Friday, June 14

What to Pack for Europe - DIFFERENT PLACES & FACES - Elizabeth's Graduation Trip

A month ago when I began to think about packing for our two-week trip to Europe with Mr.P and E, I felt instantly overwhelmed. The trip our daughter had dreamed about, diligently planned, researched and talked endlessly about. The trip we had promised Elizabeth to mark her high school graduation. What to pack? What would the weather be like? Would my shoes be comfortable enough for all of that walking? And, more importantly, how was I going to cram everything into my carry-on size suitcase? Questions that didn't have quick answers. If you're anything like me, I often get confused between what I need to bring and what I want to bring. They are definitely NOT the same thing; 3" heels, a truckload of books, more hair products than Cher....none of which have a place in my luggage. However, after years of traveling with the wrong luggage packed with all the wrong things, I think I've finally got it narrowed down. 
Me & E after our long flight. We were able to leave the airport quickly 
with only our carry-ons to grab.

First let me state how important packing light can be. You'll never meet a traveler who, after five trips, brags: "Every year I pack heavier." The measure of a good traveler is how light he or she travels. You can't travel heavy, happy, and cheap. Our families self-imposed limit is 20 pounds in a 9" × 22" × 14" carry-on-size bag, it'll fit in any airplane's overhead bin. I know this is a radical concept for most people, but after you enjoy the sweet mobility and freedom one bag allows you, you'll never go any other way.
Mr.P & me headed down the London streets with our carry-on luggage, no help needed.

When you carry your own luggage, it's less likely to get lost, broken, or stolen. Quick, last-minute changes in flight plans become simpler. A small bag sits on your lap or under your seat on the bus and taxi, and stores away easily on the train and airplane. When you arrive, you can hit the ground running. As soon as we landed in London last month, we were on our way to the city center while everyone else was staring anxiously at the luggage carousel. It's a great feeling! Also these days, you can save money by carrying your own bag. While it's still free to check one bag on most overseas trips, you'd likely pay a fee to check two. If you're taking a separate flight within Europe, as we did, expect to be charged to check even just one bag. Remember, packing light isn't just about saving time or money — it's about your traveling lifestyle.  With only one bag, you're mobile and in control. Take this advice seriously.

So how do we fit a whole trip's worth of clothing and other essentials into a small suitcase? The answer is simple - we pack very little. After spreading out everything on the living-room floor I made Elizabeth pick up each item one at a time and scrutinize it. I instructed her to ask herself, "Will I really use this _____ and these  _____ enough to justify carrying them all over Europe?" Not "Will I use them?". We don't pack for the worst-case but for the best-case scenario and simply buy ourselves out of any jams. Example: I GOT A BLISTER, giving us the perfect excuse to go into a French pharmacy to purchase hydrogen peroxide. E loved browsing through the various items and brands found on the shelves of this very different pharmacie. In other words, just go with it, it's all part of the travel experience. 

Make sure to bring layers rather than taking a heavy coat. Think in terms of what you can do without — not what will be handy on your trip. When in doubt, leave it out; then ask yourself how half a billion Europeans live without it. Go casual, simple, and very light. Remember, in your travels you'll meet two kinds of tourists — those who pack light and those who wish they had. The following was the list I used as my guide.   

  • Shirts: Bring about five short-sleeved or long-sleeved shirts, how many of each depends on the season. Shirts with long sleeves that roll up easily can double as short-sleeved. Neutral colors are best, you'll blend into the crowd, and wrinkle-free fabrics with the ability to dry overnight are ideal.
  • Pants/shorts: Bring two pairs of each: one lightweight cotton and another super-lightweight pair for hot and muggy big cities. Jeans may be too hot for summer travel and are slow to dry. Button-down wallet pockets are safest, expect pick pockets!

In London it was cold, jeans & jackets were needed!
  • Sweater or lightweight fleece: Warm and dark is best — for layering and dressing up.
  • Jacket: Bring a light and water-resistant windbreaker with a hood. Be prepared expect rain.
  • Underwear and socks: I do not skimp here, I carried 12 sets of cotton/nylon-blend. They are thinner and dry faster than 100 percent cotton. Our socks got wet in the rain.
  • Sleepwear: For 2 weeks I carried 3 pairs of jammies.
  • Shoes: Bring one pair of comfortable walking shoes with good traction to cover cobblestone or brick streets. Sturdy, low-profile tennis shoes with a good tread work best. If you take a second pair, consider sandals in summer. Whichever shoes you bring, make sure they are well broken in before you leave home. I ended up with a blister which made walking more of a challenge.
Lovely old cobblestone streets can be hard to navigate, wear good shoes.

