What to Pack and Wear in Europe this Summer

As a follow-up to last year’s post When in Europe… What to Wear, I thought now would be the appropriate time to post a follow-up on what worked and what didn’t work for us on our trip to Italy last May.  For those of you ready to head out this summer for an awesome European adventure, this post is for you!

I want to start by dispelling one travel myth when it comes to packing for Europe.  And yes, this goes against most of what you have read, but I’m going to state it proudly and boldly anyway.  You do not need to fit two weeks of travel into carryon luggage. 

Other well-seasoned travelers are gasping!  “But how will you ever lug your baggage from city-to-city or up flights of stairs when there’s no elevator?”  We travelled to Italy before I jumped back on the fitness train (15 pounds ago I’d like to add…).  I was overweight and out of shape, but had no issue wheeling a suitcase over uneven sidewalks or carrying it up a flight of stairs or two.  Neither did Mrs. G.

“But you’ll stick out like a sore thumb!  You have to blend in!”  Wrong!  I looked around on the trains and saw plenty of people with full sized suitcases.  Do you know who they were?  Europeans.  The only fools with hiker’s backpacks or single carry-ons were American tourists.  If you really want to blend in, you’ll use your full-size suitcase.

Below is a list of what the two of us packed, what worked, and what didn’t work.

Our Luggage for Europe

Our Luggage for Europe

Luggage

  • Two Standard Full-size Suitcases – His and hers, you might call them.  This goes against convention, I know.  But when I’m on vacation, I like to be comfortable, and I’ll be damned sure I’m not doing laundry.
  • Pacsafe Slingbag – I know men, it’s a murse.  But you’re in Europe so the murse is trendy.  Wear a scarf around your neck, and they’ll speak to you in French!  Avoid day bags, camera bags, or backpacks while sightseeing.  First, large bags aren’t permitted in many churches or museums so you’ll have to wait in a long line when entering and exiting to check it.  Second, they are too easy to rip off.  I used the Pacsafe VentureSafe 300 GII.  It fit all my essentials, including my large camera.  It’s safe, it’s small, and it helped me style like a European.
  • TravelOn Purse – Ladies, leave the Coach purse at home unless you never want to see it again.  Mrs. G. wore a fashionable secure purse by TravelOn Luggage Anti-Theft Cross-Body Bag.  It held the essentials and is darn near impossible to rob.
  • Compression Bags – Another essential.  You are going to buy souvenirs and add them to that already filled suitcase.  Make room with compression bags.
  • Collapsible Duffel – If you plan to purchase a lot of souvenirs, a collapsible duffle will carry the overflow from your suitcase.  Collapsible duffels tightly pack into your suitcase on the way to Europe and double as a carryon or checked luggage on the way home.
  • Backpack – As I mentioned above, do not bring a backpack sightseeing.  We brought ours only for air or train travel.  On my next trip I won’t bring a backpack at all.  I found it to be bulky with too many compartments and straps to keep track of.   Instead, we’ll try to consolidate into the suitcases, purse, and murse.

Gadgets

  • Travel Scale – This is essential!  Don’t second guess the weight of your suitcases.  It will only cost you time redistributing items at the airport or money to pay the fees for overweight luggage. (You may even miss a flight like Mrs. G. did on the way home from Lithuania.)
  • Kindle – Prior to leaving for Europe, we each loaded our Kindles for the long flights and train rides.  Kindles help consolidate space and weight by leaving books, newspapers or magazines at home.
  • Cell Phone – Only one cell phone between the two of us made the trip as they are expensive to replace if stolen.  It was turned on for international roaming before we left and was to be used for emergency purposes only – no calls home and no web surfing on the go.  We weren’t in Europe to talk on the phone.  We did find having the phone useful though in Venice.  Free Wifi is found throughout the city.  With data on our phone turned off, the free Wifi helped us use the phone’s maps to navigate the city.
  • Tablet – A tablet is a great substitute to a laptop as it is lighter and does all the same things.  We used our Samsung Galaxy to plot our days, find restaurants, make online reservations, and play games on flights and trains.  I also posted a blog or two on the go.
  • Compact Camera System– My SIL helped me think out of the box on this one.  A compact camera system is a cross between point-and-shoot and a DSLR.  For my purposes, the Samsung NX2000 we purchased was perfect!  It’s not bulky or heavy, and it took better photos than a point-and-shoot.  I’m an amateur photographer at best, but check out the photos here, here, and here.  (Hint, if you’re not that into taking photos at all, leave the camera.  Just use your cell phone.  Most have a better camera than point-and-shoots anyway.)

