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BOE 21 Day in Aug/Sept ~ Many Questions

After over a year of anticipation, we're excited to be planning our BOE 21 Day trip starting Aug. 28 - Sept. 17 this year. This is our first Rick Steves tour - second time to Italy. For those who have been on this trip or the BOE14 day, I have a few questions regarding the itinerary and packing:

I typically like to have a pretty organized plan for our trips and know what we are doing each day. I've been going over the trip itinerary, creating a schedule of free time in each location and reading through the Rick Steves books for each location. My initial thought was that I would come up with a short list of activities for the free time in each location. However, the BOE21 itinerary seems to be pretty comprehensive in covering many museums and highlights of each place we will be visiting. With our free time, I'm wondering if my husband and I would be better off just "going with the flow" and wandering the villages and cities and just experiencing the culture without a strict plan. I would prefer not to have to stress about pre-purchasing timed museum or attraction tickets without knowing the exact times we will be in that location. We enjoy museums but there are several already built in to the tour. Since there will hopefully be pleasant weather throughout Europe during the season we are going, I think we would enjoy just being outdoors and wandering around. If our guide arranges optional activities, we certainly will consider taking part in those activities.

I'm totally open to suggestions about whether there are certain sites we should definitely plan to see in our free time? Please feel free to offer specific suggestions that we should plan to see in all the different cities/villages!

Packing: We plan to attempt to pack in carry-on suitcases. I am not a light packer so this will be a real challenge but I'm excited to try! So the question is: does everyone truly only pack a carry-on suitcase or do many people bring a slightly bigger suitcase like a 24 or 25" suitcase?

What is a good bag to use for a "bus bag"? Is this the same under the seat tote that I bring on the airplane as my personal item?
Or is this a smaller tote that I pack in my suitcase?

What level of outerwear will be needed for the Swiss Alps hiking day? A fleece jacket or a packable winter puffer jacket?

Guide Books: Do people bring the entire RS Best of Europe book or actually tear out the pertinent pages? I hate to destroy the book but it is a heavy book to bring along!

Thanks for any advice!

Posted by
1259 posts

Welcome to the group. The same questions appear dozens of times in the forums so, once you get some responses here, you can scroll and search for many other points of view and experiences.

Packing: (This is a deeply emotion charged topic.) Carryon-only is only tough the first time. There is endless and excellent guidance here. Once you go carryon you may never go back to checked baggage. I travel with a 45L soft bag that is 80% pull so it fits easily into any sizer.

My bus bag is just my carryon personal item: 20L backpack.

There's no way to predict weather. It's easy to be warm and dry with carryon-only and you can always buy an additional layer and gloves in country.

Many folks enjoy bringing their books. Others like to tear out the relevant pages and staple or bind them. Others prefer the digital versions for phone or tablet.

Posted by
1080 posts

Your going to have a great experience!! I remember my first Rick Steves tour many years ago and how excited we were about travel after that trip. Our eighth tour is coming up this July and we are looking forward to traveling again. You can bring what ever luggage you want as long as you can carry it several blocks and up stairs, many of us have found that "packing light" is a very liberating way to travel but I will be the first to admit that it does have a learning curve to it.

Posted by
241 posts

We did this in May. We arrived 4 days early in Haarlem. April was cold, drizzly and windy. I had packed 2 long sleeve knit shirts, a light sweatshirt/hoodie jacket and my down vest—wore them all and worried I had packed wrong. May dawned with sunny and warm weather.

I packed in my rolling carryon bag 2 long sleeve and 5 short sleeve shirts, 2 sleeveless tops. 2 long pants, 2 crops and shorts for hiking; my down vest (pillow on airplane), light zipped sweatshirt/hoodie, a light sweater, scarf. Definitely pack a rain jacket, too.
Over our tip (Haarlem, BOE, extra Paris, Belgium and RS Scotland tour) I used all. It was warmer overall than I expected in May/June but comfortable. Hiking in Switzerland was sunny and cool, but the vest and sweatshirt were fine. Ten years prior we had done a similar itinerary mid August to September 11 and the weather was a little warmer than the spring and we had more rain (most of it was overnight). I had not packed shorts and wished I had for Cinque Terre.
As far as planning, we planned for our pre-trip and post trip, but kind of went with the flow. A few on the bus had wanted specific restaurants and had made reservations. We had a favorite restaurant in Florence but made a reservation while we were there with no problem. In Cinque Terre we joined a group for dinner and one person made the reservation for all.
Have fun and realize that this is more of a “tasting,” and you can always go back.

