Upon receiving my acceptance letter to participate with Verto, my first thought was, “What am I going to pack?!” Being from Cleveland, Ohio, where the only seasons are winter, summer, and construction, I did not feel prepared for a year of tropical weather in Latin America and the South Pacific. I can confidently say that not only did I overpack for my first semester but my second semester too. Now having completed two field semesters, I have a few tips and tricks on packing more efficiently. Of course, keep in mind that you know you best so pack whatever items you are most comfortable with!
What I packed for both semesters- One duffle with wheels and a backpack.
Wheels are a traveler’s best friend. Whether it is a suitcase or duffle bag with wheels, I cannot stress enough what a lifesaver having them is. Although you may have day trips where you don’t bring your big luggage or the luxury of elevators, there will be times when you are solely responsible for carrying your bags. Wheels make this task 10x easier especially if you find that you’ve overpacked for your semester.
Pack more t-shirts than pants. In regards to maximizing outfit choices a really good trick is to pack more T-shirts than pants. This way you can have the illusion of having a wider variety of outfits without taking up extra space.
To save extra room, ditch some toiletries. Things like lotions, sunscreen, and bug spray are essentials when on your program, however, they take up quite a bit of room. Save some space in your bag by leaving out these non-urgent items and wait to purchase them within your semester country.
Do some extra research when it comes to weather. Although no one can predict exactly what the weather will look like during your time abroad it can be very helpful to get an idea before arriving. For example, if you are going to be traveling during a country’s rainy season, you might want to swap that hoodie for a raincoat.
If you struggle with organization or overpacking, packing cubes can help. Packing cubes allow you to stay organized and save space while traveling from place to place, packing, and then unpacking. Packing cubes vary in size and price so an alternative to packing cubes can be ziplock bags.
Packing cubes are a great piece to have if you are an avid traveler
Leave room for in-country purchases. Chances are you will want to buy things while you’re out and about in your host country. Oftentimes students find themselves purchasing new luggage because they did not account for souvenirs or the new clothing items they would be purchasing while abroad. Of course, it isn’t required to buy extra items while you’re away, but leaving a little wiggle room could benefit you in the end.
Pack something from home. This item doesn’t have to be big but it could be a blanket or even a picture of your friends and family. Most students find this piece of home comforting for those days when you are feeling a little homesick or overwhelmed. For me, I brought my favorite candy from home that was hard to find while abroad and had a piece whenever I found myself missing home.
Awareness when it comes to being conservative. Although there is no dress code on the semesters, you will be in areas where you are expected to adhere to the cultural standard of clothing. You have the unique opportunity of meeting and staying with indigenous communities where you may be expected to dress more conservatively. In places like Fiji, women and men wear sulu’s which cover your body from the waist down. Your program leaders will tell you in advance when more modest clothes need to be worn, but pack clothing that will cover your shoulders, knees, and more modest swimwear just in case.
Verto SoPac students dressed in their sulus.
Leave your valuables behind. Although you will be in safe and in trusted environments and accommodations throughout your entire semester, things can still break, be left behind, or lost. I highly recommend a laptop case (or a built-in laptop sleeve in your backpack) for extra protection when traveling around. Any electronics, clothing, jewelry, etc that is valuable to you (and is not a requirement for school) you may want to consider leaving it at home.
Be thoughtful about your carry on. Bringing a backpack as a carry on is essential for field semesters. Whether you have an overnight trip planned or a day out in a city, having a backpack to bring on those trips will be more convenient to carry around. If you already have one you can also throw a drawstring backpack in your main backpack for more spontaneous trips like the beach. Drawstring backpacks can be folded and don’t take up much space and your back will definitely thank you later.
Regardless of what you pack or how much or how little you pack, in the grand scheme of things the memories you make will make you forget all about that super cool shirt you forgot at home. Be confident in whatever you pack but remember this trip is about you and your experiences, not the clothes you wear. Pack whatever feels right for you and your lifestyle and I guarantee you will have an amazing semester.