Packing for a Long Trip

Our flight to London leaves in just three days (!!!!) which means it’s time for me to finish packing. I am a planner in pretty much all aspects of my life, and packing for a trip is no different. Procrastination stresses me out beyond belief, so I try to pack as far in advance as possible.

About a month before the trip, I started reviewing my wardrobe in my head, thinking about what I might bring and whether I needed to purchase anything for the upcoming trip. Last week, I nailed down my packing list, and this week, I’ve done laundry and started to lay everything out. Today, I’ll pack as much as possible, so that the day we leave, I only need to add in last minute items, like toiletries and makeup.

Spreading out the process of packing over the course of a few weeks helps keep the whole thing relaxed and stress-free, lets me debate whether I really need that extra sweater, and helps me remember one-off items that I might forget if I were packing last minute. I’ve been documenting my packing process on my Instagram stories, so check it out if you’re interested (@erinplansforeurope)! I use my home office as a “staging area”, where everything goes from being a complete disaster of clothes in a chaotic pile to a neatly organized suitcase.

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As I’ve mentioned on Instagram, this trip will be three weeks long. We’re flying into London and spending a week there before we move on to York and the Ribble Valley. My husband and I are taking our 15-month old son on his first trip abroad, so even though my husband and I have been to London several times, this will be our first trip with a toddler. So much will be new and exciting, not the least of which is the packing.

Do you know how much stuff tiny humans need? I certainly didn’t before I became a mom. There are the clothes, of course, which are fortunately very small, but there are also blankets, stuffed animals, toys, bibs, bottles, sippy cups, snacks, and more. My packing checklist for the baby feels like it’s a mile long. You know how adamant I am that packing in a carry on suitcase is the way to go, so even with all the added baby items, that’s what we’re doing.

Yep, you heard me. My son and I are sharing a carry on suitcase for a three-week trip around England. We’ll be staying in apartments, so we will be able to do laundry (a true lifesaver and a “must have” for me when looking for places to stay), but there’s still an awful lot of stuff I need to cram into a small suitcase. With all the added baby items we’re having to bring, I am going with a very minimalist packing list.

Here’s my packing list for our three week trip around England:

  • 2 pairs of shoes (wear one on the plane, pack one)
  • 3 pairs of pants (wear one on the plane, pack two)
  • 4 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 short sleeve shirt (wear on the plane)
  • 2 lightweight sweaters (wear one on the plane, pack one)
  • 1 lightweight jacket with hood (wear on the plane)
  • 1 blanket scarf (wear on the plane, where it will do double duty as a blanket or pillow)
  • 10 pairs of underwear
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 3 camisoles
  • 1 pair of PJs
  • Toiletries and makeup

When it’s listed out like that, it looks like so much stuff! I may try and whittle it down even further, depending on how much space there is. I’ve picked items that are machine-washable (obviously), layer well, and color coordinate with each other. Everything I’m packing goes with everything else, which will give me a lot more versatility in creating outfits and will make getting dressed in the morning a breeze.

Packing for a long trip in a carry on takes a little more planning and preparation, but if you start thinking about your packing list ahead of time, it’s not a big deal. Once you travel with just a carry on, you’ll realize you didn’t miss all that extra stuff anyway, and you’ll be so thankful you don’t have to lug a huge suitcase around!

 

 

 

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How to pack in layers 101

Packing for a European vacation is tricky. You’ll be walking a lot, so you want clothes and shoes that are comfortable. You’ll be taking a lot of pictures, so you want to look cute and well-dressed. You might even be visiting a few countries with different types of weather, so you have to be prepared for a range of temperatures. This is turning into a logistical nightmare! How are you ever going to decide what to bring?

I’m here to show you how. After taking countless trips to Europe, I’ve finally gotten the hang of packing for an overseas adventure, and I can show you how to fit it all in a carry-on suitcase! (I always pack in a carry-on suitcase and here’s why you should too.)

