Reader Mail: How to Pack For a Summer Working Abroad

what to pack for a summer working abroadToday’s reader mail has to do with a summer abroad…

I’m a second-year law student and will be spending part of my summer interning for a government agency in Slovenia, and the rest at a study abroad program in London. My dilemma is that I only have a limited amount of space in my luggage (particularly due to the strict weight limits on European flights) and I need to pack for essentially three different trips: business, school, and backpacking (I’m going to be doing a lot of travel on the weekends). I’m lucky in that the place where I’ll be working only requires business casual, but considering that it is an Eastern European country, I don’t know quite what that might entail. I’m thinking I’ll definitely have to dress more conservatively than I would in the U.S. at the very least. Any suggestions would be welcome, particularly involving shirts I can wear to work and not look too dressy wearing them to school as well. My one limitation: please no button-ups! I’m what you would call a “busty” girl and button-ups never end well with me. Thank you so much for any advice you can give!

what to pack for a summer abroadFirst: we must confess, we’ve never worked in Slovenia or backpacked through Europe. Very exciting… as a luggage problem. We would recommend investing in silk t-shirts. Not the sweater kind, but the kind that feel like nylon almost. These can be hard to find, and aren’t necessarily expensive — of the few that we have, one was purchased at an Henri Bendel sample sale, one at Off Fifth, and the others at the Limited about fifteen years ago (ouch). The great thing about these shirts is that they dry uber-fast — perfect for stuffing in your bag to go backpacking — yet because they’re silk they look great under a suit jacket. For example, check out the Eileen Fisher Cap Sleeve Silk Tee at Nordstrom (pictured at right) for $88. Be sure to check out places like Travel Smith, which specializes in fabrics that travel well, breathe easily, and wash and dry quickly. (They even have a new outlet section.) Check out their dress selection, especially — some of them will work both for the office as well as for a a restaurant meal while traveling, such as the Microfiber Dress (for $89). Be sure to check out camping and other specialty stores for pieces that can do double-duty — EMS (check out the knee-length ExOfficio Women’s Savvy Dress Up for $60), REI (check out the Acme Pants, on sale for $109 — be sure to try them on to make sure they don’t sound like track pants when you walk) and other similar places.

As far as other clothes, not everything can be double-duty. Pack a suit for your work — even if you don’t wear it often, better safe than sorry. (Bring as many possible matching pieces — dress, skirt, etc — and see how many times you can recycle the outfit. You may want to check out Spiegel for this kind of thing — the prices are good and they have numerous matching pieces.) For school, some of it can be reused — for example, a plain black skirt, worn with a t-shirt and flats or flip-flops, is totally acceptable for school. We’d advise you to stay away from heavy stuff that only works for one of your three endeavors — will you wear jeans while backpacking? If not, don’t bring them to wear to school. Otherwise, make sure you maximize your luggage — you can buy various tools to “vacuum pack” your luggage (or do it yourself with Ziplock bags — they even have larger sizes out now). If possible, read up on how to pack wisely — for example, you may want to roll your clothes rather than folding them (we just did this with a bridesmaid dress and it worked beautifully). There are other tricks to be learned, such as how to fold a suit jacket so it isn’t wrinkled. And repackage as much as possible of your toiletries — think outside the box and try to use the smallest sizes possible. For example, we’ve put a week’s supply of eye-makeup remover in a single pill container or contact lens case — even if you have to use more than one you can still discard as you use up your supply. (Get a trusty label maker to make sure you don’t get anything confused.)

Pictured above: Skofja Loka, Slovenia, originally uploaded to Flickr by jaime.silva


  1. Anonymous :

    What a fantastic summer! I’ve never been to Slovenia, but I would second the “no jeans” advice for Europe in general–many jeans will just make you look like an American tourist anyway, and they’ll be too hot in the south.

  2. A blog the reader might want to check out is – the author, Cherrye Moore, has written a lot about multi-purpose packing, efficient packing,and packing for travel in general. Also, I would highly recommend asking what the dress code is at your summer employer – you may be told there isn’t one per se, but it’s still worth a shot.

