People are surprised when I tell them my wife and I went to Europe for a week and a half and never checked bags.  I’m always a bit bemused by that reaction, as doing so wasn’t difficult at all.  All it takes is a bit of foresight and some discipline.

As background information, a bit about us and the trip.  We’re not kids any longer!  In our 50’s, we tend toward dressy casual apparel; neither of us bothered bringing jeans, for instance.  Our itinerary called for 4 nights in Rome, 4 nights in Sorrento, 1 night in London, and (unfortunately), one night at the O’Hare Hilton during our return.  (The Marquis de Sade seemingly had a hand in developing our itinerary, and was ably assisted by British Airways and United Airlines, but that’s another post.)  Temperatures in Rome and Sorrento were forecast to be in the mid 70’s to low 80’s, and that forecast was accurate.

Did we do a perfect job? Not quite.  There were a few items I shouldn’t have bothered packing, a few things I wish I’d packed, and 3 or 4 items which were absolutely indispensable.

Here’s our luggage in one of our rooms, just after we checked in.  I used the 20″ Andiamo wheeled duffel on the right (my “personal item” was a Pacsafe Metrosafe 350); my wife used a 21″ Landor & Hawa Sub-0-G wheelie, and of course her purse was her personal item.

I’m afraid I never weighed either of these bags when packed, but I’d guess that the Andiamo weighed about 15 or 16 pounds, and the Sub-0 perhaps 13 pounds, but these are just guesses.  Loading them into the overhead on the Triple 7’s and 767’s we flew was easy.

My intent was to take a photo of everything I packed in the Andiamo wheeled duffel, and I almost succeeded; everything is pictured below, prior to some last minute adjustments. You can click on this image for a close-up; each item (or pile) is labeled (you may have to zoom in on the image to read the labels):

One thing that ought to be fairly obvious is I tended to pack articles of clothing that could be mixed and matched – shirts that were versatile (color-wise),  and could be worn with any of the slacks, for instance.

Before going any farther, here are the items which did NOT make the cut:

  • The BlackBerry charger.  At one point I was thinking that if my iGo charger crapped out on me, I’d be without any means to charge my phone.  In the final analysis, I decided to man up and trust the iGo, ditching the dedicated BB charger.  (The iGo worked great, by the way; I’ll post about it soon, along with pictures of it in use in one of our hotels, and on a 777.)
  • I had 4 pair of slacks I intended to bring:  a pair of Orvis travel slacks, a pair of TravelSmith “8 Days a week” travel slacks, a pair of Ex-Officio nylon slacks, and one pair of Jos. A. Bank “Traveler” chinos.  I dropped this last item as I packed, as I felt 3 pair were plenty.  See below for some post-trip thoughts on this subject.
  • The IAMAT kit.  If one of us got sick, I could check the IAMAT website, or ask our hotel for help.

Items which were added after this photo was taken:

  • A second Jos. A. Bank oxford shirt.

And, the worst list of all – things I brought along and never (or barely) used:

  • The “under the clothing” money belt.  I’ll write about what I did regarding security, money, and pickpockets in a future post.  I just couldn’t see messing around with that belt.  I did wear the Eagle Creek belt on our way to Italy because it has a plastic buckle and as such doesn’t need to be removed for security; I didn’t bother using its zippered money compartment, though.
  • The med kit in the clear sided Tom Bihn cube:  I packed way too many antacids, anti-diarrhea pills, and the like in this, and it was essentially unused – except for one morning when I was suffering a bit from an excessive meal the evening before.  I think the kit’s a good idea; I just put too many pills in it.
  • The Garmin GPS.  I used it once in Rome, just to see if it’d be useful when walking to a destination (it was marginally useful).  We’d intended to rent a car in Sorrento for a day, which is the real reason I’d brought it along, but we ended up passing on the car rental.
  • The second oxford shirt; never wore it.  ( ! )

Here’s a photo of the bag when fully packed; there isn’t a lot of room left over.  The meds in the Bihn cube, my toiletry items, and 3-1-1 bag went in the outside zippered pocket.  The sports jacket is on top, of course; I used the folding technique Till Richter posted about at OBOW.

What was in the Pacsafe backpack?

I used the Pacsafe to carry all my on-board items as well as key electronics:

  • Canon S90
  • Trip Planner booklet
  • Excerpts of two Italy travel guides
  • A copy of Paul Theroux’s The Great Railway Bazaar
  • iPod Touch, earbuds
  • Frequent Flyer cards
  • My iGo universal charger – for use with our netbook, the iPod, and my BlackBerry
  • Sunglass case and sunglasses
  • Reading glasses in a hard case
  • Asus netbook in its neoprene cover
  • “Regular wallet” with backup credit card, driver’s license, etc. (removed at security checkpoints, by the way)
  • Little notebooks, pens, magnifier, etc.

