10 Tips on how to pack if you're traveling to Europe

Wednesday 2 October 2013
1st row (L to R)  :  1  /  2  /  3  /  4  /  5  / 
2nd row (L to R) :  7  /  8  /  910  /  11  /  12  /
3rd row (L to R)  :  13  /  14  /  15  /  16  /  17  /  18  /
4th row (L to R)  :  19  /  20  /  21  /  22  /  23 /
**example of how I would pack for a 2 - 4 week trip during spring/autumn/winter

For those of us who live in northern Europe, we're so used to the volatile weather that we hardly give it a second thought. Over the past 2 years, I've received many emails inquiring about how one should pack when traveling around Europe for 2 to 4 weeks. The aim is to pack light but with clothes that you can layer, create multiple outfits and be prepared for good and bad weather without having a neon sign above your forehead that screams tourist.

1. The destination and time of the year
Packing the right clothes is very much dependent on where and when you'll be traveling. For example, cities such as Florence or Paris can be a lot colder compared to Nice or Rome. And the fashion is different too. In my experience, the closer one gets to the cities near the Mediterranean, the more colorful the clothes tend to be and the reverse if you're heading north where black, beige, navy and grey rule. One year, we returned to Tuscany and Florence with our friends just after Easter. It was barely 13˚C on the hill town but at least 5˚C warmer in Florence.

2. Travel light
I've seen many tourists who lugged around huge suitcases only to discover to their horror that there was simply no space on the Eurostar, bus or local trains to store their luggage. Seasoned travelers will specifically request for smaller and more compact rental cars because the roads in Europe are ridiculously narrow. It's a nightmare trying to navigate the narrow pavements while trying to avoid the crowd and cars when you've got large suitcases.

I've always believed that as long as I've got my passport, tickets, cellphone, credit/bank card and cash, everything else can be purchased along the way.  There's really no need to carry big bottles of shampoo, conditioner, cleanser etc because they're incredibly bulky and heavy. Either transfer some into small plastic bottles or bring along samples. Personally, I belong to the second camp. I chuck away the empty samples at the end of my trip, leaving more space in my suitcase if I feel the urge to shop.

3. Suitcase
I backpacked throughout my 20s and now refuse to walk around looking like a tortoise. Been there, done that. I prefer to leave the "shell" (aka backpack) behind and take a small 4 wheel trolley suitcase that glides through cobbled and tiled European streets like a dream. Both Lil L and I shared a small suitcase for a 2 week summer vacation recently. Mine's a cabin sized suitcase from Marks & Spencer which costs £65 and is incredibly light and durable.

 4. Layering
I'm also a comfort loving creature with a low pain tolerance when I'm traveling so comfortable clothing is a must. If you're from New Zealand, North Island in particular (like me) or Australia (other than Melbourne), layering is as alien as a.....well.....Martian. The temperature in Europe can dip and rise depending on the time of the day but it also differs from day to day, just to make life more interesting and keep us on our toes.

I prefer thinner layers preferably made of natural fibers. Say, merino wool sweaters because they're breathable and easy to wash and dry. If I'm traveling during the colder months, I tend to bring thermal vests (Uniqlo heatech or Icebreakers are good) and woolen/cashmere sweaters - both fitted and over-sized for layering.

5. Waterproof or water resistant
I've mentioned this a million times to my family and reiterated it again before they made their way to England but they still managed to pack all the wrong clothes. Arghhhh....!! There's a reason why the countryside in England is so lush and green and the residents walk around looking as pale as the Cullen family (Twilight).

If northern Europe is your port of call, remember that sunshine can be as rare as an Hermes Birkin and rain is plentiful so pack something waterproof/resistant and a pair of boots. Unless you have a windproof umbrella, it's far easier to wear a waterproof (or water resistant) coat with a large hood. It's safe to say that we're a little obsessed about leather jackets here. Most of us have at least a black biker leather jacket hanging in our closet for the same reason. Besides, they're wind/waterproof and chic.

6. Shoes
This is probably a good time to talk about shoes. I've found that flats can be a killer on the feet after a day of walking. Something with a cushioned insole or an inch heel will save yourself a lot of unnecessary pain.


7. Wash
I have friends who bring 1 to 2 outfits for EACH day they're away. Unless you're traveling in luxury with a chauffeured car, it's just impossible to move from one city to the next easily while trying to deal with the logistics of transporting large suitcases. It's unnecessary to bring half of your wardrobe because you can just wash every other day. I always bring a travel size tube of laundry liquid or laundry powder in a zip lock bag. I prefer to wash my clothes at night, hang them and usually, they're dry in the morning.

8. Accessories
Accessories can make a whole lot of difference to a simple plain sweater and jeans outfit. Pop on a hat, scarf, jewelry and swap your shoes and you get a completely different look. Personally, I like to bring a large cashmere shawl because it doubles as a blanket when I'm cold on the plane/train/bus or cover my head if I'm entering a mosque or turn it into a sarong if I'm visiting an Orthodox church.

As a general rule, I tend to leave anything expensive at home unless of course, if you're intending to spend your vacation in St Tropez, Cannes or Isle of Capri, in which case, pile them all on.

