What to Take When You Travel to Europe

Understanding how to pack for your trip and optimize your suitcase can make a big difference in how smoothly your whole trip goes. Pack too much, and you’ll be struggling with a heavy suitcase getting on and off trains and in and out of hotels. Pack too little, and you’ll find yourself wearing the same clothes over and over again, and shopping for essentials in unfamiliar stores. Finding the right balance is essential. Doing a good job with your trip preparations will ensure that your days of travel will be comfortable and hassle-free.

Think of packing as preparing to perform all necessary functions during your trip. Anticipate what you will need to be able to do, and take whatever you will need to be able to do it.

12 Critical Functions to be ready to perform

#1: TRANSPORT YOUR BAGS YOURSELF

Take checked and carry-on bags that meet airline standards, are light-weight when empty, and have 360°-spinner wheels for easy lifting and pulling.

#2: PACK, UNPACK & REPACK EFFICIENTLY

Use a packing system that maximizes space, minimizes time to unpack and repack and prevents wrinkles. Assign a case to each category of item.

#3: ADAPT TO WEATHER & WALKING

Carry clothing for warm and cool, sunny and rainy weather. Take comfortable, cushioned shoes to be ready to walk miles each day.

#4: READILY ACCESS TRIP DOCUMENTS

Organize tickets, accommodation contact info, reservations, maps and Day Pages into plastic folders. Bring an envelope for receipts. 

#5: MANAGE & HANDLE MONEY & PASSPORTS

Safely carry passports, credit/debit cards and cash. Know currency conversions. Be ready to access more cash when needed.

#6: Use phones and electronics abroad

Be prepared to make calls and use essential phone apps (maps, Internet and translators). Take power adapters that work in Europe.

#7: Carry what you need with you as you set out each day

Take a day pack that is light enough to carry with you every day, packed with umbrella, water, Day Pages, phone, camera, tickets and vouchers, sunhat.

#8: STAY HEALTHY FOR THE DURATION OF YOUR TRIP

Arm yourself with items to handle any physical challenge and prevent lost days. Band-Aids, Tums, Metamucil, sun block, decongestant, Advil.

#9: SHIP HOME THE WEIGHT & MAKE ROOM

Take tape and labels to pack and ship boxes home to keep down the weight. Make room as you need it so you can bring home gifts and treasures.

#10: CAPTURE YOUR TRIP MEMORIES

Pack a camera (or iPhone) and a journal to record your trip. Bring extra memory cards for pictures. Learn enough to take great pictures.

#11: Be Prepared for Picnics & Markets

Visit an outdoor market for bread, cheese, wine, strawberries & whatever else strikes your fancy. Gather these into a delectable picnic.

#12: Do Your Mid-trip Laundry Like a Travel Pro

Magically pull from your suitcase (packed into a designated packing cube) everything you need to do your laundry. And it’s all pretty simple…

Best Luggage for Your Trip

Light-Weight 4-wheel, 360ᵒ CHECKED BAG

Checking your first suitcase is typically free for international travel, so take advantage of this by checking one bag. Checked bags are limited to 62 inches total (length, plus width, plus height). For example, a bag that is 27″L by 21″W by 14″H adds up to a total of 62 inches (27+21+14=62).

The weight limit for checked bags is 50 pounds. Any bag that exceeds these limits will incur steep “overage” fees. Standards may vary slightly between airlines, so confirm restrictions for the airline you book when you get your tickets.

Light-Weight 4-wheel, 360ᵒ Carry-On

Carry-on suitcases are limited to 45 inches total (length, plus width, plus height). For example, a 22”L by 14”W by 9”H bag totals 45 inches (22+14+9=45). Most airlines post a 50-pound weight limit for carry-on bags, but they don’t typically weigh these bags to enforce the limit.

Airport security in both the USA and Europe, restrict the quantity of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes you are allowed to carry into the cabin in your carry-on bag (or your personal item). The cutoff is 100 milliliters, equivalent to 3.4 ounces.

