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Packing Advice: Germany, Prague, and Lausanne

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by Matryeshka, Dec 29, 2016.

  1. Matryeshka

    Matryeshka Well-Known Member

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    In mid-April (no, thanks to EF, we still don't know the exact dates :rolleyes: ) I and five other teachers will be chaperoning forty kiddies and some of their parents (mostly, from what I've been told, the parents) across the Atlantic and schlepping about Europe. We will be gone at least nine--but maybe eleven--days. Our trip goes something like: three days in Berlin, two in Prague, two in Lausanne, and two in Munich (this may--or may not--include travel time in between. Like the Lord, EF works in mysterious ways). I'm REALLY excited about it. I mean, REALLY, REALLY excited. The only problem is deciding what to pack. I have gone to Europe twice before, but I went there for study abroad programs and was there long term. I essentially lived there, so I'm really struggling with what to bring on a short trip

    I don't have to wash my hair or my jeans every day. I'm OK with being a little crunchy (I think. I can hear my friends laughing at that from here). This is a vacation, but it's also work, so I'm really not dressing to impress but I don't want to look TOO much like the stereotypical American yokel. We have a floor bathroom, not a private bathroom. I've looked at the weather for April in the past, and it looks like it could be anything. :lol: There is an option for a trek up the mountains in Switzerland, but I am so not doing that. I'm the stay-behind chaperone for that excursion so I don't need any hiking shoes/specialty equipment. I also need advice on adapters and things like that.
    So far, this is what I'm planning:
    Plane:
    My nice gray coat, that I will wear on the plane as I get unnaturally cold on planes.
    My onesie from Francesca, which I will wear on the plane (I have no shame and have been told most wear their pajamas anyway).
    My pnurple Timberlands
    My kindle with the case that has a place for ID and money
    My giant camel purse which will hold my mostly useless phone and adapter , face wash (properly sealed and within guidelines), small towel, dry shampoo, travel-size toothbrush, toothpaste, and mouthwash, UNO cards, outdated German phrase book, gum as I am susceptible to ear popping and possibly Xanax to deal with the take off and screaming children (and by children, I mean parents of students).

    Carry-on:
    Three pairs of jeans
    Sketchers that feel like tennis shoes but don't look like them
    Two pairs of pajamas
    Enough underwear that I don't have to worry about washing it
    Five pairs of tights/leggings (I figure layering is the way to go)
    Three sweaters
    Four long sleeved shirts
    One nice dress
    One pair of black heels (we aren't scheduled to go anywhere fancy, BUT, we all get two nights and days off of chaperoning duty, and I figure I might want to do something nice once.)
    Two pairs of silver earrings (only jewelry but I must wear earrings. I MUST. Taking earrings is non-negotiable)
    Small black purse
    Black skirt
    Gray skirt
    Shampoo
    Conditioner (yes, I know I could buy these in Germany, but hair is really important to me. I spend a lot of money on my hair and I want my products).
    Flat iron (see above)
    Flip flops for walking to the bathroom

    I would also appreciate advice on when/where I should exchange money. When I went before, I hate to admit this, but the program really took care of exchanging money for us. I have no idea how that works. I am also not planning on buying souvenirs except for a clock for myself and chocolates for my mom. I do want to spend A LOT of money on experiences. And cheese. Glorious, glorious Swiss cheese.

    Also, I've been told on average, we walk seven miles a day--the day typically begins at 7am and ends at 10pm. I'm in OK shape, but not great. I like things like yoga and Zumba and swimming (which for me means thrashing up and down a lane in the pool for fifteen minutes and hanging out in the hot tub and sauna for 20). If someone could recommend a good program for building walking stamina, that would be great. If I lose weight, that's great too, but the main goal is to be able to keep up. My brother's gf who is a runner gave me some great tips, but I think they're more intermediate than beginner. I need to work up to her suggestions of inclines and run-walk three miles in one go :lol:

    I also plan on buying new luggage, so advice on that would be appreciated too.
     
  2. alj5

    alj5 Well-Known Member

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    My husband and I usually travel to Europe in the spring and late fall (roughly twice a year). We've pretty much gotten it down to a science. For 3 weeks, I bring:
    Wear: comfortable pants, long-sleeve shirt, nice cardigan that will match dress in carry-on, jacket, closed toed slip on shoes that are not sneakers (we wear merrell's), backpack, and my "sash bag". (http://thesashbag-2.myshopify.com -> I'm just promoting a local company here in San Diego, I love their product and am not affiliated with them in any way.)

    17 or 18" carry on: 2 additional pants (usually dark wash jeans and a dark pant), 2 long sleeve shirts, 2 short sleeve shirts, extra bra, 6 underwear and 6pr socks (we do laundry every 7 days), 2 pajama pants (one a "lounge pant" that I could do laundry in if need be), 1 dress, 1 pr ballet flats, swimsuit, one additional pair of earrings, and my tiny travel flat iron.

    I use 2 of the 100ml containers with my lotion (I'm VERY picky) and body wash that I've used as shampoo in a pinch. We always buy hair/body products in Europe, as that's part of the fun. I'm moderately picky about my hair care and have always found great products at a reasonable price (for Europe). We also buy toothpaste and forgo mouthwash.

