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How To Pack Smart & Light for Your European Rental

So you’ve booked that perfect villa or apartment, you’ve got your airline tickets to Europe, and there’s an empty suitcase sitting on your bed… Now what?

A thousand different items could go into that open bag– but don’t get bogged down in “what-ifs,” or you’ll end up lugging around the kitchen sink! Don’t procrastinate, either… Good packing can make the difference between a brisk walk to another terminal and a missed-plane disaster; between exploring all day and “sitting this one out” to nurse swollen blisters; between sleeping soundly and staying up all night to a symphony of barking dogs. So pack light– and smart! Here’s how.

Clothes: The secret is layers. I usually take a few light, short-sleeved shirts that can be washed in the sink, a few pairs of underwear, and two good pairs of pants. After that, pack one or two long-sleeved shirts that can be worn over the t-shirts, a sweater, a canvas hat, and a waterproof windbreaker with a hood. If you have clothes that layer well, topped off with the windbreaker, you won’t need a jacket. You’ll be tromping around more than you think, and in the course of even the coldest day you’ll start stripping off those layers one by one. For the ladies, bring one wrinkle-free black dress– this can be accessorized for any occasion.

Shoes and socks: People are often under the impression that you’ve got to “dress up” in Europe. While this isn’t always true, the Italian, French, and Spanish appreciate fine style (you won’t see shorts in the evening). So if you want to bring your nicest clothes (in layers), that’s dandy. But when it comes to shoes, comfort comes first. This is not the time to break in a new pair or suffer for the sake of fashion: After a day traipsing through ancient ruins, up and down city blocks, or around an alpine lake, those frumpy old tennis shoes are going to be your new best friends. Another way to keep your feet happy is to carry an extra pair of (new) socks. Changing into a clean pair at noon is an easy way to refresh your tired toes! Also bring a pair of flip flops or sandals. These will come in handy at the beach, or just bumming around your villa or apartment.

Miscellany: So you’ve got your clothes, your shoes, and your toothbrush… that covers everything you’d need for a hotel. But you’ve rented a villa, which means you’ll be on your own. What do you bring to make your rental as comfy as home? As a veteran villa renter, this is what I’ve learned to take along.

1) Ziplock bags (in many sizes) are number one on my list. They’re practically weightless– great for storing leftovers, small gifts, damp clothing, jewelry… and everything else. Pack empty baggies, pack baggies with cooking spices (salt, pepper, etc), and pack baggies with laundry soap (for machine or hand use).

2) A small plastic cutting board and a sharp knife will do wonders for your Italian cooking, and a sponge and scrubber will facilitate easy cleanup of any unanticipated mess– especially if you’re traveling with kids!

3) Just in case: a roll of toilet paper, a book of matches, and a pair of earplugs never did anyone any harm. Other small (but handy) items include a stain remover stick, flashlight, sewing kit, and multipurpose tool (a Swiss Army knife or my tool of choice, the Leatherman).

4) This may come as a surprise… but Europe has insects, too. Your vacation is going to involve spending lots of time outdoors, so bring some repellant to keep those pests at bay. In Italy, most homes don’t have window screens, but plug-in insect repellants can be bought in most grocery stores.

5) The item I use most frequently while traveling is a small package of baby wipes. These can be used in lieu of napkins, hand soap, toilet paper, a clean restaurant table, and even a shower (on occasion). A pack of tissue also works nearly as well… except for showers.

6) Airborne is the closest thing to magic I have found. Take a water-soluble tablet before you get on the plane or whenever you’ll be exposed to large crowds– and avoid whatever plague may be circulating locally.

Cell Phones: Though not absolutely necessary, I highly recommend taking a cell phone to your European rental– it just makes everything easier. If you have a dual- or tri-band cell phone, you should be able to use it with your current plan, but it’s more affordable to contact your provider and ask them how to “unlock” your phone. You can then purchase a pre-paid SIM Card that will work like a local number while in Europe. If you need a dual band cell phone, you can rent one.

Space: That’s right, take along some extra room! Take a larger bag than you need, pack a collapsible canvas tote, or take things (like toiletries, paperbacks, and even clothes) that you wouldn’t mind replacing if they had to make room for that precious new pair of Italian leather shoes…

Finally, remember that packing is a vital part of the vacation experience. So don’t let it wait until the last minute! Make your list now and check it twice– or even thrice– before you go.