Packing light does not fit the needs of everyone, and certainly not for every kind of travel. Cruises always require more, although even there, one can economize on the luggage. Deluxe tours where you stay in four star hotels and eat in Michelin's best recommended restaurants requires a much fuller wardrobe than a six day bus tour through the Benelux.
My way of packing light comes from personal experience coupled with what I've picked up in guide books and from fellow travelers. Some of it you might consider carrying it to extremes, but one thing I've come to realize is that how you pack and what you pack is about personal choices. I've read articles in magazines and books and half the stuff I'd throw out. On the other hand I would add just as much that I thought absolutely necessary. So with that in mind, here's how I do it.
My travel is constrained by finances for the most part. So I travel on the cheap. When travelling alone I stay in Bed and Breakfast establishments (B & B's) when I can find a clean one handy to where I want to be, and that's most of the time. Otherwise I'll stay in cheap but clean hotels. Here I find guide books indispensable, but even then you have to watch your step. Areas and districts change, usually not for the better. When in Paris I have always liked to stay in the Quartier Latin. Last time I stayed at different hotel than usual, one recommended in a guide book. In the morning I came strolling out the front door with visions of a café au lait on my mind and with my backpack slung over one shoulder. Next thing I know, somebody is seriously tugging on my pack. Fortunately, a stiff palm thrust to his nose dissuaded him from continuing and we both went on our separate ways. I've been overnighting in the Quartier Latin since 1959, that's the first time anything happened. Indeed, it's the first actual violence I've encountered in Europe in twenty odd years, and that time too, it was because I was unaware of my surroundings. My first bit of advice - no matter how safe you may think it is, keep your wits about you at all times. You're a foreigner in a foreign land and considered fair game to the unenlightened.
To pack light is to not pack for the worst scenario. Travelling in Europe in the summer time, you don't need a heavy coat. My personal choice is a quality dressy dark windbreaker that can shed rain, it's an item I can wear most anywhere, and I don't need to pack it - it's on my back. Spring or fall, I will pack a lightweight dark cardigan to wear under the windbreaker when the temperature drops.
I take only one pair of pants, the ones I wear on the plane. I favor one brand, Tilleys, but not the ones that can be unzippered into shorts, they scream "Tourist" which is "Sucker" in any European language. There's numerous brands, on the internet and elsewhere. They should be washable, have some zippered pockets and be comfortable. If you need headgear, seriously consider a Tilley hat. Look inside one and you'll understand why.
One pair of shoes, the ones I'm wearing. I favor a sturdy pair of Hush Puppies or Rockports, equally as good and as comfortable. Three or four short sleeved shirts in the summer, long sleeved the rest of the year. Again hand washable, again dark colors preferred. One dark matching tie, material that won't have wrinkles when it's unrolled. The trick with dark colors is simply that if they get dirty, so what, they were dark to start with! If a shirt gets seriously stained, then I throw it out, buy a new one. I'm not going to pack a dirty shirt all over Europe just so I can wash it when I get home!
Plan on doing some hand laundry every two nights or so if possible. That way you've always got clean shorts (three pairs), socks (three pairs) and shirts. A small squeezeable bottle of liquid soap is always a good idea. Get one of those spring loaded reels with a twenty foot thin rope that you can use to hang your wash on to dry over night. Consider packing a light plastic or nylon raincoat (the kind with a hood) if you're going to the UK, they can be folded up to about the size of a deck of cards. Don't carry two months worth of toiletries for a two or thee week trip. Drop into a store in whatever country you're in and pick up what you need. You never know what you'll find. I picked up a tube of toothpaste in Cagliari years ago with the wierdest taste I've ever encountered, not unpleasant, just different from anything I ever tasted before or since.
Being of the male persuasion, I need to shave, at least every two days. Anything electric can quickly add weight and bulk to your pack what with voltage transformers, an assortment of wall plugs, etc. I used to use dispensable razors, and still do at home, but one day while walking in Geneva, I came across a shop that specialized in electric razors. I got a battery driven razor that lasts unbelievably long (three weeks easily) on four AA batteries, not much bigger than a king-sized pack of cigarettes. I've never seen them anywhere in North America and I only use it on trips.
I wear a moneybelt for the obvious reasons, plus a plastic document pouch that hangs inside my shirt from a clear thin strap around my neck. I also stash photocopies of all documents, including any reservations in a ziplock bag stowed in my backpack. The Euro is always taken, sometimes preferred, but I like a few hundred US dollars in my moneybelt, it is always a good fallback. Otherwise, an ATM card and one credit card, I like to take an American Express card, though others prefer Visa.
Some like to have a day pack but I find them a nuisance. However I keep a small rollup nylon carryall in my backpack for emergencies. Speaking of emergencies, always carry a small sewing kit in your gear. If you have medicines, bring a copy of the prescriptions, and try to have enough in their original pharmacy bottles on hand for the duration of the trip. One last thing, put all bottles inside a ziplock bag in case they start to leak, especially aboard aircraft.
And there you have it. While I appreciate my list is for men, it should also be a handy guide for women. Well, except for the bit about razors, of course!
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