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Packing light for two weeks and various climates

In June/July we will be traveling to Paris, Chamonix, Provence, and London. I’m aiming to pack as lightly as possible and will be doing a carry-on only, but my challenge is the need for warmer clothing in Chamonix (going up Auguille du Midi, hiking to Lac Blanc) and cooler clothing elsewhere, particularly in Provence. Provence will also include some cycling in the Luberon, and a trip to the Calanques near Marseille. I’m a seasoned traveler but this will be our first trip overseas in 10 years and first time with the kids so I’m doubting myself and would appreciate a little virtual hand-holding here on my rough draft of a clothes list. Does this sound like too much or too little? This is for me, including on-plane attire but I will pack similarly for my kids. Husband hardly ever packs anything anyway, ha.

For the cities:
Maxi skirt
Linen pants
Dressy shorts
Short sleeve or sleeveless tops x6
Knee-length skirt
Underwear x7
Bra x3
Scarf x2
Ballet flats
Slip-on sneakers (like Toms)

Add for Chamonix:
Socks x2
Rain coat
Hiking shoes (low tops, not boots; I’d love not to bring these but I suppose I must)
Long-sleeve top

Add for Provence:
Sun hat
Hiking shorts
Athletic top

I’m overthinking this, aren’t I?

Posted by
33 posts

You have 8 bottoms, 8 tops, a dress, four shoes, and three outerwear items. This is more than what I would bring. Some ideas ...

Do you really need a maxi skirt, and knee-length skirt AND a dress? I would pick a max of two of these.

Instead of jeans for hiking (which are horrible in the cold and/or rain), I would go with light-weight water resistant hiking pants. Probably ones that can be rolled up into a capris style. And I would wear these in the cities instead of the linen pants. And I would consider skipping the hiking shorts and just wear these for the biking.

I would bring a max of 6 tops. The long-sleeve top and the athletic top can also be worn in the cities.

Do you really need ballet flats AND sandals. I would pick one.

I use lightweight trail runners for hiking. These could also replace the slip-on sneakers.

Do you need a cardigan and a fleece? I would pick one.

Posted by
21307 posts

Four pairs of shoes? Eek. I don't do active sports in Europe and don't try to blend in with the fashionistas, so I make do with just one pair of lace-up walking shoes. I'm not going to suggest that for you. But do you really, really need both sandals and ballet flats? And are those pull-on sneakers sturdy enough for all day on city cobblestones and sidewalks?

Something else that popped out at me was the "athletic top" for Provence. I don't know what that is. How is it different from the 6 (that's a lot) short-sleeve or sleeveless tops for city wear?

I'd take either a cardigan or a fleece, not both.

I dress completely differently from you in cities (3 pairs of slacks of different weights/fabrics--but certainly not linen--and 4 or perhaps 5 long-sleeved or 3/4-sleeved tops), so I really cannot comment on your choices there. The list feels sort of dressy, but then I'm a very casual person.

Posted by
84 posts

As for cardigan and fleece—I’m thinking of a casual open cardigan for chilly nights or buildings, and an actual cold-weather fleece for Chamonix, which would be way too warm and sporty for the situations where I would want the cardigan. Does that make more sense? By “athletic shirt” I meant something that I would wear for hiking and biking, which differs from what I would wear out and about in the city, from a comfort standpoint.

Point taken on the number of “city” shoes. I could probably pare those down by one pair. But I’m not one to sightsee in athletic shoes so that’s why I thinking of the hiking shoes being a separate necessity.. Point also taken on the two skirts and a dress, I can probably eliminate the shorter skirt if I need the space.

The battle between wanting to pack light and my Scout instinct to be prepared!

Posted by
7991 posts

We combined European cities with a trip above the Arctic Circle and were saved by our Icebreaker layers in the colder climate.

Posted by
1179 posts

You’re bringing too much of the wrong things. You are also bringing separate clothing sets for each part of the trip. Instead, bring clothing that works for all parts of the trip.

