Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Europe Packing List - What Not to Bring

I mentioned that I was most looking forward to this post on what not to bring to Europe. That's mostly because there are so many "tips" on things you should leave at home that i don't agree with. However, there are some things that you just should not bring unless you want to call attention to yourself as an American tourist*. Some of the things I would leave at home include:
  • Sweat pants/yoga pants - Unless you plan on engaging in sports or using the hotel gym do not fly in or pack active wear. I love my yoga pants and sometimes wear them on the train home from pilates but that's when I'm literally between the workout and my shower so I give myself a pass. There is no other excuse to wear lounge wear in public, Americans get a reputation for being sloppy largely because of this.
  • White sneakers - same exceptions as above. These also carry an American stereotype, besides they'd be grey by the end of your trip so leave them at home.
  • Backpack - I know this is a traveler's best friend but I hate them, if you're not a student they pretty much scream tourist. How about a messenger or tote instead?
  • Shorts - Unless it's over 30 degrees Celsius for an entire week, most Europeans won't be wearing shorts. Again, there are activity based exceptions and shorts will come out at BBQs in the park, by the beach, etc. but not in a city and not unless it is really hot. As a woman, wear a skirt, it's suitable for more occasions anyway. Men, you're out of luck unless you like the look of man-pris.
  • Hair dryer - aside from the electricity being a different voltage and potentially frying your device, save room in your luggage. Sadly, the same applies to hair straighteners.
  • Traveler's checks - This also applies to American Express/Visa gift cards. Such things are often nearly impossible to redeem, specifically if they are not in the currency of the country you are visiting. Make sure your ATM card works abroad and let your bank know where you will be so they don't freeze the card for suspicious actions. Pack a Visa as well, it really is everywhere you want to be.
Things other people tell you to skip that I would bring include:
  • Flip flops - (for walking around the hotel room if nothing else) but this is a vice of mine.
  • Jewelry - Yes, diamond engagement rings are not typical in most European countries so that may be a leave at home piece but I find it stupid to leave all jewelry at home. If you feel uncomfortable wearing the necklace that your late grandmother gave you as a present for your 18th birthday, leave it at home but there's no reason to leave everything behind, you most likely have a similar chance of losing it/getting robbed in a local big city, just be aware of your surroundings.
So that's the last of my packing segment, hope it can help someone prepare. Again, please feel free to add or subtract from my lists. I am interested to do more mini series type posts on worthwhile topics going forward so please email me if you have a topic you'd like to see me post on.
*I don't think anyone should be ashamed of their nationality and I am proud to be an American but I don't like to contribute to negative stereotypes of my culture and therefore won't encourage anyone else to do so.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

If I had a Smartphone blog would be so much more entertaining because I could take discrete photos of all the random people I see on public transportation each day. Seriously, there's just no way to use a camera without being rude and my phone has a camera but not blogging capabilities.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Europe Packing List - The Suitcase

