May Your Travels Be Light and Your Journeys Smooth By Bailie Salcido (Spring 2014)

I studied abroad with Semester in Spain during the spring of 2014. Five years later, I had the incredible privilege of returning to Sevilla to serve as the Student Ministries Coordinator for SIS from 2019-2022. Thinking back to preparing for my semester abroad as a student, I found myself preoccupied with the incessant question of what to bring. As a forward-thinker and someone who prides herself on always being prepared, I didn’t want to leave anything behind that might be important during my four-month stay. It didn’t matter whether I was planning to travel for four months or live for three years, I wanted to pack all the things for the what-if situations: What if I need a formal outfit for a special occasion? What if I can’t find this brand in Sevilla? What if I need better shoes for walking? What if it rains? What if I don’t have enough clothes? What if I need school supplies? What if I want this decor to make my room feel more like home? What if… ?

As a student, I followed the SIS recommendation to bring only one checked bag and one carry-on, though I made sure each was the largest bag possible within the accepted sizes. Each of my bags was stuffed so closely to zipper-breaking full that the long days of traveling were burdensome. I was weighed down at the airport and even more weighed down walking the narrow cobblestone streets of Sevilla to get to my host family’s home. Once I was in Sevilla, it took about two weeks for the realization to set in that I had overpacked. In those initial weeks, I found myself wearing the same clothing and shoes regularly because of how cold and wet it was in January. If I had to guess, I used maybe a third of my total belongings. As the weather warmed in spring I ended up purchasing clothes in Sevilla (which I found affordable compared to U.S. store prices) that were more comfortable for the hot weather there, rendering the remaining two-thirds of my packed belongings even more unnecessary.

After finishing my semester with SIS, my roommate and I spent a month traveling through other parts of Spain, France, the Netherlands, Britain, and Ireland before heading home. It was an incredible end to what had already been an unforgettable experience, yet it posed an even greater challenge because of how many more belongings I had since arriving in Spain four months earlier. I convinced myself that most of it was worth keeping since I might want certain things from home and definitely wanted to keep everything I had bought in Sevilla. So I resigned to send home one full-sized checked bag with a friend from the program, then to take a 75-liter backpacking pack and a large purse with me on the road. We mostly stayed in Airbnbs and hostels, the latter being less than ideal because my gargantuan bag wouldn’t fit into the provided lockers. With each new lodging I had to completely unpack my bag only to repack it a few days later. We traveled to seven different cities, always via public transportation in a mix of planes, trains, buses and ferries, which meant I was constantly carrying what I would estimate to be 70+ pounds of belongings on my shoulders. On top of that, since my backpacking pack didn’t meet the EU travel requirements for a “normal” sized bag, I always had to pay to check it as an oversized bag (important to note that EU luggage requirements are much smaller and weight limits much lower than in the US).

All this said, did I have an amazing experience both in Sevilla and traveling through Europe? Absolutely I did! However, in retrospect I would have packed much lighter and freed myself of the burden of so much weight. If I were to do it again, I would only pack a single carry-on and a small personal item (i.e. a small backpack or mid-sized purse). I would pack clothes that I could layer, mix and match, and bring only comfortable shoes for walking–if you’ve been a student you know! As the SMC, I saw many students experience the same difficulty I had with the overabundance of stuff, and once you have all of these things abroad it’s hard to let them go. Which leads me to the key takeaway of this blog post: the less you bring, the lighter and easier your travel experience will be. If you take anything away from this blog post, please let it be this: give yourself the gift of freedom during your future study abroad experience and leave all the extra stuff at home. Take only what you absolutely need.

You will be so fulfilled enjoying life abroad, meeting new people, exploring the city, wandering the streets, and traveling even without those three pairs of shoes, the two extra jackets or the sentimental items you thought you needed. When it comes down to it, what you need are very basic items that you can pair, layer, and most especially that are comfortable for lots of walking and daily movement. And if no circumstance do you need special or sentimental items from home. If it would be heartbreaking to lose it, leave it safely at home. Leaving the extra weight behind will allow you more freedom and a greater focus on the aspects of life abroad that really matter. It won’t be the clothes and items from home that make your semester abroad incredible, it will be the people you meet, the places you see, the foods you try, the music you hear, and the wonder of experiences that make you ask yourself is this truly real? From one traveler to another: May your travels be light and your journeys smooth, and may the most important luggage you carry be the many wondrous memories you make along the way.

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