One of the bigger stressors when it comes to doing TAPIF (or moving abroad for any period of time, like study abroad), is packing. There’s always a mild panic of have I brought too much? or have I brought too little? or what if I forget some oddly specific thing that can’t be bought where I’m going?? This is now my third time packing for a lengthy stay abroad, so I’d like to think myself an expert (or at least, someone with some experience… maybe expert is giving myself too much credit). For that reason, I thought I’d write about the tips I have for packing in preparation for TAPIF, and how to make the most of your (potentially) limited luggage. This post is a bit long so feel free to scroll down to the bottom this of the post to go to my packing list!
Every time I’ve had to put together my suitcases for my journeys abroad, my packing list has gotten shorter and shorter. I’ve learned what I actually need, what’s nice to have, and what absolutely isn’t a necessity (I brought Wellies with me when I studied abroad and wore them ONCE. They’ve never come with me since, even though I love them). The last time I did TAPIF, I travelled with a large checked suitcase, a carry-on, and a backpack. Even having done the packing debacle before I did TAPIF last time, I still ended up bringing things I didn’t wear, AND managing to forget things that might’ve been important. I’ll be traveling with the same luggage restrictions this time around (with a 20kg limit on my checked bag). Fingers crossed I get it slightly more right this time! You can bring more or less luggage, but remember that you’ll have to schlep everything you bring with you through the airport (possibly more than one if you have layovers), and carry it through all the transit you’ll need to get to wherever you’re placed. Only bring what you can comfortably carry/get by moving around with on your own.
Important packing tip: Make sure you put any prescription medication, along with emergency toiletries, and anything else you can’t live without or that is hard to replace (like your retainers) in your carry on! If the airline makes you check your carry on because of limited room, be sure to move those items into your personal backpack/purse!
What to pack
My general rule of thumb when it comes to figuring out how much to pack, is to first figure out your laundry cycle for clothes. Do you do laundry every week? Biweekly? Once a month? Then determine how many clothes you need for that amount of time and pack that, plus some extras (in case you travel for longer than your laundry cycle, or something happens). That’s a good estimate of what to bring, but of course, you can bring more or less, depending on how often you want to rewear clothes, and how fashionable you want to be.
The thing that always gets me, and takes up a ton of room, is shoes. I always bring too many pairs, and I have such an awful time deciding which ones to bring with me! Shoes definitely add a lot of weight, so you don’t want to weigh your suitcase down too much (most airlines have weight limits for checked bags, be sure to check them carefully before you set off to the airport, or you might have to pay for overweight bags), but it’s obviously personal preference how many pairs you want to bring. Think about comfortable shoes that you could walk in for a while if you travel, or if your bus stop is closed and you have to walk to the next one (true story, this did happen to me once). Flip flops are also good shoes to have as shower shoes for travel. I also recommend trying to stuff some socks/tights/small items into your shoes if possible to maximize space!
Another area of packing where you can reduce items is toiletries. Almost everything you use in your daily life toiletry wise can be found in France. This means you can save a lot of space by not packing a full carton (is it a carton?) of shampoo or a full tube of toothpaste to last you your whole contract. I usually bring a travel sized shampoo and toothpaste in my carry on in case I have my bags delayed, or in the case of France, can’t move into my permanent housing situation immediately. You’ll want just enough to tide you over until you can go to the shops/get settled, but you can buy most big name brands in France. The one toiletry I do bring with me is my face washes because I’ve gotten quite particular with my routine, and my skin always acts up when I switch it up – but that’s personal preference!
Random things to bring that might not have crossed your mind: laundry and lingerie bags. Makes washing easier and easy to transport (although a big grocery bag could also work if your closest laverie requires walking). Lingerie bags are great for keeping your socks together, and a potential necessity this year due to needing masks. Another thing: I also know assistants who brought spices/food items that aren’t available in France as a way to stave off the home sickness, but I personally rank this low on my packing priority list (to each their own, though)!
Clothes for different weathers
The first thing you should do once you have your placement (and you can even start this a bit after finding out your academie), is to look up the climate. Will you be in a mountainous region where it snows and gets quite cold during the winter? Are you in a temperate part of France where it might rain a lot? What will the average temperature be? Depending on what the average weather in your area looks like, you’ll want to pack the most clothes for that weather – keeping in mind the professional looking clothes you’ll need for teaching. Professional being jeans that aren’t ripped and clothes you’d wear as a “teacher”, but not so professional as to need a blazer or suit/tie combination. My rule of thumb is one step up from what the students would wear, but some schools are more lax/strict than others. Then, pack a couple of clothes for opposite weather. For instance, I’m bringing two pairs of shorts in case I visit somewhere warmer (assuming travel becomes possible), but no more than that since I won’t need them in Dijon! As a side note regarding shorts, women in France don’t seem to wear them – I’m not sure why, but it’s not something you see often, just as something to consider while packing!
