Packing is always a daunting process when you’re traveling to a place that you’ve never been to before. Before leaving to study abroad, I fretted over what I should pack, how much I should pack, and if I should pack using a suitcase or a backpack. I didn’t know what the weather would be like or how much I would be walking. I wondered how to make every item of clothing I was going to bring match while maintaining functionality.
I have to say, I didn’t anticipate everything I would need to bring on my trip, but I definitely gained some valuable packing experience. Here are some tips for packing for The Catalyst’s five-week-long adventure throughout Europe.
Pack lighter than you think you need to. When I went on The Catalyst, I brought a carry-on suitcase and a small backpack. However, some people packed even lighter than I did. My backpack was definitely a lifesaver. I purchased it from Tortuga, but it doesn’t really matter if you buy an expensive or a budget backpack just as long as you have one. I bought my particular backpack because of the way that it opens up like a suitcase. Also, you’ll want to be sure that your backpack fits within airline carry-on dimensions. If a bag is too wide or too tall, airlines will make you pay to check it. If you want a visual, here’s a link to the backpack I used while on The Village (it fits the carry-on dimension requirements, and it’s super functional):
I also used the very same backpack for my month-long sojourn in May of 2018, and yes, I only brought a backpack. Packing light is doable, but it’s daunting. However, the rewards of packing light far exceed the annoyance of not bringing all your favorite clothes on your trip. When you’re walking through the narrow, uneven alleyways of Paris, London, or Prague, you’ll struggle to lug a large rolling suitcase around, and you’ll probably get a few apprehensive stares as well.
Packing light is important for security reasons. Although Europe is very safe and I’ve never been pickpocketed there, I know that it’s important not to stand out. I’ve known travelers who have been victims of pickpocketing because they were carrying too much gear and couldn’t keep a visual on all of their belongings. Europeans pack very lightly, and when potential thieves see a traveler toting around a bunch of luggage, they know they’ve found an easy (probably American) target.
Also, when you’re on the Paris or London undergrounds (and you’ll probably be on them a lot), you’ll want to make sure that you don’t have too much stuff. Quarters on public transportation can get very close during peak rush hours, so you’ll want to be able to put your backpack in front of you if you’re standing or between your legs if you’re sitting down. It’s a good idea to keeps eyes on your luggage at all times. Also, don’t leave anything in the side pockets of your backpack while you’re traveling. Those pockets are the easiest places for pickpockets to access, so you definitely don’t want to leave your phone or wallet there.
If you’re bringing a suitcase, don’t overpack it. If you have an overstuffed suitcase, these situations can get sticky. One of the best things you can do to make your life easier while traveling is to keep your luggage to a minimum.
Be conscious of the expected weather. When I studied abroad, I packed two pairs of shorts, some shirts, pajamas, a couple of dresses, a couple of skirts, and two pairs of shoes. Regarding weather (take this with a grain of salt; I’m from Florida), during May, the weather can be slightly cool, so bring a sweater or light jacket that you can stow away easily.
Also, for European spring weather, comfortable sandals and sneakers are a great choice.
These options were very comfortable, and I never got blisters, even when I walked thirteen miles on a trip to Versailles! I think that the key to bringing the right shoes on The Catalyst is to break them in before you go because you will walk a lot. I made sure to do a decent amount of walking in my shoes before I got on my plane to London, and I think that decision saved me a lot of pain in the long run. Also, if you’re blister-prone, blister band-aids are never a bad idea to bring on those long walks through the cobblestone Paris streets.
Rain Gear. I didn’t bring a rain jacket when I went on The Catalyst because I didn’t have enough space for one. However, I did end up bringing a small travel umbrella which took up a lot less space in my bag. It’s up to you if you want to bring one, but I don’t think it’s necessary to use up your limited space for an item you won’t wear on a daily basis. However, I have seen “weatherproof” jackets that don’t look like raincoats, so if you brought one of those, you might be able to pull double duty in the jacket department.
Make sure that all of your clothes match. When traveling, I find that it’s helpful for all of my clothes to match. Usually, I choose a warm or cool color scheme to make sure that all of my clothing goes together. When I went on The Catalyst, I didn’t match all of my stuff as well as I should have, and I wish that I had either chosen all brown (warm) or black (cool) accessories; instead, I had a pair of black and brown shoes which ended up limiting my options. After my time on The Catalyst, I learned exactly how important it is to match my clothes so that I can mix up my limited options to make different outfits. For The Catalyst, you can never go wrong with black accessories; you’ll see many European people wearing black during the Fall.
Towels. You’re going to be staying in hostels, so it might be wise to bring a camping towel. Camping towels are very thin, but they wick away moisture and dry very quickly. Some hostels provide towels, some offer them for rent, and others don’t have them at all. Unless you’re booking all of your hostels before you get to Europe, you won’t know whether your hostels will offer these amenities or not. I have a friend who loves to stay in hostels while she’s traveling, and she swears by this inexpensive towel that she purchased on Amazon:
Bring a high-quality adapter. When I went on The Catalyst, I had a few interesting experiences with adapters. I brought one with me from the United States, but I found out that it didn’t work once I got to France. So, I ended up using my roommate’s extra one until her other adapter blew. Then, I had to wait for two weeks while my mom sent an Apple Kit to France. The Apple Kit was great, and I’ve been using it for four years without fail. The moral of the story is to not skimp on the necessities. Not being able to charge your electronics can make it difficult to write your paper or call your mom.
Only bring essential toiletries. When I studied abroad, I didn’t bring any hair tools. Now, that was just what I was comfortable with. European people do not do much with their hair in the way of styling tools, so I didn’t feel strange about letting my hair go au naturale. If you do end up bringing hot tools, make sure that they have the correct voltage for the outlets in Europe, or purchase a converter. However, it’s important to know that your straightener or curling iron could blow anyway, depending on which kind you have.
Regarding toiletries, Europe has shampoo, soap, razors, moisturizer, etc., so you don’t really need to lug all of that stuff to Europe if you don’t have space for them. In fact, you might even find that you like European brands better than American ones. Also, you can purchase things like Ibuprofen and other medications at pharmacies (French pharmacies are fantastic).
I hope that this packing overview helps out a little bit. Packing for a trip this long can be stressful, but the clothes you bring will become insignificant as you progress throughout your European adventure! Overall, always choose function over luxury when you’re traveling on a budget.