Packing Tips From a Travel Director

Packing Tips From a Travel Director

Riccardo Panareo has been a Grand European Travel Director for over 14 years, focusing on Italy.

Here he shares his packing tips laying to rest the burning question of “How do I pack everything I could possibly want to wear into one suitcase?”

As I’m sure you are all aware, the airlines are becoming increasingly strict in their baggage policies. Long gone are the days of multiple and large suitcases as they are quick to charge you for too many bags and overweight bags.

Before you start to fret, let me tell you that I know from personal experience that you can pack light and still enjoy your tour of Europe!

People tend to want big suitcases, and the luggage industry is quick to sell you bags that are big, have many pockets and unzip to add a few more inches of space – but these are not necessary. I jokingly call these “pregnant suitcases” as the zippers allow them to grow bigger and bigger every day until they are bursting at the seams. These suitcases often get torn or the zipper breaks which is no help to you at all as I’m sure the last thing you want to do is spend your free time on tour looking for a new suitcase.

Now, if you already have this type of suitcase don’t worry. I don’t want you to throw it out and buy a new one. You can make it work as long as you pack it smartly. But if you are in the market for a new piece of luggage I recommend a good-sized, old-fashioned hard sided suitcase (be sure to look for the light-weight tag while shopping). They can stand the rain, the airport handling, and the weight of other suitcases which are sometimes heaped on top of them.

On every tour we try to keep you comfortable on the coach by stowing your carry-ons in a section of the trunk. But if the trunk gets filled up with bigger and bigger suitcases, the only place left for carry-ons will be your laps as the space above the seats is quite small.

At the end of a tour avoid the “pregnant” suitcase that has doubled its size and weight resulting in:

  • Extra charges when you check in for your home-bound flight
  • Potential physical strains when you have to drag them through the airport and back into your house
  • Rooms in Europe are already small. You don’t want to end up asking yourself a Hamlet question: sleep or open your suitcase?

What to take with you on a tour?
The answer to this Biblical question is very plain and simple: TRAVEL LIGHT! Before packing your suitcase at home, lay out all clothes you would like to take on your bed. Coordinate main pieces that can be mixed and matched, need little care and are comfortable. Once you have reviewed your selection, you should be able to put half of your clothes back in the closet.

On most tours we don’t have requirements for gentlemens’ jackets or ladies’ evening dresses. On most evenings the right dress attire will be smart casual (no ties/jackets required). Remember, we are not going to a convention, we do not have to impress anybody with extravagant clothes; we’ll be walking up and down museums, gardens, and alleyways. Always wear comfortable clothes and good walking shoes.

Another good tip is LAYERING. Layering works well for all seasons. In the fall and winter and/or cooler climates, layered dressing will help with warmth as needed. In the summer, it will also help you adjust to cooler and warmer areas, particularly when going from hot sun to an air conditioned room.

Think about your last vacation – how many items did you not even pull out of the suitcase until you got home?

Personal Hygiene Kit
If you have the habit of using your personal washcloth you should know that very often hotels in Europe do not provide them. Take yours with you, although you should know it may be difficult to dry it, as it has to remain in your suitcase while moving from one city to another.

All hotels provide shampoo and soap, but this last one is sometimes so small you can hardly handle it, and kneeling down to pick it up in some of those micro-showers is something for Circus Contortionists! I would suggest you take your own regular size soap with you.

TSA Approved Baggage Locks
This is a disputed point: many airlines do not want locked bags as they may be opened for security even if you are not there. Also, in the case of delayed bags, some airports do not deliver locked bags to hotels because they have to be searched by local Customs first, and they cannot do it if they are locked. Instead you have to take time out of your vacation to go to the airport and unlock them for customs. By then you’ve wasted half a day plus the cost of the taxi. Besides, if a burglar wants to open your suitcase, do you seriously believe he will be discouraged by your padlock? If you do choose to put a lock on your luggage be sure to choose a TSA approved lock which can lessen your chances of hassle.

Carry-On Bags
We have to understand the meaning of this word: a carry-on (as the term should self-explain) is a piece of light–baggage which is small and easy for you to carry on your travels. Many people think that a small suitcase with wheels on it is a carry-on – but they are not. In order to have room for your carry-on while on the motorcoach you should have a bag that can easily be carried on your shoulder and can be stowed comfortably inside the motorcoach either in the overhead bin above your seat or under your seat. If it is larger, then it is quite possible that you may have to carry your bag in your lap when you’re on the motorcoach.

Medication
Always carry your medications in your carry-on bag while flying. While it does not happen very often, you don’t want to find out that the bag with your medications in it is delayed – or even worse – lost.

Carry with you a list of full names of all medication you may require and the reason why they are used, in case you need a doctor abroad. One more piece of advice: when in foreign countries medications’ names are different, ask your doctor to write the basic chemical description of your medicine as it will be easier for foreign doctor/pharmacists to give you the right stuff if needed. Also, I highly advise bringing a spare pair of reading glasses with you.