Posted by
8600 posts

Just answering this one:

What is a good bag to use for a "bus bag"? Is this the same under the seat tote that I bring on the airplane as my personal item?
Or is this a smaller tote that I pack in my suitcase?

It can be whatever you want. I use the same bag (RS Civita) as a daybag and under-the-seat. But it doesn't have to be. You probably already have something that will work. I knew one guy who used a pillowcase (yes, he was cheap).

Ok, a second one, about the book. I cut out and take only the sections I will use (binder clip in a plastic bag). My theory being if I go someplace again, it will be a few years, and I'll want a new one anyway.

Posted by
919 posts

Packing: We plan to attempt to pack in carry-on suitcases. I am not a light packer so this will be a real challenge but I'm excited to try! So the question is: does everyone truly only pack a carry-on suitcase or do many people bring a slightly bigger suitcase like a 24 or 25" suitcase?

I suggest that you start by going through the Packing threads under the Tips & Reports section of these forums. Also, review Rick’s packing list for ideas.

What level of outerwear will be needed for the Swiss Alps hiking day? A fleece jacket or a packable winter puffer jacket?

Google the weather history for the places you will be staying in Switzerland. For example I googled “weather Zermatt August” the got the following: The average temperature in Zermatt in August for a typical day ranges from a high of 61°F (16°C) and a low of 43°F (6°C). Some would describe it as moderately chilly humid but cool. For comparison, the hottest month in Zermatt, July, has days with highs of 61°F (16°C) and lows of 44°F (7°C). Then, use your own judgment as what to take.

Posted by
32 posts

I haven't been on BOE21, so will just make one suggestion about packing - buy compression packing cubes. Amazon has a huge variety of options. I love regular packing cubes but the compression ones are fantastic for helping do carry-on only. If you've been following travel news recently, you really don't want to check your bags right now.

Have a great trip.

Posted by
2494 posts

I usually bring a 21” RS Ravenna roller bag and the RS Euroflight bag. However for my recent Scandinavia trip, I brought a 24” roller bag and the Euroflight bag. I could handle it but there were two places where I could not and a couple of the kind gentlemen on the tour volunteered to help when they saw my struggle. I had packed for cold rainy weather in Norway but as it turns out, I wore my fleece jacket twice and my rain resistant jacket was fine with the rain we had, not much. I hated the 24” spinner bag and vowed to never use it again - maybe on a road trip.
My advice is make each item of clothing work hard for you and be mixable with other pieces you bring. As someone said, pack for the best scenario not for the worst. Remember you can usually buy something you might need in Europe. Plus it’s an interesting cultural experience to shop in a store over there.

Posted by
2099 posts

We took the 21 day the end of June through July 13 with just a carryon and a personal bag. Our hike in the Alps only required a light jacket. My super thin rain coat fit nicely in my carryon pocket. Forget compression cubes as clothes will come out very wrinkled and your bag will be heavier when you are able to pack more. We used cubes and took our thinner clothing. There were two laundry options. One near Neuschwanstein and Cinque Terre.
The hike done in the Alps during the tour does not require hiking shoes.
I saw on a post in this forum that the tour does not start in Haarlem anymore? I don’t know if that’s true. We scheduled a tour there at the Corrie Ten Boom house prior to the start of the tour. At that time, only one tour a day was in English.
The Eiffel Tower was not included so we made reservations for the day the tour ended.

Sometimes tour activities get moved around a bit resulting in missing that activity if you have reservations elsewhere.
I would not load up free time with a lot of prepaid anything. Maybe add one museum in Amsterdam? In Paris you will have a museum pass so get reservations for any must see that isn’t on the tour. We went to the Rodin and Napoleon’s tomb as we’ve been to many other museums in Paris.
My day bag was my purse. It held my water and a few essentials. No special bag. It’s a great tour.

Posted by
28 posts

Hello Baseballmom94,

I leave for this trip in about a week. This will be my first RS tour and first time back to Eorupe in 30 years. (So Excited)

I am an obsessive planner. However, I like to wander. I have been concerned that the obsessive planning will affect my enjoyment of this trip. RS has already done most of the planning for me. I have looked at the free time and noted anything of particular interest. Other than that, I am going to be a wanderer.