    I keep my cell phone on at all times. I just turn off cellular data. We have AT&T and texts are about 50 cents to send (free to receive), and I can make emergency phone calls. If I don't use the local cell network to actually make a call or a text, it doesn't cost any money. But it gives me the peace of mind to have a cell that will connect to a local network for emergencies.

    Exchanging money - I just use the ATM. Your bank will probably give you the best rates. Just make sure you 1. let them know you're traveling and to up the maximum amount to $500 and 2. take out the maximum amount possible that you will actually use. At the beginning we take out the max amount, and if we run out with just a day to go we would take out a small amount. Hopefully that makes sense.

    We don't buy a lot of expensive souvenirs. We have a large refrigerator magnet collection (on a large metal framed board in the office) and have a christmas tree that is exclusively travel-related ornaments. We like to buy small things that we could turn into refrigerator magnets or christmas ornaments (think converting keychains or an entrance ticket to a museum either cut down and lacquered or origami'd).

    Another fun thing we do is write postcards to ourselves about what we did, what we ate, what we argued about, etc. It makes for pretty fun reading when you get home and we rotate them through a large "floating frame" in our office. My best friend adopted the postcard idea, but she doesn't mail hers. She just keeps them with her (we mail them).

    We do collect local artwork (like sold from street vendors who are actually drawing/painting), and usually pick one bigger ticket item to bring home. Though we've foregone this when traveling to places we've been several times.

    One of the trips we take with our girls who are now 6, and so with them we up it to two 21" suitcases that will still fit as carry-on (thank God they're not babies anymore....) and they carry a backpack each with their iPad minis, headphones, jackets and they have to carry their own socks and underwear (we carry their extra clothes in our 21"). They only get one pair of shoes. :)
     
  3. ballettmaus

    ballettmaus Well-Known Member

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    When you say carry-on, do you mean the suitcase you'll take with you on board the plane or checked luggage? In case of the former, I've never tried taking a flat iron, not sure if you're allowed to have it in your carry-on. (You can plug it in and then it gets hot and could generally be used as a weapon). Also, remember the liquid rule, no more than 100 ml in one container.

    Since you mentioned you'll head across the Atlantic, I'm assuming you're from the US or Canada?! I don't know about Canada but regarding your flat iron - keep in mind that the US uses 110V, Germany 220V. Phone and computer chargers are usually fine, it probably depends with flat irons. You'll also need something for the outlets. Germany and Switzerland have the same outlets, not sure about Prague but they might.

    Take an umbrella and/or a rain jacket/a jacket that doesn't soak easily and/or has a hat. Also, take a pair of shoes which don't soak easily. They might come in handy during German spring especially in Berlin. :shuffle: Can be dry as sandpaper or wet like an underwater world.
     
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  4. alj5

    alj5 Well-Known Member

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    As far as luggage, just go with something reasonably priced, not black, and I like the 360 degree wheels. Honestly I've spent a couple hundred on a small suitcase and $50 (well $50 at TJ Maxx/Marshall's...not walmart). I find they hold up about the same to rough luggage handlers. My husband has a great Travelon bag but it doesn't have the 360 degree wheels. But he's been using that one for many years. I've been using a Samantha Brown bag for a couple of trips and it's held up well. Our 21" bags are American Tourister and they've held up okay. But honestly, it's hit and miss.

    I had a beautiful Tumi who's top handle broke on it's first trip. I limped along with it until the wheel broke a few trips later. I'll never spend that much on luggage again.
     
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  5. Jenya

    Jenya Let me show you Tel Aviv

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    You can definitely take your flat iron in your carry on (I never fly without mine :lol:) and the outlets are the same in all the places you're visiting. But @ballettmaus is right, make sure your flat iron is dual voltage before trying to use it overseas.

    I personally try to use my credit card as much as possible when traveling (no foreign transaction fees and a good exchange rate) but for times when I have to have cash I just withdraw from an ATM. Depending on which bank you use in the US, some have partnerships with banks overseas so you aren't charged withdrawal fees. For example, I use Bank of America and they have a whole network of banks (like Barclays and Deutsche Bank) that I can use without extra charges.
     
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  6. Aceon6

    Aceon6 Hit ball, find ball, hit it again.

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    @Matryeshka I'd skip the extra jeans in favor of 2 pair of quick dry, generic black pants with lots of stretch. LL Bean and similar companies have travel pants designed specifically for people who want to pack light. If it's unseasonably cool, you can wear spandex tights under.
     
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  7. flyingsit

    flyingsit Well-Known Member

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    If you can, go for leggings instead of jeans. They take up less space when packing, they weigh a lot less, and you can wash them in a sink and hang them to dry overnight. If you're worried about being cold, bring some tights to layer under them. I'd also recommend skipping the heels in favor of cute flats; cobblestone streets are HELL in heels.

    Withdrawing cash at the airport ATM once you land in Germany is definitely the way to go. Just notify your bank in advance. And make sure you have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees -- there are lots available and it's annoying to have to pay extra.

    Luggage: Get the lightest bag you can. The more zippers and compartments it has, the more it weighs even when empty. If that's not the way you like to pack, choose a bag without them.
     
