Study abroad packing lists can get excessive. Your program will likely send you one that’s outdated and full of extra items (mine recommended I bring my favorite cassettes!), your parents will sneak even more extras into your bag, and you yourself will be left with some tough decisions on what you can and can’t live without.
There are a lot of great guides out there about how you can pack minimally for a long period of time if you’re a guy who loves doing laundry, (the Indie Traveler has a good one) but our packing philosophy is a bit different.
For one, we believe that people should pack to make themselves comfortable, and this means recognizing that packing is a personalized process and balancing the things that make you comfortable with your desire to carry them. (more on this here)
We’ll start in with a brief description of the types of situations you might encounter, then rank the things that you should try to bring based on necessity. Then we’ll talk about the things you can and should buy in-country, and mention some of the things that should definitely stay at home.
Important disclaimer: Don’t bring anything you consider delicate or with special washing instructions! Seriously, don’t do it. You will regret it.
First, recognize that most of the cities that study abroad students spend long periods of time in are fairly temperate. Morocco is well known as a country where you can ride camels in the desert and all that, but remember that it is also overwhelmingly coastal. And this means heat, humidity, and coastal winds.
That being said, do some planning, if you can, based on where you think you might want to spend your time.
- If your program advertises a rural village stay like ours did, you’re likely heading into the mountains, where temperatures can plummet at night.
- If you’d like to visit Chefchaouen, be prepared for the climate to get cold and snowy by November. (If you’re unprepared, Chefchaouen is a good place to buy warm scarves and blankets that make great gifts.)
- It does get rainy in cities like Rabat, and many of the streets in the Medina don’t have much of a drainage system.
- Morocco is a country where feminine and sexual health products are largely unavailable, so plan ahead with your birth control and tampon collection.
Must-have items to pack
These are the items that came in the most handy when we studied abroad in Morocco, and the ones we’re definitely glad we carried with us. These are the basics that will get you by, and probably the bare minimum of what you should pack for a full semester away from home.
- 1-2 favorite pairs of pants- Jacky and I both agree that a good bet is one pair of good jeans (both of us went us went with black) and one pair of comfortable, loose-fitting harem pants.
- 1 favorite pair of every day shoes- We say everyday as in you will wear these every single day. You will wear them to class. You will wear them when you go out to dinner. You will wear them when you dress up. For Reyna, these were a simple pair of off-white slip-ons. For Jacky, they were a pair of well-loved combat boots. Pick these based on your personal style.
- Enough feminine products to last your stay- Things like tampons aren’t very accessible in Morocco. Bring enough tampons, preferred form of birth control, etc to get you through the trip worry-free.
- 1 light jacket- ideally, this jacket would go with pretty much everything you’ve brought with you. It should be able to cover you up a bit without getting you too hot, but also take the edge off when there’s wind or a bit of chill. Jacky and I both went with agnorak-style jackets.
- 3-5 t-shirts- Try to make these as versatile as possible. Personally, I just went out and picked up a few solid colored v-necks for a few dollars a piece that I knew would all match my pants and my jacket. These had the added benefit of being cheap and replaceable, so I ended up leaving a lot of them in Morocco to make room to bring some things home.
- 1 rain jacket or warmer coat- You don’t need anything too warm for the most part, but bringing a jacket that can shield you from some rain and heavy coastal winds will drastically improve your stay.
- Sunglasses- These are so essential. For one thing, they’ll help you avoid a lot of street harassment. They’ll also protect your eyes from the glare on sunny days when you’re surrounded by the white buildings of the medina.
- Extra space in your bag- Plan to come home with more than you brought with you. Even if you don’t consider yourself a souvenir person (like us) you’re going to pick things up along your travels. Ever if you don’t buy anything (unlikely), with people as generous as Moroccans, you’re bound to be coming home with a few gifts or memorabilia.
- Socks and underwear- If this needed to be said, you’ve got bigger problems than packing for your study abroad adventure.
- Portable charger- I really resisted owning one of these. I always told myself I wasn’t one of those people who used their phone so heavily that they would need a second charge but honestly, this came in handy. Outlets are simply not always available over there, and even in my family’s home, my access was limited. The charger was also extremely helpful for supporting my choice to use my phone as my primary camera.
