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TAPIF Packing List (and how to make it all fit)

TAPIF is the American branch of France éducation internationale’s language and culture exchange program for public schools. The overall Assistants de langue program brings over 1600 language assistants from over 80 countries to live in France for seven months to share their culture with the students and teachers while providing a native-level instruction for each language class.


The application process opens in October, applications (or dossiers) are due in January, and results are announced on a rolling basis for each département starting at the end of April. If accepted, the contract starts on October 1, so many assistants will depart for France a couple weeks into September so they can find housing and get acclimate. Be on the lookout for a full post on the TAPIF application process, things to be thinking of ahead of time, acceptance rates, tips for a smooth application process, what to highlight in your app, and questions who’s answers are typically hard to find but that you really don’t need to worry about.


For me, packing was something I was not exactly looking forward to. In the three months before departure (which for me was September 23-24), I had finished my MA program, gotten married, and moved three times. So, more packing and moving things around was not looking forward to. To procrastinate productively, I read several blogs by other TAPIFers on their own packing lists and tops, so here’s a combination of the information that’s already out there, how it worked for me, and some of my own tips and tricks.


I spent about a week collecting the things I was going to bring, packing, cutting things out, repacking, weighing my bags, rearranging, and I ended up cutting my original list by about 50%, and was still barely under the weight limit, so then I cut out a little more, and once I arrived, felt like there was probably another 10% I really didn’t need to bring, but that’s ok.


THE METHOD

If you are doing TAPIF or moving abroad, I would say there’s two places to start: research where you’re going to be and pick your baggage.


01. Don’t just start writing a list! Instead, research your area.

Google, look at maps, look at weather predictions (I love Dark Sky because you can look at long term predictions and history with the « time machine » feature. Dark Sky will actually be merging with Apple’s weather app in January 2023, so if you own an apple product, you‘ll already have this amazing tool). This will give you a good idea of the weather in your region and what kinds of things from home you’ll want to bring and what things you’ll want to use buy when you get to your destination.


For me, I was placed in Verneuil d’Avre et d’Iton, which is 57 minutes by train from Paris, but just barely in the Normandie region. Whether you’re placed in a small town or a big city, be sure to nail down whether your location has a train station and the fastest connection there to another bigger city. This will make your travelling and planning a lot easier if you’re not going to have a car or much public transportation available to you. Since I’m just a little under an hour from Paris, I just add about an hour to any travel time when planning a trip. This is also another reason not to be discouraged if you get placed in a small town BECAUSE you will still be able to get around but your French will improve dramatically because English is not as widely spoken at all in smaller towns even an hour outside Paris. Don’t worry, you‘ll be just fine.

02: Choose your player (aka, pick your luggage).

Depending on your region and the things you’ll need to bring, you may be able to pack more lightly. For me, Normandy is COLD, so I had to pack a couple sweaters, pants, and even my ski coat which I put in a vacuum bag. If you’re going to somewhere with a warmer climate, taking shorts, dresses, tank tops, and warm weather clothing packs a lot lighter, so that is another reason to research your area before even trying to make a packing list!


I took one checked bag and one backpack that can expand from 35L to 55L, and also features a laptop pocket, hidden security pockets, and a zipper that locks. I knew that I wanted to do a lot of weekend trips by train. That, plus knowing that the cobble stone streets and quick moving, bring a carry-on suitcase and a checked bag was not going to work as well as a backpack and checked bag. The lock feature also gives you a lot more peace of mind when walking through a city or crowded station. Because I was flying and also wanted to take a large tote bag I use for a lot of different things at home, I also took a leather tote bag I use for work and when I need a large purse, and stacked that into the large canvas tote as my personal item for the plan. When I got to Paris, I folded it up into my larger suitcase and went on my way with one bag fewer to carry on and off the train.


03: Answer these questions (italicized are my answers that helped me decide what to bring and what to leave at home):

  • where am I going? France and Central Europe

  • how long will I be there/how many season changes will I see? 2.5, Autumn, Winter, beginning of Spring

  • what will I be doing? Teaching at elementary schools, weekend trips, presenting at academic conferences

  • what transport will I be using? Public transportation, bus, plane, train, Uber

  • will I be doing any special excursions or outdoor activities? Unknown but want to

04: Make your list.

To make this easier, remember to consider four things:

  • Once you know what bags you’re taking, designate a corner of your house or wherever you live and as you come across things you want to take, just put them in your bags. Don’t try to organize or anything, just pile it in and organize later, making your list as you go.

  • Depending on the length of your trip and what season you’re going to be there for, take outfits that (a) you actually wear at home and (b) you can layer and wear in many different combinations. Picking a color scheme, like neutrals, cool or warm colors, can help with this. This is really helpful because you can take more outfits without overcrowding your luggage, especially because you’re not just going to be taking clothes, and clothes will most likely end up being the category of things that take up the least room.