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  8. PrincessLeppard

    PrincessLeppard Holding Alex Johnson's Pineapple

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    I travel with EF all the time, and I'm shocked your bathrooms are down the hall. Unless this is a private tour and was requested. Anyway.

    I would just pull money out of cash machines; the exchange rate is much better. Just let your bank know (as @flyingsit already stated) For big items, use your credit card.

    Also, as an EF tour veteran, I do not permit parents to come on my tours. That's caused some kids to not be able to go, but it's caused me way fewer headaches. The trips are designed for young people (hence the seven miles of walking - also this tires them out eventually and they get into less trouble). Some of the parents are going to whine and complain non-stop - about the walking, about the food, about the hotels, about the guide, etc.

    Have fun! Oh, and as people have already said, the weather could be anything. So, um, yeah.

    eta: luggage. Make sure it's something you can carry up five flights of stairs. I love my giant Betsy Johnson suitcase, but not after hauling it up five flights after a seven hour bus ride. (you might be in a "rustic" hotel at some point. EF thinks they have "charm." )
     
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  9. Nomad

    Nomad Celebrity cheese-monger

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    I make a photocopy of my passport and the contents of my wallet - credit cards, debit cards, front and back. And I note the numbers to call in case of theft. This came in handy when I got pickpocketed in Paris - I was able to call the bank, give them the card number, shut off the card, and start my claim all within hours of discovering the theft. The thief managed to buy $500 worth of wine, but I got the money back.
     
  10. flyingsit

    flyingsit Well-Known Member

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    What @Nomad said. Scan the important documents (passport, credit/debit cards, whatever else you're bringing along) and email them to yourself. I put them in a password-protected PDF file.
     
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  11. Nomad

    Nomad Celebrity cheese-monger

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    Even better advice.
     
  12. emilieh

    emilieh Active Member

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    It's been a while since I did student trips, but I participated in them and chaperoned one for high schoolers when I was in university. Definitely agree about being able to carry your luggage up some stairs, especially if you're staying in budget-friendly hotels in urban areas. Even if there's an elevator, it might be scary, tiny, and only big enough for a single suitcase. Also -- it's not guaranteed that a tour bus will be able to pull up right to the hotel if it's on a tiny street, and dragging a giant rolling bag on cobblestones is no fun.

    I usually go without a flat iron when I'm in Europe (I'm from the USA) and just try to rely on hotel hair dryers & a round brush, with mixed results. I've heard so many horror stories about people frying their nice flat irons overseas. I've had my flat iron for about 7 years, I love it, it was a small fortune for me (at the time), I don't think they make the brand anymore, and I'm hoping it lasts forever, haha.

    That said, I can confirm that my mom used the travel size dual voltage T3 flat iron in France and Italy several years ago and it did not blow up, sizzle, fry, or otherwise self-destruct. Unfortunately, it's pretty tiny - 1/2 inch plates, I think.

    I walk a lot at home, but even I was pretty tired after a full day of walking around Paris with the jet lag factored in. Make sure you have really really really good walking shoes (and break them in before you go), and wear them on the sightseeing days even if you think you look like a tourist with your shoes. I always want to blend as much as I can, but you ARE a tourist, it's okay to look like one and it's worth it to survive 9-11ish days! ;)

    Try to turn some of your usual errands into walking trips. Especially when I'm trying to stay in shape, I try to walk for any errands that are less than a mile away. I also walk to the grocery store a few times a week instead of doing all the shopping at once in a big weekly car trip. And then even when I'm going far, sometimes I'll walk a few extra blocks to a bus or train stop that's further away, instead of getting on the bus right by my house. It's tougher to make myself do that in the winter, though.

    My husband likes to park further away in a parking lot to encourage him to walk a bit more. This is a nice thing for busy people, as it really only requires a few extra minutes. Even if it's a giant shopping mall parking lot and you walk at his pace, it's not going to add more than 5 minutes. My husband used to never walk anywhere and often got serious foot/ankle pain when he did have to walk more, so I've slowly been adding more walking into our usual routines, and he's getting to where he can almost keep up with me for a full vacation. Maybe by next year. ;)

    Keep in mind that you won't be walking 7 miles all at once, and you'll (I assume) be excited to see everything and do all the fun touristy things, so it's probably okay if you never get all the way up to 7 miles a day at home. But if you can walk 2-3 miles comfortably without your feet being on fire, you can probably keep up on your trip!
     
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  13. ballettmaus

    ballettmaus Well-Known Member

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    I will not comment on the lovely contradiction that one is not allowed to take liquids from home in your carry on but a flat iron that can so easily start a fire... :p

    When it comes to Germany, the emphasis would be on "as much as possible" ;) @Matryeshka be prepared for several places you'd expect to take credit cards to not take credit cards in Berlin. I suppose you will have something like a 72-hour tourist ticket for public transportation in Berlin? If not, you will need cash to buy tickets at the ticket automats. Bills no larger than 10 Euros. The credit card mentality (or lack thereof) in Berlin drives me nuts :shuffle:
     
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  14. overedge

    overedge doing shots in the Grublets on Ice dressing room

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    @alj5 That sash bag is a brilliant idea.
     