You don’t need specialized tops and shorts for hiking or Provence. Bring tops that work for the street or for hiking.

The jeans are heavy. I’d bring a pair of travel pants that go from street to trail. If they roll up into capris then so much the better.

You’re bringing multiple shorts. Bring one.
You’re bringing multiple dresses/skirts. Bring one.
You’re bringing 4x shoes. Bring one for hiking and one for dress up (That are still good for walking around).

Multiple climates is all about layering. Bring lighter tops and bottoms that work with warm weather. Then add layers for cooler weather - add a long sleeve top and leggings with your other tops and pants.

You are adding a long sleeve top but I don’t see a light base layer top.

I’d change up your tops to 3-4 SS or NS tops plus one long sleeve top (with roll up sleeves) plus the base layer top

Posted by
1179 posts

You posted between when my post went up so I’ll comment on your comments.

There are shirts and pants that look good and are also athletic. Go for those.

There are shoes that look nice but still have a decent tread for hiking. Go for those.

Posted by
949 posts

There are many ways to define “packing light” but none of them are based on a comparison to the way you used to pack; reducing four suticases a three-bag trip feels good but it’s not packing light.

You can review hundreds of packing lists that are published online and there are dozens of videos on the topic on YouTube including some from the Rick Steves team.

Posted by
2743 posts

This is a tough one due to the different climates and activities, like you identified. Some thoughts:

-More things can do double-duty than you think. A lightweight, nice looking button down shirt can serve as a "cardigan" in the city for cool evenings. Then it can be worn buttoned with a t-shirt under it, with a scarf for hiking in the cold. Voila - no long sleeve hiking shirt needed. You don't need a raincoat and a fleece (bring a thicker raincoat?). For Provence - no need for an athletic top - make one of your "city shirts" of a slightly sporty/comfortable style and it will be fine. A basic black/brown/solid color pair of shorts (not denim or running shorts, but button front) can be "dressy" with a blouse and ballet flats, or fine for hiking with hiking shoes/sneakers and a t-shirt.
Heck, on a cruise once I had a plain black cotton knee length sundress. Over a swimsuit, barefoot? Island cover-up. With sneakers and a backpack? Hiking. With a belt, fancy necklace, scarf/shawl and heels? Semi-formal night.

-Jeans are fine if you want them for fashion in a city. I bring them all the time for their style/fashion flexibility. But they aren't the best for hiking, and not worth the weight for that purpose. Look into lighter weight hiking pants. One pair. If you are lucky they could be worn in heat and cold (Wear the leggings under them if it is super cold. Worked for me in Iceland). If you are REALLY lucky you will find a pair you like the look of and then they can also replace the linen pants. I haven't found such a pant yet, but I'm trying!

-drop a pair of shoes. One hiking pair, one walking around a city pair. Maybe one dressier pair if necessary for more formal evenings. On a trip like this I'd have 2 - hiking and then a leather sandal that is comfortable but also stylish.

Posted by
6950 posts

Go ahead and take a test. Put all your stuff in one 21" ultralight carryon suitcase with swivel wheels. And pack the balance in a shoulder bag--oversize purse. If it fits in the suitcase and it doesn't weight over 10 kg. (22 lbs.), you're good.
Chances are you'll have to remove items to meet those limits.
Rick Steves has a packing list, and it's right on the money with some small changes for different tastes. Even my wife can travel with 10 kg., and she brings back clothes never worn.
I'm not above wearing a set of men's polo type shirts a day and rotating through all the other shirts in my bag. Then, I'll start on a second rotation of those shirts. Remember, you'll never see those people again.
I go to the laundry and get my jeans and khaki pants heavily starched. With the one pair I wear over on the plane, one more jean and one khaki lasts me the whole trip looking acceptable.
I make trips on one pair of shoes as a second pair of size 15 shoes takes up too much room.

