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Packing Tips and Tricks

Updated: September 2022 – by David & Charlotte McGuffin, Dawnielle Jacobson, Audra Dupuis and Natalie Kelly

Packing can sometimes be the worst part of a trip: spending too much time deciding what to take and then regretting bringing too much. Here are some packing tips, travel “hacks” and a few suggested packing lists to help you pack quickly and efficiently and get on with enjoying your trip.

My number one tip

RobertaKellySuitcasePack light! I usually travel with one carry-on suitcase (9x14x20) and a small backpack (This may seem impossible, but all you have to do is follow the tips in this blog). On my group tours, everyone has to lug their bag around, over uneven cobblestone streets, and up several flights of stairs. Don’t make yourself miserable by bringing an oversized bag. As a bonus, bringing a carry-on means you can be sure that your bag will show up at your final destination. If your checked bag doesn’t make it on the plane, it may take several days for your bag to catch up with you, especially if you are on tour. Check with your airline for carry-on size restrictions and measure the bag yourself (wheels included).

If you’re worried about having room for souvenirs, consider packing a duffle or foldable bag in your suitcase to check on the way home.

What type of clothing to pack for Europe

Bring comfortable clothing. There is no need to buy a new travel wardrobe. Make sure you have comfortable walking shoes that are travel tested.

Pack items that can be layered for the varied climates. Sweaters or a light jacket should suffice, except for winter travel. Jeans, pants, and skirts are fine.  In recent years, Europeans living south of the Alps and in hot climates wear shorts much more often. 

Years ago, I’d suggest no shorts, but that has changed.  I wear shorts in Greece, Spain, Italy, and at the seaside.  In the summer, I pack one pair of shorts that can do double duty for jogging/exercise and swimming and one pair of very lightweight cargo shorts.  I also bring a pair of jeans and a two pair pair of lightweight slacks.  

Bring shirts and blouses that can be mixed and matched so you can make multiple outfits out of a few staple items. For an extended stay, you can also wash items in your bathroom sink or go to a laundromat if needed.

Most European churches require respectful dress; knees and shoulders must be covered. Make sure you plan for those days or bring a scarf or shawl to cover your arms.

Making it fit

Pick out your clothes, shoes, and accessories for the trip. Then put a third of it back. Most people are over-packers. Put back the shoes that look nice but are not warm or comfy. Put back that “just in case” outfit. All makeup should fit in one little sandwich baggie. Pick your favorite makeup look and only pack the stuff for that.

Most hotels have a hair dryer, but they usually are less powerful than what we are accustomed to at home, so you might consider bringing a small travel-sized blow dryer.  Do yourself a favor and go out and purchase an inexpensive dual voltage (120/240 VAC) blow dryer from Target or Walmart.  These usually sell for less than $20.  A bonus is you’ll not need a voltage converter to use it, just a wall socket adapter.

Plan to wear the bulkiest items on the plane.  Wear your biggest pair of shoes, your thickest scarf, maybe a sweater, and your coat.  You can remove these items as soon as you board, but this will free up space in your bag.

Roll your clothes. This is a big space saver. If you are pressed for space, you can put your clothes in gallon Ziploc bags and push the air out as you seal them. Consider filling bags by outfit so your luggage is well organized and you don’t have to search for things.

Fill your shoes (and bras) with socks and underwear to use every available space.

Don’t wait until the last minute to pack. Give yourself time to make sure it all fits and that your bag won’t be too heavy for you.

A few more packing tips

  • Put dryer bounce sheets in between your clothes to keep them smelling fresh
  • Pack the heaviest items in the bottom of your suitcase (by the wheels) so that it is easy to roll
  • Use a contact case to store liquid makeup, like foundation.
  • Keep powder makeup from breaking by putting a cotton ball or pad in the compact
  • Use a pill case to separate jewelry
  • Put your shoes in a shower cap or plastic grocery bag to contain any dirt
  • Roll up your belt and put it in the collar of a dress shirt to keep the collar stiff
  • Use an old glasses case to store your chargers and/or headphones so they don’t get tangled.
  • To prevent liquids from spilling, unscrew the lid, cover with a small piece of plastic wrap and then screw the lid back on
  • Use a large binder clip to cover your razor, or bring a few disposable razors.
  • Store cotton swabs in an old medicine bottle.