  • You will most likely want to get a few clothing items wherever you visit! If you’re going somewhere cold, take half as many sweaters as you initially think you’ll want. If you’re going south, you’re going to love the fashion there, so leave some space in your bag. I promise that if you take your favorite items and pack lighter, you’ll be so focused on getting around to see the sights that you’ll be okay without that one shirt or sweater you left at home.

  • Don’t underestimate the important of taking comfortable shoes that can keep you comfortable in lots of different weather conditions. Shoes also take up a lot of space, so you’re not really going to want a new pair of shoes for every day.


06: Lay everything out (oooo it’s going to feel chaotic but embrace it :)).

Lay out every clothing item you want to take, see how many combinations you can make, the more the better. If you have several kinds of the same thing, consider cutting one or two of them out. The basic rule of thumb is to lay everything out and then reduce it by half, then repeat until everything fits but you’ll have everything you need.



07: Put everything in designated packing cubes, zip up, and weigh.

Whether you fold, roll, or bunch, don’t feel like you have to do it a certain way, but DO use packing cubes! There are a lot of benefits to using these, they are pretty cheap for how much use you’ll get out of them, and they prevent any spillage if you need to rearrange some things to fit into the baggage requirements for your transportation.


Repeat this process as much as is necessary, and honestly, the lighter you bags are, the better. Other items you’ll need or are helpful to have are below.


THE LIST

This is a mass list, but keep scrolling for what bag I packed what in, and how to organize your stuff so that you have what you need without having to open up the overhead bin during your transportation or in case your suitcase gets lost.


Clothing:

I’m here for 7 months, from October to April, so this is a fall-winter packing list for the colder region of France :)

  • 3 pairs of jeans (blue wash straight, gray high waisted, light wash wide leg).

  • 2 pairs of trousers (black straight leg, brown wide legged)

  • 2 rompers (gray/black neutral colors making them good for layering but looking a little bit nicer than casual)

  • 2 thin strap tops for layering (black, red, silky textured champagne color)

  • 3 short sleeve t-shirts (white, gray, blue and white stripe)

  • 4 nice blouses (blue and white stripe button up, blue and white strip 3/4 length sleeves, other various patterns that still matched most pants and sweaters)*

  • 4 long sleeve tshirts (black, burgundy, blue and white stripe)

  • 5 sweaters (3 pull-over, 1 button-up, 1 gray wrap-style snap sweater)

  • 1 black blazer

  • 4 dresses

  • 1 pair white sneakers (I like these white ON Cloud Rodgers, but VEJA, Adidas, and New Balance are all commonly worn in France).

  • 1 pair black boots (I live in my black Blundstones year round, they’re great for street, hiking, rain, snow, wind, you name it, and they’re as warm as you make them, so pairing them with shorts will work just fine, too.)

  • 1 pair of slippers (necessary for me but maybe not for everyone)

  • 1 pair running shoes

  • 1 pair neutral mule shoes (for professional settings)

  • 1 rain coat (black, NECESSARY, and layerable)

  • 1 gray windbreaker (perfect for 50 *F+ where you really need a sweater but also don’t want to get hit with any surprising winds without overheating)

  • 1 vest (vests are really frequently worn, surprisingly, so I brought mine since I wear it a lot at home and was surprised to see so many when I got to my town)

  • Jean jacket

  • 3 puffers (one light weight, one mid weight knee length, and one heavy weight)**

  • 1 ski coat**

  • undergarments for 2 weeks: 12 underwear; 4 bras; 12 socks, 7 footies, 5 winter weight for boots.

  • one beanie, pair of gloves, winter scarf, floral neck scarf

  • 2 workout outfits

Non-clothing:
  • Travel-sized toiletries

  • Passport/visa/necessary travel documents

  • 4 plug adaptors (please take more than one)

  • 2 small padlocks (lock up the zippers on your backpack if it doesn’t have one built in; lock up your cubby if you’re staying in a hostel - if you don’t have your own, you will most likely have to pay for one)

  • sun glasses

  • chapstick (I like to do one for each bag and then one for my pocket, but that’s just me)

  • water bottle

  • a couple pens

  • laptop and charger

  • ipad and charger

  • Kodak STEP printer with sticky-back printer paper

  • small notebook

  • book to read (if you’re a reader)

  • phone and Apple Watch chargers

  • planner (I’m a planner girl, so I use mine for everything, but not necessary for everyone :))

  • any necessary medicine and feminine products

  • 1 pillow case and1 travel towel (these are really only necessary if you’re going to be staying in a hostel)

  • Portable phone charger/power bank, charging cord, and phone cord (make sure this is large enough to get a couple full charges, but small enough to fit in your everyday purse/bag, and that you will have a separate phone cord than your regular one in case you lose it of need an extra in a pinch).

  • Compactable laundry bag (this is great even if you are taking a shorter trip as it will keep your things smelling fresh and separate from dirty clothes)

  • At least 1 canvas tote bag (necessary! Grocery stores do not give you the bags for free, and having one of two canvas bags are helpful to have for visiting the local markets or carrying a jacket and water bottle for a day out. It’s very common for the French to carry their purses/main bags and a tote bag, so don’t feel weird about carrying multiple bags, or stacking them in each other to lighten the load).

