Friday, 3 August 2012

Packing for a Two-Week Visit to Europe

An email request: I thought you could do a piece on your blog about what to bring as a 30 year old on a trip to Europe  in September- not wanting to bring a lot, but still wanting to be "Europe style conscious". 

"Keep it Simple" Choices

Even though the request specifically says "two weeks in September", I will try to include more generic recommendations. The answer is both simple and complicated; pack classic and light and use your accessories to individualize your wardrobe. Don't buy anything new for the trip since you will want to go shopping in Paris or Barcelona or Milan or wherever you happen to be.

There are several factors to consider before creating a travel wardrobe list: 

How are you traveling - by air to get to Europe, is someone picking you up once you arrive, are you renting a car, using a train pass or flying between cities?
With airline restrictions and extra cost for baggage, light is still the best recommendation. Even if you are traveling first class to get here meaning you can take two check-in bags, if you are transferring onto a regional flight, it's back to the only one bag and one carry-on regulation. Once in Europe (unless a limo is picking you up and taking you directly to your destination and then you stay there), you will be restricted by the size of your rental vehicle, the amount you can carry to get to the train, and other limitations. Even if someone is picking you up when you get to your European destination, vehicles are generally smaller than in North America and depending on how many of you there are, you probably will be holding luggage on your lap. Think light because no matter how you are traveling, you have to carry your bag wherever and however you go.

Light equals one carry-on/daypack and one manageable suitcase with wheels. Backpacks with wheels are sometimes more cumbersome than a suitcase. I find those who use backpacks sometimes rudely unaware that their backpack is a protrusion and obstruction in confined places such as trains. They twist and turn oblivious to the havoc being created behind them. But then again, I understand the backpack's appeal, particularly to the young. Even with a backpack, take the size that you can manage and don't overpack or have it stuffed. You can buy inexpensive clothing you need at markets along the way. 

The request was for September specifically but generally speaking, it's important to identify exactly where you are going and at what time of the year?
Spring, summer and fall in Europe - Sweden is different than Spain. For those coming to see me in France, the temperatures can be the same in Canada and even hotter or cooler. Temperatures in my home province in Canada were hotter than the south-west of France in July in 2012. September can be hot or considerably cooler than the summer months.

Look online at the long range forecasting for the areas you will be visiting. 

Are you visiting cities or is your time going to be in the country?
Keep the clothing you bring classic and plan to go shopping for the statement pieces while you are in the cities. In Paris, when you go shopping, you will be able to find clothing that has an edge, perhaps trendy but it should be individualistic and make a statement. If you are in the country, classics will also do well here but the shopping will be more limited so bring your statement piece with you instead of expecting to buy in small towns. That being said, the markets can hold lovely unique treasures. 

Where are you sleeping? 
If you are staying in a home with friends, you will be able to use their laundry facilities so that will determine the amount of underwear you take as well as other clothing. In Ste. Foy La Grande at the Saturday market, you can buy a bra and pair of matching undies or a packet of three pairs for less than a Coca-Cola costs you on the TGV (fast train). If you are the kind of person who launders all your clothing after each wearing when traveling, you probably have the financial means to have your clothing laundered at the five star hotel you are staying.

Traveling Wardrobe - A Basic List
Here's a potential list for a two week spring/summer/fall (May to September) stay with annotations, given the understanding that you can buy more as you need along the way. There will be events, specific places and particular wardrobe favourites that I cannot anticipate for you. For example: if you love the look of a dark blazer with camel trousers then you will add those items to this basic list. And then a beach holiday will require other items. This is a basic minimalist travel clothing list. 

