Pack Light: What to Bring When Traveling Through Europe

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My husband and I were married six years ago this past September.  We spent the entire year following our nuptials scrimping and saving for an official honeymoon.  For our one year anniversary we flew to Amsterdam and travelled through Europe for three weeks.  It was such a spectacular, romantic and thrilling adventure and I am so glad we were able to do it.  We traveled by plane, train, cable car, bus, subway, boat and foot through Amsterdam, Munich, Zurich, Gimmelwald and Paris.  In the planning phases of our trip I scoured the internet to read about what to pack, what to wear and essentials to bring – being the chronic over-packer that I am I wanted to limit what I brought because of how much moving around we would be doing.  We packed, re-packed and re-packed again but nevertheless my attempt to keep things minimized failed miserably.  We had a suitcase, two backpacks and two shoulder bags between the two of us and it was a hassle each time we had to get on the train, roam the streets to find our hotel, or maneuver through an airport.  So today I am going to share what tips I learned during our travels abroad and what it truly means to pack light.


One of our biggest concerns was what to wear.  We really wanted to blend in with the local culture to gain the perspective that can only happen when you allow yourself to be immersed. We read blogs and chat room threads to figure out what Europeans wore on an average day.  One of the most often repeated nuggets of advice was to leave your jeans at home.  Apparently only Americans wear jeans.  So when we were packing we begrudgingly left our comfy, worn-in jeans behind in exchange for slacks.  Big mistake.  EVERYONE in Europe wears jeans.  You will not be branded as a “tourist” if you wear jeans.  So my advice is to pack what you feel most comfortable wearing – I made the same mistake when I traveled to India; I spent two weeks in uncomfortable clothes because I didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself, silly me.

My second bit of advice on what to wear is: pack as few outfits as possible.  Seriously.  I packed way too many outfits.  We were traveling on a budget but were able to stay in hotels, pensions and an apartment rental in Paris with access to laundry facilities.  We knew this before our trip but over packed anyway.  My thought process went like this: “I don’t want to be wearing the same thing in all of our photos!” Ironically, I was wearing my coat most of the trip so what I was wearing underneath really didn’t matter.  Pack 1-2 outfits with interchangable pieces: a sweater, a button-up, a tee, a scarf, your favorite jeans, lots of underwear and socks, lightweight bras, a coat, a hat and possibly gloves.  That’s it. **A little incentive to packing just a few items of clothing is that you can pick up stuff along the way; flea markets are everywhere and I stocked up on tons of beautiful scarves, a few dresses and a handmade leather bag!**

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I learned a valuable lesson with shoes.  Again, taking bad advice from the blogs I read I was terrified to wear casual shoes. A week before our trip we went out and bought really expensive shoes that were supposed to be comfortable yet “fashionable”.  They were a suede wedge shoe with soft insoles.  Two days into our trip I couldn’t feel my feet anymore! Walking all day on cobblestone in a pair of shoes that had not been properly worn in was absolute torture.  In desperate need of comfortable walking shoes we found ourselves in a shopping center in Amsterdam where I dropped 120 Euros on a pair of baby blue hiking shoes (it was either blue or bright pink, I figured the blue would blend in a little better)!  I know now that my perfectly worn in Toms would have sufficed and nobody would have noticed, plus I could have saved quite a bit of money in the process.  So, unless you plan on going out to a five-star restaurant, keep the fancy shoes at home and wear what you know is comfortable – your feet will thank you.


I am a beauty-product junkie.  I have two different skin care regiments (one for morning and one for evening) using different products, I have naturally curly hair so I need about 30 different hair care products to keep my frizz in check and I like to have the option to wear a variety of make-up styles if I want to.  In reality, I barely used any of it and it added unneeded weight to my bags.  We spent a week in the mountains of Switzerland where I didn’t wear a drop of make-up and probably showered twice. Good thing I was lugging around all those products. What I learned from this experience is that I can survive on far fewer beauty products than I thought I could.  Next time I will only pack one mini bottle of face wash, a small lotion, toothpaste, toothbrush, mouthwash, floss, face powder, eye liner, chap stick and deodorant.  The hotels we stayed in supplied shampoo, conditioner and body wash so why carry it around? If I let my hair air-dry I don’t need all of the anti-frizz products either.  Funny story, I burned out my hairdryer on the first night in Amsterdam – an adapter plug is not the same thing as a voltage converter!  Also, remember that you are traveling through developed countries with all of the modern conveniences as the US so if you desperately need something head over to the local corner store.  Plus, it’s super fun to live like a local.

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Since we knew we would experience a lot of travel time (an 8 hour plane ride, an overnight train to Munich, a commuter train to Switzerland and Paris and an 8 hour plane ride home) we wanted to make sure we did not get bored.  Again, silly us. We packed books, journals, games, cards, multiple cameras, a radio (I actually recommend you bring one so you can tune into local stations!), crossword puzzles, etc.  Again, we rarely used any of it.  We used one camera, the radio and our journals.  We watched free movies on the plane, on the overnight train to Munich we stayed up all night drinking with a bunch of fellow passengers, watched the world pass by out the windows of the commuter trains and slept on the plane ride home.  The valuable lesson we learned is that the world we were experiencing was our entertainment! Why did I think I would want to take the train through the German and French country sides with my nose in a book?!  Leave the entertainment (with the exception of a journal and an ipod) at home and enjoy the natural (and free) surroundings.

You would be surprised at how little you can live off of for three weeks! Bring only what you know you will need (clean underwear, a pair of pants, a top and shoes) and leave the rest at home.  Trust us, wrestling with five bags on a busy commuter train will not only be frustrating for you but will piss off the other passengers.  If you can’t fit everything you need into a bag you can wear on your back then you have packed too much stuff.  Travel light and you will be much happier, I promise!!  Safe travels!

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 What are your recommendations for traveling light? What must you absolutely have with you and what can you live without?




One thought on “Pack Light: What to Bring When Traveling Through Europe

  1. Pingback: Carry-On Travel Essentials | gray duck

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