The ISA JournalAlumni Perspectives: Spain Packing Guide

Xena Clarke is an ISA Barcelona alumna and current ISA/TEAN Global Ambassador at Seattle University. In the following blog, Xena provides a packing guide, along with some Spanish fashion insights and observations.

I have never been a chronic over packer, but when I studied abroad in Barcelona I took my whole closet. I was so nervous I wouldn’t have exactly what I needed, that I ended up taking far too much. So much in fact, that it limited the amount of clothes and souvenirs I could buy while I was abroad. Trust me when I say that you will want to buy more than you realize. European fashion is no joke. The stores there are affordable, plentiful, and trendy. But, you have to take some things with you to start, so here is my guide for what you should take when you study abroad in Spain.

Comfortable shoes

European cities tend to be extremely walkable, and Spanish cities are no exception. Most of the things you’ll want to do are within walking distance or are just a short metro ride away. Taxis on the other hand, are expensive and not worth the cost. While you’re in Spain, you will walk to your destination, or walk to a metro stop, 99% of the time, so it’s crucial to have comfortable shoes that work for you. I recommend taking one pair of sneakers for everyday use and a good pair of boots for evening/dressier occasions. Apart from that, you just need sandals for the beach! It’s worth mentioning that heels are not mandatory for club entry, and most locals wear black boots or nice sandals to clubs as well. Shoes take up a lot of space when packing. Only pack the essentials and only pack things you’re truly comfortable in.

An “anti-pickpocket” bag

Barcelona is notorious for pickpocketing. While I was lucky enough to keep all my belongings while I was abroad, I attribute some of that success to my bag. I wore a small, zippered crossbody bag almost every day. I only carried my phone, wallet, and keys with me, so if something ever did get stolen, I didn’t have to spend money replacing non-essentials. I also made sure I kept a hand on my bag in crowed areas, like the metro. Most girls abroad carried a Lululemon belt bag, but any small crossbody or fanny pack would work. It might not be the most stylish, but it will protect your belongings!

Long skirts and linen pants

Spain can get hot, but it is also a predominately Catholic country. I was in Barcelona, which is a very multicultural and diverse city, so modesty standards weren’t that important. In other parts of Spain though, you might get strange looks for wearing a tube top. Also, I found that many Spaniards seem to wear too many layers. I’m from Seattle, so on an 80 degree day I want to wear shorts and a tank top, but Spanish people are much more used to the heat. They will wear sweaters, scarves, and jeans, even when it seems too hot. My own host mom used to complain that I didn’t dress warm enough and try to give me a scarf every time I left the house, even if it was 75+! The best solution I came up with was to wear fuller coverage, but lightweight clothes, such as linen pants and long flowy skirts. Pack accordingly!

Statement jewelry

If there’s one thing Spanish women do to elevate their style, it’s wearing statement earrings. There are so many amazing and cheap jewelry stores in Barcelona, so it’s worth checking the local shops to fit this trend. However, I would absolutely recommend bringing any chunky, fun, or unique jewelry you have to fit in with locals and feel confident in your personal style.

Elevated basics

To help limit overpacking, bring elevated basics that can be worn over and over again. Spanish style is more formal and classic, so think unripped jeans, slacks, simple sweaters and tank tops, and oversized button ups. Having things that mix and match to allow for multiple outfit combinations is key. Especially if you’re planning on traveling out of your home city, it’s so important to have a capsule wardrobe of basics that will work for any occasion.

Going out clothes

I know, I just said long, light-weight clothes are best, but clubbing is a whole different realm. If you’re planning on experiencing nightlife while you’re abroad, packing a versatile skirt or short option is crucial. I personally brought a pair of black leather shorts and a black miniskirt. The clubs are not airconditioned most of the time, and there are so many people that it can get really warm. You’ll be dancing too, which will make you even hotter. I originally packed a pair of leather pants to wear to the club, thinking that in November/December it would be preferable to shorts, but I did not reach for them once. Cute, short party dresses would work too!

A waterproof bag

Similar to a crossbody bag, a waterproof bag is an anti-pickpocketing must have for Barcelona specifically. The main beach, Barceloneta, is potentially the worst place for pickpocketing in the whole city. If you go with your friends, you have to take turns swimming, getting drinks, or just walking around, because someone will have to stay to guard your stuff. I recommend getting a waterproof bag that can fit your phone, keys, and most important cards. That way, you can take it into the water with you and not let pickpockets ruin your fun.


Whether you need cash or not really depends on where you are. In Barcelona, practically every store will take card. However, as you get away from metropolitan areas cash will become more and more common. Stores in rural areas might not take card at all. I found that out at a coffee shop in rural Spain after I drank my coffee, and I was so glad to have a 20 Euro note in my wallet. Also, if you ever want to hit up a flea market, cash can allow you to haggle prices, and cards can incur additional fees. It is important to get cash out before you travel, because taking it out abroad can be expensive due to the exchange rate. I took a couple hundred Euros, which was just enough for the situations I found myself in.

A light-weight beach towel

I bought not one, not two, but three beach towels while I was abroad. The first one I bought was in Barcelona itself, because I didn’t have anything to sit on at the beach. Then I ran into the same issue when I traveled to Marseille, and again when I went to a spa in Budapest. It feels so wasteful to have to keep having to buy or rent towels. I would highly recommend buying a small, microfiber camping towel that is easy to pack and that you can reuse throughout your travels. You’ll save yourself money and be prepared for anything the minute you step off the plane.

Minimal makeup

Beauty products are some of the easiest things to overpack. The truth is, a lot of Spanish women don’t wear a lot of makeup, if any. Clean, simple skin is fashionable, with some women opting for eye makeup or a red lip. Only bring the essentials for your daily routine. Again, just like for jewelry, Barcelona has many affordable beauty stores where you can pick up a fun eyeshadow or perfume if you feel like you’re missing something, but if you want to match Spanish trends, you really don’t need a lot!

It is so impossible to decide what to pack, so I hope my experiences provided a little guidance. It’s important to note that these are just suggestions based on what I saw. If you love wearing high heels, wear them! If you were false eyelashes every single day, take them with you. At the end of the day, feeling comfortable and confident in your own personal style is by far the most important thing when you go abroad. There will be a lot of change and a lot of new experiences, making it even more important to stay true to yourself. My one, final, piece of advice would be to under-pack instead of over-pack. You can always buy things when you’re abroad, but you don’t want to be bogged down by unnecessary items. Good luck packing, and have a great time studying abroad!

Want to explore on your own while immersing yourself in a study abroad program like Xena did? Fill out your details below to let our team know and we’ll help you find your adventure today!

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