Packing for Spain: The Essentials
1. Purse > moneybelt. You’re not a tourist, you’re an expat. Actually, even tourists shouldn’t wear moneybelts, but that’s beyond my reach here. Spain is a really safe place, though theft can occur, especially in Barcelona (possibly the pickpocketing capital of Europe.) Be smart, hold onto your valuables, and get a purse that does more than just snap. But don’t succumb to the money belt, people. If a thief sees you lifting up your shirt to fumble some euros out of that thing, you’re their next target, guaranteed. Also, moneybelts are basically mini fannypacks, and we all know how I feel about those.
2. Wedges > stilettos. Ladies, you’ll be going out in Spain. And as much as you can play the game of I don’t care what people think of me, comfort over style, etc., I guarantee you’ll feel weird being half a foot shorter than every girl in the discotecas. That being said, high heels can easily ruin a night. When packing for Spain, go for the wedges, which still dress you up more than flats, but only cause a tenth of the agony. (Note: you can easily buy wedges or the dreaded high heels once you’re in Spain.)
3. Waterproof flip-flops > leather. It’s very true that in Spain, most people wear strappy sandals instead of flip-flops. If you don’t want to stand out at all, you should do the same. But flip-flops are really useful for wearing at home, taking to the beach, or using in hostel showers, which is why you want to make them waterproof. Although Rainbow flip-flops have the most arch support, they literally SCREAM California. (Hear that?) They are the required uniform at my alta mater, UCSB. NOTHING will make you stand out more, so I’d leave them behind when packing for Spain. Once again, you may not care, but there are few things less fun than sticking out like a sore thumb during your entire year abroad.
4. Baking supplies > peanut butter. If you plan to do a lot of baking in Spain, you may want to bring over some things the country lacks: extracts, real brown sugar, measuring cups. Don’t waste luggage space with other food items you’ll miss, like peanut butter or sriracha/hot sauce, because Spain has gotten around to importing those things now. (They still hadn’t when I studied abroad in 2011/2012.)
5. E-reader > books. I know you love to feel those real pages. But do you love to haul around 30 extra pounds? Time to make the switch.
6. Smartphone > flip-phone. Many people go to Europe and think, since this isn’t real life, they can get by on a pay-as-you-go flip-phone plan, or better yet, “disconnect.” Huge mistake. This IS your real life now, and you’ll want to integrate. You’ll make friends, you’ll get numbers, and you’ll want to text. But texting in Europe isn’t cheap like in the U.S., so everyone uses Whatsapp, the free app that allows you to text with your data plan. You’ll need a smartphone for that. (Tip: Ask your provider to unlock the phone for you, or you can cheaply and easily unlock it once you get to Spain. Also, get a phone that works on a GSM network. . . as in, NOT the Verizon iPhone 4.)
7. Essential Toiletries like U.S.-style deodorant—roll-on, not spray—are hard to find. And most makeup is much more expensive in Spain, so I’d recommend bringing it over. (Still reading, boys?) But don’t waste luggage space hauling over shampoos and tampons—Spain is in Europe, people, they have tampons. And there are at least two peluquerías (barbershops) on every block selling the finest hair products around.
8. Cute shorts > ass shorts. There’s a rumor that Spaniards don’t wear shorts. What internet troll started that crap? My first time I went, I didn’t pack any, and then suffered the 97 degree heat while watching all the stylish Spaniards rock them (flawlessly long legs sold separately). People in Europe wear shorts, they just don’t wear bootie shorts, and neither should self-respecting YOU.
9. Smart electronics > ones that will blow up. Certain devices like blowdryers and straighteners don’t transfer over to Europe well. Something about the different voltages blows the fuse, or the internal contraptions in the devices. (I’m no engineer, but I know how to read things on internet forums.) So leave those behind when packing for Spain! Your electronics like computers, Kindles and phones have built-in adapters, so those will be fine.
10. One bag > more. Do yourself a favor and only check one bag on the way over. Spain has good shopping, and you’ll partake. Then you’ll be left at the end of the year wondering how the hell you’re going to haul all that crap home without dipping into your retirement fund to pay for shipping. If you start with only one checked back, a carry-on and a personal item, you’re ahead of the game. I recently made the move from Bilbao to Barcelona and didn’t follow my own advice; I accumulated too much stuff in the past year, so I had two suitcases, a backpacking backpack, and a regular backpack. Cue the crying.
11. Charles Schwab > any other bank. Banking with Chuck is the best financial decision you’ll make. They refund all ATM withdrawal fees worldwide, so you won’t have to worry about racking up charges. Open an account with them before you go, and thank me later. (If you work in Spain, you’ll most likely have to open up a Spanish account. But when you travel, you can still dip into your American account without the fees!)
12. Small backpack > bodybag. I opted for a backpacking pack as my carry-on, and I love it more than bread (almost). But get a small one, even though the larger ones can obviously cram more in. The reason is, once you’re in Europe you’ll probably take some budget airlines for weekend getaways or longer vacations. Ryanair, EasyJet, GermanWings, and even Vueling and Iberia have strict carry-on policies, and only the smallest of backpacking packs will make the cut. My parents gave me this Osprey pack as a birthday present before studying abroad and it’s my favorite travel item I own. I can’t recommend it enough—it’s been to 14 countries and even more flights, and doesn’t have a single rip. Plus, I can fit enough for a 2+ week trip and it still passes the budget airlines without scrutiny. ¡Toma!
Anything else to add to the Packing for Spain list? What are your must-packs when moving abroad, and what would you leave behind?