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What to pack - Dec travel - France/Germany/Belgium

Making plans for this December visiting the Christmas markets...2wks...train travel.

Recommendations on packing (outfits,accessories,shoes). Only 1 carry-on plus travel tote.

I'd love to hear any recommendations / experiences traveling during that time of year.

Corinne

Posted by
5697 posts

Working on the same question -- maybe we'll see you on SFO -CDG flight in December ??
Also, Sacramento travel group meets next Saturday for face-to-face advice.

Posted by
1179 posts

I had to look at your profile to see that you were female - yes, it makes a difference in the answer! Your key challenges will be cold and/or sloppy weather. You'll also be outside a good part of the time so you'll want more protection than others that want to sit by the fire.

One of your key pieces will be a good pair of waterproof shoes/boots. I like to use unlined waterproof dress snow boots and add in layers of merino socks as needed. Mine are Merrell, but there are a lot of nice choices out there. I can wear the boots with tights and a dress, under my pants, or with my pants tucked in. The snow boots have a better tread than regular boots. Look around and you'll see some that are hard to distinguish from normal boots. If you don't want knee highs then think about ankle boots. These are trendy right now.

The key for everything else is layers and temperature extender pieces. A nice 3/4 sleeve scoop neck silk long underwear top hides under street clothing. Leggings work under pants or dresses. A few camisoles or tank tops add variety and warmth. A merino sweater is a good layer over your clothing. Cardigans work well because you can wear them open or closed - that is really nice when you go inside. A scarf or two adds variety and warmth at the neck.
You may want to bring a puff jacket or a fleece as an additional layer. Top it off with a nice packable waterproof trench.

The layers let you control temperature for the weather.
If you know beyond doubt that you are traveling in really cold weather you can bring a winter coat and wear it on the plane. That said, I've found the layers / sweater / waterproof shell to be sufficient down to around -20 F.

Bring a good pair of gloves / mittens and a good hat.

Lounging: I like to use a t-zip base layer top that I can add to my layers as needed if I go outside. I like to use yoga pants for my bottoms. This outfit works well for skiing too when combined with the layers above and the addition of a pair of very light weight waterproof rain pants. Bring a pair of slipper socks for cold floors. Sometimes I pack a pair of silk long john leggings too for outdoors activities and for sleeping.

Other clothing: I'd recommend a dressy flat as a 2nd set of shoes (packable, slip resistant).

So my coordinated clothing packing list looks like this:
2 pairs of pants, 4-6 tops (2 shells and 2 long sleeve minimum), 2 sweaters, 1 dress, 1 legging, 1 silk long underwear top, 1 t-zip base layer top, 1 yoga pants, 1 stockings/tights, 1 fleece, 1 waterproof trench, 1 pair metallic ballet flats, 1 pair waterproof dress boots, 2 scarves, 1-2 gloves, 1 hat and at least 4 pairs merino socks. Two lightweight pairs are better than 1 thick one as they dry faster when washed. 4 pairs lets me do 2+2 alternating between days.
This is sufficient for a 3 week trip to a cold area.

BTW, I will wear my long john top under my sleeveless shell and a sweater. No one can tell. If it gets too hot I pull off the long underwear top and put it in a zip-lock in my purse.

All of the above fits in a single carry on bag (no need for a tote). There is room for my cross body bag purse.

Posted by
12040 posts

NW Europe is generally not as cold as you might think in December. The air is usually damp, but outside of the Alps, Arctic blasts of air are uncommon.

I don't think you need any special footwear, other than warm socks. By way of example, I do a LOT of walking at all times of the year. Since I moved to Europe a few years ago, I've walked around in all kinds of weather, and the only time my feet really got uncomfortably wet was when I had to jump in a stream to pull out my dog. So, just don't chase any dogs into the water and you're feet will probably be fine.

A scarf, gloves and hat are a good idea. As is an umbrella. You probably won't need a parka. A decent jacket with a warm sweater should be enough.

Posted by
2914 posts

I often travel in the winter. I use my usual leather walking shoes. I only took heavier walking ankle boots once, as I was allegedly arriving during a snowstorm, but I did not wear them other than on arrival and I wouldn't make that decision again. I do bring two pairs of walking shoes…just in case of too much wet (wearing one of course.) Otherwise, just layer. I have never needed silk long johns (but I am from New England). I take a sweater/fleece, a quilted vest (business casual not LL Bean style), and a leather unlined jacked. I don't recall that I ever needed all layers at one time. If I have warm leather gloves, earmuffs or hat, and a scarf, I am warm. My luggage is no heavier in winter…in fact I find it lighter as there is no perspiration in winter so fewer changes are necessary. The Christmas markets and fairs are so much fun! Enjoy! Wray (female)

Posted by
8774 posts

People who live in cold weather climates can likely prepare for a trip such as yours better than people from warm weather climates, because they probably don't feel the cold as much. My only winter trip (late Dec./early Jan.) I thought I was fully prepared. I brought layers, including a thin silk 3/4 sleeve under shirt. I used tights for extra warmth for my legs. While outside I was still cold at times. But going inside was worse! I had to strip off multiple layers in restaurants and museums, and I would sweat on the stifling hot metro. To do it again I would wear a sweater and a mid-thigh to above the knee length down coat. Something with a removable hood would be good. The coat could be easily removed when going indoors.

