Top ten Europe trip packing tips

top Europe packing tips

A friend of mine is currently having the time of her life in Paris, making me even more excited for our trip back later this year. On our first trip, we were set to hit four cities in 13 days and I wanted to be uber prepared so I could (try to) stress less and immerse myself more. Turns out, I did pack a few key items, and acquired some others along the way that helped make our trip comfortable, fun and even easy! As we look forward to our next European adventure, here is my list of the top ten items you should pack before your next big trip!

top Europe packing tips items photo


My Top 10 Europe Trip Packing Tips:

Good carry-on suitcase: No matter the length of your trip, you want to try to pack everything into one carry-on suitcase. While you might have to do laundry (or have it done by your hotel), you won’t have to worry about losing luggage or trying to manage too many bags as you walk down a narrow busy alleyway to your hotel. One bag, with two sturdy wheels and good pockets, will help you get from point A to point B seamlessly. We bought convertible backpack carry-ons, but not once did we ever use the backpack functionality. Check baggage restrictions for each flight – we found one of our bags was still too big to carry onto an inter-Europe flight.

Collapsible bags: Since you ideally want to travel with carry-on luggage, you have to maximize for space, but what do you do with all of your souvenirs when you’re wandering the city, and how the heck do you get them home? Before our trip, we purchased a collapsible backpack and tote bag that we could cram into any nook or cranny of our suitcase, but when we needed them,  could expand to provide us with extra baggage space. We used the backpack to carry jackets, maps and water bottles during days of sightseeing and used the tote bag to carry large souvenirs home safely.

Guide book: Some travelers like to be completely spontaneous abroad, however in order to get the most out of my trip, I looked to guide books and previous traveler reviews and advice. I absolutely love Rick Steves guide books. All the little nuances of when to go see certain sites, which entrances are less crowded, which sites are must-sees and which ones you can pass on, helped us immensely to plan ahead and maximize our time each day. I wouldn’t travel to Europe without Rick, and neither should you.

Walking shoes: The best thing you can bring on a European vacation is a good pair of walking shoes. American tourists tend to be extra cautious about the shoes we wear in Europe since we hear that Europeans can point out Americans by their sneakers alone. Lies. We walked almost EVERYWHERE in Paris and across Italy, and let me tell you, I would have killed for a pair of sneakers. I kicked myself with my sore booted foot every time we stepped onto the metro and saw French men and women in sneakers. Europeans are more likely able to tell you’re American by your accent and lost expression than what you’re wearing on your feet, so what you have on might as well be comfortable!

Camera: If there was ever a time to take photos, it’s on your European vacation. You cannot take a bad photo. Seriously, try pointing the camera in any direction when you’re walking down the street in Paris – everywhere you look is scenic and just plain different than what you see at home. If you’ve been planning to upgrade your camera for a while, this is the occasion. Don’t worry about looking like a tourist – remember, you stick out anyway with your funny American accent. Take photos so you can remember your adventures, and bring extra batteries/chargers/memory cards, too.

Scarves: The signature European fashion accessory is definitely the scarf. Men, women, children of all ages wear them in all colors, so casually, at all times of day, in all types of weather. It is so dang chic! Scarves are super easy to cram into even the fullest suitcase, and are a great way to stay a little warmer, dress a little fancier, or just look and feel a little more European. They’re also good to have on hand in case you need to dress a little more modestly before entering a church or other religious site with a dress code.

Quick-dry washcloth: Apparently, washcloths are more of an American thing, so they are not often supplied by European hotels. It’s definitely a personal preference, but I just wouldn’t feel clean without one. They’re not luxurious and they can be super thin, but they still lather up well and dry in a few hours. After we spent an entire day walking around Paris in the rain, I definitely appreciated a hot shower with mine.

Euros IN COINS: When out on a day trip to Versailles, we failed to bring change with us thinking euro cash or credit cards would do fine. Wrong! In order to purchase a return train ticket back to Paris using a ticket machine, we found out the hard way (along with all other Americans standing in line) that the machine took coins ONLY. Trust me on experience that the local shopkeepers get super pissed when you ask them to make change. Carry at least 10 euros in coins at all times – just in case!

Water bottle: Buying bottled water every day can be expensive. Instead, bring a water bottle that you can fill up at the hotel, museums, shopping malls, and sometimes even at old public water fountains you may find around the city (Italy has a number of old, decorative fountains for public drinking). You never know how water will taste from city to city, or how well a public water fountain is maintained, so we took Brita water bottles with built-in filters. Filtered water on the go!

Wi-fi enabled device: You might not want to pay out the nose for cell phone coverage in Europe, however I’d still bring one cell phone or tablet you can use with wi-fi in your hotel. We were glad when we found out our expected cell phone coverage didn’t work because it gave us a chance to actually unplug and enjoy our trip. We did, however, find the wi-fi helpful in checking train schedules, looking up restaurant and museum hours, and finding directions to our next site. Instead of checking Facebook, get the most out of your vacation by using the internet as a tool for just a few minutes, then getting back to your trip!

And bonus existential item you definitely need to bring: 

General awareness and respect of other cultures: The most important thing to remember is, no matter how hard you try, you are a foreigner in a foreign country, a tourist. As long as you are polite and respect the local laws and culture, you’ll be treated well by the native people you encounter. Mostly, this means refrain from being too loud and drawing too much attention to yourself. It also doesn’t hurt to learn a few basic phrases in the native language (good morning, good evening, please, thank you, where is the bathroom, etc.). We found that a little effort can go a long way in getting someone to help you.

This doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. Unfortunately, some of the stories you hear about pickpockets and swindled tourists are true. You can, however, make yourself less of a target (and trust me, once you realize this, you’ll be able to point out those people who make good ones):

  • Carry your personal items securely and close to your body. Carry items in a slash-proof purse (I do), in interior or zippered jacket pockets, or if you absolutely feel like you must, use a money belt. Keep things out of your pants pockets for the most part – thieves are way too good at getting in there.
  • Try to avoid using ATMs or use ones that look and feel secure. We used an ATM in a Venice alley that ended up being rigged with a card reader and camera to catch our pin number. Make sure to tell your bank the specific dates you’ll be traveling so they can help keep an eye on your account. We tried to use our credit card as much as possible.
  • Trust yourself, first. If you think something smells fishy – a price is too high or too low – that designer bag looks fake – this guy is being super creepy – then go with your gut. Unfortunately, there are people out there who target tourists for all sorts of scams. Not everyone you encounter on the street is out to get you, but definitely trust yourself if you feel uncomfortable.
  • And finally, always be aware of your surroundings, your belongings and keep an eye on your fellow travelers, just like they should do for you. Keep your wits about you and enjoy yourself!

Most importantly, have fun because, duh, you’re in Europe! Bon voyage!

Top Weekend in Napa Itinerary Ideas

We just got back from our annual trip to Napa Valley. Even though I came down with one of the worst colds of my life (tissues were worth their weight in gold), we still had an amazing time with good food and good wine. The Seattle rain today really has me missing the warm weather – good thing we have a case of wine shipping up here to last us the rest of winter. This year, we stayed in Yountville, just north of the city of Napa. Here’s what we loved about Napa this time around…and what we’ll definitely pass on next time.


Bouchon/Bouchon Bakery:  For those of us who can’t (or frankly would never choose to) afford Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, Bouchon is a more than adequate alternative, especially for lunch. The steak frites with truffle fries is my favorite Napa meal, while the scallops are the best my husband has ever had. It’s an expensive lunch, but that steak fills me up so much that I skip dinner. Bouchon Bakery next door ALWAYS has a line, but it’s worth the wait. When you walk in, prepare to ‘oo’ and ‘ahh’ at the display case. Oh, you thought you already knew what you wanted? Fugettaboutit! The “Oh-noyoudidn’t” is a chocolate dipped macaron. Enough said.

Napa Weekend Itinerary Bouchon

Bouchon: That’s probably French for ‘yum.’

Ma(i)sonry: Located in in one of the oldest buildings in Yountville, this winery collective and contemporary art gallery looked like the kind of place I’d be intimidated by with its expensive modern art and hipster employees. But our extremely positive experience shattered that expectation! Each host was very friendly (it didn’t hurt that they’re native Marylanders, like us). The tasting experience is unique in that 1) it usually takes place in their sunny sculpture garden surrounded by interesting art, and 2) instead of a set tasting menu, your personal host will bring wines for you to try based on your palette preferences. With wines that range from $12/bottle to $250/bottle, there really is wine for every palette in every price range, and remember, these are wines you really can’t purchase anywhere else  – these boutique wineries don’t even have tasting rooms. The icing on the cake – shipping to Seattle was only $11!

Napa Weekend Itinerary Maisonry

Ma(i)sonry: Beautiful day, beautiful building.

The Vintage Inn: Out of all my travels, this might be my favorite hotel – no kidding. Even though I was pretty sick this whole trip, this Yountville hotel was extremely comfortable. It’s perfectly located, and even if it wasn’t, the grounds of the hotel are beautiful enough, with fountains, flowers, and lux pool, that it’s hard to leave. The second floor rooms have spacious balconies and wood-burning fireplaces that come with Duraflame logs and a bottle of wine. On top of all of that, the complimentary breakfast cannot be beat with mimosas and bloody marys, an omelette bar (the omelette guy is a serious pro), waffle bar, and so many other pastries and traditional breakfast foods. We had a wonderful stay and will definitely be back.


Bottega: Celebrity-chef Michael Chiarello’s restaurant was crazy loud – so loud my husband and I didn’t speak most of dinner because we couldn’t hear one another from across the table! It’s one of those menus where they encourage you to get an appetizer, a “primi” pasta dish and “secondi” main course. You would think the dishes would get better and better with each course, but it was just the opposite. A beautiful, fresh antipasta app, a simple but tasty pasta carbonara, and the just ‘meh’ spare ribs. With so many courses, we were too full, and too put off by the noise, we couldn’t make it to dessert.

Mumm Napa: Mumm is one of our go-to sparkling wines when we stop at Bev-Mo so we thought hey, let’s visit the source. Their tasting room is in a gorgeous location in a valley of grape vines and they have a photography gallery on-site featuring an impressive Ansel Adams collection. Unfortunately, the service was as dry as the wine. Our host did not show any enthusiasm for the wine, or for us. “Take a look at the tasting menu and when I come back, I want to see some ID.” I wonder if he was a police officer or a high school teacher in his previous career? He dropped off the tasting bill without a word. Needless to say, the closest we’ll be to Mumm again will be at our local Bev-Mo where the service is always great!

Napa weekend itinerary mumm

Mumm: Gorgeous grounds, grumpy service.

Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars: Also known for the “million dollar apostrophe.” I know, I know, this is a Napa Valley legend, but honestly, I was not wowed by the wine or the tasting room experience. I have a feeling this winery is always packed, and our visit was no exception. We were luckily able to get a space standing at the tasting bar with a nice gentleman to pour our wine. For all the hype, the wines just didn’t stick with me the way I thought they would for the cost. Checking it off the Napa Valley bucket list and moving on.

Napa weekend itinerary stag's leap

Stag’s Leap: Not to be confused with Stags’ Leap.

All and all, another great trip to Mecca…I mean, Napa Valley. Now if only I can get rid of this cold, sinus infection, plague, whatever. Looking forward to planning another trip for next year…with less cold medication!