Art of Packing 2: Euro Road Trip!

I’ve posted before about how to pack for conferences, but it’s a whole other ballgame when you’re vacationing. It’s particularly interesting in this case: we were gone for two weeks, driving through six countries with varied climates. We stayed at a couple places with laundry facilities (thank you, AirBnb!), so that helped… although we did scramble and wash clothes in the sink at a hotel in Nice when our plans changed last-minute.


The trickiest part was packing enough options that a) I was warm (and dry!) in the Swiss Alps and cool on southern France beaches, as well as b) not completely bored of wearing the same three outfits… while still keeping it light. I packed everything for Alex and myself into our small carry-on suitcase (20″ Travel Pro roll-aboard), my Jo Totes camera bag (doubles as purse/tote-bag), and Alex’s camera gear backpack. On a larger flight, we wouldn’t have had to check any luggage–but since this was a tiny plane, we had to check the rollaboard. At least it all fit in our rental car easily (along with a James, a Bryce, and their luggage)–and when we had to lug it up five flights of stairs to various apartments/hotel rooms without elevators, it wasn’t too bad.

Clothes I Packed:

  • 1 pair long jeans (for the plane, colder climates)
  • 1 pair shorts
  • 1 skirt (also doubles as a mini-dress)
  • 1 beige tank top (with SEQUINS for fun!)
  • 3 black t-shirts (1 plain, 1 with a front print, 1 with a studded feather design)
  • 2 3/4-length shirts (1 black, 1 teal, to throw over tank or t-shirts)
  • 1 long-sleeved knit shirt (I ordinarily don’t pack soooo many layers, but we went through a LOT of climates)
  • 1 long-sleeved wrap (to layer over the long-sleeved shirt in the Alps, and wear on the airplane)
  • 2 scarves (for warmth & fun! I also use these as blankets on cold airplanes. Or skirts, beach coverups, etc… My rule is always pack a scarf, preferably two.)
  • 1 bikini + extra halter top (swim top doubles as a shirt on hot days)
  • workout clothes: shorts & tank top (double as PJs), headband
  • 1 pair waterproof tennis shoes for hiking/walking/working out
  • flip-flops and sunglasses for beaches
  • for Alex: 6 Under Armour “Catalyst” shirts in various colors (50+ UPF sun protection, moisture-wicking, and quick dry after washing!), 1 pair khaki shorts, 1 pair jeans, 1 button-down short-sleeve shirt, bathing suit.

What I Wished I’d Packed:

  • 1 minidress for fancy days, beach coverup (I bought one in Venice, so it made a nice souvenir… just wish I’d had one earlier on the trip.)
  • 1 pair nice flats — I went back and forth on this, and decided to leave them behind to make more room–but MAN did I get sick of wearing sneakers. Again, I bought a nice pair of wedge sandals in Nice, but before that I was frustrated by my lack of choices.
  • light parka — I always go back and forth about taking an umbrella. We have two small travel umbrellas; one is so light that it’s useless in wind–the other is small and sturdy, but heavy. I ended up packing neither, but a light rainproof windbreaker would have been nice in Switzerland… unfortunately, my only parka is still in Dallas.
  • for Alex, we ended up buying sunglasses and some nice sandals in Nice.

For vacation, I abide by the same packing rule as for work: plan a clothing color palette (see the linkApartment Therapy has some great ideas for doing this). For professional trips, I usually go with black/grey/red. For this trip, I went with black/beige/teal/orange, and it was a nice change–felt very summery! I concentrated the color pops of teal and orange in the accessories: my Jo Totes bag, scarves, jewelry, one of the shirts, and the skirt. It gave me a good mix-and-match, although by the time I bought the colorful minidress, I was reeeeeally happy to wear something different! Next time, I’ll bring the dress from the get-go.

Non-Clothes We Packed:

  • minimal jewelry (2 necklaces, 2 pairs earrings), makeup, liquids
    • we bought sunscreen once we got to France
    • I often buy at least one piece of jewelry and/or scarf on a trip, so I try to pack realizing I’ll bring back more.
  • 2 iPads (in lieu of laptops: for email, blogging, storing digital photos/videos, notes for dissertation, watching movies, reading ebooks)
    • If we were less tech-dependent, or more patient, we could easily make do with 1 iPad. But since we each have one, and they’re light, and this was two weeks… I’m really glad we each had one to use in the evenings!
  • Alex’s Nikon D-800
  • my Nikon D-7000
  • Alex’s Hassleblad + film (yeah, he’s old school like that!)
  • assorted lenses — (since Alex primarily stuck with his 17-35mm wide-angle and I stuck with our zoom-a-riffic 28-300mm, I think the only other we should have packed was our trusty 50mm)
  • Alex’s tripod + camera attachments
  • assorted camera accessories, straps, blah blah blah
  • our iPhones (Alex’s has a travel SIM; we both have Ukraine SIMs)
  • USB cables, chargers, etc. for electronics
  • Belkin mini-surge-protector with USB chargers (best electronic travel accessory EVER–attach one plug adapter and you can charge 5 items simultaneously in any country!)
  • multi-plug-adapter — (we have sets with lots of plug tips, but this one is compact and best for multi-country travel; ours is similar to this one)

