Grace Lower | May 4, 2018
Your “home base” is an essential part of your study abroad experience. It might be a bustling student dorm, a cozy homestay, or a shabby studio apartment—but no matter your accommodations, your living space should be a refuge from the frantic energy of travel. If you’re staying there for longer than a week, your living space will undoubtedly start to feel like feel like home. So why not make it your own?
Before you jump to find the nearest screwdriver, you’ll first want to run your ideas by your host family or housing provider to ensure that certain personal touches aren’t off-limits. Once you have a clear idea of what’s permitted, the sky’s the limit. Here are a few simple, luggage-safe, and budget friendly ideas to help you make yourself at home.
In the era of smartphones and Instagram, physical photos might feel a little antiquated. But frankly, there’s something comforting about seeing snapshots of your friends and family without the glow of a phone screen. A gallery wall doesn’t have to be difficult, and it does wonders for staving off homesickness. Since you may not have access to a photo printer while you’re abroad, print out 10-20 of your favorite pictures, along with some wall-safe poster putty to hang them. When you arrive in your new living space, you can mix and match your favorite photos, and rearrange them whenever you like.
A chic desk- or wall-calendar is a great way to stay organized, especially if you don’t have easy access to your digital calendars. You can use calendars to get a macro-view of the month ahead. Just jot down any due dates, appointments, or upcoming trips as you schedule them. Whether minimal or ornate, a paper calendar can brighten up your desk space. More importantly, it will inspire you to fill each day with exciting plans.
Books and journals
Although e-readers and audiobooks are staples for traveling bibliophiles, you’ll be amazed at how a few books can make any living space instantly cozy. If you pass a bookstore while you’re out, stop in and see what treasures you can find. You might pick up a book in your host country’s language, grab a travel guide for your next weekend trip, or buy a journal where you can jot down your memories as they’re made. A stack of books on your bedside table will give your room a style that’s both practical and personal.
If you’ve got a passion for decor, you can make your temporary living space match your aesthetic without any paint or hardware. The secret is fabric. One easy trick is to pack a long scarf in your favorite color and print, and then drape it over your desk chair when you’re not wearing it. You can also purchase a thin cotton tapestry to use as a makeshift curtain or to pin up as a bold accent wall. Another simple option is to pack your own pillowcases and shams. A colorful set of pillows is a welcome addition to any room, and it can go a long way in making your space feel like your own.
Depending on where you travel, your living space may come with its own set of odors—some great, and some not-so-great. Whether it’s the smell of sautéing onions, the aroma of an old wooden building, or the inherent “funkiness” of a university dorm, it’s hard to feel truly at home in a space with an unfamiliar smell. One easy workaround is to purchase a candle while you’re abroad. Use it responsibly, of course, and never leave it burning late at night or while you’re away from the room. The soft glow and pleasant scent will make your living space feel warm and inviting. If open flames are a no-go, try purchasing a small, roller-ball vial of an essential oil like lavender, mint, or lemon. A quick dab to your wrists and temples will make you feel as though your room is scented, without bothering your housemates.
If you buy a great trinket for someone back home, why hide it in your suitcase? Assuming you live with trustworthy housemates, you can use your souvenirs as temporary home décor. Little glass bowls, ceramic tiles, paperweights, wooden carvings, and scarves can all be used to tastefully enhance your living space. Even everyday items, like a Coke bottle in your host country’s language or a pretty set of postcards, can serve as makeshift decor. If you need any inspiration, websites like Pinterest and Apartment Therapy have plenty of great ideas.
Plants are my favorite way to add softness and vibrancy to any room. If you don’t have much of a green thumb, start with fresh flowers—either from a market, or that you (legally) gather when you’re out on a walk. A makeshift bouquet makes any room feel more put-together, and it will add a little joy to your room, no matter how bare your walls are. If you’re willing to make a longer-term commitment, find a houseplant at a local market or gardening center. Not only will you have something to care for when you’re abroad, but you’ll be able to gift it to your host or a local friend when your travels come to an end.
Grace Lower has a love for all things writing and travel. When she's not exploring new places, Grace enjoys teaching English as a Second Language, making terrible puns, and running incredibly long distances at incredibly slow speeds.