Five Packing Tips for a Year Away.

Are you thinking of taking advantage of the US graduate visa after college? Or perhaps you need a break before final year to refocus, get some experience and adventure? Whatever your reasons for wanderlust I hope that over this series of posts on the J1 Graduate Internship Visa I can shed some light on the application process, arrival tips, job hunting suggestions and a guide to general survival in this strange and wonderful foreign place. 

This is the third post in a series, here’s the first and second posts. 

Today let’s talk packing. Packing for a year away feels like the most overwhelming of tasks when you say it out loud. If you’re anything like me (a borderline hoarder/ephemera collector/vintage shopping junkie) then it might just be a pretty daunting task. I was given some pretty good tips before I left so I will try and relay them here for you. 

 Where are you going? This is important. Is the weather warm? Cold? Wet? Look at the actual weather information and don’t rely too heavily on anecdotal sources. People are forever talking about how cold and wet San Francisco is but so far it’s warmer than home and the entire of California is in a drought so not much rain. I think Irish people are pretty resilient when it comes to crappy weather but it’s always good to know what you will be faced with. In hindsight I brought too many coats and warm jumpers than I needed. 

Will you need interview clothes? This is a tricky one. I brought a pair of fancy shoes and one good dress for interviews. I have worn the dress once and the shoes zero times. I definitely could have done without both. Richard packed a suit and it has been worn zero times. I brought a pair of heels that are gathering dust. I can’t say much about New York or Boston or anywhere on the East Coast but as far as I know West is suuuper casual. Leave your heels at home. 

You’re not going on holidays. Save space and weight by not packing tons of socks, towels shampoo, conditioner, toiletries, razors, etc. If you’ve planned it right you should have some cash for these things when you land, use it. 

Contrary to the above point I think—in terms of clothes—that you should pack as if you are going on holidays. Bring stuff for whatever season you’ll be arriving in and a few pairs of shoes. Chances are you will want to go shopping in your new neighbourhood and it’s much easier to schlepp your stuff from hostel to apartment if there isn’t ten million tons of it. Unless it’s guaranteed to be roasting hot (bikini weather) or sub zero snow-magedden (puffa parka compulsory) leave the outliers behind. You can beg, borrow or thrift store scavenge for the rare occasions you’ll need something out of the ordinary. 

As long as you’ve got a bank card, your passport and visa, a clean pair of pants and a toothbrush you can survive anything. 


In terms of the practicalities of packing, use a big, light suitcase and a smaller carry-on sized case for the plane. Most airlines allow a personal item as well as a carry on and usually a small backpack is ok for this, make sure to double-check with your airline.

Roll, don’t fold. Stuff socks into shoes and scrunch your cables (as opposed to wrapping them) to keep them from tearing in the long run. It’s worth getting one of those hand-scales (or failing that, using your personal weighing scales) to make sure your bags are under-weight before travelling. A girl in the queue ahead of me at check-in was overweight and was not allowed pay the excess baggage. She had to open her bags and redistribute and remove stuff, which is the last thing you want to do the morning of your big adventure.

I had to pack up all of my belongings that I was leaving at home and put them into the attic before I left. This process took such a long time and was so exhausting that by the time I was actually packing the stuff to bring with me I kind of just fecked it all in. Being chilled out makes it much easier—if you forget something it’s really not the end of the world!