What did I forget – or didn’t even consider – packing?

It’s funny how you get used to thinking about things a certain way, out of habit.  Both of us planned to wash socks, underwear, and shirts.  When I travel solo, I always have plenty of spots to hang quick-drying items overnight after washing them.  Easy, right?  Add another person who also wants to hang up items to dry, and you run out of real estate quickly!  I never consider bringing a clothesline – or a sink stopper – when traveling, as I’ve never had any need for them.  I could have used both on this trip, and in fact when we were in Sorrento we went to a Standa supermarket and purchased a length of vinyl-coated rope for use as a clothesline; here it is in use:

The “clothesline” was about €3, and the clothespins were about half that – not bad at all.  They didn’t make the trip home, of course – I left them in our last hotel room.

There’s another item I wish I’d brought along, and it was a factor on our transatlantic flights.  If you look at the photo of the items I packed, you may notice that there aren’t a lot of jackets or sweaters.  I should have known better from past experience:  the temp on our aircraft was occasionally on the cold side.  I wish I’d packed a lightweight fleece pullover for those situations!

What else could I have done differently?  The nylon slacks are fine for the beach or casual dining, but I think I’d leave them behind next time.  The sports jacket went unused until our last night in Sorrento, when we went to a Michelin star-rated restaurant.  It was by no means necessary even there; I’d have to think hard about bringing it along if we were going on a similar trip in the future.

Other than that, I don’t think I’d change things up much in the future.  Perhaps another couple pair of travel socks, maybe one less long sleeve nylon shirt; nothing overly dramatic.  Having said all this, Pat may have done a better job than I;  she used everything in her bag, and I never heard her mention missing anything or regretting packing something.  I’ll see if I can coerce her into writing a short post about how she approached packing.

How about you?  Any thoughts about how to keep things light, while trying to pack smart looking, casual clothing?  Please comment!

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18 Comments on Europe: 11 days, one bag + a personal item – how I packed

  1. Andy says:

    A sink stopper is absolutely essential, but luckily a lot of things work for this. I have in the past used a playing card, a jar top, a rubber ball, even a sock in a pinch. I also use a Rick Steves travel clothesline that doesn’t require any clothespins.

    http://www.amazon.com/Rick-Ste.....B000RW8RUG

    Moneybelts are a hugely polarizing issue amongst backpackers. I think we can all agree that using a moneybelt for *every* transaction is overkill, but putting all my important stuff in my moneybelt and having a daily stash in my wallet made it so that if my wallet was ever stolen they’d only take a day’s worth of money and one credit card. It gave me great piece of mind. The only issue is that you sweat *a lot* with it on while you’re walking around.

    A lightweight rainjacket and a good microfleece are the only cold-weather items I pack. This isn’t just for travel; I live in Portland, Oregon so this is pretty much standard wear for everyone that lives here.

    Medical kits are a frustrating item. They’re dead weight, and you’ll hope to never need them, but you also don’t want to be without them if you do. Rick Steves says he never travels with a medical kit in the 30+ years he’s been traveling to Europe. I think that’s ok for Western countries where there’s a pharmacy on every corner, but I wouldn’t be without it in more rural developing countries.

    And finally, there are many things people bring that would be well served with a good smartphone. Most smartphones on the market today could serve as your GPS, e-reader, music/movie player, internet device, translator, currency converter, camcorder, and of course your phone.

    Thanks for the update. I look forward to more about the iGo!

    [Reply]

    Chris Reply:

    I have never understood the need for a sink stopper. Never had a problem stopping a sink with a plastic bag or something I pick up at the place.

    Totally agree on the smartphone. Amazing how much catching up can be done on a Blackberry, but it can become addictive.

    During my first serious backpacking trip, I threw away the moneybelt on the second day. I like having a “daily stash” one card and some fake credit cards in a small wallet, and stash passport, cash, credit cards and other things somewhere else. Had a hidden pocket sewn on the inside of one of my pants, also spread valuables around, inside the lining of my bag, some on my hidden pocket and the rest elsewhere.

    There is a pharmacy on every corner, totally agree. Even in rural places.

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  2. Adriano says:

    My twopence.
    1- clothesline. Never had it – but I’ve always traveled alone since I started my switchover to carryon only.
    2- sink stopper. Bought a multi functional one, with adaptable size (with rubber rings), only to discover that it doesn’t work. A normal, one size fits all stopper does the trick and costs less
    3- training shoes. Still haven’t found the right, lightweight solution for me – and maybe a pair of multipurpose shoes, smart enough for casual clothing

    More to come…

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  3. I’m not a big clothing/fashion person so when I go on long trips, I take a lot of clothing that I am not interested in keeping anymore so I can lighten my load as I go.

