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How to pack for a 12-day European vacation in two tote bags

I have what can only be described as a psychotic preoccupation with traveling light. I don’t know where this came from, but somewhere along my travels, I realized that 98 percent of the stuff I own is not actually useful, and checking your bag is a fool’s errand. 

I’m going to Europe for 12 days, and here is my luggage:

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The black bag is Eagle Creek’s Emerson travel tote, and the red one is a Longchamp Le Pliage (doubles as an everyday tote bag). Both are easy for me to carry. I weighed each bag at the airport; the black one was 14 lbs, and the red one was 7.5 lbs. Totally manageable schlepping weights.

Contents of the bags:

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How did I do this weird thing that almost all normal people do not care about? Follow these five simple rules and you, too, can travel around Europe for 12 days without ever having to check anything! 

FIVE RULES FOR PSYCHOTICALLY EFFICIENT OVERSEAS PACKING

1. Versatile, well-selected clothing > variety. Clothing is the No. 1 biggest waste of space in most travel bags. You don’t need a variety of the same item (multiple jeans, sweaters, etc). Just bring one versatile version of each piece (i.e. a dress that doubles as a tunic, jeans that can be dressed up or down, etc). Also, everything needs to be black, white or gray, and match everything else. 

My travel wardrobe might sound rather dull, but I’m not going to Europe to show these Parisians a thing or two about fashion. The nice thing about being a tourist is, no one’s going to look at me, like, “Ugh. She totally wore those same jeans yesterday.”

Do you know how many times I’ve wished I could wear the exact same thing to work that I wore yesterday? The answer is ALL THE TIME. When you’re traveling, you can do this! No one you meet today even saw you yesterday — take advantage!

This Spartan method is really helped if you have access to a washing machine (I will). Otherwise, that sweater is going to get a little… ripe. Although, I’m lucky because I don’t really sweat, so I can re-wear clothes quite a bit. I don’t know if it’s an Asian thing, or if my aversion to physical exertion in my youth was so extreme, my sweat glands never developed all the way and are permanently stunted. 

Anyway, here are the clothes I brought to Europe: 

  • Black wool sweater
  • Button down white shirt – classic, goes with everything
  • Black cardigan – nice enough to wear over the one dress I brought, and makes the white button down look more polished
  • Black and white t-shirts
  • Classy black l/s tee – Bella Luxx makes great fancy tees 
  • Pair of nice dark skinny jeans
  • Pair of black leggings
  • 3 pairs wool socks (wool is the best for travel – good in all weather and doesn’t get smelly as easily)
  • Black l/s dress – doubles as a tunic to wear over leggings or jeans
  • Running shoes – the really light, thin-soled kind
  • Light jacket 
  • Unmentionables (the one category where you should not limit yourself to 1 piece — you’re going to want enough clean unmentionables for your whole trip) 

2. Bundle wrap your clothes and use packing cubes. Bundling is easily the best way to conserve space when packing clothes, and reduces wrinkling. After I bundle everything, I pack it into a travel organizer. Eagle Creek’s Specter line is my new favorite. 

3. Wear all of your biggest, bulkiest things on the plane. Here’s what I wore:

  • Black, lined track pants
  • Nice heavy wool trench with deep pockets for travel documents, phone and snacks. (Bonus: if you have a nice looking coat with deep pockets, you don’t need to bring a going-out purse!) 
  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Tank top 
  • Sports bra (no underwire — I don’t need Germans wanding my boobs at the airport)
  • Comfortable black leather boots that are nice enough to go with everything I brought (I like Aquatalia for all my walking boots)  
  • Compression socks (shut-up, they work. also I am a grandma)
  • Scarf
  • Gloves

4. Procure locally. If you need things like sunscreen, lotion, or other potentially bulky items that you’ll use up on your trip, just buy it at your destination. No one should be bringing full bottles of Coppertone to Hawaii, that’s all I’m saying. They sell sunscreen there.  

