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Traveling light in Europe in the winter??

This January my 70 year-old mom and I want to travel from London to Paris - Avignon - Marseille - Barcelona via rail, jumping off for a few days at each place. I can't find tips on packing light in cold, rainy and snowy weather. We will be traveling for 2.5 weeks.
Please, can I get some suggestions on packing two smallish suitcases that I can lug on and off trains, traverse cobblestone roads, and lug up rickety hotel stairs? I'll be carrying the luggage for both of us, and have bad knees.
We know all the tips for mild weather travel.

Posted by
1025 posts

I have done the 2 suitcase routine with my ex-wife when she had mobility issues related to a bad knee. It was a terrible idea and one which I will never repeat. I vividly remember changing trains in Lyon and in Bologna, Italy as I lugged both bags up and down stairwells as we rushed to make our rail connections. The train presents problems for folks who are not able to move quickly from carriage to platform. Rolling bags would ameliorate the discomfort, but if you are the one pulling both bags, you may have problems.

I am 70 years old, and while not as able to move quickly as I once did, am certainly able to carry my own bag, either rolling luggage or a backpack. Have you discussed with your mother her ability to carry her own luggage when getting onto and off from a train car?

There are likely some women on this Forum who have traveled in winter conditions who will be more than happy to post their advice about packing and warmer clothing.

Posted by
16894 posts

It's still all about light, flexible layers. Some items like wool, fleece, silk, or high-tech fabrics need not be bulky to be warm. A hat, scarf, and gloves add a lot of warmth without much weight. You'll be wearing these, together with your sturdiest shoes and your rain/wind-proof coat on all of your transportation days, so they may never actually be in your suitcase.

Posted by
437 posts

Layers are your friend. Light wool/silk tops, one or two cashmere or merino wool cardigans, wool gloves, hat/toque, a couple of scarves. I like corduroy pants in the winter - others don't. Bring a pair of very light wool long underwear that you can wear under neath your pants. They don't take up much room and will give that extra bit of warmth if you need it. Mix and match. Many winter jackets are light weight with down or poly fill choices. I have a couple that pack into a pouch and take up no room at all. You'll be tired of the clothes you've brought by the end of your holiday, but you'll be warm! Have fun.

Posted by
4441 posts

I don't want to rain on your parade but are you sure you can handle hotel stairs with your bad knees even without the added weight of luggage? I wouldn't classify my knees as "bad" but they do have their issues which is why I choose hotels with elevators so I can save my knees for steps associated with public transportation and sightseeing. I'm not seventy yet but I see it approaching and do not think I will be expecting someone else to carry my luggage for me at that point in time. When my inlaws were in their 70's and we traveled with my baby to meet my husband in France, they were helping me with her stuff!

Posted by
980 posts

For starters, I would eliminate all hotels with rickety stairs! It may not be the RS way, but there are some problems that can be solved by throwing a little more money at them. Take more taxis. Are you certain your mom can't pull a lightish roll-aboard?? On a more positive note, winter clothes rarely ever look dirty, so you can get by with a lot fewer of them! Good luck, and it's really nice of you to do this for your mom!

Posted by
439 posts

My husband had back surgery a month before a trip to Spain. I did do all the "heavy" lifting, he did pull his bag. My knees are in pretty good shape. We flew into Barcelona, train to Madrid and flew out of Madrid. We did take a bus into Barcelona from the airport, that was a mistake, should have grabbed a taxi. We were on the RS tour so they had the bus pick everyone up at the hotel and train station, which was not too bad. We did opt for a tax from Madrid to the airport, much, much easier. We did check both ways to make this easier. I took bare minimum on the plane. Would one slightly bigger bag help? or be worse?

What to wear? As people have said above, wear layers. Warm merino wool socks help, waterproof shoes. Hat, gloves. Make sure your coat has a hood, especially if your hands are full, the hood will be helpful if it is raining or snowing. I personally love a sweatshirt to make me feel warm & cozy, I always bring one to Ireland when we go in the winter. If you bring a bag, make sure it is one that will keep your hands free.


Posted by
8815 posts

Layers and packing only essentials.

I travel most often in late Nov. early Dec. 23 inch roll on and small carry on. I’m nearly 70.

Waterproof and well worn Columbia parka. Has internal zip in and out warm jacket which can be worn separately. This combo is the heaviest clothing item.
I pack it and when I’m through immigration stop in the airport bathroom, retrieve it, the hat and gloves contained in the pockets and out I go into the chill.

Knit slouchie for my head.

Gloves. Infinity scarf.

Base layer if temps are going to be in the 20’s. Mine is capeline from Patagonia. Otherwise just a pair of running tights from Target.

