One of the most annoying (and restrictive) things about packing to go to Europe for an extended period is the fact that airlines restrict the number of bags you can bring with you(and the size/weight of those bags). You really have to find the sweet spot between everything you need to bring and how much you’re willing to pay to check extra bags. That was a big motivator behind my clothing selection for the trip.
The next step, after you are fairly certain how much you absolutely need to bring along (and which things you can afford to bring just because you wanna), is to choose which pieces of luggage you will bring. My choice was straight forward. I was willing to pay to check 1 extra bag, which put me at 2 checked bags and 1 carry-on.
- 1 huge amorphous black “duffel” with wheels | My parents brought this bag on their honeymoon to the UK (with all of their stuff in it), I brought it to Freiburg, and we just used it to move my sister into college because it holds so much stuff. You can fill it to the absolute brim and then realize that there’s still a decent amount of space left.
- 1 hiking backpack | Bought it at REI for my last German excursion. It’s good for train travel because it’s ergonomic even if you’re carrying a lot, you don’t have to deal with rolling a suitcase, and all the pockets are optimal for storing miscellaneous things you need to bring, but just don’t make sense in a suitcase (this time: power adapters, journals/books, medication, toiletries, etc. in addition to clothing.
- 1 rolling suitcase carry-on
- 1 oversized purse
The Packing Rationale
I did some reading before I started about different methods for space- and time-efficient packing that minimize wrinkles in clothing. I decided to try both of the ones that I found, and it ended up working well because of the different types of bags I chose to bring.
1. The Bundle is supposed to eliminate creases and wrinkles in your clothing by stacking many staggered articles on top of each other and then wrapping them around a center object. Because I am bringing 2 long coats, 2 jackets, 2 dress pants, and an even number of jeans, I decided to do 2 bundles of my bulkier clothing (pants, sweaters, jackets, dresses), which I hoped would both fit in the massive duffel. Success! Check it out.
I laid one completed bundle in the duffel, then placed a stack of scarves on top of that, then the second completed bundle on top. It fit!!! That was probably 70% of my clothing, all in one bag! And because the bundles were narrower than the bag, there was still space on either side to pack shoes, socks, underwear, etc.
2. Rolling is the second method, which I’ve used before to great effect. I used this for the backpack, where I packed my less bulky clothing (short and long-sleeved t-shirts, cardigans, pajamas, work-out clothing). I fit all of them into the backpack by rolling each item as tightly as possible. Even though I am bringing a good number of shirts and cardigans, everything fit quite nicely, so I was also able to add my running shoes, toiletries, hairdryer, books, notebooks, and medication.
One good thing about a backpack is that the space isn’t as restrictive as that of a suitcase, so you can often cram in a little more than you had intended. However, this can be a little bit of a trap, especially for the absent-minded (me): there are so many pockets! How to remember where you put what?? So, with some uncharacteristic forethought, I decided to make a list of what I packed where in the backpack. Hopefully I remember to bring the list. 😉
3. Planning ahead: I plan to do some travel across Europe while I’m there, which means I will probably choose to fly with a budget airline. These companies are notorious for allowing only comically small luggage allowances to account for the low prices, so made sure I looked up their baggage dimensions. It turns out I own a small duffel that fits within their limit, so I needed to be able to pack it.
Luckily, the small, budget-friendly duffel fits right inside my rolling carry-on! This isn’t incredibly space efficient, but I have the freedom to be a little inefficient since I fit the lion’s share of my clothing in my checked bags. I’m packing 3-4 days worth of clothes and a few pairs of shoes in my carry-on, just in case something happens to the checked bags. I had to send some pants to be tailored and they haven’t come back yet, so those are going in the 3rd suitcase by default.
4. Beating the System: I’m bringing a purse way bigger than any handbag I would usually carry, because I need to be able to fit my computer in it. Oops! I’ll be carrying my German cell phone, in-flight reading, school/citizenship documents, my ID and passport, etc. I chose to bring a rolling suitcase as my carry-on instead of just a duffel bag because if I’m going to be carrying a heavy shoulder bag, I want to be able to roll my other bag 😉
So there we have it. A whole year’s worth of my stuff. Surprisingly, I think this is less than I brought for one semester in 2011, yet I feel so much more prepared this time around.