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Russia Packing Guide for Studying Abroad in Winter

Packing is difficult for me. It stresses me out. I either put it off until last-minute or pack weeks in advance, leaving me weeks to overthink every single item. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a Russia packing guide. 

In preparation for four months in Russia, I packed and repacked three times before settling on what I eventually brought abroad. While most things were good choices, I also unnecessarily packed at least five pounds in extra electronics cables, you know, just in case.

Y’all, electronics exist in Russia, too. If one breaks, buy a new one at a Russian electronics store. 

This Russia packing guide dives into what you should bring and things to leave at home to avoid the excess luggage fees.

Clothing

1 winter coat. Make sure the coat is suitable for rain, snow, and sleet. I recommend something suitable for 0-30 degree weather. Land’s End has quality winter coat selections that you’ll keep for years to come.  I love mine!

1 light coat. Although I didn’t bring this, you should. In May, the weather was too cold for only a long-sleeve shirt but too warm for my winter coat. Pack a jacket for something to wear in 30-60 degree temperatures. 

14 underwear. Although you’ll be gone for four months, you’ll have access to laundry facilities. You really don’t need to pack more than two weeks of clothing.

10 thick pairs of socks. Bring a pair of socks that are slightly thicker than normal to help keep your feet extra warm. Don’t buy the warmest socks available, though, because they’ll cause your feet to sweat.

4 regular pairs of socks. Socks perfect for when the sun comes out around May.

3 bras. I recommend bringing two pairs you regularly wear plus a convertible or strapless bra.

1 formal outfit. I packed a green almost-knee-length dress with black stockings, but you can pack what you’re comfortable with. It matched nicely with a pair of black flats that also matched my “going-out” outfits. It should be formal enough to wear to ballets, theaters, and other formal events.

2 going-out outfits. Russian women usually dress up to go out. I’ve seen women wearing gold dresses and heels. First, I would not dare walk on ice with heels. Second, I like to be comfortable and not feel like my legs will freeze off at any moment. I wore black leggings and a nice shirt. If you’d rather dress up, that’s fine. But don’t feel uncomfortable wearing what makes you comfortable.

4 pairs of pants. Make sure you bring durable pants because they’ll have to withstand harsh weather. I suggest bringing two pairs of jeans, a pair of fun pants, and a pair of leggings. Ultimately, bring what feels comfortable, you love to wear, and matches a lot of tops! Remember, pants don’t need to be washed after every wear. 

7 sleep shirts. Bring more if you’d like, but when I’m tight in packing I like to wear the t-shirts I wear to bed normally one night and then flip them inside out the second night.

4 sleep pants. Although the buildings are heated, I recommend bringing sleep pants. It still gets slightly chilly at night.

10 long-sleeved shirts. Layers are the secret to dressing in cold-weather climates. Pick a variety of long-sleeve shirts that match at least two of your pants options. Bring heavier and lighter shirts, blouses, button-ups, and other options. 

4 short-sleeved shirts. Something nice, yet comfortable, for those warmer days. Make sure you bring one short-sleeved and long-sleeved shirt combo for those especially chilly days when you need to wear extra layers.

1 cardigan. To be honest, I rarely wore my cardigan because it didn’t match most of my clothes. It would’ve been so helpful if it had! Make sure you bring a neutral-colored, comfy cardigan. They’re nice to bring to classes, museums, and shows since many places in Russia make you check your coat. Cardigans are a nice back-up. 

1 bathing suit. You’ll need this if you travel or visit one of the local water parks. FYI you wear your birthday suit into banyas, so one bathing suit really is enough.

Accessories & Shoes

1 pair of flip flops. It’s always good to bring a pair of flip flops for traveling. They’re perfect for hostels, walking around water parks, etc.

1 pair of all-weather boots. It’s worth investing in a good pair of boots before Russia. I wanted a pair that could handle the cold, walk comfortably on ice, walk through snow without getting my feet wet, and not look like snow boots. If I remember correctly, mine cost around $200 but they were so worth it! I wore them every single day in Russia and still wear them three years later. 

1 pair of flats or heels. These should be comfortable shoes to wear when going out or to a formal event. Ensure they match all of these outfits! Mine were simple black flats. Unfortunately, they broke in Russia after wearing them for about four years.

1 pair of gloves. A heavy pair of gloves isn’t necessary, but you should bring along gloves with a little thickness or lining. I bought mine for cheap at Wal-Mart and they lasted me for the trip, but not much longer. A few friends brought along Land’s End leather gloves and they looked stylish and kept their hands toasty warm.

1 winter hat. I forgot to pack a hat. Whoops. Thankfully a friend loaned me her beanie that I quickly fell in love with and purchased off her. Anything to cover your ears is fine!

1 backpack. Bring something that’ll work well for class and day trips. I’ve had my Travelon backpack for a few years now and highly recommend it. It’s the perfect size for a camera, book, and snack. The bag locks, so your wallet and electronics are safe from pick-pocketers. 

2 purses. One neutral clutch and one neutral purse will work for 99% of occasions.

1 blanket scarf. Blanket scarves are versatile, which is why I love them. You can wrap it around your nose and mouth on chilly nights, cover your head when walking into Orthodox churches, or wear it like a shawl in chilly rooms. It could also literally be a blanket on bus rides.

Watch. If you wear one, bring one that you can wear daily. If you don’t wear watches regularly, don’t bother.

