Saving Space & Euros: Traveling Cheap & Packing Light

I know some of you reading this are students planning on studying abroad in Maastricht this coming fall or spring—this post is specifically for you. I know how difficult it was for me to pack for this trip, and I didn’t have much advice from students who’d previously gone on the trip, so I had a blank slate to begin with, but I’m hoping this will ease your mind a little bit and help you pack efficiently! For an independent study course in travel writing this semester I gathered memories of my packing experience with hints I picked up along the way and combined them into this little service article just for you guys. Enjoy!

Saving Space & Euros
Traveling Cheap & Packing Light


How could I have forgotten pencils for school? And where are the headphones I packed? I interrogated myself as I stood looking at the contents of my luggage strewn across my bed in Maastricht.

Just yesterday, I stood before a mountain of coats, shoes, and shirts, and wondered, should I have invested in a larger luggage? All I really needed was some packing wisdom and a little foresight into the semester to come. Although a few friends advised me not to waste space with toiletries and snacks, I found it’s actually smarter to pack them. When I returned from my first weekend of travel with a big bag of souvenirs from both Belgium and Amsterdam, I realized I had underestimated the space I’d need to pack souvenirs on the way back home. If I had just “wasted space” with shampoo and a towel, used them while here, and left them in Maastricht, I’d have that valuable space for souvenirs.

You need to know:
Clothes:

  • Because you can do laundry for free in the dorm, only pack enough clothes for about two weeks. Bring a travel-size Febreeze and some empty plastic containers that you can fill with shampoo, body wash, and even laundry detergent for your longer weeks of travel.
  • Be weary of packing too many clothes for weekend trips. One weekend, I bought more souvenirs than expected and had to wear four pairs of pants, three shirts, and two jackets home to make room for souvenirs in my carry-on.

Luggage:

  • Check your airline for measurements and weight. Usually, you’re allowed one checked bag up to fifty pounds and one carry-on for free, and you can pay about $50 to check a second fifty-pound bag. Beware—the fee for an overweight bag is very expensive.

You need to bring:

  1. A large hiking backpack, which you might use as your carry-on, and a smaller backpack as a schoolbag and a weekend travel pack. Remember to pack your laptop, Ipod, travel documents, and cash in your carry-on.
  2. You’re packing for three unpredictable months with weather ranging from below zero to above eighty degrees. But don’t panic! All you need to do is prioritize, organize, squeeze, and weigh.

A Tip about Prioritizing: Pack as if you’re prepared to leave things behind in Maastricht. When you’re packing to return home, some things that you once thought you’d never leave behind suddenly seem obsolete when choosing between your new Berlin tee-shirt and that old towel from home. I’m pretty sure you’ll want to choose your London coffee mug or Dutch wooden clogs to take home instead of that cheap blanket. But don’t forget to pack that cheap blanket and a travel pillow because they’ll be your best friends on trains, buses, airplanes, and especially overnight trains. (After note: I left about 3/4 of the things I brought to Maastricht there at the dorm in the donation closet because of souvenirs and space issues!)

Pack a couple pairs of thermal underpants and undershirts and two pairs of gloves (it’s almost a sure thing that you’ll lose one during your travels). And just remember that, however stylish you aspire to be while in Europe, you’ll still wish you had packed a pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt for your dorm-room study sessions. Don’t forget to pack a few outfits for less cold days, too, because when you’re under the hot Tuscan sun or sweating in Barcelona, you’ll be glad you packed a pair of shorts or capris.

A Tip about Organizing & Squeezing: Space bags are nice, but they’re not the best answer to space issues. If you use too many, your luggage will be overweight. For bigger, fluffier coats, do use a Space bag, but for jeans, shirts, etc., just settle for tightly folding them. Remember, you can always check a second suitcase for about the same or less than what you pay for an overweight fee (most people do).

Warning: Be flexible!

Saying that this trip will be unpredictable is not an overstatement. Because of this, you may be bundled up in your coat on the coast of Northern Ireland one weekend, drenched by sheets of pouring rain in Paris the next, or swimming next to hairy women in a hot springs spa in Budapest the next. So, if your pre-trip self asks you should I really pack this umbrella? This bathing suit?, take this as insight from your post-trip self: YES, pack them. Also, do your feet a favor and pack some water resistant shoes (by the way, you’ll really only need maximum four pairs of shoes. Resist the urge to pack more, ladies, because all you need are boots, sneakers, flip-flops as shower shoes, and maybe sandals or flats). And remember–Maastricht and other cities have excellent places to shop, so don’t worry if you don’t pack sandals and end up needing them. You can buy almost everything you need easily in Maastricht!

Tips for Cheap Travel

First, make sure you bring both a credit card and a debit card; you can keep them in your pickpocket-proof purse from REI or in a money belt next to your passport and important documents.

  • Most places don’t take credit cards—not even grocery stores. You’ll find ATMs everywhere, but because there is a transaction fee for every withdrawal, you should take out large sums at a time (150-300 Euros) and store it in your dorm room.
  • Before you leave the States, check out Oanda.com for exchange rates.
  • Check out RyanAir airlines for cheap flights all over Europe!
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a Ziploc bag and some peanut butter sandwiches. They’re delicious, filling, easy, and it costs less than three Euros to make about ten sandwiches. You’ll want a meal in the country of your choice so as to experience the cuisine of the culture, but I’m sure you’ll be more willing to spend that 5-20 Euros on a nice meal when you’ve spent practically nothing on every other meal that weekend.
  • Don’t be afraid to check out Couchsurfing.com. Instead of paying thirty Euros a night for a hostel and buying a twenty-Euro French dinner in Paris, I stayed with locals, who housed me, cooked for me, and even guided me through the city for free.
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