  3. Oh my goodness! Slovenia is NOT conservative, I wouldn’t worry about that. Especially is you will be working in Lubijiana. For one I am jealous because Slovenia has the best tights on the planet. I covet the ones I picked up in 2007 and would make a trek there again, simply to buy more!

  4. My advice: invest in skirts that will do double (or triple) duty: can be dressed up for work, dressed down for school/travel. Also bring light-weight capri pants. Shorts are much, much less common in Eastern Europe than here, especially on women. Skirts and capris will keep you cool while also helping blend in more.

  5. I have lived and worked and studied (and done mega travel) in Europe. You don’t need to get crazy with super-expensive weird backpacking clothes (like from Travelsmith). Athleta has cute dresses that travel well, and if you have a good eye, you can find “multipurpose” clothes that dress up or down well. Think A-line skirts and the like.

    My minimal list for two weeks of summer euro travel would look like this:

    1 bikini (to shower in, even in you don’t plan to swim)
    1 small towel (or a large towel that’s thin so it can dry fast overnight)
    undies + bras
    2 pairs flats & two pairs heels (for work)
    1 pair sandals (not flip flops and not river shoes)
    1 pair euro sneakers
    6 shirts (4 casual, 2 that can go either way, incl at least 2 tank tops)
    1 long sleeved shirt (for sun protection)
    1 windbreaker/rain jacket (yes, it rains a lot in Eastern Europe in the afternoon in summer)
    3-4 skirts (incl. at least a few that are work/fancy dinner appropriate)
    2 dresses (one sundress, one work dress)
    1 pair pants
    1 purse that’s comfy to carry a guide book, water, wallet (with zipper) all day
    hat (preferably without american logo/english language writing on it)
    2 cardigans
    pashmina/light microfleece
    toiletries (incl. earplugs)
    camera + adapter/converter plugs
    travel journal/diary (use this–you’ll be so grateful years later!)
    workout clothes (shorts/sports bra)
    copy of passport docs, credit card emergency numbers
    guidebooks and post-it flags to return to stuff you want to see (i stick them in the front cover before I go)

    To add to your dilemma about slumming it at school, it’s OK to be a bit dressier than you would as an American schlubby students. Euro ladies don’t wear juicy sweats quite as much as Americans :) Your real dilemma lies between work clothes and backpacking stuff. To expand on that list for work, I’d add maybe three more skirts and six more tops, and that’s it.

    I wholeheartedly second the advice to bring lots of skirts/dresses. RKS above is completely correct. It is not customary for women to wear shorts in most of Europe. Skirts pack well, are great for touring, school and work, can be mixed and matched well. Eastern Europe is not conservative by any long shot, but do know that Europeans throw suits on for business more often that Americans, for the most part, so I second Corporette’s advice to bring at least one suit.

    You want some cotton in your wardrobe. Europe can be sticky in the summer, so avoid too many man-made fabrics. The longer drying out time can be worked around, and when it’s sweltering, you will be glad you can breathe.

    Also, try to find a pair of low profile athletic shoes, but not running shoes. Think “euro sneakers” like low pumas or similar. These are great for walking but will not make you stick out like an American tourist sore thumb. Plus, they can pack really small in a suitcase.

    Pick a “theme” base color for the summer, either black, navy, grey or brown/beige, so you can have one purse and one or two sets of heels and one set of flats that all match and be done with that. That’s enough shoes, plus a pair of dressy sandals (Euros rarely wear flip flops) and the aforementioned euro sneakers. (Caveat–if you plan to stay in hostels, bring a pair of all rubber flip-flops like Havaianas to wear in the showers. Reefs are not good because the fabric doesn’t dry fast enough)

