Packing Tips for Women

If you’re not going to wear it more than three times, don’t pack it! Every piece of clothing you bring should match or complement each item or have at least two uses (e.g., sandals double as slippers, a scarf as a shoulder wrap).

Tops: Bring two or three T-shirts, one or two short-sleeved blouses, and one or two long-sleeved shirts. Long-sleeved shirts with sleeves that roll up can double as short-sleeved shirts. Look for a wrinkle-camouflaging pattern or blended fabrics that show a minimum of wrinkles. Silk dries quickly and is lightweight.

Pants and Shorts: Try the pants with the zip-off legs that convert to shorts. These are especially good in Italy, allowing you to cover up inside churches and stay cool outside. Comfortable, dark-colored pants don’t show dirt or wrinkles, and some have loose-fitting waistbands that accommodate money belts and big Italian meals. Lightweight pajamas or an oversized shirt will get you modestly to the bathroom down the hall. You might feel more comfortable wearing a skirt or pants (not shorts) in Amsterdam, Paris, or Italian cities where the local women really dress up.

For durable, pricey travel clothes, consider Ex Officio (www.exofficio.com, tel. 800/644-7303) and TravelSmith (www.travelsmith.com, tel. 800/950-1600). Also see Tilley’s, below.

Skirts: Some women bring one or two skirts because they’re as cool and breathable as shorts, but dressier. And skirts make life easier than pants when you’re faced with a squat toilet! A lightweight skirt made with a blended fabric will pack compactly. Make sure it has a comfy elastic waistband or drawstring. Joan has designed a smart reversible travel skirt that suits most travelers' needs (available at www.ricksteves.com). Tilley’s makes expensive but great skirts (and other items) from blended fabric that feels like cotton (www.tilley.com, tel. 800/363-8737). You can wash them, wring them out, hang them to dry, and even wear them, and they still won’t wrinkle. Denim or twill trouser skirts go with everything, and can easily be dressed up or down.

Shoes: Bring one pair of good, comfortable walking shoes. Mephisto, Ecco, and Rieker look dressier and more European than sneakers but are still comfortable. For a second pair, consider sandals or Tevas in summer, or dark leather flats in winter (can be worn with opaque hose and a skirt to dress up).

Socks, Underwear, and Swimsuit: Cotton/nylon–blend socks dry faster than 100 percent cotton, which loses its softness when air-dried. Sport socks nicely cushion your feet. It’s impossible to look stylish when wearing walking shoes and these little white socks, but comfort’s more important. Try silk or stretch lace undies, which dry faster than all cotton, but breathe more than nylon. Bring at least two bras (what if you leave one hanging over your shower rail by accident?). A sports bra doubles as a hiking/sunning top. You don’t need a bikini to try sunbathing topless on European beaches. Local women with one-piece bathing suits just roll down the top.

Jacket: Neutral colors (black, beige, navy) look more European than bright colors if you want to fit in. If your waterproof jacket doesn’t have a hood, take a mini-umbrella or buy one in Europe. These are easy to find — vendors often appear with the rain.

Shoulder and Off-season Variations: Silk long johns are great for layering, weigh next to nothing, and dry out quickly. Bring gloves and some kind of hat. Wear shoes that are water-resistant or waterproof.

Toiletries: All feminine products (even many of the same brands) are sold all over Europe, but it’s easier to figure out how many tampons, pads, or panty shields you’ll need and bring them with you rather than having to buy a too-small or too-large box in Europe. If you bring birth control pills (or any timed-dosage prescription), take the time difference into account. If you usually take a pill with breakfast, take it with lunch or dinner in Europe. Remember to bring the pills on the plane each way to take at your home-dosage time, too.

Accessorize, accessorize: Scarves give your limited wardrobe just the color it needs. They dress up your outfit, are lightweight and easy to pack, and, if purchased in Europe, make a great souvenir. Sleeveless vests and button-up cardigans can be worn alone or mixed-and-matched with other clothes to give you several different looks. A crushable hat is handy for sunny or cold days. Most women feel safe wearing engagement/wedding rings while traveling, but leave other valuable or flashy jewelry at home. A few pairs of inexpensive earrings are fun to bring.