My luggage weighed only 17 pounds for a recent 10-day trip to Europe, total! And I didn’t want for anything. In fact there are a number of items I’ll leave home next time. I’m convinced one could bounce around Europe indefinitely with just 15 pounds. So what’s worth taking, and what would I leave behind?
Leave It Behind
I regretted lugging these items around with me. Trimming them out next time will save weight and space, and no one’s going to miss them.
- Jeans – They’re heavy, they take forever to dry, they’re quintessentially American, and they should have stayed home.
- Shorts – Not only did I not need them in the season and climate, they’re really just not appropriate anywhere but the beach. Shorts in the city is another American thing that really shouldn’t travel with us. Plus, they’re explicitly disallowed in many museums, churches, and restaurants.
- Swimsuit – While it seems like every hotel in the US has a pool and Jacuzzi, that trend isn’t likely to catch on in the sleepy, medieval boutiques worth visiting in the rest of the world. If you end up at a beach or a pool: undies.
- Sunglasses – I never put them on. Obviously this was a function of the season and climate; but they’re fragile, and it wasn’t worth carting them around.
- Razor – I should have been real about this. I barely bother to shave in “real life.” Why did I bother dragging around a razor?
- Utensils – Clever, but ultimately unnecessary. I brought my bamboo backpacking utensils. They’re light, but hard and kind of bulky. I found a way to eat everything–even on trains and in hotels–without cracking them out.
- Guidebook – Rick, I love you with all my heart! I read both Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door 2017 and Rick Steves Amsterdam & the Netherlands, cover-to cover, before I left. I brought along Amsterdam & the Netherlands, because it’s packed with such useful info. But at 621 pages (over 13 ounces), I should have snapped a few pics of relevant pages instead of lugging the whole thing around with me.
Here’s the stuff I was glad to have and why. In a few cases I might upgrade or bring more of something next time; but this is all you need to travel in Europe for three days, three weeks, or three months!
- Pants (KUHL Renegade Pants, $85) These hiking pants are comfortable, cool, and breathable. They’re light, and they dry quickly! They fit my body well and can pass for dressy in low light. Instead of jeans, I’ll travel with two differently-colored pairs of these next time. They offer a model that zips off into shorts, in case you really think you’ll need that feature. (You won’t.)
- Boots (Timberland Earthkeepers Chestnut Ridge Chelsea Boot, $140) A bit heavy and bulky, these waterproof slip-ons are comfy as hell and ended up being my first choice after not being entirely happy with a more technical boot I’d bought for the trip. The weight and size wasn’t an issue, as I never packed them. They were the shoes I wore on travel days.
- Shoes (Columbia North Plains II Hiking Shoe, $60) Two pairs of footwear?! I know, I know. Ultralight, breathable, packable, the most important thing about these shoes is that they feel nothing like my boots. I wanted something that I could slip on after a hard day of travel and still keep going. These worked perfectly for that.
- Underwear (ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs, $24) Breathable, lightweight, and odor resistant; these undies wick moisture, dry quickly, and keep you comfortable. Supposedly there are people who travel with just one pair, but I rotated between two.
- Socks (REI Merino Wool Light Hiker and Farm to Feet Everyday Hubbardston Lightweight Crew, $14-21) Cotton kills! We walked seven to 10 miles each day in Europe, and I can’t imagine having done so with low-quality socks. Wool blends maintain insulating qualities when they’re wet, and they’re naturally odor-resistant and moisture-wicking.
- Tee Shirts – I brought along three of the usual cheap cotton v-necks I wear most weekends. I should have upgraded to wool or a more technical fabric that dried faster and didn’t smell so much after a single day.
- Button-Up Shirt – For visiting churches and nicer restaurants, it’s important to have something with a collar. I considered a tech fabric, but ultimately just brought along a cotton button-down Oxford.
- Packing Tip: If you’re bringing nice clothes (like for a business trip), take them to the dry cleaner ahead of time. Instead of having them returned on a hanger ask to have them folded. They can go straight into your luggage like that, and no one will fault you for the crisp creases of a laundered shirt.
- Hoodie – A light hoodie is the perfect mid-layer for air and rail travel, warming up any outfit and negating the need for a blanket. Another garment I intend to upgrade prior to the next trip (Chrome Merino Cobra, $180), the mid-layer-and-shell system is so much more flexible than bringing a parka.
- Rain Shell (REI Co-op Talusphere Rain Jacket, $100) Waterproof but breathable, I put a lot of mileage on this jacket in stormy Holland and Flanders. The hood cinches allow you to turn your head in the rain, and the seamless shoulders feel fine under your pack. Some reviews complain that it “wets out,” but normal annual maintenance with Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In Treatment ($21) will keep this shell in good shape for many years.
- Hat – any will do. I used mine more to keep the rain off my glasses than for shade, but it was worth bringing one along.
- Eye-Mask (REI Co-op Lightweight Eye Mask and Earplugs Set, $13) If you want a chance in hell at minimizing jet-lag on flights over 8 hours, you need to sleep. With wi-fi and seat-back entertainment, some passengers stay awake the whole time, so block out the glow with a mask. Buy one with a sturdy strap to take advantage of my clever sleep hack…
- Sleeping Tip: Those c-shaped neck pillows take up tons of space, look stupid, and don’t work. Do this instead: Open the wings of the headrest to cradle your head then slip the lengthened strap of your eye mask over your eyes and over the back of the headrest. You’re now restrained in a position in which you can sleep, and your neck won’t be kinked when you wake. I invented this. You’re welcome.
