After traveling to Europe every summer for the last zillion summers I feel I am somewhat of an expert on traveling here. I have made some general observations to share. Please note this is more to myself than anyone, but feel free to take any wisdom you see and use it for yourself.
1. Europe is not full of third world countries. Even most budget hotels and hostels provide you with shampoo and soap. AND YET every year I pack enough shampoo for about 95% of the entire population. Shampoo is heavy. I don't use a ton at home yet somehow when packing feel the urge to pack a truckload. Note to self: leave shampoo at home.
2. When it comes to clothes, I have tried it all. Exoficio often looks like it came straight off a farm. Royal Robbins often looks like old lady clothes. REI tends to be 295% polyester, hot, unbreathable, and stinky. LOFT is cute but does not dry or wash well in the sink. I could go on and on. This year I found the perfect shirts. Horny Toad. I bought 3 different shirts in all different styles. Love. Love. Love. Made from organic cotton, tencel, and a hint of spandex, they breathe, feel good and seriously dry super fast. I've washed them in the sink and there is no pilling, they hold their shape and are ready to wear the next day. They don't hold any smells and get impressively clean in the sink. They do not wrinkle. You can literally wad them up in a ball in your suitcase, shake them out and they are ready to wear. They are not cheap but they are worth it. I will be buying 2 more before my next trip and they will be all I go with. Ever. Love. Love. Love. Cannot emphasize enough how great these are.
3. Souvenirs. The list of people I buy for is long. This fills my suitcase with random things and makes my small and light travel not light by the end. So this year I tried something different. I found a store where I could purchase stuff for 90% of the folks on my list and I bought a ton if stuff and shipped it all back home. By shipping it, I was exempt from the ridiculous 19% tax rate, so basically it didn't cost that much more. The question is a matter of do you want to support the German government and lug all that junk all over half of Europe or do you want to buy tax free by taking that would-be-tax money and put it instead towards shipping and bid farewell to your purchases and not have to worry about things breaking or smashing or weighing you down. Why did I not discover this sooner?!?!?! This is brilliant and I will do it again for sure. They even insure it so if anything breaks you're safe. I bought way more fragile stuff than I would ever try to get back normally. I am loving I this plan. I will have some small odds and ends and lots of CDs to bring back but my main stuff will simply show up back home.
4. Traveling light. Really. Each year I pare down my list a little. The first year I came I had something ridiculous like 25 shirts, 4 skirts, 4 pairs of pants, several shoes, and a small mountain of pajamas and socks and underwear. Seriously I had five pairs of pajamas packed my first trip here. The next year I did a little better but still too much. HELLO. When in Europe a few things should be taken into consideration. First, it is perfectly acceptable to wash in the sink, especially when you have clothes that work for that. Second, it is OK if you have the same outfit in in more than one day of your travel log pictures. Third, you can totally wear a shirt more than once before washing. It's not generally hot here so you don't get super stinky, and even a little stink by American standards is nothing compared to some people on the trains. (I don't think Europeans shower as often or use deodorant. I'm not judging, just observing.) The long and the short of it is that no matter if you are going for 1 week or ten, a pair of jeans, a pair of pants, a skirt, and 5 shirts is all you really need. And that mountain of pajamas and socks and underwear? If you wash in the sink you only need a speed bump size pile instead of a small mountain. Ok, so you will want a sweater and jacket and scarf but you get the idea. One pair of shoes, one pair of sandals. DO NOT OVERPACK. You will regret overpacking far more than discovering you forgot to pack something. Trust me. I know.
5. A traveling pharmacy is not really necessary. In an average year, I use approximately 3 band aids and take maybe 2 Tylenol. When going to Europe I plan for the next Black Death. Sort of like my shampoo problem, I run out every year and buy all sorts of stuff to pack. Band aids of every kind, gauze, a whole bottle of Advil and Tylenol (remember, I only average 2 a year, so of course it makes perfect sense to pack a whole bottle for 3+ weeks in Europe) Neosporin, alcohol wipes, burn ointment, tums, and a whole other variety of junk. I never use it. It expires. I throw it away. Seriously, Emmy, figure it out. Leave the junk at home. It is not a third world country and if something is needed, you can go to the Apotheke or the Krankenhaus.
6. Hand sanitizing options. So, I'm a bit of a freak about germs. Therefore, I pack enough sanitizer to wage a small war against the microscopic world of German germs. I pack sanitizer, wet ones hand wipes individually wrapped, wet ones hand wipes in packages, Kleenex splashers, and Clorox wipes packs. Again, I only ever use a fraction of this stuff and carry it all over. (Amazing my luggage is under 25 lbs in the first place!)
7. My Osprey Porter is my best friend. I will not travel with any other suitcase. Ever.
8. My iPad is my other best friend. It is so small but holds all my books and music and lets me blog and email and save maps and train schedules and I don't know how I ever traveled without one in my early trips.
9. Self control. I have none. I never will. I should accept it and move on. I have a ton of self control at home and am ridiculously frugal. But for the few weeks I a here I have no self control. Today, for example there were a lot of organ CDs at the church I played. How can one possibly choose, or worse, walk away from such treasures? I bought six. Yep. And I don't even feel guilty. When there is a CD I will buy it. Yet I continue to try talk myself out of the purchase and be reasonable. I should just give up and buy it. Because I will anyway. My CD box always comes to Europe full of snacks and comes home completely full. I have no self control when it comes to organ CDs. Don't judge. Jesus still loves me.
10. Souvenirs in the form of chocolate. This cannot be shipped for obvious reasons. One day each year on my trip, I head to the grocery store and get chocolate to bring home for family and friends. It is a wonderfully amusing experience. Note to self: when one gets a cart and buys bags and bags of chocolate (as in enough that you have to hand over a 50 euro bill to pay for it all....) you will ALWAYS get a funny look from the store clerk. Ad the people in front of you in line. And the people behind you in line. And everyone you walk by on the way out. It is part of the experience. One is never sure if one should be embarrassed, excited, humored, or what. Try it sometime and let me know your reaction.