How to Pack for Europe

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With a trip to Europe approaching, many people excitedly focus on the sites they will be seeing, which rail pass to buy, and other issues concerning getting around. The seemingly simple act of packing is sometimes neglected until the last moment. By then it can be too late.

How to Pack for Europe can be more difficult than it appears. Mistakes can cost you time and money, both precious commodities on any trip.

Pack Light

There is a tendency, especially among first-time travelers, to pack everything they might possibly need on a trip. Subscribe to that philosophy and you could pay extra money in baggage fees to cart around stuff you may be able to do without. Believe it or not, people in Europe buy toothpaste too, so you don’t need to bring an extra tube.

Your goal is to get everything you need into one carry-on sized bag. It sounds impossible, but it’s not. How to pack for Europe is a skill, and it’s one that can be mastered with some compromises on the front end that really pay off once you arrive.

Bring three or four pairs of pants and a four or five shirts in neutral colors that you can mix and match to make different outfits. Bring “moisture-wicking” fabrics that will help keep you cool in the summer and dry in the cooler months. Bring a light jacket and think layering to stay warm. If you’re traveling during winter and need a heavy coat, wear it on the plane to save space in your luggage.

The same rules apply if your trip goes two or three weeks. My wife and I did laundry in Paris on our honeymoon and it’s something I’ll never forget. I truly felt like a local for a brief time. We were the only tourists in the launderette. We sat at a table, had a snack, and filled out postcards to pass the time. What really struck me was the fact that people in the launderette were actually talking to one another rather than reading 6 month old magazines or staring at the floor. When they left, they said goodbye to us. Doing laundry was a shared life experience for them. A brief one for sure, but one nonetheless and it would be rude to not say goodbye.

Buy it There, Leave it There

Think about things you may need while you’re there, especially those that plug in, and see if they can be borrowed or rented from your hotel. If not, buy when you get there and leave it. Differences in plugs and voltage can cause problems and power converters can be a hassle. Bring your laptop, but consider purchasing things like hair dryers, curling irons, hair straighteners, clothes irons or other small appliances. On our last trip to Europe, my wife’s hair dryer blew a fuse in the hotel, which did not endear us to the proprietor. When we reached our next stop, we discovered the hair dryer no longer worked so we bought one. Not having to unplug and move the power converter to the bathroom was a nice bonus. Leave the appliances in your room or find someone just arriving and give them away.

Stay Light

When considering how to pack for Europe, think about what you will be bringing home. Take old socks and underwear and throw them out as you wear them to save space on the fly. If you will be buying souvenirs for yourself and others, pack a collapsible bag to put all of your extras in for the return trip. Once at the end of a trip to Japan, I had to spend time and money to buy a bag to bring home gifts for family and friends because there simply wasn’t space in my suitcase for everything. Note to self: Don’t buy so much stuff next time.

Another alternative is to mail items to yourself rather than carry them back with you. Depending on what you send, shipping could be expensive, but do you really want to carry all that stuff to multiple stops and then through a crowded airport on your way home? We sent a box of souvenirs to ourselves halfway through our trip by the cheapest means possible. It arrived about a week after we got home and we relived the trip as we went through the contents.

Packing for a trip to Europe can be daunting, but if done correctly, it can make the trip a lot less stressful.


USA Today Travel Tips

Rick Steves


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