- Laundry Soap (Sea to Summit Trek and Travel Laundry Wash, $5) Biodegradable, smells nice, and works well in small hotel sinks or in the shower. Wear your clothes into the shower with you and lather up there to keep the floor dry. To travel this light, you’ll need to do laundry every third day, and you’ll need a clothesline.
- Clothesline (Sea to Summit Lite Line, $10) The key to short dry-times is in how hard you wring things out in the first place (wisdom passed from father to son for generations). Still, this double line with sliding beads eliminates the need for pins; and it doesn’t mess around with Velcro or suction cups that can’t hold up wet clothes anyway.
- Laundry Tip: Use your Do Not Disturb placard, since in-room laundry is prohibited by most hotels. (Don’t feel bad! The rule is there to prevent dripping laundry from ruining carpets, and yours won’t after you wring it out like it tried to kill your family.)
- Money Belt (Raytix Travel Money Belt, $9) There are certainly thinner, simpler ones out there, and I’m sure they’re fine. Just get a money belt and keep your passport on your person all the time. This is also where you’ll stow your cash and cards. You’ll transfer enough for the day to your pocket, so you don’t need to dig into this for every little purchase. European cities are no more dangerous than those in the US, but tourists and backpackers make excellent targets anywhere.
Journal (Moleskine, $14) You could buy a bunch of kitschy crap wherever you go. Then you’ll have to lug it home, and find a place for it at home, and try to care about it a year later. Or you could keep a journal. Use train transfers and the quiet times before breakfast and after dinner to write about all you’ve seen and done and (most interestingly) what you’ve thought about it all. Your journal will be worth more to you in the decades to come than any trinket you will buy, and the thoughts you capture will insure the appreciating value of the memories you’re here to create.
- Luggage Lock (Eagle Creek TSA Lock, $12) If you’re not checking your bag (you’re not, right?) there’s no need for a TSA-approved lock. Still this one snapped through the locking eyes of the zippers on my pack and told would-be snatchers to find an easier target. Keep your bag locked on the train, on the plane, and when you leave the hotel. It won’t stop determined criminals, but it eliminates temptation for opportunists.
- First Aid Kit (Lifeline Trail Light Dayhiker, $10) This lightweight kit is small enough to carry in a pocket, and there’s just no excuse to go without it.
- Headlamp (UCO Hundred, $25) Power-outage? Late train without a reading lamp? Need to get back to your hotel after dark? Awake before everyone else? Having your own source of light always makes sense. Having one this lightweight (3oz), and bright (100 lumens) makes even more sense!
- Power Adapter (REI Co-op Adapter Plug E106, $5) Gone are the days in which the international traveler had to lug around a voltage converter. Modern electronics can figure out the voltage. All you have to do is get the pegs into the holes.
- Headphones/Splitter – Any cheap splitter will do, but it allows you and your travel partner to listen to the same movie on the plane, enjoy the same travel podcasts, study the same language lessons, or take the same guided walking tour.
- Phone – You can activate international calling and data on your smartphone before you go, but it’ll cost you. I got by with only the free wi-fi on trains and in hotels. Pre-download city maps for offline navigation. And since you’ll always have this camera with you, take photos of everything. The little details will be the most fun when you get back.
Pack and Organize
- Backpack (Osprey Porter 30 Travel Pack, $120) I cannot say enough about this pack! Lightweight, smooth and flexible; wear it as a backpack then stow the straps and hip belt to slip it into the overhead bin. Bright colors make it easy to spot and hard to steal. Eyelets on the back integrate with the piggyback system on the daypack.
- Daypack (Osprey Daylite, $35) I left my backpack locked in my room and brought an extra clothing layer, water, and a snack in this super-light pack when we went out sightseeing and exploring.
- Water Bladder (Osprey Hydraulics LT Reservoir, $34) Do you people not drink water?! From tiny four-ounce glasses in hotels to a lack of public fountains to the waiter’s raised eyebrow when you insist you really just want some tap water, I’m convinced the Dutch don’t drink water. (Why would they? The beer is cheap, delicious, and strong!) Still, if you’re an athlete accustomed to staying hydrated, you’ll need to supply your own.
- Packing Cubes (Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube Set, $60) Once you’ve packed with cubes, you’ll never go back. What seems at first like unnecessary extra stuff (bags in bags?) is actually a great way to stay organized and not have to dig through your whole bag every time you need something. If you and your partner each get a set in different colors, you can mix them to color-code your bag to make it even easier to find stuff. The main compartment of my bag was organized into:
- Flat folder for pants, button-up, and shell,
- Medium cube for shirts/shorts,
- Small cubes for undies and socks, and
- Spare cube to separate dirty laundry.
- Toiletry Kit (Eagle Creek Silicone Bottle Set, $31) Two 3-fl. oz. and two 2-fl. oz. silicone bottles hold liquids and gels. They all fit into a clear 1-quart bag for airport security. Fill with laundry soap, face-wash, SPF moisturizer, and toothpaste. Travel-size deodorant and toothbrush round out your kit.
Packing light like this allowed us to travel unencumbered as fast as our feet could carry us. No baggage fees, no waiting at the bag claim, no lost luggage, and no tipping porters. Even small roller bags looked bulky by comparison, and the loud snickety-snick of casters on centuries-old cobblestones just isn’t a good look.
If there’s something you can’t travel without, let me know in the comments. Otherwise, share this article with your friends before their next overseas adventure.