Have you ever been on a group tour? Like all journeys, some trips are fantastic and provide friendships that last a lifetime, while others serve their purpose, give you people to eat dinner with and manage your transportation. At last count, I’ve been on thirteen tours with five different companies. Some tours I’ve been on had age limits or were were fully camping tours, and others have been a mixture of everything and everyone. At different times I’ve taken tours where I knew no one, went with a friend, or traveled with the husband. My first tour was over twenty years ago – a lot has changed since then.
The time of life, type of journey, and region of world change the tour and the packing list. Sure, you’ll need different clothing for the European city summer tour starting in London than you will for the cycling tour of Tuscany. A camping trip in Switzerland and a 5-star resort hotel stay in Berlin are two very different types of tours. No matter the area of the world, you’ll need clothing. No matter the time of year, you’ll need toiletries. Tweaking your packing list is a skill that evolves over time. No matter where you start, your needs change, your travel skills sharpen, you learn that less is more, and that most things you ‘think’ you need… you don’t.
What’s in a List?
Tour companies are aware that people are coming from different backgrounds and experiences. The goal is to provide a list of what (in their experience) will make your trip comfortable, accessible, and take care of a few of the ‘what if’s’ of the world. Think of it as a ‘cover your tush’ list provided by those who have done this before. Depending on the tour level, clientele, type, and destinations the list may vary widely. Remember – the list is a suggested one – you don’t have to follow it to the letter. Savvy travelers will take that provided packing list and customize it.
Here are three sample packing lists from popular tour companies to give you an idea of where to start.
- G Adventures suggested packing list
- Intrepid suggested ultimate packing list
- Contiki Tours suggested European summer packing list
What You Think You Need
Mistakes we all made on our first trips:
- Brought a giant bag that was the wrong size and style
- Carried an insanely sized personal item
- Didn’t even consider laundry possibilities
- Packed way too many shoes.
You know that t-shirt that you only pull out when you’re going to a baseball game, the outfit you only wear on those ‘feeling sluggish’ days and those shoes that hurt the minute you look at them – DON’T BRING THEM! The style mavens say if you haven’t put your hand on it in three months – it’s time for it to go. With even greater restrictions, the same goes for travel packing. If it’s not something you wear often, isn’t comfortable, or is not something that can pair with many of other things you’re packing – DON’T BRING IT!
- You THINK you need seven tank tops – three will do
- You THINK you need five going out outfits – two will do
- You THINK you need at least five different pairs of shoes – two will do (max three)
- You THINK you need a fluffy beach towel to hit the sand – one travel towel will do
- You THINK you need a scarf, shawl, sarong and blanket – one covers all
- You THINK you need 2 jeans, 2 trousers, 3 dresses and who knows what else – any combination of 2/max 3 of these items will do
- You THINK you need your full size flat iron and every body, hair, and make up product you use at home – the travel size of your favorite one will work fine
- You THINK you need that whatever because it MIGHT come in handy … YOU DON’T… and if something comes up… make do without, borrow from a friend, or buy local
Identify Your Deal Breaker Items
Regardless of those tour packing lists – you are your own person and your own best travel guide. If you take daily meds, you need to pack them. If you’d like to have a record of your journey – you need something for that purpose (be it a journal or a camera). If you don’t want to concern yourselves with cobblestone squares and bare feet – you need shoes. If the clothes you enjoy can go from daytime to nighttime, ignore the section that suggests evening attire. In reality, the ‘what you actually need’ pile is a lot smaller than you initially believed.
Exceptions are the items that you must have for your health and comfort. Don’t skimp on those, your enjoyment of the trip depends on it!
- If you have delicate skin, consider bringing some of the laundry detergent you know works for you – not all brands are the same
- If you’re the sensitive traveler or one with allergies, be sure to bring enough of the bug spray and sunscreen you know you can use – not all brands are the same
- If you wear contacts and have super sensitive eyes, bring enough of your solution – not all brands are the same
- Know the generic names of your medicines in case you need to have them refilled
Remember – deal breakers are must haves, not “want to haves, think I’ll need, or it might come up” kind of items.