His Clothing – When packing clothes I bring a few items that are still wearable but on the way to Goodwill to leave behind and make room for souvenirs.

  • Sunglasses
  • 5 Plain Colored T-shirts – I’m American, and I like my t-shirts.  However, printed t-shirts are tacky in Europe.  Plain colored t-shirts blend in fine.  Three of my five were black.  (For regular blog followers that notice I wear a black t-shirt in most photos, I don’t just wear the same shirt over-and-over. I have a drawer full of plain black t-shirts.)
  • Newsboy Hat
  • Baseball Cap
  • 7 Polo Shirts – Five were regular fashion polos.  Two were breathable Champion polos – great for hot days!
  • 2 Long Sleeve Dress Shirts
  • 2 Short Sleeve Button Down Shirts
  • 2 Sweaters / Pullovers – If you go in the heat of the summer and are visiting mostly Southern Europe, you may not need these.  (Hint, one of these should be a leave behind as sweaters are bulky.)
  • 2 Pairs of Shorts – One dress and one cargo.  You may bring more depending on when and where you are going.  Please don’t bring jorts.  Those aren’t even acceptable back home.
  • Dress Pants – I brought them and didn’t wear them.  Leave them behind unless you are dining with James Bond or royalty or are in France (I hear they are very pretentious there).
  • 3 Pairs of Jeans – Again, adjust your shorts / pants mix depending on when and where you are going.  We went in May so temperatures weren’t quite as hot yet.
  • Breathable Khakis – On a suggestions from last year’s post, I bought a pair of Champion C9 breathable khakis in light tan.  I looked like a dork in them.  Find a darker color and don’t look like a dork.
  • Birkenstock Sandals – Trust me that these are worth the money.  I prefer them to my sneakers when sightseeing.
  • Bowling Style Shoes – Notice I didn’t say sneakers.  You will leave those behind unless you are a workout freak (Who works out on vacation anyway?).  I suggest shopping for more comfort friendly bowling style shoes like Sketchers.  Mine were more of a fashion brand that weren’t very uncomfortable.
  • Dress shoes – If you don’t plan to eat at five star restaurants or attend the theatre, then leave these behind.
  • One Belt – Coordinate the color of your shoes to the belt.  This is a suggestion for life and not just for Europe.  A black belt with brown shoes looks dumb.  Don’t look dumb.
  • Packable Raincoat – Find something that compacts into a pouch for stuffing into your sling bag.  Columbia makes a few options.  This will be the ONLY jacket that you need.
Mr. G. rocking the newboy, Birkenstocks, packable rain jacket, and PacSafe murse

Mr. G. rocking the newboys cap, Birkenstocks, packable rain jacket, and PacSafe murse at the Roman Foum

Her Clothing– Please welcome to the blog as a writer for the first time ever Mrs. G.!

  • Sunglasses – If you’re anything like me, make them cheap sunglasses.  You won’t be nearly as upset when you lose them!
  • 11 Short Sleeve/Sleeveless Shirts – I packed a mixture of causal to semi dressy, light weight to heavy shirts.  Your mix depend on the climate and time of year you plan to go.  The lighter weight shirts were easier to wash and dry in the hotel room (I’m not as opposed to laundry as Mr. G.), so I suggest bringing less of those.
  • Light Weight Short Sleeve Cardigan – This is a must.  Most churches require women to cover-up exposed shoulders.  A simple cardigan does the trick!   It’s also great for cooler nights.
  • 3 Mid-Calf Length Skirts – I know, your husband will be disappointed, but most churches will not let you in unless the bottom of the skirt reaches your knees
  • 2 Casual Dresses
  • Capris –One black and one kaki.
  • Fashion Scarf – Nothing says Europe like a scarf…  Added fun, buy the scarf there!
  • 2 Light Sweatshirts / Sweaters
  • 2 Pairs of Jeans – Alter your blend of jeans to capris / skirts depending on when and where you are going.
  • Birkenstock Sandals – When Mr. G. first suggested I buy a pair, I scoffed at the price.  I could buy at least 4 pairs of shoes off a sale rack for the cost of a pair of Birks.  He insisted, and I was thankful.  You can truly walk all day long in a pair of Birks!  I do suggest wearing them around the house a few days before heading out for an all-day adventure as they can be stiff at first.  I know what you’re thinking ladies, “Birks are ugly!”  Check out their Papillio line.  A little splash of color goes a long way to making Birks prettier.
  • Bowling Style Shoes – I bought a pair of Dr. Scholls before leaving.  They were somewhat trendy and very comfortable.
  • 2 pairs of Comfy Flats – As you can tell, I like my shoes.  For flats, I packed a pair of black and a pair of beige.  I could walk around in these all day and my feet still felt great.
  • Packable Raincoat – See Mr. G.’s note above for men.  If it’s colder you can always layer with a warmer sweatshirt.
Mrs. G. grubbin' on some gelato with her cardigan and TravelOn purse.  Oh so stylish!

