A journal and pen
You will not write often, but when you do it will be important. Write about the curly-haired stranger who complimented your Spanish or your French or your Danish. Tape your first Metro card to the journal’s inside cover. Keep the last page for the writing of new words.
A guidebook of the city
You’ll realize once you’ve arrived that you don’t need it, but it will bring you comfort on the long plane ride there. Be generous with your highlighter. Dog-ear every page.
A black V-neck t-shirt
This will serve you in all settings: small theatre productions, bars, bull fights. It will wear the stains of red wine well and will make you think you look less Foreign. Nobody else will think this, but it is important that you do.
A photo of your family
And I mean an actual photo. Printed. Hold it in your hands on nights when the loneliness bites the most. Write the dates of these nights on the backside of the photograph. Frame it. Keep it beside your bed when you return.
Three of your favorite books
You won’t have room for much in your suitcase, but keep room for books. You’ll find it hard to find English books and you’ll be surprised at how much you miss reading the language. Bring books that feel like embraces. Weather their pages with tears and sweat, the small pressures of your eager fingers.
Maps and online directions will fail you on crooked, cobble-stoned back streets. Learn the rotations of the sun. Trust in its magnetism. Describe your apartment as Southeast of the city center, West of the Royal Park.
A small slip of paper
On it, write the reasons why you’ve left. Be honest. When you are sad or frustrated or lonely or bitter or regretful, pull the small slip of paper from the inside pocket of your backpack. Read it. Read it again, say the words slowly. Remember that at one point these were the truest words you had ever written. When you are done, fold it in half. Press it close to your chest. Do this until you have memorized every word, until you could recite it like prayer. When the words are no longer true, pack your bags. Book a flight. Prepare for the next great leap.