Rhine Valley - Germany

Q: I am going on a two week trip to Europe but do not want to lug a heavy bag. What and how much would you suggest I take. I always take way too much and still have nothing to wear. I am going to Germany and Switzerland in June...and need advice from my expert niece.

I know I said spring style tips would follow up our masculinity series, but I had to stop the presses!  A question about traveling was submitted to Ask Image Interpreters and even if it hadn't come from my dear Aunt, I'd have still answered it before posting anything else.  Hello! It deals with traveling! A favorite topic of mine and one of the extraordinarily few areas I call myself somewhat of an expert, especially considering where she's going. (Germany is my second home!)  So let's get to the fun!

You are correct - most people over-pack to the extreme when taking a trip abroad, resulting in those heavy bags to lug. I did too until I learned the art of Travel Packing Zen. I often hear, "But I have to pack for every contingency because I don't know what we might do!"  To which I say, "Really? Is your itinerary a secret? Someone else is planning this trip for you?"  The truth is, you know exactly what kind of trip you're going to have - whether you'll be hitting the foreign nightclubs, hiking the Matterhorn, or chilling on a beach.  The only real question mark you have to address is the weather.  And we're going to address that. In this 2-post answer, we're going to first cover WHAT to pack and then HOW to pack it.
We're starting with the DON'T take items because I want to get those out of the options pile as quickly as possible.
Do not pack the above items!  Any of these combined together screams "clueless American tourist!"  You're touring beautiful European cities, not hiking the Appalachian Trail. The goal is to be comfortable while traveling, look chic doing it, and avoid over-packing.
  • If you're an avid exerciser training for a marathon and must get in a 5 mile run every day, then pack your running shoes.  But that's the only time you get to wear them! And if that description doesn't fit you, then let the hours of walking work their magic.  Even at a "strolling around the piazza pace", I never fail to lose at least 5 lbds.
  • Fanny/waist packs - aside from being hideous, they're a magnet for thieves.  Don't carry a backpack, either.  Things on your back just make it easier for pick-pockets in a crowd. (Just ask my Mom!)                                                     