Mrs. G. grubbin’ on some gelato with her cardigan, cheap sunglasses and TravelOn purse. Oh so stylish!

Miscellaneous

  • Guidebooks – We like Frommer’s Day By Day Guides for big cities.  They are small and compactable.  For larger guidebooks, heed the advice of Steve Ricks (or is it Rick Steves?) and don’t take the entire guidebook.  Rip out the sections you need for your trip and leave the rest behind.  For all guidebooks, these are items your will leave behind in Europe to make room for souvenirs.
  • Essential Toiletries – Things that you can find in most hotel rooms like soap and shampoo you don’t need to pack.
  • Power Converters – Their plugs aren’t like ours.  Buy a universal converter that can be used on future trips.

THINGS YOU DON’T NEED TO BRING!!!

  • Outdoor Activity Gear – Rent it there if you find yourself in need of waders, scuba gear, snorkels, etc.
  • Sunscreen – Unless you are super fair skinned, I recommend leaving sunscreen behind.  Once in Europe, if the sun is bothering you, buy some!
  • Bug Spray – If you need, buy it there.
  • Umbrella – If you need, buy it there, but your raincoat should suffice.

Soooooooo…..  what did I miss?  What questions do you have?

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Author: Bryan

The Wandering Gourmand

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8 Comments

  1. Yep, a scarf is the MUST have Euro accessory!! Doesn’t matter how hot it is outside, you must wear a scarf!! And I ALWAYS pack sunscreen . . . my people are Nordic . . . it’s a MUST!

    Post a Reply
    • And the scarf just isn’t an accessory for women. Men wear them, too! Although, while I was willing to sport the murse, the scarf was a bit much for.

      The sunscreen is more of a person-by-person call. If there’s not beach or laying out for me, I don’t need. My spaghetti sauce Italian blood keeps me from burning too much.

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  2. On the guidebooks, I prefer downloading the mobile version. Less space in the bag and you can take a screenshot(s) and use apps to make notes.

    Post a Reply
    • How do you reference them while on a walking tour? Your phone, tablet computer, smart phone, some other device I’m not thinking of? Or do you just have a wicked good memory? I’m going with the memory because you’re smart.

      Post a Reply
  3. I travel with only a carry on and I’m not sure I’m a fool. I like the convenience and the fact that the airlines can’t lose my luggage (sometimes for days at a time). I have plenty of outfits to wear. I rarely need to do my laundry (send it out once a week). Any little bits I do when I’m taking my shower – it’s dry and ready to go in the morning. I ship my big souvenirs home so I don’t have to deal with customs. In the end it comes down to personal choice.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for the comment! I enjoy the dissenting opinion. That’s why I leave my comments open and un-moderated. I want readers to hear both sides of the story. This is why I made such a big deal of not using just carryon luggage – I can’t recall a single travel site that suggests using full-size baggage that needs checked when travelling to Europe. I’m telling the other side of the story.

      It’s really in how one defines convenience. Convenience to me is not having to worry about washing clothes, sending the clothes out, or washing them in the shower. Convenience to me is having it all at the ready when I need it. Besides, I’m on vacation partly to escape the chores of life at home.

      Also, I want to point out to readers to consult their travel budgets when making the decision. How much does checking luggage cost them? (Disclaimer here – we both have airline status due to our work travels so we don’t pay to check luggage.) How much will it cost to send out laundry from your hotel (call ahead to find out)? How much does it cost to ship home souvenirs (usps.com can help figure out costs)?

      Post a Reply
  4. i love seeing other people’s packing lists. good post. i did laugh at the 3 pair of jeans, but i am more of a rick steves disciple.

    and sunscreen has to be on anyone’s list. extended sun exposure on unprotected skin during a sightseeing heavy trip is not a good idea!

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