Spain Study Abroad Travel Essentials

Packing for one month in Spain was quite the challenge. Maybe it’s because I left for my trip straight from the end of my spring semester of college (simultaneously packing for my trip and packing up my dorm was a bit of a hot mess). I thought I packed an appropriate amount, but the day before I headed to the airport, my bag felt insanely heavy. I panicked and took out a ton of clothes, only leaving the bare minimum (and items I ended up not needing at all, i.e. bathing suits, shorts and summer clothes).

Here are some items I am glad I brought – and some I wish I had packed:

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1. Stylish yet reliable walking shoes

Happy feet are crucial when traveling. I think it is very doable to find a healthy balance of fashion and function. I’m not saying you have to walk around Spain wearing Skechers Shape-Ups, but sneakers of some sort are usually trustworthy and durable. I wore my Converse every single day of the trip, and they were comfortable (probably because I broke them in months before the trip), but by the end of the month, the shoes were completely worn out. Wear whatever shoes you please – but know that you will be walking on uneven cobblestone roads and lots of stairs on a daily basis. I saw many people in Spain wearing this style of New Balance shoes, which actually looked really comfy and chic.

2. Notebook and pen(s)

While it is impossible to write down every waking detail from the day, I made sure to carry a small notebook and pens (most likely from MUJI) so I could jot down ideas and things to remember for later.

3. Scarf

This is one item I completely regret not packing – but luckily, it was easy to find and purchase in Spain. In May, the temperature in Barcelona was in the 50s and 60s during the day, but chilly in the morning and at night. I wore a scarf almost every day because it transformed my summery items (tank tops and dresses) into more practical ensembles for the not-so-scorching weather.

4. Camera

I got used to carrying my camera with me everywhere I went, and I had an absolute blast taking pictures and videos of my daily whereabouts. A professor once told my class, “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I think this sentiment holds true for any travel experience; you do not need to have the fanciest camera or the biggest lens on the market to capture the memories and sights of your trip.

5. Hand sanitizer

This may seem like a given, but it should not be forgotten. From restaurant menus to Metro handrails, escalators and turnstiles, the more hand sanitizer, the merrier.

6. Secure wallet/small purse

When I was preparing for my trip, the bag/purse dilemma was quite the controversy. My group leaders constantly warned the students to be aware of pickpocketing in Barcelona, and suggested we secure our belongings with money belts or neck wallets. I brought a few different options and figured I would test out the waters to decide what worked best.

One evening, I wore the money belt under my shirt, but every time I needed to obtain something from the wallet, I had to dig under my clothes, which I felt drew more attention than necessary. It all just felt very inconvenient. (Also, maybe I wasn’t wearing the best shirt for the belt – but either way, I felt weird.) I knew there had to be a better way that kept my belongings safe without having to dig for gold every time I walked down the stairs to the Metro. From then on, I opted for a wallet on a cross-body chain, which was convenient because I could hold the wallet close to my body, but I could also access my Metro pass, cash, etc. without any wardrobe malfunctions.

7. Shoulder bag

My first few days in Barcelona, I carried my backpack, but this proved to be difficult on the Metro and in crowded places, when I needed to carry it on the front of my body. Though many people carry their backpacks like this in big cities, I felt a bit ridiculous. However, I still needed a bag large enough for my camera, school notebook and possibly a sweatshirt. A larger shoulder bag (that zips) like this one, from H&M, was great because I could carry everything I needed for class and for the day without looking like a blatant tourist.

8. Light jacket

The one thing I did not think I needed to pack was a versatile jacket. However, when I got to Barcelona and realized how chilly it actually was in the morning and at night, I instantly regretted not having something like this, from H&M. Some girls in my study abroad group had jean jackets or army jackets, which would have been a smart layering item to bring.

Lessons learned:

  • Check the weather before your trip – and actually pack for it.
  • Pack things you can wear more than once before washing them. (Trust me, even if you are lucky enough to have a washing machine, it will likely be in a foreign language. Also, most apartments in Europe do not have dryers.)
  • Accept the fact that you will probably wish you packed something you didn’t, or wish you wouldn’t have brought something you ended up stuffing in your luggage at the last minute. There is always a way to make it work – even if it means coming up with outfit combinations you never thought possible/socially acceptable.
  • As long as you are comfortable, you will be happy. When I look back on my trip, I had the experience of a lifetime. In the end, I remember the friends I made and the places I saw more than the outfits I wore.

Buen viaje,


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