In May of this year, B and I headed to Spain, France and Switzerland on a two-week excursion. I had never been to Europe before so my expectations were higher than my anxieties of boarding a 12 hour flight over the Atlantic. We ended up leaving in a whirlwind one day after closing bloom and my suitcase, while very well thought out, ended up being a complete disaster. Why? Because I didn’t know what to expect and therefore had no idea what to pack. I packed like an overprotective mother sending her child to camp for the first time — you name it, I packed it. The good news from hauling around a 45 lb bag throughout those countries was that I learned what not to pack. Each destination that we stopped in I wanted to throw out about 10 lbs worth of things. (I didn’t, but I did think about it every time I hauled that thing through an airport, train station or metro. The only thing I lost was a travel blanket, but more on that later.)
And then the other truth of the matter was this: I only ended up wearing a few of the things packed. One reason was because of the terrible luck we had with the weather. Spain was gorgeous and I was able to wear the many, many pairs of shorts that I packed. France and Switzerland were cold and rainy so my two pairs of pants, one sweater and slightly heavier jacket had to last me for 10 days. (As I’ve learned is normal and I should probably read the weather updates more often.) Now of course, hindsight is always 20/20 and had I realized that Spain was going to be a much different climate than France then I would have packed differently. But since I didn’t, I’ll let you learn from my mistakes.
I’ve thought a lot about the items that I would aboslutely take if I had to pack up and go again tomorrow. (I wish this was the case) All of the options I would take are below:
(Pssst: You can click on the individual products above to take you to the specific item!)
I figured out that I could make about 15 different outfits from all of these pieces. Probably more but I stopped counting when I got to a nice solid number. I’ve also covered a lot of climate here for summer. I’ve got warmer layering pieces along with a few summery pieces, in case the weather calls for sunshine and the beach. One thing to note: I’m a casual vacationer. While I’d love to one day haul some pretty dresses to Paris and snap beautiful outfit photos (seriously, I need this to happen. it’s on my bucket list.), it’s not realistic for what we like to do and see on a tourist based vacation. So I went with practical but styled choices as you’ll see here.
(More packing tips after the jump… oh yes, there is more.)
1. Basic tee: I picked a nice linen white tee because of the versatility. It can easily go with all three bottom choices, goes well with a military jacket or a blazer, and looks simple and chic. Sometimes the more simple the piece, the more chic it looks. Plus, if you need to wear sneaks to be a tourist one day, a white tee is a perfect companion.
2. Striped Top: I would not leave home without a striped top. The chic factor is too high and again, it’s a piece that you can dress up or down depending on your destination. Also a great layering piece for changing climates.
3. Bright Blouse: This can be anything but you need to bring a little bit of color with you. I liked this top just for the fact that it’s cotton, so it will iron out easily and it has structure to it but it will breathe. To me it’s an easy addition to denim cut-offs with the metallic sandals for a cute but comfortable outfit to stroll around in.
4. Striped tank: You can of course choose another basic top, but I thought a striped tank would be great for a few reasons: 1) it’s striped, 2) to wear as a cover-up over a swimsuit or if it’s warm out as a top, 3) layering piece under a chambray and/or jacket if it’s cooler outside. Again it’s another piece that goes with all three bottom choices perfectly.
5. Casual Jacket: I wore my anorak jacket all over Europe because it was easy to take with me in case it decided to rain. (And this decision happens often in Paris, apparently.) A denim jacket would also be a great choice to take as well.
6. Chambray top: One of the most versatile pieces in my closet, this was the one piece I was so, so grateful that I brought. I wore it one too many times. A must-have when traveling.
7. Lightweight scarf: Needed for cold airplanes, layering and for a nice way to change an outfit that may be on repeat.
8. Swim suit: We never hit a pool, but I was prepared just in case we found one in the sun.
9. Skinny jeans: I can not tell you how many times I wore this pair of jeans on our trip. I even contemplated not bringing them thinking I would be too warm. Thank goodness I threw them in last minute. If you prefer, boyfriend jeans would be a great alternative as well. I just prefer the skinny look.
10. Denim shorts: I say denim shorts because like jeans, they can go with everything. Plus denim shorts tend to keep their shape even after wearing them for long periods of time or while traveling. Sometimes cotton shorts lose their shape and don’t hold up as well.
11. Cotton skirt: For those days that you want to feel a little bit dressier but still feel comfortable, a skirt is a must have. I lived in this one while in Spain. Plus it’s nice to have options for dinners out.
12. Day dress: I’m probably going to buy this dress regardless of the fact that we will not be going to Europe again any time soon. It’s just a perfect shape and a nice blank canvas to create whatever look you are going for that day or evening.
