What to Pack Series

The Ultimate Packing Guide for Europe

Posted by Bee Shapiro on April 29, 2013 at 1:49:21 PM EDT | Post a Comment

Summer is Europe's peak season. We are already daydreaming about leisurely alfresco lunches and sunbathing along the Mediterranean with the locals. And then we screech back to reality when it comes to packing. No matter your destination, there are some hard and fast travel style rules for dressing chic, packing smart, and not looking like a tourist.

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1. Rein in the Bling: "Whether the gems are real or not, bling will mark you out as a potential mugging victim or lady of dubious fashion sense—less is usually more in Europe," says Sarah-Leigh Shenton, director of marketing for Red Savannah, a luxury bespoke travel company based in UK. Instead, pick more casual options like colorful gems and costume jewelry pieces that accent your outfits.

2. Skip the Synthetics: Having worked in the industry for 23 years and traveled extensively throughout Europe, Shenton notes that for those visiting France, Italy (her two faves), and warm Mediterranean climes, it's best to steer clear of sweaty synthetics in favor of "crisp, loose linens and cotton in light colors." Believe us, you'll see tons of locals wearing linen pants and light fabrics like a summer uniform.

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3. Convertibles, Reversibles: Designers have put a lot of thought lately into multi-way tops, swimwear, and dresses, which makes packing convertible or reversible clothes (previously considered a faux pas) a big travel and style convenience. This orange and muted coral reversible top by Tibi ($285) is simple, but gives you two colors to work with. Several swimwear brands, like the hip Basta Surf, now make reversible separates as well. And you'd never know by looking at Abi Ferrin's one-shoulder frock ($258) that it can actually be worn five different ways.

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4. Be Comfortable: Especially with footwear, fashion shouldn't trump comfort. Just think of all those cobblestone streets. That said, there are smart styles (not including sneakers) that still score high on the style meter, like sandals with a padded foot. You'll find them sprinkled throughout many lines, like Lilly Pulitzer and the new Grove thong sandal ($128) from Cole Haan, which comes in a variety of colors.

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5. Leave the Fleece at Home: There is nothing wrong with a great fleece for workouts or outdoorsy vacations, but in some of the more fashion-forward European cities, like Barcelona or Paris, Sarah Doyle, global brand director of W hotels, suggests going for a little leather jacket instead. "It is perfect to throw over a sexy silk dress or blouse and jeans. My all-time favorite is a Rick Owens classic leather jacket," she says. "I consider it a staple of my wardrobe." For less of a splurge, try this belted leather bomber jacket from Madewell ($495) or this Boutique by Jeger style available on ASOS.com ($497).

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6. Closet Case: You don't need to start feverishly online shopping just to get ready for this trip. Chances are, you've got most of what you need in your closet already. Stretchy black or dark blue denim leggings are great for flights and train rides. Once you've arrived, throw on a cute top or sweater and a thin, colorful belt and you're done. If you're in the market for these closet staples, try these black J Brand denim leggings ($150) or these 1969 legging jeans by Gap ($70), which you can wear with this splashy belt in "neon azalea" from JCrew ($32.50).

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7. Backpack Blues: When it comes to accessories, Doyle says nothing quite screams tourist like "an awkward handbag or backpack." Instead, she suggests packing an Alexander Wang square zip bag ($675) with a shoulder strap. "You can wear it by day for shopping, so you can use both hands, and also for a night out on the town," says Doyle. We also love this similar Marc by Marc Jacobs black cross-body bag ($198) and the classic-looking styles from Camrbidge Satchel Company, like this Chelsea bag in Honeysuckle ($177).

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8. Maximize Space: Rolling your clothes is an easy way to fit more items in your carry-on. But we also suggest trying to pack loosely to leave space for new purchases or small souvenirs. It's worthwhile to separate some of your more delicate items in a designated lingerie bag ($18 at Flight 001), and some travelers like compression bags to reduce volume. Be sure to use your shoe bags—some brands come with them in the box, always save them! There are affordable cotton flannel versions at Allen Edmonds ($8.50 for a pair), or if you're feeling crafty, make your own.

9. Don't Go Too Skimpy: "Most southern European countries are staunchly Catholic," Shenton points out. "And at religious sites, from St Peter's Basilica to small rural churches, skimpy clothing is considered insensitive earning you a frown at the bare minimum, or even being unable to go inside." Her style solution? "Pack a beautiful scarf that can be used to cover shoulders when entering such sites," Shenton suggests. "Also make sure legs are covered—shorts and mini-skirts are not acceptable attire."

