The Europe trip packing mistakes I won’t make again
I’d had three hours of fitful airplane sleep and was just paranoid enough to think everyone at Rome’s Termini train station was a gypsy pickpocket when I realized the escalator I needed to ride up two levels was broken. My 50-pound suitcase and I were going to have to climb the stairs.
Two trains later, I arrived at my sister’s apartment in Florence (a fourth-floor walk-up, in case you were wondering). I was still huffing and puffing from lugging my bag up all those stairs as she observed, “You brought more for a two-week visit than I packed for a semester abroad.”
That was four years ago, when my idea of travel still involved ADA ramps to nice hotels where I would unpack once and stay the entire trip. Back then it seemed only logical to bring a different outfit for every day, plus every product from under my bathroom sink. The way I saw it back then, I was preparing for a trip to some of the most fashionable places in the world. I wanted to blend in with the stylish locals, not the Nike-wearing Americans.
Now I’m preparing for another two-week trip to Europe. This time I’m planning to take one carry-on bag. Here’s what I won’t be including:
1. Computer. Sure, you think you’re going to use your laptop. After all, you can download photos, check your email and write a travel diary, all from the comfort of your hotel room. But even a Macbook Air weights about three pounds (including a power cord you’ll need an adapter for). Use your hotel’s business center, upload photos to your Dropbox directly from your phone, and skip the laptop.
2. Blow dryer. I know, I know, you don’t want to have pictures from the top of the Eiffel Tower with your hair in a ponytail. O the horror! But I promise as soon as you get abroad, the adapter will fry your blow dryer anyway. Look around and you’ll also notice that Europeans don’t spend nearly as much time on their hair as Americans, and embrace their natural curly, wavy, or stick-straight hair in a way we really should consider adopting. Start now. Leave the straightener and curler at home, too.
3. Bathing suit. Listen, unless you’re going to the French Riviera (and if so, bring me with you!), you aren’t going to need a bathing suit. European hotels usually don’t have pools and if they do, you won’t spend a second there anyway. Not when there’s a cozy cafe or 2,000-year-old ruin around the corner.
4. Guidebooks. Pro tip: Rick Steves (my guilty pleasure, OK? So sue me) has podcasts. They’re better than the books. Another pro tip: Instead of taking a 900-page guidebook, photocopy the pages with info on places you plan to visit, or take pictures of the sections you need and reference them on your phone.
5. Makeup. Whoa whoa whoa, I’m not saying leave the mascara. I’m just saying if it doesn’t fit in that 1-quart Ziploc, you probably don’t need it. Bring the bare essentials—think what you brush on when you’re running late for work—and leave everything else at home. Makeup is the difference between checking your bag and not. Believe me, you don’t want to check.
6. Those Nikes. Unless you’re planning to go on actual road runs, please just bring comfortable shoes with a decent sole that go with any outfit. I’m not hating on your high-tops because they make you look like a tourist; I’m hating because they take up so much room in your suitcase. Save the space.
Bonus! Three things you won’t think about but want to make sure you packed:
1. Extra memory cards for your camera. I once ran out of room on a memory card while touring Notre Dame Cathedral and bought a new one from a Paris tourist trap. It corrupted, leaving me with only real memories from the second half of my trip. Make sure to bring your own backup—it will also cost less than buying more memory abroad. Also, know if your camera battery is charged, if it needs to be charged, or if you need to bring AAs.
2. Trail mix. You’re hot. Your feet hurt. You’re getting hangry, but the only food available is a lunch-size panino and a 4-Euro Coke. If you’ve always got an individual-size serving of trail mix, almonds, or peanuts in your bag, you’ll have just enough of an energy boost to get through to dinner.
3. A watch. Is Germany six hours ahead of New York? Seven? What time is it when the clock at the train station says 13:51? Bring a watch, set it to local time, and never be confused again. Plus you won’t wear down the batter on your phone.
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