We spend several weeks a year abroad, for about 10 days per visit. While not going over-the-top, I really do like to look nice on the plane and, while we're on the trip, I'm picky about my look during the day, even while trudging all around Europe.
Doing laundry isn't my idea of a good vacation - and I don't love paying the exorbitant fees that hotels charge for basic laundry, so what do I recommend packing for a 10-day trip to Europe? And how do you keep it classy on the airplane to start your trip off on the right foot?
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**Post updated, May, 2019
I find packing to be one of the best ways to get excited for a trip (that, and of course, reading blogs about what I'll be seeing once I get there!) I pack really far in advance and greatly enjoy making lovely little piles of clothes everywhere.
Below, you'll see my lovely staging area - good thing we never have guests, or they'd have nowhere to sleep.
What to wear on a plane for a long haul flight
I find that a lot of people just throw on clothes and run to the airport. Honestly, this is a critical mistake.
You're 100% missing an opportunity to help out your packing approach and make yourself feel more comfortable during and after your long haul flight!
First things, first, you should absolutely plan your airplane outfit when you are packing and lay it out along with everything else. This way, you won't get into a rush and end up making a bad, last-minute clothing decision.
Your airplane outfit should:
Your airplane outfit should NOT include:
A couple personal notes that may not apply to everyone, but that I think are worth sharing. I always opt for long pants. I don't really like the feel of skin on the airplane seats, and, as I noted above, the plane can get pretty cold during the night at high altitudes, so keep that in mind!!
Remember: you won’t have much overhead space.
Bringing your winter coat onto the plane with you feels like a great idea, but it’s a giant pain, especially if you’re in economy. You may have to put the coat under the seat in front of you if the overhead bin is crowded, and holding a coat through all of the customs lines is a massive bother.
Unless you're going somewhere terribly frigid where you'll 100% need that coat upon arrival, just pack it in your checked bag. If it's so cold where you live that you must have a winter coat during your time to and from your home/airport, then put it into the checked bag before you check the bag at the airport. All of this said, however, if you’re lucky enough to in First Class, go for it and bring whatever coat you want!! They'll even hang up your coat for you so you don't have to deal with it during the flight.
Additionally, depending on your packing approach, remember, anything you want to access on the plane needs to be in your purse or your carry-on. BUT, your carry-on might get stowed under the plane if it's big or if they run out of overhead space. So, I like to bring a "cabin bag" which is like a giant purse, which has (so far) never gotten taken to be stored under the plane and which I can open on the plane without having to lay a giant roller bag on its side and try to pick items out of it without my bras falling out everywhere.
How to do hair for a long flight
This one took me a few tries. I hated getting off the plane and having just the greasiest looking hair upon arrival at my hotel. But, I didn't want to wear anything too elaborate because I also had to try to sleep on the plane. So, a compromise! I shower right before going to the airport for the flight, dry and straighten my hair, and pin the front up with bobby pins. I wear this "do" until the plane lands and then take the pins out! My hair doesn't look greasy, and is still reasonably "done" since I had straightened it not too terribly long before!
Best make-up for long flights
Additionally, I generally wear extremely light, if any, make-up. I find that even the longest-lasting eye make-up often ends up in my eyes by the end of a long travel day. If you want to wear it during the flight itself, I'd recommend something light, such as a tinted moisturizer and eye brow pencil, but I'd hold off on the mascara until arrival at your destination, so you don't end up with a mess after weird airplane half-sleep!
That said, I tend to drop a few make-up essentials in my purse (as long as they're small enough to come with me on the plane), so that I can pop on some quick make-up to arrive at the hotel looking fresh!
How to pack the perfect carry-on for a long flight
You know this. But, losing your luggage is always stressful, and it’s that much worse when you’ve just arrived in a foreign country, super sweaty, and have to show-up at the up-market hotel you’ve been looking forward to for 6 months and ask them where you can buy a tooth brush. The carry-on will be addition to what you have in your purse, which should obviously include important travel documents, medication, ID, etc.
The way I approach the carry-on packing is to ensure that, should I lose my bag, I can shower and put on a reasonable outfit, and then backfill for anything else I need until my bag arrives, which could be a while.
With knowledge of packing restrictions for liquids, sharp objects, etc., to me, this translates into:
I generally figure I can look icky/have no make-up/put body lotion on my face, if need be, and get on with touring! Remember when packing your carry-on for your return that various countries have different allowances for what can be included in a carry-on, so be sure to check!
For other essentials to include in your carry-on and your purse, check out my Travel Essentials.
Packing outerwear for a trip to Europe
We tend to travel in Fall/Spring, so often all anyone sees of me on a daily basis while touring are my shoes and my coat. One of my biggest regrets on my first few trips was spending a huge amount of time, money, and suitcase space on frilly blouses that were too sheer for the Highlands of Scotland and stayed packed while I sported turtlenecks. In the U.K., you can’t go wrong with a Barbour waxed jacket. Relaxed and casual, but definitely makes a statement! And, of course, those lovely, giant pockets that mean you don't have to carry a purse!
I like to always bring a couple of light jackets with me, even if I end up taking them off while I'm walking around (unless it's July). I do find that Europeans tend to wear more layers than Americans, so I like to fit in, as best I can!
Finding the right shoes for a European trip
If there’s one thing you don’t want to skimp on, it’s shoes. My personal approach to packing shoes for my trips to Europe:
Packing tip: Leave room in your suitcase for new purchases
There’s nothing better than getting to a city, seeing that all the young cool people are wearing something, and running straight to a store and buying it (I am obsessed with these shoes, below, that I bought after seeing everyone wearing them in Montreal). I also love clothes and purses as souvenirs, though of course my husband doesn’t get the same amount of enjoyment out of those souvenirs! And, that's in addition to all of the "normal" souvenirs - coffee mugs, etc. So, don't fill that bag so full that you can't bring anything home with you!
Be sure to check out my post on buying souvenirs on vacation, before you go!
Packing tip: Bring items that don't need to come home
I learned this one from my mother-in-law, who is a seasoned traveler. We all have some clothes that are ready to ride into the sunset (worn-out boots, undershirts that are getting replaced, end-of-season attire that you don’t want for next year).
Generally, I do this with shoes - I bring an old pair of boots and then, when we leave the hotel, I leave them behind to make room for my new treasures.
Essential piece of this approach - leave a note behind for the cleaners that you left these items intentionally and that, depending on what the item was, they can have them if they want them. That said, if you forget something, they’ll surely apply the same approach, so check carefully for pieces that do need to come home with you.
The same applies to cosmetics - If possible, I try to bring cosmetics that are running out, so that I can recycle the containers and leave them behind. Sometimes this means that I weirdly stop using face lotion a week before the trip and buy a new one so I can take the almost empty one, but it’s worth it in the end.
The best packing cubes for a trip to Europe
Finally, my most recent discovery was these handy packing cubes, to keep my luggage more organized over a long trip. Once I've finally figured out what to bring with me, I load these up based on item (sweater, socks, undergarments, etc.). It makes it so much easier to unpack at the hotel as well - just plop them into the drawers! Or, if you do have to leave them in your suitcase because of space restraints, you can easily find what you need in the mornings. Finally, I use the larger ones to start to hold dirty clothes as the trip carries on!
If you're looking for the perfect luggage for your trip, check out my article before you shop: How to Pick Luggage for a Trip to Europe. And, if you're worried about that long haul flight, check out How to Enjoy a Long Haul Flight.
Happy Travels! xx
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