Photo credits: Jewelry shop via Shutterstock; Top: Left, Courtesy of Nordstrom, Inc.; Center, Courtesy of Gap Inc.; Right, Courtesy of EMINENT, INC. Collage 2: Left, Courtesy of Cole Haan; Right, Courtesy of Lilly Pulitzer; Collage 3: Left, Courtesy of Gap Inc.; Center, Courtesy of BOP LLC; Right, Courtesy of J.CREW; Collage 4: Left, Courtesy of Neiman Marcus; Center, Courtesy of www.cambridgesatchel.com; Right, Courtesy of BOP LLC; Collage 5: Left, Courtesy of Net-a-porter.com; Center, Courtesy of Madewell Inc.; Right, Courtesy of Jaeger Company's Shops Ltd.; Bottom: Left, Courtesy of Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation; Center, Courtesy of Eagle Creek; Right, Courtesy of www.flight001.com

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Member Comments (17)  Post a Comment

  • towander on Apr 14, 14 at 11:21 PM

    This article was so ridiculous that I created an account just so I could comment. What is this Fodor's? Seems like it was written by a teenage fashion blogger who 1) doesn't travel 2) can't afford any of the clothes she's even recommending in the first place. While the idea of taking along a leather jacket is nice in theory, it seems bulky to pack, heavy and impractical for actual travel. Especially, the ones recommended in this article, one of which is $2,500. Seriously???

    This article was obviously just an attempt to stick as many affiliate links in as possible, however impractical and irrelevant the products are for travelers. I'm so disappointed in this article!

  • aliced on Mar 11, 14 at 05:15 PM

    Count me in on the idea that this comprises probably the worst packing list for summer in France & Italy. Black leather jacket? Linens and cottons? The whole point of the new 'performance' synthetics, is that they drape beautifully, wick away moisture from the body, and wash & dry in a flash. Instead of a black leather jacket, perhaps a seasonless lightwool black blazer over your perhaps one pair of jeans, then all the rest, thin micro jersey pants that roll-up and unroll and look fabulous. BTW the Lily Pulitzer sandals (??) are no longer even for sale and trekking around for hours over uneven cobblestones in these or the others seem likely to have you at a doctor's office to have your ankle taped. Leather jackets are great in Europe from Oct-May only. And the prices! Really Fodors, are you that desperate for advertising that you will post anything?? There are brilliant packing lists in the Forum for just about any location. Oh, why didn't you mention some luggage that is $875 but just the best carryon ever!

  • DMarieMoe on May 13, 13 at 05:26 PM

    I expect more from Fodor's. This article makes no sense and is clearly written around items that are paying for product placement with links to take your readers to the purchase page. Disappointing. The best business serves the customer and then panders to the advertisers.

  • Greenway on May 13, 13 at 06:49 AM

    What a ridiculous and unrealistic article. Do the author and the "experts" quoted actually travel? LInens and cottons? Cool, yes, but require a TON of care, like ironing. And flipflops to walk on cobblestones? Not to mention the prices....

  • annw on May 10, 13 at 11:24 AM

    I would just add that the shoe covers are well worth the tiny weight they add.

  • annw on May 10, 13 at 11:23 AM

    Love elnom's idea about the French postal bag; I'll look for one next trip. I agree with commenters that this article could be a bit more realistic, but I enjoy reading the "what to wear" articles anyway. You can extrapolate from here-- well tailored pieces/straight leg slacks rather than jeggings; a good versatile jacket rather than leather -- like a knit blend blazer that washes and folds/rolls. Etc. I can see how a leather jacket would be useful in cold weather, but I found my Scottevest short black trench much more useful.

  • skipaway on May 7, 13 at 08:31 AM

    Just returned from Europe to find this, and was sorry it hadn't been published while I was pondering my packing list. But, like most others, I found nothing here of value. Took my baggallin ($40), a LL Bean fleece V neck which was invaluable, and blends that wash and dry on the fly. I, unfortunately, heeded the advice to not take my athletic shoes (Brooks). Even the most cursory shoe survey while sitting on the Paris Metro debunks the "Parisians don't wear athletic shoes" myth. And what's with the red socks and red shoelaces, messieurs? Anyway, check Pinterest for some great travel wardrobe ideas.

  • urbanite1 on May 5, 13 at 01:14 PM

    Interesting that what looked like an interesting article turned out to be a string of sales pitches aimed only at women. You must have some sponsors to please, or maybe this article was written by someone who has never traveled anywhere (thong sandals on cobblestone streets, indeed)!