Autumn/winter in France is not the warmest, so if you don’t have one, you’ll definitely want a warmer coat, preferably a waterproof one as well (or two separate coats, if you like). You can plan on investing in one once you get to France to reduce your packing load, but as I’ve already got one (that I bought in France ironically), I’ll be stuffing it into my suitcase. Bring scarves (or at least A scarf – scarves are very French so it’s a perfect way to blend in easily, but can also be bought in France), a hat, and a lightweight pair of gloves for potential early morning bus waits. My biggest packing tip for France is LAYERS. Bring clothes that you can layer, like lightweight shirts (t-shirts and long sleeved shirts), sweaters, cardigans etc… That way, you can mix and match depending on the weather, and don’t need entirely different outfits! Last time I did the program, my schools did not have great heating, so I was super thankful for my sweaters and layers (since wearing a coat in class is not comme il faut).
How to pack
The biggest packing hurdle is actually setting down to doing it. My first step is always to create a packing checklist (which I’ll post below), and to break it up into sections. I have four: toiletries, clothing, electronics, and miscellaneous (which is segmented into paperwork and personal effects). You can also then further divide into carry on and checked bag, but I’m more of a “wherever it fits” kind of gal when it comes to packing. You can obviously make your own categories for what works best for you and your packing style, this is just the way that makes the most sense on paper for me!
I kind of vaguely start the packing process pretty early, but don’t really dive into the real packing until like a week before I leave. I have a box set aside in my room where anything that isn’t clothing (mostly toiletries) that I’m definitely taking goes, and it’s grown slowly bigger over the past few weeks. That way, when it’s time to pack, I don’t have to do as much searching for various items. This is especially helpful if you’re buying toiletries/non clothing items for France so you don’t risk using them before you leave!
Another important packing tip: Use space bags! They’re a great way to reduce the amount of space your clothes take up. If you’re planning on staying in an AirBnb or temporary housing for a bit in France before moving somewhere permanently, I’d recommend dedicating a space bag for those clothes so you don’t need to undo and redo a bunch of space bags before you unpack for good. I also usually use Ziplock bags for underwear, bras, and socks as another way to reduce the space things take up in my suitcase. I do the Ziplock method for small trips as well, so definitely keep them in your suitcase after you unpack! Packing cubes can also come in handy for organizing and taking up less room, but they don’t reduce the space taken up in your suitcase as much as space bags.
I’ve always been told to look at everything you want to bring, and then reduce the amount by 50%, and that is how much you should take. I’ve never ascribed to that rule, necessarily, but I think it does showcase that you undoubtedly need less than you think you do. It’s a good idea while you make your checklist to think about what you’d wear if you weren’t abroad. I find that I tend to think I wear things more often than I do, and when I really think about it, I realize that a lot of the clothes in my closet don’t need to come with me because I don’t wear them that often here – why would I wear them often in France? Some questions to ask yourself might be: Do you really wear that sweater you’ve put on your list that often? Are you planning on going out enough to warrant multiple outfits for it? How easily can you wash that outfit? (this one is important if you’ve got a lot of dry clean only clothes… do you want to be searching for a dry cleaner if something happens to your favorite dress?)
I do want to stress that you should bring clothes that make you feel happy and clothes that you think you’ll wear. If it’s something that you might wear once or twice if a special event happens, it might be worth rethinking that, especially if it takes up a lot of space. However, if it makes you happy, and confident, and you want to wear it, go for it! I bought a new pair of dungarees over the summer and I’m bringing them because I can’t WAIT to show them off, and have an excuse to wear them. I think packing for TAPIF is finding a balance, because (in normal years, who knows with the current health situation) you won’t be in the classroom 7/7/24 and you might want to switch some things up while you’re there. Sometimes it’s worth having a pile of “if there’s room” clothes off to the side while you pack. If you put everything you definitely need/want to bring in your suitcase and have some extra room/pounds to spare, start pulling from that pile. This is also a good way to determine what clothes you could potentially live without in France.
My Packing List
As promised, here are my packing lists divided into categories for reference. Obviously you can add or remove based on what fits your needs, but if you’re trying to figure out where to start, hopefully this can be a somewhat helpful guide! Since I haven’t actually packed yet, this is all subject to change, but this is at least what’s on paper for me right now. I’ll start with my generic list of clothes:
Clothing I plan on packing
- Shirts (long sleeve, and short sleeve. Since Dijon isn’t the warmest climate, I prioritize long sleeve, and only bring 3-4 short sleeve shirts)
- Sweaters (three sweater tops that I wear as shirts, a crew neck sweater as an outer layer, a North Face sweater as another outer layer, and a sweatshirt)
- Zip up vest
- Cardigans (2-3)
- Jeans (I usually bring 3-4 pair, but I live in them so that’s why)
- Dress (I pack one in case I ever feel the need or desire to dress up)
- Bras (sports and normal)
- Socks (at least two weeks’ worth of pairs because one always gets lost in the dryer at some point)
- Tights (1-2 pair)
- Underwear (again, my estimate is two weeks’ worth)
- Pajamas (I usually pack at least two pair: one pajama shorts and one pajama pants. Especially a pair I feel comfortable wearing in a hostel type travel situation)
- Bath robe (because I am a little bougie at times)
- Thermal underwear
- Scarves (I have two: a heavy winter one, and a lightweight spring one) + hat + pair of gloves
- Coats (rain coat and peacoat – can be bought in France to save room)
- Work out shirts (I bring 2-3 tank tops, and 2-3 t-shirts. Enough for a week of working out every week day and some to spare).