    Other tips– (1) thongs save space for undies. (2) You can buy toiletries like shampoo when you are stationery for a few weeks at your school/internship, so only bring travel sizes that are the right size for when you are actually traveling.
    (3) Pare you makeup bag down to essentials. (4) One thing I often wished I had in Europe was the “Off wipes” for bugs and cortisone cream. They are a godsend since mosquitoes love me. (5) Bring a pillow case, a padlock and earplugs if you are staying in hostels. The padlock is to lock up your wallet when you shower if you are traveling alone. (6) Budget more than you think you’ll spend for souvenirs–you’ll see lots of cool stuff. Buy it. You won’t be sorry. (7) I love buying toiletries when I travel. I get a kick out of Russian toothpaste or German sunscreen months later. Ask if you need help at the drugstore. (8) DO NOT forget to bring extra stuff that could seriously ruin your trip if lost, ie contact lenses, medication. Separate some of it in case your luggage is lost or stolen (9) Find out about the cash advance rates for your credit cards and whether you need a pin for this in case of an emergence (the interest rate will be really high, but you may need it if your wallet’s stolen). (9) Consider mailing home some of your work clothes if you plan to backpack at the end. They’ll make it back and you will be unburdened!

    And sorry to be so paranoid about wallet stealing, but I was in Russia when an ATM ate my card, and I also was pickpocketed on a bus in Spain, so I know how I _should_ have prepared, after the fact!

    Another tip is to use Let’s Go guides (take a peek/notes in a bookstore) to plan your transfers from train stations and airports. They always know the cheapest way to get to town. But _take_ Lonely Planet or Time Out or Moon Guides…they have more info and better recs.

    You’ll have a great summer! Enjoy.

    Travel is not rocket science. Be careful, safe, and ALWAYS spring a reasonable amount to stay in the area of town that is most recommended/picturesque. You won’t be sorry!

  6. and giant zip-type bags (with a one-way valve so you don’t need a vaccum) are the way to go.
    I’ve travelled all over the world for months at a time with just one backpack using the tips on the One Bag website, even working abroad for a year with just one bag.

  7. Don’t fret too much because you will probably see clothes you like and want to buy in Europe. I would pack on the lighter side and budget for some clothing purchases / souvenirs. Last time I did something like this I brought an Eddie Bauer garment bag that travels really well. Europeans usually invest in fewer but higher quality articles of clothing, so there is no shame in being seen in the same outfit on a regular basis. Have fun!

  8. I haven’t traveled in Europe, but I spent 6 weeks living in China and I bought clothes when I got there, then sent them home later. See what prices are like first, but you might find that you can buy a suit, some shirts, and a pair of heels for work, then ship them home (or ditch them) when you’re done with the working part of the trip. Or you might be able to buy some backpacking gear once you’re in Europe, then resell it before you leave. This also lets you shop more like the locals so you don’t look like the proverbial “stupid American.”
    I found that I could buy the toiletries I really needed, although I had to be flexible sometimes.
    Finally, make sure someone who isn’t traveling with you has copies of your passport and travel documents. That way, if your documents are stolen, you can have them fax your documents to the American embassy so you aren’t stuck somewhere.

  9. I can also vouch for Athleta. They can be on the pricey side but I’ve loved almost everything I’ve bought from them.

    For space-saving, I recommend the Spacepaks from Flight001, You can cram a LOT into their regular “Clothes” Spacepak. They also make one for suits. Skip the Spacepaks for shoes and toiletries, as they don’t save that much space.

    A word of warning — while Spacepaks (or any other space-saving packing aid) will help you save space, it does NOT make the clothes any lighter, so keep that in mind when you’re packing. If the backpacking portion of the trip is toward the end, ship home the items you won’t be needing (suits, work shoes, etc.) so you’re not stuck lugging around a huge backpack. Those things get heavy, fast.

    Also, because I’m a big dork and super-paranoid, I would recommend having a travel belt or something similar — a slim wallet with straps that you can attach to your person, either around your waist or around your neck, but always under your clothes. Here’s where I would keep my passport and some emergency cash and credit card, at least while in transit from country to country. It’s a lot tougher for a would-be thief to remove a travel wallet from your body than it is for him to snatch your purse, backpack, or daypack. Just my two cents.

