Old School backpacking is so totally ridiculous, in function and in form. Two girls on the left in the Munich Hauptbahnhof (main train station) struggle to get their backpacks mounted, in the early 1980's. The threesome on the right wait comfortably with their hand and roller bags for boarding call at Stockholm docks, 2006. They are about to board the ferry to Helsinki. See Europe's Boat and Bus Services for more about that beautiful way to travel, and party through the night. The smorgasbord dinner buffet is out of this world, a favorite of mine for decades.
This entire book is published totally free on-line by author and photographer yours truly, with help from my daughter Stephanie. Yes, you can copy — if you ask first. Please read my copyright and permissions statements. Visit my home page at enjoy-europe for truck loads of more helpful illustrated travel information sans pareil. Updated 31 March 2015.
This Is Not a Trip to Kansas
You knew that. This is your trip to Paris. So, what do you bring?
Packing is one of the most important aspects of traveling in Europe. It is also one of the most difficult for Americans to grasp. Unlike taking a vacation in the USA, you can't just load up the trunk and drive off.
"Planes, Trains and Automobiles"
Yup, that is the name of a silly film starring John Candy (bless his heart, rest in peace) and some character who looks like Steve Martin.
Whatever you bring to Europe, you carry it or pull it to get it there. Then you do it all again at each stop after you arrive. This point is especially critical for train travelers. It is also important if you plan to rent a car and drive. Never leave anything anywhere for anytime in your rental car. Thieves are like maggots. Those slimey things can smell booty and squirm and slip into anything.Another critical packing issue has come up in the last decade. Back in the "good old days" the international airline free baggage allowance was seemingly unlimited. Two bags weighing up to 70 pounds could be checked. Carry-on was size limited but several pieces could be brought on board. Airlines are now charging for most checked luggage and severely limiting carry-on to one item. The airlines are making so much money with luggage and other new fees that the amount of loot exceeds their luggage allowance. Your first stop should be the web site of your airline to read the luggage allowance.
This Internet edition of chapter 6 is divided into four parts.
PACK LIGHT FIELD TEST
The Rule of Pack Light, Very Personal
This exercise originally appeared in the first edition of my book, How To Europe: The Complete Travelers Handbook, 33 years ago. I have coined it the Pack Light Field Test. This test has been endorsed by a famous travel writer. He copied it to his web site last year and boastfully wrote it up as if he had invented it. Based on that act of stealing and lying about it, commonly known as plagiarism, you could say that my Pack Light Field Test has been peer reviewed and approved.
Spend a couple hours and take this simple test. It can save you grief galore as you walk to your hotel on a hot muggy day in Rome. The basic idea of the Pack Light Field Test is to see if you can actually haul around what you want to haul around.
Pack light is easy to say but difficult to execute. It takes practice to pack light for a trip to Europe. Because it is a big trip and maybe your first trip out of the country your gut feeling is that you need to pack "everything," maybe even two of "everything" just in case. Packing is one department where the gut feeling is wrong. Use the other side of your brain. Analyze your basic needs, pack them up, and take this test. Links to detailed packing lists are presented below.
Be skeptical of advice from pulp travel writers for the major media who have an obsession with dictating what you should bring with you to Europe. Maybe they are just trying to sell you a bigger backpack. Duh. I laugh when I read their admonitions to pack light, and in the next paragraph instruct travelers to pack 4 pairs of everything. Did they ever have to carry all that stuff? Do they know that there are public washing machines in Europe? Europe also has clothing stores so if there is something you really need, or that you just want to buy, you can do it easily. Correction, well, it's not always easy dealing with European store clerks. A shopping trip may be one of the things you remember, for better or for worse.
OK. Let's start right now. Get your drawers on.
Pull up my on-line packing list and print a copy. You are going to want to scribble on it. In my not-so-humble opinion the best packing list is at Last Call: Travel Prep and Pack Lists for Europe. I wrote it. This also originated with the first edition of my book decades ago.
Pack everything you plan to bring, stuff your pockets, put on your hat and coat, open your umbrella, (raining or not), check the time, and walk one mile away from home with the whole load. Then, pretending you are trying to catch a train, run or walk home. If you can make the round trip comfortably within 45 minutes you have packed light. It is best if your test course includes a short, steep hill or several flights of stairs, upwards on the return leg.
If you are of the metric persuasion the test would be one kilometer in 28 minutes. If you do not know metric from Shinola see my chapter 27 Europe's Metric System: Travel with Grams, Meters, Liters, Centigrade because you are gong to need it.
Make sure that all of your traveling companions can pass the Pack Light Field Test. If not, old friends may become lifetime enemies.
A rundown on your clothing list was suggested in the prior chapter 5, What To Wear in Europe: Your Best Travel Clothes for All Occasions. That is only about 2/3 of your pack. Your suitcase must also be a miniature bathroom closet, laundry room, drugstore, tool box, photo gear headquarters, office supply, and library of guide books, maps, and dictionaries. This is all in addition to your clothes. Good luck!
Luggage for Europe
For details about what kind of luggage to use see chapter 7, Luggage for Europe: Pack Light and Let It Roll. My illustrated essay is based on decades of domestic and international travel. Gosh, since I started traveling on my own it's half a century! And, like Robert Frost, I have miles to go before I sleep.
NOW, WHERE IS THAT DANG PACKING LIST?
This web page served as a introduction to packing light, including a simple user's manual for the Pack Light Field Test. Actually, it was just a few paragraphs. Some writers are able to assemble a WHOLE BOOK on the subject of packing light. No kidding. I have a couple of those books, collecting dust.
For more specific packing details please continue to part 2 of this chapter, Personal Care Items in Europe: Packing Your Toothbrush and Hair Blower. Most of it is in your bathroom or on your dresser right now. But before you throw everything in your bag look over this essay to see if you really want to do that.
Part 3 of my packing suggestions covers the traditional stuff you need on the road. See Travel Supplies for Europe: Pack a Bunch of Small Stuff.
Lastly, part 4 discusses the vaulable things you need to bring with you. These include your passport, credit cards, cash, camera, and other ID and valuables. The key message, which bears repeating repeating repeating, is do not put these things in any luggage, backpack, day bag, or purse. Carry them on your person. Documents and funds go in an inside pocket, not in a porous hotel safe. Your camera should be in your hand and attached to a leash around your neck, ready for action. Else, why did you bring it? See Packing Valuables for Europe: Not in Your Luggage.
If you want to skip over all the verbiage in these chapters and go straight to a handy total punch list I have just the thing for you, Last Call: Travel Prep and Pack Lists for Europe. Come back to part 2 later to see why you need vinegar and vodka. No kidding.
NOTE TO READERS
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