I have done a dry run of my packing and I think I am good to go. I am taking the RS carry on roller bag (gift from family) a laptop style backpack for my bus bag. I make crossbody bags and am making one to put items I need for that particular day’s adventure. (it folds up and can be stored in my bus bag) My passport and money/cc will be in my money belt. So, I am okay knowing that anything in my crossbody bag may be ‘lost’. For my clothes I have decided not to take jeans as it is summer. My philosophy for the rest of my clothes is – if I have them in piles of bottoms, tops, and outerwear I could reach into each pile blindfolded and they would go together. Just remember that besides your tour mates no one is going to know that is the 3rd or 4th time wearing that outfit. I am only taking 2 pair of shoes. One walking sandal and one walking shoe. I have come to the conclusion you can not have comfortable and cute shoes. Luckily, I do not take prescription drugs. However, the allergy, Advil and Melatonin I do take - I have counted out and remove them from the larger bottles and put in smaller container. I have taken a photo of their bottles and keeping it on my phone incase I am asked. I will be deconstructing the RS book and taking just what I need.

Have Fun on your Adventure!!!


Posted by
27368 posts

I'm a fan of compression cubes for underweat, sleepwear, my washcloth, Kleenex, etc.--stuff for which wrinkles don't matter. For warm-weather trips I just use one cube; for cold-weather trips I use two, because I take at least one set of long johns, plus sometimes a packable down jacket.

Using a compression cube or two doesn't cause me to fill the extra space with additional things that add weight; on the contrary--it sometimes allows me to use a smaller suitcase than would otherwise be required, and a smaller suitcase weighs less.

I'm less convinced of the value of regular packing cubes for other clothing. I just wrap my blouses around one of my compression cubes.

Posted by
4 posts

My husband and I are on this same trip!! This is also our first Rick Steves tour and first time to Europe. Looking forward to any and all advice!

Posted by
14175 posts

What a fun time you will have on this tour and very cool that BarbMae is on your tour departure.

This tour remains one of my favorites! As another RS tour guide told me, he loved it because you see blockbuster sights every single day. Here is a link to my old TR. I read thru it and all I would change is that at that time I always traveled with cardigan sweaters. I've changed to Dri-fit quarter zip shirts as an overlayer. They are much lighter and pack way smaller. I was also gone for 8 weeks and although I started at the same time you are starting I was ending the middle of October so needed to have long sleeves for the last part of my trip. I've also changed from the RS convertible carry on to a 22" wheeled bag.

I took this early on in my RS tour "career", lol. I did not really plan anything extra or get reservations although I did know in Rome I wanted to go to the Capitoline Museum which I did on the free afternoon there. At that time you did not need any kind of reservations but if there is something specific you want to see (like the Galleria Borghese) you might want tickets.

On the full day in Switzerland, each guide does things differently. Mine offered to take those who wanted to go up to the Schilthorn and then we met with the bus and went to Lauterbrunnen to go up to hike Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. None of that needed pre-arranging but don't stress about this day ahead of time. See what the guide's plan is for that day and see if it sounds interesting to you.

BTW, there were a few times where he offered to organize an extra meal (we each paid for our meals) or extra activity (gondola ride). I encourage you to go with whatever they suggest because the food will be good and the activity fun! Don't even look at how much money the gondolas in Switzerland might cost, just do it.

I tore out pertinent pages of the guide book because it is just too heavy to carry along. You don't need any of the hotel information in there and some of the other information is not needed. It's a nice book but you can get another one. He makes them for you to tear apart!

As long as you can handle your bag you can take it. Do know that you might have to walk a way to your hotel and then you might have to carry it up stairs. Most of the hotel elevators are tiny so can only take about 2 people and luggage at a time. I would not be patient enough to wait so would go up with my bag. I'll also say that the more you can limit your wardrobe the better you will be. NO ONE will care or notice what you've got on.

There are opportunities to have wash done. I do wash in a 2GAL ziplock bag and everything I take will dry overnight or else it doesn't make the travel team. 2 pr of shoes max (except for flpflops maybe) - one in the bag, one on your feet. Both need to be comfortable enough to walk 7-8 miles in.

For both you and BarbMae, I recommend doing some kind of journaling. Either with FB posts or a paper journal. This is a long and busy trip and you will start to forget the first part by the time you get to Beaune!

Have funnnnn!!!!

