I have been dreading this moment ever since I decided to move to Madrid. “Oh my God I have to pack,” has become my angst-filled mantra, which I usually follow with a lot of grumbling and paralyzing waves of anxiety.
Seriously. How am I supposed to pack for a year in Spain? How is anyone supposed to do it? Can it be done?
I put off packing as long as I could, but I’m leaving on Saturday to visit my family in New Jersey from August 31 to September 10. My flight to Madrid leaves from Minneapolis on September 12. So, it will make my life 100x easier if I at least try to pack my Spain suitcase before I leave.
So, last Sunday, that’s exactly how I spent my afternoon. And let the bells ring out over the plains of America because I did it. I packed everything into my one giant suitcase and two carry-ons. (Or, one carry-on and one personal item for the technical folk out there.)
I went from this:
(Shoes, toiletries, and purses not pictured.)
Y anímate, because you can do it too! Here’s how.
Packing List for a Move to Spain
My suitcase is really large, a lá the suitcase Mrs. Kim gives Lane for her trip to Korea.
Here’s what I fit into my luggage.
- Driver’s license
- Credit cards
- Debit cards
- Two copies each of all of the above (important if any of these documents/cards get lost!)
- Handwritten addresses/phone numbers of my friends and family
- Ear plugs
- Sleep mask
- Inflatable neck pillow
- No-Jet-Lag herbal treatment (I had terrible jet-lag last time I flew to Spain. This is a homeopathic treatment and it might not work, but I’ve heard good things from other travelers. I’m willing to try it since it’s all-natural.)
- Hand-held luggage scale (I have this one from Travelon.)
- 15 shirts/tank tops/t-shirts
- 5 pairs of jeans/pants
- 2 skirts
- 3 dresses
- 2 sweatshirts (one heavy hoodie, one lighter crewneck)
- 4 pairs of boots (three tall, one pair of heeled booties. I’ll be wearing one of my tall pairs on the plane)
- 5 pairs of shoes (one pair sneakers, two pairs of flats, one pair of sandals, one pair of heels)
- 5 scarves (two for winter)
- 3 jackets (two pleather for going out, one water-resistant peacoat)
- 2 coats (one down parka, one wool dress coat)
- 14 pairs of underwear
- 4 bras
- 3 pairs of pajama pants/shorts/yoga pants
- 10 pairs of socks (two wool for winter)
- Misc. jewelry and earrings
- Winter headband
- Heavy mittens
- Digital camera & charger
- Laptop & charger
- iPhone & charger
- Nook Simple Touch & charger
- A few plug adapters
- 1 converter
- External hard drive
- Noise-cancelling headphones
I’m not bothering with bringing full-size bottles of my usual shampoo, face wash, contact solution etc. I’ll buy those in Madrid.
- 4 regular-sized sticks of deodorant
- Value pack of mascara
- Travel-sized items, including toothpaste, toothbrushes, mini deodorants, and hand sanitizer for weekend trips
- Travel-sized bottles for liquids, which are good for refilling in Spain
- Contact case & solution + spare contacts
- Razor and extra blades (they don’t take up too much space)
- Sunscreen (It’s super expensive in Spain for some reason. Maybe it’s because they all have perfect Mediterranean skin and never burn.)
How to Pack Your Suitcase to Move to Spain
My parents are divorced and live in different states, so I’ve been flying back and forth since I was little. (I’ve learned a packing trick or two along the way. I’ll get into those later.)
But first, I’ll let you in on my secret weapon: Roll-Up Compression Bags.
I took these to Alicante with me, and I’m in love with them. They’re like Space Bags, except you roll them up from one side instead of using a vacuum. This makes them perfect for weekend trips on RyanAir. I like Travelon’s bags, and the new versions are hybrids that give you the option to use a vacuum if you want. (You can pick them up for cheap at Marshall’s or TJ Maxx, or order them online.)
My Top 13 Spain Packing Tips
- Plan out your plane outfit EARLY. This helps you figure out how much you can wear on the plane. I picked my black leather boots, black leggings, a long, soft sweater, and a black jacket.
- Use compression bags.
- Pack shoes and other heavy items in your carry-on (but be sure you can still lift it into the overhead!)
- Always pack valuable items in your carry-on.
- Always pack the essentials for two-three days in your carry-on in case your luggage gets lost.
- Remember: It’s always cheaper to check a second bag than to pay the overweight fees at the airport. If you’re in doubt, pay the $25-$50 to check a second bag.
- Everyone says this, and that’s because it’s true. Do not overpack. I brought a bunch of clothes to Alicante that I never wore, and they were just dead weight on the way back.
- Check one bag if possible. If you need to, you can buy a second bag in Spain and check it on the way home in June.
- You’ll want to shop in Spain. I know this from experience.
- If it dips below 40ºF (4ºC) in the winter where you’ll be living, consider bringing a warm winter coat. For example, while Madrid doesn’t get nearly as cold as my home states of Minnesota and New Jersey, I know I’ll be walking a lot more in Spain. And, if I travel to other countries during the winter, I might need a warmer coat.
- Bring high-quality shoes. I know they take up a lot of suitcase space, but there’s very little “middle ground” in Spain where shoes are concerned. Cheap shoes are really cheap, but the quality is also cheap. Nice shoes are really expensive. There’s no DSW over there, people.
- Bring neutral clothes that match with a lot of things. Dresses should be able to be dressed down or paired with tights for the winter.
- I don’t work out a lot, so I saved a lot of space by not worrying about gym shorts/sneakers/sports bras. (If you need me, you’ll find me with a big wedge of cheese and some jamón.)
With all that in mind, here’s how I packed, step-by-step:
1. Start by packing heavy/bulky items on the bottom. Roll clothes where possible — do not fold.
I used to doubt this logic, (Aren’t rolled clothes taller than folded clothes, thus negating any space-saving qualities of rolling?) but it works somehow.
- In my case, this was my long wool peacoat, my blue rain jacket, my white jacket, and one pair of my tall boots.
- The compression bag in this picture holds my down parka, my five pairs of jeans/pants, and a few sweaters. It’s nested on top of the boots, leaving space on the bottom edge.
2. Fill your second compression bag with your remaining shirts, sweaters, skirts, and dresses. Fit as many as possible.
3. Leave no space unpacked.
- Start filling in those gaps. You’re a space-saver extraordinaire! Roll up your remaining clothes and start tucking them into the empty spaces. Socks, underwear, and bras work especially well for this.
- Squeeze your shoes down the sides of your bag, where possible. You can see I wedged my pearl-colored flats in toward the bottom of this picture.
- Fill shoes with clothes, too. Roll shirts, scarves, etc. and stuff them into those shoes.
- Leave room for your checked liquids/toiletry bags if necessary.
4. Finish and weigh.
- Add a final layer made up of your toiletry bag, your over-the-counter medicines, and what I fondly call a Spain Stockpile (all my extra deodorant, contacts, travel-sized items, etc.).
- Fill in any extra spaces. I added my little pink purse and some extra scarves.
- The final weight: 47 lbs.
I packed my remaining boots, shoes, and purses into my carry-on, along with my jewelry, electronics, and my important documents. (Pictured below left.) My purses make up the final top layer.
I’m thinking about swapping my little rolling carry-on for my Osprey Porter 46 pack (right, with my trusty for-scale water bottle), which I bought specifically to take on RyanAir trips. But I’ll put the same things in my carry-on regardless.