Here's the second installment of The Europe Packing List and this time, I'm going to tell you what I put in my suitcase. To be completely honest, this is more what I would put in my suitcase for vacation because what I actually put in my suitcase when flying from the US to Europe is often unpractical for most. If you make it to the end of the post, I'll share a list of the most random things I've packed on my recent journies across the Atlantic.
Checked Luggage
Note: Most airlines allow one piece of free luggage on flights between North American and Europe and enforce a strict weight limit For a
vacation, I would suggest you adhere to tis limit in order to both save some $$$ and save yourself the hassle of schlepping 2 large suitcases around.
  • Toiletries (and other liquid essentials) - save yourself the hassle of trying to carry these things on and just check them, better yet, travel light and use what is offered by the hotel.
  • Jeans - despite some rumors, jeans are very popular in Europe and are just as versatile as as hope. Currently trends in Germany are straight or skinnies with the ability to be tucked into boots in the winter. For a week, I'd wear a pair on the plane and bring two more.
  • Skirt/dress - Depending on the season and what you plan to do, I would bring at least one skirt and one dress (more in the summer, tights in the winter). These are clothes you can dress up or down and they take up less room in your suitcase. Of course, this does not apply to men. Men bring a pair of chinos. Likely there is no where that will forbid your jeans but sometimes it's nice to have options to dress up a bit.
  • Tops - I can't stress layering enough! Pack one cardigan no matter what the season. In spring/fall, I'd suggest a short sleeve T/polo or a tank top as a base layer for each day. Then I'd bring one button down and a couple of long sleeved Ts. I'd rely on my scarf and cardi under a light weight coat in cooler temps and have the option to use just one as the sun comes out.
  • Underwear/socks - I trust you can figure out that you should have enough of these basics for each day or plan to do laundry.
  • Shoes - This can be a serious space suck in any suitcase. I learned in college that it's important to travel with a pair of black shoes which can be worn with jeans or black pants. My tried and true shoe is a black patent ballet flat with moderate support. I've gone through two pairs in recent years and can confirm that these also work well with business dress. The male equivalent is a boat shoe or slip on leather shoe. Sneakers are, for me a question mark and I only travel with sneakers when I intend to engage in sport (hiking, hotel gym, etc.). If you wear white sneakers in Europe, you will automatically be identified as an American tourist. If you are more comfortable in sneakers, I would suggest investing in a pair that are not classified as running shoes, maybe in a black or brown leather, "Chucks" are also popular these days but I find them both uncomfortable and on their way out. Flip flops but only for the shower and as house shoes. I always travel with my Havianas as they are completely water resistant and nearly indestructible. They work by the pool, around the hotel room and in the shower (should it look like it has not been cleaned thoroughly). I wear them in cities as well but don't be surprised if people, particularly in Germany, stare at your feet and talk about your shoe choice, I've even had strangers ask if my feet were cold. In coastal regions, flip flops are more acceptable. From June-August, if you want to blend in add a strap-y sandal like a gladiator or something else with a bit more substance that is not rubber.
What to Wear on the Plane
  • Jacket - Again, this varies by season and location. Check the weather via or another online weather source. Don't just look at forecasts for your dates but pay attention to the actual temps for the week before your travel. Don't waste space in your suitcase though, wear this on the plane and shove it in the overhead bin.
  • Socks - I love to take my shoes off on long plane rides but won't walk around barefoot so wear or bring some warm comfy socks.
  • Boots - if you want to bring boots, wear them. They will be your largest pair of footwear and you don't need them taking up space in your suitcase. This is slightly annoying when going through security but you'll get over it when it means you have room to pack a bottle of wine (or another recent purchase) on the way home.
  • Sweater - I think I mentioned before that planes are cold when telling you to carry on a scarf but wear a sweater of some sorts with a t-shirt underneath regardless of the season. Even in the summer, planes are cold and you can always remove the sweater if you are too warm.
I hope I covered everything you'll need. What would you add/subtract from this list? I tried to keep it as basic as possible to be used in multiple locations/seasons but please let me know if there's something you can't live without or just don't think is necessary, I'm always open to new tips.
When you live in Europe, you try to bring back as much as possible as evidenced by the below photo taken after a Christmas trip in 2009, right before the checked baggage allotment was reduced to 1. That was luggage for two people! If you notice, P was wearing the largest coat he had with him together with his bulky hoodie in order to save space.
Over the years I'e traveled with some random things in both directions. Some of the notables include, 18 bottles of beer, 36 bottles of wine (over several trips), 2 area rugs, a dutch oven, toss pillows, my entire wardrobe (again over several trips and not all the clothes I own just the ones I wear on a regular basis). Specifically to that trip, I know that in one of those suitcases, you'd find a KitchenAid mixer.
Next up, the final installment of this series, and one I'm most looking forward to writing, what not to bring.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Europe Packing List - The Carry-on

Maybe I want more American visitors or maybe it's because I've been asked this question several times in 2010, but I decided to dedicate some time to useful posts starting with packing. While everyone loves a good rant, I think it's about time to focus on writing style and get out of my stream of thought rut. So, packing seemed like a great place to start. For the last 4 years I've been living in Germany and since I spent most of the first 2 years traveling around Germany for my job, I learned how to pack useful and light things. There are a lot of dos and don't for packing floating around the Internets but I often disagree with some common points. So, here's my go at a Europe an packing list. Please feel free to add to it in the comments suggestion. This first installment of The Europe Packing List outlines my suggestions for a carry-on. The next installment will cover checked baggage and then there will be a final installment of what to leave at home. 2010 was a monumental year for losing my luggage so I've learned the importance of a carry-on. I really love my Very Bradley large duffel and it took me awhile to admit that I was a fan of the often motherly bags but it really is the perfect size for an international flight carry-on. Just be careful not to overstuff or you'll exceed the weight limit. In heindsight, white is not the best color for something that spends so much time on the floor but at least it's washable and has a huge pattern to hide the dirt. Carryon Necessities
  • Underwear (2 pairs) - If your luggage is lost or the flight is delayed once you've checked in your suitcase you'll really thank me.
  • Toothbrush - To brush on the flight, if you want to bring liquids bring the paste, if not you'll survive with wate
  • Headphones - Some airlines provide them for your use, others rent or sell them but save yourself the trouble and pack your own airbuds. You may only be able to hear in one ear but it's sure better than nothing.
  • Eye mask - you'll want to sleep and there are a lot of lights and moving around on a plane, there is a reason these are provided in business class.
  • Cardigan/small hoodie - Temperatures vary in planes and I tend to find them cold over the Atlantic. There's usually a standard issue blanket but it's always helpful to have layers and a soft sweater can double as a pillow if you're warm and tired.
  • Large scarf - For the same reasons as above and specifically it's pillow potential.
  • Chapstick and Lotion (if you're packing liquids)- Simple really, recycled air lacks moisture.
  • Cash - The correct currency for where you will land is best but if not, use an ATM once you arrive and avoid those currency exchange booths charging large commissions. Tip: My US credit union, Navigant CU does not charge me fees to use foreign ATMs up to 4 times per month which is amazing when traveling.