Photography / Video Kit
Generally in Europe films, batteries, memory cards and all stuff for this purpose is more expensive than in the USA. Make sure you bring enough from home to last throughout your trip. If you’re in front of the Colosseum when your camera battery dies and you have to buy a new one, you can, it is just going to cost you a pretty penny.

When flying, keep memory cards and films in your hand luggage, usually X-ray detectors for suitcases are stronger than the ones for human beings.

In my years as a Tour Director I’ve seen it all and learned many things. I hope that my packing tips help you to have a smooth trip to Europe.

Ciao,
Riccardo

47 thoughts on “Packing Tips From a Travel Director

  • May 24, 2013 at 4:17 am
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    I appreciate the tips. I wish more people understood the meaning of “carry-on”.

    Reply
  • May 24, 2013 at 4:26 am
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    except for the soap and washcloth, the article is basically useless.
    how does a woman, on a 30 day european trip, pack 30 sets of underwear
    let alone outerwear? now that information would be useful.

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    • May 24, 2013 at 4:23 pm
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      Thank you for your feedback. Many of our travelers choose to launder some of their clothing while on tour. While many hotels do not offer self-service laundry, they do offer laundry service. We suggest that when you have a 2-night stay on tour, drop off some laundry the first night and the hotel will deliver it back to you the next day.

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      • May 24, 2013 at 8:45 pm
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        Hotel laundry is terribly expensive! In one hotel the charge was 2.50 euro’s (about $3.25 US) for each item of underwear! You can do the math.

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    • May 25, 2013 at 5:59 pm
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      I pack to throw away, anything that is one wear away from,Goodwill goes into the travel pile and gets packed, taken on trips and thrown. No need to pack for 30 days- one pair of pants and three tops, and you reduce your luggage amount. n the way home you have no or few dirty clothes and plenty of room for your purchases.

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    • May 25, 2013 at 7:15 pm
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      You pack 10 pairs of panties and bring along some clothes pins and every time you’re in a a place for 2 nights you wash out your panties and hang them on a metal hanger
      To dry overnight in the tub. If they’re not completely dry in the morning hang the hanger in the closet while you shower. I bring the hangers also. All my tops are also wash and wear in the same way and they go with different bottoms so I don’t feel like I’m wearing the same thing. I also bring a pair of black and a pair of blue jeans for cold nights/days and a fleece sweater. A scarf/shawl also good for religious paces or cool airports.

      Reply
    • May 25, 2013 at 8:35 pm
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      I just did an 18-day trip with only 3 pairs of Patagonia underwear (2 tan, 1 black) that I bought at REI. They are polyester/spandex and feel just as comfortable as my Victoria’s Secret underwear. Every night I would wash a pair out with my Dial antibacterial bar soap in my hotel room sink, and they were dry by the morning. Everything else Riccardo said, including further comments, are spot on. May I also recommend rolling each of your garments tightly into a sort of sausage shape rather than folding flat. I found that I could fit much more into a 19″ hard-side suitcase that way.

      Reply
    • June 7, 2013 at 6:10 am
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      It’s not impossible to wear something more than once! (depending on weather) I have some clothes that I can wear a couple of times, and others that look bad after half a day. If you have to be seen in a different outfit daily, try mix and match.

      Reply
  • May 24, 2013 at 5:00 am
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    I loved what Riccardo said. I woul like to know about your Tour Director Mr. Frank Looze.

    Reply
    • May 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm
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      I’m glad that you liked Riccardo’s comments. We hope to have more articles from our Tour Directors that we can share with you soon.

      Reply
  • May 24, 2013 at 5:44 am
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    A few nuggets, I expected more info, like a sweater, rain coat . We all know about the suitcases.

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    • May 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm
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      Thank you for your feedback. We will work on putting together some future packing tips that go beyond just the suitcase and discuss things like sweaters and rain coasts, etc.

      Reply
  • May 24, 2013 at 7:50 am
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    I take it that the carry-on is in addition to the suitcase which will be stowed in the baggage area of the bus, which contains the clothing to be worn on the trip. Under your definition of “carry-on” I use a soft-sided bag which contains my purse, medications and necessary personal items. You are not suggesting that the “carry-on” is the only luggage being taken on the trip, are you?

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    • May 24, 2013 at 4:25 pm
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      You are correct the carry-on is in addition to the large suitcase that you can bring on tour. Also, your definition of a carry-on sound exactly right. We look forward to seeing you on tour soon.

      Reply
  • May 24, 2013 at 9:27 am
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    Can we use our own hair dryers and steamer in the hotels on the trip? Or, do we have to buy an adapter?