Posted by
154 posts

I would take the maxi but would choose between the dress and the knee length skirt. I would choose the skirt because of how many more outfits I could make with the tops you decide to take (I'd take four SS or NS instead of six. You can change the look up with your scarves and a cute belt. I would also bring a large lightweight wrap that goes with the skirts and tops to add interest - I wear mine on the plane because I get cold. I would leave the linen pants and dressy shorts at home and instead bring a pair of nice pants (I love Eileen Fisher) that travel well and can do double duty in the cities and while hiking - you can always wear the leggings underneath - this is what I did when hiking in the Lauterbrunnen Valley - I didn't bring jeans that trip and didn't miss them at all. I also didn't bring a fleece on that trip and was fine with layering several tops and my rain jacket and this was in October. Instead of a cardigan I take a lightweight knit military style blazer that goes with everything and dresses up my black jeans/E.F. slacks if necessary - but take note that we always travel in shoulder or off season. You'd probably be better off with your cardigan in the summer months. As for shoes - I have found this to be a really personal thing. No shoe fits everybody and it is the most important thing you pack. I don't bring athletic shoes but I do take a pair of black Aravon walking shoes. I also take my Teva de la Vina knee length boots but summer is the wrong season for those. I can walk miles in my Aravon sandals (and did so in Geneva) but got six blocks in Paris in a pair of Aravon ballet flats and had to limp back to the hotel - I thought they were well broken in but I don't think they had enough of a heel for me and didn't work on cobblestones. Lesson learned. Choose two pair of shoes and sneak the hikers into your husband's bag. Try to have fun with this and don't get too stressed - I look forward to reading about what you finally decide to take!

Posted by
5708 posts

European ladies don’t tend to wear shorts in cities.

Jeans are heavy, so wear thinner cotton trousers. Linen clothes crease too easily and need ironing if washed, so avoid unless you want to look a creased mess.

Being European, there is no way that I would travel to the range of destinations that you are planning with just hand luggage! I hope that you have 2 full weeks on the ground in Europe, as two big hitting cities such as London and Paris could easily fill this time, notwithstanding two other destinations. You are going to lose half a day or more every time you move location.

Posted by
84 posts

Thanks for the advice, all. Particularly Cindy, Mira and Liz, I appreciate the specific styling tips. Lots to consider.

As a side note—the London stop is very brief, just a pit stop for a couple days on the way home to give the kids a glimpse and for me to be there again, I have spent quite a lot of time there in the past. I know I’m a little crazy.

Posted by
154 posts

I'm glad you're getting a quick stop in a place that holds so many good memories for you! My experiences with this Travel Forum have proven invaluable to me when getting ready to travel abroad in regards to packing - you take the best of the best practical advice and then mix it with your own style and what makes you feel good. If you feel good, and your feet feel good, you'll have a wonderful adventure!

Posted by
1179 posts

You don't need a raincoat and a fleece (bring a thicker raincoat?

Ohhh I would not do that. My outer layer is usually a packable raincoat and a fleece/puff jacket. If it gets really cold then add in the sweater and base layer.

The fleece/rainwear combo gives the most temperature options - fleece only, raincoat only, or both together. A thicker raincoat only works in cooler weather.

Posted by
13213 posts

I agree with the others; you have too much and particularly too many “bottom” pieces (you don’t need a maxi, a short skirt, AND a dress). And the dressy city shorts and jeans are just wrong. Look for nicely cut pants in a technical fabric, something like these:

Cindy H gives excellent advice on trips that combine “city and country” (with active hiking or biking). I can never pare it down as much as she says, but I keep trying. Last summer, for Switzerland, Chamonix (hiking Tour du Mont Blanc), Amsterdam and Basel, I took 6 lightweight tees and never wore two of them. I stuck with my two favorite Icebreaker Tech Lite tees and switched them off, washing one each night to dry by morning. One Royal Robbins stretch Expedition sun shirt with 3/4 sleeves for a city look was useful. I never wore the long-sleeve activewear shirt I brought because it was so hot, even in the Alps (Europe was having a heat wave).