Necklace. Bring one or two necklaces. More will clutter your space and luggage. I wear one daily and then had a fancier one for dressier occasions or to play up outfits.

Umbrella. Bring a compact umbrella to keep in your purse or backpack. You’ll be walking outside a lot, so you have to be prepared for whatever the weather brings.

Russia Packing Guide for Workout Necessities

If you plan on keeping your workout routine while abroad, here is your Russia packing guide for work out essentials.

I brought cold-weather running attire with me and never used it. Unless you’re a serious runner, willing to run in the snow and on ice, don’t bring running clothes for cold weather. You likely won’t use it. 

To extend the use of workout clothes between washes, rinse the dirty clothes in the sink and hang to dry. Only repeat this once! By doing this method, you can bring one week of workout clothes and make it last for two weeks.

Bring enough of each item to last you one week of working out. I aim to exercise six times per week, so I brought six of each. You can bring more or less depending on how often you work out.

Since you’ll work out in a gym, bring whatever you’re comfortable wearing in a gym. I like to wear leggings and a tank top in the gym. There’s not one particular style of workout clothing Russians seem to prefer. Their outfits looked like the ones I wear in the U.S.

Sports bras. 

Workout tops.

Workout bottoms. If you prefer to wear shorts at the gym, make sure you pack 1-2 pairs of sweats to wear over your shorts for the cold walk to and from the gym. 

10 socks. I know I said you can rinse workout clothes in the sink, but please don’t rinse and wear your socks again.

1 pair of athletic shoes. I wear running shoes simply because I find them to be most versatile, but pack whatever pair of athletic shoes best suits your workout. If you mix cardio with weights, though, I suggest you bring running shoes so you don’t have to bring cardio and weights shoes.

Toiletries

1-2 bath towels. I brought an old towel from home with me to avoid buying one in Russia. Towels aren’t expensive, so this isn’t completely necessary. I brought an old towel so I could throw it away at the end and have more space in my bag. Keep in mind you’ll have to bring a towel to hostels if you plan on traveling.

1 bottle of contact solution. Contact solution was surprisingly inexpensive in Russia and they had a lot of brands available that Americans are used to.

1 month contact lens supply. Russia has contact lens vending machines that were easy and inexpensive to purchase from. Be sure to know your prescription.

Tweezers, nail clippers, etc. 

Menstrual cup. In my opinion, European feminine products are awful and they litter the environment. Instead of bringing your favorite brand from home, switch to a menstrual cup. I tried the Diva Cup, but it didn’t fit well. I switched to the Lena cup and love it! Finding the perfect fit is key. There are many menstrual cup brands that you’ll definitely find one perfect for you. 

Sunglasses. The sun rarely shines in Russia, but when it does sunglasses are useful. 

Brush & hair bands. 

Glasses & case. 

Face wash. If you have a particular brand you use, pack a few containers of it.

Lotion. Your skin requires lots of moisturization in the cold air. I recommend bringing a body and face lotion. I only brought one bottle of each since I’m not picky of the lotion brands I use, but you might want to bring a few bottles along if you are selective.

Mini shampoo & conditioner & body soap. Many Western brands of shampoo and conditioner are available in Russia for the same or cheaper prices, so I recommend bringing only a refillable container of your favorite brand to last you a few days before buying your own. I didn’t find any shampoo bars available, so you’ll have to bring enough for your entire stay if that’s what you used.

Dental hygiene products. Russia has name-brand dental products. I would recommend asking your dentist for prescription-grade toothpaste in addition to your regular toothpaste. There isn’t fluoride in Russia, so you might need an extra boost to protect your teeth. 

Deodorant. Many Western brands are available in Russia.

Vitamins & medicine. Although these are available in Russia, it’s nice to carry a small supply of vitamins and pain killers with you until you get the hang of things.

Prescriptions. You’re supposed to bring a note describing the purpose of your medication to Russia. No one asked for mine. Keep in mind, most doctors require an appointment to prescribe multiple months of one prescription at a time. Plan ahead!

Other

Guidebook. Lonely Planet’s Russia guidebook is awesome.

Camera. You can check out my photography set-up here.

Phone + charger. You can purchase a Russian SIM card a day or two after arriving. I went with Tele2 and the unlimited data plan was around 300 RUB per month. Check to see if your American cell phone provider includes international coverage in Russia. Many do now!

Laptop + charger. So you can tell me how helpful this Russia packing guide was! Or write papers or book more Russian adventures…

Earbuds. These are great for privacy watching movies in the dorm or homestay and listening to music on the metro.

Adaptor & converter. All of my electronics converted to 220V, so a converter wasn’t necessary for me. I did bring an adaptor for my electronics.

Gift for your host family. If you plan on staying with a host family, make sure you bring something. Small and thoughtful gifts unique to your home state are usually perfect! 

Journal. I journaled frequently, but I honestly wish I had journaled more! I love flipping through my study abroad ones and reliving the experience.

Language dictionary. This is useful for your Russian language course.

Travel documents. The most important items on this Russia packing guide! Don’t forget your visa (which should be inside your passport), passport, and flight tickets.

Leave At Home

University or greek branded attire. Sororities and fraternities are considered cults in Russia, therefore it’s punishable to wear greek attire. Leave your letters at home.

Slippers. Russian culture mandates wearing slippers in the house. If you plan on living in a homestay, your host family will lend you a pair of Russian slippers. Leave yours at home.

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