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    • May 24, 2013 at 4:21 pm
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      Great Question Leslie! The hotels will have hair dryers, so use theirs & save the space & weight of carrying yours from home. For steamers, curling irons, phone chargers, etc you will want to check the device. Many newer appliances will say on them that they can receive 110-220 volts (or similar). If it does not say this, then you will want to bring a travel converter. You will need a plug adapter for anything that needs to plug in though as the plugs vary by country. If you have more questions our travel specialists are able to answer all of your questions and more at 1-800-552-5545.

      Reply
  • May 24, 2013 at 9:50 am
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    What about plugs for charging photo cameras, cell phones abroad, etc.

    Thank you, marie

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  • May 24, 2013 at 11:30 am
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    don’t need 30 sets of underwear, sister. Bring some panty liners. Bring your 2 yr. old nightclothes and after 2-3 nights,purge.Pack a “default” denim skirt or pants to fall back on if you are confused on what to wear. Buy small souvenirs. Don’t buy expensive jewelries, USA quality better-can return anytime if you change your mind.

    Reply
  • May 24, 2013 at 11:38 am
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    In response to Bill Kain – Anyone who travels should know that you do not pack 30 sets of underwear. You can wash your underwear at least weekly and cut down the packing space. Or, if you’re not into washing your own belongings most towns have a laundry where you can pay for the service. Probably cost you less than extra baggage charges.

    Reply
  • May 24, 2013 at 1:44 pm
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    We just toured with Riccardo in November 2012..and ALL the things he said are spot on. Be sure to take an umbrella, and the kind of jacket that is light but still warm in the evenings…..or a light weight rain coat could doable for your jacket. I used a shawl for evenings as well and if you don’t own one….trust me, there are many for sale with the vendors.
    As for women and the underware…..save your old ones..holes and all and toss them everyday….I do that on every trip…and you would be surprised how you can stack them up in a ziplock bag and it becomes flat once you squeeze the air out.

    For anyone who tours with Riccardo…the memories will last a lifetime….he is wonderful and so are the amazing tour guides that assist him.

    Reply
    • June 22, 2016 at 12:58 pm
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      Everyone should take a tour with Riccardo. He’s the perfect combination of encyclopedia, entertainer, and house mother; several of us picked up coughs on our tour and he personally escorted us to the pharmacy and saw that we got what we needed. Above and beyond, and his packing tips are right on.

      Reply
  • May 25, 2013 at 7:09 am
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    On my last trip to Italy I purchased the disposable underpants and pitched them every day. They tend to run small so purchase a size or two larger depending on how roomy you like them. They worked well for me.

    Reply
  • May 25, 2013 at 2:13 pm
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    My granddaughter, Laura, and I traveled with Ricardo through Italy last June. Our memories will last forever and traveling with Ricardo was one of the greatest adventures we have had. He is so knowledgeable about every aspect of Italy. Grand European picked a jewel to lead one of their trips. Laura and I still talk about the trip and wish we were once again getting ready to join Ricardo. He is great!!

    Reply
    • May 28, 2013 at 9:32 am
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      Riccardo will love hearing that he made such an impression on you and your granddaughter! We hope to see you on a tour again in the future.

      Reply
  • May 25, 2013 at 3:56 pm
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    also plastic bags to put things on. and food, just in case… I also travel with a small empty bottle, I fill it in the plane just in case. When I went to Egypt a few years ago, the plane left 3 hrs. late, when we arrived 4:00AM to El Cairo, nothing was open, no food, no water nothing. I learn my lesson. I also carry one change of cloths and 1 shorts (for sleeping), just in case they lose my suitcase.

    Reply
  • May 26, 2013 at 12:24 am
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    Underwear solution: 7 pairs of microfibre undies should do the trick; wash at night, they’ll be dry in the morning! Plus they are light and easy to pack.

    Reply
  • May 26, 2013 at 1:54 pm
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    (1) Do we need to carry medications inthe original bottle with attached label. I read somewhere that tis was recommended.
    (2) What outer garments do you recommend for a travel in Switzerland during last week of June and 1st week of Julu? We may not want to carry too many outer garments like sweaters, jackets etc,?
    (3) Need to carry sandals/chappals other than walking shoes, again in Swiss travel?

    Reply
    • May 28, 2013 at 9:30 am
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      Thanks for your questions Ram. Yes, you should carry your medications in the original container with the prescription attached. As far as outer garments for Switzerland you will want to bring a heavier jacket – even in the middle of summer it can be cold and snowy high up in the Alps. Your best bet is to bring layers – a shirt, a sweater, a coat – then you can add/remove the layers as you go from the warmer, lower elevations to the cooler, higher elevations. While you will want walking shoes for most of the tour, if you like wearing sandals then you might like to bring a pair as there are some areas such as around Lake Geneva where you will enjoy a warmer climate. In Switzerland you go from seeing the the cool mountain alps to the palm trees along Lake Geneva! If we can be of more help in preparing you for your vacation please give us a call at 1-800-552-5545. Several of our Travel Specialists have visited Switzerland and can give you some great advice.