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  15. vesperholly

    vesperholly Well-Known Member

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    I HIGHLY recommend this backpack: http://www.ebags.com/product/ebags/...-convertible-junior/241465?productid=10209114

    Fully stuffed, it fits in an airplane overhead compartment. I packed two weeks worth of plus-size summer clothes, three pairs of shoes, a hair dryer and all my toiletries in it. I originally had purchased the regular size, not the junior, and it was too huge for 5'2 me. I traveled to four different countries in two weeks and I didn't have to drag a wheeled suitcase down subway stairs or through train stations. Heaven.

    For adapters, you just need the little Euro plug one. They're really cheap on Rick Steves' website. Don't bother with a voltage adapter. Most flat irons and hair dryers have a tiny voltage switch, just flip it over to 220 and you'll be fine. Smart phones, cameras etc all have dual capacity. I hear you on the hair - I brought a full-sized hair dryer with me on both my European trips when I stayed in hostels. :shuffle:

    One thing that made a big difference for me on the second trip was to bring sandals with a small 1" heel. I wore only flat sneakers my first time to Europe and my calves were on fire. Just that little boost made it much easier on my legs to walk a lot. Also, bring a ton of band-aids and blister pods. No matter how comfortable your shoes, spending 12+ hours in them will start to chafe for anyone. You might want to skip the heels and bring a pair of nicer shoes that could also be worn during the day if you get sick of the Skechers.

    I would also drop to 1 pair of jeans and add a lightweight pant. The jeans should hold up for three weeks if you're only wearing them occasionally. Jeans are heavy and take up so much room, plus impossible to wash and air dry overnight. I stuck with a color theme (black/gray pants, cardigans and solid pastel color tops) and made sure that everything went with everything else. One thing I should have packed was a big warm hoodie. Don't feel bad about packing whatever jewelry, it's so small and lightweight - just take whatever you don't mind losing.

    Skip the umbrella and get one of those lightweight packable jackets with a hood. Definitely bring a scarf, maybe a medium weight one for every day use and a larger one that can be turned into a mini blanket if necessary. I found trains got really cold.

    Also don't bother with language books. I never used mine. Just remember hello, thank you, etc for politeness' sake. Everyone will speak English to you anyway.
     
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  16. millyskate

    millyskate Well-Known Member

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    Don't worry too much :) most things don't end up getting used.

    As a frequent traveller who doesn't have the budget to stay in posh hotels, I'd say:

    Essentials:
    -debit/credit card
    -phone + charger + adapter
    -pyjamas
    -underwear
    -a toothbrush & deodorant

    Everything else can be bought the day after your arrival if you forget it :lol:

    Avoid packing things that have weight to them, but at the same time make sure you have warm clothes.

    A few personal traveler-hacks:
    -I bring several leggings and casual tops, and depending on the needs of the trip they get used either as pyjamas or daywear.
    -I also bring just the one set of makeup, and stick to one look throughout the trip.
    -Bring clothes that make you feel tiffed but don't require ironing. I would ditch the shirts and opt for tops in soft material.
    -Bring just one nice outfit that doesn't take up much space, like a tunic dress that doesn't need ironing. It means you don't need to bring an additional top to wear with it, and can be paired with the leggings/tights already in your bag.
    -Ballet flats instead of heels. Heels cause damage to other items in the luggage and are heavy.
    -Something that can be used as a dirty clothes bag. You don't want to put your dirty underwear back in your luggage with your clean stuff, and plastic bags are always difficult to find when you need them.
    -Moisturiser. I hate finding out I have no moisturiser and then end up buying some more when I have 10 bottles at home. And changing water type when you shower can make your skin very dry in a matter of days.
     
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  17. Aimless

    Aimless Active Member

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    You'll really need a chip-bearing credit card. Most people have them now but they weren't too common when I was last in Europe a few years ago. European vendors couldn't accept my card. It was really humiliating not to be able to pay my share because my non-chip card wasn't accepted, and I was also completely taken by surprise.

    Also, most international ATMs (in my limited experience) only allow you to withdraw from a checking account. When I was in Brazil, most of my cash at home was in a savings account and again I was hampered by a shortage of funds. It wouldn't be a terrible idea to have a few travelers checks.

    Pack your bags completely, then go walk around the block a few times with bags in tow. Then go home and figure out what you really need. Also, it's fun to shop internationally for essentials--you get a cultural lesson and a souvenir at the same time, and will be less burdened.
     
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  18. olympic

    olympic Well-Known Member

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    I am in a bi-national relationship. My husband is Argentinian and Italian (holds Italian passport thru his mother) and we travel yearly to Europe: Italy and other countries. He speaks Spanish and Italian. I myself lived in Germany for 2 years courtesy of Uncle Sam, but that was years ago.

    Toiletries and Sundries - IMO, good move to take those items w/ you especially since you will be sharing a bathroom. We purchase all of our toiletries and sundries in the US prior to leaving. It saves time once you are there.

    Fashion - You will be traveling in a large group, so you will stand out as a large group of Americans (?). Don't worry about being a 'yokel' though. Be comfortable for you. Even here in Miami, I see plenty of obnoxious foreign tourists, European and otherwise. So, my philosophy is every one in a foreign situation is a 'yokel' to some extent. I think Americans dress more casually than Europeans and my husband says you can always tell Americans by their footwear. LOL. As long as your group is well-mannered and realizes that they are guests in someone else's country, it will proceed smoothly (I'm not assuming you won't be :))

    Exchange - We use a CC abroad whenever possible. It seems to provide the best exchange rate. You can also order foreign currency thru your bank beforehand. Years ago, that seemed to provide the best exchange rate for cash.

