Packing for Europe like a pro

Okay folks, this post has been a long time coming. If you’ve been reading here for a bit, you know that I travel. A LOT. Whether it’s three months in Greece or ten days in Hawaii, I have packing smartly down to a science. My next trip departs in 5 days and I’ll be heading to London, Paris and Munich for 16 days before heading over to Greece for 5 glorious weeks. Regardless of where I go, my guiding principles are as follows:

1. Always bring less than you think you need. When you’re getting dressed on any given day, I bet you gravitate towards the same 5 or 6 outfits. They’re probably comfortable, stylish, don’t bunch or ride up, and you feel good in them. Your closet is probably filled with things that you love on the hanger (or wearing for 5 minutes), but that you ultimately reject for one reason or another. When narrowing down what to pack, do not bring anything that falls into this second category. I promise that if you don’t wear it at home, you’re not going to wear it abroad.

2. You can buy almost anything in a pinch and chances are that you will. If you forget ___________ or you decide you should have brought one more ____________, I can almost guarantee that –unless you’re hiking through Kenya– you can probably find what you’re looking for wherever you’re traveling to. The last time that I spent two months in Paris, I had to buy a second suitcase to bring back all of the cute and cheap clothes that I bought during my stay. With that in mind, I generally recommend that you actually bring less than you’ll wear if you know that you’re the kind of person who likes to shop.

Okay, now that we’ve established the ground rules. I always, always, always start off with a packing list. If it’s not on the list, it doesn’t get packed, plain and simple. This serves two purposes. It keeps me organized once I’m there (I bring a copy of my packing list with me) and it keeps me from adding “just one more thing” x 10. I should add that this is generally the amount of stuff that I bring whether I’m traveling for a week or three months. You can always find a laundry facility and the way that I see it, tracking down a laundermat or using the hotel washer is more convenient than hauling around a 60 lb. suitcase.

My Packing List

In your carry-on (if you are checking your bag): Wear your heaviest clothing/shoes

  • 1 change of clothes
  • 2 pairs of underwear
  • something to sleep in
  • Snacks
  • Meds
  • Entertainment (book/kindle/etc..)
  • Toiletries
  • Gum
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Passport (plus a copy of your passport!)
  • Camera (or phone for photos) + charger
  • Directions to hotel/route to get there

Ideally, you want to anticipate your bag getting lost, so include what you’d need to get you through the first couple of days. I’m not saying your bag will get lost, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. You know, the whole Murphy’s Law thing.

Medicines to bring (ALL TRAVEL SIZED):

  • Imodium AD (or similar antidiarrheal)
  • Gas-X
  • Stool softener
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Antihistamine (Benadryl, Claritin,…)
  • Tylenol, Advil, etc…
  • Bandaids, Neosporin
  • Cold meds – NyQuil, DayQuil,…
  • Melatonin
  • Z-pack or other antibiotic from your dr.

Can you easily find a pharmacy in the country you’re visiting? Probably. Do you want to try and find it if you’re feverish or have diarrhea? Probably not. I bring everything on the list above for every trip and I can guarantee you that I’ve used all of it at one time or another.

Toiletries to bring (ALL TRAVEL SIZED):

  • Contact solution/case
  • Feminine products
  • Toothbrush/paste
  • Shampoo
  • Soap
  • Hairbrush

CONVERTOR for whatever country you’re visiting. UK is different from mainland Europe, which is different from Africa. (Also, if you’re bringing a hairdryer/hair straightener – be mindful that US outlets are 110 volts and international outlets are 220 volts. If your small appliances aren’t equipped to handle both, you’ll fry them unless you also get a transformer.

Clothes to Pack (this is typically a week’s worth):

  • 5 socks
  • 7 undies
  • 3 shorts or capris
  • 5 shirts/tanks/polo (combo of those)
  • 2 dresses that can be dressed up or down
  • 1 jeans (if you want to bring 2, wear one on the plane)
  • 1 Chacos/ flip flops
  • 1 comfortable walking/hiking shoes
  • 1 “medium weight jacket”
  • 1 fleece shirt/jacket
  • 1 rain coat and/or mini-umbrella
  • 3 pairs of jammies
  • bathing suit if appropriate

If you’re concerned about being photographed in the same clothes multiple times, bring decorative scarfs or a cardigan to switch up your looks. I promise you, if anyone overpacks, it’s in the clothes arena. My recommendation is to try on everything that you plan on bringing and to wear it for a full day. If it’s uncomfortable for any reason whatsoever, don’t bring it. I know that a lot of people will say, “But Cyn, I like to have options.” To which I respond: you’re on the trip of a lifetime, I promise that you won’t care one lick what you’re wearing once you’re actually there.

