I feel a little silly about the title of this post, but it also sounded better than something like "How to look Presentable ..." or "How not to look like a slob ...". You get the point. I wound up having a really difficult time deciding what to pack and wear on this 6-week backpacking adventure, so I thought that with 2+ weeks under my belt, I could offer a few tips for any other ladies taking on a similar feat. Please keep in mind that these tips are for living out of a backpack in Europe, and not recommended for backpacking the Appalachian Trail or Mt. Everest or anything like that. I spent so much time planning this trip, our accommodations and where we were going, that I failed to think about attire or footwear until a few weeks out. Keeping that in mind, here are my top tips for how to live out of a backpack for 4 - 6 weeks in Europe:
1) Choose the right shoes for you.
It was very important to me to be comfortable on this trip as I knew we would be walking a lot (average 10 miles per day!), so I knew I needed good walking shoes. Since we are also visiting a lot of large metropolitan European cities, I also wanted to blend in and not stand out too much as a tourist (aside from every time I open my mouth and try to say hello in a foreign language). Finding that middle ground was tough, especially since Europeans version of comfort tends to be a lot nicer in appearance than ours! I went back and forth on wearing my Keen hiking boots or Brooks walking shoes the entire week before the trip. I wound up choosing my walking shoes since they were lighter, more breathable and could be packed in my bag if I wanted to wear my alternate shoes (mainly for the trains) instead. I was initially nervous about standing out, they are dark purple, but apparently walking shoes are now in style here, because I saw them on tons of mannequins (in dresses) and other Europeans throughout the trip. A few days before we left, I actually wound up buying a pair of deep red Born leather loafers as a back-up pair of travel shoes and for something to wear with my one dress for the trip. I had considered packing sandals or Toms slip-ons, but couldn't find a pair of comfortable sandals that weren't too clunky, and thought the Toms looked a little sillier than the loafers.
Personal Review: I love the loafers! They are super comfortable (I walked 13 miles in them one day!), cute and I don't feel ridiculous in them. And since it's still much cooler here than in Texas, there has only been one day so far this entire trip where I wouldn't have been cold in sandals. Several friends thought I would get hot in hiking boots or walking shoes, but aside from my feet getting a bit wet our first day in Florence, my Brooks walking shoes have been perfect. They offer great support and so far, with lots and lots of miles under our belt, they're holding up well!
What I would change: If I had planned further in advance, I would have spent more time trying to find a pair of really comfortable and attractive dark ankle boots. Aside from walking shoes (any color but white!), I've seen tons of ladies in ankle boots with skirts, jeans and leggings. I would have preferred to have just packed one pair of shoes, but at the same time, it has been nice to have the loafers for the few warmer days.
2) Pack like you're spending the fall in New York - layers and dark colors.
I packed two pairs of jeans (one darker bootcut, one medium skinny), 6 pairs of shirts (one long-sleeved, two quarter-sleeve, two half-sleeve and one tee shirt), one dress, one sweater, one jacket, and a set of light long underwear. Plus obviously socks, underthings and one pair of pj's. We have experienced all different weather (30 degree days and 70 degree days), and so far, this attire has worked perfectly! I made sure that every top went with every bottom, and any long-sleeved shirt could be layered over any shorter sleeved shirt. I wore the lighter pair of skinny jeans and tee shirt on our 15-mile hike through Cinque Terre at the end of March, and then two days later was in long underwear, with the darker jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, sweater, jacket and scarf while it hailed in Fribourg. I brought my favorite light jacket that goes with everything, can be dressed up or down, is great for windy days and layering for colder ones. I wore the black and white striped dress with dark tights and a pink beaded necklace to the opera in Budapest, and then wore it again a few days later with just the loafers and a light jacket to the farmers market in Prague. I have enough variety that I haven't gotten sick of anything yet, and I roll the clothes before packing, so they are compact in my bag and unwrinkled when we get to each new place.
Personal Review: I've been really happy with everything and actually think I could have gotten away with one, or even two, less shirts. Thankfully my clothes are compact enough that my backpack is still light and not too full!
