Packing light is all about planning and being rational. Sorry to take all of the fun and romance out of it. There’s plenty of time for fun, drama, and mystery while you’re abroad, it really shouldn’t be a part of your packing. Losing touch with rational thinking while packing will lead to you having a massive suitcase with nothing you actually need (or a very tiny suitcase to much the same effect). If you want a big dramatic packing story wait for the trip home from your time abroad because, honestly, I don’t know one person who’s handled that in a rational way (but that’s an article for another time).
Step 1- Plan:
Think about what your study abroad experience will be like, where are you going? How will the weather typically? How long will your trip be? How important is fashion where you’re going? How possible will it be to purchase clothes there? After you’ve thought these things through think about what you already have and make a list of things you want to pack and things you need to purchase.
Pro tip: unless you’re going someplace radically different from where you live (read, a Hawaiian studying in Siberia) your list of things to buy shouldn’t be that long. I mean it, put down the pen and save that money for your trip.
Step 2- Pack:
After you’ve made your lists and purchased that new sweater pack it all in your bag.
Step 3- Survey your surroundings:
Now look around. Were you able to get everything in? Do you have lots of extra room? No extra room? As you walk around your house are you suddenly spotting items you can’t live without? Contemplate your packing skills for a moment and gather those other items together.
Step 4- Unpack:
Unpack everything and reorganize making sure to include the new found treasures from around your home. Take stock of your pile. Are you happy with it?
Step 5- Repack:
Repack, if your luggage seems too full try a new layout.
Step 6- Carry your bag around for a while:
Now that you’re fully packed, pick up that bag and walk around. Seriously, do it. Walk around your house, around the block, over that totally messed up pothole out front, up some stairs, and down some stairs. If your luggage has wheels try carrying your bag as if the wheels are broken. Remember, you are responsible for your bag and you’re going to have to deal with it for more than just the airport trip. Once you reach your final destination you have no way of knowing what you’ll be met with. I’ve had to carry luggage up 9 flights of stairs and race other students for the best bedroom all after a 17-hour plane ride (I'm not kidding). Seriously contemplate if you can deal with that. Remember that if you’re a dude you’ll be expected to help people with their luggage no matter what and if you’re a chick everyone will hate you for making the dudes help with your luggage (I’m not kidding about that either). While you’re at it you might want to invest in a luggage scale (and bring it with you!)
Step 7- Repeat steps 3, 4, 5, & 6 as many times as necessary:
Mourn the idea that packing would be a quick process and ask you friends to come over for that drink instead of meeting them out in the real world. When you’re finally done revel in the fact that you’re an expert packer and dread the thought of trying to fit souvenirs into your luggage on the way home.