The one place I cannot skimp is on shoes. I need at a minimum a pair of sneakers, hiking shoes (not boots), and a pair of sandals good for walking but dressy enough for dinner, like these Dansko’s:

(And now that I see them on sale for $42 I have ordered another pair as these are really comfortable for walking, as well as good-looking). That is 3 pairs but I usually end up with an extra pair of walking sandals, so four total. The hiking we do is strenuous and cannot be done in sneakers or anything less than a good trail shoe.

Posted by
318 posts

I try to find things that take up little room. So I would replace the fleece with a merino wool sweater. Takes up way less room. Skip the maxi skirt. And the jeans as everyone has said. And while I always want to pack 4 pairs of shoes I usually end up wearing one or two most of the time. My pick would be the hikers and sandals. Remember you can always wash clothes ( ie could do 2 bras not 3). You could even chance it and skip the rain coat, buy one if you need it. It would be a useful souvenir.

Posted by
1 posts

I was a flight attendant for 17 years and feel I may have some tips -
I travel for a month and a half at a time, but have some personal tips for shorter trips.
Ladies, go to Amazon and purchase disposable undies and panty liners. (will leave room down the road for souvenirs for friends and family)
For facial damands REI has fabulous small containers. You can fit everything you need in the required “quart” bag. I carry these and other nesessities with me on board.
Speaking of onboard, I found a classic looking backpack- A Diaper Bag!

PLEASE, Don’t dress like you are going hiking in the Alps. It is embarrassing to see Americans that advertise there are from the US. Respect the country you are visiting - no grandma jeans and sweatshirts that say U of . .
For laundry, bring a good shopping bag (Walmart has them for 5 cents as most sinks don’t hold water.
For slippers and socks go to a dollar store.
I use an international Kindle charger that weighs very little and takes up very little room - no heavy conferter required. I also bring a rechargeable charger for my cell phone as I worry about power serges.
Someone stated they don’t carry Rick’s books as they take up too much room - Rick suggested a few years ago to rip out only the places you are visiting- I put my in separate sandwich bags and toss them when I depart. (again more room for memorabilia) Shipping is VERY expensive in Europe.
As for shoes- after walking 4 hrs your feet need a break - bring a second pair. I bring sandals and/or espadrilles.
Hope this helps

Posted by
84 posts

Not to sound sassy, but are you saying don’t dress like we are going hiking if we actually ARE going hiking? We hike at home and in National Parks in the US all the time. No “mom jeans” or souvenirs sweatshirts here, just practical REI-style clothes. Do Europeans not wear “outdoor” clothing for outdoor pursuits?

Posted by
84 posts

Lola those shoes are so cute! I always think of anything with any “lift” as not being comfortable for a lot of walking; have you walked a lot in them?

Posted by
11450 posts

So much good advice- my quick thoughts are :

No jeans - too heavy and if they get wet they stay wet forever !
Leggings or yoga pants for warm leg wear .

No dressy shorts - wear skirt or maxi in city - use comfy/ casual shorts for Provence and hot weather and hiking .

I bring a lightweight fleece jacket - if it’s cold in can wear it anywhere( I usually bring a nice plain black one ) and if it rains I layer it under a lightweight rain/ wind breaker .

I bring walking sandals that can go ok with dresses or shorts ( mine are Paris model Naots , comfiest shoes in the world for my feet ) .

Sturdy runners for hiking .

Two bras - skin colour ( can be worn under any light colour too ) and black ( I wear a lot of black so that’s a bias I have )

Sink wash bras alternately .

Socks - I can go 4 weeks with 4 pairs - I sink wash , and I do not wear them with my sandals !!

Your trip is 10’days and you have a lot of ground - I would find that difficult with kids especially , but hey I am a wimp lol

Posted by
1179 posts

MountainMomma - there is a happy medium in hiking clothes!

