Ahh, travel, wanderlust, seeing new places, revisiting the old… love it all! But packing for Europe can be a very stressful, time-consuming process when agonizing between comfort vs style, unlimited space vs carry-on, etc. In America, you can throw some sneakers and flip-flops in your bag with some T-shirts, jeans and shorts and be good to go! Europe is a little different. They tend to shy away from white sneakers, shorts (you may see men in capris), and flip-flops.
I am still learning the right balance for Europe, but I have found some tricks that really help me make some of those tough decisions. We are heading to France this week, so I will be putting my knowledge to the test again. Scroll down to see my suitcase contents for this trip!
Tip 1. Channel Rick Steves
Many of you know this travel guru if you’ve ever visited Europe and searched for the ultimate travel guide. Rick Steves has been pretty much everywhere, has great information and tours for the big cities in Europe (i.e., download his walking tour of Rome to your smartphone and do your own free tour of the city!). And he also has good packing advice having been to Europe so many times – my one caveat, he is a man. 🙂 But if you start with his packing list and then tweak for your specifics, you will start to realize how much you can truly live without when traveling, and how amazingly light and easy your travel will become. My husband and I followed his advice for a 2 week group trip to Scotland and Ireland by packing only one carry-on (and one personal item)! We didn’t have as many outfit choices as our fellow travelers. But many had their luggage lost in transit and dealt with much added stress while we sailed out of the airport and were ready to start sightseeing.
Tip 2. Wash your clothes
I don’t like to wear the same clothes twice – shirts and skirts might be okay, but not pants – so I tend to overpack in that category. However, 5 pairs of pants plus! can really fill a suitcase, so you can pack less and wash some at your hotel or the apartment you rented on airbnb or vrbo.com (you know I love staying where I not only have a full kitchen but often washer/dryer facilities, too! like this Sausalito vacation home). For a 2-week Europe trip recently, we stayed in hotels at the beginning and end, but in the middle stayed at an apartment with washer/dryer so were able to pack for a week and re-wear the same clothes the next week. On a trip to Italy, I washed clothes in the bathtub of my hotel room – just using shampoo and hanging to dry in the bathroom. It’s not ideal, but it can really help keep your suitcase free for souvenirs. 🙂 And if you don’t mind spending the money, you can also get some pieces laundered by the hotel – they often have same day service.
Tip 3. Simplify
As a woman traveling, that is precisely the time I want to wear all my best clothes and cutest outfits, the most unique shoes, all forms of jewelry, etc. But unfortunately, we have to think just the opposite if we want to keep our suitcases light. If you can come up with a neutral color palette and re-usable components, you can put together a stylish travel wardrobe that will actually help you blend in with the locals and still feel sophisticated. What I find particularly challenging are the seasons. We are heading to Paris/France in April which is so touchy! It could be sunny and warm or gray and cool. As a North American, I would tend to put on some flip flops and shorts. But Europeans are a little more conservative and particularly French women, who might still be in dark pants and boots.
So what to pack then?!
These are my plans for this particular trip, which is not only to France in April (cold? warm?) but also includes time in Paris (classy, beautiful city with chic style) along with shopping at flea markets (dirty? dusty? digging through stuff?!) – talk about the ultimate packing challenge. 🙂
Tops and Accessories – keeping things neutral, focus on lightweight materials for tops that take up little room and options that will compliment the bottoms that you can re-wear a few times: 4 short sleeves, 2 long sleeves, a chambray button down and a colorful blouse. Accessories are where we can add a little panache – punch up your neutrals with a colorful scarf for spring. Bring a pair of tights for colder days with skirts. And add inexpensive costume jewelry to dress up or down your outfits.
Shoes – oh the ultimate complexity – I agonize the most about these. When in Europe for fall/winter, I would wear short boots, no question. Riding boots are awesome but can be large to pack/wear. I found a great pair of Romika short boots that are stylish for both skirts (with tights) and pants that I wore everywhere on one trip – I only brought a pair of ballet flats in addition. Granted, if you have an event or dinner at a fancy place planned you may need to bring heels. But I wore my black ballet flats and tights to the Eiffel Tower 85 restaurant with a black pencil skirt and sweater and felt that was just fine. For spring, I am going to bring my Taos sandals and a new pair of Ahnu Karma Ballet flats (I can wear with anything and they’re super comfy!) but I’m also going to bring my boots for colder days.
Outerwear – layering is key to adjusting to weather conditions. I really try to avoid official coats as they just take up too much room either in luggage or carrying onto the plane. For this trip I’m bringing 1 light color lightweight cardigan, 1 medium weight gray cardigan, and a fleece. I will also bring an anorak for rainy days – skip the umbrella, it takes up room and you can always buy cheap temporary ones in larger cities. Sweaters or a trench coat are also good layers that I use for winter. I rarely, if ever, pack a winter coat unless I’m going to a very cold climate, like Saskatoon! 🙂
Other than toiletries and underwear, you are all set! Like Rick Steves, I don’t believe you will regret packing light and if you want, you can always buy clothes and another suitcase and bring it home with you.