Travel 10 days in one bag: the ultimate packing list

When you travel overseas the last thing you want is a lot of luggage. Drag a big suitcase on wheels over a cobblestone street in Italy and you will get stares and snickers. Take that same large suitcase on any train in Europe and pray for a spare seat next to you. Luggage compartments on the railways are typically not big enough to hold more than a large backpack unless you’re lucky.

I travel 10-12 days with a Rick Steves convertible bag. It’s dimensions are listed as 14 x 9 x 21. It allows me to put my Think Tank Speed Demon camera bag around my waist in the front, carry my clothes on my back, while keeping me completely hands free to fiddle with train tickets, maps, etc.

Think it’s impossible to put everything on your back? Think again. Here is my packing  list that I follow every time I leave home for a few weeks, plus my personal pre-travel to-do checklist with handy hints.

SUITCASE

  1. Alarm clock, jewelry, sunglasses, European adapter, sporks for picnics
  2. Make-up bag and toiletry bag
  3. Hair dryer (if needed)
  4. Under garments (total days travel plus one for insurance in case of travel delays)
  5. Socks (total days travel)
  6. Sleeping t-shirt and shorts
  7. Shirts (total days travel)
  8. Jeans and slacks (one of each)
  9. Scarf
  10. Extra travel books and necessary confirmations, plus maps

Where are the shoes? Don’t need them. Wear the same pair on your feet everyday. It will save a lot of space. Dress-up clothes for fine dining? Not my style, plus it adds several additional layers to the suitcase for a one-time event. Packing light means prioritizing.

I’ve also gotten into the habit of slinging a carry-on sack for the plane that can be easily packed away once I arrive at my destination, and then brought out again for farmer’s market shopping or a place to put books for a long train ride.

TRAVEL SACK

  1. Money belt (which you need to put on once you arrive at your destination!)
  2. Passport and wallet with essentials needed
  3. Airline tickets/EuroRail tickets
  4. Travel books you want to read
  5. Neck pillow (Like the American Express card, don’t leave home without it)
  6. Sweater for chilly plane ride and chilly European nights

I carry more camera equipment than many, but here are the items that I find necessary for my camera bag:

CAMERA BAG

  1. Digital SLR with lens attached
  2. Point-and-shoot camera
  3. Polarizing filter
  4. Extra memory cards
  5. Battery chargers
  6. Lens cleaning cloth

Finally, I keep a pre-travel list handy that makes a great reminder checklist to click-through before I holiday for a few weeks.

TO-DO CHECKLIST

  1. Arrange care and feeding instructions for any pets at home
  2. Water plants
  3. Stop mail
  4. Call credit card companies and alert them of travel plans in specific countries (Note: In Europe most establishments accept MasterCard Euro, which is not the same as MasterCard as we know it in the U.S. Make sure you have a Visa card packed. Medium to larger establishments also accept American Express.)
  5. Compose “out of office” e-mail alert
  6. Pack plan baggie for the best hygiene feeling (travel toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs, face wipes)
  7. Pack liquid security quart sized baggie to appease TSA, if necessary
  8. Photocopy your credit cards, passport and list out credit card emergency numbers. Hide away in your suitcase, far from your wallet
  9. Compose travel card with flight information for wallet

As much as I resemble a pack mule in this photo, this is a side view of me with all of my travel luggage exposed, just prior to jumping on a train for my next destination. It ain’t pretty, but it works. In the end, less is more.

Paris six feet under

The majority of people who look at my pictures from the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris say the images remind them of the Saint Louis Cemetery in New Orleans. The Big Easy is definitely on my travel list, but until I get there, Pere Lachaise is still the mecca of cemeteries that I’ve seen in my lifetime.

You might think that touring a cemetery is morbid, but I visit cemeteries with the same attitude I would at any memorial. It is a place to honor the lives of those who have passed, learn some history about the era in which they lived and admire the architecture before you.

Pere Lachaise is steeped in history.  The brainchild of Napoleon, the cemetery opened in 1804, and there are over 300,000 people buried there today. The cemetery was considered too far from the center of Paris when it first opened, so a campaign emerged to get more funerals on the property. The strategy was to move the bodies of famous Parisians to the cemetery, beginning with Jean de La Fontaine, a French writer and poet, and Moliere, a popular French playwright and actor. The marketing worked, and common Parisians clamored to be buried near the rich and famous.

Oscar Wilde’s grave was a favorite, with lipstick kisses firmly planted on every inch of his memorial. Edith Piaf’s grave was laced in flowers and photographs the day I was there, which put “La Vie en Rose” in my head for the rest of my walk. Max Ernst, Gertrude Stein, Frederic Chopin – many of the greats are laid to rest in this picturesque place, making it a definite stop on your Paris tour.

I’m probably the only person who has been to this cemetery and not visited Jim Morrison’s grave. It wasn’t because of my disinterest in paying homage to The Doors lead singer. I just got lost trying to find it. Pere Lachaise is over 118 acres and easy to get turned around in. If you decide to visit the cemetery, I highly recommend checking out the online virtual tour at the cemetery’s website and buying a map from one of the shops across the street from the cemetery before entering. You can also preview Rick Steves’ walking tour of the cemetery in addition to his Paris iPhone and iPad apps.

Note: Another great resource of traveler’s comments can be found The New York Times Paris Travel board.