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How To Pack With Style And Comfort For 2 Weeks In Europe

Planning a 2-week spring trip to Northern Europe? Prague, maybe Warsaw or Berlin? Fascinating, no? Such is the reality for a Twitter friend, Robin. And, she asked me to pack for her.

I approach Robin’s request today with enthusiasm. It turns out that the Use Case idea works extremely well for suitcase stuffing, with one caveat. In packing, one must think first not of the Happy Path, but of Risk Mitigation. In other words, rather than aim for an aesthetic, rather than matching beloved skirt to scarf and peep-toe platforms, focus on Avoidance of Distress. Your Travel Distresses may vary, mine are as follows.

Travel Distress #1: Foot Pain

Sturdy Gals, as we know, hate foot pain above all. So we start our packing with shoes. Bring two comfortable pair, in different heel heights, maybe board the plane in a third, slip on slip off. Luckily, ankle boots, oxfords, and ballet flats are all in style. Pack one, and only one, pair of “special event” shoes. Also known as Shoes You Can Hardly Walk In.


Travel Distress #2 The Cinderella Syndrome

Sturdy Gals, as we might also guess, hate showing up at a ball inadequately dressed, especially surrounded by Grandes Dames and Artsy Cousins in Chanel and thorn-studded bracelets. So I always pack one fancy outfit, something in which I will feel at home – as long as we’re not talking palaces. And rather than a little black dress, you might try interesting color. For example, a lavender dress with the red shoes above, audacious and luxe at once.


 Travel Distress #3: Incorrect Internal Temperature

You’ll need the right coat. And scarf and gloves, if it’s going to be cold. As Robin’s trip is to Northern climes in spring, by far the best choice is a raincoat with removable lining. For the rest, I’d rely on my hot pink Loro Piana muffler, and Eric Bompard cashmere voile square. Michelle Obama has brought bright gloves to our attention, so why not add some recreational finger color too?


Travel Distress #4: Too Many, Too Few, Wash Me!

With those foundational layers in place, all that’s left is to pack enough, but not too many, pants, tops, and layers of warmth. Or skirts, dresses, and tights. A cardigan or two, or very lightweight jacket, if it’s going to be so cold that you need a substantive layer under your coat.

Make sure everything that um, I can’t say this any other way, touches your armpits, is hand-washable, so you only need 4-5 tops, and 3-4 pairs of pants or skirts. Wash at night in the sink, or, and I have done this, pay a king’s random to hotel laundry and enjoy the crinkle of paper as you unwrap your clean clothes.

By the way, I’m a shirt roller. Others lay their clothing flat. I’m not convinced it matters one way or the other.


You will find, if you stick to a mix of complementary colors, you won’t have to plan each day individually, which effort I find excruciatingly small motor and to be avoided.

Travel Distress #5: Suiting Your Cases To Your Style

Let’s assume you’ve sorted out whether you check or carry your luggage. I confess, I check. I’ve sweated over more airport merchant counters than I can number, stocking up on magazines, mints and water, bumping and thumping my poor old suitcase through its paces, twisting and turning my poor old body even more. So now I board with only backpack and cross-body; wallet and travel docs fore, computer and papers aft.


And with this I note sadly that my good ol’ Hartmann, seen here in the Antwerp train station, may be on its last legs. I covet some Rimowa.

Doesn’t the anticipation of travel enhance the trip itself? Think of packing as a predictive experience, a sense prophecy. Put out your suitcase 2-3 days before you go, and choose your gear at leisure, prompted by random evening thoughts and morning remembered dreams.

Play music.

Safe travels, everyone.

50 Responses

  1. With only a difference in style aesthetics, you and I approach packing EXACTLY THE SAME. Here’s to only carry-ons that we check anyway – and hotel laundry services. Cheers.

    (And I love to pack, too. It’s a Zen thing – the anticipation of the adventure and the religion of the suitcase edit.)

  2. I approve the trench coat for a trip to Europe/ elsewhere. The brown you chose is to my liking, but perhaps traditional colors would fit most women.
    Liking the suitcases too, except- unless one travels a lot, a more neutral color would be more suitable ( imo ). A suitcase is quite expensive!
    However, I don´t think one should take along shoes, which one actually can´t wear anywhere else + the ballet flats are not suitable at this time of the year.
    Perhaps colored gloves are ok for M.O., but they seem a bit too clown-y over here.
    You Americans seem to wash your clothes an awful lot, it seems.
    With all the amount of clothes featured, I don´t think that there would be need for that.

