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Packing for three weeks in one suitcase

Now with our 22" carry-on size bag, packing folders and cubes ready to go -- how exactly are we going to pack two or three weeks worth of clothes into this little bag?

The answer is simple. We aren't. Regardless of whether I'm traveling for ten days or two months, I pack for a week and plan to wash things as I go. Every two or three days I wash two or three days worth of stuff. Pictured here is everything, and I mean everything that will go into my main bag. This was for a five-week, cold weather trip in early spring that would include the Netherlands, northern Germany and Ireland.

"But washing is a hassle and a lot of work," I hear you say. Yes, you're right. But the questions is: do you want to deal with a little hassle of washing once or twice during the course of the average trip? Or do want to hassle with lugging around heavy suitcases every time you move? Twenty-five years of my own travel have made the choice clear.

Self-serve laundromats are catching on in Europe, but they can still be hard to track down. Hotel laundry service is convenient, but expensive. I do most of my wash in my hotel room sink or tub, preferably on the day I arrive in a new place so that I can hang it to dry. It takes me twenty minutes or less, and I'm done.

As I'm choosing what I'm going to pack, I first decide on one or two basic colors and build around that. You don't need to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe before a trip, but you should carefully analyze every item you're packing and why. Choose things that will dry quickly. Choose things that don't wrinkle (like knits), or that look good wrinkled (like seersucker).

I think one of the biggest causes of overpacking is that people ask themselves: "Will I need this?" That's the wrong question. You should ask yourself, "will I need this enough to justify carrying it for two weeks." Not will I need it once or twice, but will I need it enough to justify carrying it all the way to Europe and back? If I'm planning to spend one day at the beach during a two-week trip, do I need to take a beach towel? Absolutely not. I'll assume that my hotel has beach towels. And if they don't, there will be half a dozen shops selling beach towels for less than $10. I'd rather pay this, use it once and leave it behind than drag a towel around for 13 unnecessary days.

And what if you get to Europe, and find you forgot something? Europe is a very civilized place. I guarantee you will be able to find whatever it is you might need, and this provides a great opportunity to learn something about their culture by going into a store you might not otherwise visit.
And if there's something you need, and you can't find it? You have to wonder how 300 million Europeans get along without something you consider to be essential.

Listed below are the items shown in the picture. This is about my minimum, but honestly this is all I take for 90% of my European trips. My
full packing list goes beyond the items mentioned below and includes many items that I don't need and don't take, but which other people may find essential.

I start with my main suitcase, which includes:

  • Jacket (will be worn on the plane)
  • Pants (two pair packed, one to wear)
  • Shoes (will be worn on the plane)
  • Belt (pack this to save time at airport security)
  • Hat with visor
  • Umbrella
  • Shirts, long-sleeve (three packed plus one to wear)
  • Shirts, short-sleeve (three)
  • Thermal underwear or thin base layer
  • Toiletries Kit
  • Day pack
  • Pajamas
  • Underwear (six pair packed, one to wear)
  • Socks (six pair packed, one to wear)
  • Guide bag
  • Money Belt
  • Cubes and folders

Pants, shirts, thermal underwear and pajamas go into the clothing folder, and get bundled up. Underwear, socks and other small bits go into the cubes. I then stash the clothing folder on the bottom of the bag, and nest the smaller cubes on top of and around the folder. Long, thin items like the umbrella and large tripod go on the sides.

I put my guide bag on top of all this, and in the picture I've also included a day pack. I don't usually take both of these (I use just the guide bag), but have included both to show that I actually do have a little extra room even in my undersize 20" suitcase. Liquids, gels and pastes go into a zip-close bag, which I keep in an outside pocket of the suitcase to have ready when going through airport security.

In my briefcase I carry enough electronics to run a small country. This includes:

  • Apple MacBook laptop
  • Apple iPhone
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • External hard drive
  • Garmin Nüvi GPS
  • Canon Powershot still camera + spare battery and charger
  • Sanyo Xacti HD video camera + spare battery and charger
  • Extra memory cards + card reader for Canon and Sanyo
  • Tripods
  • Misc. cables (network cord, fax modem, phone cord, etc.)

Yes, it really is possible to get all that stuff into one carry-on size suitcase and a tote.

Next time:
Packing list . . .


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