You’ll be gone for about 6 months, perhaps to a country you’ve never been to before. You’ll experience both the extreme heat of summer and the freezing snows of winter. You’ll be living with 22 different families and need to get gifts for all of them. And you don’t want to leave home without your teddy.
The hardest question for all about-to-be Uppers: What to pack?
Not all of us are blessed with super organizational skills (unlike Nina, who attributes this to being German, and my sister, whom I’m starting to suspect is part-German somewhere) but not to worry! You don’t need super organizational skills to pack for an UWP trip! (though if you do have super organizational skills, more power to you.).
Here are some simple tips, taken from experience, on what to bring and not bring for an UWP tour:
Clothes – when you get your handbook (in the mail, before you leave for Denver), it’ll tell you what sort of clothes to bring. UWP follows a dresscode system according to activity, which I will elaborate in a later post. But bring the following:
- Something business formal – a suit, jacket, etc
- Smart casual – not as formal as a suit but not supremely casual (a nice top, good skirt/trousers, etc)
- Casual – t-shirts, jeans
- Something you’re willing to get dirty in (something casual works)
- A national costume – you could go for a Miss Universe-style costume and get something really formal and elaborate. Problem is, it may be too heavy and too expensive. The better idea is to get something that would be “smart casual” forms of the national costume – a samfoo, a salwhar khameez, a nice kebaya or baju kurung that’s not too heavily embroidered. If you have any casual ethnic clothing (ethnic tops, skirts, etc) bring those too; they’re more interesting than the typical smart casual/casual wear!
- Something to perform in – the handbook will tell you if you need to bring anything of a certain colour (there are usually colour pallettes). When I travelled, it was all black. Yours might be different.
- Something to lounge around the house in – you’ll spend more time in your host family’s house than you realize, and you don’t want to be wearing kiddy nightclothes. Yoga pants are ideal; they’re comfy, look presentable, and wash easily.
Toileteries – get travel ones to start with. Host families usually have some put aside for guests; my host family in Erfurt actually made special packets for the both of us. Even if you do run out, you can buy them at the shops. (Japan’s are crazy expensive though.) Hotel ones and packets work well. Bring a toothbrush + toothpaste, some shower gel and shampoo for the first month or so, moisterizer and lip balm (Denver’s very dry), and maybe some makeup – you won’t use a lot though, because you won’t ever remember to use any of it! The minimum is best. (And for women – feminine hygiene products are easy to find, but bring some for the first week at least, especially if it’s due soon after the start of the program.)
Gifts – host family gifts are important. They provide a link to you and them, and they show your appreciation for hosting them. Most people get something from their culture – crafts, books, so on. Others get something that represents them; one guy in my crew was in a band and his host family gift was demo CDs. Get something small and portable (you don’t want to be lugging heavy things around), and if you can, get a variety – that way, you can suss out the host family’s personality and get them something that suits them best.
Books – you’re not required to bring books of any sort; however, journals are really handy. They can function as diaries of your travels, a place for host families and crewmates to write messages (real fun to read back!), notebooks, scrapbooks, and so much more. I’d recommend getting those that are spiral-bound; they’re easier to open. As for reading material – don’t bring too many. 2 maximum. Books get traded around anyway.
Technology – the three most common tech gadgets in my crew were iPods, laptops, and cameras. I brought none (I only own a laptop) and I regret not bringing the laptop – I survived without it, but it would have made things so much easier. However, this is up to your personality. If you don’t really use computers, don’t bring one. Ditto other tech gadgets. Only bring what you know you’ll miss, and leave the heavy stuff at home. HOWEVER, do get yourself a thumbdrive/USB drive – that is a LIFESAVER, especially if you don’t have a laptop on you.
Medicine – if you’re on prescription meds, bring them, and bring the prescription in case you run out. You may need a doctor’s letter to transport medicine overseas; check beforehand. You should be able to find a doctor if you’re feeling ill; however, they’re not always cheap. Get medical insurance. You have to, anyway, so get a good plan.
Food – you don’t need to bring food. However, some local snacks and candy will go a long way, especially in the Picnic Stations that are the buses. A packet or two is best.
Identification – you will need a passport (with visas where necessary), a local ID card (if you have one), a driver’s license (if you have one – you won’t be allowed to drive but it’s good to have), an ISIC card (it’s not a must, but it’s very handy especially in Europe), and your tickets to and from the trip. Make sure you have photocopies; in my tour they scanned and photocopied our passport, but do make copies anyway.
Money – you’ll be broke sooner than you realize. Bring about US$250 worth of US dollars and Euros; double that for Japanese Yen because it’s crazy expensive. A little less of that for Swiss francs since they don’t use Euros (but things costs the same). A credit card is also helpful for emergencies (some airports use it as ID for the automatic e-ticket booths) but don’t overspend and watch for exchange rates. If you can, exchange the money before you leave home. Some people say bring traveller’s cheques; I didn’t bring any, but it’s up to you.
It’s time to post this now; I may have more ideas in post #7. What other things should you pack for a long trip?