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Suitcase minimalism

1 September, 2006

Packing for university can be frustrating, especially if you go to a school that requires more than a two-hour plane ride to get there. Growing up, my family moved around a lot–twelve times in total–and yet I find no more comfort in it today than I did fifteen years ago. But, as the saying goes, practice makes perfect and I’ve come to master the basic guidelines of relocating myself and my belongings to a far-away place without becoming completely neurotic or suicidal.

For anyone who will be moving to university for the first time in the upcoming month, the task might seem daunting at the moment. But below are a few pointers I’ve picked up along the way that can help to make it more straightforward and less of a hassle, so that you can focus on enjoying the excitement of starting a new part of your life, meeting new people and experiencing new things.

1 Make a list

Before you actually start packing, there may be a baggage limit to consider (make sure this is known beforehand), and you’ll need to determine what things you really need and what things you can survive without. So first make a list of all the things that you would like to take with you (anything that comes to mind, regardless of whether it exceed your airline’s limit), and don’t read it over until two days pass. Afterwards, sit down and circle all the things that you think you’ll definitely-absolutely-must-have-need, and cross out whatever you think is excessive. The remaining items fall into the ‘maybe’ category, and will be kept/removed later as you see best fit.

2 Ask around

Some university web-sites offer a message board which often addresses concerns about what to pack, depending on what kind of accommodation you’ll be living in. Advice given by current/former students is really invaluable, so check out what they have to say, and also look at any general recommendations they may have for university life. Feel free to ask any questions (questions welcome here as well), regardless of whether it’s about bringing a toaster or how clean the bathrooms are. The more you know, the better.

3 Things to wear

What you definitely need for university are clothes, but bear in mind that you don’t need to take your entire wardrobe. First, determine the necessary items:

▪ a couple of pairs of jeans and versatile shirts that can be mixed and matched for casual wear

▪ dark/khaki trousers/skirt and a dress shirt for formal events

▪ one or two pullovers and a coat if you’re going somewhere with a cold winter season (also bring a small umbrella if you’re going someplace wet)

▪ sleepwear, underwear, and socks

▪ a bathrobe (this, I’ve found, is a really good thing to bring)

Fold what you’ve chosen into a pile. If this pile fills up more than half of your suitcase, you’ve picked out too much. You may still need to fit in a formal pair of shoes, trainers, and perhaps waterproof flip-flops to wear if you share a shower with several other people, so choose your clothes wisely. You can expect a couple of get-to-know-you events/parties in the beginning of the year that you’ll want to have something nice for if you plan on going, but anything more than that can be purchased later on if you have the extra cash.

4 Books

If you have to bring your programme’s ‘required summer reading books’ with you because they’re included in the year’s syllabus, you can carry some of these with you on the plane. Books will significantly impact your suitacase’s weight, so it’s best to pack as few as possible and take what you can in hand. (This, of course, only applies if you’re not traveling via an airport with new hand-luggage size/content restrictions–in which case you probably also won’t be able to bring liquids or various other items, and you’ll have to limit yourself to a laptop-sized bag.)

5 Small necessities

Don’t overwhelm yourself with stationary, food items, toiletries, and non-prescription medicine. I’ve seen so many people make the mistake in the past of stocking up on these things (myself included), and in the end things turn out better if you just purchase those things when you need them after arriving at your destination. So bring a tube of toothpaste and toothbrush, one bottle of shampoo and soap, any medication you take regularly, and a pen/pencil, but avoid the feeling that you won’t be able to find the ‘exact brand of [insert name here]’ that you love wherever you’re going because chances are it (or its substitute) will be there. Plus, it’s good to adapt to your new home and discover what local goods are available rather than cling on to the notion that everything has to be exactly the same for you to survive. And there will probably be a store on campus where you can get things at discounted prices. (Some cities/countries provide special student cards that provide discounts at various stores, as well as for transport and events.)

6 Entertainment

If you love music and movies and want to bring your collection, either bring an MP3 player or purchase a CD travel case. Once again, there’s no need to bring everything with you. Personally, I find music to be very important (and something I can’t live without while studying into the wee hours of the morning), so it’s difficult for me to pick and choose. But in this case, it’s best if you invest in an iPod-type device so that you can carry everything with no trouble trouble regardless of where you go.

7 Your computer

Bringing a laptop is not absolutely necessary, but it is advised. You can’t always guarantee a spot in the computer room in the evening, and you might find it more favourable to work from the comfort of your own room. Oftentimes, course material is posted online, so it can be easier to read directly from your PC rather than have to print out dozens of pages every time an assignment is due. Whatever you do, though, I strongly advise against bringing a desktop computer. Not only will it be a massive hassle to get there, but it will also burden you at the end of the year when you have to move it out.

Also, if you purchase/already have a laptop, make sure that your modem/wireless network criteria match the requirements of your school’s network. You can find out more information about system/network compatibility on your university website’s IT page.

8 Bed and bath

Bring one or two towels (you can line your suitcase with them), and some bed linen (find out what dimensions your bed will have). I recommend bringing an extra pillowcase, even if you have a single bed with one pillow, for whenever you need it.

You can also bring a laundry bag with you, but plain plastic/paper shopping bags are perfectly fine.

9 Appliances

If you’re bringing any electric appliances such as a blow-dryer, you may need to buy a power converter to switch voltage (e.g. US 120V to UK 230V), or you can purchase a dual-voltage appliance. However, if a voltage switch is not required (e.g. many laptops are dual-voltage), you might need to buy an adapter so you can plug in its power cord (e.g. US two-prong to UK three-prong).

10 Pack and re-group

Once you’ve determined what you’re going to bring, pack your bag in a trial run and weigh it on a bathroom scale to see how heavy it is. If you’re over the limit, number the belongings on a list in order of importance and proceed to follow the process of elimination. Or, if you’re daring and can’t be bothered, toss out almost everything without thinking about it, travel with a near-empty bag, and just start from scratch when you begin at university. But don’t forget that this can be expensive and if you don’t have the luxury of a deep pocket, you might not have a schedule that accommodates for a decent part-time job.

Whatever you do, don’t forget that the more you have, the more you’re going to have to move or get rid of at the end of the year. This is a point that many people often forget, and a lot is gone to waste as usually things accumulate throughout the year and you wind up with more than you came with. But regardless of what happens, the most important thing is to remember that you’ll be starting university and a lot of fun is up ahead, so chances are you won’t care about what you have/don’t have. You know what they say–‘these are the best years of your life’–and though I have my reservations, I know that in twenty years, I might be saying the same exact thing to an apprehensive eighteen year-old not entirely looking forward to the big move. So be resourceful and make sure to enjoy your time from now until you graduate!

Sarah Badr © MMVI

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