Written by Melaura Rice (Grand Valley State University), Student Correspondent for CET Taiwan, Fall 2019
As I prepare to leave Taiwan, I’ve been thinking a lot about my luggage. Not just how to fit as many boxes of Taiwanese pineapple cakes into my luggage as possible, but also how I could have packed better before coming to Taiwan. I’m going to share with you what I learned about packing for a semester abroad and what you can do to pack smarter!
Pay attention to the weather for the whole time you will be there.
The first time I heard that Taiwan had a tropical climate, I envisioned my study abroad experience as me walking around in the warm sunshine and balmy breeze all day. I was definitely still living in this fantasy world while I packed, which caused me to overestimate the number of warm weather clothes I would need and skimp on the cool weather clothes. I thought I had done a good job packing up until November when the weather actually started cooling down. I definitely had a shortage of cool weather clothes thanks to my tropical island fantasy I was living in.
The point of me saying this is to urge you to pack realistically for the weather. Do your research ahead of time, and realize that you can not bend the weather to your will by dressing a certain way (trust me, I’ve tried).
Only bring clothes that are tried and true
What I mean by this is don’t go on a crazy shopping spree before you leave and buy all new clothes! I did this before I left for Taiwan, envisioning all the cute outfits I would wear walking the streets of Taipei. But the truth is not many of the items I bought before leaving were things I still wanted to bring home with me. Many of the clothes didn’t fit me right, wore out easily, or I just ended up not liking for some reason or another. I mostly ended up wearing old favorites that I had owned for a while before the trip. That being said, attempt to make your study abroad wardrobe at least 80% tried and true favorites, and 20% new needs/wants. This rule is especially important for shoes, try to break them in before your trip or else you’ll end up with miserable feet!
Leave the toiletries at home
While your host country may not have the exact brand you use, chances are they will have a similar product. Leaving the toiletries at home and just buying them when you arrive at your destination will make for lighter luggage and less hassle. However, I do recommend packing a few travel-sized things to get you by until you have a chance to buy full-sized products, and for you to bring along with you for weekend trips.
Less is more
Try to pack minimally. Not only is having to lug a bunch of luggage all-around a huge bummer, but also living spaces abroad are often much smaller than what we have in the US, and you may find that you don’t have enough room. Packing fewer items also forces to you get creative with your outfits, and who knows, you may develop a new sense of style while abroad. Plus, the less room that is taken up by clothing = the more room you have for all kinds of souvenirs!
Bring a little piece of home
Something I was happy that I ended up bringing abroad was my collection of polaroids. I hung them up on a corkboard in my room and it definitely gave my room a far homier feeling. Bringing something that reminds you of home can definitely elevate your room abroad from plain to cozy. And in moments of homesickness, it can be nice to have little reminders of life back in the US!
A good weekend bag will never fail you
Hopefully, you’ll get the chance to take plenty of weekend trips abroad! During my time in Taiwan, I spent about 2 weekends out of every month traveling. These weekend trips are where I made some unforgettable memories, like hiking in Taiwan’s national parks, river trekking, riding electric scooters along the coast, and trying all the regional specialties Taiwan has to offer! Most of the time I didn’t need anything more than a backpack full of clothes to get me through those few days. I am very grateful that I brought an extra sturdy light backpack in addition to my school bag to bring on weekend trips, it really got put to use!
Bring clothes you can layer.
Summer is hot in Taiwan. Very, very hot. But during the winter, it can get downright chilly especially when it rains (at least in Taipei). One of my mistakes was underestimating the damp chill of Taipei in the wintertime and mostly packing clothes suitable for summer with very few layering pieces. So if you’re planning on staying in Taiwan for an extended period, bring your cardigans, bring your light jackets, bring your hoodies. Anticipate layering these items with your short sleeve tops and jeans.
I arrived in Taiwan during the typhoon season and got to experience its many joys. During that time, my umbrella was a lifesaver. I didn’t bring rain boots or a functional raincoat, but I ended up buying them in Taiwan and they ended up being indispensable during my time here. To save yourself the time and hassle of running around your city looking for rain gear, bring what you have from the US so you can whip it out when the first rainy day rolls around!
Comfortable walking shoes
Though the public transportation in Taipei is fantastic, chances are you will still end up walking a lot during the day. Comfortable walking shoes are crucial for living in Taipei! I can imagine even more so in other cities that don’t have as prevalent of public transportation (unless if you rent a Ubike daily or somehow manage to get an electric scooter). For the majority of the time I was here, I alternated between two pairs of shoes. One was a pair of walking sandals that were great for the summertime heat, and the other was a breathable slip-on pair of sneakers that transitioned me into wintertime.
Also, if you’re into hiking, Taiwan is a fantastic place to hit the trails. Some can be quite difficult though, so if you plan on visiting some trails in Taiwan I’d definitely recommend bringing hiking boots if you have them.
Any toiletry you could want, you can buy
Like I mentioned above, it is pretty easy to buy and toiletry you want in Taiwan. The options will be a little different from what’s available at home in terms of brands but things will compare pretty well for the most part. Taiwan has these huge, awesome cosmetic stores on every corner that are super fun to explore. They have a lot of products that you’ve probably never seen before! With all this being said though if you require a particular product that is less popular in the Asian beauty market (in my case haircare products for curly hair and natural mascara) then I would suggest bringing these from home, as they may be a bit more difficult to find.
I hope this helps you prepare for your adventure abroad!