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Packing for Europe

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Nun with suitcase

BONUS TIP: When you're loading up on illuminated manuscripts and other bulky souvenirs, a wheeled shopping cart may come in handy.

Top 6 packing tips:

  1. Don't overspend on a suitcase if you're an inexperienced buyer. Quality luggage may be a good investment if you know what you want and travel frequently, but why commit yourself to a 300 suitcase when a two-week European trip may convince you that you're a backpacker at heart?

  2. Avoid backpacks with external frames. Kelty and other external-frame backpacks are great for mountain trails in the American West, but they're too big to fit the luggage racks on most trains. They're also awkward on crowded buses, subways, and other public places. You're better off with an internal-frame pack that's designed for European travel.

  3. Use plastic bags. Every bottle that contains liquid should be packed inside a plastic bag. Throw in a few large, lightweight bags to hold dirty shoes, soggy clothes, dirty laundry, or wet bathing suits.

  4. Don't pack colored plastics next to each other. My wife learned this the hard way in Switzerland, where her new vinyl rain boots picked up the ink from a plastic store bag.

  5. Wheels are handy--sometimes. European airports often have stairs, and so do hundreds (perhaps thousands) of railroad stations. Also, many European cities have cobblestoned streets. If you're going to bring a wheeled suitcase, make sure it has sturdy wheels and is well-balanced. A handle on the side is also important, since you'll sometimes find yourself carrying the bag instead of relying on the wheels. (For reviews of three excellent bags, see our Briggs & Riley, TravelPro, and Rick Steves Ravenna Rolling Case articles.)

    You'll also need to consider whether to bring a two-wheeled suitcase or one of the newer "spinner bags" with swiveling casters. The four-wheeled bags are handy in train aisles (since you can turn them sideways and push them along in front of you), and they're easy to maneuver on smooth pavement. However, the traditional two-wheeled "pull-behind" roller bags tend to work better, with less risk of breakage, on cobblestones and other rough surfaces.

  6. Two can be better than one. If you have enough possessions for a large suitcase, consider dividing the load between two smaller bags. This will make it easier to walk long distances without developing a permanent list or yanking your arm out of its socket. (Note: This works best if you aren't also carrying a large handbag or travel tote.)

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Packing for Europe
Top 6 packing tips
More packing resources