9. Handbags
There's a reason why my email address is Thankfully, my addiction is under control these days. I prefer to leave most of my designer bags at home with the exception of my Louis Vuitton Speedy Bandouliere and vintage Coach Court bag which I won on eBay for a song. The Speedy is actually more of a duffel and doubles as an overnight bag.

However, if I'm out for the day, the Longchamp le Pliage or the vintage Coach are pretty nondescript bags. I don't suffer from mini heart attacks if I unknowingly bang it against walls and sharp surfaces. I prefer crossbody bags which is handy especially for those of us who are moms with young kids. Having had my money and passport pickpocketed in Genoa 16 years ago, I now leave my wallet in the accommodation (locked up, of course) and just carry some cash, a card or two in an internal zipped pocket.

10. Some handy tips
Sometimes you're asked to show your passport at the stores if you want to claim your VAT refund. I refuse to carry around my passport particularly in places like Paris, Barcelona or Rome. I prefer to photograph the first page with my smartphone and show the photo when I'm asked for the document. So far, I haven't had anyone said no to me yet.

I keep backup photocopies of my (husband's and daughter's too) passport and bank/credit cards (front and back so that you can also see the phone number if you have to report a stolen/missing card). I can't tell you how handy it was when my husband lost his wallet and I was able to whip out a photocopy of his cards in an instant. He managed to call the bank and canceled the cards immediately. Also, if you have an unlocked phone, it's cheaper to buy a local sim card rather than pay an extortionate sum when your phone's on roam.

Okay, this may be bizarre to some but I do chuck in a few packets of ramen noodles in my suitcase before I leave for the airport. Why? Well, sometimes we arrive late and we're exhausted, hungry and grumpy. It can be inconvenient to head out in search of food when it's dark especially when you're traveling with young kids. I tend to book apartments these days so anything that can be microwaved or boiled in a jiffy is a lifesaver.

**this post is dedicated to Lyn. Hope this helps! I'm by no means an expert on packing and traveling. So please chime in and share your tips that have worked for you. 


  1. :O

    You are my long lost luggage sister :) Almost to a t (no pun intended) to what will be in the suitcase for the trip to UK at the end of the month.

    I'll freely admit (to my shame :) I prefer traveling with a backpack (you know, as hand luggage) since I always have tons of crap like books (prefer to have an old fashioned proper book with me since I am stuck in the stone age obvs :), cords and stuff. With totes my shoulders hurt like a b*sh the next day :)

    Also no leather jacket as of yet, am looking into it, but no hurry.

    Although on that note - have you possibly seen the RO-ish looking one at Mango? Went to check it in person the other day, but they didn't have it, am curious how it looks once on, what's the leather like etc but it seems nice. Would love the expert's opinion :)

    But anyway - yes on everything! layers, comfy shoes (!!), waterproof stuff (!!!), even the noodles! (great idea, the first thing we always do is look for something to eat, because a) this muffin top takes work and b) I get cranky if I'm not fed every 2 hours :)

  2. What a fabulous post! I like your noodles idea too. I take titchy bottles of shampoo and conditioner, also moisturiser. Have used cross body bags since the late Eighties when I was on a trip to Paris one November and noticed lots of the women wearing them across their coats. I used to travel a lot on the London underground and found them incredibly useful. I hate umbrellas and have a couple of raincoats with hoods which I prefer to use.

  3. amazing post, agree with everything and picked up a few tips ( photograph my passport with my smart phone for VAT reduction fab! ) on my recent holiday I used the REN samples that came with RED mag in June.... which were very nice by the way.

  4. Have to say I really enjoyed this post - I would love to be travelling to Europe right now, for that in between season time when tourist numbers start to decline.. but alas, no, stuck in Wellington! I hear you on the layering, I am dreadfully hopeless at it. God only knows what I would do if I ever moved to a colder climate.

  5. This is my unglamorous trick. I take some clothes that are on their last legs or that I don't like any more. Then I can throw them out or donate as I go and it makes space for purchases. However, the last time we were in Europe for a month I couldn't drag myself off the streets walking, eating and photographing to shop so I bought nothing! Loved this post.

  6. Yes I have definitely used the copy of the passport image at H and other stores. They've always accepted it when they are processing the VAT form. I still have to find a good weatherproof jacket. Wouldn't leather get ruined in the rain?
    Otherwise - ramen is a great idea! I always have snacks for the husband and when we have kids, I'd have to expand the snack inventory as well!

    Chic 'n Cheap Living

  7. Wow - brilliant post. And it must have taken some time and effort to put all that together. I agree with the photographing of documents - I just keep a photocopy of all our passport details in my purse but doing it on the phone is also an excellent idea. And this is a strange but quite useful tip - photography your child if you have one. Should they get lost in a shopping centre or anything - you can show them a picture and what they are wearing. Ta dah! Not that I lose my children much or anything.

