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Luggage Situation for 5 Months in Europe

Next year is going to be the time for me to test drive some European cities as I inch closer towards deciding to make a move and make the permanent long haul to Europe. Starting in later summer/early fall, I plan on doing a month in Switzerland, one in Belgium, one in the Netherlands, one in Denmark, then one in England, getting me back to the states around holiday time to then stew on what happens next. Before I ask my luggage question - yes - I am aware of the Schengen areas, but I am a dual citizen of both Switzerland and U.S.

Onto the luggage question: am I kidding myself to try and take my Rick Steves 24" to check and a carry-on as well? Should I just take Rick's roll-aboard carry-on and a good backpack? I know the instantaneous response is to always pack light and only carry enough for a week, but seeing as it's five months and I'll be working remotely and trying to live like a local rather than constantly traveling to and fro and sightseeing, I wondered if anyone had similar experiences where packing light still did the trick. I'm not planning to pack heavy, mind you, but I'm essentially just trying to decide between my 24" plus a backpack or quite small carry-on item, or just a carry-on and a larger backpack. I'm just trying to decide if it's worth dealing with the struggle for just the very few days I'll actually have to lug my 24" and a smaller rolling carry-on along as I make my transitions each month to one new place.

Thank you so much in advance for the kick in the pants to just pack light that I know I probably need! :) Reading these boards has helped me stay smart and pack light in the past, so I'm hoping it will maintain my resolve for this much longer trip!

Posted by
16883 posts

I have traveled for periods of up to 10 months with one carry-on sized bag and small daybag (in tourist mode, not having business meetings). A couple of versatile, semi-casual outfits can take you a long way. You probably won't meet too many local people who'll ask "why do you always wear the same clothes?". See also http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/packing-light/packing-list-women. Besides, if you start out full, you'll never get to go shopping.

Posted by
29 posts

Thank you for the encouragement! I'm feeling more confident about finding a happy medium of only a carry-on roll aboard but will get the largest size that works for the airlines I'm flying. I've certainly lugged my 24" about Europe in the past successfully (including carrying it up five flights of stairs in Bath), so I'm able, but it's definitely going to be nice to make those transition days effortless!

Posted by
3696 posts

Well... I have never stayed for that long of a time and I do pack light with lots of mix and match... but I think after 5 months I would be so sick of those clothes :)) I would probably start out with as little as possible and add some new items along the way. Will the weather be about the same or will you need to take that into account? The part about working might present a problem if you have to dress professionally part of the time. Good luck with it.... keep us posted and let us know how it works out:)

Posted by
29 posts

Luckily, it's a remote working situation, so I won't be tied to any office or office attire. My offices are going to be cafes and benches! I will need to bring one good formal business outfit, however, if I have freelance meetings with clients (I'm a graphic designer). The seasonal packing shouldn't prove too difficult. Going from Switzerland in July, through to Belgium in August, Netherlands in September, Denmark in October, England in November, I'll probably just pack the way I normally do. Lots of layers for different types of weather/temperatures! I always plan on weather now to be pretty bipolar anywhere just like my thermoregulation system (I can overheat in the oddest cold places and vice versa!)

So much planning to do, but I'm nipping it in the bud early - will have more questions for other threads regarding pinning down particular cities as well. Thanks for your help!

Posted by
4535 posts

My last long stay (about 4 months) I had a larger suitcase (checked) and a daybag. The larger luggage worked best for me because I was collecting books and papers as I went. Clothing wise it was more than I needed but I did need more than one week's worth since there were seasonal changes. You'll need items to layer or some sweaters and a jacket.

I'm not sure I could get away with a 24 inch bag for such a long stay.

Posted by
339 posts

Since you will be in one place for one month at a time, it makes sense to me to travel with more clothing especially since you will be spanning several seasons. It's not like you will be packing up every three days and hopping trains, if I am reading your posting correctly. The reason I like to travel light is that I don't like to schlep a big bag through train doors and I don't like keeping an eye on a lot of stuff.