  3. What do you do about also adding a makeup bag and a toiletry bag? Mine seem to grow larger as I grow older.

    oh and medications?

    1. I have a Dopp kit, I’ve learned to skinny down the beauty routine for travel. And the only medication I take is Xanax for flying. That stays in my purse. Oh, whoops, I am sure I’m in trouble for that too:).

  4. What an interesting post. I agree about shoes, but it is doubtful that I would use suitcase room for the fancy heels. But, that’s just me. I love the purple dress in the Night time ensembles. I agree with another poster about the practicality of a neutral suitcase, but the purple would certainly make it easy to claim!

    I have to laugh at the comment about Americans washing their clothing a lot. I hardly ever wash anything on a trip. I take enough to not have to do that and have managed just fine. I don’t mind rewearing an outfit a few times and fortunately don’t sweat very much!

  5. Ah you must have whittled down the possibilities as this wardrobe looks perfect to me!
    Washing clothes in the sink to hang to dry overnight has been my saving grace on many a jaunt. I love the look of that mauve silk shantung sheath!

  6. Great idea on the whole scheme. I pack precisely the same way, although as I am in so often in the Middle East I rely a great deal on midcalf dresses, boots, skirts and jackets and beautiful shawls. My only addition to your basic list is a small evening clutch in a fun but neutral colour.

    As to luggage–I have thrown in the towel on expensive–my Rimowa was punctured by arrival Cairo on trip 3 abroad. I now rely on LL Bean nylon in wild (ugly) prints. Virtually indestructible, all on wheels, and because it’s bright and conspicuous, easily spotted. Also not as readily stolen!

  7. Lisa I also check luggage. Why be so loaded down? Adore the Rimowa bags! I mostly wear pants because of my leg/hip brace at this time. I do love the two dresses on the right though. Comfort is most important in Travel!

    Love and hugs,

    Art by Karena

  8. I can’t be happy if I’m cold and Northern Europe is likely to be chilly in the Spring so I’d throw in a hat.

  9. If you are going to check, why limit?…asks the girl who married Mr. Carry-on.

    I pack (almost) every weekend and I find it extremely helpful to have a small necessities checklist. Pajamas, phone charger, sunglasses, etc. all things I’ve forgotten.

  10. I too have a permanent packing list for things which I always take; saves my brain coming up with the same stuff over and over. Love that twist front dress!! I have a wide 20″ Briggs and Riley now that has 4 wheels for maximum manueverability; I would check for overseas, but otherwise I get it above me somehow if alone. It’s annoying to have to pack your crossbody bag into the computer tote to meet the 2 piece guideline for boarding if you don’t check.

  11. A couple thoughts:
    Spring in northern Europe means lots of rain and wind- a trench coat is good but add an umbrella, a sweater or fleece to layer over your tops … and shoes that stay dry.
    If your are going to Prague, I’d strongly suggest skipping the heels completely. The sidewalks of historic Prague are stone cobblestones – beautiful and deadly on your feet. Navigating the older cobbles is impossible in heels and pretty tiring and painful in flats. None of the shoes you’ve shown, even the comfortable ones sadly, would be comfortable in Prague. (I was warned before I went and incorrectly thought my Geox loafers would work- much to my dismay once I arrived)

    1. After spending a third of my last trip to Prague confined to my hotel with a severe ankle sprain, I second Alex’s concerns.

    2. Last May, and here I am talking May 31st! – I was wearing my icebreaker merino-wool “260” knit (=the heaviest woolen underwear I wear for skiing holidays) plus a turtleneck plus a cashmeresweater plus a trenchcoat plus a pashima and a hat and I was FREEZING! Better take the dufflecoat to Northern Europe in Spring if you can’t bring a down jacket/goretex with fleece, especially when coming from warmer climates. Those winds are NASTY! Fun, but nasty ;-)

  12. I keep being tempted by that very suitcase. Mine is red, great for spotting on a luggage carousel (although I rarely check it), and very light also, but not nearly as stylish nor as strong.