What I would change: This is another area that I didn't plan in advance. The week before we left, I decided I really wanted a pair of black jeans for the trip, as that seemed like a more universal look and could be dressed up if needed. I spent every day for a week checking out tons of stores and trying on plenty of pairs. I actually wound up buying a pair of black skinny jeans, but when I spent an entire day in them, decided they just weren't as comfortable as my other pairs. I've seen lots of black jeans and leggings on this trip, but long train rides require comfy pants, so I think I made the right choice leaving them at home. Plus, with all this walking, I'm hoping they're a little more comfortable when we get back!
3) Choose accessories that make you happy.
I read several blog posts on accessorizing for Europe, and based on our Parisian trip a few years ago, knew everyone wears scarves. Thankfully I have lots of scarves at home, but since we were expecting mainly cooler temperatures, I skipped the lighter silky ones and opted for one heavier, salmon one (I actually bought in Iceland on our honeymoon) and one lighter, cotton one (a friend gave me as a going away present). I brought my favorite light straw hat that has also been to Paris and Marfa, and packed two of my favorite necklaces in our camera bag that went with all the tops and dress I was bringing. I also brought my most comfy, favorite pair of sunglasses, which fit perfectly into my travel purse when not in use. The last accessory I'll mention is my fake wedding ring. This was another last-minute choice I made. I'm super forgetful and tend to leave my wedding ring on sink counters and bathroom shelves when I take it off to do dishes or wash my hands, so I was really nervous about possibly leaving it somewhere along our trip. I considered buying a fake ring when we went to Paris previously too, but left my engagement ring and just wore my wedding band instead. Since this was a much longer trip with many more stops, I decided to be safe and leave both rings at home in our safe instead.
Personal Review: The scarves have been perfect! I wear one while traveling and the other one is always packed in the front of my bag. Initially I tried to decide on just one but I'm so glad I brought both! The heavier one has been great on the colder days here, and the lighter one adds a fun pop of color to my outfits (and pictures). I even used one of the scarves as a blanket and the other as a pillow on the overnight train to Budapest, so two has been great! I have actually only wound up wearing one of the two necklaces I brought, the pink one, because the other longer one is a bit more flimsy and easily gets wrapped up with my purse straps. I miss wearing my weddings rings, but have already almost left my fake ring numerous times, so I'm happy my real ones are safely stored.
What I would change: I could have gotten away with one necklace for sure, and honestly probably none if you're really cramped on space. I had the perfect space to pack them alongside my camera, and I always wear necklaces at home, so it makes me feel more myself. But definitely could go without necklaces, and really just one scarf, if necessary.
4) Go (mostly) aux natural.
My last tip is on makeup, but I will acknowledge now that since I wear very little on a regular basis anyway, this may be the least helpful to some of you. As we are limited on space, we both tried to cut down as much as possible on bathroom stuff. We pack it all in one REI travel bag and then it goes in the top of my backpack. I also went back and forth numerous times on how much or how little face stuff I needed. I left my astringent and nighttime lotion at home, so I simply steam my face with a washcloth every night and wash with a bar of soap on especially sweaty days. My morning face routine for this trip involves applying Mary Kay anti-wrinkle lotion (has sunscreen) and Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer. The day before we left I also bought a compact Maybelline blush stick that I like to use on long train ride days (when I get a bit pale) or when I'm trying to dress up a little more for dinner or a show.
Personal Review: Aside from my long showers, I get dressed even faster in the morning than usual! I let my hair do whatever it wants, and on any crazy days, I just hide it under my hat. My face feels occasionally dry at night but other than that, I've been happy with my routine and feel like my face looks clear and not too shiny in most pictures.
What I would change: Again, based on size restraints, I could have skipped the blush stick, but on longer travel days it also helps me still feel human. I wish I could have brought my nighttime lotion, and I definitely should have brought a small bottle of regular body lotion. My hands are pretty dry most days, so I keep meaning to buy a small bottle on one of our travel days. Buying things in pharmacies, especially in small towns where they speak less English, makes for quite an adventure and I recommend everyone try it at least once. It took us two days of wearing our glasses before we could find a place to buy contact solution (one place tried to sell us eye drops)! I also realize most ladies wear mascara regularly, so including that in your packing plans might be important.
I have more future posts planned on packing tips, what we ate in Europe, and a recap of things we would do differently, and am hoping to get Keith to share some of his feedback at some point too. Let me know if you have any questions on attire, accessories, etc or if there are other backpacking topics you'd like to see covered. Thanks for following along on our adventure!