    How many drugs/medications I take depends on where I am traveling. To Southeast Asia, I am a walking drug store. When I travel within the U.S., I only bring my allergy medicine and ibuprofen.

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  4. Cindy H says:

    I have found that the easiest way to carry over the counter drugs is to use blister packs. I will carry a sheet of them (usually 6-8 pills). So 1 sheet of Claritin, 1 sheet of benadryl, 1 sheet of immodium, and maybe a cellulose packet of pepto-bismo. I will carry a small travel size bottle of tylenol, because I use it the most. The good part about blister packs is that they contain the medicine even if it gets smashed – just lick it out. And you can dump the pack when you are done. All of the drugs fit into one of those cutesy kids wallets (mine has kitty cats sticking out their tounges).

    I carry a bit of gauze, duct tape, some safety pins, and a few quart size zip lock baggies in addition to the drugs. I can construct ugly but efficient bandages, slings, etc. from the other things. A good wilderness first aid course helps a lot – and what is in your head is zero weight.

    Money belts – I always keep the passport, credit cards, and large amounts of money in a money belt. Daily cash goes into the “working wallet”. That is the only thing that comes out in public. My money belt is the kind that has a loop that slips over your belt and hangs down the leg. I ususally just safety pin it (2 safety pins) to the waist band of what I’m wearing. It is far cooler than the ones that go around your waist.

    I love inflatable hangers. There are never enough hangers in the room, and the inflatable hangers speread the front and back of the garment apart so it can dry faster. I also carry a travel closthesline. I use it a lot!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Cindy,

    Thanks for a great comment. I had meds in blister paks in the Bihn cube – I just had too many of them! I’ll post about how I approach cash and credit cards in an upcoming post… but your method seems solid. Inflatable hangers – great idea, never considered it. When we checked into our hotel in Sorrento, we immediately asked for more hangers; you’re right – there are never enough of them!

    Thanks again for sharing!

    Kevin

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  5. Mark says:

    Kevin,

    How did the rolling bags work for you in Italy? I’ve seen a lot of comments about how wheeled luggage is poorly suited to that – and many European – locations. It’s probably less of an issue if the bag is still light, but cobblestone streets, train travel and lots of steps instead of ramps supposedly limit the value of the wheels. What was your experience with that?

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  6. Chris says:

    One thing I noticed immediately on your picture were the shoes. I didn’t read the post in detail but why bring two pair of shoes of the same or similar type? These are both casual pair, and I wonder why you would bother with bringing both. I’d understand wearing casual shoes and packing dress shoes or wearing dress shoes and packing running shoes, or any combination of the three. But two of the same, never.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Chris,

    In general, I agree with you. But: I hadn’t worn either pair of shoes extensively – especially walking over uneven terrain and/or on cobblestone streets – and wanted to be able to switch back and forth to give my feet a break. As it turned out, I wore the boat shoes about 80% of the time; they were very comfortable, even when worn without socks.

    Kevin

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  7. Tracy V says:

    Long time reader, first time commenter . . . As a female reader, I would love to know what your wife packed. If she’s not up to writing a post, could you just give us short list of her items?

    Also, could you and/or your wife provide thoughts on hand washing? I’ve never tried it and my husband is opposed to it. Do items seem to get really clean? Do you need to have “travel” clothes made for hand washing in order for it to work well?

    One more topic: Can you let me know how you used your netbook and if you would consider travelling without it. It’s a discussion for our next European trip (April 2011). We have iPhones but are considering a netbook as well.

    I love your blog (but it creates frequent bag envy)!

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Tracy,

    Thanks much for your interest in Practical Hacks, and for commenting! I’ve asked Pat to write a brief post about how and what she packed, and I think she’ll do so. Needless to say, she packed clothing that was versatile and worked well together, so she could mix and match different items. I think she brought only two pair of shoes, as well… but she’ll have to fill in the blanks.

    As for hand washing, tell your husband that I’m obsessive compulsive, and picky about clothing, and I have no qualms whatsoever about hand washing clothing while traveling. We brought along a couple 3oz. containers of liquid laundry detergent, and washed out things each night. You can always supplement regular detergent with hand soap or even shampoo, but detergent is certainly most appropriate. I washed out underwear and shirts (both long sleeve and polo shirts) and am confident things were really clean afterwards (and that they smelled clean as well).