Posted by
567 posts

Book: ditto Stan’s method. A plus is I can fit the ziplock bag into my shoulder bag and it’s waterproof, too.
Clothes: I always pack a lightweight under layer LS top & bottom and both pieces are used often. I’ve slept in them, layered on cold, cooler, damp days; lounged in room; and so on.
Free time: I like your perspective of leaving yourselves time to just be there. It’s a very busy travel and free unplanned time is a good thing to have.

Posted by
542 posts

Just want to echo the value of packing light and using packing cubes. With cubes you can quickly see what you have and sometimes you don’t even need to remove items from the cube for a one night stay. Just put in drawers in cubes and take what you need. Repacking just means pulling out the cubes and putting back in suitcase

Also, get digital versions of books. Saves space and weight

Posted by
169 posts

You have some great suggestions above!

As far as your free time goes, your guide will give you great suggestions on various ways you can spend it. I wouldn't plan anything in advance unless it's an absolute "must do" for you. Sometimes it's nice just to hang out and sip on a spritz and people watch.

My husband and I each got one of Rick's carry-on bags for our BOE 14 in 2019.
There are no wheels, but we did just fine. Before we left, I purchased a kitchen scale. I weighed every article of clothing and packed only the lightest weight items per category. Your guide will let you know when it's a good opportunity to do laundry. We also washed socks and undies in the hotel sink. We used this:

For the bus bag - I just used my Travelon cross body bag. I bought a very small journal that I stuffed inside, and caught up on some of my journaling on the bus. I learned to travel light, and it was liberating! My husband used a small backpack on the bus.

I did bring the entire book. I couldn't bear to tear pages out...but that's just me.

You are going to have an absolute blast! We were so very impressed with our BOE14 trip. We'd like to do BOE21 some day, even though there will be repeats.

Posted by
4442 posts

If you are not flying one of the major US carriers, look carefully at the carryon size and weight allowance. Most European airlines are smaller for both.

Posted by
5 posts

I am so jazzed... we are also first timers and on this same tour!!! I am reading everything I can get my hands on, planning my 20# carry-on wardrobe, and determined to make it work! I already have several of my pieces purchased, and determined to make it work!

Can't wait to learn more from others on this forum! We've watched RS for 30 years 😳 and love LOVE his shows!

➡️60 days and counting!

Posted by
169 posts

MelHar - see if you can get that carry on down to 15-17 lbs incase you want to bring a souvenir home with you. ;)

(Or I guess you could just check it for the flight home)

Posted by
5 posts

Thanks eurostacy... I'm worried about the 20#, but am taking a light stored tote, for a carryon coming back, and will check our bags for the return 😂

Just cannot wait to get there...! 😍

Posted by
31 posts

Took the tour in May - it’s great!
It is definitely fast paced. I think you would be wise to “go with the flow” during the tour, doing “extras” when you wish, and enjoying a few relaxing hours when that’s your mood.
That said, I would strongly recommend planning/scheduling some activities both before the tour begins in Amsterdam and after it ends in Paris.
Amsterdam- the tour time at the Rijksmuseum is quite limited; I would have done a separate visit on my own. The Van Gogh and the Hals (in Haarlem) are both excellent.
In Paris- again, I would make separate plans for the Louvre. The Eiffel Tower, the Orsay, Invalides, Versailles all merit being factored into your plans if possible. Also, for me at least, time for wandering is always time well spent.
Have a great time!

Posted by
9 posts

We are on this trip in late Sept.-Oct, so I am interested in the responses. We are arriving one day ahead on Haarlem and staying two extra nights in Paris. Very much looking forward to the tour and making new friends!

Posted by
1163 posts

What is a good bag to use for a "bus bag"? Is this the same under the seat tote that I bring on the airplane as my personal item?
Or is this a smaller tote that I pack in my suitcase?

On RS tours many people have a daypack similar to Mine is from Osprey. You'll use it to carry just a few things such as maps, guidebook, sunscreen, water bottle, etc.

We did this tour many years ago now and still have fond memories! I think of it as similar to a box of samplers; you get a taste of many areas but not an in-depth exploration. It's a good way to see a lot of Europe and find places/areas you'd like to revisit. For the cities, though, it's worth looking at the RS itinerary and then the guidebook to see if there are museums or areas you'd like to visit in your free time. I wouldn't book in advance, just think of them as options so that when you're travelling you can either do them or not.