My little sister just left to study abroad in Italy for the semester. I would be incredibly jealous, but I got to do the same when I was in college so instead I’m just excited for her!
While I had the best time ever, I wish I could do it over again so that I could pack better. I didn’t have any guidance when I was packing and trust me, there were lessons learned (like how I still can’t bring myself to love Rome because just the thought brings back memories of freezing to the bone with wet feet and no warm coat when the city got the first snow in 20 years – yeah, that happened.)
Lesson #1: Anything overtly preppy is a dead giveaway that you’re a tourist. Not so good for the college me that shopped exclusively at J.Crew.
Lesson #2: 50 degrees in a European city is not the same as 50 degrees in an American suburb. Streets are narrow so you’re nearly always in the shade and those gorgeous stone buildings aren’t often heated. Plus, Italians are *paranoid* of getting sick so they’re always bundled up. So if you walk out in just a thin blouse it’s like “yep she’s American!”
Lesson #3: Bring items that don’t need to be washed often. You’ll see once you arrive that Europeans aren’t so big on doing laundry. The washers and dryers are tiny and most of the times people hand wash their laundry and then hang it outside to dry. Plus, you’ve got better things to do than laundry.
Lesson #4: “Spring Semester in Europe” is really “Winter Semester in Europe”. You will arrive in the middle of Winter and sadly you’ll likely find that the weather just starts to get really nice as your semester is wrapping up.
Lesson #5: Along those lines… most of the places you visit won’t be very warm yet. In fact, if your home base is Italy (like mine was) then a lot of places you’ll visit will actually be even colder! Even if you want to go south to Greece, average temperatures will only be about 60 degrees.
Now that you’re smarter than I was, let’s get to the packing list. I drafted up this comprehensive list for my sister and honestly it is so good that I figured I had to share. Even if you aren’t studying abroad for a whole semester (adult life makes it difficult to check out for months at a time), the list below is a fantastic guideline for any trip to Europe between November and April.
I even went back through all my Facebook photos from my semester abroad to refresh my memory and let’s just say that was a bit embarrassing (pics included of baby MK below for your entertainment – don’t be me freezing in that little skirt!)
2-3 pairs jeans – blue skinny and black skinny are essential. If you have room for one more pair, you can either do another pair of blue or whatever your heart desires. You will likely wear jeans most days, and you won’t do laundry very often, as mentioned above.
2 skirts – that can be paired with tops to go out as well as with sweaters and tall boots for touring around
1 pair fleece-lined tights – My cold-weather secret weapon. Will allow you to get more wear out of those skirts and dresses, and can also be worn under jeans if it’s that cold. You can also often find them at your local TJ Maxx or Walgreens.
My pick: These from Amazon have good reviews
1 pair tights
My pick: This semi-sheer black pair
1 pair leggings or yoga pants
My pick: These Lululemons (100% worth the price IMO)
1 pair shorts, optional – Honestly I only wore mine once the very last week and that was simply because I was like “shit, I never wore these, I need to wear them so it wasn’t a waste!”
My pick: This high-waist black pair that could be worn casually with an oversized sweater (and even tights!) or dressed up with a lace tank for a night out. Also really love this white pair though they would be a little less versatile but better for a beach destination.
3 “going out” tops
2 basic long sleeve shirts – that can be worn under sweaters/cardigans or on their own
2 cute long sleeve shirts
My picks: This dusty pink popover and my favorite classic stripe one that I bring on most trips. This one has a really pretty neckline, though! Oh, and this white one is the most “me” top I’ve seen in a while.
2 short sleeve shirts – again, that can be worn on their own or under a cardigan
1 Patagonia type jacket or 1/4 zip
My pick: The OG Patagonia Better Sweater
1 long sleeve sweater dress, optional
My pick: This bubble sleeve number
1 warm coat – Doesn’t need to go to your ankles, but needs to at least cover your butt.
1 jacket – a utility jacket or quilted jacket that you can layer things under
My pick: This combo of the two
1 rain coat
My pick: This simple and compact one
1 cute jacket – that you can wear out at night
1 vest, optional – If you have room it’s not a bad idea since it can be worn on it’s own or layered as needed
My pick: This cream faux fur option
1 pair tall boots
My pick: My favorite OTK boots
1 pair rain booties
My pick: This black pair that could also be styled as regular black booties when not raining
1 pair flats or other cute shoes
1 pair sneakers
My pick: My favorite pair I own. 100% worth the investment – they truly are better than any other sneaker I’ve owned and are so comfortable for walking all over Europe. Fit TTS.
1 pair booties – for going out and wearing around
2 pairs pajamas – one warm and one cool
1 lounge outfit
1 warm scarf – you’ll likely buy some pretty ones along the way, but you need to make sure you have a warm one
1 pair gloves
My pick: These basic touchscreen gloves
1 beanie or earmuffs, optional – again it’s going to be cold.
My pick: This fun red pom one
My pick: My favorite Gucci dupe
1 swimsuit – in case you go somewhere warmer or if any hotel/hostel has a hottub
1 pair sunglasses
My pick: My favorite classic round pair
1 crossbody bag – needs to be big enough to fit stuff, but not so big that it gets heavy or your shoulders will hate you, and it needs to zip or have a turn lock (nothing open at the top).
My pick: This crossbody seems like the perfect size. Plus, it kinda has some Chloe vibes to it!
1 backpack – as big as possible while still fitting the criteria for budget airlines like Ryanair.
My pick: This one seems most similar to what I brought
1 good umbrella – the ones over there are shit
My pick: This one from Amazon has 4.5 stars and over 1,000 reviews
Workout clothes – if you really think you’ll work out. The villa has a minimal little workout area but TBH I don’t know what all it consists of because I went down there zero times.
Feminine Products – Really random but they mostly sell the OB tampons there that don’t have an applicator and they’re annoyingly expensive in Europe. So if you have a kind you like, I would bring them. Same with pads.