13. Knit dress: Again with the stripes, I know but they are classic and a knit dress is perfect to travel in. It tends to not wrinkle and it feels like pajamas. Throw on a jacket and a scarf and that should get you through a cold plane or train just fine.
14. Crossbody bag: I took two bags to Europe with me (actually three bags — I brought a clutch that I never used but I packed my jewelry in it, just in case.) This was actually a smart decision on my part; the cross body bag was perfect for tourist areas and the tote was great as a carry-on or if we went shopping one day.
15.Day tote: So this one is reversible — it can be either black or brown. I can’t describe how perfect this is for traveling (even if you only take one bag) because you can match it whatever your outfit is that day. Again, a tote like this is great as a carry-on or for shopping and stashing your purchases in your tote. Also REVERSIBLE. I’m obsessed.
16. Umbrella: Someone actually suggested that I take a small umbrella with us when we went. I scoffed. Guess what? I wasn’t scoffing at that advice when we were in pouring down rain in Paris. Take a small, sturdy umbrella. Or buy one on the streets for 10 euro and have it break 45 seconds later like us and then cry into your soggy gelato like we did.
18. Sunglasses: I of course packed two because I’m a lush, but I always had a back up in case I lost one or left them in the hotel room. You can just pack one though and I won’t judge your choices.
19. Metallic sandals: This is a specific request, I realize but as we were traveling I never wanted to wear the heels I brought. (Feel free to roll your eyes at the fact that I brought multiple pairs of heels.) But I did want to have a little bit of something when we went to dinners at night. Enter the slightly heeled sandal that just happens to be gold. See? It all makes sense now.
20. Birkenstocks: You may love or hate them, but you can not deny the comfort they bring to tired tourist feet. I wore them throughout Spain and my feet never once complained.
21. Nude ballet flats: I took this pair and I pretty much wore them out. They were so comfortable and easy to slip on and go. (These are also foldable, so they pack well.) I also felt like they complimented all of my outfits because of the nice, nude color. Black would also work well, depending on what else you take.
22. Sneaks: If you are going to be walking, then you need sneakers. I like the look of these with a dress or skinny jeans; you can’t beat a cute white sneaker.
And for those who are more list-oriented than visual, I made you a checklist below.
This is a pretty minimal list but it will get you through I’d say a 2-3 week vacation, with re-wearing some outfits, of course, but without hauling the un-necessities. And if my calculations are right, you can probably pack these things (depending on toiletries) in a carry-on suitcase or at least a smaller sized suitcase. A helpful hint that was passed on to me by a world-traveler is Packing cubes. This was some advice I did not scoff at. It doesn’t seem like they would be helpful because they are just bags… but they are. I can’t explain it, it just works. You can get so much more in a suitcase when using them. I rolled all of my items into three of these things and still had room to spare. I also packed inthis suitcase, if you wondered. It’s lightweight and holds a TON. In fact, it might hold too much. 🙂
As far as toiletries go, pack light but pack right. We brought our own shampoo and body wash using these holders. We also brought a small travel hairdryer, which was a great decision because some Air BnB places we stayed did not have a hair dryer. (All of our hotels did though. So it might just depend on where you stay.) Other tips: Bring an extra bag or two. I like Baggu nylon bags because they are small and take up no room if you don’t use them. We put our dirty laundry in them but you could also use them for an extra carry-on / shopping tote or to store a wet swimsuit, etc. It’s just nice to have them in case you need them. (I always seem to need another bag…) The other suggestion I have is to bring two universal adapters. We used one with an USB plug to charge our phones and the other for a hair dryer or computer, etc. I’d also bring a reusable water bottle,like a BKR or Nalgene. We were able to fill them up at the house we were staying with filtered water and that way we didn’t have to pay a lot of disposable water bottles throughout the day.
Things I’d leave at home? Travel pillow or blanket. Unless you absolutely can not travel without one, I’d leave them behind. They are a pain to haul around, become pretty dirty from travel and take up too much room in your suitcase when not in use. I had both a travel blanket AND pillow and regretted that decision within hours of take-off. If you can, leave your computer at home as well. I brought mine because I can’t leave work alone. But honestly, you can get whatever you need done with a smartphone or iPad. And as far as bringing a computer just for photos, if you can buy an Eye-Fi card and upload your photos to your iPad or iPhone so you can use them immediately without the use of a computer. (This camera actually connects directly to your phone and automatically loads them via wifi, if you’re looking for a new camera.)
So that’s it! If you made it to the end of this long, long post congratulations because that probably means you are going on a trip and I’m jealous. Have fun and pack well.
PS: I intentionally left toiletries / undies / necessities out because I figured those things were up to you. Besides my suggestions of sunscreen, hand sanitizer and tylenol, I think you can cover your needs in the toiletries category. 😉