CROSS-BODY PERSONAL ITEM

You also are allowed a book bag, large purse, or satchel as your “personal item” to keep under the seat in front of you. Use this bag for items you may need to access during your flight, such as:

  • passport and driver’s license,
  • cell phone and battery charger,
  • tablet or computer, book or magazines,
  • special medications and Melatonin (to prevent jetlag),
  • neck pillow, eye mask and earplugs, personal earphones.

Luggage Scale

The weight limit for checked bags is 50 pounds. If your bag exceeds this limit, you will pay a steep “overage” fee. Standards may vary between airlines, so confirm the restrictions for your airline when you book.

You absolutely do not want to discover at check-in that one or more of your checked bags is overweight. This could cost you major money and frustration. Keep a luggage scale in the outside pocket of your carry-on and use before you head for the airport. Shift items among your bags so none of your checked bags is overweight.

Distinctive Tags to ID Luggage

You would think that people would be careful when they’re reclaiming their bags. But there are hair-raising travel tales where another traveler just grabbed a black bag and walked off without checking to make sure it was theirs. And then there you are without your own belongings.

Make sure to use luggage tags that are distinctive and that you can spot easily. The tag needs to securely fasten to the outside of your bag. Place a second tag inside your bag in case the outer one comes off.

Luggage Strap

Use luggage straps to secure your checked bags both vertically and horizontally for maximum protection in transit.

These inexpensive items also will make your luggage easier to identify at baggage claim. And they will give you another location to place your ID tag information. Use straps that can be snapped together to prevent slippage.

Baggage Bungee

As you maneuver around the airport after checking in, you will have in tow your carry-on and your personal item. If your personal item is not a backpack, save yourself the hazard of having your top bag slide off your carry-on. This is especially dangerous when you are riding escalators or moving sidewalks.

A bag bungee is an inexpensive item that connects your bags together so you can pull them all securely through airports, train stations, city streets and hotel lobbies.

Passport Portfolio

You only need to watch one frantic traveler scrambling to locate their passport or train tickets to be fully convinced that you do not want this ever to happen to you. And it won’t. Because you’re going to be systematic and organized, with a designated spot for your passports. You will never need to search for them desperately, because they will always, and we mean always, be in that exact same place–your passport portfolio.

Form this habit: whenever you take your passport out do not leave the area until after you have put it back in its designated spot in your passport portfolio.

Personal Water Bottle

Staying hydrated during flights and throughout your trip is highly critical to your health and well-being. So use a personal water bottle and always have it with you.

Empty your bottle before going through security and refill it on the other side. Make sure your bottle is full before you board, and drink water continuously throughout your flight. Dehydration during flights is the reason many people fall ill during trips. Your immune system needs hydration, and the inside of an airplane is dry like a desert.

In-Flight Necessities

FOLD-FLAT HEADPHONES FOR MOVIES

Yes, the stewards and stewardesses will come around with little earphones that you can purchase for $5 or so. But they are uncomfortable over time. You’ll be better off having your own comfortable, fold-flat headphones so you can make it through one or 2 movies before you go to sleep.

TABLET OR BOOK

If you have been holding off purchasing a tablet, now may be the time to make your move. Not all flights offer entertainment stations, so its best to have your own plan.  Prices have come way down, so go for the 10 inch HD, 1080 pixel Kindle Fire for a large enough screen to watch movies. The 10-hour battery life will be more than enough. Also purchase a cover that doubles as a stand.

COMFY NECK PILLOW

If you don’t make your living as a contortionist, sleeping on a plane will be a challenge. And it is very important to get as much sleep as possible as you zip across the Atlantic.  You may be assigned a small, flat pillow, but good luck with that. Plan to take your own compact pillow that transforms into something that is actually comfortable.

MULTI-PURPOSE WRAP

You will frequently discover a deed for a multipurpose wrap, and it would be good to have it along on the plane as well as on other occasions during your trip. If you get cold during the flight, it can be your blanket. Later, you can use it as a picnic blanket, or to sit out on the balcony sipping coffee in the morning in total comfort.

Select a wrap that is lightweight and soft, not scratchy. Look for one with at least some cashmere content for ultimate comfort. And make sure that it is large when spread out, at least 79″ long and 28″ wide.