My favorite hiking pants are by pencil pants by Royal Robbins. It looks like they no longer carry them but these are similar. Navy or Black will go from trail to table.

For Tops

Check out brands from Kuhl, Royal Robbins, Columbia, Marmot, Athleta, Title Nine, etc.

Posted by
2149 posts

Hi, I agree with everyone above, which is basically to cut your list in half.

I'd suggest the following:
have a packable raincoat, and maybe packable down coat, if you think you'll be cold in the mountains;
forget the purse and use a light-weight vest made by Scottevest or Exofficio, which have inside zipper pockets for security and storage [wallet, phone, camera];
carry a packable backpack for day travel [layers, guide books, snacks & drink].

I've done 2 weeks in Europe with 4 outfits and two pairs of shoes, 18.5 lbs, all carry-on. I also plan to throw away a third of my clothes by trip end, to make room for purchases, so I set aside clothes all year as I clean out my closets.

Safe travels and enjoy your adventure!

Posted by
13213 posts

I have walked for hours on city streets in those Dansko sandals. I have found I actually do best with my heel a bit higher than my forefoot, and these at 3/4" difference work well. The footbed or liner or whatever you call the surface your bare foot touches is suede and not at all abrasive when my feet are hot ( I can't stand plastic sandals like Chacos). And the straps are nice soft leather, no rubbing like some sandals I have tried.

My one caveat is they have a fairly narrow base, which can be a bit tricky on long stretches of cobblestones.

Posted by
13213 posts

Those shirts linked by Cindy H are all excellent choices. The Royal Robbins stretch Expedition shirt with 3/4 sleeves is the one I mentioned above. I have several ( but only take one on a trip). If you don't care for that particular color, you can find more options ( both solids and prints) on Amazon, often at great discounts.

My one reservation about this particular shirt is that the sizing has not been consistent. Sometimes the XS fits me and sometimes it is way too large. And one I tried two years ago was too tight. ( I have the same problem with Ex Officio shirts). So try several colors before you decide they just don't fit.

Posted by
21307 posts

There's another issue with taking excess clothing, aside from the weight of the suitcase: What do you do with all those clothes when you get to a new hotel? It may be different at very upscale joints, but the lodgings I use in Europe typically have very little hanging space and very few hangers. I travel with only a total of about 10 garments I'd like to hang up (that's counting a warm layer and a rain jacket). I rarely have room to do that, and almost never enough hangers although I take three with me. Two of my packed hangers are inflatable, and they take up a lot of hanging space. I'm the only one in the room, not needing to share space or hangers with anyone else.

Will all your planned travel clothes look OK if they need to stay folded up, or rolled, in your bag? How much extra time will you spend digging through all those garments to find what you want to wear the next day? If by some miracle you can hang up everything, how much extra time will be needed to re-pack when it's time to move on?

Posted by
11450 posts

Pat how do you wear a vest in places that are like 100 degrees in summer ! I’d rather poke my eyes out !

Posted by
1179 posts

I’ll be honest - I loathe Scottevest. The pockets seem to be in the same place where my curves are and the weight seems to hang off my neck.
I wore mine on one trip and then got rid of it. I’d rather take a daypack or purse. If I’m only taking some cards and a phone then I use my pockets.


Pat from Victoria - Here is an article about a trip to Florida with a Scottevest

Posted by
2149 posts

From Pat in San Diego:
I use the light-weight Scottevest, not the heavier vest. The jacket with zip-off sleeves that I have seen is also pretty heavy.
I have travelled with the light-weight vest in Europe in August, and will continue to do so.
We are all different and all have our travel comforts.
Safe travels.

Posted by
8507 posts

You can hike in whatever you want in Provence, but it will be really hot. My hiking club in Cassis quit for the summer in early May and didn’t start back up until fall. It was hot. You’ll want shorts and t-shirt. No, the locals don’t get all geared up, just water.

