HOW TO EUROPE
The Complete Travelers Handbook
By John Bermont. Internet edition.
A page from
with photographer and author
Be a happy traveler. Fly to Europe with nothing but carry-on luggage.
LUGGAGE VERSUS THE AIRLINES
The first stop for you and your luggage is going to be the airline check-in
counter. Here you will see the initial rewards of packing light. Traveling
with only carry-on luggage eliminates the hassle
of standing in line at baggage check-in.
Your disposition at the other end of your flight is the real payoff
for those who do not check luggage. If you do not check any luggage, you don't
have to wait a half hour for
the carrousel to deliver your bag on arrival. Your luggage does not get mutilated
by man and machine. It doesn't get lost (funny how bags often take
free rides all over the world, or no ride at all). You don't want to
wait a day or two on arrival in Europe for your luggage to be found and delivered,
perhaps interrupting plans and forcing you to change onward reservations.
These things have all happened to gazillions of travelers
and have cumulatively caused untold centuries of grief. Even though it
might sound like it, don't think that airline people are bad they're
Other pack light advantages for those who do not check luggage are to be
pronto in line at customs and first
out of the terminal. Then you're at the head of the line for train tickets, taxis,
buses, car rental, hotel
space, ATMs, and other amenities. When 300 passengers get off
a jumbo jet there are long lines everywhere.
When following the rule of pack light, all that a traveler has is one
carry-on bag. The maximum dimensions are 21" x 16" x 8", or maybe 23" x
13" x 9". Check with your airline for their exact dimensions. The general
rule is that the total linear dimensions may not exceed 45". The fundamental
requirement is that your luggage must fit in the
overhead bin. You can also stow it under the seat in front of you but then
you have no room for your feet.
In actuality, carry-on had often been whatever you could talk and walk your
way on board with, especially for the return trip. Those were the old ways.
started enforcing the rules. Bins at the check-in counters and/or cutouts on the security
belt machines have been installed to verify the size of suitcases going on board
with you. If your bag doesn't fit in the bin or through the cutout
you must check it. If you happen to get an oversized bag on board, you could find
that the overhead bin has a 9" opening, whereupon you do have a problem. And
if you try to sneak past the check-in counter with an extra bag you will probably
be stopped at the gate and requested to check one of them. This is common.
Airlines have various limits
on the maximum weight allowed for carry-on luggage. This is not much of a concern
when flying across the Atlantic but if you have a connection within Europe it
could be a wallet thinning experience. The limits are lower and it is very
likely that your carry-on will be weighed. Excess weight will cost you, excessively.
Ask your travel agent or airline for cabin luggage restrictions within Europe. See
Airlines to Europe, find your
airline, and find the section on luggage to get specifics for your flight.
Starting in August 2006 the Transportation Safety Administration now prohibits all but
sample size bottles of liquids and gels in carry-on luggage. The major exceptions are baby milk,
if you are traveling with a baby, and prescription medicines that you need
during the flight. There are other provisions. See chapter 6,
Your Packing List for Europe:
A Short List of
for a complete rundown on the latest regulations.
If you must carry more with you than you can fit in a carry-on or you are traveling
with items that are not allowed in the cabin, you
can check your bags. Most people seem to check as much luggage as is allowed. I think
that if the limits were ten times as much, many people would take the limit. Please see
Shipping Your Treasures Home from Europe, for more complete information
on airline luggage allowances. You can also ask your travel agent or surf the website
of your airline. Most airlines are now charging for checked luggage, another reason to
leave a few things at home. Fees start at $25 per bag and up from there. Oversized and
overweight bags are also assessed a fee. The days of two 70 pound checked pieces are long gone.
Airlines within Europe have particularly tight
restrictions on luggage, checked and carry-on. If you are changing planes after arrival
find out what the rules are before you load up the burro (you).
My recommendation for a traveler's bag is:
Carry-on size: The maximum linear dimensions must be less than
45" (114 cm) and one dimension must be no more than 9" (23 cm).
Soft case with zippered openings: You can stuff this into odd
shaped tight places. It won't break your kneecap when walking, and it is
lighter than a hard case.
At least three separate compartments: Ideally each section should be
accessible from the outside. If not, or even if you have separate compartments,
make liberal use of plastic zip-type bags or packing cubes to segregate your goods.