  10. Well I’ve never been to the US or Slovenia, but I do have extensive experience with west-European countries as well as eastern European countries (Russia, Ukraine, Poland as well as Belgium, UK, Germany, France…)

    Generally I’d say neat (not printed) T-shirts with a suit will be fine, and white a little more fancy shirts with a black skirt or pants too – for study certainly, and for work probably too (still, pack a black suit jacket that matches the skirt/pants just to be sure).
    Pant suits are fine over here!
    In Eastern europe, a neat skirt with a button shirt are probably fine as well. Generally speaking, Eastern european women dress up much more colorful as well as fancy as western Europe, and they tend to walk around on heels all the time, so you might wanna pack a pair of heels. Also, beware that clothing in eastern Europe is much more expensive than in western Europe, as strange as this may be (I blame it on eastern european women’s love for clothing, creating a higher demand) so if you must leave out items due to weight restrictions, think of that.

    Also, on European flights, weight restrictions generally do not apply to hand luggage, instead, size restrictions do (they must fit under the chair). So, get yourself one or two of those neat vacuum pack bags and a really, really large hand luggage bag.
    Also, indeed, roll your luggage. Takes up far less space. Leaves especially pants wrinkless.

    Also, weight restrictions do not apply to how much clothing you have ON you, so you might wanna put lots of clothing on while boarding the plane and then taking it off in the bathroom, put it in a plastic bag and stick the bag somewhere. There usually is some space left in the luggage racks anyway.

    More over, a hip bag (around your hips) usually doesn’t count towards your hand luggage either – at least, I’ve never had it count – and usually lady bags don’t count either because the thinking is that people keep those bags on themselves, and don’t stick them in the luggage racks or under chairs. So use this to your advantage.

    If you have a neat looking leather jacket/coat, take it. Leather can be worn for more rainy as well as more sunny, warm days, as it is a breathing material.
    Lay off the reds, because a eastern European men are much more… how to say this… not shy about voicing their approvals or even come onto you, as opposed to western European men, and you don’t want to draw any unwanted attention.

    Get underwear, tights and clothing items you can discard as you go, if possible. You’re gonna wanna bring back souvenirs and such, so you need to take stuff you can throw away to make room for it.
    More over, make-up is generally cheap and easily available everywhere in eastern Europe so I’d suggest not packing a bunch of eye shadow and stuff, just get 1 set of everything and get the rest on the spot if you need any additional colors or whatever. Get 1 bottle of good perfume and that’s it. I would suggest getting a stainless deodorant because eastern european deodorants tend to really stain even if they are supposedly rexona or whatever.

    Don’t ever put your wallet in your back pocket. TOO easy. And try to get a purse that goes over the shoulder and that subsequently hangs at elbow height, not hip height. Then you can put your arm over the zipper and that’s it. I mean, they still sometimes cut open a purse, but not usually. Be especially mindful of your mobile phone. Try not to use it much in public (train and bus stations, street, etc), especially at night, as in eastern europe it’s quite popular for gangs of youth to just beat up a person and then take their wallet and mobile phone. Not sure if this applies to slovenia, but Ukraine and Russia for sure, so be careful.

    Don’t take flip-flops or sandals. They’re barely appropriate for school (at my university in the Netherlands, students were asked by professors in the university newspaper to dress more properly, without flip-flops, visible bellies or decolleté), and they’re not appropriate for work and not ergonomical enough for backpacking (you’ll be walking much) Take ballerina’s or minnie mouse kitty heels style shoes with you if you aren’t the heels type.

    Take sports tape! Tape your feet BEFORE a day with much walking, that way, you don’t get blisters in the first place. Get shoe-stretcher spray and leather, comfortable shoes if possible.

  11. Also, indeed – separate your luggage! Bags get lost all the freaking time. Make sure your hand luggage and what’s on you contains enough to last you about 5 days, since that’s usually how long it takes bags to be found. Try to take as many straight flights (as opposed to switching flights en-route) as possible, this minimizes the chances of luggage loss.

    Medication is usually readily available in eastern Europe, not so in western Europe. Earplugs – you’re gonna need those for sure and if you’re not wearing any shoes to the communal showers, get a tube of anti fungal paste (you can get 1 at a local pharmacy or something) and smear a layer on each day even if nothing is bothering you, else you’re gonna have a fungal feet infection in no time. The West-European strains are particulary virulent for some reason.