Going to Xmas markets you will be spending a lot of time outdoors. I agree that a hat (try to have something that covers your ears if you don't have a hood). warm gloves and a warm scarf will make a huge difference. Warm socks are important too. You might also want to bring some one time use hand warmers you can buy at sporting good stores. You put them in your coat pockets. They were great to have.

Posted by
2 posts

Can't thank you folks enough!! One trip I can recall being at Stonehenge right smack on the 1st day of Winter solstice (omg, COLD) that was only 1 day...and I'm a weenie when it comes to cold... ugh, that's why I need advice/help.
I LOVE being outdoors and savoring all the fun. Thanks a million!

Posted by
16883 posts

Coming from Seattle, I already have at least one GoreTex-type waterproof rain jacket, and do carry that for December in Europe. It doesn't have a warm lining, but combines well with a variety of layers. I would wear that nearly every day, almost never carrying it separately. I also like Cindy's reminders about cardigans and scarves being adjustable during the day. If your zippered items happen to zip from both top and bottom, that's convenient when you keep going in and out of heated buildings, subways, sunny benches, etc.

Posted by
1179 posts

I'm thinking that a combination of knee length puff jacket and a waterproof packable trench are a good combination here. The puff should store in a stuff sack.

BTW, some people seem to be mistaking my boots comment for hiking / big boots. This isn't correct. I'm talking light fashion forward dress boots that work anywhere:

http://www.merrell.com/US/en-US/Product.mvc.aspx/35257W/87678/Womens/Captiva-Buckle-Up-Waterproof?dimensions=0

http://www.merrell.com/US/en-US/Product.mvc.aspx/35250W/87654/Womens/Veranda-Mid?dimensions=0

Posted by
5697 posts

Adding my thanks too for all the info. As a 3rd generation Californian my exposure to (and wardrobe for) winter weather is limited.

Posted by
3696 posts

I travel in winter often and tend to prefer longer skirts and leggings. I wear a 3/4 length cute velvet coat that is lined but not heavy. I always have a number of scarves , gloves and hats. I also bring a few pashminas to wear around my shoulders as another layer. I have a heavier shawl that I will sometimes wear by itself if it's warmer or wrap around my shoulders over the coat. My shoes are the wool Haflingers which I can wear with light weight socks (often no socks) and my feet are never cold. I also have a few pair of leg warmers that are easy to put on and off if it is really cold. I do bring yoga pants and sometimes wear on the plane or in the room. All clothes are dark and coordinate and fit in 1 carryon. I think its easier to pack for winter as you usually have on a coat and don't seem to need as much variety. Lots of color can be brought in with accessories.

Posted by
25 posts

We are going to Germany for the Christmas markets as well. I'm so glad that I found this thread. Unfortunately, it makes me realize that I have a fine wardrobe for work M-F, but terrible options for traveling. Especially living in the SE and not needing a lot of cold weather gear. I usually just need enough to get me from the car to the building. Thanks so much for posting that link for Merrell. That's exactly what I want to get. Something good for travel, but that I would wear at home as well. Now to find some good clothes for layering, without spending too much. Ugh!

Posted by
2081 posts

just a comment and something to think about.

im a male so take what i jot down with a grain of salt.

but I've been trying marion wool undies. they do keep me at an even temperature. I also have some wool sox too. I usually wear cotton most of the time when I'm not traveling, but for travel i have been buying wool. To me it keeps me warm and cool and if it gets wet as i did in Bastogne, it kept me warm and i didnt feel "wet" at all.

good luck and happy trails.

Posted by
809 posts

I think Ray means merino wool - I have several pairs of merino wool socks and they are great for cold weather travel. For the rest of my clothing I rely on lots of layers- silk underwear and turtlenecks and winter weight cotton-poly pants with an overshirt, wool sweater and maybe even a fleece vest. I have not has the problem of being too warm inside but if so it's easy to take off some of the layers and pop them into a backpack. Also use a fleece cap and gloves and a pashmina as a muffler/neck scarf. Enjoy your trip!