packing for a 4-city, 3.5-week European summer trip
My husband and I are off to Berlin, Normandy, Paris, and the French Riviera for an eventful three summer weeks. We’ll do a tech conference, lots of trains and busses, some marching band events, and a hopefully relaxing few days at the French seaside. Read on for what I packed, and outfits I’m looking forward to wearing!
Planning this trip was an adventure. We’re spending a week with the UT Longhorn Band, where in college my husband played mellophone (that’s a fancy marching French horn), as they perform as part of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day events in Paris and Normandy. After we had booked that trip, I got accepted to speak at a major tech conference in Berlin, one of my favorite, inclusive, and enormous events. I attended in 2015 and getting to speak was an honor I couldn’t say no to. So we rebooked our entire trip to make it happen, and tacked on some French Riviera seaside vacation to make up for the two busy weeks beforehand.
Packing for this Europe trip was both easier and harder than packing for Japan. I've been to both Berlin and Paris before, so I had a better understanding of the style there, and what I wanted to wear. In Japan, I was so surprised by how different style was in Tokyo, and how much I wished to emulate it. Berlin and Paris have their own quirks of course but I find it much more like style at home.
This is also the first trip i've ever taken a check-in size bag! We usually check bags, but they're carry on size. In Japan, packing for three plus weeks in a carryon... worked, but it was pretty snug. I really wished for another day or two worth of clothes, a fresh pair of pants, some room for the return trip. How is it that all the same things never fit quite the same way coming home? Not to mention any souvenirs - and I bought a lot of snacks to bring home from Tokyo!So we finally bought two new check in size bags. I can't imagine using them for short trips, but here we are again on a three+ week adventure, and I was glad to have that little bit of extra room.
The hard part, though, was feeling like I was bringing so much, and getting used to a very different style of suitcase. I struggled to pack this new bag; it locks instead of zips, and there’s less compression and vertical space. It all fit, I just was irritated when packing, as I felt like nothing quite fit the way I thought it should. First world problems, huh? Who knew that you got so used to your luggage.
How I Decide
Just like my last trip to Tokyo, I started this packing list a long time in advance. I like being prepared! As always, I start with notes on the trip’s constraints, length, events and activities, the weather, and local culture.
On this trip, we’ll be in four cities: Berlin, Paris, Normandy, and Saint-Raphael. This was my biggest constraint: making sure I had clothes for a broad range of weather. It could be as low as 55F at night and raining, and as high as… well, I planned for as high as 85F on the French Riviera, but it got even hotter than that! For me, when it’s mid-60F, I want a sleeve layer and pants, especially if it’s wet, overcast, or breezy. I’m happy in jeans and a tee in the low 70Fs, and once it hits the 80s I want a dress.
In the middle part of this trip, we’ll be with the UT Longhorn band, as part of a group almost 500 people strong! We’ll be doing a lot of sitting on tour busses, attending solemn ceremonies, bussing some more, sight-seeing with a huge group, and even more sitting on busses.
I wanted to be sure I had a good range, from sweaters, layers, to super-lightweight silk pieces that would work for any weather we got, as well as for walking, sightseeing, and tour-bus-sitting.
As always, I put together a board of ideas and looks. This helped me get a sense of my color palette and vibe. Interestingly, a lot of this has been the style I am excited to wear in general right now, not just for a special trip.
Berlin is very pragmatic, with a streak of modern, like chunky sneakers or weird trousers, and structured coats. No fluffy princess dresses here; lots of printed midi skirts with white tees and chunky white sneakers, and lots of pleated trousers and Birkenstocks.
In Normandy, we’ll be attending D-Day Anniversary events, so I wanted to have appropriate clothes, with covered shoulders for the solemn occasions. In Paris, of course there’s the French girl midi dress look, which I am not immune to. And on the coast, we’ll be hopefully spending most of our time at the pool.
This vibe feels like messy hair under a hat with a casual tote; it’s all-natural, nothing fussy or trying too hard. It’s not stressed or frantic; it’s feminine, elegant, with European cafe vibe. I’ve joked a couple of times that my style is “lunch wine,” and certainly “I could be in Paris drinking wine/coffee right now in a cafe” is a look that belongs on this trip. I’ve also been wearing a new perfume, Maison Louise Marie No. 4 Bois de Balincourt, and this looks like that scent smells—sandalwood, earthy nutmeg and cinnamon, sensual amber, golden hour and local wine in a cafe, cobblestone streets.
After I had a good set of inspiration photos I liked, I looked for patterns. Some key items and proportions stood out:
A relaxed dress midi dress or skirt with a fitted waist and sneakers
A wide leg bottom and fitted tee or blouse
A trouser with a blouse or knit and a simple, flat sandal
The proportions are relaxed, but not oversized or slouchy; having a defined high waist is a proportion I almost always stick to, no matter what else changes.
copper · toffee · cream · ivory · black · sage green · light denim
The color palette is warm, lots of rich, earthy neutrals and textures: silk, knits, cotton, linen, denim, leather. A lot of variety in the tones and textures, which looks more elegant to my eye.