    I also agree on the earplugs. Take several pair… Also, in eastern Europe, drink bottled water and wash all fruits with boiled water THOROUGHLY. Tap water is not safe to drink there, regardless of what the local population tells you is the case. If you do get diarrhea anyway, ask for furazolidon at the pharmacy. It’s essentially harmless, but a gazillion times more effective than activated charcoal. Two or three furazolidon pills take right care of even the worst diarrhea.
    Don’t get things like strawberries and other by-the-ground fruit and veggies at local markets. Usually, these come from people’s gardens and they tend to use the contents of their outside loo’s to fertilize. This makes the spread of certain parasytes that infect your liver and such especially easy.

    Leaving eastern Europe, stack up on the max allowed of cigarettes (marlboro red or whatever) and then sell them in wester europe, where they’re more expensive. :p

  12. Oh yeah. Getting naproxen (aleve etc) as well as 300/600 mg ibuprofen and other powerful painkillers could be a problem in eastern europe (you can get antibiotics easily there, but painkillers not so). Take some with you. Western Europe has it redily available without a problem.

  13. I agree with all those that said that Slovenia is not conservative. From my experience in Easter Europe, the women bring a lot more fashion into their work wardrobes. Of course this will vary by office, but for example, open-toed shoes are probably acceptable, and you will have more leeway with accessories (patent belt, flashier jewelry, etc).

  14. I’ve accidentaly stumbled upon this and would like to put my 2 cents in. I obviously can’t help the reader who asked this question 3 years ago but if someone else ever has a similar problem, it may come in handy. I am a Slovenian legal professional and I work in the public sector. We are not conservative at all! Pretty much everything goes, actually. Jeans or khakis with nice fitted t-shirts are perfectly fine, and so are tailored bermuda shorts, above the knee skirts, open-toe shoes and prints. The only caveats are, I think, tops that are cut lower than the top of your cleavage and bottoms that either show your “crack” or your underwear when you sit down. I also wouldn’t wear flip-flops (sandals are fine though). Don’t worry about wearing pantyhose in the summer! Nobody I know does, it’s much too hot. As for sequins and similar glittery things, I’ve always found “no more than could fill an A4 sheet of paper per outfit” to be a very good rule of thumb – but I don’t like sequins in daywear anyway, I think they tend to look tacky. In terms of quality and brands, if you’re going to work for a government agency, you should keep in mind that salaries are 2-3 times lower than in private law firms so I would advise you not to wear your Jimmy Choos or Manolos or your Birkin bag to the office. There’s a good chance your boss will have a lot less money than you anyway and nobody likes having that rubbed in their face. I know for a fact that private law firms observe their own dress codes and that they do tend to be more conservative that government agencies, but that varies too, so make sure you ask the right questions if you’re offered a job or an internship in one of them.
    Oh, and another thing that kept bothering me while I read this question and the responses. Slovenia is not in Eastern Europe, it’s in Central Europe. Eastern Europe has certain (negative) conotations attached to it, at least in our minds, and most Slovenians will be ill-pleased (and even somewhat offended) if you place our country in Eastern Europe. Also, don’t, for the love of God, confuse Slovenia with Slovakia. Just keep those two things in mind and you will be well-liked even in a dress cut down to South America (or, in this case, Southern Europe) :)!

  15. Oh, and another thing I often hear from my American friends and acquaintances and has also appeared here – the water issue. I have no idea where this peace of information came from but I assure you this country’s tap water is one of the best in the whole of Europe. It’s perfectly safe to drink it and wash your teeth and your fruits and vegetables with. Local markets are also safe and it’s actually where you get the best fruits and vegetables, often very pricy because it’s been grown without the use of any chemicals. Farmers use cow manure to fertilize, they don’t use the contents of their outside loos – in fact, it would quite a quest to even find an outside loo here. Generally, if you’re going to Slovenia or giving advice to someone who is, as far as health concerns go, you might as well be going to Austria or Germany. This IS a civilised country with running water, a sewage system and strict EU policies on everything including the shape of cucumbers (but I digress) so any such concerns as were raised above are quite redundant. Another piece of well-meaning advice: most Slovenians speak at least a little English!

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