The post HSC glory days are a ripper time filled with solid schoolies recovery; full days at the beach and some serious Netflix binges. Suddenly the pressure is off – you’ve never felt so free. No one wants to stay home and deal with the treacherous task of sorting through a mountain of clothes and belongings to pack. Unfortunately this task does demand a bit of attention (a whole YEAR of gear) – fortunately; if you read this guide and do it right you can save a lot of time, money and effort at both ends of the flight.
Among my fellow ‘Gappies-to-be’, there was a distinct parallel with studying for our exams – you’re either the type that is binding notes at Officeworks months beforehand, or the last minute hero, frantically cramming on 2 hours sleep and a litre of instant coffee. However it is a truth universally acknowledged that a gap is NEVER in want of having to dress in school lost property because they can’t feel their toes. Nor are they likely to enjoy spending hundreds of pounds on a coat at the only men’s clothing shop in town resulting in extremely questionable @fashiondads attire. On top of this; you are likely to face literally every weather extreme from bitter London sleet, to summer snow on top of the Swiss Alps and a bit of 40 degree cloudless Greek sky. TL;DR pack well – its worth it.
Maximise your baggage allowance
You want to make the absolute maximum use of your baggage allowance – every item in that precious 20 Kg needs to earn its’ place. Double check with your airline what their baggage restrictions are, including the weight (it might be more than 20kg), dimensions and the number of pieces you are allowed to take. Remember too you will be leaving Australia right around the time Santa is visiting so if you’re missing something….
Starting with your bag – if you happen to own a full-size backpacker style bag (no smaller than 50 litres) it might be your preference to a suitcase. The luxe option is having a baggage allowance to cope with both but if you prefer to take one medium to large suitcase don’t worry, it’s reasonably easy to borrow/pick up a second hand pack in the UK. You need to think about what kind of travel you are doing – if you are booked and ready to go with Topdeck/Contiki/Paddy-Wagon, there is little need for a huge backpack. Organised travel makes it easier to just use a wheelie suitcase which can be chucked on and off the bus each day. However, if you’re the Eurail/cross-that-bridge-when-I-come-to-it kind of traveller, you might be better off with the big backpack.
When choosing your hand luggage, opt for a good day (back)pack which will become a faithful travelling companion over the next year. This should be big enough to comfortably accommodate a drink bottle, book, extra jumper, camera, phone charger etc. It also might accompany you through a couple of areas with high rates of pickpocketing; so make sure you can zip it up properly. Having a sly passport and cash ‘belt’ (inconspicuous fanny pack) is not a bad idea either for easy access and high security – this will also provide a great starting point for some low quality bant with new friends.
Next step is being very clear about what NOT to pack, bearing in mind you will probably have a ‘responsible adult’ peering over your shoulder and reminiscing about their own youthful travels……
First things first – shoot off an email to your Host School to find out if and what clothing/equipment they provide to their gap students. You might be pleasantly surprised….. for example, some schools have waterproof coats as part of their staff uniform. These are usually high quality and made for UK weather, so don’t bother buying one in Aus.
Also, get in touch with your school’s current gaps via FB because around the same time you are thinking about packing, they are attempting to cram 100kg of accumulated stuff back into the 20kg bag they arrived with. This means they’ll end up culling a load of stuff that isn’t going to be crucial for the Australian summer beckoning them home. So make sure you get in touch, and ask them to leave you the gear they are desperately trying to offload, rather than it just being thrown away or cleared by cleaners in the turnover.
This is also the point at which you ask about sports equipment / wear – unless your game suffers without it, there’s no sense lugging your tennis racquet if there’s plenty lying around that you can borrow. Chances are the school has ample amounts of hockey sticks, foot/basket/net/tennis/rugby balls so why bother taking coals to Newcastle.
Don’t waste any space in your bag on toiletries and food. Just take travel sizes to keep you going for a week or so. As soon as you get there, you can head to the shops and go wild on shampoo, conditioner, soap, razors, deodorant, toothpaste & washing powder. Getting sizes to last month’s mean you can enjoy economies of scale and in any case, you can’t bring a year’s supply of the stuff. You may as well enjoy finding your favourite British brands on the shelves at the nearest Boots/Superdrug/Tesco/Sainburys – and you’ll be amazed how quickly the names of these shops enter your vocabulary and roll off the tongue like a local.
Don’t waste space lugging over bedding or towels which will almost always be provided by your host school. Should you want to pick up a beach towel when summer comes or any extras – just grab some cheapies from the Primark home section which has some great stuff. Also don’t be tempted to pack Wellies/Gumboots – these are undoubtedly useful, especially if the school has large grounds but really heavy to pack so don’t waste capacity. The school may have a pair in your size lying around that you can borrow, and if not, Primark again does really cheap boots/shoes/runners so get yourself a pair of Wellies, they are well worth the investment.
Okay so what to ACTUALLY pack?
Okay so what to ACTUALLY pack? Here are the bare essentials to start you off:
- Thermals (top and bottoms)
- Scarf, beanie and gloves (essential)
- Ski jacket zip-up type coat (this is in addition to the possibility of a school issue one as mentioned above )
- Fleece – easier to wash and get dry than jumpers
- Comfortable sturdy boots – an essential – I wore a pair of ‘pony club’ type ankle boots endlessly but you might prefer lace up, hike boots style
- T shirts ( non sport) a couple of long sleeved great for the colder months
- Good socks – and if you have any ski/thermal/hike socks throw these in too
- Runners ( pack your old ones too as spares) and you might want soccer boots
- Sports clothes – shorts, tops, trackies, sports socks, rugby style jumpers. Bring your skins if you have them and any favourite items of school/club sport uniform can be handy including cricket whites.
- Some light weight waterproof gear
- Undies & warm PJs
- Some summer clothing in anticipation of the warmer months and European travel (t-shirts, singlets, shorts, sandals)
- There is likely to be at least one formal occasion/ceremony on the school calendar where you will be expected to dress up and try to look as unlike a gappie as possible – think ‘teacher wear’. For guys a blazer, collared shirt, tie, pants and shoes will be needed. For girls, a jacket if you have one, shirt and skirt with tights or an office-wear type dress with some ballet flats/court shoes will fit the bill.
- Travel diary – you will want to keep a diary, trust me
- Travel documents folder – yes, a bit ‘Nanna’ but very useful to keep everything together
- A small quantity of cheap lightweight Australiana ( think Hot Dollar shops). Flag transfers and stickers are ideal, multi packs of marsupial pencil toppers can come in very handy as giveaways / prizes for the children when you are asked to provide the inevitable Australian themed class – ‘Miss ….have you got a pet kangaroos in your garden….?’
- Electronics you can’t live without – don’t forget your phone charger
Finally, don’t freak out stressing about what you might forget – it’s not like you are going to Outer Mongolia. You just need to make sure you have some stuff to get you through those first few weeks. The UK has some GREAT shops, you will earn a modest wage and you can enjoy a small retail experience on your first weekend off at the closest big town