Two Lands End Lightweight fleece pullover.s One with a hood.
2 lightweight fleece turtlenecks.
One pair of Gloria Vanderbilt stretch jeans in black.
2nd pair lightweight Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.

3 pair of underwear.

Lightweight pj’s from Target.

3 pairs of Smart Wool socks.

2 pairs of Keen shoes. Targhee hiking shoe and the slip on.

In the roll on go the clothes and a packing cube for meds. Another cube contains tooth brush, travel sized toothpaste, shampoo, mouth wash and bar of soap. (that baggie is shown to TSA folks and then tossed into the front pocket of the roll on )

In the interior pocket of the roller bag goes extra pair of glasses in a sturdy case, small roll of gaffers tape, cheap wash clothes, Kleenex packets, some zip ties and various sizes of zip locks bags rolled up and secured with a couple of rubber bands.

A 3rd packing cube goes in the small back pack like carry on with camera, battery charger, iPhone and iPad and chargers. Also in the under the seat carryon is a zip lock bag with a few Fig Newtons, another with some raw almonds. In the side pockets are reading glasses, chewing gum, Altoids, change purse, small notebook, Kleenex packets and a couple of pens.

Make note I can easily lift and carry the 23 inch roll on when I need to.

You will need to see what clothing works for your sense of style, budget and comfort. I recommend looking at REI, Lands End, Columbia and Keen shoes websites. After years of travel I find their products durable and worth every penny spent. Each clothing item I’ve mentioned above are still wearable.

Enjoy your travels. Base layer is the life saver!

Posted by
4011 posts

The heaviest things you can wear on the plane -- boots, winter coat, heavy sweater.

That all said, you are going to lug both your suitcase and your mother's and YOU have bad knees? I would rethink this. What if you get hurt? Your mother will be able to take over? Your real issue is much more than just packing lightly.

You are asking for trouble.

  1. Take car service between the airport or rail station and hotel. You can't lug all of this on cobblestone.
  2. No lugging 2 suitcases. Can you get a pullman that rolls and that your mother can push/pull at the airport? If so, let her do it. If not, get a redcoat at the airport or rail station to carry your bags. You should not do this alone.
  3. You have bad knees and want a hotel with stairwells let alone "rickety hotel stairs"? Come on. Why are you asking for injuries? If you can't get a guarantee that your room will be on the ground floor (floor 0, not the 1st floor), stay at a hotel with reliable elevators.
  4. Rethink the itinerary. Stay at one or two hotels so your mother has less stress on her from having to move every few days. Your knees are bad but for your mother, hers could be a lot more painful than you realize.
Posted by
79 posts

As others have stated with you and your mother’s health issues you may need to scale back your plans. When I went to Europe with my mother we went to one city and stayed there for 2weeks. We made Munich our base and we made day trips from there. Our hotel had a kitchen and not worrying about packing and unpacking helped my mom have a wonderful trip, we uses a taxi to and from the airport. For your trip I would look into 2 hotels so you can both enjoy the trip.

Posted by
1194 posts

It’s easy to travel lightly in winter. As stated, it’s about the layers. But there’s more to it than that. You will need under layers and over layers. Mix and match to get the right level of temperature protection.

Under layers:

  • a light silk or synthetic camisole/tank
  • a light silk long underwear top (scoop neck and 3/4 sleeve is undetectable under street clothes)
  • a warmer base layer. I like T-zip tops
  • silk long John bottoms or leggings. Leggings work with dresses
  • wool socks

Over layers

  • a puff jacket (Prima Loft is more expensive but machine washable. Unlike down, it also works when wet).
  • waterPROOF rain coat. Packable is best
  • gloves
  • hat
  • a few pretty scarves
  • waterproof shoes or boots with excellent tread

Wearing the layers

  • On freezing coldest days wear the long underwear and all the outer layers (puff jacket and raincoat combined)
  • on cold days wear the cami, wool socks, and the puff jacket. Wear the long John top if you get cold easily.
  • on medium days puff jacket
  • on warmer days the waterproof coat

Other stuff

  • consider bringing a spare pair of insoles to replace wet ones
  • consider a second pair of shoes
  • bring a quart size zip loc bag to store in your day bag. If you get too hot you can remove your silkies, put them in the zip loc, and store them in your bag
  • scarfs don’t have to be thick to be effective. Their main function is to seal off air leaks. A lighter scarf is easier to store in your day bag.
  • don’t forget a necklace to wear under your scarf. That way you’ll still have decoration if it gets too warm for the scarf.
  • I am very biased against fleece because it is bulky and heavy. That said, it maintains its warmth when wet.