    Walking - I myself am a fitness freak, but walking and hiking is a different type of exercise and nothing really prepares you for it if you don't do it regularly. We make stops for coffee / snacks and lunch which gave us a chance to 1) soak in the ambience; and 2) rest. Are you able to do that w/ your big group? Sometimes, groups have an ironclad itinerary. Maybe you can request it?
     
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  19. ballettmaus

    ballettmaus Well-Known Member

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    Regarding plastic bags in Germany - you have to pay 20 cents for shopping bags most everywhere now. Some department stores still carry plastic bags, others carry only paper bags...
     
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  20. allezfred

    allezfred Master/Mistress of Sneer Staff Member

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    He's right. Pristine white sneakers that look like they belong to people who do not do much actual walking.
     
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  21. alj5

    alj5 Well-Known Member

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    I lived in the UK for a year in college and learned quickly to ditch the white sneakers. Or any shoes that look like sneakers. I haven't owned a pair since. :)
     
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  22. Choupette

    Choupette Well-Known Member

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    I second the bag for dirty clothes. I just use plastic trash bags for that purpose. I also have a foldable bag with me in case I'd purchase something at a store that gives no bag (happens once in a while).

    I've not been very lucky when travelling in Europe in the past and found myself with more than my share of very rainy days, even at a time of the year it should have been crazy hot. I didn't want to put on shoes that were not as comfortable just in case it would rain. What worked for me was to carry a small pair of socks with me, in one of those little transparent plastic bags. :) I remember changing socks once on the bus while coming back from an organized day trip - most people had removed their shoes and socks, and I'm sure they weren't dry by the time we came back. I was in dry socks and my shoes were almost fully dry. :D

    I prefer to have a little bit of cash with me before I leave. I usually carry with me enough cash to be able to pay for all my activities of the day just in case (for some reason, there was one place where my credit card didn't work, so I was glad I had thought of that), and leave the rest locked at the hotel. But that's a personal preference, I think everyone finds out what works for them when travelling. :) I withdraw from official banks ATM when I need it, but I agree, I also pay with my credit card as much as possible. However, when paying with your credit card in stores, do not use the option to convert the amount into your home currency right away. The exchange rates are higher than what the bank affiliated with your credit card will charge you.

    I did that, but ended up buying a very small and lightweight umbrella during one trip and have used it many times since. I usually prefer only wearing a rain jacket myself and not have to carry an umbrella in my hands, but I found out that getting rain in the face for hours was extremely unpleasant, to the point it felt like some kind of aggression. Besides, with an umbrella, you can still take pictures without your camera lenses getting wet. :D I have a very small backpack and I can fit everything into it, including the umbrella.

    I don't always have my rain jacket with me, but just in case, I bring a few of those plastic packable rain jackets and carry one with me. Didn't work too well on an extremely windy day though, so if it's obvious there will be rain, I bring my regular rain jacket.

    I find packing and unpacking so much more easier since I started using packing cubes. The prevent your clothes from moving everywhere in your luggage and everything is so much more organized. Here is an example (I don't know how expensive these are, but there are many brands available): http://cheapestwinterclothing.blogspot.ca/2014/01/packing-cubes-luggage-organizer-bags-3.html . I also use smaller bags with multiple zippers for smaller items, and I put my shampoo and other liquids in a waterproof one just in case.
     
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  23. acraven

    acraven Well-Known Member

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    Aah, my very favorite topic--European travel! Prepare for a very, very long post.

    You've already gotten a lot of great advice, and I will try to resist the temptation to repeat information already provided, but I will not be totally successful at that.

    First, five things mentioned above that do not agree with info and advice posted recently on the Rick Steves forum:

    - Switzerland's electrical outlets traditionally were different from those in most of the rest of Europe. I've read that some are now Euro-standard but do not know what you may run into at your Lausanne lodging. (I'd email to ask.) If you want to be sure you are prepared, Google "electrical adapter Switzerland". Rick Steves does have a good price (but plus shipping) on the Euro adapters, but he doesn't stock the Swiss ones. It will probably be cheaper, once shipping is included, to get the Euro adapters elsewhere (but not if you also want to order one of Rick's books). It's prudent to carry at least two of the adapters because it's easy to leave them behind.

    - Others have sort of implied that you'll just be using one currency, but--lucky you--that's not the case. Germany uses the euro, Czechia uses the koruna, and Switzerland uses the Swiss franc. Although your bank could probably order at least the first and last for you, you'd pay quite a bit extra for that service--likely part in the form of a fee and part in the form of a bad exchange rate, so only order a small amount of each if you decide you must have the currency in advance. With three currencies to worry about, I'd just plan to hit an ATM upon arrival in each country. However, put the word out to friends on Facebook and otherwise, and you may find people who've brought excess currency back from recent trips and would be glad to sell you some at the official exchange rate. Win-win! It is relaxing to have a modest amount of spendable currency when you arrive in a country.

