag (especially good if you’ll be staying in  hostels)
  • Warm sleeping attire
  • Winter coat, gloves, scarf, hat
  • Waterproof/windproof jacket
  • Wool socks
  • Sturdy, comfortable walking shoes
  • Umbrella
  • Long underwear
  • Slippers (being barefoot in a home is inappropriate in some countries)
  • Towel and wash cloth
  • Wind-up or battery-operated alarm clock
  • Contact solution (can be quite expensive abroad)
  • Over-the-counter medicines (cold remedies, medicine for upset stomach, anti-diarrhea medicine, ibuprofen)
  • Birth control/condoms (Note: Some students have reported that the quality and/or range of sizes of condoms available in some countries is different than in the U.S.)
  • A few favorite recipes from home, if you will be cooking for yourself
  • English dictionary and grammar book
  • Travel guidebook and maps
  • Memory cards for digital cameras (usually less expensive in the U.S.)
  • Camera battery recharger
  • Gifts for friends and host family
  • Money belt or bag
  • Locks for your luggage for use in hostels and hotels
  • Voltage converter and adaptor for equipment (Radio Shack is a good place to find  these)

Carry-on Bags

Students should check with their airline regarding the limits on size and number of carry-on bags. Because checked luggage is occasionally lost or delayed in arrival, students should carry any essential items with them in their carry on. OCS recommends taking the following in a wallet or carry-on bag(s):

  • Passport
  • Important documents such as letter of admission into the program and fee letter from Whitman (if applicable)
  • Telephone and address information for abroad program
  • Money, including some local currency for your destination, travelers checks and/or ATM card
  • Prescription medications
  • Items that might be necessary during the flight, such as contact lens case, warm jacket, etc.
  • Change of clothing

TSA Regulations for Carry-on Bags

  • To view a current list of all prohibited items and other security requirements, visit the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website at
  • Typically each passenger is permitted to pack 3 oz. (or less) containers of liquids or gels in their carry-on luggage—and all these containers must be packed into one, quart-sized, clear, plastic zip-top bag.  Students may pack further liquid/gel items in their checked luggage.
  • No knives or cutting instruments of any sort (including pocketknives, scissors, and some aerosols) are allowed in carry-on bags.  These items must be packed in checked bags.   
  • Security regulations on airlines in foreign countries may be stricter than U.S. TSA regulations.  For instance, on Chinese domestic flights absolutely no batteries or power cords are permitted in checked bags.  For further information, students should check with the airlines they are flying on.


Voltage converters.  Many foreign countries use 220 volts at 50 cycles, rather than the 110v/60 cycles customary in the U.S.  110v appliances will be burned out if they are plugged into a 220v socket.  Students may need to purchase a voltage converter for this purpose.

Newer devices.  Students should check their electronic devices (laptop, smart phone) to see if they accept both 110v and 220v.  Many newer devices have built in converters so travelers do not need to purchase a converter. 

Surge Protectors.  Some countries especially in the developing world have fluctuations and surges in their electrical current, which could burn out your equipment.  You may need to take a surge protector to protect appliances.  (In the case of equipment that is designed for 110v, travellers to countries using 220v would use both a voltage converter and a surge protector.)

Adaptor plugs.  Students should check their program predeparture information about the shape of outlet sockets in their destination countries as they are usually different from the two-flat pronged style plugs in the US.  Adaptor plugs can be purchased inexpensively to adapt appliances to the correct shape of local sockets.

Shipping Items Overseas

  • Whitman OCS strongly advises against shipping items abroad for the following reasons.  It is far easier and less expensive for students to pack all of the things they will need while abroad in their luggage.  With a little effort and care when packing, it should be possible to pack all the necessities for a semester or year abroad, while staying within airline weight limits.
  • Personal items shipped to a study abroad destination will likely incur duty fees at customs.  Customs duty fees may even exceed the value of the items shipped.  And it is not uncommon for items to be missing from packages sent abroad.
  • Many study abroad programs and foreign universities do not have space to store packages and refuse to do so.  Students who want to ship something abroad should check with their program first about whether or not the package will be held at the program site.
  • It is extremely difficult to predict when packages may arrive. Students should remember to pack all items they may need during the first few weeks in their carry-on and checked bags.  Students who mail any packages from the U.S. before going abroad should be sure to keep an accurate record of the packages and their contents to declare when going through Customs.
  • In case of an emergency and the need to ship a relatively small item, students should have items shipped via Express Mail, FedEx or DHL, which usually takes less than a week.  Items shipped with FedEx can be tracked with a tracking number over the phone or the Internet.  Keep in mind that postal services in foreign countries frequently charge extra for the delivery of packages to a home address, and students may be required to pick up certain items at the main local post office.


In many societies, gifts are an important way of establishing friendships and expressing gratitude. Students should plan to take a few small, typically American gifts (such as local handicrafts, t-shirts, Frisbees, American foods and/or candy) to give to friends, program staff, or host family members. Calendars and photo books with scenes of the U.S. are popular as well.