Musings about Japan and life as a human, a cosplayer, a minority, a music lover, an English teacher.

Tips for Packing: Before the Trip

A friend of mine who is leaving Japan to come back to the U.S. VERY soon is having a crazy time trying to get everything packed in time for her departure. It reminded me that I should probably write a few tips about preparing for a year-long study abroad in Japan, at least in terms of transferring goods, whether it’s by suitcase, takkyuubin, or ship via the post office. This will be the first part of a series of blog posts I will be writing about transporting goods overseas.

Part 1: Before going abroad
Packing to leave was pretty easy for me. I ended up with two suitcases and a carry-on, all with some extra space. Most of the stuff in my suitcases were clothes and shoes, and then a few knick-knacks here and there (a flat iron for my hair, some basic hygiene products, for example). Here are a few tips about taking stuff to Japan.

1. Use Space Bags, or some other type of vacuum-seal bag. My mom gave me a box of these life-savers to help me pack my clothes into my suitcases. It’s amazing to see the difference in size once you pack in some clothes, seal the bag, and then start vacuuming the air out. My suitcases didn’t have the slightest evidence of bulge by the time I was done. Packing to come back home was a different story…^_^; If you don’t have time or money to buy Space bags, you could also use a lot of Ziploc bags; just sit on them or flatten them with heavy objects to force the air out. Space bags are basically oversized Ziploc bags, just with the one-way valve for vacuuming. I used both, the Space Bags for the clothing and the Ziploc bags for socks and underwear.

2. Don’t try to take all of your clothes, shoes, purses, etc. Fortunately, because I wasn’t too into fashion before I left, I hardly had any shoes or purses that I wanted to take with me to Japan. In addition to the purse I had with me on the plane, I took about three extra bags: One bag meant for school and two extra purses, both made of fabric so they could be flattened more effectively compared to a leather bag. As for shoes, I brought two pairs of boots, a pair of flats, and the tennis shoes on my feet.

Keep in mind that in Japan (or wherever you go), there will probably be plenty of opportunities to acquire new things, clothing included. This is where that little extra space and the Space Bags come in handy. Even I had to ship stuff home, throw stuff away, and fight to get my suitcases closed in the end. But if you take a limited amount of clothes from the beginning, it’ll save you at least a little bit of trouble.

3. Keep in mind any luggage weight or size guidelines set by your airline. I was lucky that my larger of the two suitcases I brought was just barely under the weight limit, otherwise I would have had to pay a fee. Both of my suitcases were the lightweight, semi-soft type. You can read this guide from about different types of luggage.

4. Include a change of clothes in your carry-on. You never know what could happen before arriving to your destination–especially if you have a flight with one or more stops–or even after you arrive. I wrote last September about how I almost missed my flight from LAX to Narita because my first flight from Dulles was late. If I had missed my flight, they would have provided a hotel room for me, so I would have needed the change of clothes for the next day. But the other reason the clothes came in handy was because I didn’t have my luggage for one night after I arrived at my dorm (which I’ll write about in a future post). I had orientation at Rikkyo the very next day, so I changed into my sleep clothes for the night and then wore my extra clothes to school the next day.

5. Don’t take all of your language-learning materials. If you are going to continue your foreign language studies while you are abroad, it won’t be necessary to take all of your notes and textbooks. I took two books and a couple of notes with me to Japan, and I didn’t use them even once while I was there. The Japanese language classes at Rikkyo taught me way more than I expected, and I collected a lot of notes from those classes to bring home. Learning a language is more than just studying it, but using it as well. As long as you put in effort to immerse yourself in the culture and everyday situations, you won’t need to take all of the study material, not even to cram on the plane before your language placement test the next morning ^_^

This post came out a little shorter than I thought, but this is all I could think of in two days. These are just some key points that came up during my own experience, so hopefully they will be of some help to anyone who plans to study abroad. My next blog post about packing will provide some insight on shipping things home in the middle of your stay, to avoid crowding out those tiny dorms and doing everything at the last minute. Happy packing!


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