Planning a Trip to Europe: Part 5, Packing Tips & Strategies

Planning a Trip to Europe: Part 5, Packing Tips & Strategies

I feel that there has been much (metaphorical) ink spilled on the interweb on the subject of packing and packing for Europe. I have no desire to rehash ad naseum what everyone else has said, but here’s an outline of how we pack and what has worked for us. (While this is in the context of packing for Europe, these are the same packing strategies I use for any trip we take.) If you’re looking for tips on how NOT to accidentally pack/wear the same outfit as your sister five straight days in a row on a trip together, well, you won’t find that here…But! We have photographic proof that we’ve mastered the art of packing a capsule trip wardrobe! Heh.


We never pack more than a carry-on, and do indeed carry it on with us. It cuts down travel time (no waiting for suitcases), our luggage can’t get lost, and it’s much easier to hop on and off trains if you’re traveling light. We still have room for (small) souvenirs — candies, jellies, prints, mugs, scarves, etc. If you’re bringing back liquid items, your carry-on can be checked on your return trip. Alternately, some people find traveling with one large suitcase for the whole family to be easier (and use color-coded packing cubes). Regardless of how you parcel it out, don’t pack more than you can easily maneuver. Anything very important also gets packed on my person, not in my luggage.

On a sleeper train — we felt very Agatha Christie. A perk of traveling light!

I pack a week’s worth of clothing and plan on doing laundry. I also coordinate my separates to get maximum mileage out of outfits, and have outfit flexibility with weather and what’s clean! It makes packing for Europe much easier. My base color is always blue, for example, and I’ll pack 5 tops and 3-4 bottoms, and make sure all the tops can go with all the bottoms and everything blends with blue. Having a colored pair of pants expands your wardrobe exponentially; for example, my 5 tops will all go with jeans (5 outfits), but then if I pack brown/pink pants/white pants that also match all those tops, suddenly I have 10 outfits. I can work with 10 outfits for two weeks! (The graphic here also illustrates the concept nicely.)


I’ve found that packing my favorite clothes (ones that I know I’m comfortable in) and are easy to wash and go (no ironing, please and thank you) are the best. Accessories are super small and another great way to mix it up. (But I usually keep those to a minimum too…) Nothing gets packed that isn’t part of a plan/outfit. Packing for “just in case” guarantees a large suitcase. Would not having “it” ruin the trip? Didn’t think so. Except extra socks and underwear, because that’s always a good idea. Honestly, my packing regrets have always related to packing too much, rather than not enough. Always bring a sweater, even in summer. If your trip spans two climates, I am of the opinion that dresses are unsung heroes of packing/layering: by themselves they’re cool and comfortable, with a sweater and tights you’re pretty warm.


I start packing my children’s clothes about three days before we leave. Because every (EVERY) time I starting putting multiple outfits together I find dirty clothes in their drawers that need to be washed before I can finish packing (is it just my kids who do this??). Like packing for Europe isn’t crazy enough. And it’s no fun to do laundry last minute. So. Pack kids early.

Favorite traveling shoes; they have seen many miles!

Be sure your shoes are comfortable for lots of walking and break them in ahead of time! Like clothes, I pack tried and true favorite shoes (this is not the time to pack an unproven pair, no matter how adorable). I never pack more than 3 pairs of shoes, and could probably usually get by with 2 pairs: again, neutrals and maximum matching. (Trust me, every time I’ve packed more than 3 pairs, something didn’t get worn and just wasted suitcase space!) If possible I bring only 1 pair of shoes for my children (that goes with everything), with a maximum of 2 pairs. If it’s warm weather, I’m a big fan of closed-toe sandals for toddlers; they protect baby toes from getting stubbed on uneven surfaces.

Tried and true toddler shoes

If traveling with children in diapers: don’t stress about packing diapers and wipes — you can buy them there! If I have room to pack for more than the first couple days, I pack them, but they’re not my first priority (though if you pack lightly enough to fit comfortably into a carry-on, you’ll have room for them in your personal item…) Since kid outfits are small, I try to fit a couple extra outfits in for those moments when they go through more than one outfit a day. I pack (some) activities for my children, but try not to have a bunch of little things to keep track of. A few toys, coloring pencils, and an iPad for desperate moments and we’re set. They’ll always find something that sparks their imaginations! (Olive pits. Pigeons. Endlessly fascinating. And hopefully created a unique set of memories.) What I do pack in their carry-on backpack is an extra change of clothes so that in case of a mishap they can be reached immediately.

Um, what can I say? We’re consistent in our kid luggage choice…

Generally speaking, you can buy just about anything you need in Europe, so don’t stress too much about forgetting something. Do call your bank ahead of time to place a travel alert, and travel with a debit card and a credit card. Don’t pack cash – withdraw it from an ATM after you arrive. It’s easier and you’ll get a better exchange rate than if you exchange your money for the local currency.

Things I am paranoid about and triple-check while packing: passports and prescriptions. Take pictures of your passports in case they get lost, so that you always have your passport numbers. I also email the pictures to myself and another family member in case my phone gets lost or stolen. It takes five minutes of time up front, but would save you oodles of time and headache on the bad end of an incident. (Which thankfully has never happened to us, but it does.)

You can buy regular over-the-counter medicine easily if needed (and even get antibiotics without hassle), but prescription meds are another matter. For instance, I am practically blind without glasses/contacts; getting around without them is hard, and I definitely can’t drive without them. They take up practically no room, so I always pack two extra pairs of contacts — my back-ups have a back-up! Would not having them ruin a trip? Er, pretty close to it.

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When packing for Europe, I make sure to bring chargers and 220V adapters. In case my phone is DOA after a long day, I pack an actual paper print-outs of at least our first night’s lodging information, as well as whatever I need to know about our transportation upon arrival.

In my mind, packing extra clothes generally helps little, but packing strategic backup information is crucial. Traveling light helps us travel nimbly, and minimizes headache. Any favorite packing tips and strategies I’ve missed?

The rest of my trip planning dreaming can be found here: Part 1 Budget, Part 2 Destination and Tickets, Part 3 Accommodations and Pacing, Part 4 Food


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