- toiletries and hardware
- maps and guidebooks.
Organize well and you'll be able to get at anything
in seconds. NEVER place your passport or any valuables in your luggage.
Handle and shoulder strap: Shoulder strap is the key word, unless you have
wheeled luggage. Carry
more with less fatigue and have two hands free at all times.
Wheels: This is something I wouldn't have considered 20 years
ago, but I have become a convert. If you are marginal on the
Pack Light Field Test (see chapter 5,
What to Wear in Europe:
Travel Clothes for
a wheeled suitcase can be a big aid to your comfort. Wheels and handle take up space so select a good one.
Heavy duty hardware: Selecting durable lightweight luggage is
a challenge. Make sure the handles and strap attachments are heavy duty.
Even the most expensive leather cases often have handle attachments
that are hardly more than tinfoil. Some handles are sewn onto areas that are not
adequately reinforced and seem to be designed to fall off under moderate
use in a short time. Inspect carefully before buying anything.
Expandability: Many soft sided bags include an expansion capability.
The bags are 9" thick but a zipper opens them up another 2" or so. This
is handy when you get to Europe, allowing space for new purchases.
A Good Choice:
For a long time I traveled with an old shoulder bag which fit the specifications above. It's pretty beat up
after the years and sort of looks like it went through the last war. I haven't
seen anything just like it in decades. The outside dimensions are 13" high by 18"
wide by 9" thick and it has a capacity of 2,100 cubic inches, equivalent to 34 liters.
After repairing it a number of times (NO, not with duct tape!) I've retired it now.
This was all I carried over the years, for many months of
travel and many thousands of miles on the trains throughout Europe.
I'm presently using a soft side nylon rolling bag with dimensions of 14" by 20" by 9".
The wheels add more than 2" so it is over 22" high and the pull mechanism adds an inch so
it is 10" thick. I don't fill it to the brim so it can fit in as carry-on luggage. After
looking over the luggage in department stores and luggage
shops, pay a visit to a well-stocked office supply store, for example Office
Max, Office Depot, or Staples. This is where I bought my roller bag. Examine the array of bags
designed for frequent business travelers. They are made of tough nylon, have a
shoulder strap and/or wheels, and have more pockets than a hunter's jacket. Some,
like the one I use, have an expansion zipper so one compartment can be enlarged by a couple of
inches, after you get to Europe. These bags are great and cost a fraction of similar bags
sporting famous brand names. If you want to shop from your computer and save gas money have a look at the
products offered by my advertisers in the left column. Thanks for your support.
Mark Your Bag:
So many bags look so much alike these days that it is difficult to find your bag on the carrousel.
Many people nowadays tie a ribbon on the handle to make it easier to find their bag on arrival. I go
one step further. With strapping tape I put a large X on both sides of my bag. This makes it identifiable
at 100 yards. Take a picture of it and keep a copy during your travels. It will be helpful when
your bag is mislaid by the airline and you have to file a report. The clerk at the lost luggage service desk hands you
a laminated 12"x18" card with photos of a few dozen types of luggage. You have to pick out the closest
cousin to yours.
Besides your regular luggage, travelers should have a personal day bag, usually called a tote. This can be used in
Europe to carry things like your guide book, city map, extra batteries, a snack, beverage, roll of
toilet paper, and other daily odds and ends that won't fit in your pockets.
NEVER place your passport or any valuables in your day bag or purse. Carry these valuables on
your body under your outer clothes.
On arrival in most cities you can stash
much of your stuff in a train station locker or luggage check room. Use your day bag
while you are out looking for your hotel for the night. It is also very handy when
making an afternoon stopover in a city along the way to your destination. Unless you are on a train
requiring a reservation you can hop off and on along the way.
Your day bag can be a light weight nylon or canvas bag with a shoulder strap.
My roller luggage was part of a set of three,
the smaller bag making a perfect day bag. I gave away the larger bag.
Other forms of luggage commonly used by travelers are the full size
suitcase and the backpack.
Full Size Suitcase
A large plastic hard-side suitcase is a definite mistake. It must be checked for air travel.
It does not fit in overhead luggage racks on trains. It will not fit in
many of the train station lock boxes. You might even have trouble getting
it in the trunk of your rental car or taxi. It will be difficult to get
on the elevator or up the stairs at many hotels. It will weigh a ton after
two blocks. You will be the beast of burden. Poor burro, you.