But biking in the Luberon is another story; that’s heavy biking territory. What about bike shorts? Can you rent the clip-in shoes and helmet with the bike? Otherwise, that’s a lot of gear. But if you have a bike shirt, you could use it for all outdoor activity. The shirt Lola and Cindy pointed out looks great and needs just a little adaptation when biking.

I’d ditch the fleece for a good wool cardigan sweater that closes up all the way, that you can layer underneath for warmth, or wear in the evenings. A scarf worn for warmth around your neck in the mountains can double as a shawl elsewhere.

Posted by
8507 posts

More Provence hiking info—as I said, no special clothes, but the further south you go, the rockier, so shoes do become a factor. The Luberon trails I’ve been on are a mix of rocks and dirt, but when you get to Marseille, it’s rocks. The walks out to the Calanques and up Mt. St. Victoire are slippery stone because so many people use the paths. In the southern area of Provence, people need ankle support on walks. I use two poles anywhere in Provence because I’m klutzy.

Posted by
3 posts

We went from N.C. to Alaska during August/September (big difference in temperatures). We took two each of these...two shorts, two jeans, two long sleeved T-shirts, two short sleeved T-shirts, wool socks, underwear, Lands End all-weather Mocs, and a Lands End marinac jacket each with gloves and tobaggans packed in their pockets. We wore shorts, short sleeved shorts, and walking shoes to travel from RDU. We could wear either sleeve length as needed or wear one over the other for maximum versatility. We packed in two rolling carry-ons and two backpacks.

Posted by
528 posts

Cut everything by +/- 50% and see where you end up. Last year on our trip to Switzerland et al in we wore trail shoes for our hikes etc, these shoes worked very well in all of the cities we visited. Also, pack clothes that can layered. Remember the old adage, "take half the clothes and twice the money". It works.

Posted by
17 posts

Firstly, thank you for starting this conversation. I am currently teaching/leading 6 teenaged girls through the thought process on how to pack for our "big trip" 4 days hiking in the Swiss Alps (where it can be rainy, or even snowy and cold) and 10 days in Italian summer, with a mix in cities (Milan, Florence, Pisa) and more rural (Cinque Terre, Adelboden). This thread has been a great list of tips and tricks that I will pass down.
On previous trips, I have found my Title Nine skorts to be invaluable in the hiking/biking category. They are more comfortable than many shorts for me, but can also dress up for city sightseeing or a nice dinner out. I've even hiked in them with fleece lined tights, when things went down that way - not a proud fashion moment but I was warm and happy. ;)
I keep to the 5-4-3-2-1 but +1. 6 tops - 1-2 tanks; 1 long sleeve warm base layer- I love my SmartWool light base, 1 long sleeve lightweight for sun, 2-3 tees(depending on how many tanks), 5 bottoms: legging/tight, 2 skorts, 1 pant, 1 sundress/cover-up 4 layers: fleece, lightweight rain coat and rain pants, cardigan 3 shoes: trail shoes (I cheat and use Nike Internationalist, great trail grip and cute enough for cities, IMO), Dansko sandals, Teva flip flops for showers 2 accessories: 1 scarf, 1 sunhat and 1 swimsuit. (plus 4 unders & 4 pr smartwool no show socks) So far, this has gotten me through trips as long as 7 weeks to places as far flung as Europe, India, Mexico and Peru. You can easily dress for anything from 100 degrees in Florence or 35 in Kullu. Easily makes 7 days without laundry(except for unders) and up to 3 weeks if you are careful and air things out as you go.
This, along with all my other bits and bobs fits quite easily in my eBags MotherLode TLS and makes weight on every big carrier as a carry on - checked it on EasyJet and Wow. Lastly, I find overthinking a good packing strategy can be fun! Overthink away! Just pack much less than you think. Your scouty sense can be fulfilled knowing that you can walk into a nice MonoPrix and pick yourself up any item you now regret leaving at home.