The secret to packing everything you need in one carry-on size suitcase is to pack in layers. This is easy to say, but harder to do. That’s why I’m going to show you exactly what I mean, with examples.

The general idea for packing in layers is that every item of clothing you bring should coordinate with everything else, and you should be able to add or subtract items so you can be warmer or cooler, depending on the weather. Put succinctly, everything should do double duty.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. Take five key pieces: a dress, leggings, lightweight long-sleeve shirt, denim jacket, and a lightweight overcoat with a hood. Add in a scarf for some color and a pair of shoes that is both cute and comfortable. Notice that the color palette is made up of mostly neutrals and everything coordinates.

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If the weather is warm, you can wear the dress on its own. As temperatures drop, just add layers. A little chilly? Throw on the jean jacket and scarf. Getting cooler? Layer the leggings under the dress. Downright cold? Wear all the things – leggings, turtleneck, dress, scarf, denim jacket, and the overcoat. With just these five pieces, you can create several outfits for a variety of temperatures. For example, you could also wear the dress, scarf, and overcoat. Or the leggings, turtleneck, and jean jacket. Or….well, you get the idea.

Yes, packing like this requires some extra planning and effort, but the payoff is worth it, I promise. Just remember these two questions:

  1. Does this piece go with everything else I’m bringing?
  2. Can this piece be layered over/under something else?

And you’ll be set!

 

 

 

Why you should pack in a carry-on for your European vacation

Here’s a confession: I used to be an extreme over-packer. While it pains me to admit it, it’s true. My most egregious offence happened in 2008, when my mom, grandmother, and I took a trip to Paris, Switzerland, and Italy. Our plan was to fly into Pairs, spend a week there, and then take the train from Paris to Switzerland, and then from Switzerland to Florence, where I was about to start my study abroad program. Since I was going to live in Florence for six months, I was convinced I needed to take my entire wardrobe with me.

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Don’t pack this much stuff. You won’t need it, I promise. (Photo via Google Images.)

So I packed two giant suitcases and conned my poor mother into packing her giant suitcase half full with even more of my clothes. My grandmother, never known for packing light, also had a large suitcase of her own.

When I think back on my mother and I (my grandmother was in pretty good shape but couldn’t carry her own suitcase), both fairly petite women, lugging four enormous suitcases through train stations, onto trains , off of trains, up stairs, down stairs, over cobblestone streets, I cringe. It was absolutely exhausting to haul that much stuff around, and we must have looked like such tourists. I’m honestly surprised we weren’t targeted for pickpocketing or bag snatching. With so much luggage, if someone had wanted to grab one of our bags, there wouldn’t have been anything we could have done about it.

And you know what? Once I was in Italy, I wore the same ten or so outfits over and over again. Or I bought new clothes, or borrowed from my roommates. Half of the clothes I hauled across the Atlantic, despite being there for six months, never even got worn.

That trip was really my “come to Jesus” moment when it came to packing. I realized that if I could get by on the same ten or so outfits for six months (and two seasons), then I should always, always be able to pack in a carry-on size suitcase for vacation. Since then, I’ve limited myself to packing in a carry-on suitcase for all my trips, and I have never once regretted it.

There are so many benefits of being a carry-on-only passenger:

