When most people travel they want to bring everything but the kitchen sink. For a domestic road trip, that may work if your car is big enough. However, when traveling overseas, packing too much stuff is inconvenient and cumbersome. In the US, everything is big; cars, houses, hotel rooms, bathrooms/WCs. Everywhere else, not so much.
I recently read some reviews on an Airbnb apartment. The complaint was that the unit lacked an elevator and the luggage was too heavy and bulky to carry to the 2nd floor. Also, the unit was too small to house all the traveler’s luggage. This is a prime example to pack light. I promise, you don’t need everything.
Depending on how long the trip, packing is a combination of strategy, creativity and logistics. Basically, if you can streamline your luggage, you’ll have a much better experience. In some countries, some towns/cities were established 500 to 1000 years ago and some of those buildings still stand today. Keeping this in mind, people lived in more compact environments and now modern inhabitants just make it work. You may wind up staying in a quaint hotel or holiday let (Airbnb, Homeaway). Photos can be deceiving, so some hotel rooms/apartments will be quite small, with not much room for extra luggage. Also, the washrooms/WCs may be on the small size and will not provide enough room for the over-sized hairdryer or 3 cosmetic bags full of stuff you’ll never use.
My husband and I can go on holiday for 3 weeks and pack enough to accommodate one, 20-inch roller bag carry-on and 1 small backpack each. We do not check bags, which deems to be more cost effective due to the rising airline fees. It’s a safer bet when we have close connecting flights. Since we do travel to multiple destinations, it helps keep us organized and keeps us moving.
Speaking of flights, if you are taking a RyanAir flight through Europe, your carry-on luggage is limited and airline rules are enforced. They have specific regulations on bag size, so it’s always best to research the airline to find out their luggage policies.
If staying in one place during a trip, your luggage won’t have to move around with you. This works out for someone who packs more than is needed. If traveling to multiple destinations, it’s best to keep it simple because unless you’re filthy rich, no one will be carrying your luggage around except you. When taking trains or buses, it’s easy to store your luggage, but remember that you need to get it to the train station or bus station. If taxis or ride shares (Uber, Lyft) are not options, take luggage that’s easily mobile. Especially in Europe, because there are lots of stairs. I mean, LOTS OF STAIRS. Traveling by car also has its challenges.
When renting a car outside the US, the sheer size of the car may be smaller than what you are used to. Cars may seem more compact to maneuver the smaller (sometimes one-lane) roads. The trunk space for a “compact” car will be smaller than the huge trunk on your Honda Civic. Most rental companies provide a diagram of what will fit in the trunk space. Use this as a guide for packing because it is not safe to leave belongings in plain sight inside the car. Always keep belongings under cover (in trunk).
What to Pack?
When planning a trip, you may wonder about what to pack and then go into a panic. In keeping with the flow of my itinerary mentioned above, it’s best to make a list of what you may need. It may seem tedious, but it will keep you organized by having a visual aid to review. As you work through the list (and your closet), it will make it easier to fill in the blanks. It may be used as a checklist when packing and unpacking to ensure nothing is forgotten. Here’s an example of a high-level packing list you can use:
Click for High-level Packing List
This past year we took a multi-destination trip for 3 weeks and had to pack for different types of weather. First, there was Ireland for a few days, which is a bit colder, then down to the French Riviera for the remainder of the trip, which is warm and sunny. We made it work with our carry-on bag and small backpack each. We packed according to how long we would spend in each type of climate. I promise, you can wear jeans 3 or 4 times before they start to walk on their own.
Unless you are going to numerous formal events, keep it casual. In most countries, casual attire is the norm so it’s OK to blend into the crowd. For safety reasons, it’s a good idea to not stand out anyway. Limit packing a lot of jewelry or flashy items to help prevent any security confrontations. Go through your closet, use your checklist, plan for the weather, pack items that are easy to fold, roll, etc.
You don’t need 10 pairs of shoes. I do recommend bringing several pairs of comfortable shoes so you have options to switch into throughout the day to keep your feet happy. Happy Feet = Happy Traveler.
For security reasons, it’s helpful to make copies of everyone’s passports and pack in each bag just in case you need a new one outside your country. Also pack your insurance card and find out if any of your credit cards cover you in case something happens.
Remember to research what type of adapter you need to use electronics overseas. Don’t ever assume. I did when in Ireland for the first time, thinking they would have the same adapter as in the rest of Europe, yeah no.
When traveling outside the US in the summer months, some hotels/holiday lets may not have air conditioning. On top of that, some beds may still be dressed with heavy duvet comforters and NO TOP SHEETS. Unless you’re staying at a Hyatt or Hilton, it’s best to pack a flat full sheet (no lie) to make your sleep more comfortable.
We found this out quickly into our trip this past year. Most homes or hotels we stayed in didn’t have air conditioning and the beds were dressed with heavy duvet comforters and no top sheets. We winged it and just took the comforter out of the duvet and slept with the cover. If you don’t want to pack a small flat sheet, this is another option.
Again, by doing a little research on the country safety data, rental cars, hotels, airlines, country adapters, credit cards and insurance it will help give you a little peace of mind during the packing process. Now you should have enough information to complete the checklist even further. Here’s an example of a detailed packing list:
Click for Detailed Packing List
How to Pack?
Roll Roll Roll. I’ve made it a point to roll all of my clothes when packing. It’s amazing how much room you have by just rolling everything. And yes, all the stuff on the above list I can fit into a 20 inch rolling bag and small backpack, and then some. There’s a science behind it, just do it neatly and tightly for the best results. Don’t stuff your bag, if it doesn’t fit, reevaluate your packing list. Do you really need 4 purses? No. Besides, some airlines will weigh your luggage to determine whether or not it can be carried on. Always leave a little room for souvenirs and purchases.
If you need to check a bag, make sure that all medicines, passports, valuables, electronics, toiletries and a change of clothing are in your carry-on luggage to be on the safe side.
Find a good piece of luggage. There are types that have 4 spinning wheels nowadays that you can pick up at Target or TJ Maxx, like Samsonsite or SWISSGEAR for a fraction of the price as department stores. The dual wheel options are best. Test the luggage out. Spin it around and make sure it feels good. There’s nothing more annoying than a bad piece of luggage.
This past year I neglected to get a new carry-on bag and rolling it over too many cobblestone streets finally took its toll. My bag broke in the middle of our trip and my husband had to be tortured with lugging that thing around. I managed to rig it, but it was still terrible. Yes, I finally found an awesome bag at Target. Under $100 USD!
It is totally acceptable for men and women to carry small shoulder bags for daily use. Research some anti-theft bags online because thieves can actually steal your credit card data remotely now. I’ve researched a particular bag Travelon, where the zippers have extra fasteners to help prevent someone from being able to quietly unzip your bag and pick pocket you without notice. They come in different styles and colors and average about $50 USD.
Let’s get moving!