For your regular clothing, choose a base dark colour and complement with two other colours to facilitate mixing and matching in a three-pack of coordinating colours.
  • 3 to 5 t-shirts or tops, keep it simple and basic with the ability to wear any one of the tops with any one of the shorts, pants or skirts. Since the evenings can be cooler, at least one of the tops should be 3/4 or long sleeved.
  • 1 pair of dark wash jeans or a pair of dark trousers, lined linen pants are a good choice for cooler days and nights
  • 1 pair of dark (black, navy) knee length shorts - depending on the forecasts (or another pair of pants)
  • 1 pair of leggings - in case it is cool you can wear these under a skirt or when you are relaxing 
  • 1 or 2 skirts: for example - a denim pencil skirt and a light wool or lined linen one
  • 1 simple sheath dress (optional if you have two skirts) This may be the least worn item but because of its chameleon qualities, you can dress it up or down for day or evening wear.
  • 1 simple-design, v- or crew-neck, lightweight wool or cashmere cardigan in a dark colour (May or September can be summer hot or autumn cool and this item is insurance since it can be layered).
  • 1 lightweight jacket or 3/4 length "coat" (waterproof if possible)
  • 1 pair light weight walking shoes like Keds (leave the heavy weight trainers, joggers and hiking boots at home unless you are walking 20 kilometres a day or you can't live without your daily run) or walking sandals or 1 pair of other comfortable-to-walk-in shoes such as traditional flats - loafers or ballerina flat
  • 1 pair of strappy sandals or heels (or the ballerina flats) just in case you need to "dress-up" - a t-shirt with your denim skirt or jeans, your shawl draped or tied as a scarf and a light pair of shoes will do for most restaurants and evenings out, short of the Michelin starred - there  you can wear your sheath dress. You will never see walking sandals such as Burkenstock's with a skirt, unless it's a tourist.
  • Take no more than two or three pairs of shoes and in fact, take the ballerina flats, heels or strappy sandals that you least like or are starting to look worn out. That way, when you find a great pair of fashionable shoes in France, you can buy them and throw away the others.
Underwear and Sleepwear:
  • 2 bras and 3 to 5 pairs of underpants. If you are staying with friends, you won't have to worry about laundry facilities. (However, don't expect to run the washing machine for just a few of your items, water and electricity utility prices are more expensive than in North America.) For the most part a laundromat is easy to find unless you are in the tiniest of villages. Rinsing out at night is easy if you bring light cotton or synthetics. Leave those heavier Jockey cottons in Canada. However, there is one other possibility - one person I know takes all her "worn out but not yet replaced" underwear on trips and throws them out after wearing. She then buys what she needed as replacement. 
Underwear Vendor at the Saturday Market in Ste. Foy La Grande, France
  • If you need socks with your flats or Keds, take lightweight cotton ones - the heavier athletic ones take too long to dry. 
  • Take along modest pyjamas if you don't know exactly what your sleeping arrangements will be. If you sleep in the buff, you might want to take along an oversized t-shirt just in case you have to go down the hall to the toilet in the middle of the night. 
  • You might not need a robe/dressing gown/housecoat but if you have a short lightweight cotton one, it might be prudent to take it along, although a shawl will work as well.
When sleeping in new surroundings, it can be rather disconcerting if you end up in your host's bedroom stark naked instead of the toilet where you were intending to go.

Hand-washing laundry tips: If you have collected several "hotel shampoo packets", take those with you and use for laundering. Soap is soap and usually shampoos are formulated to attack body oils that redistribute on your hair. Makes sense to me to use shampoo to wash your underwear.

Do a trial run and hand-wash your underwear and tops and then hang to dry in your bathroom overnight. If they're not dry in the morning, you will know not to do it when you are traveling.

  • 1 favourite signature necklace, 1 pair of simple design or hoop earrings and maybe one bangle in gold or silver. Or leave the jewellery behind. If you are traveling alone you don't need to be marked as someone who has items of value. I had a friend who took day travel clothing that was well worn in order to look ordinary, so ordinary that a thief would not give her a second look. This is also good advice when returning to your home country. Look so ordinary that the customs officials won't give you a second thought.
  • 1 shawl or large rectangular fringed scarf (this is a multi-purpose item - a blanket on the plane or train, for modesty instead of a bathrobe, for cool temperatures).
  • Retractable umbrella
  • Swimsuit - don't bother unless you know you are staying in hotels with a pool
Before you leave this blog you might want to also check two previous posts I wrote about business and tourist travel to Asia and  packing. When it comes to wardrobe basics and packing, some things are universal and you can always adapt the advice given to your situation.


  1. Great advice! Thanks for another well thought out post!

  2. Thanks for sharing some thoughts. ^^ Its' very important to know what's the trend of each place to refrain violation or something.

    1. This is not so much violating a trend but I thought it appropriate in response to your comment. I had mentioned not to expect running a washing machine just for a few items of clothing. Another water consideration, not specific to clothing, I learned in France was what I call the European shower - when you get into the shower: wet yourself down, turn the faucet off, lather up, shampoo and now turn the faucet back on and rinse. This saves water and shows that you are aware and considerate of your host.


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