    - I definitely would not make large ATMs withdrawal; see advice below about avoiding ATM cards that subject you to fees. If you do take out a lot of money at one time, you need to put most of it in a safe place ASAP--and not while you're standing out on the street! A safe place is not an exterior pocket, handbag or backpack. I confess that I keep excess funds (not more than about $100) in my locked suitcase back in my hotel room. I offer no guarantees as to the safety of that technique, but I only use a money belt on days when I'm switching hotels.

    - I do not think traveler's checks are a good back-up plan. Good luck finding a place to get them converted to local currency, and there would be substantial fees in any case.

    - Appliances that heat up, including hair dryers and flat irons, are reported to have blown fuses, etc., in Europe. Not always, but sometimes. Some people have said they had problems with dual-voltage models, and indeed my own dual-voltage hair dryer seemed to get excessively hot. Just so you know. How many times are you going to need to wash your hair during the trip? Do you absolutely have to have that flat iron?

    Now, for the rest:

    First step: Call the 800 number on the back of your ATM/debit card and every credit card you have. Ask about fees for overseas usage. Is there a flat fee (common for ATM cards)? Is there a percentage surcharge (common for credit cards and some ATM cards)? What exchange rate will be used (is it the interbank rate or something like interbank + X%?). You can get cards that have essentially no fees if you don't already have them, and you have time to do this before your trip. If you ignore this, your travel costs will be 3% (some credit cards) to 10% or more (small ATM withdrawals) higher than necessary. Or--in the case of ATM cards--you'll waste time trying to find an ATM with a particular log. Who wants to spend time on a short vacation doing that?

    Capital One Bank has no-fee ATM cards tied to its accounts, which you can set up online. It also offers a no-fee credit card; unfortunately, the latter earns points rather than miles. Some credit unions have no-fee credit cards. United has a no-annual-fee/no-usage-fee MileagePlus credit card. It doesn't have all the same benefits you get from the $95/year card, but it does earn miles. Beware: My American Airlines mileage card does have foreign-transaction fees.

    Sometimes, despite having notified your credit card and ATM card issuers of your travel plans, you may find that a card doesn't work. Take with you (not in your wallet!) telephone numbers you can call (US 800 numbers will not work) and email addresses you can use to deal with non-working or lost/stolen cards. I record only the last four digits of my card numbers, which I've found is all the info needed to deal with a lost or stolen card (don't ask).

    If possible, have two ATM cards and two credit cards with you and carry the back-up cards in a different/safe place, not in your wallet. My brand-new chipped credit card failed to work half the time when I traveled in Germany in 2015. I hope you don't have that problem. The darn thing worked in Serbia, for crying out loud.

    Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) has already been mentioned. This is the nefarious practice of offering you the "convenience" of being charged in dollars when you use a credit card or knowing the exact dollar-cost of an ATM withdrawal. Pay attention to ATM screens and to credit card terminals and (if you don't see the terminal screen) receipts before you sign them. You ALWAYS want to be charged in the local currency. Anything else is an opportunity for the bank or merchant to screw you on the exchange rate. DCC seems to be expanding; stay on your toes, and warn the other members of your group.

    Second step: Put on the shoes you plan to use for your daily activities and spend a day on your feet, including at least 6 miles of walking. (Go shopping in the largest mall you can find, or walk around New Orleans and spend time in museums). This is the only way you'll know whether the shoes you propose to use will be suitable. If your shoes are good, you'll be able to keep going even when you're tired. If they are not comfortable and the bottoms of your feet start burning, it will be very difficult for you. I have a slightly high arch and use Aetrex memory-foam orthotics. Unfortunately, they are expensive, but I take extremely long trips and they make a huge difference. Something like that might be overkill for folks who don't have high arches. Grippy soles are critical when you're walking on wet cobblestones or slick marble. Do not plan to spend much time in shoes with thin soles. Guaranteed to cause burning feet. You need something with a thick rubber or crepe sole. Who cares whether your shoes are cute? People who have to wait on you while you hobble around will not be impressed.

    I walk a lot at home (have no car), up to 6 miles at a time, but DC is very flat. I do go up the steps to my 6th-floor apartment several times a week. I don't have much trouble with reasonable inclines in Europe and have had plenty of 10- to 12-mile days, but I would not attempt to climb a tower or take mountain walks with significant elevation gain without some dedicated training on an inclined treadmill, StairMaster, etc. Again, good shoes will help a lot.

    Third step: Google "<name of city> scams" to learn what you need to avoid.

    Fourth step: Go to wunderground.com and look at the historical day-by-day weather data for the cities you will visit. Check for several years; the Monthly tab has a chart that tracks temperature. That's the best way to see what range of temps you may experience. If you go up into the mountains, the usual estimate is that the temp F drops about 5 degrees per 1000 feet of elevation.

    Packing Issues:

    If you're taking more than two electronic devices (e.g., phone, Kindle and camera), you'll probably want some sort of plug contraption that allows you to charge them all with one outlet. European hotel rooms often don't have many unused outlets. You can find devices that will accept two or four USB cables, for example. (This is not my area of expertise, obviously.)