Posted by
29 posts

Claire, that was my thinking originally as well. Most likely, I'll only ever have one day of traveling with all my stuff while I journey from one apartment to the next one, then I'm good to go for a month. I'm so used to using the 24" and it seems large to me now - I've done a month at a time before with it, so I'm thinking I can get away with either using the 24" only and a backpack, or getting the smaller roll aboard carry-on and maybe a convertible rolling large backpack. We shall see as I investigate more and do some trial runs with carting things about how each option works!

Posted by
28105 posts

I don't think I saw how you are traveling each month. I'd have thought if you have access to a car that the bigger bag would not be much trouble.

Even if by train, just monthly pretty much anything would go if you can handle it and can use taxis from the stations/airports.

Good luck in finding your answers.

Posted by
28105 posts

Are you aware of the Sacramento group's monthly meetings? Good support group, decent coffee from what I hear, and a nice gang of folk who love Europe.

Posted by
339 posts

Oh yeah, I didn't see the Sacramento on your post, olivianotter. Great meeting. I have only been once and can't make it this weekend but a great bunch of folks. And lots of advice and fun.

Posted by
2081 posts

oliviamnotter,

i would still pack light as i would going for a 1 month trip.

for me, it would just be easier to do and when i move out for the next place.

whatever you do, it would be interesting to find out how it worked out.

happy trails.

Posted by
9110 posts

Getting back in December and being gone for five months means you'll leave around July. That means you'll need summer clothes and well as winter ones. A couple layers of jackets/sweaters is going to take up a lot of room in a carryon.

Posted by
335 posts

If you haven't found the Website homefreeadventures.com yet, do check it out! It's written by a couple who sold their home and travel the world, staying in apartments for several months at a time (they're in Paris for the summer). Lynne has written about how they pack for such long periods of time and how you can also vary/add to your wardrobe by visiting consignment stores where you're living. They also have LOTS of other useful info and a new book. No, I'm not their PR person, just a loyal reader of Lynne's blog.

Posted by
1179 posts

Hi Olivia,
You can most certainly travel with a carry-on and small backpack personal item. If you are only moving around 1-2 days a month then you may want to use your 24" roller to carry a few extra clothes so you won't grow bored of your wardrobe. You don't want 2 roller bags as that becomes unwieldy. Use a roller backpack combination. Then use your backpack for your short side trips.

In either case the solution is almost identical:
You absolutely must create a capsule wardrobe of pieces that mix / match / layer. Look at the Vivienne Files for great capsule ideas.
I would suggest using summer weight pieces and layer under them as needed for cooler weather. Use silk long underwear tops, silk tanks, tights/leggings, good wool socks to add warmth layers. Add in a puff jacket for under your high quality packable rain trench coat for really cold weather.
I'd bring a pair of waterproof dress boots to deal with foul weather. Try to get soft ones with good treads. They may be knee highs or low cut, but make sure they work with dresses. Add in a pair of walking shoes and maybe a dress shoe (pointy toe ballet flat?) and you are set. A pair of super strappy sandals might be a 4th pair - they're fairly light and compact.
A suit of summer wool or polyester gabardine is your best bet for multi-weather. I like the gabardine look as it is very season neutral and sloughs dirt and cleans up easily. Although my suit says dry clean only I've been able to wash it in the washer just fine. I use Jones New York brand. The suit should integrate into the rest of your wardrobe and work as separates for many more looks. I'd get the suit tailored to fall in line with European norms. This is your one must look nice item.
Rely on accessories - scarves, statement jewelry, and a high quality set of metal jewelry (earrings, bracelet, necklace) to change up your look.
Wear your boots, jeans, and suit jacket on the plane. They are your bulky heavy items.

Posted by
18376 posts

Rick says if you can pack for a week you can pack for the entire summer. You can't possible take enough clothes for that long. You'll have to find places to wash (I prefer the hotel room sink.). I take basically enough clothes for three days and wash a little every night.

I'll bet most locals don't have enough clothes at home to go for five (or even one) month.

