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Packing 101: Packing for Europe in 1 Bag, 2 Weeks (or More)

Packing for Europe in one bag seems impossible. But with a little help from our packing expert, you'll wonder why you've never packed this light before.

Photo: iStock

Gone are the days of traveling with trunks on a grand tour of Europe. Because of rising airfares and additional fees, it’s as important as ever to pack light for international trips. If you know what to bring, it’s possible to fit all of your clothing and essentials into one bag when packing for Europe, no matter how long you plan to stay. Just remember that you can probably find whatever you need at your destination, whether that’s shampoo, toothpaste or socks.

Picking a Bag

Choosing the right bag can make or break your packing experience, especially if you’re traveling to multiple countries during your European trip. Make sure your bag—whether it’s a backpack, duffel or suitcase—fits the size and weight restrictions of your chosen airline, whether you’re checking your bag or carrying it on. If you’ll be flying within Europe or taking trains, check those companies’ regulations as well, as space is typically tighter than in the United States. Also consider what will be easiest to move up and down hotel stairs, across train platforms and into taxis when packing for Europe.

Packing for Europe: What to Take

Depending on the time of year you’re visiting, dressing in layers will save you space in your bag. Craft a packing list based around outfits, not number of pieces. Include items you can wear multiple ways, and choose solid colors. You’ll fit in better, especially in places like Italy, if you wear darker colors. Also be sure to pack according to what activities you’ll be doing, and if you’ll be visiting multiple destinations. This might include a light jacket for the mountains of Austria and a swimsuit for the beaches of France.

Comfortable shoes are key, especially if you’ll be sightseeing. Tennis shoes are usually considered a sure sign that you’re a tourist, so if you want to dress more like a local, choose a pair of slightly less casual closed-toe shoes—flats, boots or loafers. You’ll also want to save room for extra items.

Helpful Tip! Don’t buy a brand new pair of shoes for the trip. Instead, pack shoes you’ve already broken in. There’s nothing worse than sore feet from new shoes while you’re trying to sightsee.

When it comes to toiletries, pack as light as you can. Most hotels have everything you need. Sharing items with your travel companions will also help free up space in your bags. Make sure that they meet the TSA guidelines for liquids if you’re carrying on.

Put your clothes in packing cubes to maximize space in your luggage when packing for Europe. Not only will you have more room for other items, you’ll also avoid having clothing explode everywhere when you just need to grab one item.

Don’t forget, you can also find opportunities to wash clothes along the way. Ask the front desk manager to point you in the direction of the nearest laundromat if the hotel does not have laundry facilities on site. Most neighborhoods in Western Europe will have a laundromat within walking distance.

Helpful Tip! Consider packing items like soap and a clothesline, which will help you sink-wash your clothes so you can wear them again.

Maximize Your Personal Item

If you’re carrying your luggage on your plane or train—or even if you aren’t—don’t forget about your personal item, which can be a smaller bag. This is where you should keep important items like your travel documents, electronics and valuables. Once you arrive at your destination, this bag can double as your daypack for sightseeing and other activities.

Get even more tips for packing for a trip.
Inset photo: iStock

AAA Travel offers a wide variety of vacation packages to Europe and beyond. Visit AAA.com to learn more or call 877-396-7159 to speak to a AAA Travel Counselor.

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Janice Yip-Hudson, AAA Travel Counselor, Daly City, Calif.

Today, people's lives are so busy. We're thinking three days ahead just to get through our to-do lists. I love helping my clients plan vacations where they have nothing to do but relax; where time stands still, and you're just on vacation.

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