As I looked at my closet, the weather, and the vibe I want for this trip, I determined a few key “style statements” to help me pack.
intentional · assured · unfussy · womanly · warm
What I Packed
Then, I dug in to my closet. What do I have that fits this vibe? I went through a number of iterations, but opted for a variety. I have jeans, but also linen pants; dresses in silk, crepe, cotton; a lightweight knit top, a cotton gauze blouse, a silk tee, cotton tees. Lots of options to mix up textures and styles and looks.
cream and black cotton tees
black crop tee
black cotton tank top
black silk boxy tee
ivory raw silk boxy tee
ivory linen wrap top
white gauze long-sleeve blouse
green mock neck tee
black boxy wool smarty cardigan
wide sleeve cream lightweight sweater
faded black skinny jean
light wash wide leg jeans
white pleated linen trousers
ivory wide leg jeans
copper pleated cotton trousers
4 dresses + 1 skirt
black silk midi skirt
polka dot strappy silk midi dress
sage green cotton midi button dress
toffee jersey midi wrap dress
rust crepe spaghetti strap maxi dress
cream woven flat mules
black toe-strap slides
chunky crossover platform sandal
pink speckle sneakers
chunky white sneakers
cotton canvas trench coat
30 items total!
Plus socks, undies, pajamas, a set of workout clothes, that sort of thing!
Yes, it’s kind of a lot; I definitely could have brought less, and in a check-in, this isn’t exactly a “packing light” blog post. I like having options, though. Even though my style is fairly minimal, I like being able to mix up my looks. I also know that when I am traveling, and we’re walking around a lot, I tend to get sweaty, so I don’t get as much use out of the same items as I would at home. If it’s hot, that outfit might be done for til I can wash it, and I like to be able to change for dinner.
Of course, scuttling my plans for cool jeans-and-sneakers looks, it was quite hot in Berlin over the weekend—90F on Sunday and Monday! I ended up in my lightest silk pieces as we walked all over the (non-air-conditioned) city. On Monday, we took a very long walk through the Tiergarten, and it was so hot I wore athletic shorts and my silk Georgia tee. High fashion, obviously! Of course, as we head to Paris today, it’s in the 60F’s so I will be glad again for my pants.
Comfort rules on long travel or tour days and I knew that when I was making my packing list. No matter how much I wish I might wear cute shoes, when faced with an all-day walk, I'm going to wear my comfiest sneakers, and no way around it. Aren't we glad sneakers are in style? In Berlin they certainly are, and not in the fashion-y way you see on Instagram. Just normal people in regular old sneakers (and yes, lots of Birkenstocks), perfectly outfitted for a cobblestoned city with good public transit, lots of bicycles, and lots of walking.
I'm also extraordinarily grateful for my Clyde trench. Just a few days into the trip and its already proved itself an invaluable travel addition. It's breathable, but cuts the wind, and do I even need to mention the pockets? It was perfect on the plane, and perfect for the first cool nights in Berlin. I expect to basically never take it off in Paris.
Often when planning a look or vibe for packing, I make a list of outfits that I’m excited to wear. I know that a simple color palette means I can do a lot of mix-and-matching, so I start with the fun things that feel like the right outfits for the style I want. Here’s a couple:
crop tee, silk midi skirt, chunky sneakers
I wore this one already, on a warm evening walking through Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood by the Landwehrkanal. The canal is gorgeous, and in summer people picnic, boat, bike, and hang out by the water. The tree-shaded streets are filled with little cafes and bars on the sidewalk. Golden hour lasts for what feels like three hours, with a 9 o’clock sunset, and since it was warm, everyone was outside relaxing, playing cards with friends, enjoying a cocktail, or a bicycle ride.
These sneakers are sooo comfortable, they're like a bouncy marshmallow cloud of a sneaker.
white linen trousers, fitted black tee, chunky cross sandal
This was my conference talk outfit! It was warm in the venue, and these linen pants were relatively cool. I liked the slightly relaxed, interesting pant, instead of trying to dress formally, since most tech conferences aren’t formal at all. Interestingly, nobody commented on my outfit; I feel like in America, someone would have! Berlin is just used to weird pants, I think.
Everyone who commented on my Instagram stories to help me choose my outfit idea, you're the best! These pants were hands-down the crowd fave, and once I found out the venue didn't have A/C, my other two blazer-related options were straight out.
wide leg jeans, lightweight sweater, silk bandana, woven mules
This one I’ve got earmarked for one of the D-Day events, or a cool night on the French Riveira. I got this sweater secondhand and it’s a slinky, light knit, perfect for summer… or at least a European summer.
toffee wrap midi dress, black simple sandals
Another recent secondhand find, this Reformation dress is one of their rare styles that isn’t far too long in the torso for me. I likely won’t get much wear out of this in the summer at home, since it’s Tencel-Jersey, but it and this perfect toffee color will be gorgeous for a sunset dinner on the beach.
wide leg jeans, floaty blouse, chunky white sneakers
A floaty blouse and wide leg jeans? Trying for a little bit more dramatic of a silhouette with this outfit. This blouse is pretty feminine for me, so I’m hoping the chunky sneakers will give it a fun, modern look, instead of just looking like a hopeless tourist. We’ll see!
ivory jeans, linen wrap top, simple black sandals
Probably a Paris dinner outfit. I love the all-cream and black sandals, and these jeans are sooo comfortable, I’ll be happy eating delicious Parisian food in them.
rust maxi dress, white wool hat, woven mules
At least one of Jeffrey’s band performances will be in Paris, a more fun, lighthearted event than the D-Day ceremonies. So this is my Texas outfit: burnt orange, and my best imitation of the UT Longhorn Band’s white Stetson hats.
We're already almost a week into our trip! Are you following along on Instagram? What outfits are you excited to see?