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Tips on Packing Right for a Trip to Europe

Get creative to bring along little things to make your trip more enjoyable

By Rick Steves | By Rick Steves' Europe | December 11, 2012
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Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio.

Packing light is important, but everybody has some little extra they like to bring along. On the Rick Steves Graffiti Wall, we asked our readers to tell us what their favorite "creative extra" is to bring along.

Here are some of our favorites:

Language Notes
I am never without a miniature spiral-bound notebook and a pen when traveling in non-English-speaking countries. If I don't understand a conversation, I'll ask the ticket seller to write the price, the reservationist to write the time of the next train, the taxi driver to write the fare, etc. I can always draw a picture of what I'm looking for, which helped me to purchase a beautiful Spanish shawl in Madrid last week.
— Lee from Detroit, Mich.

Photographic Memory
I use a spiral notebook to write down specifics about pictures I have taken. Nothing frustrates me more than looking at a picture and not remembering where it was taken.
— Joel from Arizona

Portable Music
My little extravagance is a tiny MP3 player. The 128 Mb memory cards allow me to have 30+ songs per tiny card, and the player is about the size of a deck of cards. There are no moving parts, so no skip or bounce when I move. I have also downloaded several books from www.audiobooksforfree.com.
— Kate T. from Eureka, Calif.

Un-Locks
An alternative to small padlocks for luggage is split rings (key rings that you slide your keys onto). They are inexpensive and easy to find. They make a great deterrent against theft without having to worry about re-setting a padlock.
— Kathy from Anaheim, Calif.

Enlightenment
I read that a votive candle could come in handy. So I thought, "Why not?" and packed a couple. On our very first night in Rome, the lights went out. Flashlights are fine for some situations, but the candles proved to be a much better source of light as I had not had time to unpack and I also wanted to take a shower. They are also nice for those relaxing moments with some wine, crackers and cheese at the end of a tiring day.
— Carolyn Johnston from Edina, Minn.

Clarity
For you photographers out there, bring along a tiny bottle of window cleaner. It was so frustrating trying to take pictures of lovely scenery through train windows smudged with fingerprints! Buy an empty spray bottle and fill it up.
— Anonymous from California

Traveler's Tea
My favorite creative extra to pack is an immersion heater. Plug into an outlet, place the working end in a cup of water, and soon you're ready for tea. The heater and an assortment of tea bags fit neatly into a lightweight plastic cup. It's nice to relax in the evenings with a cup of tea, maybe some cookies, and a book. Peppermint tea soothes an upset stomach and chamomile is good for frazzled nerves. When I travel alone, I pack two cups. It's a wonderful ice breaker at hostels.
— Lori from Washington State

Pedometer
A fun extra to bring is a pedometer that you clip on your belt. I wore mine every day and was amazed how much walking I actually did! I logged over 160 miles in less than four weeks without even trying! They are inexpensive and comfortable.
— Renee from Colorado

Wrinkle Remover
Instead of buying spray-on wrinkle removers for your travel-creased clothing, carry a small spray bottle that creates a fine mist. Mist your clothing lightly (don't soak it) and smooth out wrinkles with your hand. This method works so well, I also use it when I'm not traveling. In hot climates you can use it to spray your face and body for instant air conditioning.
— Jennifer S. from San Francisco

Talk Radio
We like to carry a small radio with us. It's fun to listen to local music and even talk shows, whether in English or the local language. On a train, it's fun to ask someone to help you find a good station — a conversation starter of the simplest sort.
— Amelia from Tallahassee, Fla.

Corkscrew
Bring a corkscrew. It's so nice to buy a bottle of wine and enjoy it in the evening — a lot cheaper than in a restaurant or bar, too!
— Erika Malitzky from Spokane, Wash.

Rick Steves writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at rick@ricksteves.com.