Shoulder seasons are great times for travel since you’ll often get better prices, smaller crowds, and weather that’s generally more pleasant than the sometimes unbearable heat of July or August. With these advantages though comes the tricky challenge of dressing for days where the temperature may vary as much as fifteen degrees Fahrenheit from morning to evening. Even on the hottest days of May and June when a sun dress or sleeveless shirt and shorts are necessary, when the sun goes down in Europe, so does the temperature and you’ll be glad to have a coat or sweater to ward off the chill. While the specifics of this article deal with women’s clothes (because let’s be honest, our packing is way more complicated!) the general packing principals apply to men as well and are helpful for anyone trying to pack lightly.
The best way to prepare for this temperature variation is to find the ideal travel coat, cardigan, or sweater and plan the rest of your wardrobe around this. So what makes the ideal travel coat or sweater? Three factors should go into this decision. One, is it a neutral color that will match any outfit your pair it with? Two, will it fold down to a size no larger than a small novel? Three, is it made out of a fabric that will be lightweight in your bag, won’t be a wrinkled mess when you pull it out, and will it hide any dirt or stains you’ll inevitable pick up after days of traveling? If you do not own such a garment, it is well worth the investment as it will be your go-to travel companion and a useful addition to any wardrobe. This kind of item does not have to be an expensive investment either. Stores like H&M or Old Navy often carry lightweight jackets and sweaters which are well suited for this purpose and won’t cost a fortune.
Once you’ve determined this all important item, it’s time to move on to the rest of your wardrobe. Weather forecasts are helpful, but beware that the “highs” in the spring are only for about three hours. About a week before your trip, take a look at the forecast by hour so that you can get a more accurate picture of what the weather will be like throughout the day. In early spring the days warm enough for shorts or a dress are sporadic so consider skipping these items or only packing one such outfit that takes up minimal space in your luggage. Instead pack lightweight or capri length pants that will be cool in the hottest part of the day but won’t leave you shivering in the morning or evening chill. As pants can generally be worn two or three times before they start to show wear, you won’t need to bring as many. For tops, pack for the warmest part of the day as you can layer your coat or sweater over and be comfortable in any temperature. Consider bringing a bar of laundry soap and taking five minutes once or twice during your trip to wash out socks and underwear, and maybe even a top or two. Socks can take up a surprising amount of room in your luggage and very little time to wash.
Packing in the same color family is a crucial part of packing light and is extra important when you’ll need to wear the same coat every day. This also means you’ll only need to bring one pair of shoes. When you travel you’re on your feet between eight and ten hours a day and in Europe, that’s mostly on stone. Comfort is crucial and all of those cute sandals and heels that match your outfits perfectly will end up sitting in your suitcase after you limp back to your hotel and hurl them across the room. Remember, you are traveling (and so are half the people you will encounter) so comfortable shoes are not only the norm, but also a necessity.
If you do want to bring one nice outfit for an evening out, remember there is a good chance you’ll have to walk fifteen minutes or more to get anywhere in a city and it’s exceedingly difficult to manage these stones in stilettos. Trust me, I speak from experience. Also consider whether or not you’ll actually be able to go back to your hotel to change into this cute outfit or whether you’ll just end up going as you are after your day of sightseeing. If your hotel is centrally located and you plant to take taxis, this may be an option for you, but consider whether it’s really worth the space high heels take up in your luggage and whether a cute pair of flats or sandals might not work just as well.
Putting a little thought into your accessories can also help you get extra mileage out of your wardrobe. Wearing the same white top two days of your trip will look like a completely different outfit if you pair it one day with khakis and a scarf and another day with jeans and a statement necklace. With no more than two pairs of earrings, two scarves, and two necklaces you can keep your looks put together and polished without bringing your entire wardrobe.
You’ll also need a travel bag that is large enough to carry the essentials, but small enough to keep you from overburdening yourself. Some travelers swear by backpacks, but we always find ourselves tired from carrying the extra weight and we usually try to avoid anything that announces us as tourists. We recommend a smaller bag that can be worn across the body, and preferably one that looks like a regular purse. This gives you the security of having your things closer to you, but also forces you to chose only the most essential items. While you might find yourself without something on one occasion, most of the time you can quickly and cheaply buy a replacement and for the other 99% of your trip you’ll be glad you’re not carrying twenty pounds on your back.
As a general packing rule, we say for every item you pack ask yourself one question, “can I wear this at least two different ways?” if the answer is no, skip it. Let’s be honest, most people pack twice as much as they need and no one comes home from Europe saying, “if I’d just packed that other outfit, it really would have made my trip!” You’re traveling to enjoy the places you see and the people you meet and the less stuff you have weighing you down, the more free you’ll be to do the things you want and of course bring home souvenirs and special keepsakes from your trip.