- Work out shorts/leggings (I only bring one pair of Nike shorts, and one pair of Primark leggings since I’m not the hardest work out person)
- Shoes (number of pairs to be determined)
- Dungarees (I have one pair)
- Duvet (highly recommend NOT packing this if you don’t already have one. I bought one in France last time and since I already have several at home, it makes sense to try and bring it. No guarantees it’ll fit, though!)
- Masks (a necessity for this year)
- Lingerie + laundry bag
- Single top sheet (France tends not to use top sheets and since I don’t fancy having to remove my duvet cover every week to wash it, I bring a top sheet so that’s all I have to wash)
- Prescription medication that doesn’t fit in my toiletry bag (but still put in carry on suitcase)
Next, we have my packing list for toiletries. I’ve broken this up into what’s going into the checked bag and the carry on bag. Some things might have to be switched around depending on the size of things you want to take because of TSA restrictions, but again, it’s a rough guide. I have a large toiletry bag (soft shelled) where I store all of the checked toiletries, and a smaller bag that fits in my carry on so that they can easily be stored in my suitcase (and used for shorter trips). For any toiletries that have a screw on lid that aren’t sealed, I usually put some clingfilm/saran wrap over the top before replacing the lid – that way it won’t spill all over your bag!
|Toiletries (checked bag)||Toiletries (carry on)|
|• Electric toothbrush + charger||• Toothbrush|
|• Flossers||• Retainers|
|• Deodorant||• Travel toothpaste|
|• Lotion/Aquaphor||• Razor(s)|
|• Hairbrush + hairties + bobby pins||• Chapstick|
|• Face wash (2)||• Travel shampoo|
|• Ibuprofen/Acetaminophen/Motion Sickness Pills||• Travel soap|
|• Nail clippers + nail file||• Prescription medication|
|• Thermometer||• Travel sized lotion|
|• Hand sanitizer||• Travel hand sanitizer|
|• Retainer cleaner|
|• Hairspray (I have an anti lice spray I like to use when working in schools – by no means necessary)|
|• Starter pack of bandaids|
|• Airborne (because I’m paranoid)|
|• Perfume (not a priority, but if I have room, it reminds me of home)|
|• Extra chapsticks|
Toiletry packing tip: Bring painkillers from the US. Ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be harder to get in France (just because they aren’t over the counter), tend not to be as strong in my experience, and come in smaller packets. If you’re someone who uses these OTC medications, or just likes to have them in your purse, bring a decent supply with you, since the availability in France may not suit your needs!
After those necessities are packed, I have a list for electronics. Most of these go in my personal backpack that comes with me on the plane, but since there are so many cords these days, it’s helpful to write them all out, so here they are!
- Apple headphones (2 – one pair for iPod, one for iPhone since the docks have CHANGED)
- Wireless noise cancelling headphones for the flight
- Laptop + case
- Adapters (This one is my favorite because it has USB ports, multiple outlets, and even has a nightlight, but any will do. I usually bring at least two – the big one and then a smaller one that’s more suited for travel)
- Extension cords (this can also be purchased in France, but I highly recommend investing in an extension cord with a French plug. It will make it so much easier to plug multiple adapters into one source of electricity, especially if where you live doesn’t have a ton of outlets. It will also let you have more freedom regarding where you move your plugs! Again, I’ve bought one already hence my packing it, but you can – and should – purchase it in France. This will undoubtedly go in my checked bag)
Finally, I have my list for miscellaneous things. This is my list for anything that doesn’t fit in my above categories, but that I feel I’m likely to potentially forget (or that I just want to check off to have a sense of accomplishment with it).
- Paperwork for France (I have a folder dedicated for France paperwork)
- Arrêté de Nomination
- Birth certificate
- Photos (both personal for decorating my living space and ID photos)
- Covid-19 Test (hopefully unique to 2020)
- Wipes for the plane
- Face shield
- Masks for the plane (separate from the ones going into my suitcase)
That’s what I use as my base line for packing! If you made it this far, thank you for reading! I hope it was somewhat helpful and offers some guidance when it comes to packing for TAPIF. Remember, you can always buy items of clothing/most things you might need in France if you forget them/find you need something you didn’t bring! Let me know if I forgot anything, or if you have any questions about packing for an extended period of time abroad!