    I’d certainly consider traveling without the netbook, but having it along enabled me to moderate (and respond to) comments on this site; I haven’t figured out how to do so with my iPod Touch or BlackBerry. I also used it to research train and ferry schedules, check out restaurants, and keep up with the sites I check out each day. One other thing of note – after a week or so, I’d taken several hundred pictures with my digital camera; I downloaded all of them to the netbook at that point. I figured if I ever lost or had the camera stolen, I’d at least have saved those pictures. I ended up doing this twice – at the midpoint of the trip, and before we departed for London – and eventually, home.

    Hope this helps! I’ll keep encouraging Pat to post about her packing method. Thanks again for commenting!

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  8. Mark says:

    Kevin,

    Any thoughts on my question above about using rolling bags? My wife is normally inclined to using a rolling bag and I’m curious about their use in Italy.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Mark,

    Sorry. I remember your question, and thought I’d addressed it. All I can tell you is that we both had wheelies and didn’t encounter any problems. In Rome, we had to walk about ten minutes or so from our hotel (the Hotel Artemide) to Termini, going over cobblestones and curbs, and neither of us experienced any problems or difficulty. We took the train from Rome to Naples – and back – and I lifted both bags onto the overhead racks, but I imagine Pat could have handled hers, had it been necessary.

    In Sorrento, we pulled them down the street to Piazza Tasso, onto the local bus, and onto the ferry (to Naples) without problems or issues. Keep in mind, neither of us is tall, or young. I think you’d make out just fine.

    Again, sorry for the delay in my response!

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  9. Julie says:

    I love the thought you put into your packing! My husband is the over-packer in our house…he will benefit from your tips! I, on the other hand, have packed for a two-week European trip in a carry-on bag. Here are some tips on how I do it (from a girl’s perspective): http://tiny.cc/6z1aq

    [Reply]

  10. Andrew says:

    Just found your site & been devouring it, thanks.
    After 25 years traveling as airline crew (and constant leisure pass traveler) I’ve spent a lot of time with wheeled luggage (Travelpro is most airline’s contractual issue, but I prefer my 22″ Costco Kirkland rollaboard–indestructible, roomy, lots of excellent details built in).

    As to cobblestones and curbs, wheelies are fine. Stairs, trains, buses can be a different matter, and your size & upper body strength may influence your choice.
    What surprises many people about rollaboards is how much they weigh empty–15 full pounds for the 22′ Kirkland, 11 for my 20′ ‘Crew’ Travelpro. Search eBags and there are now some good choices around 7 lbs and under–like the one in your photo.

    Convertible shoulder bag/backpacks almost died out for a while and are coming back due to ever more stringent weight limits, esp. in Europe where you can now be too overweight for carryon at 20 1/2 lbs.
    My next vacation bag buy will be a convertible. I’ve just ordered both an LL Bean Quickload pack (2 lbs, 2900 cu in), an eBags Weekender (3 lbs 10 oz, 3000 cu in) and a couple of other bags to see which works best. I’ll post again once I’ve received them & done some hands-on to select a winner(s?)

    Sink washing? Absolutely. You can pack 3 days clothes, then wash and wear the same 3 changes for however long you’re away. I fill a 3 oz bottle with Woolite for a 10 day-3 week trip, but any soap will do–hotel shampoo, etc. Bar soap rubbed on a stain makes a good substitute for Shout, etc. I carry a $1 all purpose stopper from WalMart, flat, weighs nothing, but a sock also would work. Cotton always dries slowly; synthetics make better choices for travel undies, socks etc. Just rinse well to make sure you get all the soap out the first few times until you get the hang of it.

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Andrew,

    Glad you discovered the site and are enjoying it. Thanks for a thoughtful comment – please let us know how you make out with your new bags!

    Kevin

    [Reply]

  11. Shannon says:

    I’m very intrigued with the whole packing light thing because historically I’ve packed crazy heavy. However, washing my clothes, by hand, in a bathroom sink that’s been used by thousands of people and probably never properly cleaned, every 3 days … seems like kind of a downer. We’re going to Europe for 2 weeks and I’d hoped to pack one week of clothes then hit a launderette, rinse, repeat. Is it possible to fit 7 days into one bag?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Shannon:

    Thanks for commenting. Your comment made me smile; of course, we think little about taking a shower in a shower or tub that’s also been used by thousands of people.

    In any event, it’s entirely possible to pack a week’s worth of clothing into one bag. You’ll definitely have to be clever in terms of packing clothes that coordinate well with one another. See my wife’s related post: http://bit.ly/cqDFMO

    Thanks again for visiting, and commenting!

    [Reply]

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