Packing essentials; the things that went with me to Europe in 2016 that are going back in 2018!

My packing list is long, but my suitcase is small, so that means prioritizing what gets space, and what’s truly an essential. When we went to Europe in 2016, we tried really hard to carry on our suitcases, but the airline that we flew had strict rules about the weight of carry on bags, and they ended up checking them anyway. Thus, we spent a lot of time cramming a lot of stuff into small suitcases, only to not have it matter one bit. To make matters worse, our connecting flight got cancelled, and we had to spend a night in Frankfurt without our bags (which we had planned to have!), meaning we were left with whatever we had stuffed into our backpacks, which thankfully included our toothbrushes and a clean pair of underwear!

This time we’re planning carry ons only..for sure! (Though you know what they say about your best laid plans!) And I feel like I’m better equipped to pack more efficiently based on what I took with me the first time that I either was glad I had, or didn’t touch at all. That travel hair straightener…yeah…that only got used once in 14 days. Something I wished I’d had…aloe vera for after a sunburn. Couldn’t find it anywhere in Italy! A lot of the minimalist packing we did however, paid off. And in the process we figured out what were the essential things that we needed to make it through two weeks. I’m not just talking extra socks and enough contact solution to make it through two weeks while also meeting TSA guidelines. I’m talking about these awesome things that came with me two years ago, that are absolutely coming back with me again this time.

it Luggage carry on

itAllegedly these are the lightest carry on bags in the world, weighing just 5 lbs. I thought this was going to be the ticket to keeping my bag under the super strict guidelines provided by Condor on our last trip, but as I mentioned, that didn’t happen. Still, the bag is awesome, super lightweight, and holds a lot of stuff. There aren’t a lot of fancy bells and whistles. It’s more a big empty giant rectangle to fill with stuff then a novel, niche bag full of compartment and pockets. I had more than enough room to pack what I needed plus some, and then I kept taking things out of the bag trying to make weight. But I have no doubt that I will get everything I need into this bag!

eBags packing cubes

eBagsIf you’re not packing with eBags you are not packing like the enlightened traveller that you could be. When I was a kid, my parents used to seal our individual outfits into gallon ziplock bags, push all the air out like a vacuum seal, and then line them all up in our small overnight duffel bags. It was a huge space saver. Packing cubes follow a similar principle without the vacuum sealing. They compartmentalize your packing, and can be seriously packed in to maximize suitcase space. And they’ll keep you super organized. As the trip went on, I even turned one of them into the dirty clothes cube, helping to keep the laundry off the remaining clean outfits. They come in different colors, styles, sizes, and sets, so you can find an option for any size suitcase and for any kind of travel.

CamelBak Women’s Daystar hydration pack

backpackMeet my “personal item.” Most airlines allow you a carry on bag plus one “personal item,” generally a purse, coat, umbrella, etc. I do recommend packing a small purse for walking around town. A take a cheap crossbody bag. But when going through the airport, I count this bag as my personal item. It’s small enough to easily fit under the seat in front of you, but large enough to hold a lot of stuff that might be handy in the airport. Plus, the hydration bladder takes up almost no space at all, and can be used later in the trip, particularly if you’re hiking. The main backpack pocket is deep, so I put a change of clothes all the way at the bottom of the bag out-of-the-way of everything else, along with a tooth-brush, and my glasses case. The front pocket is easily accessible for travel documents and your passport, and the zippers can be easily secured if you’re worried about safety going through stations, mass transit, and/or walking to your hotel.

A great pair of walking shoes

People are funny about their shoe preferences, so while I can try to sell you on my favorite pairs for travel, you’ll really have to follow your gut and your feet as to what the best options will be for your own walking situation. What I will recommend is finding a shoe that’s versatile, something you can put a bunch of miles on, but also pair with a sundress or jeans or a bathing suit as needed. I made the mistake of packing lime green tennis shoes for hiking in the Cinque Terre. They were comfortable shoes, but I wasn’t going to pair them with my skirt and blouse the day we walked across Rome to the Vatican. They essentially became useless with half the clothing I packed. The shoes I did put a hundred miles on? My TOMS, which paired with everything I packed, and might have even held up on the walking trails of Vernazza had I given them the chance! I’ve worn through my TOMS, and this year I’m taking a pair of Taos that came very highly recommended, along with a pair of Adidas that are sporty, but also neutral enough to pair with capris or a skirt and not feel totally weird about it. My point is, look for a shoe you’re comfortable to walk around and wear around in any city, with any outfit. My picks:


Minimalist wallet

Screen Shot 2018-07-09 at 11.38.51 AMI’m not going to pretend that the threat of pickpocketing while traveling isn’t real, and drawing attention to yourself as a tourist might make you more of a target for such behavior. Thus it’s obviously important to travel smart and be aware of your surroundings. I mentioned that I carried a crossbody bag when we toured in the city. This year I found a small, used Travelon bag that I’ll pack in my suitcase, and then use as my purse when we tour. Travelon is a great brand for people who are nervous about travel theft. It has an anti-slash construction and lockable zippers and closures to deter pickpocketing and for extra piece of mind. We also used slim, minimalist wallets throughout the trip. The wallets held just enough for the day: some cash, a credit card, entry tickets to museums or attractions, etc. I tucked mine into my crossbody bag, and never worried about it. My husband carried his in the front pocket of his pants or shorts, and it was low profile enough to lay flat and not draw attention to itself. We never had an issue.

My simplified jewelry basics 

I don’t wear a ton of fancy jewelry normally, but I simplify even more when I travel. I don’t even wear my diamond engagement ring/wedding band set overseas, not because I think someone’s going to steal it, but because where would I even start to try and find it if it disappeared on the beach, or while hiking in the mountains, or navigating a foreign airport? I get that these things could happen in daily life as well, or when traveling around Minnesota or the USA, but it’s just one more thing that I don’t want to have to worry about while also navigating airports, language barriers, itineraries, etc. A little jewelry can dress up the evening and/or be downplayed into casual wear with very little effort. Here are my essential jewelry take-alongs: a watch, short pendant, long necklace, silver hoop earrings (the most versatile piece of jewelry in the world!), signature bracelet, wedding ring. Mine are all pretty travel friendly pieces. Check the captions for descriptions.

These few things are really just the tip of the packing iceberg. Of course you’ll also be counting out how many t-shirts, pants, dresses, socks, bras, swimsuits, etc. to bring along, and double checking other vacation essentials. My packing list is, as I’ve mentioned, extensive. But these things definitely made everything easier: the packing, navigating airports, organizing all our stuff, planning outfits, keeping things secure and close at hand, and they’re going back with me this time, because they were that good and that worth it the first time!




Published by Kate

A former Wisconsinite, Kate now resides in southeast Minnesota with her husband where she teaches high school English and theater. She recently completed her master's degree in learning design and technology, and continues to study and advocate for arts integration in the classroom. A recipient of the RISE America grant for high school theater, Kate is working to innovate and expand theater opportunities for the students at PIHS. An avid distance runner, concert pianist, and want-to-be wine aficionado, Kate's blog "ink." is a passion project, embodying all the best parts of life: friends, food, wine, thoughtful conversation, style, and sass!

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