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Packing Advice for Europe Newbies!

Hello friends!

My husband and I are traveling through Europe for 15 days to several cities for short trips. we're also planning on wearing Rick's favorite money belts for the vitals.
(it's our first trip, we have some lofty goals and it's travel-heavy, we know, so just bear with me. We'll be taking longer, more area-specific trips in the coming years.)

We're planning on packing one large suitcase for the two of us and a backpack for day travel. Does this make sense for just the two of us and several on & off's of trains?

Would two smaller suitcases and a day pack/backpack work better?
Is a backpack even safe these days even if we're wearing a moneybelt?

Any advice would be helpful!

Posted by
1589 posts

" We're planning on packing one large suitcase for the two of us and a backpack for day travel"

Take one carry on for each of you plus 2 small day bags. The day bags are for stuff other then money & documents.

Posted by
2633 posts

If that one big suitcase goes missing you're both out of luck, for a short while or possibly the whole trip. I vote for a smaller suitcase for each, perhaps share toiletries, etc.

Have you ever tried to heave a suitcase onto a train? It's a small opening, with maybe 3 or 4 steep steps and keep in mind that time is of the essence--everyone behind you wants to get on, stow their luggage and find a seat. It's also easier to stow a smaller suitcase, can go above your seat rather than the big rack in the middle of the train.

Posted by
3265 posts

We have traveled with one large suitcase, just over carryon size…23-24", and then carried on one bag that fits over the handles or piggyback (similar to RS's euro bag) with backup clothes and important items. I also carried a purse. I think DH had a small cross body bag for his inflight toys. This way of travel has it's advantages. This meant that one person was totally handsfree, weight free, and the second person has one hand free at all times, as one person can easily handle all the luggage. It did work well. There are advantages to checking a bag. If you get to the airport in a timely manner, and have a decent period of time on any layover, you aren't likely to lose your bag. Our family has had a few bags delayed over the years, but never DH and I. Regardless, they always show up within 48 hours, which was the longest, and they are delivered. I kind of like delivery! Two suitcases mean that both of you only have one hand. I found on our earlier trips it was easier with one person being completely free to handle whatever surfaced as we were inexperienced. Some people will say that a back pack will resolve this, but I see no reason to carry when I can wheel. (Carry all the time vs carrying for 1 minute?) There are many different opinions on this forum and you just need to figure out what works for you. Also, some people complain about waiting for checked luggage at the carousel, but I don't find this to be too long to wait, and we usually use this time to use real bathrooms anyway. So by the time one of us freshens up, the luggage is coming out of the shoot. Have fun, Wray

Posted by
989 posts

We each take a Rick Steves Rolling CarryOn 20in (meets European guidelines) and I take a crossbody day bag/purse and he takes a small messenger style day bag - we do carryon only on the way there. We also have the Rick Steves Hide-Away Tote each, which folds up to nothing and weighs nothing, in our daybags for anything we may buy. We usually 'check' a bag or both bags coming back home and carry our daybag and RS HideAway Tote on as carryons.

Posted by
33 posts

...not only hoisting a huge suitcase up the train stairs, trying to lift it up some of the endless staircases in the metro stations would be hellish.

If my DDH and I had travelled with one shared suitcase we would have been long divorced, lol!

Posted by
16894 posts

If two people do share a suitcase, I would not use that as an excuse to make it much bigger or heavier than carry-on size. As strong as your husband may be, don't wear him out or give him reason to resent all the times he's carrying your stuff.

Posted by
11613 posts

If you are checking a suitcase, make sure your carryons have room for at least a change of clothes for each of you, in case your checked bag has to catch up with you.

Posted by
3265 posts

But, as an afterthought to my prior comment... We stopped using just one 23-24" suitcase, because my DH packed very light and I didn't want my clothes mixed in with his dirty clothes. LOL. And I started packing a little heavier myself…yes, some people do say I'll pack heavier next time…but still I fit within RS guidelines. And I'm always rethinking my packing as many of my other posts reveal.

Posted by
3823 posts

You will want to avoid over packing and taking too much stuff. You called yourself a newbie in your headline. One of the classic mistakes newbies, or new travelers, make is taking too much stuff. We see it here over and over again. A person thinks they need a different outfit for each day, and that is not what you need when you are traveling.

