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. 


06/10/2010 15:42

Happy Saturday SITS Sharefest! I have enjoyed looking around your site!!

06/10/2010 15:43

Hi there. Enjoyed your post. Stopping by from Saturday SITS fest to say hello. Have a great weekend!

06/10/2010 15:43

Great advice. Now I will be all set as soon as I can get a 2 week trip to Europe. Visiting from SITS. Happy Monday!

06/10/2010 15:46

Love this post! Although we are not headed to Europe :(, I will use most of these tips for our summer vacation. I am one of those terrible overpackers! Stopped by from SITS.

06/10/2010 15:46

What a wonderful list! I totally agree with all your items. Especially the purse, the pillow and the perfect advice on how to pack more efficiently (something I always need to do)! You have made me feel like taking a trip!

06/10/2010 15:47

Hi Jesslyn! Sorry it took me so long to realize you have a site!!! I thought you were only a very nice commenter! Your blog is great, this post is great and I agree, as a frequent traveler!


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