Related: Never, ever bring your hairdryer to Europe. It will make an alarming whirring noise, emit a steady stream of smoke, and fill your room with the smell of burnt hair. A converter cannot help you. American hairdryers are not made to work in countries that value energy efficiency; that is to say, every other country in the world.

If you need a hairdryer and your hotel doesn’t have one, buy one at the local drugstore. If your trip is too short to justify the purchase, you can always wear your hair in a ponytail or, may I suggest, a sleek chignon? Just look at all the hairstyles you can achieve without a hairdryer that were “InStyle” as recently as Summer 2011!  

5. Use sample and travel sizes for your liquids, creams and gelsI will never, ever understand people who throw full things of shampoo and conditioner into their luggage. You have to check your bag because of a family-sized bottle of Pantene Pro-V? I don’t even know how to help you right now.

Also, take advantage of hotel supplies. I didn’t being shampoo and conditioner with me because I knew our Paris hotel would have that.

Finally, a bunch of other things I like to do: 

I position all my narrow pouches and travel organizers vertically so I can see and access them easier. I always stash the liquids, creams and gels bag on the top so I can grab it right away in the security line. 

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Do not place hard objects like shoes against the wall of the bag that will be facing your body — it will feel like you are being jubilantly kicked in the ribs as you race to your gate.

I like using these pill bags accessories like earrings and bobby pins. You can get these at Walgreens. The ones at CVS, for some reason, are thin and crappy. And yes, it is weird that I know this. 

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That reminds me, bring more medicine than you probably need. It’s really hard and sometimes impossible to locate certain meds (especially prescription) overseas, so just bring a lot of it in case you really need it. 

Chargers: Do not take that long thick cord that attaches to your Mac brick. It’s unwieldy, and has a grounded plug, which is not supported in all outlet converters. Swap it out for the 2-prong attachment instead. 

Bon voyage! 

#1 Great Bay Area Hike for Dogs: San Pedro Mountain

1. San Pedro Mountain  

  • Difficulty: 5
  • Solitude: 5
  • Rewardingness: 4 
  • Elevation gain: 1740 ft 
  • Distance: 6 milles
  • Time: 3.5 hours 

I loved this hike! San Pedro Mountain is right by Gray Whale Cove, but the trail is much more challenging and significantly less frequented. We showed up at 9am on a weekend, and felt like we had the whole trail to ourselves. Fabulous 360 views of the Bay Area. You’ll get the views within the first 30 minutes of the ascent, which is super motivating. The entire hike is gorgeous, and about 70 percent of the trail is shaded (very important for a hard working doggy to have shade).

You and your dog will get a real workout on this hike. I burned-off so many Egg McMuffins that day. 

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Batman and Eric go up San Pedro Mountain. 

#2 Great Bay Area Hike for Dogs: Pine Ridge Trail

2. Pine Ridge Trail 

  • Difficulty: 4
  • Solitude: 4
  • Rewardingness: 4 
  • Elevation gain: 1000 ft 
  • Distance: 10 miles (r/t to Ventana Camp)
  • Time: 5 hours

Pine Ridge Trail is one of the few dog-friendly hikes we could find in Big Sur. Of all the hikes we’ve done, this was by far the most woodsy and treacherous. The trail wraps around a mountain, so you’ll have a serious cliff on one side of you the entire time.

Suffice it to say, this is NOT a good hike for dogs (or humans) that are afraid of heights. Also, the narrow trail is basically lined with poison oak, so your dog needs to have good “Leave It” skills or it’s going to be a big mess for you. Of all the hikes, this is the one that most requires a well-trained dog. The trail is very narrow — sometimes barely wide enough to accommodate two hikers passing each other. Do not attempt this hike if your dog is at all unreliable on recall or aggressive towards other dogs or people. Seriously bad things could happen.  

OK, now that I’ve scared you, let me say, this is a wonderful hike! You get soaring mountain views, looking out on a ridge of pine trees (hence the name) framing a clear blue sky. It’s stunning. 