Don’t Break Your Back, or the Bank
Channel your inner minimalist; ditch the giant hard sided suitcase and the huge wheeled duffle bag. Sure, you’re ‘allowed’ to take them, they might even come recommended by some, but is lifting them on and off the coach and hefting them up and down stairs something you want to do? Instead, choose luggage you can pop on your back that won’t make you look like Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame by the time your trip has finished. Europe has tube stations with crazy stairs, plazas and squares with cobblestone footpaths, and countrysides with hills and valleys aplenty. Think sustainability, limit one use items and remember you can always buy local.
The Outbreaker collection fits the bill perfectly for European city travel. In fact, the travel backpack was born out of frustration with luggage choices for just such a trip. Well designed, with substantial padded shoulder and hip straps for comfortable weight distribution, these bags are a dream to carry. The thoughtful internal organization and suitcase style packing experience means that you’re never digging through your bag for that one item that’s disappeared to the bottom. Add the daypack for your outings and urban adventures, and the packable duffle for those overflow souvenirs you know will be coming home, and you’ve got the perfect luggage combination for a European tour.
No matter which luggage you choose:
- Make sure that the backpack you purchase, actually fits you: You can measure your own torso or even go to an outdoor shop (like REI) and an expert will happily assist you with your measurements and questions
- Stuff a bag with weight to see how much is comfortable for you to carry
- Find the lightest, most durable options for your needs (When looking for flashlights, water bottles, trekking poles, etc. – be sure to read reviews and check for weight of each item)
- Only bring what you TRULY need
- If your tour uses multiple airlines – be sure to check the specs provided for carry-on luggage (each airline – including international flights – have different allowances, your bag needs to fit as a carry on for all of them)
- Be sure to have a daypack that works for you: Best options provide ease of travel, durable fabrics, enough pockets for your needs and fits in the spaces that are provided for you
- Keep in mind that if you purchase something heavy, bulky or fragile along the way – you can always find ways to ship the item home
Tweaking a Tour Packing List by Travel Type
Cycling Tuscany? Euro-railing across the continent? Staying put in the Swiss Alps? Hanging in London for weeks on end? Your specific European tour will help you plan your travel packing list. Consider what you need to pack along, and what you can rent on site.
Countrysides, Camping, & Beaches
- Sturdy hiking shoes
- Sports equipment
- Camping gear
- Warm jacket, sweater, or sweatshirt for nights by a fire (can double as pajamas)
- At least one extra thick pair of socks
- Sun hat
- Comfortable pants (IE: sweats/yoga) that can double as pajamas
- An evening suitable outfit or items that can easily go from day to night
- Consider a packable duffle bag – they’re great for going to farmer’s markets or even using for your laundry trips.
- Money belt or pouch for your cash and essential items
- The Outbreaker collection of luggage for effortless city travel all in one bag
- Sturdy shoes – you and your feet will be doing a lot of walking
- If you’ll be visiting religious locations, all visitors will need something to cover their knees and women will need something to cover shoulders and sometimes heads.
- Be sure to have some sort of daypack that works for your daily carrying needs (over the shoulder handbags are bound leave your shoulder and back aching for hours)
What to Pack
At the end of the day, every traveler is still his or her own person. The list is a one size fits all thing – feel free to tweak it, leave stuff out, add the things you know you need, and make it your own. Keep doing you. If, once you’re in country, the tour guide suggests something else, consider it more heavily than the original list – personal experience is always a great teacher.
- Use the number 3 as a basic guide when it comes to packing clothing other than socks and underwear (No more than 3 shorts, 3 pants/dresses, and 3 tanks/shirts)
- 5-7 pair socks & underwear
- Fully stocked personal item
- Sturdy walking shoes
- Sunscreen, bug spray, moist towelettes & tissues
- Headphones, books, journal, pens & water bottle (think eco-friendly)
- Hat & sunglasses
- Rain jacket & hat or umbrella
- Mini-first aid kit, flashlight, extra carabiner, marker, tape, 1 clothes pin
- Sarong or scarf
- Packable duffle or foldable tote bag
- Visas, passport, money belt, extra copy of passport, wallet
- Chargers, memory cards, camera & battery, phone, converter adapters, portable charger
Packing lists are suggestions – you are the packer. Read the recommendations, revisit the official itinerary, remember your travel style, and never forget who you are. Bring necessities, pack light, remember you can buy local and always throw in an extra sharpie marker and some tape. Charge your batteries, buy that brand new journal, pack your most positive attitude and get ready for your grand adventure.