We know one of the most stressful parts of traveling is deciding what you squeeze into your suitcase. Here’s a list of ESSENTIALS that are necessary for your TEFL travel.
1. Your important documents—like passport and visa
We’d hate for you to have a last-minute panic at the airport because you left your passport sitting on your bedside table. Be sure to put it in a safe place in your pack or purse before saying goodbye to your home.
Smart TEFL teachers know to create physical copies of their travel documents to leave at home in case of emergency, as well as to have on hand (instead of your actual passport) to carry while abroad in-country. The smartest TEFL teachers of the bunch will create digital copies of these files, too!
2. Professional, comfortable, and ideally sweat-wicking dress clothes for work
You don’t want to look like a sloppy-sally on the job, do you? Of course not—and while we don’t necessarily recommend dressing as smart as you would back home, be sure to pack clothes that fit the overlap of comfort and professional. Looking “put together” is a good benchmark to strive for.
We always recommend using moisture-wicking fabrics because you’re probably going to sweating after standing in front of your students all day! They’re also a breeze to wash (and air dry since dryers aren’t always easily accessible) and tend to hold less odors. Skip the cotton and stick to polyester or sweat-wicking blends instead.
3. A water bottle
Water isn’t always portable while you’re traveling, and it can be pretty annoying to constantly have to buy plastic bottles of water. Instead, do the earth a favor and pack a refillable water bottle instead.
4. Your TEFL course notes and other teaching materials
You didn’t go through those 120+ hours of training just to leave your precious notes and materials. Be sure to condense (or digitize) your notes and go-to resources, so they’re on hand when you need a last minute lesson plan idea or are struggling to teach tough concepts to your students.
5. A sturdy backpack or suitcase—plus day pack
Do you know what sucks when you’re traveling? When your cheap, low-quality luggage falls apart. Avoid the headaches and invest in nicer equipment from the get-go. A 65 L backpacking backpack is plenty of space for a multi-week trip abroad, but if you’re a die-hard suitcase lover, then try to find one with four wheels and double compartments.
You’ll also want to bring along a day pack for your shorter-term adventures. Ideally, this pack will hold enough for weekend trips or a day at the beach. It should have a dedicated laptop sleeve (if you’re planning on bringing yours along) and a water bottle holder.
6. Your headphones and an entertainment game plan
We’re going to guess that you love music, audiobooks, podcasts, and/or watching TV from your smartphone. Don’t be the annoying guy sharing their audio with the whole world and instead, pack a set of headphones. Noise-canceling are a dream for long transit, but a pair of typical earbuds will still get the job done.
Download books, TV shows on Netflix, and podcasts in advance of travel in case you end up in a destination with a weak wifi connection (or worse, 3G). Stockpile your entertainment!
7. Some cash, a debit card, and a credit card—be sure to alert your bank!
You’re not going to earn your first paycheck for a few weeks while TEFL interning abroad, so it’s best that you come prepared with savings—enough to get you through your first months. Bring emergency cash (#justincase), but plan to withdraw cash with your debit card from an ATM abroad. We generally avoid currency exchange bureaus because the prices aren’t always up to date and the lines can be long and boring.
If your TEFL internship destination has credit card infrastructure (and you have a no or low international fees), a combination of card and cash will put you in a good spot.
8. Other electronic accessories—like a plug adaptor and a backup battery pack
Make sure your cords can plug into the outlets in your TEFL destination, and that the voltage won’t end up frying your precious hair straightener. You can buy universal adaptors easily online or make a plan to buy one at the local market for cheap in your first few days abroad.
A backup battery pack has saved my can on dozens of occasions, so I always recommend travelers bring one along. And we’re not talking free trade-show battery packs with a random marketing logo on them. Invest in a high quality one that can sustain multiple charges and will get you back above the 80% mark quickly.
9. A good attitude and willingness to learn
The most important thing you can pack for any TEFL destination is an open mind. It sounds corny, but it’s true. Do some mental preparation before you hit the runway—what are your goals? What are you most nervous about? What are you straight up AFRAID of?
Yes, you’re going abroad to teach—but you’re going abroad to learn, too. These lessons are best absorbed when the recipient is humble, open, and patient (with themselves and with the culture of their new home). Culture shock is real, but you’ll overcome it with some advance understanding of its potential drawbacks and a lot of self-love.
How to adjust your packing list for Asia
Cambodia values modesty, so keep your professional attire exactly that—professional. It’s also hot year round, so feel free to pack tank tops and shorts for your weekend adventures.
Teachers in China are seen with the highest respect from a societal level. We recommend packing nicer clothes, as teachers likewise have higher expectations. Bring an umbrella and waterproof shoes with you, as it’s prone to rain (a lot) unexpectedly.
Hong Kong is where east meets west and where conservative dress isn’t as favored. Dress smart but you can cut more corners—sleeveless and slightly above the knee are okay. Keep in mind that it’s expensive to shop in Hong Kong!
Myanmar has an extremely conservative culture, so TEFL teachers should plan on wearing sleeves and bottoms that cover the knee.
Taiwan is hot and rainy almost year-round, so be sure your sandal, raincoat, and umbrella game are strong. Though not too conservative, you’ll fit in more if you leave the tank tops and yoga pants back home.
Don’t be surprised if your ESL job in Vietnam gives you a work uniform (like a polo) to wear everyday. We’ve also learned that closed toed shoes are preferred for teachers here. Outside of work, keep it casual. Pack baggy pants because you’re definitely going to overeat pho.
How to adjust your packing list for Europe
Romania gets cold (real cold) November through March. Pack appropriately for the cold if you’ll be teaching in the fall or winter seasons! Stick to neutral color palettes to fit in better with the locals.
Anything goes in Spain, where the culture is pretty laid back and warm (much like it’s climate). We still recommend looking your best on the job, so feel free to add more trendy items to your professional packing strategy.
How to adjust your packing list for Latin America
Planning to teach English to business students? Dress smartly. Working with kiddos in a language institute? Look clean and put together, but you can leave your fancy slacks behind. One thing’s for sure, though: no flip flops.
Keep an eye on the weather and climate as it fluctuates year round.
You’ll be judged based on your appearance here—even as a TEFL teacher. Yes, you can teach in jeans, but we wouldn’t recommend wearing them for more professional interactions (like interviews or parent-teacher conferences).
Chile has a hyper-conservative culture, so it’s best to avoid unwanted stares and attention and cover up. Sleeves and pants are a magic combo for being taken seriously at work!
You’re ready to pack for your TEFL adventure
Armed with these helpful packing tips, you’ll be well on your way to your fabulous life abroad in no time. Put on your favorite playlist and rock out while you stuff your pack with all your must-haves. You’re going to do great as a teacher abroad!
Now that you’re all packed for your journey, check out our 13 Survival Tips for the Airport and Flight ✈️