If you absolutely must bring too much stuff, a large suitcase with rollers
or one of the fold-up luggage carts would help, but would still leave severe
disadvantages. It would be better to carry two smaller cases. But think
about it are you going to Europe to enjoy some time off or do you want
to hurt yourself struggling with and sweating over a stupid plastic box full
of dirty clothes?
Backpacks are very popular with young travelers, and are even used
by a few grandmothers. A great load can be carried with relative ease,
at least without pulling your arms out of their sockets. Backpackers
who normally carry entirely too much stuff would do well to consider rolling luggage,
unless you like to punish your back.
A few problems
should be mentioned. To get at things like maps and guidebooks, you have
to sling it off your back. Many people overload themselves to the point
that they need someone to help them get the pack mounted on their back.
Also, some rigid frame packs are so large that they do not fit in the train
station lock boxes. When mounted, the big backpacks make it nearly impossible
for you to get on a typical European midget elevator or up the steps of a train. Some travelers complain
about careless backpackers who bump into them with the heavy things as the campers walk
through the aisles of the train.
A backpack can also be a temptation for street thieves. A beautiful
petite leather backpack that Elizabeth bought at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
quickly attracted the attention of some gypsies. They staged a cute rouse and nearly had
their mitts inside it as we were walking on the street in broad daylight.
More about these gypsy thieves can be found in chapter 8,
Cash, ATMs, Credit Cards:
Travel Money in Europe.
Airline baggage men can shake the tar out of a loosely packed backpack.
I've seen them coming down the ramp at baggage claim, followed by
pots and pans, toothbrush, guidebooks, shoes, etc. You can and should request
a box or plastic bag from the airline in which to place your backpack before
the airline starts to mangle it. Not all airlines at all airports offer
this service anymore. Make sure to pick up the right one
at baggage claim since there may be other backpacks traveling in similar
The word "backpacking" has come to connote a style of travel.
The style is "go cheap." Backpacking also implies that you are young
and strong enough to carry all of your wordly possessions on your back.
Is it really necessary to act like a burro? Since hostels everywhere include sheets
and towels with the price of the bunk there is no need to haul
linens around with you. Hostels
also provide a wake-up breakfast and/or use of the house
kitchen and table utensils. You don't need to haul around your pots
and pans either. So, what I'm getting at is that whatever fits
in a 21" wheeled bag is all you need to travel in Europe. I've done it with less
on the trains of Europe for months on end. Leave the gross backpacks to the
chumps. Backpacking in Europe is old camp. Be smart and look smart with a roller bag.
Heavy stuff likes to settle to the bottom. Put it there in the first place
so it doesn't mess things up as it goes down. The bottom of your luggage as you carry it
is not necessarily the bottom as you pack it. Put the heavy stuff on the side
opposite the handle.
Roll 'em or Fold 'em
I've packed both ways and have concluded that folding works best. Fold
your outer garments, shirts and slacks especially. It's OK to roll your underwear,
though I don't find any advantage in doing that with soft sided luggage. If you made
the mistake of buying a hard case piece of luggage, rolling your underwear would
allow you to stuff those items in the corners.
I learned one of the best travel tips from a friend in Holland decades ago. Use
the 2 gallon Ziploc® bags to pack your clothing. Each Ziploc® bag holds a
couple of shirts or slacks. After neatly folding your clothes put them in the Ziploc®
and zip it up except for the last
inch. Lay it on your bed, sit on it, and zip it up. The result is like vacuum packed
cheese. This keeps your clothes reasonably well pressed, and clean and dry no matter what.
Placing your clothes in 2 gallon Ziploc® bags helps you in other ways. It keeps things organized.
If/when your bag is searched by TSA it is easy for them to get all your stuff back in your bag
in some reasonable order. If your bag is searched by a foreign customs agent you have the
same advantage. On one of my entries to a foreign land I was asked to open and empty my suitcase. I opened
it, turned it over, and dumped everything out in front of the agent. He was a bit shocked by my abrupt action but
he was satisfied after a cursory look at my clear plastic bags.
Use smaller Ziploc® bags for other items also, especially for liquids. I pack a couple of sandwiches
whenever I go to the airport for a flight. Security takes their time and my homemade sandwiches
sure beat the airport stuff, in price and quality.