  13. I used to struggle so much with shoes for travel. I just couldn’t find any that were comfy enough for 8+ hours walking but weren’t frumpy and hideous.

    It’s funny how packing seems to really bring out the despairing wail of ‘I have nothing to wear!’. Suddenly all my normal clothes just look hopelessly boring, out of date, faded, pilled etc.

    Now living in the UK walking in daily life is a lot more common so there are much more options, thankfully.

    Also, I’ve been taking cheap flights to Europe (I know England is in Europe, but it doesn’t feel like real Europe) and spending about four days with just carry on luggage. It’s surprisingly doable. AND room for some holiday purchases!

    Finally, I highly recommend Krakow in Poland. It’s the new Prague. :)

  14. My globe trotting daughters always buy bright and easy to spot luggage. The purple would win their approval. So much better than tying colored yarn, etc to ones bag for easy identification.

  15. This is perfection. Naturally. Addresses my packing downfall, which is my need to mitigate against ALL possibilities for ALL the things. When of course, maybe just tackling the potential distresses makes much more sense. Will try to also apply this approach to my tendency to pack every lotion and potion in my bathroom. Many thanks. I can now turn my attention to the excitement and anticipation (and shoe shopping!).

  16. Great list, I pack very lightly these days. You are tormenting me with that Bottega Veneta bag! How has it road tested for day to day use?

    1. It is great. It is also SMALL. You really have to commit to paring down the contents. But the design is comfortable and convenient.

  17. I definitely second the layers. Everyone knows a few thin layers trap more air than one thick one, but I also really like being able to take them off and put them on as the temperature changes – which it often does, in London, in the space of a few hours. (Sadly, I have not yet been to Germany, Czech, or Poland, although I have found that central France, having less surrounding sea, gets and remains colder). The only caveat is: make sure all your layers are things you would wear happily on their own with the rest of your outfit! I have often found myself boiling away, unable to take off one of my very carefully planned layers, because the one underneath doesn’t really pass muster on its own. (I don’t mean stained or full of holes! just one which has bobbled or the neckline has gone slack). I quite often go out in deep winter wearing two camisoles, two T-shirts (one long- and one short-sleeved) and a thin merino sweater. And coat, hat, scarf and gloves of course!

    The other thing I would add is jewellery / accessories. Where at home you might easily change for an evening out, on holiday I find it’s useful to have a few pieces you can add to jazz up a simple outfit and make them suitable for a casual dinner in a restaurant, so I would add that pair of heels to the jeans I’ve been tramping about in all day in flats, and also a necklace and perhaps larger earrings to my simple tee and sweater.

    Or of course you might see this as an opportunity to treat yourself to some new, native accessories. I think you once called this “localisation.” One of my favourite parts of travelling! :)

  18. And of course a brighter or darker lipstick for evening, and a small evening bag or clutch.

    I speak as one who usually carries around water bottle, book, notebook and pens, as well as ‘phone, keys, wallet, and small makeup bag complete with tiny penknife, plasters, nail file, lip balm, chewing gum, paracetamol*, floss and pocket mirror – and on holiday I add to this sun lotion, map and guidebook, and emergency snacks. For this reason I like the Longchamp Le Pliage tote: folds to almost nothing and weighs even less, and now so ubiquitous it signifies almost nothing. Pricy for a nylon holdall (although less so in the States, I believe), but quite smart, and with their brown handles they go with almost everything. I have one in dark blue and one in black, and alternate them according to my outfit.

    Oh this is FUN. I am now dreaming of city breaks, baroque palaces, medieval cathedrals, steak frites, cobblestones and the glory of a painting seen a thousand times in reproduction, suddenly encountered for oneself in a crowded or echoing gallery, and the sudden recognition and awe of “Oh THATS’s why…”.

    *(acetaminophen. Not for nothing does Deri sometimes call me “Mary Pippins”).

  19. Purple! Love love love it. Remember a few years back when we were told that “if you just have these eight black knit pieces to mix and match, you’re good to go?” Ugh.

