I´ve been writing emails back and forth with some students from my university that are coming to Murcia in for Fall 2011. They´ve asked me general questions: Did your Spanish improve a lot? How long did it take to improve? What areas are nice to live in? What kind of classes did you take? Do you get a stipend? Among others. This line of questioning got me to thinking about things I would recommend bringing from home and things that you can by upon arrival. One of those recommended items stuck out in my mind: my backpack. My backpack was just a simple Eastsport.
1.) Makes for easy air travel. When you´re picking out the type of carry-on luggage you would like to bring on the plane, you have the following options: small carry-on suitcase, overlarge purse (girls), laptop bag, backpack or nothing. If you are bringing and laptop (and you should be bringing a laptop), then naturally you have to carry something. Primarily I chose a backpack based on how easy it is to maneuver through airport security and the plane (not to mention it´s easier on your back). When you go through airport security, you have to remove your laptop so that it´s scanned separately. On the plane larger carry-ons like a small suitcase must be stored in the overhead compartments at all times, meaning that when you want something you have to get out of your seat, crawl over your neighbor, climb out into the aisle, open the compartment, take out what you wanted, and replace your carry-on back in the overhead compartment. If you want to replace recently removed item, repeat the process. See what I mean? A backpack can be easily stored beneath the seat in front of you, making for easy access, not to mention that you will not constantly harass your neighbors.
2.) Not easy to find. I´m not sure if this next point can be said for all Spain, but I´m speaking from my experience in Murcia. Very few university students carry backpacks to class. I´m not sure if this is because most classes don´t require textbooks or even attendance for that matter. Or maybe it´s just not fashionable anymore. If you are looking for a backpack in Murcia, you won´t find a very large selection. Most of the ones you will find are marketed towards children (Dora Backpack) and have wheels (no respect).
3.) Grocery shopping. Let me point out some important facts about Murcia. Murcia is a city. People who live in cities walk a lot. You are an exchange student. You do not have a car. What I´m not so subtly hinting at is that you need something to help you get from point A (the supermarket) to point B (your house) with as much easy as possible. As an effect of the recent “Go Green” movement, many large supermarkets are charging for every plastic bag you use. Not only does this add up, but also carrying a week´s worth of groceries in plastic bags in your hands all the way back to your apartment can be heavy and inconvenient. When I was faced with this problem, I decided to use my backpack, and have used it ever since. It has proved reliable, pleasing to the wallet, and easy on the back and hands.
4.) Traveling cheap. Traveling in Europe is pretty cheap, especially when comparing it with traveling inside the U.S. Although you may find a really cheap flight, where you will get charged is carrying luggage. I´m going to use RyanAir (Irish airline) as an example. You decide you want to travel. You search the web and find a really cheap flight on RyanAir.com. They only allow one very small carry-on to travel on the plane with you. You decide to check your luggage. They charge you 30 euros extra per bag (15 euros each way). Time to pay. You pay with a credit card (I mean what other option is there?) and they charge you 10 extra euros (5 euros each way). After realizing this nickel-and-dime strategy that most airlines use and knowing I cannot avoid the credit card fee, I discovered that you can pack clothes for a short weekend trip in your backpack and carry it on the plan, thus avoiding the 30 extra euros.
5.) Oh yeah… and school. So yeah, you still have school and stuff. So if you want to carry your laptop to class (the laptop that you ARE bringing), which I recommend that you do, either for taking notes or boredom, you´ll want a backpack with you.