Here are the best two words of advice I can offer to help you prepare for your vacation…PACK LIGHT! I don’t know anyone who’s ever returned from a trip wishing they’d packed more stuff.
Over the course of many bike trips and sightseeing holidays in Europe, I’ve learned (the hard way) what to bring and what to leave home. When you plan a cycling vacation, keep in mind that if your tour involves multiple hotel stays, your tour operator may restrict you to one piece of luggage and one carry-on bag which will travel to each hotel in a cramped van. If you are traveling by barge, there’ll be no daily luggage transfers but you’ll still want to pack the smallest piece of rolling luggage you can so you can move around freely in your cabin. Packing cubes will allow you to group similar items together, saving time and space. Pack a foldable tote or small duffel (that expands no larger than carry-on size) and you’ll have space for souvenirs you pick up along the way.
Read on for my packing suggestions and explanations, then check out this printable Packing Light List . Then, trust me, pack light. You’ll thank me.
Easier on your back than a duffel bag, it does double duty as a carry-on bag if it also meets your airline’s size requirements.
Cycling Apparel & Accessories:
Thankfully, today’s cycling apparel not only keeps you cooler, but it’s also made of fast drying material. Be sure to pack some laundry detergent that’s made for technical apparel or plan to buy some when you arrive.
- bike jerseys and padded bike shorts
- arm warmers
- lightweight waterproof jacket
- sports bras or tech tees
- cycling socks
- cycling gloves
- cycling shoes (if you plan to also bring your pedals) or running shoes (if you’ll be riding hybrid touring bikes with platform pedals)
- chamois cream to prevent chafing which can occur during a long day in bike shorts!
- headbands or cycling caps to manage sweat under your helmet
- helmet, if not provided by your tour operator…Many Europeans ride without them. This is one of those times you should not embrace local customs. There’s no shame in riding safe.
No need to weigh yourself down with lots of fussy wardrobe options. Remember you’ll spend most of your day in cycling clothes so you’ll only need a change of clothes for the post-ride sightseeing and evenings out if you’re up for them. Most nights you’ll probably be early to bed. I recommend you stick to clothes in color palettes that you can mix and match so you won’t need to pack more shoes. As a rule, when I fly, I wear the bulkiest pair of shoes I bring on the trip to free up room in my luggage.
- shirts: mix of long sleeve and short-sleeve
- sweater or lightweight fleece
- pants / skirts / shorts / belt
- underwear (check out the fast drying microfiber options from ExOfficio®)
- cotton-blend socks
- shoes (one pair open-toed, one pair closed-toed, both pairs comfy!)
- scarves – they weigh next to nothing and allow you to create more looks with minimal effort
- jewelry – bring a few baubles and leave the family heirlooms home
Money, Money, Money:
Even though the exchange rate will likely be better from an ATM in Europe, I often order at least €150 Euros from my bank to bring with me so I can hit the ground running as soon as I arrive. I usually need to jump on a train, and I welcome the convenience of buying a ticket at a kiosk with cash. Also, small local restaurants often prefer cash, so it comes in handy. If you are traveling on a hotel barge or river cruise ship, you may need cash to settle your bar tab, and also to tip your fabulous crew at the end of your tour!
- money belt
- money— mix of debit card (for ATM withdrawals), credit cards, optional: small amount of cash (in local currency)
Documents plus photocopies:
Carrying paper print outs of important documents may seem “old school” to anyone with a smartphone and an iCloud account but, paper copies will be invaluable if your phone isn’t working, gets lost, or is stolen.
- driver’s license and a photocopy
- credit card photocopies (store them outside your wallet)
- printout of airline e-ticket
- trip itinerary and hotel reservation confirmations
- insurance card, prescriptions, and summary of your coverage overseas
Electronic Gadgetry and Accessories:
- mobile phone – check with your carrier about a short-term, affordable overseas plan
- digital camera, extra memory cards
- portable media player and ear buds
- laptop or tablet, if you must!
- e-reader loaded with a good novel and some guidebooks
- chargers for all electronics (I have a handy zippered bag to pack all of them into, so I don’t have to hunt around for one when I need it)
- plug adapters so you can plug your power cords/phone chargers, etc into the wall outlets. look for one that also accommodates USB cords so you can charge multiple devices.
- converters are not usually necessary. American devices operate on 110 volts, European ones require 220 volts. Check your device to see if there is a range of voltages printed on it or its plug (“110–220”). If so, it will work in Europe as long as you have an adaptor which you can plug it into.
- hair dryer, most of our ships are equipped with hair dryers and are standard in most hotel properties
- travel alarm clock – the smallest one you can find unless you want to rely on your smartphone to wake you up
- compression socks – helps with circulation on long flights and also with recovery after a day’s ride
- ear plugs for a good night’s sleep in a noisy airplane or hotel
- neck pillow for the flight (an inflatable one packs away nicely when you aren’t using it)
- PSI Bands if you are prone to motion sickness on boats, or in passenger vans, buses…
- umbrella – think small, if at all
- guidebooks and maps (go lighter on these if you are on a guided tour)
- address list for postcards
- notepad, journal, pen
- travel size toiletries (soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, deodorant, sunscreen)
- hair brush, comb
- medicines and vitamins (pack prescription meds in your carry-on, NEVER in your checked bag!)
- mini first-aid kit with pain relievers
- glasses/contact lenses/sunglasses (with prescriptions)
- sealable plastic bags (to prevent spills in your luggage or to pack food in for picnics)
- travel clothesline and rubber stopper for the sink
- small towel/wash cloth (I pack these in my carry-on so I can wash up on the flight and freshen up before landing)
- foldable tote bag or small duffle for souvenirs
If you plan to carry on your luggage, visit http://www.tsa.gov/traveler-information for the current list of TSA regulations.