Don't forget most airlines allow 1 carry-on AND 1 personal item such as a purse which also applies to men. Therefore, if you want to travel light and skip checked bags, take advantage of this and use your carry-on to hold your clothes and put these things in your purse (or messenger bag if you're a man). I am a fan of large lightweight purses that can easily fold up and often travel with my Longchamp shopper folded in my carry-on in case I need to carry additional items on the way home. Also, learn from my mistake better than I did, don't buy a white Longchamp bag (even if it'S summer and you are in the Flagship store in Paris) if you're going to use it to travel and don't think lt. grey (see link above) will be any better, mine is so gross I stopped using it and it's only 6 months old. They are spot clean only so stick to dark colors like navy and black for international travel and daily use.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


A couple of my favorite blogs as of late ( and ) have talked about thrifting as well as where thrifting is the complete focus. I'm not sure if it's the retro 80's trends coming back, a slow economy that's making people aware of their spending habits, the positive impact on the environment or some other reason but it seems like thrifting is trendy. This "new trend" which has been around forever makes me reflect on my childhood a bit. See, I was the only girl in a family of boys. It was quite often that my brother would get clothes passed down from one of both of my cousins and the same to the next brother although he was a rather skinny child and often didn't fit in hand-me-downs but you'd never guess it to meet him now. Anyway, the point being is I was super jealous of the bags of clothes that went back and forth! Even my mom's best friend would play with her kids' clothes but her daughter is 4 years younger than me so she got my clothes and I got nothing. Of course her son is a year older than one of my brothers so he would get the incoming bags of clothes. This maybe happened once a season or so depending on how quickly we were growing and when our respective parents made us clean out our closets. Despite my clothing jealousy, there are other benefits to being the only girl in the family and occasionally I'd get a bag of clothes from the daughter of one of my aunts' friends who were a couple of years older than me. To me, this was super exciting becasue it was always a suprise. Besides, I felt so fashionable to wear the clothes picked out by high school girls when I was in middle school - haha I was pretty lame when it came to dressing myself. I distinctly remember my 6th grade wardrobe (the stuff I picked out myself without) consisting of colored Arizonia jeans, a few crewneck sweatshirts in size L when I should have worn an S, white, pink and neon yellow Asics high top sneakers , way too many giant t-shirts, most containing the logos of sports teams of the teal and purple variety (i.e. Charlotte Hornets, Phoenix Suns, Colorado Rockies) and a Starter jacket or two (I think I had Hornets and Suns in different styles one year after the other). Back to the topic, my grandmother was a big fan of thrift stores in her retired days, I think for her it was more of a group sport she could do with her other retired lady friends than any any of the other motives I suggested above. Eventually I got to raid her closet for button down shirts that don't wrinkle and velvet blazers (another phase I may have over done on the weekends). I made it through 4 years of high school uniforms, my style was equalling out just in time for college. Of course there were a few oh nos thrown in but I pretty much found a happy medium. The point to all this embarrassing sharing or my self dressing fails is that I never got into thrifting. I'm not sure why because the idea of making something new again really appeals to me and I certainly love old wood furniture. Now I see all these instances of thrift store finds and wonder where I could score a "vintage" dress for a dollar or a museum scarf turned into a belt. I think specifically of a silver dress that used to sit in my grandmother's closet and wonder if it ended up being someone else's thrift store find (think retro 60's metallic knit, it's totally a find) once my aunts cleaned out her stuff or if it is sitting in someone's closet collecting dust once again. To be honest, I have no idea where to find a good thrift store around here, maybe I'll do a little googeling this weekend and see if I can score a vintage durndle! And maybe I'll email my aunt and see if she has that silver dress per chance. Do you ever go thrifting? Please show me your finds!