Are you still with me? Okay, onto the next category: how to pack it and what to pack it in. I have a very specific system for packing and it involved heavy-duty gallon sized Ziploc bags. Here’s what I do:


I lay out all of the clothes that I’m bringing and I separate them by type: dresses, shorts, shirts, jammies, etc… Then, I fold them neatly lengthwise and roll them up as tightly as I can manage. I should add that I typically only bring lighter types of fabrics specifically for this reason. Once it’s rolled up, I neatly put it in the bottom of the Ziploc bag. I do this for as many things as I can fit into one bag and still get it closed (I got all 5 shirts in one bag). Then, I zip the bag 3/4 closed before sitting on it to get all of the air out. While I’m sitting on it, I zip it the rest of the way. This way, I’m left with a neat stack of bags instead of a pile of clothes. I can see clearly what I have and I can grab just those items instead of having to dig through everything to find something.


Let me add a note here about shoes. I, under no circumstances, bring more than 4 pairs of shoes. I typically bring my Teva wedges–which look like dressy sandals–, my Merrell low-top hiking boots (very well broken in), Frye flats, and a pair of flip flops. Now, if I was going to bring a big pair of shoes like boots, I would plan on wearing them both on the plane and on travel days between countries. They’d never get packed because they take up waaaay too much space. All of the shoes you bring should be well worn prior to your departure. Trust me here, you do not want to bring shoes that you have not tested over an 8 hour day. My cut off for buying new shoes is one month before departure and then I wear them for a couple of hours every day. There is nothing more agonizing than painful feet when you’re traveling.

Now that  I have my clothes situated. I need to decide what to pack them in. It may seem unconventional to a lot of Americans, but I always pack in a hiking backpack even if I’m not technically backpacking and here’s why – the vast majority of places that I travel to have public transport and uneven roads. If you bring a 50 lb. rolling suitcase, plan on taking a taxi from the airport to your hotel and back again because let me tell you, the Paris Metro and the London Tube were not designed with large suitcases in mind. As a result, they often do not have elevators conveniently located. What that means is that you may find yourself hauling your luggage up and down many flights of stairs (or as my friend, Meg, did in Paris, simply hurling it down the stairs).

Also, it’s just plain easier to navigate a city when your hands are free. And my final sales pitch for getting a backpack (because if I’m doing it, I think everyone else should be, too) is that having to carry your stuff on your back is probably the best inducement of all to stick to your packing list.

I have used a number of backpacks over the last 20 years and I have finally found one (after many, many months of research) that might just be the best travel backpack ever made. Oh yeah, this is NOT a sponsored post, I just love everything about this backpack. Okay, back to business. Meet my Vaude Cimone 45+10 (for a total of 55 liters of space):


Hey look, a Lexi cameo!


Let me quickly walk you through the features. First and foremost, it is an organizational dream! The worst thing about the typical backpack is that you can’t find anything or get to anything once it’s packed. Not so with this Vaude. Check it.

Here’s the very front pocket:




Immediately behind that from pocket is a zipper that gives you access to a separate compartment. I use this for shoes, belts and accessories, but it could also easily be used for laundry. If you don’t need the separate compartment, you just simply unzip that orange zipper and it’s a separate compartment no longer.



You can stuff the main compartment from the top:




Or, you can also access the main compartment by a zippered panel in the front. *Sorry for the blurry photo – I was in a rush to snap these shots and had a child hanging on my leg*



There are also two exterior zippers for things that you might need to have quicker access to.



While you’re wearing the pack, you can access two zippered side pockets on the hip strap that can hold your phone or money:


Also on the exterior of the bag are two water bottle pockets. I keep water in one and an empty coffee Thermos in the other so that I can get a cup of joe at my earliest convenience.


As if all of that wasn’t enough, here is what really sold me on this bag. The top detaches….and becomes a hanging toiletry bag.


I kid you not. Is that not the coolest and most useful feature that you have ever seen? I’m seriously in love with this bag. Here’s me wearing it, shot courtesy of the Irishman (who also had a child sitting on him).


The backpack is adjustable based on your height and while it looks fairly compact on me, keep in mind that I’m 5’11”. With that said, with a properly fitted pack, I could carry 40 lbs. all day long because the weight is distributed evenly between your hips and your shoulders.

Now then, for my final words of wisdom. Whatever suitcase/backpack you bring, do not pack it to the gills. It will just be harder to repack and you won’t have any room for souvenirs. Pack it about 3/4 full and you’ll be good to go.

I’m happy to answer any and all questions you might have!


*PS – pardon any typos. I wrote this furiously, but wanted to make sure I got it written up as I know a number of you are looking for guidance for your upcoming trips. As always, thanks for stopping by and reading.