Other packing list:

  • 3-4 pants
  • 4-5 tops
  • 1-2 cardigans
  • dress that goes well with boots (optional)
Posted by
8815 posts

Cindy H you need to checkout the Lands End micro fleece. Not bulky AT ALL.

Posted by
1194 posts

Claudia - bulk is relative, just like weight.

My Primaloft jacket folds up into its own pocket. It also is warmer than the fleece and has more wind blocking ability.

I loved my Patagonia R1 jacket because it was light and packed small. But the Primaloft is lighter and packs smaller still. That said, fleece is the best choice for a cool rainy place.

Here’s a review of the Nanopuff for comparison:

Posted by
439 posts

I just saw this on another web site. Pack one roller bag, one. Duffle. You can put the duffle on top of the roller. You could check one bag, carry on one, mixing your clothes between the two. That way you would still have clothes if they lost it. I would take the taxi once you arrive.

I would also request a lower room, when you reserve. We ordered a scooter for mom in HI, when I discussed this with the reservationist, she suggested a handicap room. When we checked in, desk clerk said, i don’t know how but you scored the best room in the hotel. People will usually give you a hand if asked, let the hotels know your situation before you arrive.

Posted by
73 posts

Check on the weather sites ( is good) for each of your destinations' average January temperatures and rain/snow. I've been to Berlin in late December and it was wet and cold, but not bitterly cold. A hooded raincoat with a liner, a fleece vest, and a thin scarf worked well for me. A scarf is always handy, and you don't need to pack a big bulky one. Pack one (actually, take it on the plane in case someone near you coughs a lot; you can cover your head with it) that folds up to a small package. I like this one
It's actually quite warm.
Don't plan on wearing a heavy sweater, coat, and boots on the plane unless you want to arrive in a hot, sweaty mess. The planes I've been on recently have been full and got a bit warm.

I'm almost your mom's age. A rolling carryon (Rick Steves has a nice one) plus a personal item works just fine for me. I weigh my packed bag before I go and keep it light.

Posted by
3241 posts

I think it is difficult to tell you what to pack for winter travel when we don't know where you live. I live in New England and I find Europe warmer in the winter than home. I really enjoy winter travel. Only once did I bring a second pair of ankle boots, when I was arriving in London after a 'huge' snow storm. Their definition and my definition of 'huge' is different. The boots were not needed. My winter travel has only involved a good pair of leather walking shoes. That should suffice. Obviously pack your cooler weather pants (jeans) and long sleeve shirts (LE modal tees), but otherwise, nothing is different. I often travel there with an unlined leather jacket, a boiled wool sweater/jacket or a vest, leather gloves, scarf, hat or earmuffs. I rarely need everything. So, tell us what type of weather you live in to determine how bundled you need to be.

Also, I'm confused. Is your mother disabled? Is that why she can't handle her own luggage? It's hard to give recommendations with out details.

Posted by
10302 posts

I love it when my strong children grab my suitcases, but most of the time I handle my own, or even mine and my husband’s when his back flares up, and we’re the same age as your mother. So unless your mom has a disability, she should be able to pull her own suitcase. Some tips: most of the train doors will be at platform level, with the possible exception of Avignon to Marseille if you take a local train. Book hotels with elevators. Most have them. You won’t find cobblestones on sidewalks. As long as mom can pull a wheeled case, you’ll be good.
My only packing tip is dark clothes, brighten with a scarf. I wear black in winter, just a few pieces layered, wash and re-wear. And roll your clothes or use compression bags for fluffy stuff.

Posted by
8815 posts

And I again I say take a look at the Lands End lightweight fleece. If you can find anything that lightweight let me know.

Posted by
1194 posts

And I again I say take a look at the Lands End lightweight fleece. If you can find anything that lightweight let me know.

Hey Claudia, could you tell us the weight? Lands End doesn’t have that in their detail specification.

The woman’s Patagonia Nanopuff is 10 oz. for comparison. The Patagonia R1 fleece is 11.2 oz so is heavier.

Posted by
4171 posts

For me, it all starts with the weather. There are lots of sources for weather averages and predictions. I like the simplicity of Weather2Travel.

I looked up Paris in January. You can set the info to Fahrenheit, and find averages, details and predictions on all your cities. Just scroll down the page and explore a bit. There's even a sunrise and sunset chart for each day of the month.

I was curious and looked at Barcelona, too. It looks like it will be warmer and sunnier than Paris.

About the packing, I'm one of those light packers and have found that sometimes it's easier to pack for cold and wet weather. Since I'll be wearing the same outerwear all the time, I don't have to worry so much about what's underneath. Many years ago I read about a woman who was obsessed about what she was going to pack. When she got home, she realized that she had on her coat in almost every picture!

