Chapter 6 Part 1
Who are the street sweepers and who are the rocket scientists? Just kidding of course, but you'll have to admit that Old School backpacking is totally ridiculous, in function and in form. The two girls on the left are in the Munich Hauptbahnhof (main train station) struggling to get their backpacks mounted, in the early 1980's. The cool threesome on the right wait comfortably with their 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 great way to travel.
This Internet edition of chapter 6 is divided into four parts because it is so big. The four parts are:
This first part of my packing chapter 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. Nope.
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 get there. 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 squirm and slip into anything.
In engineering we have a number of general expressions which we call "rules of thumb." I don't know the origin of that. For travelers a primary ROT would be "You'll never say you should have brought more of something, except maybe more peanut butter." Nobody brings enough money either, but you already knew that.
To make sure you haven't packed ten pounds in a five pound sack, see if you can actually haul around what you want to haul around. Take this simple test. It originally appeared in the first edition of my book 32 years ago, How To Europe: The Complete Travelers Handbook. I have coined it the Pack Light Field Test. This test has been endorsed by a famous travel "guru" by way of plagiarism. Based on that you could say that my Pack Light Field Test has been peer reviewed and approved.
OK. Let's start right now. Get your drawers on.
PACK LIGHT FIELD TEST
The Rule of Pack Light, Very Personal
How much you pack for your trip will have a greater influence on your enjoyment of traveling in Europe than any other factor.
Pack light. This is something that is easy to say but difficult to execute. It takes practice and/or guidance and/or trial-and-error 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 to be found several paragraphs 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.
Get your packing list, Last Call: Travel Prep and Pack Lists for Europe.
Pack everything you are bringing, 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.
That's it. 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. Nobody likes baggage. 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 this chapter and go straight to a handy check-off packing list I have just the thing for you, The Finale, Last Call: Travel Prep and Pack Lists for Europe. Come back here later to see why you need vinegar and vodka. No kidding.
NOTE TO READERS
I welcome questions and comments. If you have any concerns about your trip to Europe that have not been covered well enough in this section please do not hesitate to write and ask. When you write please include relevant details.
I do not open attachments. Please include all of your data in the body of your email. I will reply in a day or two.
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Do not forget to smell the hyacinths. Scroll through the Table of Contents of How To Europe: The Complete Travelers Handbook and read all 30 chapters, FREE on line. Good deal!
For a check-off punchlist of just about darn near everything go to The Finale, Last Call: Travel Prep and Pack Lists for Europe.
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