Many people from this website take:
1. three nice T-shirts (one long sleeve, two short sleeve)
2. three pairs of pants (slacks or capris)
3. lightweight waterproof (not water resistant) rain jacket with hood
4. one pair of dress shoes or sandals, depending upon your needs and where you are going
5. underwear and socks
6. toiletries
7. electronic devices, such as iphone
8. travel guidebook, map, and travel documents/itinerary
(Note: this is the spring & summer list. Winter list=add sweater & fleece jacket.)

That's all. You're done. Stop! Don't take 12 pairs of pants, 12 tops, 6 pairs of shoes each! Big mistake! Pack light! Remember you also have the outfit you will be wearing over on the plane, including a pair of good walking shoes. Mix and match different tops and bottoms each day. Count on doing some light laundry while you're there.

Forget the one very large bag you spoke of taking. Bob from PA is right; one carry-on bag apiece is a good start. Take a look at two that are ideal here:
Both of the carry-ons pictured in the upper right are perfect for your needs. I know you don't have time to order and receive these from Rick Steves travel store, but these are the size you should be taking. One apiece, nothing large unless you are planning on taking a large object, such as a bicycle that is taken apart.

For a 14-day trip where you will be traveling on trains and covering a lot of ground, I myself would take one medium-size backpack apiece, and that's all. When your backpack is full, you're done packing. You just don't need all that much stuff. You need to take just enough clothes to get by.

The lighter you travel, the more enjoyable your trip will be. Many people come back from their first trip to Europe and say, "I never wore half the clothes I took! It nearly ruined my trip carrying all that stuff around everywhere!"
Be smart. Travel light.

Posted by
67 posts

Thanks to everyone for the awesome advice! I really appreciate all your insight!

Posted by
2788 posts

One each as so many have recommended. We each have taken one for 12 years now and it has never been a problem.

Posted by
8245 posts

I just got home from Hawaii, and my wife and I each carry a 22" rolling carry on bag and a day back pack. We've been traveling this way for 20 years--and refuse to ever trust any luggage to the airlines. You can travel indefinitely with a carry on bag and back pack.

Even 22" rolling bags get heavy when you have to lift'em overhead into an airplane storage compartment. I often get home with clothes I never even wore. I'm tiring of the hassle of heavy bags and will be simplifying to an 18" carry on rolling bag with:
2 pairs of pants/jeans heavily starched at the laundry. They still look good after a week if not soiled.
5 golf shirts
5 sets of underwear
Regular toiletry items.
Chromebook computer and charger
1 pair of shoes (on my feet.)
1 jacket that's fitting for the season

My wife and I hope to be able to travel another 5-10 years into our retirement by lightening our current load. If we run out of clean clothes, we can always find a washer/dryer in B&B's we often stay in.

And remember: You'll never see those people again.

Posted by
524 posts

Since you are traveling around, I wouldn't want to take the chance of delayed luggage....what would happen if you didn't have your suitcase yet and it was time to move on? At first I was going to have DH check his larger...24" bag, and I would carry emergency clothes for the both of us in my RS 20" bag in case his was lost or delayed. We will both carry a messenger style day bag, too. But after doing a practice pack in my carryon, I decided he can do it too. I rolled all my clothes and it's amazing what can go in that bag, and it wasn't even yet full or expanded.

I do think that on the way home, we might expand one of them for things bought.

Posted by
1549 posts

Underpack to an uncomfortable level.
Make selective clothing purchases while traveling to fulfill your needs.
Purchase outside of tourist zones to save money.
We even seek consignment shops often found outside of markets.
Do this and you will add an element to your trip which will provide another perspective to the journey.
And........ You will now have some clothes to remind you of the trip when you return home.

Posted by
3823 posts

Here's something fun to do this weekend, since your trip is now just a few days away.

Get out all the luggage you plan to take on your trip. Pack all bags with the clothes and items you plan to take. No cheating! Pack everything, just like you are leaving out the door to the airport immediately.

Now, pick up all your bags, and walk around your house for about 30 minutes. Go up the stairs, then back down the stairs. Walk around a bit more, go back upstairs, walk back downstairs. No cheating! You must carry ALL the bags you are taking, not just one day bag.

Now, is that too much to be lugging around with you? Too much to be running with to catch a train? Too much to carry up several flights of stairs at a train station or hotel?

If the answer is "yes", then it's time to cut your load by one-third, or even cut it in half.