Documents, Money, and Travel Info
  • Money belt: This flat, hidden, zippered pouch — strapped around your waist and tucked under your clothes — is essential for the peace of mind it brings. You could lose everything except your money belt, and the trip could still go on. 
  • Money: Your preferred mix of debit and credit cards, and an emergency stash of hard US cash.
  • Documents: Passport, printout of airline eticket, railpass, confirmations for hotel, train or bus reservations, car-rental voucher, driver's license or student ID. Photocopies and a couple of passport-type photos can help you get replacements more quickly if the originals are lost or stolen. 
E's passport, ready to go!
  • Travel information: Pack the guidebooks and maps you'll need on the ground or download them into your cell phone. Personally, I ripped out chosen pages from our guidebooks and stapled them together. Less bulk and weight in my suitcase. We also carried a trip calendar to keep things up to date as our trip evolved.
  • Address list: If you plan to mail postcards, consider printing your mailing list onto a sheet of adhesive address labels before you leave. You'll know exactly who you've written to, and the labels will be perfectly legible. Smart idea.
Elizabeth wrote all of her friends postcards from each city we visited.
She saved her mailing list in her cellphone.
  • Journal: An empty book that I fill with our travel experiences always ends up being our most treasured souvenir. ALWAYS.
Toiletries and Personal Items
  • Toiletries kit: Many hotels in Europe come with meager counter-top space, making a kit that can hang on a hook or a towel bar a good idea. Ask yourself what toiletries you can live without for a short time and start from there. Make sure to pack all squeeze bottles in a sealable plastic bag for security checks. Most airlines allow three 3 oz. bottles per person. Check out the travel-size aisle at your local pharmacy.
  • Medicine and vitamins: Keep medicine in original containers, with YOUR name and legible prescriptions on it.
  • First-aid kit: Small and basic, make sure to carry something for any blisters, cuts or scrapes that come your way. Cobblestone streets are old and not very even, Elizabeth and I BOTH fell on our trip. Band-aids and antibiotic cream came in handy.
  • Glasses/contacts/sunglasses: Contact-lens solutions are widely available in Europe. Carry your lens prescription, as well as extra glasses, in a solid protective case. If it's a sunny season, pack sunglasses, especially if they're prescription.
Sunny Paris, sunglasses needed!
Me & Elizabeth laying in the warm sunshine at the base of the Eiffel Tower.
  • Small washcloth: You'll find bath towels at moderately priced hotels, but washcloths are rare in Europe. Half of the hotels we stayed in did not provide them. If you feel you need a rag, pack a quick-drying microfiber one. 
  • Small packet of tissues: Stick one of these in your purse or backpack, in case you wind up at a bathroom with no toilet paper or a pigeon happens to target you. It happens, Mr.P had to clean it out of his hair! That's Europe.
  • Spot remover: Bring a few Shout wipes. Me + pasta sauce in Rome...enough said.
  • Hairdryer: DON'T  take one if you can do without. Our hotels provided hairdryers.
  • Travel alarm/wristwatch: If your phone or watch doesn't have a built-in alarm, pack a small travel alarm clock. We used our cell phones.
  • Earplugs: If night noises bother you, you'll love a good set of expandable foam plugs. They're handy for snoozing on trains and flights, too. These are a MUST pack item for me. 
  • Cellphone: Mr.P activated our cellphones so they would work while in Europe. Download travel apps that are helpful, language translation was our first choice.
Elizabeth is relaxing back at our London hotel as she prepares to call Mr.B back in Texas.
  • Digital camera: Take along an extra memory card and battery, and don't forget the charger and a cable for downloading images. Make sure you are prepared to capture your memories.
  • Laptop: We carried ours and STILL did not check luggage!
  • USB flash drive: If you're traveling with a laptop, a flash drive can be handy for backing up files and photos.
  • Headphones/ear-buds: From listening to music on the plane to tuning in to audio tours, you may find your own pair more comfortable. Pick up a Y-jack so you and your travel partner can plug in headphones at the same time.
  • Chargers and batteries: Bring each device's charger. Look into getting a universal charger, with multiple plugs to fit each device.
  • Plug adapter(s): A MUST!
Optional Bring-Alongs
  • Water bottle: If you decide to bring one from home, make sure it's empty before you go through airport security and then fill it at a fountain once you've passed through. Do not be afraid to drink the local water. One of my favorite experiences on this trip was filling our bottle with spring water from the many fountains in Paris and Rome.
Beautiful old fountains feed by cold spring water in Paris and Rome. We used them for everything from filling our water bottles to cooling off our tired feet.
  • Inflatable pillow: These are great for snoozing on planes, trains, and buses. 
Elizabeth sleeping on the plane with her inflatable pillow.
  • Duct tape: I've mentioned this before but a small roll of duct tape can work miracles. Saving the day as a temporary fix from mending a punctured bag to solving an emergency shoe problem.  
  • A good book: There's plenty of empty time on overseas flights to either be bored or enjoy some good reading.
Keep in mind this is not a definitive list – everyone has individual tastes, preferences, opinions, and styles in terms of what they want to wear and bring along! This is what works for the P's and meant to be a good starting point to help you in packing for your European vacation. 

If you cross the pond this Summer, I hope that you and your fellow travel partners have a wonderfully stress-free and enriching vacation. One where memories are made that last a lifetime!


Mr.P & Elizabeth dinning fountain-side on the Piazza Navona in Rome. 

1 comment:

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