I'm not the lightest packer on the forum, but I do pack for a week and do laundry along the way, either in my room or at a laundromat, or I drop it off at one and have them do it for me. I typically travel for 4 to 8 weeks.

I'm 72 myself, and I've traveled solo for the past 3 years. But even when my husband traveled with me, my motto was that if I couldn't manage on my own, I shouldn't be going. However, I usually do accept help when it's offered. That's primarily getting on and off trains. By doctor's orders, I go both up and down stairs one step at a time because of my knees. I guess that and my graying hair and wrinkles are the key to getting help!

I always carry-on. I had a lot of the same things people have suggested for January this summer because I was in Scandinavia. Everything fit fine in my roller bag and tote.

I'm not linking the one I took, because it's no longer available for purchase. This Lipault is my favorite and is completely air legal unless perhaps you're taking a super discount airline. I put a Baggallini with a sleeve over the handle for my personal item. This Hobo is my favorite style, but there are many others. I can put my meds, electronics and little Baggallini cross-body quilted purse in it.

I totally get it about your knees. I wear appropriate shoes, get shots and take something to rub on them when the going gets really rough. I had to buy something at a pharmacy for that in Italy in 2017. It is a relief to be on the ground floor or to have an elevator. Keep in mind that most toilets in restaurants are in the basement. Look around carefully or ask because there may be a handicapped/diaper-changing one on the main floor.

Posted by
4574 posts

As mentioned, you need to be aware of your potential weather. I am a fan of wunderground website as it is actual day by day historical data-----including precipitation. You can look back the past few years for the weeks you will be traveling. As there is a global weather shift, I don't rely on 'averages' anymore. Spain in particular has had less rain and higher temps lately (though it may matter less in January than July).
1.7 ounces may not matter to everyone, but the cost of rekitting your wardrobe for specific items may.
Please provide us your current location and whether you are used to cold temps. January in Ottawa is quite different than January in Paris, so what I have in my wardrobe to easily layer may be different to you. If you want to invest in specific brands with consideration of ounces, then these have been suggested. If you want to just shop your wardrobe, then you have samples of what will work.

You will certainly be happier if you accept someone's help for getting luggage to hotel and to your room. You do not need to be Mom's (or your own) Sherpa everywhere. Put Mom on the train first and pass her one, then second suitcase. Get yourself up there. I can understand feeling you need to lift the suitcase on board, but not all the moving.

Rent apartments with elevators and washing machines or plan for some hand washing to reduce number of items and weight of luggage.
Most places should allow taxis to get to the door, so cobblestones are not really required.
Atmospheric hotels/hotels may have main floor rooms or elevators. You will have enough walking and uneven surfaces in the course of your day that you do not need to choose to have more challenges by picking a hotel/apartment that requires stairs. I'll still suggest apartments, as this means separate bedrooms for affordable prices, and the option to brew a cup or tea or have a cold glass of chardonnay as not all hotel rooms have kettles or fridges. Even if you don't ever make a meal, the convenience is there.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you for the advice about lessening my sheep's duties.
I live in Seattle. My mom gets chest colds easily, so we will certainly bring a large warm scarf.

Posted by
4574 posts

For chest protection, I prefer a smaller finer scarf that wrapped my neck and lays on my chest before putting my coat on. An additional pashmina over the coat can add another layer of wind protection and warmth. I am not a hat person, so the pashmina can also be wrapped like a hood or over the face of weather is extreme.

Posted by
59 posts

I live in Portland. I would dress the same in Paris France as here in winter or Seattle in winter when your out at market or taking the bus during that time.
You know how to do rainy and cold. Make sure you both have good slip free waterproof shoes. Take your winter coat with liner from home.
The difference in your bag from mild packing with long pants will really be slight.

You’ll had some silk long underwear or north face base layer( basically very nice comfy long underwear)
You’ll add some warmer socks.
You’ll add a fleece.
You’ll take wool shirts or cashmere shirts or cashmere/ wool cardigan.

Hat scarf glove go in pockets of coat.

I usually will wear my liner on the plane cause I can squish the north face waterproof shell up into the luggage.

To stay warm for me in the coldest situation meaning 10 degree snow. Only need to put long underwear on. Pants. Lightweight shirt/blouse.
(Maybe add a vest maybe not)
Fleece/cashmere cardigan or hoodie.
Coat with liner
Wool/ thick socks
Hat glove tight gaiter scarf.

In most cases you may only need your coat and an extra fleece under. With your hat gloves.

I love a fleece neck gaiter instead of a scarf. Easier to put in a pocket and much warmer.

Also if you want to see what it looks like. A few good “carry on winter packing Europe” videos on YouTube.