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Top Tips for Travel in Europe, pt. 3: Packing

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Warning: this post is long and contains some affiliate links, but there was too much information to share!

If you're planning a super awesome vacation in Europe, make sure to check out my Top Tips for Getting Around {here} and How to Find a Great Place to Stay {here}.

Ok, so you have your itinerary planned and tickets bought, right? Hotels and/or apartments are booked so now you have to figure out packing. It's kind of the last puzzle piece and I hope these tips help.

Tips and Resources for Packing for a European Vacation

  • Be organized. If I'm city hopping, I like to use this expandable file folder (disclaimer: this is an affiliate link but I just included it so you can see what I'm talking about. I would never pay $10 to buy one of these- you can pick one up for a dollar or two from your local office supply or dollar store). I print off all confirmations I need - boarding passes, hotel confirmations, car rentals, attraction tickets etc. and then put them in the order I will need them. My passport fits right in front and the folder fits perfectly either in my purse or a pocket on my carry-on. 

    • Write any directions you think you may need right on the confirmation you printed out. I make notes about which metro line will get me to the right neighborhood, which restaurants were recommended on TripAdvisor, things to avoid, any questions I have for the concierge, anything I think might be helpful.

      • Let's talk about carry-ons for a minute. If you're going to use air travel to get around Europe, I strongly recommend a good carry on. I also recommend packing for your whole trip in it, but we'll get to that in a minute. Look up the dimensions required on the airline's website (Example). They are pretty strict about the size of the bag (and it's generally smaller than what we Americans think of as a carry on) so adhere to it. It can be very costly to check a bag the day of your flight.

        • Read the baggage policy for your airline(s). Some of them only allow ONE bag per passenger - not a carry-on AND a personal item (i.e. a purse). Also double check the weight allowances and remember that 1 kilogram (kg) = 2.2 pounds (lbs).

        • I have found the plain wheeled carry ons to be the easiest to pull on cobblestone streets. The spinner wheels just seem to fall apart quickly. Perhaps it would be different with a very expensive suitcase, but I've used a few of the common nicer brands and none of them held up as well as a plain carry on. 

          Are you hyperventilating because I recommended packing for a week or two in a carry-on? I promise it really can be done. 

          True Story: When Mike & I were dating in college we went on spring break vacation to Fort Lauderdale and the Florida Keys together. I'd like to point out that it was April in South Florida - all I really needed was a couple of bathing suits and dresses to cover up with. I took 3 full sized suitcases, 8 pairs of (high heeled) shoes, 4 purses and an arsenal of hair and makeup supplies. 

          Did I use any of that? Nope. Did I learn my lesson? Of course not. 

          I did the exact same thing on our honeymoon cruise to the Mexican Riviera. On both trips, I'm pretty sure Mike took one bag - and I probably crammed more stuff in it because I ran out of room. I was a high maintenance hot mess and I promise if I can learn to pack in a carry on, you can too. 

          I have posts planned on how I packed for both Ireland and Greece (10 days each time!) in a carry-on. I'll update when they are published, but in the meantime, check out my Travel & Packing board on Pinterest for some great ideas on how to make this work for you.

            • A couple of quick tips for packing light: plan to wear the same pair of jeans 2 or 3 days. Wear a comfortable pair of boots or shoes while traveling and pack only 1 extra pair of shoes or sandals. 3 scarves seems to be the proper amount, but I have no science to back this claim up. It's just what works for me. Clean underwear and socks for every day and 2 bras. I usually take only strapless bras because they work for every shirt or dress I could possibly pack, but I know strapless isn't comfortable for everyone. Whichever bra you choose, make sure it's comfortable for all day wear. You're going to be walking and moving a lot and you don't want to have to keep adjusting an uncomfortable underwire or have sensitive skin because it rubbed all day, no matter how cute the undergarment is. And - most importantly - don't pack too much. Most adults can wear a shirt more than once before washing, so do that! No one will know, I promise.

                Wanna know a secret? Once you master packing in a carry on, you'll love that feeling and never look back. 
                Be brave. Give it a shot. It's worth it.

                • Don't pack lots of liquids unless you really need them. They are heavy and take up lots of precious space. You can buy shampoo and conditioner at any drug store or super market here and their sizes are generally much smaller than we are used to in the U.S. which makes them easier to travel with. If you're worried about reading another language, please don't be. You won't have any problems with common words like those. And - bonus! - my neighbor told me it's better to use the local shampoos because they are formulated for the hard water here so your hair will thank you. :) 

                  • Ask for travel sized or sample sizes of your face creams, serums or perfumes. I use a lot of Estee Lauder products and every time I make a purchase I ask for small samples of my favorites or of anything new I'd like to try. They are usually very generous with me, especially when I explain what I'd like them for. If you can't get small samples, look online for them. Sephora, Ulta, and Amazon are great sites to check and those pre-wrapped Christmas gifts that every boutique offers are absolute goldmines for finding perfectly sized travel cosmetics. Keep the containers, clean them out, and reuse them. Of course you can always pick up the reusable travel kits at the drugstore, too.

                    • Look for products that do double duty. For example, I use coconut oil (yup, straight from the grocery store) for body moisturizer, sunscreen, makeup remover and lip balm. One small travel bottle lasts more than a couple of weeks. It also works on hair to help hide dry ends or frizzy fly-aways if you use a light touch.

                      • This Z Palette rocks. I just got mine and used it for the first time going to Ireland and I'm completely sold on it. It saved so much room in my bag and my makeup traveled just fine. The large size is more than big enough for me. I highly recommend it.

                        • Judiciously choose your hair tools and accessories. If you have one curling iron that can be used with a simple plug adapter, take that one... and only that one. Most hotels have a hair dryer in the room, but check beforehand. (If you have to pack your own hair dryer, most will require a power converter and those can be heavy. Read the label on your dryer to see what you will need, see note below.) Living in Europe has forced me to learn to do a great blow out at home (or hotel). I can now travel with just a round brush and a good hair serum to most places. This is an amazing skill to have. I cannot sing its praises enough.

                          Don't know if your appliances can be used here? Somewhere on every appliance is the voltage information. If it says 110/220v or 120/240v, you can use it with a simple adapter. If it only says 110v or 120v, it will need a converter and then you need to pay attention to the wattage. For example, my hair dryer is 1875w but some require upwards of 2000w. Be sure to get the proper converter or it won't work at all... and your hair dryer could catch on fire. Personal experience, there.

                          • I also recommend learning to do a few easy and cute updos. A pretty braided knot can be such a lifesaver on windy, rainy days... and there are a lot of those around here! You can check out my Pinterest board for more ideas and tutorials - I'm always looking for simple ways to contain my hair for when I don't feel like wearing it down.

                          That's all I've got for packing. Do you have any super awesome secrets? I'd love to hear them. I'm always looking for new ways to pack even lighter than I already do. It's addictive once you give in to it.

                          2 Responses to “Top Tips for Travel in Europe, pt. 3: Packing”

                          1. I wish I wish I wish that I could be this good at packing. If I wish enough, will my dream come true Katrina?!

                            (You outstripped me on the naughty packing though. I've only ever reached 2 suitcases and 2 carry ons. High five sister! Haha.

                            1. LOL! I think this is a practice makes perfect situation, but I promise it gets easier and easier! (: