Moving to Spain? Not sure how to pack up your life and fit it into a suitcase? I’ve been there, dreading it for weeks prior to departure. That’s why I came up with this list of tips so you can pack like a pro for the big move.
Before the wave of anxiety hits you and you question this big decision, take a second to applaud yourself on your leap of faith. You’re really doing it! Goodbye comfort zone, hello adventure! No matter what your family has been telling you for the last few months, moving to Spain will be unforgettable and awesome!
Now for the packing process.
Whether you are going to work teaching English as an auxiliar, study abroad, or just go on an adventure, DO NOT OVERPACK! This is the fastest way to make yourself hate traveling. Trust me, I’ve done the move twice now, once to the rainy north and once to the blazing-hot south, so I’ve created a solid method of moving. Without further ado, here’s my list of pro tips:
1. One suitcase can go a long way.
Repeat after me: I do not need to pack my entire closet. You do not need every pair of shoes AND jacket AND t-shirt. Plus, you will buy things when you’re here. European style is cool. My rule goes: if you’re going for a year or less, you only need ONE suitcase and a carry on (e.g. backpack). Watch my video on how to pack if you don’t know where to start. Your checked suitcase should weigh less than 50 pounds and be in accordance with your airline’s luggage guidelines. If you accumulate more stuff by the end of the year, you can just buy a small carry-on suitcase (around 30€) and pay no extra baggage or overweight fees on the way home. I did this after my study abroad year and it worked out nicely.
If you’re going for multiple years or maybe indefinitely, then veteran tip: fly Iberia and take 2 suitcases free! Most airlines only allow one free checked bag on international flights out of America, but not Iberia’s luggage allowance (full economy ticket or business class). Still, if you’re not seriously moving to Spain for a long period, stick with just one. You’ll thank yourself when you’re not trying to haul two heavy suitcases and a backpack across cobblestone then up to the 4th floor of your apartment building that has no elevator.
2. Spain experiences all four seasons.
My single biggest mistake when I moved to Murcia, one of the sunniest and hottest regions in Spain, was thinking that it stays warm 365 days a year. It doesn’t. I guess I was imagining Miami. Because of this, smart me didn’t pack any warm clothing for lounging at home, like sweatpants or wool socks. Although I don’t remember it ever dipping below freezing there, 40°-35° Fahrenheit at night in an unheated, stone apartment is COLD. Some apartments are heated but many aren’t, and utilities are very expensive in Europe, especially if you run the heat all the time. The northern regions, specifically Galicia, have months of cold blowing rain and sometimes snow (in the mountains), so jeans and jackets are a must.
During the summer the southern and landlocked regions reach 100+ degrees. On the northern coast, however, it’s on average around 75°-85° during the day, but we have to wear long sleeves when going out at night. Here is what July of this year looked like:
It got as high as 50° Celsius, which translates to HOT AS HELL! You just drink water, sweat it out, drink more water, and lie awake in bed sweating that out. Did I mention that most apartments don’t have air conditioning either? It’s less common than central heating. That very tiny orange area in the northwest at a comfortable temperature of 18° C (64° F) is where I live. (Galician winters are rough, but the summers are incredible, so it’s fair!) No matter which region you’re headed to, there will be a good amount of “sweater weather.” Pack some clothes for cold and hot weather, and a raincoat for the north!
3. Don’t pack anything “just in case.”
If you’re still having a hard time deciding between what clothes you should bring or not, weed out anything that you rarely use. If your main reasoning is that you might need it, “just in case,” it stays behind. Limit shoes to as few pairs as possible since they weigh the most. (There is virtually no dress code working as an auxiliar de conversación, so leave your business formal at home.) This brings me to the most important point: you can buy almost anything you will need in Spain. Leave shampoo, conditioners, soap, any of those toiletries at home. Don’t sweat that jacket or pair of shoes that you didn’t bring, they have those here too. Plus clothes and shoes are cheap in Spain. American brands and products are of course more expensive, and you’ll be paying in euros on top of that.
There are a few exceptions that are very hard to find. First, good stick deodorant. Somehow a weird roll-on gel deodorant is the norm here, I can’t get into it. Guys, if you have really big feet (size 12+), shoe shopping is not fun or easy. Girls, if you’re gifted up top, larger-sized bras are a nightmare to find. I always make a VS run prior to departure or have my lovely mother send me them for Christmas. I’m always told that brand-name moisturizers and makeup are expensive or nonexistent, but I don’t use many products so I’m pretty happy with Kikos, a makeup company that has stores all over Spain. Check it out!
Last, bring chargers and America-to-Europe adapters so that you will be able to charge your electronics (camera, phone, computer, etc.). As long as it runs between 110-220 volts it will charge just fine here.
4. Don’t forget irreplaceable items.
If you forget everything else, make sure that you don’t forget your passport (of course) and any original visa documents. You will need your medical certificate, background check, and acceptance letter to your program (carta de nombramiento) with copies to apply for residency within a month of your arrival. It’s also smart to make photocopies of all of your debit/credit cards to have the emergency numbers handy if they get stolen. I have a Capital One credit card because there are no foreign transaction fees with it. Take some cash (euros not dollars) with you as well and pack it in different pockets so it’s not all together. I always order around 300-400€ from my bank (Fifth Third) a couple weeks before leaving and pay no conversation fees that way, like you would at an airport. (Never convert money at an airport!!) The first couple days abroad are easier when you have a little money ready. Pack all irreplaceable items in your carry on so there is no way that they can get lost if your checked bag does.