How to Pack for Study Abroad in a Cold Place

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suitcaseAlthough being gone for six months may seem like a lifetime, please don’t bring your whole closet with you when you come to the UK/Ireland to study abroad! Trust me, I wayyy over packed (see picture on right) when I studied to London and paid dearly for it when I had to lug my huge suitcases all around the city. Not all hotels have elevators people! And then in the end, I didn’t even use half of the stuff I brought, and I know a bunch of students who haven’t either. However, packing for an extended period of time can be difficult, so as someone who’s packed up and moved to London not once but twice, here is what I would recommend you bring over…

Things you will absolutely need:

A warm coat – it does get really cold here, and by cold I don’t mean 65°F California winter cold, I’m talking about winds that will knock you off your already frozen feet cold! A parka with a waterproof outer layer and a fur hood is probably your best bet.

Good shoes, waterproofed!  –  in addition to getting quite cold, it also rains a ton here. I know British people are always winging about the terrible weather, but they’re kind of right about the rain. And it’s not rain that will pour for ten minutes and then stop; it’s more of an annoying drizzle that seeps through everything, making your socks annoyingly soggy and squelchy. Also, British people don’t really wear wellies, or rain boots as we Americans would say, because they’re quite clunky when you’re running around the city all day. So invest in some waterproofing spray to protect your running shoes or boots! Running shoes are great, because you’ll be doing a ton of walking while abroad. Don’t bring flat soled shoes because it’s slippery, and definitely do not bring flip-flops! Though if you did, the withering glares from Londoners alone would be enough to make you put some real shoes on. 

adapterAdapters/portable chargers – Since the UK uses different ports for their electronic devices, invest in a good adapter that you can plug your phone and laptop into. It’s good to get an international power adapter with several different ports, since you’ll most likely be travelling, and other countries in Europe don’t use the same ports as in the UK. Also buy a portable charger; you don’t want to get stuck or lost in an unfamiliar city or country and rendered helpless because your phone as died! Trust me. It’s always great to carry a portable charger around, especially when you need to upload that one last Instagram!

Backpack/ cross body bag – While studying abroad, you will definitely need a sturdy backpack and good cross body bag from the moment you step off the plane.  The backpack will be great for both going to class and jetting off on weekend trips to Paris or Barcelona, where you don’t want to be weighed down with a cumbersome suitcase. Cross body bags are great for carrying your stuff around on a daily basis and very secure in terms of pick pocketing, which can be quite common in many big cities.

UC Gear – You might think to leave all of your Californian clothes uc-studentsbehind when you come to study abroad, but don’t forget to bring an item or two of your UC campus branded clothes, whether that’s a hoodie, jersey or even socks! British people love California (duh) and it can be a great conversation starter with all the new people you’ll meet while abroad. Plus, who doesn’t want to showcase their UC Pride, am I right??

Layers – Layers, layers, layers! No one place you visit or study abroad at will have the same climate the entire time you’re there. Especially in London, where it seems like temperatures change thrice a day! So it’s good to bring a lot of layering items, so you can pull them off or put them on as you see fit. Light long sleeves, t-shirts, and jumpers are great for this. Scarves too! Bring one that will match with most outfits.

Things you can buy here in the UK:

umbrellaUmbrellas –  Don’t take up precious space in your suitcase with an umbrella, or brolly as they’re called here. You can buy them literally anywhere in the UK and because it’s so windy here, you’ll go through three or four, so there’s no need to buy a fancy one or bring one with you!

Towels/bedding – Some other bulky things you don’t need to bring with you are towels and bedding; you can get both for really cheap, from places like Primark or Argos, especially if you’re only here for one term.


Toiletries – Unless you have a very specific set of shampoos and conditioners, the UK has plenty of drugstores, so no need to lug tons of L’Oréal around in your carry on. Just use travel size toiletries until you’re settled in and can go to a Boots or Superdrug. I will say though, that if you have a special brand of makeup or hair gel you absolutely cannot go without, it’s good to check if they have that brand in the UK, because although they have all the basics here, sometimes there isn’t always a million options. So bring a spare Covergirl mascara in your bag!

Hair appliances – Though you’ll definitely need a hair dryer so you don’t get a cold in the winter, buy all your appliances (straightener, curler) here. The voltage in the UK is different, so don’t lug all of that stuff here just to find out they don’t work, or worse, explode!

Some important overall tips to remember:

  • If you didn’t wear it at home, you’re definitely not going to wear it here.
  • Put out everything you want to bring on your bed, and then take half of it away.
  • You don’t need fourteen pairs of jeans – two pairs will suffice, because they do have washing machines here! Just not always dryers.
  • You’re going to want to shop a LOT when you’re travelling all around Europe, so remember to keep one suitcase half empty for all your European treasures and souvenirs!
  • Bring some sentimental stuff from home, but keep it light – pictures are great, heavy mugs, not so much.
  • Wearing sweats in public or to class isn’t a highly accepted practice in England – instead, you’ll find most people are dressed quite nicely to class! So bring one pair for sleeping and staying cosy around the house, and get used to not bumming it!