Packing advice can get awfully proscriptive very quickly, and these tips are no exception. Bear with me.
Before you start throwing everything you own into a bag, take a moment to think about strategy. With a few easy steps, you too can be hitting the road in Europe like a budget travel pro.
I’ve been traveling light since I was a teenager. And if you find the following advice too limiting, know that it could be much, much worse. My mother once traveled from Germany to Paris for a weekend carrying just a small purse!
1. There’s no need to check a bag
Find a medium-sized carry-on bag. This is what you’ll be taking with you to hold most of your stuff. Everything you need for a two-week trip will fit into the carry-on bag (such as a duffel bag) and a modest backpack.
2. Make a list and check it twice
Catalog what you think you’ll need. Lay it all out, every last t-shirt, sweater and pair of jeans. Haul everything out and line up items next to each other: clothing, toiletries, books, electronics.
3. Condense your clothes
Now take an axe to your clothes. Reduce everything down to the following: eight shirts or blouses, two pairs of trousers, dresses or skirts, a sweater or sweatshirt, eight pair/sets of underwear, eight pairs of socks, and one pair of shoes. Wear a light jacket on the plane to save space in your bag, and you’re good to go. That’s it. You need to be a good editor.
Get a hold of yourself. Breathe deeply. To answer your first and most pressing question, you’ll wash your clothes along the way, in your hotel sink or at a laundromat. You might even splurge and arrange laundry through a service. Just trust me.
4. Don’t overdo the toiletries
Reduce your toiletries as well, and keep in mind size limitations for international travel. Separate your toiletries into two categories: liquid and non-liquid, and place the liquid toiletries in a transparent plastic bag with a seal. Your non-liquid toiletries (toothbrush, dental floss, pills, etc.) do not need to be stored in close proximity to your liquid toiletries.
I turned to beauty blogger and travel publicist Lynda Daboh for cosmetics advice. Her two cents: “decant, get free sample sizes, and use powder products where possible to minimize spillage and maximize space.”
5. Do you really need that laptop?
Think about your electronics. Do you need your laptop? Do you need your camera? Will your smart phone do the trick of staying in touch and documenting your travels adequately? Among my admittedly tiny professional tribe of travel writers, I’ve noticed a slow but unstoppable trend toward leaving bigger equipment at home.
iPhone and iPad cameras are as good as many digital cameras as far as quality is concerned, and they allow you the opportunity to post and edit photos on the fly whenever you have access to WiFi. Reduce your electronics, and you’ll stand to benefit.
6. Don’t bring a whole library of guidebooks
Which books do you need? Many guidebooks can be transported digitally; relevant chapters of monster-sized guidebooks can be torn out and placed in a folder to reduce weight. Books for leisurely reading can be read on devices to save space again. (I’m old-fashioned and prefer to read books made out of paper, myself, but there it is.) For recording observations, a nice notebook is good to have.
7. Plastic bags can be your friend
Slip one in your bag for dirty clothes. Take another for transporting a second pair of shoes or flip-flops. And take an extra just in case. These will come in very handy.
8.Organize your documents.
Even the most technologically advanced traveler can benefit from having hard copies of tickets, itinerary suggestions, general information and a photocopy of your passport or any visa documentation on hand. Organize this into a folder, chronologically if it makes sense to do so.
9. Leave a little space for souvenirs
Leave room in your bags for treasures. Do you plan to do some shopping? If you do, make sure you have room for your loot.
10. Everyone has different needs, so plan ahead
You can be forgiven of thinking of the practical last, but now it’s time to turn your mind to questions of utility. First of all, remember that many objects of daily use (hand sanitizer, tissues, many toiletries) can probably be purchased on the road.
Will your plugs work or will you need an adaptor? (Quick answer: You’ll likely need a adaptor.) Will you have language difficulties? If so, consider a phrase book, and consider familiarizing yourself with the language in advance by listening to it. But there are also the intangibly valuable things whose value only you can determine. Will you need multivitamins? A favorite snack? A favorite pen?
Think ahead, dear Cheapos, and you are on your way to a fun two-week adventure.