Packing up and moving to Spain for a year is tricky. It’s even more difficult when you don’t know exactly to expect from the region where you’ll be living. This is what a lot of English teachers face when the get assigned a position in La Rioja.
You know it’s in the north, so it won’t be hot like cities in Andalucía. But will it be cold? How cold? What should you pack to make sure you’re prepared for a winter there, but also autumn and spring? I put together this list to (hopefully) help!
I wracked my brain to think about everything I packed and everything I wished I packed after I’d arrived, what’s proven useful in the past 10 months and what I really could have lived without. Here’s what I came up with:
What to bring:
- Strappy sandals
- Ankle boots
- Tall boots
- Tennis shoes
- Flip flops to wear in the showers when you’re staying in hostels
When I arrived in September, I expected it to be somewhat autumnal. So I packed didn’t bring any sandals (except for my shower shoes for the hostel). This was a huge mistake.
It is deceivingly cold in the morning and blazing hot in the afternoon. I was fine to walk around in a pair of Keds before 2 p.m., but after I was dying. My feet were sweating and smelly, which isn’t exactly want when you only have 5 pairs of shoes for the whole year.
What not to bring:
- Dress shoes/Heels
I don’t care if you’re someone who likes to wear them, just don’t. I did, and wore them a grand total of three times, and then ended up buying a new pair that matched more outfits. If you decide you want some, you can buy them here.
You will probably want some, but don’t haul your pair over here. Pick some up in the Primark at the nearby mall for around 15 euro instead.
- Hiking boots
I love hiking and was pumped to be in La Rioja because of the mountains. But… I’ve only broken out my hiking boots a couple of times. Once for a 2-day 37k walk along the GR-93, and another time when we explored the caves in Nalda. They were necessarily for the first, but not the second. Tennis shoes would have been just fine.
What to buy:
There are shoe stores everywhere in Logroño that will tempt you. It’s shoe heaven. Resist the urge to bring a pair for every occasion, and treat yourself when you start school with a snazzy pair of new Spanish kicks.
What to bring:
- A couple of T-shirts that go with everything
- 2-3 Comfy sweaters – These are perfect for school during the winter
- Button-downs – A staple for guys to keep it classy in school, but a chambray is a great layering piece for ladies
- Flannels – Your best friend for winter traveling
- 2-3 Dressy shirts – Nice to spruce up your school wear, but you won’t get as much use out of them
- 1 Cozy sweatshirt
- Long-sleeved shirts* – The easiest thing to throw on during fall/winter/spring
* I wished I had more long-sleeved shirts for the year, and I wore the shit out of the ones I had. You don’t have to fuss with putting together layers, and it’s a safe choice. The teachers will think you’re weird if you wear short-sleeves before it’s blazing hot.
What NOT to bring:
I brought two and have only worn one a couple of times to layer during the winter. My boyfriend brought a suit with him and ended up taking it home when he made a trip back the U.S. I’ve only heard of one instance of an Auxiliar being asked to dress up, and it was a boy working in private Catholic school, and he only needed it for an ‘interview’ upon arrival.
What to buy:
Basics. Don’t worry about bringing all of your white t-shirts. There are stores like Mango and Zara where you get trendy basics for cheap.
What to bring:
- Jeans* – A couple of your favorite pairs
- Corduroys – Great for the chilly winter months
- Khakis (for guys)
- Skirts – Just 1 or 2 that you love. I brought 3, and didn’t get to wear them until late spring
- Dresses – Maybe 3 (1 for going out, 1 for a nice dinner, 1 for warm-weather days) I also brought too many of these
*One thing to note is that I brought over 3 pairs of jeans. Two that I’d had for a couple of years already, and I wore them all so much during the first few months that I wore them out. If there’s a brand that you love, or you have a hard time finding jeans, it might be worth it to buy a back-up pair. But you can always get some here, too. I bought a new pair from Zara for 30 euro that have treated me well.
What not to bring:
Dress pants – for the same reason as above.
Outerwear & Jackets
The locals will tell you it’s freezing here, but the winter wasn’t so bad in my opinion. Perhaps that’s just because I have Viking blood running in my veins, or the fact that I was born in Minnesnowda, raised in Colorado, and lived through Boston’s snowiest winter on record. Ok, yeah. Maybe it’s those things.
However, I want say it hovered in the 40s most days (in Fahrenheit). In Celsius, it got down to zero a few days, but normally was in the single digits to about 10 degrees. It is pretty damp, though, so it can feel chilly even if the temperature isn’t that low.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the rain. It can be kind of drizzly, so I’d definitely recommend bringing some rain gear you don’t mind wearing out.