I always write my name, telephone number, and email address on each Ziploc® bag. This will help you
recover your stuff if a baggage handler rips your luggage open. This has happened to me.
Do a trial packing a few days before you depart. If you do
the Pack Light Field Test you will have done this. See chapter 5,
What to Wear in Europe:
Travel Clothes for
If you don't do the Pack Light Field Test at
least do the trial packing. My trial packing usually turns up the fact that my luggage
needs repair work, something I conveniently forgot to do after my last trip.
The men and machines of the airlines handling your bag behind the wall
can easily inflict severe damage. If your bag is damaged complain immediately.
The worst harm that I have experienced was
on a KLM flight from Los Angeles to Amsterdam. The zipper had been ripped out
and destroyed, leaving the bag wide open.
KLM's service desk told me to see the luggage repair shop in Schiphol airport and
they would pay for repairs, or KLM would give me a flat $25. I went to the luggage
repair but it was a Sunday and it was closed. So I looked in the airport luggage
shop and was surprised to find the exact same bag available for $75. Only
then did I remember having bought my bag there the year before. So I bought
a new one and went back to KLM's service desk with both bags and the receipt.
They paid the full $75, but were not especially happy about it.
Checked luggage sometimes doesn't make it to the carrousel on arrival. This is
usually caused by late check-in, either your fault or late arrival of your flight
to make a connection. Winter flying in the north is particularly susceptible to
late arrivals. In either case your luggage is usually put on the next flight and
delivered to your door the next morning at the airline's expense.
To get your baggage returned you must file a report with the airline on arrival.
Major airlines in major airports usually have a special office for this near the
carrousels, with a line waiting. You'll need your baggage claim check. The clerk will give you a brochure
with illustrations of dozens of different bags and ask you to pick out the style and
color of your bag. Fill out the form, but don't rush away just yet. Ask the clerk if
they have a toiletries kit to get you through the next day until your luggage arrives.
In one case I was given an allowance of $75 per bag to buy replacement clothes. Usually
I get a toiletries kit and a T-shirt.
LOCK IT UP
It is a good idea to secure your luggage against casual snooping which
can lead to pilferage.
Small locks designed to hold the zippers
of soft sided bags can be purchased in most stores selling luggage
or travelers supplies. But I don't trust those bright brass locks on checked luggage, and I think that
they make a statement "there must be valuable stuff in this locked bag."
The TSA is infamous for destroying locks, even those which are advertised as being
approved by the TSA because TSA people have a master key and can open them. Good theory.
TSA agents are government employees. Some of them have an attitude. It is easier or more
fun for them to use the bolt cutter instead of finding the master key. If they do this to yours
file a claim. Good luck.
For checked luggage, when I have it, I prefer to seal the zippers with
a wire tie, also called a cable tie. Wire ties are strong. The black ones are
inconspicous and don't advertise the fact that you have locked your bag.
To use a wire tie, you insert the small end in the
eye and pull it through to lock it with the ribbed side on the inside of
the loop. Snip off the tail with nail clippers. To remove these you must cut
them off so bring nail clippers in your carry-on bag. Yes you can.
There is a chance that the TSA will open your luggage for inspection.
Therefore, it would be a good idea to leave a little slack in the loop of your wire
tie to make it easy for them to cut it off. After they open it they usually put their
own style of plastic lock on the zipper pulls. They also put a notice inside that
they had a peek. On my last flight the inspector also broke the zipper.
Wire ties can also be
used to tie your luggage to the rack in a train. This gives you additional
security when you go to the toilet or to the café car. Loop the wire tie through
the handle of your bag and around a sturdy member of the rack. Wire ties can be joined
together if you need more length. Just put the point of one
into the eye of another. Schedule your café car visit or potty trip between stops and be at your
luggage whenever the train is in a station. You can't use the toilet when the train is in a station
anyway. Luggage thieves board trains at stops, walk through
the cars, grab what they can, and jump off before the train departs. The wire tie would slow them
down for a moment but probably not thwart the thief.
THE INVENTION OF THE WHEEL
I used to scoff at people who used those little luggage carts or luggage
with wheels. Not any more. Even when packing light a set of wheels can be a tremendous
help. One of the biggest backaches for vagabonding travelers in Europe is lugging your
luggage around town if there are no luggage lockers available in the train station.
