A post in which I offer totally unsolicited advice on what to pack your stuff in.
The one thing that's changed the most as I've gotten more travel experience over the past year and a half: my baggage. I'm a list-obsessed person but I've mostly given up on making a packing list. Because I've got this. Here's what you need:
- Cloth shopping bag. You should have one of these anyway. I try to always have one in my purse, for day-to-day life. You never know when you'll have something to pack home from work or the store. But for traveling, you need at least one, if not more. It's great to have an extra bag, in case you need to shift and rearrange after loading up on souvenirs. Cloth bags are durable, cleanable, and can be shoved in any bag, anywhere.
- Backpack. Pick your poison - you can get an intense camping backpack or something simpler. I picked mine up at a Marshall's back home before my three-month stay last year. Before that, I only had a laptop bag. For travel, you do not need a laptop bag. This is the closest to what I use for travel now. It's great for a few days, it's lightweight, a handful of compartments for organization. A friend of a friend recently backpacked through Asia for three months, taking only his backpack. This is not that backpack. But! Get a backpack. Traveling through Europe means lots of subways and walking in crowded streets. You need to be able to run around train stations and it's much easier with something on your back than a duffel bag or something on wheels. Also, when in a crowded area, you will need to wear it in the opposite direction, putting the bag in front of you to deter pickpockets. You'll feel like an ass but at least you won't be the only one.
- Suitcases. I'm getting ready for ten days in Italy. I would love to just do a backpack but I can only re-wear jeans so many days in a row. And think of the souvenirs! So I'm going with a suitcase. As for suitcases, in the eight years since I graduated college, I've gone through my share and here is where I've ended up: screw canvas. Canvas tears and gets extremely dirty when it goes through an airport. Plastic all the way. Also super important: the 360 degree wheels. Wheels in general are nice, especially if you're lugging your crap across terminals in a large airport like Frankfurt or Heathrow. But 360 is the way to go, especially if you're going to have your bag in crowded areas or pulling it along for long periods of time. I also really recommend getting a bag with a lock. When I take the train to the airport, I usually end up sitting in a seat where I can't see my bag and it's nice to know it's at least somewhat secured. The suitcases with locks are usually TSA-approved, so you can lock your luggage without worry. In addition to plastic, 360 degree wheeled, and lock-equipped suitcases, I also recommend having at least two size options, one carry on and one to be checked. If you're going to be getting around European cities, the smaller the bag, the better. There's going to be train stations and airports and subways and city streets. Make it easy! Also, for airports, carry on is easier - cheaper, no waiting around for checked bags. All that.
My last recommendation for backpacks and suitcases alike - get them in bright, gaudy colors. I have two suitcases, one purple and one bright pink. My backpack is pink. First, it's easy to spot if you're trying to find it on the baggage claim. It also serves as a deterrent to would-be thieves. A bright pink bag is going to stand out. Also, I just like pink and purple.
- The bag in the bag. Compartmentalize packing as much as you can. If you are flying and have a carry on, pack for security. Also, if you're staying in a hostel or an Airbnb, pack to share a bathroom. I have a bag for all toiletries. It's waterproof, so if my shampoo explodes, it's contained. It also makes it easy to trot from the group bath back to my cubby in the shared dorm room. There's also always at least one extra bag for dirty clothes, a bag for holding shoes. Bags of bags.
That's all I've got for packing. Next up: handbags!
- Cross-bodies are your friend. Running around Paris all day? You're going to want a cross-body. Something you can throw across your torso and forget about. It's in front of your face, so you don't have to worry about pick pockets, but it gives you both hands free for shopping or taking pictures. I have two - a big one that can fit a book, my tablet, umbrella, sunglasses case, and a scarf; and a small one that fits my wallet, a thing of Kleenex and chapstick, and, if forced, a tiny umbrella. The big one is good if I'm really going to be out all day and need to entertain myself during a long train ride. The small one is nice if I'm just running from museum to museum and don't want to be bogged down by baggage (does that count as a pun?). Also, both can fit a canvas shopping bag!
- Tote bag. This is part work, part plane/train-intended. If you need a laptop for work or intend to use your laptop much when traveling, you need a bag that can comfortably fit your laptop. A shoulder bag that will fit a laptop, charger, wallet, and a few work materials.
For both cross body and tote bag, one more big recommendation: get one with a zipper. That way you don't have to worry about the ever-present handsy thief but it also ensures you don't lose anything during turbulence.
That's all I've got for now. Basically, for serious traveling, start a bag list.