“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.”
—Edgar Allan Poe
So you’re packing for a trip to Europe and you’re wondering how do I even begin packing for such an adventure. The first thing to do is to figure out how you will be traveling.
Do you have one home base, a hotel room, apartment, or family/friend’s home that will be the seed of your many-limbed plant of adventure? Thus you will be lugging all of your belongings to that one spot and apart from weekender bags your things will not be leaving that site all at once until you tote it back to the airport to return home. Or perhaps you aren’t in the same bed thrice and you’ll be bouncing country to country on planes, trains, and automobiles. Both are brilliantly exciting methods of travel and luckily as a girl with far too many clothes and a lady who understands the eminence your self-image as you stroll down the cobble-stone streets of that sleepy European village you hope to discover, I hope to guide the next world-traveler on her journey to fashionable yet pragmatic packing.
Last summer, I was advised to “rough” it and spend three weeks in Europe with just a carry on and a backpack. It doesn’t sound half bad, but when you’re going to work (so you need laptop notebooks etc) and tour (so big clunky camera, space for souvenirs) it gets pretty tight by the end. I’m proud to say it is a liberating feeling breezing past the baggage carousels and out into the sweet air of your destination. If you’re going about a major city like London or Paris and you’re using the Tube or the Metro to get to your hotel having one rolling bag and your backpack to worry about is a relief, especially when traveling alone, but the trick is getting the most out of your space. I don’t know that I would advise this roughing it method for winter travel, because when you place two sweaters in a rolling carry-on, the poor dear is half full, but for summer this method works brilliantly.
The trick to this method is pack clothes with thin fabrics, cottons, linens, chiffon, many synthetics; this way you can pack a lot of variety and not feel like your just wearing the same tired outfit day in and day out. A caveat of this method is that you need to have access to a washer or that you’re a really artful hand washer in the sinks of hotel/hostel bathrooms if you’re staying for longer than the clothing your carry-on fits. Be sure the pieces you pack are almost entirely interchangeable that way if you bring five tops and three bottoms you have fifteen outfits plus throw in a dress or two for those nights of dancing or romantic evenings over a candlelight meal.
Now I’m not a bum-pack or fanny-pack sort of gal so for purses I’ve found zipper closing over the shoulder satchels perfect for traveling. Again just as with the clothing find purses that will fold really easily and sneak into the corners and crevices of your carry-on or backpack. The over the shoulder bag is a nice design for when you’re being shuffled about big tourist crowds or public transportation to prevent someone from nabbing your bag.
Shoes can be difficult. They are heavy and finding a shoe that works with every outfit can be difficult. My advice: bring four pairs. Pack some sort of sneaker (whether you’re a converse, ked, or some other kind of sneaker girl bring it). Even if you’re not a huge sneaker person find a pair that works with your style. You’ll thank your feet later when you’re running late for that train or breezing past the cheesy high school tour group to go up the Eiffel tower. Bring two pairs of sandals. I don’t advise flip-flops, because walking long distances in them is tiresome. Find pairs with some support, straps and stuff, they don’t have to be gladiator, but something where your foot is doing the work to keep them on. I say two pairs, because sandals are generally pretty thin and collapsible and I’m all about trying to infuse as much variation into a limited amount of space. Finally one pair of high heels to sport under that classy frock you’ve brought. I am partial to a wedge or espadrille that way there’s no pesky heel getting caught on a loose cobblestone.
Another trick to smart packing is to wear your heaviest clothes on the plane. Any denim or leather shoes or sweaters, wear them in layers even. Yes you’ll feel a bit like pack mule but the zippers on your suitcase will thank you later.
This summer I’ve had the reverse issue. I am in the midst of traveling to the Netherlands for three months. I am working out of Groningen, but plan to make weekend trips to Italy, Austria, England, and Germany so I went with a checked bag, carry-on, and personal item. My suitcase is massive and so I went to town backing it chock full of my favorite pieces and I still left plenty of room for souvenirs and lovely thrifty finds, but when I arrived at check-in my bag weighed sixty pounds when the limit is fifty pounds. Now airlines love any excuse to charge you so they were like two hundred dollars for even a pound over fifty so I even learned a good lesson as I pack for this summer and write this article. If you are bringing a rolling carry-on (I emphasize rolling) pack heavy items in this luggage piece, because there isn’t a weight limit on carry-ons. For example I had a denim jacket, a few cardigans, and my espadrilles so I sat in the middle of the airport trading items between bags, my bras and scarves flying everywhere. I boastfully managed to get my bag to weigh a trim forty-nine pounds. The same rules that apply to carry-on only traveling can apply to large suitcase traveling to avoid my plump bag dilemma and to amplify variety, but the thing I caution is leave room for souvenirs and if you can’t part with that trench coat for rainy London afternoons or those extra pair of jeans and all the blouses you bought to go with them then pack a thin bag or duffel in which you can pack all of your finds.
Now for some common sense tips. Perhaps you’re like me and a bit too trusting or perhaps your mother has already drilled this into your head, but when packing for plan travel be sure that everything of worth does not leave your side. That means do not pack authentic jewelry, trip money, cameras, or electronics in your checked bags.
My final travel tip is figuring out what you’re going to where on the plane. My pet peeve is when girls come dressed in skimpy tank tops, juicy couture sweatshirts, Uggs, and their hair tied into an atrocious bud perched like rakish bird’s nest on top of their heads. Perhaps I still adhere to older travel sensibilities, but you should look presentable even on the plane. You never know if you’ll run into an old acquaintance, a professor, a new acquaintance, or even a new romance and despite what modern casualties would have us believe, first impressions do stay with us. Yes, dress comfortably, but look presentable, especially for international travel. You’ll have to sleep and lounge in your clothes, but this is not an excuse to where your nightie in public, instead perhaps a thin unstructured dress or a pair of relaxed trousers with a billowy blouse. There’s a fine balance between comfort and fashion; nail it and your trip will be perfection.
Perhaps I’m iterating the obvious, but I just want every lady’s first or fifth trip abroad to be fashionable and sensational. What you wear may seem trivial when you’re standing beside the leaning tower of Pisa or trying to make a Buckingham Palace guard laugh, but what you where will be documented in those cheesy tourist pictures you take holding up the tower. What you wear dancing on the Seine can make you feel glamorous like Audrey Hepburn or Brigitte Bardot and make the evening that much more magical.