Nice-to have items you can pack
You don’t need to have all of these, but throwing some of them into your extra bag space will definitely make your stay more comfortable. It’s up to you to decide which ones are important to you, but here are a few items that came in handy:
- 1 pair of athletic shorts- These are nice to have for sleeping, and also for lounging around the house. While you won’t be allowed to wear them out on the street, don’t forget that when the house is full of only women (which will be often) you can pretty much wear whatever you want. At my host mom’s women only tea sessions, there were even women wearing only their bras and underwear. Even if you’re not a religious shorts wearer like me, you might find that after a few months, wearing shorts for once can be pretty refreshing and liberating.
- 1-2 other shirts- You’re not going to want to wear v-necks every day, no matter how simple you think your style is. Bring a few shirts you can feel attractive in if you were to go out for drinks (nothing TOO sexy though) or maybe a long sleeve to switch things up. I chose two of my favorite shirts that I was actually attached to.
- 1 Swimsuit- This one really depends on who you are as a person. I, a swimmer, would say that nobody can go anywhere without one, whereas Jacky probably feels the opposite. I brought along a conservative one piece that I was able to go to the beach in (with shorts on over it) and underneath my wetsuit when I was surfing.
- 1 hat or cap- If you’re like me and your hair is curly yellow statement hair, you’ll appreciate having this around just to shield you from some of the attention. Also good for shielding your eyes from the sun. Don’t bring anything too fancy, though. A durable baseball cap is perfect.
- 1 pair simple, water proof sandals- Odds are that at some point during your stay, you’ll be visiting the hammam, or the public bath house to clean off. Most people wear flip flops in there, and you should, too. You can pick these up in Morocco, or try to bring a pair you’d also be happy to wear out and about.
- 1 pair of leggings- I wouldn’t recommend wearing these every day, but they’re your best option for exercising and for occasions when you’d like to be a bit more comfortable.
- 1 pair running shoes or sneakers- These are especially important if your everyday shoes are flats or other non-athletic shoes. They’ll be great for working out, for navigating more rural areas where the streets are dirty or hazardous, and they’ll generally come in handy when you’re going out exploring. You don’t need anything expensive or high performance, but a lace-up shoe that offers good support and traction will serve you extremely well.
- 1 flashlight- This doesn’t have to be heavy duty or fancy in any way. But it does come in extremely handy in various situations. If you’re going to be visiting the Sahara or a rural area especially, it will help you out a lot. (BONUS: if you know you have a rural homestay coming up, bring a small flashlight and a few extra batteries, and give it to your family at the end of your stay. They come in incredibly handy out there and they’re somewhat hard to acquire. My family was extremely grateful for it.)
Things you can just buy in Morocco
- Scarves- If you think you’re going to be very cold, you can buy some beautiful scarves in Morocco. These will keep you warm and double as excellent, high quality gifts. Jacky and I both invested in some nice scarves during winter in Chefchaouen
- Toiletries- Yes, they have supermarkets in Morocco. Yes, they carry a lot of your favorite brands of shampoo. Resist the urge to carry your favorite beauty products with you in bulk and get comfortable shopping for basic items like these. As a bonus, your host family will most likely instruct you on what products you’ll need to go to the hammam with.
- More clothes- Seriously, you can buy more clothes in Morocco if you feel that you severely underpacked. The street vendors sell designer knock-offs and harem pants galore, so you’ll never be lacking for options when the time comes to replace some worn out wardrobe items.
Things you should leave at home
- Jewelry- If you like to wear simple earrings or have a favorite necklace, it’s fine to bring a bit of every day jewelry that makes you feel like yourself. But try to stay away from any statement jewelry or just any bulky or unnecessary accessories. These will take up space in your bag and you won’t want to wear them when you get to Morocco, as they draw unnecessary attention to you on the street.
- High heels- Trust me, you don’t need them. If you do go out for a night on the town, simple flats or your every day shoes will get the job done, and high heels are more than likely to be a hazard on many of the streets there.
- Resort wear- We know it’s tempting to pack your flowy white linen clothes and your floppy hats, but we seriously recommend against it. For one thing, you’re going to want to pick a wardrobe that doesn’t stain easily, since your options for laundry are going to be limited. Second, we highly recommend dressing less like a tourist and more like a practical, street-savvy expat. It will make a big different for you on the street, trust us. So opt for simple clothes in darker colors that cover your legs and shoulders.