    I think you're planning to take too many clothes. I take far less for summer-long trips. Definitely no more than 2 pairs of jeans. There's a guy on the Rick Steves forum who swears by heavily-starched jeans, which he says shed stains. There's essentially no risk of your running into hot, sweaty weather. A dress and two skirts--why? I'd only take one sweater. You need to pick things from you closet that coordinate so practically everything goes with everything else.

    They won't help with weight, but compression cubes save significant space in your suitcase. I like the style that zips downs like an expandable suitcase rather than the plastic bags with valves. I think they'd put wrinkles in my outer clothing, so I just use one for underwear, longjohns, and sleepwear.

    The conventional packing wisdom for a spring trip (remember--I have no personal experience with this) is that you take one warm, easily packed layer (fleece jacket, light down jacket/vest or merino wool sweater are often recommended) and a waterproof layer that also serves as a windbreaker. I know you're a southerner, and I'm very cold-natured myself, so I'm not going to tell you not to take that coat. But if it's a heavy wool-like thing, consider what's going to happen when you move from city to city on a day when it's not cold. Will you be able to carry it easily? What about colder days when you wear it outside but need to remove it when you go in a shop or a museum that doesn't have a checkroom? I have traveled with full-length summer-weight raincoats, and they were a royal pain. I am happier with my current approach of taking a short fleece jacket and a light rain jacket. I can tie the sleeves of either one around my waist (yes, it looks dorky; ask me whether I care), and the rain jacket fits easily in my not-ridiculously-large purse. However, April will be rainier, and you may need a full-length rainproof layer.

    Waterproof shoes would be nice, but they tend to be costly and heavy. For a trip as short as yours, I'd try to go with something I already owned. Experienced off-season travelers recommend merino-wool socks for wet conditions. They are not cheap. They come in different weights. If you shoes get soaked, remember to remove the inner soles when you get back to your hotel. They will dry faster that way.

    A brimmed hat will help keep rain off your face if conditions are too windy for an umbrella. Because of wind, I now travel with a hat that cinches under my chin. It looks just as weird as it sounds--as if I'm on a safari. But the hat stays on my head.

    I'm not clear on what you plan to carry around with you during the trip. You need a bag that can be worn cross-body, and you should keep your hand on it at all times. Bury valuables in zippered inner pockets to the maximum degree possible. Some folks pin a pouch to the bottom of the bag, but that would be an annoyance to me. Pickpockets are far more common in Europe than in the US, and Prague--whose tourist zone is extremely crowded--is a hotbed of that type of thing. You should not use a daypack for anything of value, just for water, jacket, guidebook, etc. Be aware that smartphones are a popular target for thieves. A phone in an outer pocket is an attractive opportunity. The world is full of travelers who think they'll know if someone is getting into their stuff, right up until they cross paths with a professional pickpocket. And they are professional. They are better at stealing your stuff than you are protecting it.

    Since you plan to shop, you need an extra container for carting the goods home. I use one of those nylon bags that folds up into a pocket. They come in different weights, the trade-off being sturdiness. Your trip is short, so you can probably get by with a fairly lightweight bag, something you might pick up at a place like Walmart or Target. If you want something really sturdy (and probably also rather large), you'll find something at the Container Store or you can shop online.

    If you can manage to travel with a carry-on bag, that's great; no possibility of delayed or lost luggage. I don't like spinner wheels, which are useless on non-smooth surfaces and seem more fragile, but that's most of what you'll find these days. I shop at TJ Maxx and Marshalls and have found 23"-24" bags (wheels count in the measurement--don't trust the manufacturer's label!) for $50 to $70. I go for the lightest thing I can find, acknowledging that the bag may not last as long. Every pound counts when you're going up stairs in train stations or hotels.

    Decant all toiletries into the smallest container suitable for the length of your trip. That stuff is heavy. You probably can manage with containers you already have, but if not, the Container Store carries leak-proof Nalgene bottles. Be aware that the cute GoToobs warn that they should not be used for products containing oil, alcohol, etc., which really makes them not very useful.

    Strip everything you won't need in Europe out of your wallet/purse to save weight and avoid risk of loss. I do take my driver's license, because museums often want to hold ID when you borrow or rent an audioguide. Leave car keys, library cards., etc., at home.

    Laundry tip: You may find you have a lavatory without a stopper. One of the really large (2-gallon?) ZIP-Lock bags can be used to wash laundry. Alternatively, you might be able to make do with something like a squishy rubber ball to block the drain.

    I also take a variety of smaller ZIP Lock bags--fabulous for yet clothes, muddy shoes, leaking food, etc. European pastry shops don't necessarily over-package things like ours do.

    Miscellaneous:

    Scribd is an eBook purveyor that offers a 14-day free trial (you must remember to cancel, though). They used to have all the Lonely Planet guidebooks available.

    German museums tend to make you check everything, even small purses. The lockers are typically coin-operated. The fee is 1 euro, but the lockers take both 1- and 2-euro coins. They don't make change, however.

    Pay toilets have varying fees. I think I have encountered everything from 20 euro cents to one euro inGermany, so I just carried around a variety of coins.

    Always carry some toilet paper with you, though this is not often needed north of the Alps.

    Take a few of each OTC medicine you occasionally use, plus more Band-Aids than you think you need. That way, you can take at least one dose before heading to a pharmacy. This year I found that the zinc lozenges I swear by are not available in Spain; you just never know. If there's something you are really dependent upon, Google for information.