Winter travel tips

If you are traveling in the winter, make sure you are prepared for the “worst” weather. You will probably encounter snow and ice. The sun reflects off the snow, so don’t forget sunscreen and sunglasses. Bring warm socks and shoes and clothing you can layer. Wear your heavy winter coat on the plane and stow it in the overhead bin. This will save a lot of space in your suitcase.

Charlotte and I use the following packing lists for winter travel:

Charlotte’s Winter Packing List

  • One Heavy Winter Coat – hip length or longer;
  • Gloves;
  • Earmuffs;
  • Several scarves for fashion and warmth;
  • At least one hat;
  • Small travel umbrella;
  • Boots/shoes that are comfortable, well broken-in, and travel-tested;
  • Thermal socks;
  • Five pairs of pants and/or jeans;
  • Long-sleeved fashion tee shirts;
  • Sweaters and Turtleneck shirts;
  • “Cuddle-duds” (long underwear) from JC Penney;
  • Underwear and bras for the trip’s duration.

David’s Winter Packing List

  • Hip-length wool pea coat;
  • Gloves;
  • Earmuffs;
  • Several scarves for fashion and warmth;
  • At least one hat;
  • Small travel umbrella;
  • One pair waterproof Gortex boots that are comfortable, well broken-in, and travel-tested;
  • three pairs of light-weight, moisture-wicking socks;
  • two pairs of pants and/or jeans;
  • Four moisture-wicking long-sleeved tee shirts;
  • Four long-sleeved cotton button-down shirts;
  • Two lightweight cashmere sweaters;
  • Underwear for the trip’s duration;
  • One pair of lightweight silk “long-johns.”

Packing List

Here are some additional packing suggestions, which can be adjusted based on the time of year.

The Essentials

  • Passport (valid at least six months beyond the end of your tour)
  • Debit/Credit cards (inform providers of your travel dates)
  • Insurance cards (just in case)
  • Driver’s license (as an extra ID)
  • Photocopies of the above (in case they are lost or stolen)
  • Medications (enough to last through the tour)
  • Travel insurance documents
  • Moneybelt (to keep your important documents safe)

Clothing

  • Underwear/Socks
  • Leggings/Tights
  • Shoes (well broken-in)
  • Pants/Skirts
  • Shirts
  • Sweaters
  • Light jacket
  • Pajamas
  • Scarf
  • Bathing suit

Winter Clothing

  • Thermal socks/Underwear
  • Boots
  • Heavy winter coat
  • Long-sleeved shirts
  • Gloves
  • Earmuffs/Hat
  • Scarves

For the Outdoors

  • Umbrella/Raincoat
  • Sunglasses/Hat
  • Chapstick/Sunscreen

Toiletries

  • Makeup/Hair products
  • Soap/Shampoo/Conditioner
  • Toothbrush/Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Brush/Comb
  • Additional items (Cotton swabs, nail clippers, tweezers, razors, hair ties, bandages, dental floss, etc.)

Other Items to Consider

  • Earplugs/Eye cover
  • Glasses/Contacts/Contact solution
  • Headache/Stomach ache/Motion sickness medication
  • Alarm/Watch
  • Camera/Memory cards/Charger
  • Batteries (and charger)
  • Phone/Charger
  • Tablet/E-reader/Charger
  • MP3 player/Charger
  • Adapter/Converter
  • Travel journal/Pens
  • Snacks for the plane
  • Foldable duffle/Tote bag (if you plan to buy many souvenirs)

Summary

With this information, I hope you are ready to grab that suitcase and start packing. Remember to pack light, bring appropriate attire for the location and the weather, don’t bring too much, and use your space efficiently. I hope you find my packing lists useful.

About the Author
If you found this article informative, please share it with your friends, family, coworkers, and associates. If you have something to add, just leave a comment in the box below. ------David McGuffin is Founder and CEO of David McGuffin’s Exploring Europe, Inc., based in Middleburg, Florida. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. David spends his time in Europe organizing and leading small-group and independent tours to European destinations. In business since 2001, David has provided exceptional travel opportunities to several thousand satisfied customers. You can find out more about David and his European tours at his website, http://davidmcguffin.com.

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