More Useful Travel-Related Stuff

I used CamScanner Pro on my iPhone to take photos of the most useful pages from our print guidebooks and combine them into a PDF. Much lighter than lugging those guidebooks in our suitcase! (I didn’t finish in time to ditch all the print books, but it helped.) I also use this app to keep high-res scans of our passports on-hand–just in case. If you travel a lot and find yourself needing to make PDFs, save receipts for reimbursement, sign documents, or scan stuff, etc., this app is well worth the $5 cost.

I have to admit, even knowing Kharkov’s time zone is 8 hours ahead of Texas’s CST, it’s hard for my brain to figure out good times for Skype calls–even more so during our trip when we were hopping countries! A tool I’ve been using to help schedule virtual meetings is The World Clock Meeting Planner. Sure, I could use the world time clocks on my laptop or iPhone, but this tool lays it all out with good suggestions, letting you select multiple time zones.

view out our room in Trento

I mentioned AirBnb earlier–we used this website/app to rent apartments in Bern, Marseilles, and Venice. This saved us some money (especially since there were 4 of us!), but it was also nice because 1) we were able to do laundry, 2) we could use the kitchens to cook, saving money and getting better nutrition than eating out all the time, 3) we had living areas with space to relax, and 4) we got to meet and talk to locals. We also stayed at an amazing 18th-century villa in Trento, facing a mountainside vineyard, that served a great free breakfast, where we all stayed in a charming room named “Fabio” (really!), for only $25 USD each. An amazing deal, courtesy of

Once we got home, in addition to dumping all our clothes in the wash, I took out all our go-to travel gear (ziplock bags of liquids, extra contacts, luggage locks, electronic adapters/chargers) and put them in our Travel Drawer. I started this habit when Alex started flying between Ukraine and the US every 2-3 weeks, so that I always knew where our luggage scale was, and it’s been super-handy in Kharkov. I just dump all travel-related items in the drawer–no fancy organizers, just one big place to keep it all. I also keep sample-sized makeup in there so that I can quickly grab a travel bag of “girlie stuff.” Some might call it prepared or organized… it’s really just a way to enable my proclivity for packing procrastination!

Finally, here’s a great idea I’m planning to adopt–leave a photo on your camera (or phone!) with your contact information, in case it’s lost. I love that this guy does it in a fun, humorous way… although I think I’ll use far fewer photos for mine! I also write my email address on our scuba gear in permanent marker. That way, if we drop a fin, mask, snorkel, etc. in the ocean, another diver may run across it and let us know.


7 thoughts on “Art of Packing 2: Euro Road Trip!

  1. Diane Phillips says:

    For those of us who live vicariously through your world travels it’s fun to see what it takes to be prepared. I found some really good tips for my next vacation. Thanks for all the pics and commentary of your travels. ~hugs

  2. Alex Hoffman (@m_alex_h) says:

    We brought exactly the lenses you mentioned — Nikon 17-25mm f2.8, Nikon 28-300, Nikon 50mm f1.4 plus two lenses for the Hasselblad: 180mm & 80mm. Nothing went unused.

    As another note, I wore the large clothes (jeans, light jacket, etc) on the flights to save space & weight in the suitcase as well as to make sure to stay warm enough on the plane.

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      Well awesome, I’m glad we didn’t overload on the lenses! 🙂 I do want to bring my Yashika on the next trip, though.

      Excellent point about wearing the heavy clothes on the plane, glad you mentioned it! 🙂

  3. Chris says:

    I always try to be this organized, and I so never am. Working on it though! And I love the color palette idea, but then again, I’m a designer, of course I like the color palette. LOL

    • Starr Hoffman says:

      I first read the idea in Rick Steve’s Backpackng Through Europe, 1984 edition. 🙂 It’s saved me a lot of space, plus it makes your wardrobe so much more flexible when traveling. Since I am definitely a person who decides what I wear based on mood (and thus have trouble planning outfits in advance), it’s a great solution.

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