    1.'re right, Sue. It took me 5-6 hours to put this together. Made it through without chucking my laptop out the window :P

  8. Wonderful post Marlene! Packing tips are always welcome for sure, as i'm yet to master to this task! The only thing I have learned in past experience, is keeping shoes to minimal as they take up so much space and usually I end up sticking to one or two pairs anyway! I think i'm going to save this page for when I travel next ;)

    Take care,
    Daniella xox

  9. GREAT post Marlene - thanks for putting it together! I think you've covered everything. I'm struggling trying to pack now for a few days in 30'C + from UK's cold and rain. For a short trip, I like to include one piece of clothing that can work casually eg for sightseeing and something dressy like a smart dinner just by changing the accessories. My trips usually involve both sorts of siuations so I need to dress appropriately for either but whatever happens I have to comfortable! I would say also pack gloves for N. Europe, if your hands and feet are arm, it's much easier to bear the cold I found and you'll think I'm nuts but I also take a pair to hot places because I'll usually be driving and find it's much more comfortable wearing gloves.

  10. Thanks for this useful travel tips.
    I really believe that one should travel light
    I usually bring clothes that might not require ironing
    saves a lot of time and sometimes money.

  11. This is such a great post Marlene. I tend to be one of those people that tries to pack like everything and I feel your tips are useful across the board. The pieces you listed are so versatile that you really can get a range of different looks even with a smaller set of packed clothes. Thanks for sharing! :)


  12. This is a fantastic post!! Great advice!!! What a great idea about taking a picture of your passport on your phone. I use to carry about a photocopy!! I'm book marking this post to use for future reference.
    Thanks so much for posting this!!

    Best, Mree

  13. Thank you all for sharing your tips. I've certainly learned a thing or two from reading your comments.

  14. Hi, I have been enjoying your blog for a while though this is the first time I post...This is a very helpful post and love your choice of travel wardrobe. One thing I think is important : pack skin care and change of clothes in the carry on bag. On my last trip to Paris from US, the flight was delayed 10 hours and my luggage was "delayed" three days ! It was 1:40 a.m. when I arrived in hotel (I was lucky enough to get a taxi in the airport). To clean the face was the first problem: need makeup remover and face moisturizer. Got them from my sister and purchased those essential stuff the next day since I did not know the destiny of my luggage! Shoes are biggy. Though I purchase 2 pairs of Repetto in Paris. I only can wear one pair (Oxford style) with shoe inserts (another very good thing to bring) to walk around for about 5 hours. To me, shoes with at least an inch height (creeper/platform preferred) and slightly soft/flexible footbed is a must to walk for more than 3 hours! I brought a pair of Arche sandals, which did not support me for more than 3 hours of walking either.
    Love the leather jacket, followed the link and found out it was for men ?

    1. Hiya! Thank you for taking the time to write. That's a great tip. I hardly ever carry my toiletries nor cosmetics in my carry on. I know what you mean. I can't walk in flat shoes with at least an inch heel. The last time I did so, my soles were in agony.

      Oops!! I've just corrected the link with 2 options. Blk dnm jackets seem to sell out so quickly as well so I've added another option in. Hope this helps.

    2. Does the Marks and Spencer bag fit in with most airlines cabin baggage sizes? I looked at the reviews for it and they were good, but the people who purchased the larger sizes and checked them into the hold said they got scratched. I am looking for something to use to take in the cabin only as I have quite a few larger expandable nylon bags when I travel to the USA.

    3. Have found Fitflop shoes, sandals and boots really good for walking in cities, and my feet never get tired in them. I have foot problems in other shoes but not in these. I can liken them to walking on firm marshmallows.

    4. Catherine, before I bought it, I read the measurements and they were within the limit for cabin sized luggage. I've never used it as a carry on myself because I have a much smaller trolley suitcase for my laptop and camera gear. I've used mine on numerous trips now. It's been chucked around, used as a child transporter (my daughter thinks it's a stroller) etc. There are a few scratches but nothing major.

      I've never thought of Fitflop, probably because their shoes are way too big for my tiny feet. I think they've come out with a children's range now.

    5. Marlene - I am another huge fan of fit flops (even though some styles are definitely on the clunky side). They are perfect for more casual outfits. I practically live in mine and can walk for days on end in them! Yes they have smaller sizes now. The initial breaking in period is a little painful but after that the shoes are great.

    6. From S in NY/HK

  15. Hello! Love your tips. Just got back from a trip and totally agreed with your suggestions and observations. They would work for NY as well. It is so not fun to lug around giant suitcase(s).

    1. Hey S! I need to get my whatsapp fixed. Missed your messages. BTW, are you on wechat?

  16. Hey! I am not but will check it out!

  17. I laugh at your reply on the previous comment! Kaput, what a familiar word! Btw, I live in my Fitflop too. There are sure a great and comfortable pairs to walk in. Your list and tips are spot-on! - I Ying

    1. It's so weird. The more I steer away from FitFlops, the more I hear great reviews about them.

  18. Amazing post! I'm going to Europe in December, from Brazil so basically I'm going from hot as hell to super cold... what can make weird to think about winter clother in summer :) So your post was very, very helpful!

    1. Hi Nanda, I'm so pleased you like the post. Coming from NZ, it took me a while to adjust to the brutal European winters as well. Have a wonderful time in Europe!



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