    I am thrilled to say that while your fashion choices are always head and shoulders above mine, I did buy a wonderful, incredibly lightweight purple (violet?) rollaboard recently. This can only mean your taste is finally starting to rub off on me. ;)

  20. If at all possible, include a change of skivvies and an extra layer (a lightweight shirt or wrap) in your carryon, in case it gets chilly on the plane (common), or your luggage is delayed (or worse). (When traveling to warmer climes, I also throw in my swimsuit, so that a lost or delayed suitcase doesn’t keep me from partaking in the joys of the destination right away!) Jewelry and any key prescriptions should come on board with you, along with travel size toothbrush, toothpaste, and small (3 oz.) water bottle that pass muster through security. And earplugs are great for tuning out the ambient noise. Happy landings!

    1. I agree with packing some clean underpants, a toothbrush and a clear shirt in the carry on bag. I usually put them in a large sandwich type bag. This keeps them clean and easy to recognize. Having these things has saved me from spills, etc. on the airplane and has been a lifesaver when my baggage goes missing!

  21. I am NOT a light packer! I want the right outfit for every occasion, with the right shoes, and bags, and makeup, and jewelry. I do. I’m a big baby. One day I will master the trick of packing lighter.

  22. I am a frequent flyer and a light packer. Everything withing 3 nights or less is carry-on only, and I mean European size, not the mega-bags you Americans haul onto our aircrafts that can’t be stowed anywhere in-cabin. :)

    I would only take 3 pairs of shoes: boots, flats, and heels (+ trainers for running). And cardigans that MUST match all pants and skirts. Matching is key so a small wardrobe is enough.

    And YES for the dinner dress, you never know when you need it, and you always end up needing it!

  23. Forgot to give my thumbs up for the Rimowa. I have the carry-on and it’s lasted once-a-week trips for about 1.5 years now without a bump or scratch. So has my sturdy Dooney & Burke tote – couldn’t survive without this power couple!

  24. Excellent post! I always start from my feet upwards as well. I think what will they be doing and so the rest have to fall into place accordingly. However I like to change my footwear frequently even at home so it’s a real struggle travel light. I’m a chronic overpacker and only made a personal breakthrough to change this bad habit recently. Thank you for more tips!

  25. Thank you for the useful post. Frequent flyer here- suggestions include: Silk underwear adds warmth without weight or bulk. I can wad up a black silk cami into a tiny ziplock and keep it in my handbag in case of cold. If its really too cold for a trench coat and light layers, I have an soft old black boucle wool Caroline Charles coat that’s both warm and dressier than the trench, but its needed even in Northern Europe only in the dead of winter. I second the sturdy umbrella. Winds can be challenging!

  26. Just wondered which backpack you prefer. I live in the states and the Philippines and go back and forth frequently, as well as traveling around SE Asia. I currently use a TUMI backpack which I love for ease of packing, but it is quite heavy even empty.

  27. We’ve made several trips to France accompanied by five suitcases (for two people). Never again! I now cram everything into one wheeled carryon, basing my wardrobe around two colors and two colors only. Boring? Maybe, but since one color is usually black or navy, it allows me to blend in better. I pack washables, and don’t mind at all puttering around the hotel room at night doing hand wash. Same thing when we rent an apartment or house. Better hand wash than use those French dryers, which take several days to dry one load…

  28. This post and comments have been very helpful, as we are going to be in Europe in mid-October for nearly two weeks. We invested in brighter colored luggage a couple of years ago, for the same reason you did and have found it to be very helpful.

    Also, the layering and colors of the take-along wardrobe make a good deal of sense. I will use some of your ideas.

  29. My packing errors tend to spring from the what-if syndrome. What if I go hiking? What if I meet the Queen? What if I get invited to a fancy dress ball?

    This next trip, I’m going carry-on only and I’m going to assume that nothing will happen. Then if it does, I can go shopping. :)

  30. After going to Berlin and Krakow last fall and hand washing half my clothes halfway through the trip, I was semi-freaking out because they weren’t drying! It was a headache.

    In a few months we are going to Portugal and my new plan is to accumulate an entire wardrobe that I can (afford ably) leave there to be replaced by souvenirs. I plan on donating items.

    We only carry on and last time my wardrobe/suitcase was a combined weight of 12lbs.

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