Tuesday, August 6, 2013

What the heck am I supposed to bring for a year abroad??

You got your acceptance letter, your visa is being processed (or if you are lucky you have it back already!), now it’s time to start thinking about what to bring.

The first and most important thing to remember is BRING HALF OF WHAT YOU THINK YOU NEED!!! I cannot stress this enough. You will inevitably buy a ton of stuff here and will want to bring it home, as well as gifts for friends and family. Spain has amazing rebajas (sales) in January and in July which you will definitely want to take advantage of. So, why fill up your suitcases with stuff you have to haul across the ocean twice?

I have done the Auxiliar gig twice. The first year I think I brought almost as much as what I brought to college my freshman year. There were some things I didn’t wear more than once and some things I didn’t wear at all. I left a ton of stuff with a friend during the summer between my two years and still ended up bringing 2 suitcases (one overweight) and a very full carry-on home. So needless to say, I have definitely learned my lesson on packing. With my knowledge and information I have gathered from other Auxiliares and study abroad students I have compiled a list of things that are must brings and things that are forgettable. Hope it helps!


Let’s start with clothes:

 People in Spain are very put together at all times. You won’t see someone running to the store in the morning for a loaf of bread in their pajamas. That being said, you won’t need to bring lots of lazy day clothes. I have one pair of sweatpants and one hoodie that I sleep in during the winter, that’s it.
Let’s talk about dress codes for teachers. I was blown away my first year here by what the teachers can get away with wearing to school. Tiny miniskirts, backless shirts, off the shoulder sweaters, leggings, short shorts and super high heels are all acceptable to wear working in an elementary school here. So, needless to say, you can basically where whatever you want.

If I had to pick one thing I wish I had brought my first year it would be a winter coat. I figured, hey I am placed in Almeria, right on the Southern Mediterranean coast. There is no winter here! I. Was. Wrong. While the temperature didn’t get incredibly cold, it was in a way more difficult that winter in Colorado because none of the buildings have heating, so there is just no escaping the cold. I ended up traveling to some cold places during the Christmas break which lead me to Mango and my 100 euro red pea coat.

Here is my list of must have clothing items:
  • Winter coat: you can buy it here, but they can be expensive.
  • Comfortable walking shoes: You will be traveling a lot, walking on cobble stones and other uneven surfaces, your knees will thank you if you bring good shoes.
  • One nice outfit: Sometimes while traveling the religious sites have a dress code. Also, it’s good for your school’s Christmas and Easter parties, or for any random wedding/communion you get invited to. 
  • Socks: They are weirdly expensive here! I have about 2 week’s worth.
  • Bras: Especially if you are bigger than a D cup. Those are hard to find except at very expensive specialty stores.
  • Clothes you can wear in layers: This is especially important if you are going to attempt to live without a winter coat. Spanish people (women in particular) layer their clothes a lot. Long sleeve shirt, cardigan, and a scarf. So if you want to be warm and blend in bring plenty of layers! 
Obviously, a various assortment of shirts, pants, skirts, underwear. You know the usual. BUT LESS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED!!!

Toiletry Items:

  • Deodorant: I don’t know why they think the spray stuff here works, but it doesn’t. Bring a lot of whatever brand you prefer from your home country.
  • Toothpaste: Optional. Obviously they sell that here. I prefer Crest so I bring some with me.
  • Contact Solution: Carrefour sometimes sells it and I have just seen it Mercadona, so it is becoming more common, but if you need a specific brand it will be expensive from the pharmacy or optics store.
  •  Refillable travel bottles: They don’t really sell travel sizes here, and when they do they are stupidly expensive. Travel toothpastes are a good thing to bring as well.
  • Make up: They sell it here, but it’s expensive. If you are brand specific, make sure you bring some with you.
  • Sunscreen: A tiny bottle here costs double what a normal size bottle in the US costs. I always try to bring a year’s supply with me.
  • Pain medicine: The ibuprofen they sell in the pharmacies here is 600mg (AKA 1.5 times the recommended dose in the US) 


  • Power converter/adapters
  • Locks for hostel lockers
  • Some small things from your country: It’s always nice to show the students/use for gifts.
  • If you are a baker: Measuring cups and spoons. They sell these at El Corte Ingles, but you will pay an arm and a leg for them.

Optional things:
  • Halloween/Christmas/Valentines things: Especially if you are working with kids. It’s really nice to give them some treats from your country.
  • Under clothes passport holder: I use this all the time when I am traveling just as a small purse or to keep my important stuff with me in hostels that don’t have lockers.
  • Ryanair approved luggage: Buying a backpack that fits their tight requirements will save you money in the long run.
  • English books: if you like to read. You can do what I do and bring a few and trade them out at hostels. Make sure you register them at BookCrossing so you can follow their world travels!

Let’s talk about what NOT to bring with you:

  •  Tennis shoes that are not for the gym: I mentioned above shoes that are easy to walk in. Nothing will make you stick out like a sore thumb than tennis shoes (especially white) while in Europe. If you bring these and wear them anywhere except work outs you might as well carry a sign that says “Hi I’m not from here!”
  • Really colorful clothes: This depends on how well you want to blend in. Not saying that Spaniards don’t wear color; but, they tend to wear more muted or neutral colors. I have chosen to ignore this rule because I love bright colors.
  •  Workout clothes that you don’t use for that purpose: No one here leaves the house in yoga pants and a t-shirt. Basketball shorts are a no.
  • Too many cultural things: The schools ask for a lot, but in my experience they don’t really care where you are from. My first year I brought maps, books, pictures, flags and lots of other things that I didn't use at all.

Hopefully this can help you pack for your year. Don’t forget to pack way less than you think you need. Trust me, it will bight you in the ass in the end if you over pack. Happy packing!

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