My Two Cents on Packing

I once tried very hard to follow the advice: Lay out everything you want to bring and then cut it in half– then cut it in half again. But I now realize this is crap– utter crap. And let me tell you why: Every person has different needs, desires, and comfort levels, which is why you can crumple up all packing lists and throw them away.

Frankly, there is no perfect way to pack for a long stint abroad, but I know I am a better traveler if I just govern my preferences and lifestyle at the end of the day, and pack whatever I want and need to feel comfortable. I recommend you to do the same!


However, here are some recommendations on what to pack, based off experience:

  1. Stock up on cabinet medicines, such as Ibuprofen, DayQuil, NiQuil, cough drops, etc. The quality in France, frankly, is not as good, and you will miss them once you are sick in bed and forced to take French cold medicine.
  2. Pack copies of EVERYTHING, including vaccination histories, passport, visa, OFII paper, tax returns, social security card, driver’s license, etc. I brought all of my papers in a file folder, and it’s one of the most useful things I have ever packed. You will obtain more papers and need somewhere safe and organized to keep them. Additionally, keep an additional copy of your documents on a computer or a USB key!
  3. As it can take FOREVER to get registered with la Sécu in France, it may be a good idea to pack an advancement on your prescriptions (especially if you are still under your parents’ insurance in the US!) During both my assistante and first lectrice year, got a 9-month advancement on all of my medications here in the United States. Pro-tip: **My OBGYN was able to give me about five months of “free samples” of birth control, so I only paid for four months instead of nine. Perhaps see if your doctors can do something similar.
  4. Pack extra hair/shampoo/beauty products that may be difficult to find in France. For example, I have really high maintenance curly hair, and my products of choice are not available in France (though I’ve found them online and in the UK). In order to save myself some money, I packed a decent supply of product (including a 33 oz. bottle of conditioner and three 16 oz bottles of leave-in cream). Again, it takes up a lot of weight in my suitcase, but even though it is heavier, and maybe even unnecessary, it is what I need.
  5. I stocked up on razors, as they are more expensive in France as well as deodorant sticks because French deodorant is legit the worst
  6. Pack any comfort food you may miss (for me, this includes Jif peanut butter and Sour Patch Kids.)
  7. European Converters for EU and the UK for your electronics are essential!
  8. I definitely recommend bringing a carry-on suitcase that is suitable and free for RyanAir and other budget airlines!
  9. Clothes: Know the climate where you are going to be living, and the climates where you would like to travel!  Overall, teachers dress very casually in France. Nice jeans and tops/sweaters, a good pair of boots, colorful tights, and of course an array of scarves are key to becoming French! Invest in staple pieces!
  10. I did a lot of interviewing for lectrice positions, so I brought a suit over for skype interviews and in person interviews.
  11. I brought my own tennis shoes for exercising because I find them to be more expensive and of less quality in France.
  12. Ladies, tampons and Pads are expensive— consider investing in the Diva Cup! Not only is it cheaper, but it’s environmentally friendly!
  13. I brought travel-sized bottles because I found them difficult to find in France.

Things to Leave Behind:

  1. Skip out on items or props for your classroom— I promise you won’t use them. Put your photos on a USB key and find everything else you want off the internet. You’ll thank me later.
  2. Hair dryers, straighteners… you don’t need them, and they will not convert correctly.
  3. Towels, dishes, and furnished essentials. If you are in the north of France, go to Hema, a great quality, better, Dutch version of Target! They’ll have everything you need, and more!

Any other suggestions?



21 thoughts on “My Two Cents on Packing

  1. Hi Dana!
    It’s getting down to the wire and I’m starting to worry about not having enough space in my large suitcase plus a carry on. The airline I’m flying (Wow Air) charges $75 or so to add a second checked bag and I’m wondering if this would be worth doing (thus, I’d have two checked bags and a carry on)? I’ll be traveling from Paris to Royan by bus and train (as much as I love the metro, I’m going to try to avoid it since I’ll be alone) and I’m wondering if this much luggage will be worth dealing with or if I should suck it up and make a large case and a carry on work? Thanks so much for all your help this blog provides!! You’re a God-send!

    1. Hi Olivia,

      I think if age has taught me anything, it’s to just bite the bullet and pay the baggage fees if that’s what you need to be comfortable. I lugged 3 suitcases thru the metro as an assistant in Paris and today I would not hesitate to fork out the cash for an Uber or a taxi (no Uber in 2013!) today. Yeah, annoying fees to pay but sometimes it’s worth the stress and anxiety you’ll save 🙂 Do what works best for you but just fork out the cash for an Uber… also, I way overpacked my first time around. You can buy stuff here in France although I do understand just wanting to use what you have. Good luck! Have a great year!