Now the DO take items!  (click to view the larger collage and item details)
It is the number and type of items in the above collage that are most important.  Raid your own closet before you do any shopping.  Nobody in Europe has ever seen your wardrobe before.  Note that everything coordinates. You'll have lots of options from minimal items.
If you do need to shop, almost everything in this collage is currently available.  Especially the trenchcoat for $39 at Nordstrom right now! Also comes in black.
  • 4 to 5 tops: Do not choose only tees.  Button-down and polo shirts are still casual but look dressier and offer more variety. And for a two week trip 4 or 5 will be plenty. And while you might be tempted to pack all black - don't! Injecting some color will make you look better in the pictures you'll take.
  • 1 cardigan: This should be long sleeve and ideally cashmere, or a blend thereof.  It's perfect for the plane and fluctuating temps.  
  • 1 jacket:A lightweight short trench coat is perfect! It won't add bulk to your bag or your body.  For a summer trip you're mostly wanting it for occasional chilly breezes, cold airplanes and rain.  The weather high in Switzerland can be much different from spots in Germany.  It can get hot!
  • 3 bottoms: The darkest wash jean you own, khakis, and a light skirt are the most versatile.  That brown linen skirt is at Victoria's Secret right now for $40! (I'll have a tip for you tomorrow about wearing your skirt.) You might prefer a black trouser to a dark jean, or olive khaki's to tan ones, but stay in the neutral family.
  • 2 shoes: This is where most people make the biggest mistake by taking too many or taking only gym shoes.  My travel shoes are shiny black slip-ons with a slightly thicker sole. They're by no means the nicest looking pair in my closet, but they work like a charm getting me through airport security lines and hours of walking.  Since it's a summer trip - you'll be wise to pack a pair of sturdy sandals.  NOT flip-flops! If you buy shoes for your trip, buy them fast and wear them to break them in.
  • 1 pajama: Bring something fun!  Satin pj's pack very easily.
  • 2 bras: One to wear while the other rests.  For extensive info on bras review the Bra Education section.
  • 2 socks: For a summer trip you'll most likely be alternating between shoes and sandals so you don't need a pair for every day.
  • 6 underwear: Just as with your socks, you can wash a few pair in the sink at your hotel for fresh undies.
  • OPTIONAL DRESS: Consider adding a jersey wrap dress (infinitely packable! I prefer black.) if you're planning on hitting church services or finding a fancy spot for dinner.
  • Watch & Jewelry: A simple, inexpensive pair of studs and necklace in matching metals work with any outfit.  Traveling is no place for your diamonds or tons of accessories to keep track of.
  • Oversized sunglasses: Don't bring your nicest pair but make sure they have UV protection. The oversize style will look chic and hide those jet-lag eyes.
  • A crushable hat: I prefer this style to a baseball cap because they're easier to pack, but bring whatever you're comfortable wearing.
  • Belt: One belt in a neutral color to go with all your outfits is plenty.  If you're not a belt wearer, skip it!
  • Pashmina: I'm not going to detail all the nasty things I have personally seen happen to airplane blankets.  A pashmina (preferably cashmere or a blend) of your own avoids the yucky and guarantees you additional warmth on the plane. It also doubles as a neck pillow.  Most U-shaped travel pillows push your head too far forward and are a pain to carry.  A pashmina is long enough to roll up one end behind your neck and wrap the rest across yourself.  If you really want a pillow, I prefer this nook style
  • A neck pouch: Do not bring a bulky purse to lug around. I have been traveling with one of these for more years than I can remember. It's super slim, slides under my shirt and I tuck it into my pants.  Hidden! The only thing you need to carry in a day is your cash/credit card/hotel key (usually a card nowadays)/ID/city map/camera.  Everything but the camera will fit in the neck pouch and you'll be virtually hands free.  If you plan on doing some shopping, toss an empty canvas tote or reusable shopping bag into your suitcase.  
  • Other good ideas: A mini MP3 player: not a basic necessity, but they're useful for tuning out travel noise and making the trip more enjoyable.  And they're so small now they take up virtually no space. Also much cheaper than an iPod, should it get lost or stolen. If you purchase one, go for battery operated! You'd never want to mess with recharging it with an adapter. Mine runs 70 hours on one tiny AAA.  Ear plugs: I put them in as soon as I get on the plane! Travel alarm clock. Travel journal and pen! Reading material.
  • Your camera!  A quick tip here - each night at your hotel, or when you have down time, delete unwanted pics from your camera and jot down the location and subject of each shot. It'll save you from the dreaded, "Memory Card Full" warning when you're trying to capture a great shot, and you won't have to ask, "Now where was this?" when you get back home.
Whew!  A mountain of information for relatively few items.  As mentioned, this was WHAT to pack.  The next post will deal with HOW to pack it.  I'll also cover your toiletry kit and some general travel tips. 
"A true gentleman knows that a woman should smell like butterflies and salt taffy.  And that a man should smell like jet fighters and punching."
When it comes to certain things I wish we had smellivision.  Certain things like ads for chocolate, Italian restaurants, and cologne.  I'm betting this ad would smell delicious!  There is no better clip with which to close our Masculinity Series. (Did you know this commercial was shot in one take?  He's on a lift that moves him to the horse. And the only CGI is when the diamonds appear and then change into the Old Spice bottle. Check out Old Spice for more fun.)

I have another Costco example for you.  I was in the soaps and creams isle and overheard a young husband say that he wanted to get some obviously manly soap.  His wife asked him "Why?" (strike 1- why question him? he's allowed to be an adult and pick his own soap)
He answered that he liked the scent of it.  She countered that there was nothing wrong with "our stuff at home." (strike 2 - the term "our" is not applied very well to scented items) 
He said, "I like how this smells. What do you think?" and held it up for her to sniff. She pulled her head back and refused to sniff it! (strike 3! - you can bet your last nickle that had SHE held something up for him to sniff, and he had pulled away, she'd have pitched a holy fit!)  

I wish I had seen this commercial before I saw the Costco tiff.  I'd have reminded her that emasculating her man will come back to haunt her.  I couldn't help wondering that if she questions him so badly on the soap issue - what else is she hammering him about?

The Costco tiff perfectly illustrates the point of this ad and our masculinity series.  Men should get to be real men, from how they smell to how they dress.  A supremely simple thing like your man having his own "manly smelling soap" might go a long way to reinvigorating the healthy side of the gender divide.  When the sexes can play off each other, in everything from scent to dress to mannerisms, respect is increased, our individual senses of power and individuality are reinforced.  We are better versions of ourselves, rather than androgynous clones, totally lacking in individuality.   

A few more style vignettes from GQ...
We women play very important roles in the style lives of our men.  We often do their clothes shopping and ensemble coordinating before they head out the door.  If we can remember not to inject our femininity but to instead enhance their masculinity - we'll be doing them, ourselves, and the world a great service.  They'll know we love them for who they inherently are.  They'll trust us to help them be the best MEN they can be. And the world always needs more men.  Real Men.  Now, more than ever.
We're going to round out our masculinity series over the next few days with a look at some great ads that have come out recently.  These definitely flout the metro-sexual trend, reinforcing the image of men being manly.