  • einom on May 5, 13 at 12:28 PM

    These travel clothing styles appear to be for a very limited group of ladies, i.e., those well under 40 years and under 130 lbs. I personally do not want to see middle-aged and older ladies with a slightly more ample girth (that would include myself), dressed in super-tight black skinny jeans or tights and thong sandels or high heels on the streets of Paris! Please write travel articles that cover a more broad base of travelers, whose majority is very likely in the 40+ bracket. Also, I think I would be uncomfortable for Aniex if I should run into her in a "beautiful European cafe'" wearing the solid cotton blouse hand-laundered and hung to dry the previous night in her hotel room. A tiny bit of synthetic mixed with that cotton would come out looking lovely! Thanks, and I hope to read more tips, but of a more practical nature.

  • Anniex on May 5, 13 at 11:18 AM

    It's important to feel good about yourself, especially spending that extra ten minutes every morning just to ensure you feel good about the way you look. It changes so much about the rest of your day so definite points from me about stylish traveling especially to many parts of Europe. There is nothing worse than sitting in a beautiful European cafe and trying to soak in the local culture when you are looking oddly out of place, not to mention feeling under dressed. Whilst I wouldn't lash out and spend $2,400 on a leather jacket I'm sensible enough to understand the concept of the photos and find my own replicas at H&M,Zara, or even cheaper chain stores. I also definitely agree on accessories, stylish flats (rather than heavy sweaty, smelly hiking boots -I once shared a room with a lady who wore the same boots every day for month...not pleasant at all!), a light leather jacket, a small cross over bag (instead of a bulky backpack) and leggings are a must due to the versatility (wear with heels for evening or flat shoes for daytime). I also agree with packing lightweight cotton garments as they are most comfortable and dry overnight when hand washed and hung up on a coat hanger in your hotel/hostel. Great tips also on maximising space for souvenirs (I buy a small magnet in every city and have almost 200 just from my previous 10 years of traveling).Keep up the great work xoxo

  • EJBlue on May 5, 13 at 10:11 AM

    I have to agree with all other comments. Your article provides unrealistic expectations for the average traveler who is often on a budget. Please keep in mind that the US economy is not in good shape right now. Travel for some people is a real effort.

  • CarolA on May 4, 13 at 09:12 PM

    Are you sending along a 'laundry person' and a porter to keep those "crisp" linens looking crisp? Especially after we roll them up as you suggest in this article!

    And "ring in the bling" but carry a $700 purse??? You can't even keep your story the same within a few paragraphs! Or do you really think a thief won't recognize "brand names"????

    Seriously, I read your packing articles for laughs. But you need to get out of your cubicle and into the real world. It's sad when a travel website posts junke like this!

  • newgail on May 4, 13 at 07:36 PM

    If I bought the items recommended here I don't think I could afford to travel! Also agree with FirstMateNC about the shoes- walking for hours on cobblestones in those would be a nightmare.

  • FirstMateNC on May 4, 13 at 03:22 PM

    Not a single useful tip in this article. Cannot imagine walking (cobblestone streets or not) in those flimsy sandals! I made my own smart black travel jacket by purchasing an inexpensive black cotton one, then embroidering in bright colors the names of the cities I've visited. I get compliments on it all over the world. No need to buy a souvenir; I just embroider the latest locales on my return.

  • Lanky on May 4, 13 at 02:09 PM

    Over priced as one can do better in other stores.

  • Spunkie on May 4, 13 at 02:03 PM

    I enjoy looking at your recommendations. However to you have suggestions for a stylish 60+ who is in good shape? I don't want to look like I am trying to shop 30 years off my age.

  • einom on May 4, 13 at 10:26 AM

    Get real. Those prices are so out-of-sight for travel togs and accessories. I bought the exact design, shape and size bag as the suggested $177 Chelsea. in a local Paris post-office for about $20. It is their replica of a French "postal bag", in dark grey heavy canvas with the little French postal-service logo on front, very stylish, sturdy and practical. Street vendor stands also sell good, roomy, stylish bags. Travel is not kind to clothes or accessories such as bags, so a plain, well-constructed Wal-Mart or J.C. Penney's find is better for travel than these top-of-the-line suggestions by Bee-Shyuan Chang. Also, that heavy leather jacket will drive you crazy on a hot summer evening in France or Italy Save your money for a nicely tailored little(black)lined silk jacket or a cashmere sweater for day or evening wear and some good, stylish shoes. Note: Shoe stores abound in Europe, so take along one pair plus evening sandels, and pop into a shoe store and buy yourself a nice pair of shoes that fit well and look great and will be a good souvenir of your visit. At shoe chains, they are most often well-made and very reasonably priced. You should be able to get a super pair or even two with savings from the reduced-price satchel, alone! And as for all linen or cotton fabrics--NO! Definitely not 100% polyester, but a blend of cotton and poly is so much better (dries quickly and no wrinkles. Pure linen and cotton will have you looking like you slept in your clothes, due to wrinkles. Shop wisely, have fun!

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