  • 1 smaller purse for every day***

  • 1 leather tote bag for work

  • Birdy personal safety alarm

  • Small kleenex pouch

  • Hand lotion (only if you want it)

  • AirPods

  • Beats headphones (I like having my beats for planes and trains since my Airpods are not sound-blocking and AirPods for walking around****)

  • Eyemask and neck pillow for sleeping on the plane

A couple notes:

*Not everything has to match, but if you can make at least 3-4 outfits with all different outfit pairings, that’s enough in my opinion. Not everything is truly going to match perfectly, but that doesn’t mean you need to leave it at home to still pack light enough to enjoy your trip the most.

** I’m living in Northern France during the coldest parts of the year which are known for gray, cold, wet winters, and I’m coming from North Carolina and Texas, so bringing a variety of coats and layers. If this applies to you, don’t be afraid of not being able to take what you actually really need, just throw it in a space bag but (MAJOR HACK:) vacuum the bag inside your suitcase so it scrunches up into the shape it needs to in your suitcase.


***There are a lot of anti-theft purses out there, but they’re a little pricey and most of them are not that cute and still look touristy ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. My best tip is to find a cute leather crossbody that has a larger zipper loop (check your HomeGoods stores, they will have lots of fairly priced options if you don’t already have one that you use). Next, purchase a clip on crossbody strap that goes with the clothes you’re taking (like this one on Amazon. Other stores like Madewell also have lovely options). To pickpocket-proof your purse, just clip the zipper of your bag to the clip that connects the strap to the bag so that you can’t unzip the bag without « unlocking » it. The crossbody straps are usually pretty thick, so they will be pretty slash proof, too. Take a close look at this picture to see what I mean.

**** You most likely don’t need both or maybe you don’t have both and that’s totally okay, this is just a personal preference but (MAJOR HACK:) use whatever earbuds you bring when walking around cities and turn your google maps audio on! That way you will be able to keep your eyes up and enjoy the scenery and look less like a tourist while still tracking with your map navigation and preserving your phone battery!


WHAT WENT WHERE

Personal Item:

Final weight: 10lbs

  • Phone and boarding pass

  • Ipad

  • Notebook

  • Phone charging cord and power bank

  • Water bottle (!)

  • Sleep mask and pillow

  • Sweater

  • Book to read on the plane

  • Headphones

  • Small everyday purse

  • Birdy personal safety alarm

  • Small kleenex pouch

  • Hand lotion (only if you want it)

  • Sunglasses

Carry on/Backpack

Final weight: 35lbs

Put everything in here that you would need if your checked suitcase got lost, especially anything of sentimental value or legal necessity for travelling.

  • All important documents (passport, etc.)

  • Clothes for 4 days

  • Toiletries pouch

  • White sneakers (I wore my blundstones on the plane since they took up the most space)

  • Rain jacket

  • Laptop

  • Light weight puffer (you will want this at night pretty much anywhere)

Checked suitcase

Final weight: 45lbs

  • Literally everything else :)

HELPFUL PRE-DEPARTURE ITEMS (and where to find them)

These can all be found on Amazon or specific stores, but check your local TJ Maxx, Ross Dress for Less, Marshalls, HomeGoods stores because they will most likely have 90% of these items for a fraction of the price AND you might find a few other things that will make your travel experience that much more comfortable and prepared.

  • Bag hand-scale (check your luggage and rearrange as needed: most airlines have only a size limit, but not a weight limit, so move things around and don’t automatically assume you have to toss it if your luggage is too heavy)

  • Bag strap (helpful for identifying your checked luggage in case you have a black or dark-colored suitcase like everyone else flying through your airport. This was how I spotted my suitcase right before it slipped through the mysterious curtain where all checked bags go to get lost. Linked here is an amazon one, but I found mine for 3.99$ at TJ Maxx).

  • Little crossbody fanny pack (like the lululemon ones, but I found my Apana one for 4.99$ at, you guessed it, TJ Maxx)

  • Packing cubes

  • Vacuum space bags

  • Hangable toiletries bag (In the three months before departure, I moved around a lot between moving, getting married, and seeing friends before I left, and at three different smaller trips, I forgot my makeup and other toiletries, so I decided it was time to « invest » in a catch-alol, bright colored toiletries bag and it has been a game changer. Best 25$ spent (there are less expensive ones, but this is the one that worked best for me)

  • TSA-approved toiletries bottles (get a pouch of them so you get the « most bang for your buck).

The final product (aaaaah so orderly and compact :))

There you have it! I hope this helps you and gives you an idea of what would or would not work for you. I’ll probably do another post in a couple months on things I ended up not really needing, so be on the lookout for that if you are planning an upcoming trip.


à plus,

Charlotte

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