Posted by
66 posts

My packing list is even lighter. I spent 4 weeks in Europe with: 2 pairs Travelsmith black pants (synthetic, wash by hand), 3 long sleeved t-shirts (grey, dark red, black), black silk long underwear pants and camisole (wore as pajamas, or under clothing when it was chilly), one lightweight black zip up fleece from Lands End, one rain jacket, 3 underwear, 2 pair smart wool socks. 2 scarves to add color. Black top and pants with nice scarf are perfect for evening. I had a pair of black clogs and black flip flops. Since I wore some of these clothes to travel, it put even less in my suitcase. I took along laundry soap, sink stopper and clothesline and washed clothes in my room. I had plenty and only had to carry a small backpack. Remember you won't usually see anyone more than once or ones knows you wear the same clothes over and over.

Posted by
703 posts

Thank you Rebecca for your response to this post. I printed it out and will be doing this before our upcoming trip to Italy & Paris next month.

Posted by
3428 posts

Here's my packing list:
Layers are what work. Wear on plane: black cotton-blend pants, long sleeve turtleneck/T-shirt in winter, or short T in summer, and a long-sleeved or 3/4 sleeve "big shirt" {button up that can look a bit like a jacket}, Windbreaker/raincoat or winter coat with hood, good walking shoes.
In carry-on:
2-3 pair black or khaki cotton-blend pants (I am allergic to wool and rather hot-natured)
3-5 T-shirts/turtlenecks (sleeve length depends on season) I tend to take red, cobalt, purple or black tops.
1 additional "big shirt"( in summer, one short sleeve and one long or 3/4- in winter, both long),
I usually take a couple of scarves -everything coordinates with everything else.

3-5 bras, at least 7 pair undies (often enough for entire trip) same with socks
1 pair pjs if desired
Optional - a sweater/cardigan or fleece
Gloves, hat or hooded scarf (in fall and winter)
extra shoe liners
phone, charger, adapter plug
3-1-1 bag with deodorant, perfume, shampoo, lipstick, chap stick, toothpaste, etc.
another quart baggie with eye shadow, blush, face powder, talcum powder, comb, brush, tweezers, razor, clippers, small baggie with laundry soap,etc. , "feminine supplies" if needed
wash cloth in a baggie,
Everything is organized using ziplock bags.

In my day pack (some trips it has been a back-back style, others a cross body style), I take hand wipes, stain wipes, first aid "kit" in a baggie- band-aids, small packets of Neosporin, dental floss, Advil or Aleve, Benadryl, Dramamine, Nyquil gel capsules, etc., - sewing "kit"(various colors thread wrapped around a small piece of cardboard, 2 needles, buttons, safety pins), prescription medications, medical info sheets, copy of insurance info, paper & pen, umbrella,
Hubby gets by with a bit less. He wears dark Dockers style pants and a polo in summer, a long sleeve shirt in winter. He packs 1 or 2 pairs of dark or khaki colored pants, 3 or 4 shirts, with at least one button up collared shirt, 3 pairs of socks, 3 pairs of undies. His 3-1-1 bag with deodorant, cologne, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. He takes the camera & charger, extra memory cards for camera, his phone and charger and plug adapters/converters.

We are old fuddy-duddies and each wear a waist bag, too (fanny pack, but don't use that term in the UK...LOL!).

We each take one of Rick's carry-on suitcases and a day bag. Also, we each pack a collapsible bag in case we buy a lot of things- though we don't do that as much as when we first started.

Our bags weigh less than 20lbs each, hubby’s sometimes less than 10#s. Our bags can be worn as back-packs or on the shoulder or carried in hand. Easy to get on and off trains, and don't take up much room overhead or under the seat.

Oh- don't take a blow dryer, curling iron, straightener, etc. Even with a voltage converter and plug adapter they often don't work well 'over there'. Style your hair simply and use the blow dryer provided by the hotel.

Posted by
1194 posts

@Wray stated:

Some people will say that a back pack will resolve this, but I see no
reason to carry when I can wheel. (Carry all the time vs carrying for
1 minute?)

This isn't either/or situation you know. Rick makes a rolling backpack that rolls or goes into backpack mode when needed. Several manufacturers make similar bags.

I echo the advice of others - bring two bags. Two small bags store in more places than one big bag. And they are certainly easier to haul around.

Posted by
2768 posts

One carry on size bag each and one daybag each, or share a daybag if you prefer. Messenger or backpack for the day pack is a matter of preference. I feel more secure with a messenger or tote vs a backpack, but others feel the opposite. A backpack should be fine if that's your preference.

