From the moment it has been confirmed that you’ll be going on an Erasmus project to the moment of departure, you have a few packing phases. These are listed beneath.
Don’t postpone the packing to the evening before you leave, otherwise you will face the wall of oblivion. Once you departed, most of the times you can’t go back home to get that favourite T-shirt you forgot. You also need to control the weight, amount and/or dimensions of your luggage, certainly when your journey will be by plane, but also a car has its limits.
The list phase
You are still too far away from departure to start packing. If you can’t put a hold to yourself and really want to do something, I recommend you to make a baggage list. In the list, don’t mention any numbers just yet. Start with the general things you’d take with you to a week trip, and climb the mountain from there on. An example of a list is given in figure 1. One exception is to be made here: Start with arranging/applying for the necessary official documents as soon as possible, such as a passport (if needed) or an insurance card. Also make sure your identity card won’t expire before the end of you stay abroad.
The number phase
You can start this phase approximately one month before departure. Here, you continue with the list made in the previous paragraph, which has grown systematically and has reached the point where you and others can’t come up with anything any longer. Now, you start adding numbers to everything. This way, you can find out well in advance what you don’t have at home yet. While going shopping, think about buying vacuum bags if you must bring your own duvet and pillow: the bags will reduce the space of these drastically. In this phase, don’t gather the things just yet: just make sure you have them.
The gather phase. One week before departure, I advise you to start up this next phase. As the name suggests, start to gather all necessities listed on your list in the proper amount as written next to every item. Don’t fool yourself: you will have never suspected the pile of things would be this big after the gathering.
- For plane travellers: Check you booking details on how much luggage you can take with you. This includes a number of suitcases and/or hand luggage with its corresponding weights and dimensions. Make sure the suitcases you choose to take with you are inside the fixed maxima before going to the next phase. Luggage handling in an airport can be rather rough, so make sure you have firm suitcases. I can already guarantee you that your suitcase will be fully stacked until the weight limit, so choosing a suitcase with wheels underneath may be a not redundant luxury.
- For car travellers: Find the suitcases you choose to take with you and fit them (empty) inside the car that will take you to your destination. This way, you already know if the suitcases will fit and how full they may be packed before risking acute space shortage.
The actual packing phase
In this phase, two days before departure, you can finally put things in suitcases. Fit your things in the suitcases you chose in the gathering phase. Don’t have a suitcase with only clothes, and another with all the rest. Split your clothes equally over the amount of suitcases you have, just like all items of value Also spread the clothes inside every suitcase, so you create a buffer over the full length of every suitcase. Take a photo of every valuable item inside your luggage and put those photo’s inside a front pocket of that suitcase. Make sure you don’t have any materials that you would have to leave at the customs in your hand luggage, such as (alcoholic) drinks or other fluids, knifes, scissors...
The reflection phase
From this phase on, scales will become your worst nightmare if that wasn’t already the case. You will notice that ‘your eyes were bigger than your suitcases’. Not only won’t everything fit inside, you’ll also be drastically over the weight maxima. Don’t panic, but reflect carefully about what you really need to bring from your home destination to the Erasmus location. Maybe you can rent or buy cutlery and duvets in the city of your project? Do you really need that frisbee? Do you really have to bring twenty T-shirts, ten pants and three jackets? Can’t you just buy a box of cookies over there instead of bringing one? During the reflection phase, you undergo the following cycle:
- Fit everything inside the suitcases and try to close it.
- Are you not able to close the suitcase(s)? Rearrange or leave things behind. Go back to 1.
- Weigh every suitcase and compare with the weight maxima.
- Are you inside the weight maxima? Great! Don’t change a thing anymore. If not: go to 5.
- Open the suitcases again, reflect what is the least necessary and leave that out. Go back to 1.
The pre-travel phase
This is the last phase before departure and comes right after the reflection phase, so between one and two days before departure. Before going to the airport, it is advisable to personalise your suitcase with stickers, badges or writings. After putting them on, take a picture of every piece of luggage. When there would be any problems with it afterword, you will be able to prove and show which is yours and how it looks like, without risking to see other pieces of luggage as your own which are not and vice versa. Another ‘life hack’ to stay out of trouble is to put a key ring through both zippers of every piece of luggage (picture 2). You shouldn’t assume airport personnel are thieves, but then again: with this little thing, you may be less worried about losing precious belongings. When you do see the key rings aren’t there any longer at baggage reclaim and you find out belongings are missing, you can prove to local authorities the bag must have been broken into between check-in and arrival.
The post-travel phase
This phase is one of your first tasks as an arrived exchange student. Don’t plan on any sightseeing at your Erasmus destination before taking your luggage to your room, where it is safe from thieves, weather and more bruising. If you packed any food or a costume, release it from its enclosure and put it in a refrigerator or hang it in a wardrobe. I advise you to already make up your bed. Emptying the rest of the luggage can wait until you have more time. Depending on your time of arrival, you should either go right into bed, eat or go explore the location that will be your home for the coming months!