And some style vignette's from GQ.  How delicious was Clint back then? I ask you!
"Style like that trumps fashion."  I love that! 
Coco made a similar sentiment and it always rings true.
I also love the line, "Eastwood's just been Eastwood."  As women, we are a major style force in our men's lives, be they husbands, sons, fathers, brothers or boyfriends.  I sometimes hear women joking about (belittling!) their husband's style when they think their man should dress differently.  And yet if their man were to do the same to them - the punishment would be swift and severe.  Don't even try to deny it. 
Most men admit they don't follow fashion trends but DO want to look stylish in clothes that flatter them.  He wants to look good for YOU!  So sincere compliments when he looks great, paired with subtle and soft corrections when something isn't flattering or doesn't fit his personality, will quickly have your man looking his very best with his own style.  Everything he owns will be a great option, as if he has always dressed this well- just Eastwood being Eastwood.
Can you tell which is the girl and which is the guy in these pictures?
I was checking out at Costco a few weeks ago and these hastily-snapped phone shots are are of the couple that was in front of me.  They both had on white sweatshirts and the EXACT SAME JEANS!
Fancy bright white stitching up the sides - Check!
White design on the flap back pockets - Check!
I'm sure I had the most confused look on my face as I looked from her to him and back to her.  I tried to get both butts clearly in one shot but they wouldn't hold still.  Oddly enough.  Must have been clear I was going to feature them as a what not to wear.  His is the top butt... so you know.  Hers was quickly snapped before they walked away.

I don't mind details on men's clothing.  What I mind is androgyny.  When the similarities are just too close for comfort!  Like these... 
I realize that the poses and models' figures make it obvious which is the guy and which is the girl.  But I know very few women who look like this from behind.  Most look like the candid photos up top. 

I like to add touches of menswear to outfits.  It's sexy when juxtaposed against feminine items.  And when I do, I want to hear, "That looks great!" from a man.  Not, "What I good idea. I think I'll wear it that way too."  The androgenization of society is disconcerting to me.  I like men to be men and women to be women.  We're at our best that way.  There are facets of each in all of us and we can play them up or down as we like to create our best selves.  But the androgenization of fashion is just lazy on the part of manufacturers.  It should be clear, at a glance, which jeans are for men and which are for women.
Gap Jeans

So men... don't snag your wife's jeans. 

Don't let her shop for you, if that's the style she's going to bring home.  She probably just wants them for herself in the end!

Gap Jeans

Revel in your manhood! 

It'll make us look even better walking next to you.

I apologize for the delay between postings. A nasty stomach bug attacked my babies. It's been brutal and there's nothing more miserable than a toddler and babies who don't understand why their tummy feels so yucky.  But I'll spare you the details.  Instead, we're going to continue our masculine therapy with a 2-day discussion on jeans.
It's all-out war against saggy butt jeans!  And I couldn't be happier. 
I don't know when, where or why this particular "look" came into existence.  And I don't really care.  It's ridiculous.  As the Clueless clip at the beginning proves, it's been around far too long. 
Several years ago I was waiting for a flight when a father, mother and their teenage son sat down across from me.  The kid, probably 15, headed over to the shop to peruse the magazines and I honestly couldn't determine how it was possible for him to walk.  His jeans were so unbelievably huge on him that he was having to hold them up with his hand as he tried to drag along the numerous folds of denim pooling at his ankles.  It was some sort of shirt/waistband combo grab.  When he was out of ear shot I leaned forward and said, "I just have to ask - why does he wear his jeans like that?"  The mother started laughing and it was the dad who answered first. "Because we're picking our battles right now, and he doesn't know it yet but he's about to lose this one hard!"  The mother responded, "Absolutely.  He and his friends look like idiots! I'm going to burn all his pants and he can buy them like that again when he's 18."  I hope they did it.  It must have been a beautiful bonfire.

I'm not exaggerating when I say an all-out war is brewing.  This photo was distributed to Flint, MI police officers last year as a training tool.
This version was recently posted publicly to educate folks that this IS being taken seriously and you WILL get punished. 
The crackdown on cracks has begun.
And even though MA State Senator Eric Adams was chided for harping on an "unimportant" issue, I think he makes a valid point.  It is indisputable fact that how a person dresses is in direct correlation to their behavior.  I see no problem with encouraging his target audience to rise above the sagging.  Rebellious attitudes may cause them to drag pant even worse, but at least he said it!
Join me tomorrow as we talk about the flip side of saggy butt jeans.
Hey all!  I'm the honored guest poster over at Our Mommyhood today!  So hit the above button and jump on over.  It's a fun little post analyzing Disney movies because my brain couldn't quit it's job.
Our Mommyhood is a really fun site started by some blogging friends of mine.  They've only been live about a month or so and have already generated tons of fun, thought, and discussion.  It's "where motherhood meets bloghood."