What and How to Pack

As we’re getting ready to leave, I thought I’d share some final tips for packing before the trip.  Some things you don’t necessarily think about until you’ve been abroad.

First, put everything you’re going to bring together, and then cut it in half.  Seriously, only bring half of what you really think you’ll need.  You want to travel lightly, both for baggage fees and just because you don’t want to carry stuff.  You will have easy access to free laundry, and my guess is that you still won’t use everything.  Covering every possibility is impossible, so pack clothes and items that give you flexibility– don’t pack shoes just for that perfect outfit or one dress in case you go out to high tea. Pack clothes that can be multiple use and items that will be used over and over.

Second, some essentials to bring:

  • your passport and directions to the flats, to be carried on your person. The passport is your ticket everywhere.  All else can purchased or borrowed.
  • a small umbrella. It will rain– if not in Brussels (and it will rain there), then in London. See this week’s forecast, for example: http://www.weather.com/weather/tenday/50.850340,4.351710
  • a grocery tote bag. European groceries don’t really have plastic bags for you to carry your stuff; if they do, they’re for purchase. Bring a Sam’s bag or some other type of tote.
  • a journal, if you’re not going to use a laptop. This is an important part of both classes.
  • a backpack. It’ll be much easier to carry stuff for the daytrips in a decent backpack.
  • converters. A US to Belgium converter is pretty cheap (under $10) at Radio Shack. These are helpful.  Note, though, that if you bring a hair dryer, there’s a decent chance you’ll blow the fuse in your flat, and everyone will be without power.  If you absolutely have to have a hair dryer, you may want to think about getting one in Europe.
  • Pack some key toiletries in your carry on in case your luggage gets lost– things like contact case and glasses or whatever.  Bags often get lost on this trip, so plan accordingly.
  • At least one good outfit (preferably two) for visiting the EU institutions. European bureaucrats dress very, very well, and it’s best to be in good, business causal attire for these visits.
  • An emergency credit card. Tell your bank that you’re traveling and confirm it can be used in Belgium, London, and France.
  • A few recipes. You will get sticker shock at some of the restaurant prices… 15 euros for a grilled cheese (croque monsieur) in some touristy places.  So, it’s best to take advantage of your full kitchen once in awhile. Make sure you’re able to cook at least a few things before you go.  There’s easy access to groceries, and you’ll have a fully stocked set of cookware.  It’s sooooo much cheaper than always eating out, and you’ll have more money for chocolate and souvenirs.
  • Speaking of souvenirs, you’ll bring back more than you take with you. Remember that when you’re packing!

On money, make sure you have some kind of financial plan.  Personally, I’m going to rely on my ATM card and a few credit cards because I know they most often work in Belgium. I won’t be carrying Euros or GBPs when I travel and will head directly to the ATM when I land.  Those fees are much cheaper than changing money or even travelers cheques.  Again, make sure your bank is aware that you’ll be traveling.

Last, on phones, I bought a set of disposable phones our first year and have used them ever since. They’re cheap (about 50 euros with time for about 2 hours of local talk or maybe 10 minutes of international time), and they can be reloaded.  But I have to have a phone with me. You don’t.  I strongly recommend putting any smartphones on airplane mode and then taking advantage of skype, google video chat, or whatever, to talk to home.  You’ll have good WiFi access in your flat, and you’ll have it at the London hotel as well, I believe.

Oh, and here’s a nice set of ideas for how to pack for any trip.  Take a look.

Questions? Feel free to send me an email.  See you in Atlanta or Brussels!

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