What to bring:
- Mid-weight jacket – Leather or jean jacket
- Winter jacket – A lightweight down jacket is perfect. I have a heavier one that I only got to wear once skiing.
What not to bring:
- Scarves – They’re all the rage here, and you can buy nice scarves in almost any shop
- Umbrella – You can get one at one of the many dollar stores around the city
Miscellaneous things – To bring or not to bring?
This is probably what you really want to know – the things that you debate back and forth about whether you’ll need them until the very last minute.
- School supplies – YES
Bring pictures, postcards, board games, AdLib books, playing cards, Uno cards, magazines, $1 picture books. I know it’s not appealing to purchase these teaching items on your own dime, but having these things on hand can make classroom time more interesting, private lessons easier to plan.
- Guitar – NO
A lot of auxiliars bring over their guitars, and I know my boyfriend was torn. (He plays all the time back home, especially after a night of drinking :/ ) But he says no. Invest in a Spanish guitar when you’re here. You can get a decent one for about 100 euro, and it’ll encourage you to learn Spanish-style playing, and it’ll be a badass souvenir to take home.
- A backpack or tote – YES
A small backpack or canvas tote might just be the most useful thing you bring with you. I spent most of the year wishing I had a nice tote I could use to drag around all of my stuff between classes.
- Camping gear – NO
I brought my essential camping gear with me (sleeping bag, tent, cook wear, headlamp, sleeping pad), but have only used it once so far. It turns out that you just don’t really have to camp here. There are so many hostels almost everywhere you want to go – even out in the middle of nowhere – that you can do a remote hike and still crash in a bed at a place with a bar.
- A computer – YES
I’ve seen some people ask whether they can just bring a tablet instead of a laptop. My recommendation would be to bring a computer. You may have to put together PowerPoint presentations for school, and that’s super hard to do on a tablet.
- Peanut butter, brown sugar, cookie mix – MAYBE
I know some people fill their suitcases with their favorite from home they can’t find in Spain. Peanut butter exists, but it’s more expensive. It’s true they don’t sell brown sugar, but I found this recipe for chocolate chip cookies without brown sugar. So far, I’ve been able to get creative and make substitutions, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be nice to have these staples in your pantry to fend off homesickness.
- Bathing suit – NO
I brought one … and only one. Wasn’t sure how much I’d be swimming, right? But then I got here and saw shops with loads of cute bathing suits, and regretted that I really didn’t need to get a new one. Even though I really really want one.
- Ski gear – YES
There is a ski resort in La Rioja, called Valdezcaray. But there is also nearby Andorra, as well as the French, Swiss and Austrian Alps. If you have snow pants, gloves, googles and some quality thermal wear, you’re going to be that much more likely to say yes to going on a once-in-a-lifetime ski trip to one of these places. We even leant ours out to some other teachers so they could go. Definitely worth it.
- Deodorant – YES
Oddly enough, this is the one health/beauty/hygiene product that Spain does differently, and not really better in my opinion. You can find some of the same brands, but usually only in roll-on liquid form or aerosols. If you like the stick deodorant, bring a backup from the U.S.
- Nyquil, Advil, Ibuprofen – YES
Nyquil was the saving grace that helped me avoid jet lag when I first arrived. And we haven’t been able to determine if there is an equivalent here. Surely there is, but we don’t know what it’s called. That’s also why I recommend bringing those pain medications. You can buy them at farmacias, but you can’t get them over the counter at supermarkets like you can back home. You have to ask for them and they have different names, which is maybe not what you want to do when you first arrive and have a killer headache/hangover.
- Your favorite pillow – YES
If you have on, I recommend bringing it. I didn’t at first, but my boyfriend was nice enough to bring it back to me after his trip. It’s made a world of difference for me in terms of feeling at home. Another girl I know brought a pair of slippers. Whatever your thing is, bring it. You’ll appreciate having those small comforts.
- An adaptor/converter – YES to both
I only brought an adaptor because I read you could use this for computers and smartphones. But I needed a converter for my curling iron and electric toothbrush charger. I was really unhappy to discover that they don’t carry European-US converters at the local electronic’s store … and my hair paid the price.
OK. That’s the most comprehensive list I could come up with. Did I miss anything? What else are you thinking about bringing that you’re not sure about? Let me know in the comments section below and I’ll let you know what I think!