It’s also fairly secluded. We only started running into other hikers (no biking is allowed) as we approached Ventana Camp, encountering a few groups of backpackers making the return trip. The entire hike is 20 miles, but we turned around at Ventana Camp for a 10 mile round trip. Most of the 1000-ft climb happens in the first 2 miles, so you’ll get a good workout when your energy is still high. 

Overall, a magical Bay Area hike if you and your dog are up for it! 

#3 Great Bay Area Hike for Dogs: Mount Tam

3. Mount Tamalpais East Peak Trail 

  • Difficulty: 5 
  • Solitude: 1
  • Rewardingness: 5 
  • Elevation gain: 2,300 ft 
  • Distance: 13 milles
  • Time: 5.5 hours 

Oh, beautiful Mount Tam, with your hundreds of bikers and hikers and dogs! We got here by 8am, but didn’t beat the crowd.

Warning: This is a really popular trail, particularly for mountain bikers. On the plus side, it’s an excellent place to proof your dog against bikers — by the end of the 5+ hours, Batman would see a biker and look at me for a treat (exactly what I wanted to teach him). We got tons of training done on this trail. Also, it was beautiful! Amazing views, and a wooded trail meant lots of shade. As with all wooded trails, make sure to check your dog for ticks before you go home; I found a big fat one on Batty’s foreleg when combing him over in the parking lot. 

We kept Batty on leash almost the whole time, not so much because he’d chase the bikers, but because most people don’t like seeing a German Shepherd off-leash, staring at them as they hurtle down a mountain, and we try to be sensitive to such matters. 

The downside of this hike, for me, is not a lot of solitude, and it’s really long. Expect it to take most of your day. The upside is it’s a gorgeous hike and you’ll feel very proud when you’re at the top! And your dog will be pooped. And after your hike you can drive to Sausalito and eat a great big plate of pasta without guilt. 

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Batman on top of Mount Tam. He’s maybe 17-months-old here — he looks like a great big puppy!  

#4 Great Bay Area Hike for Dogs: Grey Whale Cove

4. Grey Whale Cove  

  • Difficulty: 2 
  • Solitude: 2
  • Rewardingness: 5 
  • Elevation gain: 150 ft 
  • Distance: 4 milles
  • Time: 1.5 hours 

Grey Whale Cove is a walk above the beach. It’s about 10 miles north of Half Moon Bay, and overlooks Montara Beach. As a result, you’re going to get crazy gorgeous views. A nice and easy hike that you can do year-round — since it’s by the ocean it doesn’t get too hot or cold here. 

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#5 Great Bay Area Hike for Dogs: Sweeney Ridge Trail

5. Sweeney Ridge Trail

  • Difficulty: 2
  • Solitude: 2
  • Rewardingness: 3 
  • Elevation gain: 550 ft 
  • Distance: 4 milles
  • Time: 2 hours 

My friends and I took Batman on this hike the weekend the Bay Bridge was closed — it was impossible to get east or north of the city because of traffic, so we went south instead.

The weather immediately south of SF can get pretty grim compared to the rest of the Bay Area, it’s like Dementors just hover around Daly City and Pacifica. Sweeney Ridge is in San Bruno, near Skyline College in San Bruno.

My friend from out-of-town was rather disappointed by the layer of mist that hung in the air throughout the hike. I didn’t mind it so much — it kept Batman cool. The hike itself is a good choice for a quick mid-day outing. The entire hike is paved. Nice wide trail, which makes it easy to get out of the way of bikers and other hiking groups.

We didn’t get much of a view, but here’s what we would have seen, had it been a clear day:

Top-5 Great Bay Area Hikes for Dogs (and their humans)

Of the many, many things on the list of Things I Now Do Because of the Dog, “Hiking” is probably the most beneficial. It’s at least as good as “Wake up by 6:45am everyday,” and far better than “Carry liver snacks on my person at all times.”

