May 21, 2013

Travel Overpacking: Lessons Learned

I've been looking at photos from my 1995 Europe trip.  I spent 10 days as an exchange student in Bavaria, Germany then 10 days sightseeing solo in Austria, Switzerland, France, and Holland in late June and early July.

I was explicitly told to bring hiking boots and sleeping bag for the educational exchange.  So, what else did I bring?

In looking at the photos, I brought at least this much clothing:

  • White short-sleeve t-shirt
  • White sleeveless button-down
  • Brown & white striped short-sleeve t-shirt
  • Chambray long-sleeve button-down
  • Black long-sleeve t-shirt
  • Blue/red/green plaid flannel long-sleeve  button-down (yes, this was the 90s)
  • Green sweatshirt
  • Oatmeal colored lightweight cotton sweater
  • 2 pairs of jeans (!!!)
  • 2 pairs of jean shorts (!!!)
  • 1 pair of brown shorts
  • Jean skirt
  • Black leggings
  • Hiking boots
  • Blue Converse sneakers
  • Black leather t-strap shoes
  • Black tights
  • Sunglasses
  • Brown belt
  • Black belt
  • Green cotton hat
  • ??? pairs of socks (I'm guessing 3 pairs)
  • ??? pairs of undies (I'm guessing 23 pairs - !!!)
  • Small cotton backpack
  • Small black shoulder bag
  • Small tan travel wallet/purse

I also remember packing a small hair dryer w/ converter.

And this is just the stuff I have photographic evidence of!  I certainly don't have photos of myself every day of my trip.  For the record, my hair looked awesome in Switzerland and France but like a monstrosity in Germany.

All the above was stuffed into a large backpack with an internal frame.  I attached the sleeping bag underneath the pack.

Here's a photo to demonstrate.  Here I am with Sabine, my exchange host, taking the Munich U-Bahn to the train station on the last day of the exchange program.  Notice that I was using 2 shopping bags as spill-over.  (Please disregard my makeup-less face and bloodshot eyes; I had a nasty hangover and just 45 minutes of sleep the night prior.)

On Munich's U-Bahn with Sabine

I clearly had no idea what I was doing nor knew how to pack for an extended trip.  I figured I'd take as much as I could squeeze into the backpack.  Not much thought went into my travel wardrobe.  Big mistake.

Anyone care to guess how much this behemoth weighed?  I have no idea... but it was killing my young & robust 24-year-old back.  It apparently weighed so much that I had to ship some of it back home halfway through my trip.  I know I sent home the blue Converse sneakers, the thick and heavy green sweatshirt, both long-sleeve button-downs, at least one of the belts, and possibly the black t-strap shoes, a pair of jeans, the jean skirt, and a pair of jean shorts.

In Switzerland I did some extensive shopping (great prices on clothing!) and picked up:
  • Navy blue skirt
  • Navy blue short-sleeve polo
  • Taupe pants
  • Black shoulder bag
  • Brown leather sandals
I figured carting these around for the remainder of my trip was a small price to pay for some European clothing I wouldn't be able to buy back in the States.  No regrets.

Packing lessons I learned the hard way:
  1. I did not need to pack multiple pairs of heavy jeans or jean shorts.
  2. Hiking shoes were great for extensive walking, on trail and off.
  3. The sleeping bag was unnecessary.  I used the sleeping bag exactly 1 night of the trip, during a cabin stay in the Alps. Carrying around a hefty sleeping bag across Europe for 20 days just to use for 1 night was not very bright.  In retrospect, I should have made myself a sleeping case sewn together from two cotton sheets.
  4. The hair dryer was necessary for keeping my hair looking decent.  Use it or forever cringe at the photos.
  5. Consider laundry options.  It didn't even occur to me to pack less and wash at least once during the trip.

I'm keeping these lessons in mind as I prepare for Europe, Take 2.  My goal is huge improvement, not necessarily perfection.

What packing lessons have you learned?

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