The Nitty-Gritty

In 13 days, I will board a plane in Oregon to leave my life behind and begin anew in Sofia, Bulgaria. Somebody pinch me.

It’s nearly impossible to know how to prepare for this sort of adventure. I put off packing and preparing for many months out of fear that I would make every mistake and end up with a suitcase full of useless junk. I eventually realized, however, that I should probably bring something with me, and so I began compiling my usual, overly-detailed packing list. Since I assume most of you aren’t particularly interested in exactly how many of each type of shirt I’m bringing, I’ll give you the narrative version (if you are interested in specifics, the full list will be at the end of the post).

Here’s the main principle on which I based my packing decisions: Bulgaria has stores. I will be able to buy things in these stores. Therefore, I don’t need to bring every last thing I’ll possibly need at any moment for the next ten months. Since I generally rotate between 4-7 outfits max anyway, limiting myself to four pairs of pants (including my beloved leggings, which I probably won’t have much opportunity to wear due to Europeans actually caring about their appearance in public), about 10 shirts of varying fanciness, warmth, etc., some cardigans, and five pairs of shoes wasn’t exactly a challenge. In fact, I had to do a fair bit of shopping to have sufficient options that I actually like. My wardrobe was in need of an update.

I decided to buy my winter coat and boots in Sofia since Oregon stores aren’t very well-stocked with those items in August, and to free up more room in my one checked bag (a 29″ Travelpro if anyone’s curious). American Councils, my exchange organization, does allow for two, but I cannot imagine filling that much space. Franky, I didn’t want to give myself that option. Other items I’ll be buying in-country, if the need arises, include a hair straightener, curler, and dryer. This is both because of space and because outlet adaptors usually just fry them, leaving you with a useless tool and unlimited frustration.

Beyond clothing, my checked bag contains gifts for my host family, a few books, my Polaroid camera and film (in order to maintain my constant delusion that I will one day be the sort of person who takes Polaroids regularly), a pencil pouch with basic school supplies, pictures of my friends and family, putty to hang said pictures, bags/purses, and toiletries. I’m only bringing travel sizes for all products because of the aforementioned presence of stores in Bulgaria.

The contents of my carry-on — which will be my backpack — are fairly basic: Laptop, books, comfy clothes/accessories, and necessary items like my wallet and passport. I do, however, go a little overboard with hygiene products for long flights. Besides the typical lip balm and lotion, I’m also bringing face wipes, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, and more. What I can say, I would rather not look like a monster from hell when I meet my host mom.

Putting things in a suitcase has only been the beginning of preparing for this year. I’ve also had to replace my debit card, which was originally due to expire in March 2018, inform my bank of my travel dates so they don’t think my card has been stolen, order copies of my birth certificate and high school transcript, and submit numerous forms to American Councils regarding everything from my stipend to my travel itinerary. Earlier in the year I also had to apply for an adult passport since my under-18 version would have expired this October. These sorts of nitty-gritty details may not fit the romantic image of jetting off to a foreign land, but they are the reality. If it will help me get to Bulgaria, I have no complaints!

The next step in the process is going to be by far the hardest: Goodbyes. To my parents, to my friends, to my dog, my house…everything. I think the hardest ones will be my friends. Most of them are getting ready to start their collegiate careers, the majority of which will begin before I leave. By the time I fly to Sofia, only two of my closest friends will still be in my hometown. It’s going to be an impossibly tough few weeks. I plan to write about my long string of farewells once they’re all over, so get ready for a really depressing post on approximately August 26th.

Well, that about sums up the current state of affairs. If you have any questions about packing for a year abroad (though I am by no means an expert), about the intricacies of the YES Abroad program, or anything else, please reach out! One of my main goals with this blog was to provide a resource to future exchange students, host families, and anyone else interested in these amazing opportunities. The blog now has its own email address, — feel free to contact me at any time! I look forward to talking with you.

The immediacy of my departure is simultaneously the most exciting and terrifying reality I’ve ever faced. Hopefully I manage to avoid implosion during the next two weeks. Until next time, довиждане!


Camera bag


Fuzzy socks 

Neck pillow 




Change of shirt



Travel toothpaste 

Face wipes 


Lip balm

Travel deodorant

Eye mask 

Ear plugs 


Wet wipes 

Hairbrush (+hair-ties)




Laptop (+charger)

Journal (w/ pen and pencil)


Phone (+charger)

Portable charger



  • ID card
  • Cash
  • Debit card



Clothes (numbers approximate)

1 jacket 

2-4 cardigans 

3 sweaters 

1 set of winter accessories (wool scarf, hat, gloves)

1-2 blouses 

6-7 regular shirts 

3 pairs of jeans/casual pants 

1-2 pairs of shorts

1-2 dresses 

2 sets of sleepwear

1-2 sport/gym attire

1 bathing suit

10 pairs of underwear and socks

Too many scarves 


1 pair of sport/gym shoes 

1 pair dress shoes

1 pair everyday/street shoes 

1 pair of sandals/flip-flops

1 pair of boots 



Travel shampoo 

Travel conditioner 

Body wash

Bobby pins

Hair ties

Mini hair ties

Travel face wash 


Banana clip 

Hair oil 


Bar of soap

Hair clips

Nail clippers


Make-up wipes 

Hair towel wrap

Mascara (2) 

Brown pencil eyeliner

Black felt-tip eyeliner





YES Abroad canvas tote 

Small purse

Convertors and adaptors

Host family gifts

Pictures from home of family, friends, and favorite places

Graphing calculator for math class (with extra battery)

Documents requested by American Councils for your paperwork in-country

Pencil pouch 

Putty to hang pictures 

Polaroid (+film)

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