Posted by
29 posts

All great points, everyone - I'm so thankful for the responses! I don't drive, so I'm definitely going to be relying on trains and taxis or the like to and from stations, although if my planning is done well, I'm hoping to land apartments that are within walking distance of transportation so as to eliminate extra costs like taxis. As I keep turning things over and over in my head, I think that yes, the consensus is to pack light, but to bring my 24" and then get a rolling backpack carry-on. I'm definitely going to not pack my 24" full or close to it, but to have that room, it'll be useful for bringing anything back, but making sure that some winter coats and items (although every time I've been in Europe or those climates in winter, I've found I barely use any of my winter gear as I get oddly overheated seemingly everywhere) can just be stowed there rather than trying to fit it into a carry-on.

Thank you also for the tips on those blogs, I'm adding them to my RSS feed right now! And I've been aware of those Sacramento meetings for such a long time know and always had the excuse of school, but now that's over, I really must get my tush out to one. Sounds like fun!

Posted by
3171 posts

We've traveled in Europe 3x with students from August-December. Each person had a 24" bag to check and a backpack. We have done the route south to north and north to south. The direction of travel/season didn't really change the items of clothing too much that we brought. We did get really familiar with the articles of clothing that we started out with but some purchased a few new things along the way, donated the too warm or cool clothing as not needed, or shipped special things home from time to time. We encouraged everyone to have things that they could layer as our daily and monthly climate changed. We usually didn't stay in any city longer than 1 week nor country for longer than 1 month. We looked a little bit ridiculous leaving from southern California with jackets, long pants and sturdy walking shoes for the flight to Europe in August but it was one way to keep the weight and volume down for our checked luggage (we had each person weigh their luggage prior to going to the airport). If you are going to be traveling by train between your various locations, having a 4 wheel swivel bag that rolls more easily down narrow train isles would be something to consider. Most everyone reported that they came home and weeded out a lot of seldom worn clothing from their closets when they got back having realized how easy it was to live with less.

Posted by
29 posts

While I'd really like to not have to buy too many new pieces of luggage and use my 24", I've been pondering the last few days and wondering how everyone else has fared in terms of lifting their luggage on trains? I'm 5'5", yet a pro at lifting and carrying around my 24", but I'm a little concerned about a situation where there's lack of end of carriage luggage and I have to try and brave lifting it over my head (I'm assuming over my head - I'm short, and train racks seem tall). Has anyone done it successfully? Keep in mind I'll be light packing no matter what size I use so it won't be a 24" heavy to the brim, but it's something I'm a tad concerned about.

Thoughts?

Posted by
453 posts

You'll be able to lift it. We sure did a recent trip.

I would take the 24". Those tiny RS bags for 5 months wouldn't cut it for me. No way in hell would I take enough clothes for 1 week and live through all those temperature changes. Not to mention being sick of my clothing.

I go against the grain :)

Posted by
29 posts

I'm just going to be doing a lot of trial runs in terms of trying to lift it over my head in certain situations! No such thing as too prepraed, right?

I'm also realizing that I'll both options of the 24" or the smaller Rick Steves bag as my mum will be visiting me and traveling for a couple weeks towards the end of my 5 months, and I think I'll purchase the smaller variety for her, so for if some reason the 24" scares me off, we can always do the vice versa arrangement.

Any others of the short stock like myself who've had experience with a 24" bag and trains?

Posted by
1277 posts

I am 5'2" and found on European trains its much like it is when I'm traveling in an airplane in the US.....I'm capable of standing on the seat and getting that darn suitcase jammed into the over head by myself.....but frequently a kind man or taller woman steps up to help. getting it down, with the assistance of gravity, is a whole lot easier.

Posted by
2353 posts

I would agree that less is more. I would imagine in 5 months time you will probably be wanting to add to your wardrobe a bit. Pack multi-purpose (easily dressed up or down) mix & match. I would consider not packing a winter coat but buying one there once the weather turns cold - but when you do be sure to get at least 3/4 length. If needed you can always pick up an inexpensive duffle bag to use towards the end of your trip and to check on the way home.

Posted by
29 posts

That's good to hear, doric8. I've definitely had my fair share as well of lifting some luggage or bags into overhead netting or bins on buses and Amtrak, but I've never attempted it with a 24" suitcase, but from one shortie to another, it's comforting to know you could do it!