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Study Abroad: 10 tips to packing smart
Stephen James
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June 26, 2008

There's MDH masala, there's Maggie Noodles and then there's Mom's special rasam powder -- how can you think of not packing those into the already bulging box? Packing has turned into a ritual of sorts and last I heard; there are professional packers who will even pack pickles for you: "Very safe, Madam. We guarantee. No spilling!"

As much as you don't want to upset your Mom for not taking stuff that she wants you to, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when it comes to deciding what gets to be part of the 20-something hour flight and what does not.

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These are 10 things to keep in mind when it comes to packing:

1. Be advised that you must check with your airline regarding baggage regulations as they change very often. Do not rely on the information provided by your travel agent. S/he is NOT the authority. Your airline's Web site will explain in detail what you can and cannot carry. Remember to do this for each airline, in case your travel involves multiple carriers.

2. The US Department of Homeland Security has increased the level of security post 9/11, so be aware of current regulations. At the time of writing this document, with regard to hand-carry baggage, you are allowed to carry bottles of fluids, etc only up to a certain fluid ounce volume (very small bottles). Also you CANNOT carry any sharp objects or anything that can be remotely used as a weapon.

3. Get only the necessities. Before I get into what you NEED to bring, let me tell you about what DO NOT need to bring. Some of the usual unnecessary items that sneak their way to the boxes are:

  • Clothes hangers: They are an unnecessary weight addition, so avoid them. You can get cheap and good ones when you come here.
  • Electrical appliances: Most appliances here are designed for 110-120V, unlike the ones we get in India (230V to 240V systems). Unless you bring a converter, they will be useless. In any case, appliances like ironing box, mixers and grinders can be bought for cheap from stores here.
  • File folders: The US filing system uses the 3-hole system which is different from Indian system, so please do not carry these unnecessarily.
  • Copious amounts of spices: No matter how much your Mom tells you, convince her that you are not traveling to Antarctica! The punch line to be used here is "We get everything there too, Mom!" For the love of God, don't pack all those 10 kgs of tamarind. You get everything here -- EVERYTHING! Just get small amounts for the starting week, and you can buy the rest from here.
  • 4. Before you buy the boxes, contact your airlines and confirm what are the size specifications and the weight that you can carry. All airlines are very strict about this, so it's best to know this before you start.

    5. Don't just watch the ad; buy that box. Get two good boxes -- they should be able to withstand a lot of mishandling. Go for good branded ones, as they are now available in light-weight and durable materials. Remember that even a gram saved in the box's weight is a gram you can bring as luggage. Try to go for boxes that have identification marks and labels both inside and outside. They will be helpful when you need to retrieve your baggage at your destination.

    6. Get good carry-on hand baggage -- cabin baggage (again, as per airline regulation). Get one with that has wheels as you may have to move them around a lot during your trip and you don't want to tire yourself carrying them. Also buy a good backpack. You will use it almost all the time in US.

    7. Start your packing well in advance. If you rush at the last minute, you are bound to forget something. Keep a list of what you pack in each box. That way you won't have to wonder whether you forgot something.

    8.Since you will be buying at least two boxes, it will be a good idea to divide all the things to pack equally in both the boxes. The reason is that sometimes one of your boxes may get misplaced by the airlines, so you won't be totally lost until the other one arrives. Pack at least one pair of clothes in the carry-on hand baggage (cabin baggage). You never know, but in the rarest case both your boxes might arrive late!

    9. NEVER ever pack any original documents, certificates, cash, and other very important stuff in the boxes. Always keep them with you in your hand baggage. This is extremely important. If you lose your box, you may get refunded by airline insurance. But if you lose your original documents, then you're in big trouble! At the same time remember to take photocopies of all your original documents and keep at least one set in each of your luggage boxes.

    10. Engineer talk, "The least surface area for a given volume is a sphere". Roll your clothes so that they take less space (of course, don't do that to your expensive formal shirts and suit!) Keep one pair of shoes aside to wear on the journey. This will save space in the box.

    Also read: Students: 10 things to know before you fly abroad | The Study Abroad home page

    Stephen James is a graduate student, class of 2008, from Texas A&M University, USA.

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