I’ll be posting my Top-5 Bay Area dog hikes separately on this blog. I rate all hikes on a scale of 1-5 across three aspects:

  • Difficulty: How many Egg McMuffins are you going to burn-off here? (1 = A walk in the park; 5 = Strenuous. You’re going to burn-off, like, 5 Egg McMuffins)
  • Solitude: How peaceful is it? (1 = Watch out, hikers and bikers coming at you; 5 = You might have the place to yourself) 
  • Rewarding-ness: Super subjective opinion regarding the quality of scenery and views. (1 = Marginally better than looking at a brick wall; 5 = Gorgeous, awe-inspiring views). 

I’ll also include elevation gain, distance (round trip), and how long it took us to complete the hike (your time may vary). 

Gear: Batman sports a 4’ Mendota slip lead with a clip on the end that we clip onto his backpack (this one, by Ruffwear) like a handle. His job is to carry everyone’s water and his own first aid kit (Note: there is no human first aid kit — we’ve thought of every possible contingency for the dog, but if anything happens to us, we’re just going lay there and possibly die).

I should add, the one downside of having your dog wear a backpack is that every other hiker you encounter will have something to say about it, such as:

"Hey, that’s not fair! Your dog’s doing all the work! Har har har!" 

"Now, that’s smart! Why didn’t I think of that?" (Answer: Because you have a Pomeranian)

"Free steak for every biker that dog eats!" (OK, this wasn’t directly related to the backpack, but an old dude did say this to us once on Mount Tam.) 

Anyway, on to the hikes!  Below is one hike that missed my Top-5 list, but worth mentioning. 

6. Lafayette Ridge  

  • Difficulty: 3
  • Solitude: 3
  • Rewardingness: 2 
  • Elevation gain: 1300 ft 
  • Distance: 4.5 milles
  • Time: 3 hours 

Lafayette Ridge is a decent East Bay hike, and could be a great hike for some people, but not great for me. Here’s why: I hate spinning, and this was the hiking equivalent of a spinning class. You’re basically going up and down, up and down, up and down the whole time (lots of small hills, one after the other), and you’re sweating a lot because it’s hot and there’s not a lot of shade, and you don’t actually see any views so you have to imagine them. 

The hike itself was reminiscent of interval training, another thing I don’t enjoy. On the plus side, the trail is nice and wide, easy on paws, and there was a lot of parking. Also it’s like a 10-minute drive to the Walnut Creek Container Store, which is one of my favorite places in the world, ever. 

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Eric, photobombing Batman on Lafayette Ridge

Inflatable Unicorn Horn for Dogs

I ordered this (obviously amazing) Inflatable Unicorn Horn for Cats last week. I then took apart two party hats to gather more elastic string and customize the horn to fit Batman. Was the time and effort worth it? You be the judge. 

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Unicorndog

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On a related note, when I googled “unicorndog,” I found one freaking amazing gif.

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Inflatable Unicorn Horn for Cats box. Spyke’s facial expression seems to belie the claim that “Cats love it!” 

Hey, how do you find pet-friendly hotels that allow Batman in? Seeing as he's a shepherd, I assume he's over 20 pounds and all the hotels I find seem to have a 20 pound limit. My dog's a shepherd mix so of course she's no puppy. Any travel tips for driving and or flying with him? :)

Asked by
artistic-reticence-deactivated2

I look on tripadvisor to find dog friendly hotels with decent ratings, then I call them if the pet policy isn’t clear about weight limits. Some chains like Drury Inn, Red Roof, Springhill Suites and Kimpton are generally big dog friendly, so sometimes I filter my search results that way. But you still have to check hotels individually because policies vary by hotel, even within the same chain in the same city! For example, the Kimpton Harbor Court in SF doesn’t have weight limits, but the Kimpton hotel in downtown SF does. It also depends where you’re going. It was much easier to find hotels for Batman in suburban areas vs. cities like SF and DC, where everyone is pretty tightly packed.