      Reply
      • May 29, 2013 at 9:18 am
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        I’ve made 7 trips to Europe and have never taken medication in original bottles. I use medication counters, fill enough for the trip plus 3 or 4 days and pack in carry on. I also carry a sheet with medical history, medications, physician and ins names, emergency notification and any other pertinent information. In addition I carry (separately) copies plus 2 pictures of my passport, credit card, ins. info etc. I agree with the idea of packing one change of clothes, an empty water bottle and some snacks in the carry on bag, too.

        Reply
  • May 27, 2013 at 7:35 am
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    Neither my questions on outerwear, footware, medications nor your recommendations had appeared so far. Appreciate your response.

    Reply
  • May 27, 2013 at 6:31 pm
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    Great suggestions. Agree about underwear tip. And layering is always sensible idea. I always lay out clothes a few days ahead of time and invariably put back several items. Keep the tips and suggestions coming.

    Reply
  • May 28, 2013 at 9:34 am
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    Thank you everyone for all of your suggestions. We will put together more packing tips for a future post. Learning how other people pack can be very helpful for new travelers, so thank you for sharing – your comments and suggestions are very welcome!

    Reply
  • May 28, 2013 at 3:00 pm
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    Do we need to bring things like vitamin/mineral supplements in the original bottles? What about OTC meds?
    Thanks

    Reply
  • June 7, 2013 at 6:28 am
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    We were in Germany the end of May and it was unusually chilly and rainy. We were very glad we’d packed extra layers. I had a roomy light rain coat, cuddle duds, a flannel shirt, and light blazer. Didn’t really think I’d use the flannel or cuddle duds but I was very glad to have them. Some days I wore four layers! Warm sweaters or a coat would have taken up a lot of room and been much less flexible. I could add or remove layers during an outing.

    Reply
  • January 22, 2014 at 11:44 pm
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    Yes! Finally something about soft shell bags.

    Reply
  • April 29, 2014 at 12:36 pm
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    I also suggest to have some kind of food with you and a 3oz water bottle… just in case you need to eat something or take medicine/drugs. when I went to Egypt few years ago, the flight was several hours late, it was 3:00 AM when we arrived to Cairo. everything was closed… no water,no food, and we had to wait until 7:00 to be able to go to the hotel. I needed to take my med’s And couldn’t

    Reply
  • January 21, 2015 at 12:10 pm
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    We are going on the Budapest, Vienna, Salsburg , Prague trip at the end of April. It is a 2 week trip. We need to buy new suitcases and will go with the hardsided recommendation. However, what size should we get? Is a 29″ suitcase too large? Thank you.

    Reply
    • January 21, 2015 at 12:52 pm
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      Slyvia,

      Great question, it really does depend on your personal needs. On our guided vacations each guest can bring one large suitcase up to 30″x20″x10″ that doesn’t weigh more than 50lbs (in addition to one piece of carry on). Hardsided is definitely a good idea. When you shop be sure to check the weight of the suitcase, 50lbs isn’t a lot especially if the suitcase weighs a ton. Hope that helps and have a great trip.

      Reply
  • May 4, 2015 at 7:13 am
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    I’ll be with the Unforgettable Italy tour May 9-21. What are the average daytime and evening temperatures in that area at that time?

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    • May 5, 2015 at 10:21 am
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      Hi Karen,
      May is a great time to be visiting Italy! It’s the beginning of the high season and temperatures are not too hot.
      On average, temps should vary between the low 50’s and mid 70’s. Expect cooler weather in the north and coastal climates, as well as the occasional rain shower.
      Have a wonderful vacation and let us know how it goes!

      Reply
  • July 21, 2018 at 1:20 am
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    You share the tips are very helpful. I am glad to find it. There are so many developers working on this part but this is one of the best innovative post ever. Thanks for such post.

    Reply
  • December 19, 2019 at 6:34 am
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    Thank you for sharing these ideas! It is not easy to pack and move all the clothes you have.

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  • January 5, 2020 at 1:49 pm
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    Your tips work! Thank you for sharing the most useful and helpful tips with us. One of the most obvious things is that you better start packing as early as you can, and you will thank yourself later.

    Reply
  • March 28, 2020 at 1:09 pm
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    Thank you so much for posting these fabulous and absolute tips!
    The packing charges can be huge. Usually, the packing service is included in the packing material costs when the movers do that for you. If you decide to pack by yourself, make sure you have adequate packing materials (moving boxes of different sizes, bubble wrap, packing paper, packing tape and so on) and start the time-consuming packing process as early as possible so that you are completely ready before moving day knocks on your door.

    Reply

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