What *not* to pack in your carry-on for your student tour


As a Group Leader, I spend a significant amount of time reminding my group what to pack for a school trip abroad and what they will need once on tour. I begin and end every group meeting by reminding them to do three things: get their passport, determine how they will access money (debit/credit card), and confirm how they will contact family back home. For me, these three areas have a lot to do with ensuring that your trip is a successful one.

As our departure date nears, I typically hold a meeting that covers my recommended packing list for a school trip. I also remind them of the little things like sunscreen, travel-size toiletries, and extra batteries. But I’ve learned that what causes the most angst amongst my travelers isn’t what they don’t have and need, but what they pack and never use. So I’ve created a list that will help students make better sense of what can be left at home. Here’s my take on what not to pack in your carry-on bag (and beyond).

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Don’t overdo it on the snacks

Generally speaking, I am not opposed to my kids bringing some snacks with them while on tour. In fact, this can be a great example of what to pack in a carry-on. Days on tour can sometimes be long, and buying snacks throughout the day adds up. But this doesn’t mean you need to pack enough food to feed the entire royal family for a month on the off chance that you’re marooned in the highlands of Scotland while on a hunting trip. Bring a few granola bars or a small package of almonds and call it a day. A large part of your experience while on tour is immersing yourself in the culture—this includes the food you eat. Don’t waste valuable stomach space on a candy bar you bought back home at the local gas station. Instead, grab a gelato while in Rome or, for the brave, a Lampredotto (cow stomach) sandwich while exploring the amazing artwork in Florence. Who knows, you may find a new favorite food.




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Let’s be realistic

I realize that some of you might have romantic visions of strolling through Piazza Navona and catching the eye of a beautiful young Italian boy or girl. And while this may happen, it’ll have to happen with your hair pulled back in a ponytail or a beard that isn’t trimmed to perfection. This applies to both girls and boys. I’ve had boys pack an electric shaver and a beard trimmer, and have girls pack a blowdryer, curling iron, and hair straightener. Think about what you’re really going to need. Be realistic about it, and instead leave room in your bag to bring back Tuscan olive oil or pasta from Rome. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. That beard trimmer’s not on anybody’s international travel packing checklist.


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Avoid packing around the “maybes”

I caution against packing for what you “may” need while traveling. Could the weather turn unexpectedly cold while touring across Italy in July? Sure…I guess. But is it really worth cramming your winter coat into your suitcase and carrying it all over Europe? No. Research what your destination’s climate is normally like during that time of year and check the weather forecast ahead of time, and then plan accordingly. On the off-chance an unexpected rainstorm happens, you can always look at purchasing something while traveling. I once had to buy a jacket while in London during a particularly wet and gloomy day. This is something I probably should have been prepared for in England, but nevertheless, it became one of the most memorable things I’ve ever purchased—not to mention, it makes for a great story. The bottom line is: do not pack something because you “may” need it. More than likely, you won’t need many of those items, and they’ll just add weight to your suitcase and take up space.




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Leave your inhibitions behind

Do you think that artwork makes you “nerdy” or that you can’t like theater and sports? If so, you’re completely wrong. Traveling is largely about exposing yourself to new experiences, different cultures, and foreign ways of thinking. I’ve seen the biggest “jocks” not want to leave the Louvre. I’ve heard students who had no interest in theater, talk about it for days after watching a show in London. Trying new food also falls into this category. Not a coffee drinker? Pony up to the counter and order an espresso while in Milan, or start your morning off with a croissant and cappuccino while in Paris. As the American author Neale Donald Walsch said, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Travel is your opportunity to try new things, push your limits, and grow as a person.

Hopefully, this will help you make better decisions about what to pack for a school trip abroad with EF Tours and what not to pack in your carry-on bag. For first-time travelers, it can be difficult to know what to bring and what to leave at home. New Group Leaders should talk to their Tour Consultants about this. They’re more than happy to help provide suggestions. Pack light, pack smart, and enjoy your trip of a lifetime!


Editor’s note (2022): This piece has been updated for clarity, accuracy, and relevance.

Bobby M.

Bobby is a Principal with a background in History and Social Studies. He first traveled with EF Educational Tours in 2010 to Rome and Paris. He believes that young people should experience life outside of their communities, and that understanding other cultures is imperative to solving global challenges.