  • Avoid the risk of lost luggage. There aren’t too many things I can think of that have the actual potential to ruin my vacation, but having the airline lose my luggage is one of them. Can you imagine having to deal with the airline’s Lost Luggage department in a foreign country on little-to-no sleep after an excruciatingly long flight? Eeeek, no thank you.
  • Get out of the airport faster. You know how after a 12+ hour transcontinental flight, all you want to do is get the hell out of the airport? Carry-on lets you do that. When everyone else is staring forlornly at the baggage carousel, you can beat them all to the customs line and be on your way.
  • It makes you less of a target for pick-pocketing. I have never been robbed in Europe, but it is more of a risk there than it is in America. Thieves in Europe see Americans as dumb, naive, and rich, and they take advantage of that. If you’re struggling with a large suitcase, you’re less likely to be paying attention to whose hand is sneaking in your pocket or purse. Packing in a smaller, manageable suitcase makes you far less conspicuous.
  • You can store your suitcase in the overhead racks on trains. If you plan on taking a train ride between destinations, packing in a carry-on suitcase can be especially important. Generally, there’s not much luggage space on train cars, and it fills up quickly. I’ve seen people have to haul suitcases several train car lengths from their assigned seat to find space for their luggage. Not only is this inconvenient, but it means your unattended luggage can easily be stolen.
  • Fewer choices make getting dressed in the morning easier. I’m not one of those people who can just “visualize my closet” and assemble the perfect outfit. At home, when faced with my entire wardrobe, I’ll stand in front of my closet forever, trying to decide what to wear. Who wants to waste time like that when traveling? There’s too much to do! Having a limited selection of outfits makes it easy to get dressed, get out the door, and get sightseeing.

The way to pack in a carry-on suitcase is to bring only the essentials and pack in layers. You actually need much less than you think you do. Don’t pack something just because you might use it – pack what you know you’ll need and buy yourself out of any jams. Spend time packing, and constantly ask yourself whether you really need an item. Bring travel size toiletries and visit a local drugstore for replacements when you run out. It’s an exciting cultural experience, and you might end up with a new favorite shampoo!

Packing in a carry-on suitcase takes practice, and a little extra effort, but once you’re on vacation, you will be so glad you packed in a carry-on suitcase! Are you a packing pro, or do you struggle to fit everything into your suitcase? What are your best packing tips?

Best money-saving tips for visiting Europe

If you’re anything like me, you wish you could travel more than you do. There are a lot of reasons that keep me from traveling several times a year (like having a kid and a job), but one of the biggest reasons is financial constraints. If I ever win the lottery, a chunk of my money will go to responsible things (paying off our house, funding my retirement account, setting aside the hundreds of thousands of dollars it will cost to send my son to college in 2035), and the rest of my money will be spent on traveling (and adopting as many shelter dogs as possible).

While a vacation to Europe certainly can be expensive, it is absolutely possible to travel on a budget. My husband and I have done a two week trip to Iceland, London, and Paris (three pretty expensive cities) for under $6,200 total. As in, including airfare, hotels, transportation, food, attractions, everything, for both of us. We saw all the sights, ate great food, slept in nice hotels (my hosteling days are far behind me!), and didn’t feel like we were on a budget at all. A great trip doesn’t need to break the bank! Here are my best money-saving trips that won’t compromise your incredible vacation.

