If you’re not going to wear it more than three times, don’t pack it!
Every piece of clothing you bring should complement each other item or have at least two uses (e.g., sandals double as slippers, a scarf as a shoulder wrap).
It’s worth splurging a little to get just the right clothes for your trip for durable, lightweight travel clothes. In general, the color black dresses up easily and can be extremely versatile. You’ll likely do some hand-washing, so test your selections: Wash them, wring them out, hang them to dry, wear them ¡ª and see how badly they wrinkle.
Bring two or three T-shirts (or buy overseas!), 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. Cotton/poly T-shirt fabric (such as Cool Max) will often dry overnight. Silk also dries quickly and is lightweight.
Pants and Shorts:
Dark-colored pants don’t show dirt or wrinkles. Get a pair with a loose-fitting waistband that accommodates a money belt (and big Italian meals). Try the pants with the zip-off legs that convert to shorts. These are especially functional in Italy, allowing you to cover up inside churches and beat the heat outside.
If you bring shorts, one pair is probably enough, ideal for staying cool in a resort town or your hotel room. Few European women wear shorts. To avoid stares, consider bringing a pair of Capri pants instead.
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. Tilley’s makes expensive but great skirts (and other items) from blended fabric that feels like cotton. Denim or twill trouser skirts go with everything, and can easily be dressed up or down.
Bring one pair of 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). Before you leave home, walk several miles in any footwear you’ll be taking to be sure they’re broken in.
Socks, Underwear, Pajamas, 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, microfiber, or stretch lace underwear, 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 can double as a hiking/sunning top. Shorts or lightweight pajama bottoms with a T-shirt will get you modestly to the bathroom down the hall. You don’t need a bikini to try sunbathing topless on European beaches ¡ª local women with one-piece bathing suits just roll down the top.
Neutral colors (black, beige, navy) look more European than bright colors. If your waterproof jacket doesn’t have a hood, take a mini-umbrella or buy one in Europe. These are easy to find ¡ª vendors often appear with the rain.
Shoulder- and Off-Season Variations:
Silk long johns are great for layering, weigh next to nothing, and dry quickly. Bring gloves and some kind of warm hat for winter. If you’re fair-skinned or prone to sunburn, bring a light, crushable, wide-brimmed hat for sunny days. Wear shoes that are water-resistant or waterproof.
All feminine products (even many of the same brands) are sold throughout 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 carry the pills onto the plane each way to take at your home-dosage time, too.
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. Some women bring a towel-size scarf (called a pashima) to function as a sweater substitute, scarf, or head wrap, or even a blanket on a train. Sleeveless vests and button-up cardigans can be worn alone or mixed-and-matched with other clothes to give you several different looks as well as layers for cold weather. 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. Remember that your most important accessory is your hidden money belt.