  2. Hi Dana,
    This post is really useful to me, especially the bit about the razors, deodorant and feminine hygiene products. I’m now planning on stocking up on those things before I leave!
    I was wondering, though, why you mentioned bringing copies of a tax return…did you file your taxes by paper from France?

    1. Hi! You sometimes need your tax return for reference if you apply for the CAF. otherwise I did my USA taxes online and my French taxes on paper (you have to the first year). I have a post about taxes under TAPIF tips- Hope that helps!

  3. Can you take razors in your carry on bag?
    In Australia I have to check in my bag if I have razors, any liquids over 110ml, nail scissors/clippers etc…
    But if I pack small travel shampoo, shower gel etc I will buy razors from a nearby supermarket .
    It would certainly save money if I could just pack those things in carry on because I then end up packing more in a check in bag and fill up a carry on 🙂

  4. The fact that you’re only packing one suitcase makes you much better than the rest of us. You’re literally taking only half of what I took, since I took two suitcases both times I worked in France. But the first year I worked in France, I could check two bags for free. The second year, I had to pay $25 for my second bag flying out there, but it was free coming back because my ticket was a “buddy pass,” courtesy of my best friend’s dad who was a pilot.

  5. I’m super pleased to read that we’re not alone, that comfort should come before everything when you’re planning a trip – be it large or small.

    We too took our few meds in bulk as we thought that it would save us a much larger headache down the road should we have to navigate language barriers, doctors and unexpectedly large fees. A really sensible move.

  6. Whether you start with a list – or do what you did and just pack what you feel you want to take and need – doesn’t it all come down to this?: the weight requirement for a suitcase determines what can ultimately go in that suitcase. Of course, if you can lug a 2nd bag AND pay for it to be checked – more power to you. We may approach packing with either strategy – but we almost all share the fact we have initially packed a too full and too heavy bag. Then some cherished or needed items just have to be cut. Good luck!

    1. You’re totally spot on with all of this! I try to lay out outfits and pair them together so I essentially wear less things. I refuse to check an extra bag but if it comes down to it I will pay more. I never check my bag except for the fact that I’m flying internationally for 9 months so its free- thanks for your comments!

  7. It’s really hard to pack for long term, but when I was in Poland last year I brought so much stuff that my suitcase just barely made the weight limit. As a result, I ended up buying a bunch of clothes and other cool stuff while I was there because I wanted to have some new “European additions” to my wardrobe. Then coming home was a nightmare because I had trouble shipping things home and had to pay over $100 to check a second bag at the airport. I also had to buy a second suitcase while I was abroad.

    On the bright side, I always bring a lot of toiletries also, but then I plan not to bring any of it home so hopefully that’ll leave more room for souvenirs. Good luck in Paris! I love that city and definitely wish I could’ve spent some more time there! What will you be doing?

    1. Im going to be teaching english in southern france but I’m just traveling for a few weeks before settling. I know, it’s so much easier for me to pack for short term travel. I totally agree with you that I know right now no toiletries will come back with me
      Next June, nor will most of my older shoes, essentially leaving room for things I purchase. I am probably going to have to make more cuts once I pack everything up Sunday night.

      Thanks for your comments!

    2. Hello! Will be leaving in Sept for TAPIF in Clermont-Ferrand. Anywho, was thinking of just bringing one large suitcase and shipping more later once I have my living arrangements set up (I’ll probably be in a hostel until I find a place). I’m definitely anxious about dealing with planes, trains, and buses with more than I can carry. What are your thoughts on that after having dealt with shipping? Is it more expensive than it’s worth?

      1. I had a large suitcase, a carry-on suitcase, a large backpack, and a purse/bag. I just sort of dealt with it and used escalators and elevators when possible, lugging my stuff through the metro and train stations. There are always people to help you with luggage at the gares, and luckily there were some really nice people who helped me Cary my suitcases up a few flights of stairs in Paris (otherwise just one at a time.)

        For me, shopping was expensive so I just paid for an extra suitcase.

        Buy locks for your suitcases if you’re going to be in a hostel. Instead of shipping stuff, just buy new disposable stuff there. Don’t pack things like hair shampoo etc, in order to save weight and space. 🙂

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