Lugging one big suitcase around is much harder than two smaller ones. There are small elevators, stairways, the aforementioned train configurations, uneven streets, all sorts of places where being able to lift the suitcase is really useful. Basic example is Venice -lots of the bridges have stairs up and down. Also, lots of medieval towns have narrow cobblestone alleys, sometimes with stairs, as their streets.

When I travel with my husband and without the kids here is the luggage we bring:
-my RS rolling backpack with all my clothes and general stuff
-my daybag, which is a big handbag with room for my camera, wallet, snacks, water, ipad, etc
-my husband's 20inch rolling suitcase (Eagle creek?) with his clothes
-his messenger bag
-a fold-up duffel bag because even if I buy nothing on the trip my stuff seems to expand. Then we check one of the suitcases on the way home and use the duffel as a carry on.

Out and about, I have my purse but he doesn't carry anything. So if you have a backpack you both can use you can split up the pack mule duty :)

Posted by
66 posts

I go even lighter.

I like the black travel pants from Wear them all the time. They hand wash and dry quickly. So I take:

2 pairs black pants (wear one on plane)
Black silk long underwear pants and camisole. These work for pj's and can be worn under clothes when it is chilly
3 t-shirt style shirts...wear one on plane (black, green, blue). I like 3/4 sleeves...good all year and a little dressier than regular T.
1 long sleeved (with roll up sleeves) big shirt in neutral color like grey or khaki. Wear on plane.
If it is cold time of year, 1 lightweight fleece
1 lightweight hooded rain jacket
3 pair smart wool socks (wear one on plane)
3 pair ex-officio travel underwear (wear one on plane)
2 sports style bras (wear one on plane)
1 pair walking shoes, 1 pair sandals or flip flops (in winter, walking shoes and sneakers)
2 colorful scarves
Swimsuit if needed

This means that my bag only ever has 1 pair of pants, 2 t-shirts, 2 socks, 2 underwear, rain jacket, 1 or 2 scarves, 1 bra, long underwear, and 1 pair of shoes. Maybe a swimsuit in summer.

Of course I take clothesline, sink stopper and laundry soap.

For grooming I take a bar of shampoo soap for hair and body wash, jar of natural deodorant, moisturizer/sunscreen combo, comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss picks, pack of tissue, tube of mascara, tube of lipstick, razor, tweezers, nail clippers, one emery board, one small bottle of nail polish...usually clear, a couple pcks of nail polish remover wipes...this all fits in my 3-1-1 bag. I take a nylon scrubby puff (small) in its own ziploc bag. If you have room, RS travel towel is nice for rolling up laundry and squeezing water out.

Other stuff: my iPad...with travel books downloaded, as well as other entertainment reading. And the power cord. The RS currency converter gadget, my phone...mainly for access to info on phone. Small alarm clock (don't want to miss the train!). Door stop...I feel safer. My little travel pillow I can't sleep without.

I have an old LLBean backpack I normally use (it holds 1700 cu inch, and can be carried like a suitcase or a backpack. RS bags are too big for me) and my Civita Day bag carrying my plane stuff...iPad, travel pillow, water bottle (empty till after security). And of course I have a money belt for deep storage of credit cards and docs. If I have room I throw in my Travelsmith travel blanket in my day bag. Planes are cold!

On the trip, I do sink laundry in hotel every other day, it doesn't take long at all. Hang stuff up in bathroom. I still have one dry set of clothes for the next morning, and I wash two sets of clothes. I wear pants two days before washing. If I have an evening event, I find that black pants and black top, with an attractive scarf, will take me just about anywhere. I usually try to find and bring an attractive rain jacket...not so sporty...and this can double as an evening jacket. I highly recommend for nice travel clothing.

That's how I do it! Small and light! So much easier to get around and you can focus on the trip rather than your stuff. Oh..and that 'don't tell Rick' bag is great to bring if you plan to shop.

Have fun.

Posted by
67 posts

Just wanted to say thank you to everyone for the great tips! We traveled with two 21'' wheelies and a backpack and got around really well! Had a wonderful time! I appreciate all the help!

Posted by
439 posts

For our 1st trip to Italy, a very hectic 21 days, my husband & I thought one big bag would be easier than two smaller ones. We are both pretty healthy & can lift a fair amount. It did become a drag moving it through crowded areas & we found ourselves taking a taxi rather than walking some smaller distances. The one big bag theory does work when we go to his brother's home in Ireland, where we essentially have a base, we take a smaller bag for a few days away from his home town, leaving most of our stuff at his family home.