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Follow my money-saving tips to save those euros!
  • Travel during off season. If at all possible, avoid travel during the peak periods. “Off Season” can differ by destination, but in general this means the fall, winter, and early spring. Not only will traveling during the off season result in fewer crowds, but airfare and hotel costs will be substantially lower. Sure, you might have a little less sunshine, a little more rain, and fewer hours of daylight, but I think the trade-off is worth it, especially when visiting a big city where you’ll likely spend a lot of time in museums, where the weather outside doesn’t matter at all.
  • Fly during a weekday. Generally, flights are much cheaper if you avoid flying on the weekend. By shifting your plans just a little bit, you can save hundreds of dollars. We prefer to leave on a Thursday and return on a Friday. Even though returning on a Friday rather than a Sunday means cutting our vacation a few days short, we save money and have the rest of the weekend to unpack, do laundry, grocery shop, generally get the house in order, and adjust to the time change (it always hits me harder coming home than it does going) before having to go back to work (ugh).
  • Stay outside of the city core. Even though getting a hotel “in the mix” can be tempting, it’s always cheaper to stay a little bit outside a city’s tourist center, and in a city with great public transportation, it’s not really a compromise at all. For example, when we were in Munich for Oktoberfest, hotel rooms in the the city center were going for over $400 a night. Definitely above our budget! Instead, we found an Airbnb a 10-minute U-bahn ride away for the very reasonable price of $150 a night. When looking for a place to stay outside of the city center, I make sure it is near a public transportation line with direct connection to the tourist core (no transfers necessary) and has a variety of restaurants nearby so we don’t have to go too far for dinner after a long day of sightseeing.
  • Picnic. One of the biggest ways to save money in Europe without sacrificing anything is to eat picnic-style for the majority of your meals, and save restaurants for a few special occasions. Assembling a picnic is easy to do, and lets you experience life like a local. Grocery stores sell delicious ready-made dishes (complete with plastic utensils), or you can visit a market for a truly immersive event. Public wine consumption isn’t illegal or frowned upon like it is in the US. Grab some cheese, bread, olives, fruit, a bottle of wine (most stores will uncork it for you, or you can buy a cheap wine opener), and you have a feast fit for a king, on a pauper’s budget. Some of my favorite places to picnic include the Piazzale Michelango in Florence, Jardin du Palais Royal in Paris, and the San Nicolás viewpoint in Granada.
  • Balance stays in cities with stays in smaller cities. I think this is an important tip for any European vacation, even if you’re not incredibly concerned with the budget. A country is much more than it’s largest city (imagine if someone judged all of the United States by their visit to New York City!), and getting out of the big cities will let you get a truer sense of the country’s culture. It can also save you money. For example, the cost of a moderately priced hotel in Munich runs between €100 – 140 a night. But in Füssen, just a two-hour train ride from Munich and close to the famous “King’s Castles” of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, a moderately priced hotel ranges from just €80 – 100 a night. The cost of food is less expensive, too.
  • Look into sightseeing passes. Most cities have some form of a sightseeing pass that includes admission to multiple museums over a specified number of days for one fixed price. Usually, when you purchase the pass, you’ll also be able to skip the lines, which will save you time in addition to money. However, it’s important to do your research before purchasing a pass. In some cities, like Paris, Rome, and Berlin, the pass is a great value and can be an integral part of having a great trip. But in other cities, notably London and Prague, the sightseeing pass doesn’t provide real value to any but the most ambitious and busy travelers. Look up the cost of the pass and compare that to the cost of each individual sight you plan on visiting to see whether the pass is a good deal for your trip.

Planning a vacation to Europe can seem daunting and overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to stay within a budget, so don’t hesitate to contact me if you want help! Do you have any other favorite money-saving tips? Tell me about them in the comments!

Top 10 Tips for making the most of your European vacation

Over the past 10 years, I’ve taken several European vacations, as well as planned trips for countless friends and family members. Through that experience, and reading more than my fair share of guidebooks, blog posts, and online trip reviews, I’ve compiled a list of my Top 10 tips for making the most of your European vacation. Check out the list below, and let me know your favorite tips in the comments section!

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Big Ben, London

 

  1. Do your research. I read guidebooks like they’re bestselling novels, so of course this is going to be my number one tip. But even if you’re not super weird like me an avid reader of guidebooks, there are tons of resources you can utilize. Check out blogs (some of my favorites are Helene In BetweenRick Steves, and Two Feet One World), visit the city’s tourism website, do some general Googling, or ask for recommendations from friends and family. At a minimum, you should know the major attractions for your destination and have a general plan for which ones you definitely want to visit. (Or, if the thought of sifting through guidebooks and websites makes you want to break out in hives, I can help! Contact me for more details.)
  2. Prioritize. If you’re visiting a major city like Rome, London, Paris, Amsterdam, or Madrid, realize that you likely won’t be able to see everything. My preference for when I travel is to visit one or two key sights a day, but no more. I want to still have time to vacation, after all! Pick a handful of attractions that you have to see (your A list), and fill in the rest of your time with second- and third-tier sights.
  3. Plan to return. Building off the tip above, plan every visit as if it’s one of many, rather than as if it’s your one and only. I totally understand the pressure to SEE ALL THE THINGS because who knows when or if you’ll be back. I’ve found, though, that this is a recipe for disaster. It leads to overscheduling, which leads to exhaustion, frustration, and a lack of quality experiences. I’m going back to London in May for my fourth one-week visit, and I’ll STILL be seeing new things. It’s ok not to do everything this trip! Give yourself a reason to return.