    Recent reports from Switzerland indicate that costs are extraordinarily high there. Even for fast food. Sounds like Lausanne is not the place to plan a special meal.

    If you order a salad in Germany, try to get the dressing on the side. They really, really like a lot of dressing (at least they do in Berlin).

    Fines for using European transportation without a proper ticket are very high, and they do conduct spot checks. No excuse will be accepted. Be sure you and your charges know the local rules. Do tickets need to be validated? Are they good for a certain amount of time, but not for round trips? Do you need to keep the ticket until you are outside the station?

    There are electronic maps you can load on your smartphone while you're on Wi-Fi that use GPS (not cellular data) to track your movement. They can be very helpful in areas not overly blessed with street signs, or when you haven't yet acquired a paper map. I use Ulmon's CityMaps2Go Pro, which has a modest flat fee (no charge for maps). Others use Google Maps.
     
    skipaway, manhn, overedge and 3 others like this.
  24. Rob

    Rob Beach Bum

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    I'd go with the black stretch pants that you can layer over leggings too in lieu of jeans. Also, for pajamas, I often take a couple of older worn oversized T shirts that I can toss out as I go and put on yesterday's leggings/flip flops if you have to head down the hall to the bathroom. Takes up less room in the bag.
     
  25. ballettmaus

    ballettmaus Well-Known Member

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    I think in our day and age, the best way to see what temperatures one might experience is to check a weather site (like accuweather and/or weather.com) a week before leaving and look at the current temperatures and the outlook.
    Weather in Germany has changed a lot in the last two/three years. While we used to have spring, summer, fall, winter, the last two/three years have been more like fall, summer, fall, winter or maybe winter, fall, summer, fall. Last year, December was insanely warm (temperatures in the 50s, if memory serves; I know I was wearing a spring jacket on December 26th). This year, it was lower 40s and 30s. We've had temperatures in the 40s and 50s up until June last year. It could easily go back to more normal this year around though. In other words, it's pretty unpredictable at the moment.
     
  26. Spun Silver

    Spun Silver Well-Known Member

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    Excuse me for not reading the whole thread, but I would pare down the clothing and ditch the Timberlands - they sound heavy. Nowadays it is perfectly possible to find great lightweight walking shoes that look fine (well, acceptable) with skirts as well. The key thing is to take items that travel well, can be worn and reworn, and dont wrinkle. Laundromats are not hard to find and you can wash a shirt in the sink and go dry it in 20 mins. Underwear can dry in your room overnight. It is so much nicer to be portable and not take up too much space in trains than it is to be constantly lugging, packing and unpacking heavy furniture (so to speak) and getting the evil eye from dozens of strangers. Can you possibly do some sharing with another teacher, e.g., your flatiron for her hairdryer?

    I was never particularly planful about physical training to prepare for walking, or about money or outlets. I like improvising, it's part of the adventure. But good shoes - yes. If you are in reasonably good shape, I wouldnt worry about getting ready. It won't feel like exercise because you'll be having so much fun (if you take my advice and lighten your suitcase!). Just take hot showers and do stretches in your room if you need to every night. You'll be fine. I hope you have a great time!
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2017
  27. TheGirlCanSkate

    TheGirlCanSkate Well-Known Member

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    They make leggings that look like denim, that might be nice for a different look. I'm a big believer in a pretty scarf. If you have neutrals, I'd bring a colorful scarf - if it is cold, it will offer warmth and you can wear it on the plane.

    I'd skip the dress and skirts. If you really need jeans, I'd wear them on the plane, with a tee and a sweater. I'd go to 3 pair of leggings. Instead of a dress or skirt, maybe a long tunic to wear with leggings or wear with a belt as a dress.

    Also, pack a gallon sized ziplock for the flip flops. Then when you leave toss them. :p I usually just get dollar store ones so I never have to see them ago after being on public bathroom floors.

    Tees or cuddl duds for sleeping. If you stick with black cuddl duds they can be back up if it is extra cold to wear under tops.

    Socks. Slipper socks for wearing in the hotel room.

    comfy slip on boots that can handle a lot of walking for the airport and sneakers/walking shoes to alternate with.
     
    Spun Silver likes this.
  28. ballettmaus

    ballettmaus Well-Known Member

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    I have no earthly idea where you would find a laundromat in the parts of Berlin that I've been to and that includes tourist areas like Mitte and Charlottenburg and residential areas in the south and north of Berlin. I don't recall having ever seen one.
     
  29. Spun Silver

    Spun Silver Well-Known Member

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    I stand corrected. Remarkable. Why arent there any there as opposed to other European cities?
     
  30. ballettmaus

    ballettmaus Well-Known Member

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    I was curious and did a google search and, apparently, there are some but not many. I really don't know why. There are a lot of dry cleaners though. Three within five minutes of walking distance of where I live and one another, so maybe that's the reason. Although it's not even cheap and apartment buildings don't have laundry rooms like they often do in the US and neither do houses come with washing machines. They all come with the possibility to hook up machines though and it was new to me to not even have the option of hooking up a machine when I was in the US. I would assume there's fewer need for laundromats here because it's become uncommon to not have a washing machine at home.