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.

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