The French have a habit of sealing train station luggage
lockers when terror is in the air. In major stations you must put your luggage
through an x-ray machine before putting it in the locker.
For independent travelers wheels can make a big difference in comfort and
convenience these days, especially on a hot afternoon in Rome.
You might as well put your bag on wheels as on your back.
Buy It Over There
If your luggage does not have wheels, consider buying a luggage cart when you arrive in
Europe. This way it will not be in your luggage allowance on the plane. Wheels
add volume and weight. Whereas American airports typically charge $3 or more for temporary use of a
luggage cart, European airports generally give you free use of one, all the way from baggage claim
through customs and to the curb. Wheel your luggage out to the shopping zone after
you clear customs. There is almost always a store where you can buy a luggage dolly
if you packed too much.
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 chapter do not hesitate to write and ask.
My email address is
When you write please include as much detail as possible. There are about 50 countries in Europe.
It will help me answer if you mention the countries and/or cities you plan to visit.
I will reply in a day or two.
Don't forget to scroll through the Table of Contents below. The other 29 chapters of
HOW TO EUROPE
are also available, free to read on line.
For a check-off punchlist of everything go to The Finale,
Packing List and Last Call:
For Travel In Europe
If you know of someone else who would appreciate reading this web page please send
the URL link to him or her. To easily do that, click your "File" tab in the tool bar and scroll down to
"Send" or "Send Link." Your friend will thank you, and I thank you.
To bookmark this page type Ctrl D.
To support this site, please buy your goods at:
The Amazon Store
Shop in your shorts!
Rolling luggage sure beats lugging a pack on your back.
links in this green field take you directly to a page at Amazon.com.
That page details the item, and in some cases includes candid and critical comments
from others who have bought the item.
Delsey Luggage Helium Fusion Light 21 Inches Expandable Carryon
Day luggage for your walkabout.
Travelpro Luggage WalkAbout LITE 4 Deluxe Tote
Here is a handy day bag for your water bottle, maps, guide book, etc. Do not put your
passport or money in this. Keep those valuables on your body under your clothes.
Baggallini Bon Voyage Bagg
Keep your stuff organized.
Luggage Packing Cubes
eBags 3pc Set
eBags Small Packing Cubes - 3pc Set
The two gallon size is excellent for packing your clothes, but it is hard to find in Europe.
Two gallon plastic bags
ZipLoc by SC Johnson
Inconspicuously lock your zippered luggage with a black wire tie.
Cables to Go 43036 Cable Ties - 100 Pack (Black)
Wash in your room basin and save time, trouble, and money.
Woolite Laundry Soap
20 packs, ¼ ounce each
Inflatable clothes hangars help with drip dry clothes washed in your room.
Inflatable Travel & Laundry Hangers Set Of 4 by Whitney Design
Wear a money belt under your shirt to protect your passport and valuables, especially if you are staying in hostels or dorms.
Victorinox Deluxe Concealed Security Belt
This carry-on liquids kit meets TSA airline rules.
Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Custom Travel Bottle Set
An RFID blocking wallet protects your passport and credit cards from identity theft in public places.
Travelon RFID Blocking Passport Case
This portable combo door stopper and alarm will give you additional security in your hotel room.
GE 50246 Smart Home
Door Stop Alarm
A bungee cord is very handy for tying your shoulder bag to your roller bag frame.
Crawford-Lehigh 6102 Bungee Stretch Cords Assortment
Much stronger than duct tape, and doesn't leave a messy residue. Fixes luggage, serves as
a clothesline, wraps your international mail packages, etc., etc.
1" x 60 yards
3M Company #8957-1
Shopping easy at
Amazon.com pays my site a
small commission when you click and order an item, if you put it in your shopping
cart within 24 hours based on the cookie they set on your computer. If you don't
want to make a quick decision just put it in your shopping cart, think it over,
and come back later. You benefit when buying here because Amazon.com
has a 20% to 30% discount on many items plus a free shipping
deal. The third bonus is that there is no sales tax on internet purchases in
most states. Delivery is fast
even when it is free, and returns are easy if you are not happy with the product.
You win we win. Thanks for your support!!
Have a good trip in life,
Note: Italicized notations by the author.
Who wrote this?
Home and general index.