MELATONIN TO AVOID JETLAG

Jet lag can be a problem during international travel. But it doesn’t need to be! And you won’t want to waste the first few days of your trip in a sleep-deprived stupor. So here’s the challenge. Your body clock will not understand when it’s time to go to sleep in your new upcoming time zone when it isn’t time yet to go to sleep at home.

As you cross the Atlantic, time is not only ticking away, but also jumping ahead. When you arrive, it already will be morning. So reset your clock NOW where 6 PM is already midnight. Pack up your movie and book by 7-ish at the latest and TAKE A MELATONIN to tell your body it is time for sleep. Continue to take Melatonin at bedtime for the next few nights until your body adjusts.

SLEEP MASK AND EAR PLUGS

As you cozy up for the best night’s sleep you can manage, recognize that you will be surrounded by hundreds of other people. Some of them will watch movies all night. Some will leave their book lights on. Babies will cry. People will snore. Your task will be to block out all of this as best you can so you can sleep as comfortably as possible. Taking melatonin will help. But also plan to have along earplugs and a sleep mask to create your own little sleep cocoon.

Not all sleep masks are created equal. Make sure that yours is comfortable and soft, with a nose-wing design to effectively block out light. Breathable cotton beats polyester.

Keeping Everything in Order

Packing Folders & Cubes

Each packing folder holds between 8-12 shirts or pants, with a folding board so your clothes stay wrinkle free when compressed. Plan to use one folder for tops or shirts and another for pants or skirts. Possibly assign each of these to a different color folder. Use an assigned zippered, mesh-top cube for each category of other items… undies, belts, scarves, power cords.

Now comes the good part. When you arrive in your accommodations, pull out your folders and stick them in a drawer. Use what you need as you need it. Then just repack whatever you’ve taken out, close up folder, and stick it in your suitcase and you’re good to go. Do the same with the cubes. Your packing will be done in no time, and you can get on to having fun.

Hanging Toiletries Bag

Don’t assume that you will have a lot of counter space in European bathrooms. And keep in mind, that you will be sharing that space with your travel partner, and counters can get wet.

Your all-important toiletries bag, filled with prescriptions and other necessities, will be best handled if you can hang it up on arrival, then repack and fold it up when you are ready to leave. Keep it slim, and lightweight. But select one that has enough space for everything you need to take along.

 

Cords, Memory Cards & Cables

Okay, here’s the deal. You can spend the next week or so perpetually searching for cables, memory cards and charging cords, or you can designate a container for them to begin with and always keep them in that container. Then you’ll never need to look for them, because you will always know where they are. This may seem trivial in some ways, but it will become incredibly important when you are in the middle of your trip and don’t want to waste time or energy or frustration.

Pick a container that is easily recognizable so you’ll always know where to look for your essential wires and plugs. Then use it religiously, so you will never need to waste time digging down into the depths of your suitcase to find something small and inconspicuous that you need desperately.

Day Pages Folders

You will be taking on your trip, hopefully, a set of Day Pages that will guide you each day so you will know exactly where to go, how to get there, when and where to eat, and other essentials. Of course, you will have adapted these Day Pages to your own liking. And you may make additional changes as your trip evolves. But the idea is to take these pages with you each day so you will have everything in hand to make your day go smoothly.

Plan to use a Day Page system where today’s pages travel with you in your day pack, upcoming Day Pages live in a designated folder and past Day Pages are set aside into a different folder.

Cash, Change & Cards

On a trip to Europe, you will have multiple types of money to deal with. You will have purchased a startup set of euros before your trip to be ready to engage the minute you arrive. Put these bills in your Passport Portfolio for now. Swap the euros to your wallet and your own currency to your Passport Portfolio during your flight. Make this swap in reverse as you head home. It’s best to make this transition in a calm place, not in the middle of an airport terminal or train station.

You’ll need a coin purse to handle the massive amounts of euro change you will begin to gather. The smallest euro bill is a €5 note. Everything else is handled as coins.

Budget-Management Kit

Take along a journal and a receipt folder so you can keep track of where you are in your budget. Balancing the budget will be a simple matter of alternating splurges with fun economies like picnics.

When you have a day where you spent too little, you will know to ease up a bit the next day. And visa versa.