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    The Alhambra, Granada
  4. Don’t feel like you have to see something just because a guidebook/friend/the internet said so. Visiting Paris but not into royal palaces? Skip Versailles. In Berlin but old furniture isn’t your jam? Avoid the Pergamon Museum. This is your trip and with so many things to see or do, don’t waste your time on something that doesn’t make you happy. Give yourself permission to slow down and take a break if you need it.
  5. Buy tickets ahead of time for major attractions. This is especially important in big cities and absolutely crucial for blockbuster sights like the Eiffel Tower, Colosseum, or Alhambra, or if you’re traveling with kids or older persons who have difficulty standing for long periods of time. Advance tickets usually lock you into a specific day or even a specific time, but the loss of flexibility is infinitely worth it when you bypass everyone standing miserably in the hours-long line, or the disappointment that comes with arriving at a highly-anticipated sight only to find out that tickets aren’t even available.
  6. Prepare to be uncomfortable. Whether it’s the stumbling over the language barrier, figuring out public transportation, navigating busy foreign markets, or encountering different cultural norms, at some point during your trip, you will be inevitably be outside of your comfort zone. This is completely normal and, I think, one of the most valuable parts of travel! Go into your trip with an open mind and a hefty dose of patience and be prepared to have your boundaries expanded.

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    Staufen beer cart from Oktoberfest. Munich, Germany.
  7. Plan to visit your must-see attractions at the beginning of your trip, but not on the first day. Union strikes, weather, unexpected restoration, or other factors may cause attractions to be closed suddenly and without warning. Although most strikes are planned and publicized well in advance, some are not and this could lead to major frustration. Visit your must-see sights early on so you can rearrange the rest of your itinerary if necessary, but don’t go on the very first day when you’ll assuredly be disoriented and jet-lagged.
  8. Learn a few key words before you go. This is not saying you need to be a linguistics wizard or fully fluent in the language before you travel. In general, most people you encounter in big cities (especially those in service industries) will be completely fluent in English or at least know enough so you can get by. But just knowing a few foreign phrases (“hello”, “goodbye”, “please”, “thank you”, “yes”, “no”, and “a glass of red wine”) will get you far. I’ve found that people are far more receptive and willing to help you when you can demonstrate that you’ve made an effort too. Guidebooks, Google translate, and the free app Duolinguo are my favorite resources for picking up a bit of the language before I travel.
  9. Immerse yourself in your destination before you go. This is another great tip if you’ll be visiting with kids, but I always find that reading a book or watching a movie set in my destination gets me even more excited for my upcoming trip. On Goodreads, you can easily search for your destination city to get book recommendations, and Googling for “movies set in _____” will yield you some great viewing recommendations. Recently, I’ve been reading Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and other Brontë books before we visit Haworth in West Yorkshire on our upcoming trip, and I’ve added Notting Hill, which was set in London, to my Netflix queue.
  10. Check the calendar for major holidays and festivals. One of the most famous holidays in Europe is Oktoberfest, held in Munich every fall, but other major events like religious holidays (Carnival, Easter, All Saint’s Day, Christmas, and Epiphany) or secular festivals (St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland, Amsterdam Gay Pride in the Netherlands, or Paris Fashion Week in France) can bring increased crowds and higher hotel prices. If your dates are flexible, a few minutes of internet research before you book flights can save you hassles and headaches later.
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Riverboat tour in Bacharach, Germany

Now it’s your turn to tell me – what is your favorite European travel tip?