I’ve unpacked my suitcase and looked at every single item I packed (an aside: Isn’t it sad to unpack and realize vacation is over? Sigh…). In these two posts, you’ll get the benefit of my thoughts on what I actually used, what I didn’t and what I should have packed for my river cruise but hadn’t
Before I get to the list, understand that I value the concept of “packing light” for many reasons: economical (who wants to pay extra luggage fees?), easy (who wants to drag heavy ‘ole suitcases around cobblestone streets?) and safety (if you don’t bring it, you can’t cry about losing it).
But I also approached packing for this three-week itinerary with comfort in mind. Mom and I weren’t heading to the wilds of Borneo (are they really so wild anymore anyway?) and, if the river levels held steady, there’d be minimal packing/unpacking (two nights in an Amsterdam hotel, 14 nights on the Atla, 2 nights in a Budapest hotel).
In past trips in the US, I didn’t really stress about packing much—hubby always told me there’d certainly be a Walmart anywhere so we could always pick up any forgotten items. That’s wasn’t so true, though, on this trip. While we were certainly docked in cities which had stores, the stores nearest the boat weren’t necessarily the ones where you’d find what you’d forgotten (look for my post on apotheks and staying healthy) and, if you did, it might not be so very economical.
I’ll list the items I packed below along with the thumbs up—or thumbs down—and why.
- iPad with two charging cables (sometimes a cable goes bad unexpectedly). YES. This was my “computer,” my text messaging machine (so much easier than texting on the phone) to stay in touch with Mark, my photo backup device and my reader. In a pinch, it was even a camera and video recorder.
- iPhone. with one lightning charging cable. YES. But I didn’t carry it every day when we were off ship as I thought I would. In fact, I didn’t even use the maps apps that I’d preloaded on it—Viking provides a printed map of each town you dock at and I decided the risk of carrying (and possibly losing) the phone didn’t offset the convenience. Do turn off roaming as soon as you leave your home territory, though, and only use wifi.
- Old iPod Touch (just for music on the plane). YES, with caveat. It’s stingy with power so didn’t “use” much on the long flights even though I was listening to music most of the time. If you don’t listen to much music, though, save the space and weight. Note: Lufthansa had in-seat USB charging, even in Economy Coach; check to see if your plane does. Be aware, though, that the charging oomph is low, only enough for iPhones and their ilk. iPads, which have a heavy hit on power, wouldn’t completely recharge in the air.
- Trent Airbender bluetooth keyboard for my iPad and MicroUSB charging cable. YES. No question on it. Who likes to type on glass for lots of keyboarding? Without this, I’d never have been able to write those posts late at night while sitting up in bed!
- Canon S110 camera. YES. Bring the charger and buy an extra battery; that way one is charging while you’re using the other one to take all those memorable images. Note: I brought two 16gb memory cards; I only needed one for my wealth of photos, but I always like to have a back up.
- Earbuds for plane. YES. Two-prong adapter is needed if you want to listen to airline-provided audio/video in stereo.
- Camera card connector for iPad. YES, no question. This transferred photos from our camera cards directly to the iPad, no wifi required) and it not only let us “see” our photos at day’s end but provided a backup of the photos. I never erased the camera card while traveling so I had photos in two locations if something had happened to the camera or iPad.
- MonsterPlug four-plug “extension” powerstrip/cord. YES. This allowed us to use the adapter and then plug in four items. In our case, it always had a camera battery charger and the USB hub. Plus, it put the plugs in a more convenient location, especially in the hotel rooms (why do they hide those plugs below desks where you have to be a contortionist to plug anything in???).
- Targus Power Adapter. YES. A friend loaned this adapter (it is not a converter) to me; borrow or buy one, you will want it. While Viking provides some US-style outlets in the stateroom, they also have the European style outlets and having this means you can use more of the outlets, if needed. We used this in both hotels (although the Budapest Hilton said they’d loan guests one for a deposit if you needed it).
- Anker 36W, 4-port USB hub. YES. Two of the ports are the “high” charging output for iPads. This was always plugged in our powerstrip.
- Wristwatch. YES. Duh, I hadn’t put this on my original list but, since I always wear one, it was on my wrist when Ieft home. Yes, I know, you have a phone with the time on it, right? But you’ll need to know the time a lot (believe me, you will) and you may not always want to pull your precious cell phone of its hidey pocket to check the time. Clocks didn’t seem to be all that prevalent in view (if you don’t count those big ones, outdoors in the churches!) so you’ll want a wristwatch. A friend and his wife didn’t have a watch with them when we were at Budapest’s Great Market Hall so I loaned them mine for the morning (mom had hers on and I knew I’d be hanging around with her). Take one. Even a cheap one.
Comfort items on the plane (these were carry-on shoulder bag)
- Patagonia Lightweight Travel Courier Shoulder Bag. YES. My carry-on did duty at ports, too. Folds up in a tiny pocket. Padded shoulder strap, a few little zip pockets. Really a nifty bag. Back home I’m finding lots of uses for this bag, too.
- Zojirushi travel water bottle. YES. Simply thebest water bottle around. Sturdy, insulated, never ever leaks (unless you put carbonated liquid in it before flying. Oops…) The only place I used this was on the plane, though, coming and going. And be aware that European airports (at least Frankfurt, Budapest and Amsterdam) just don’t seem to have drinking fountains; they expect you to buy all your water. Sigh…I filled up my Zoji from the bathroom faucet at Budapest Airport (I know, you’re cringing, huh? But people were brushing their teeth with that water for goodness’ sake).
- Travelrest inflatable pillow. Oh, YES. Looks weird, but worked great (if only I’d actually been able to sleep a lot, but it wasn’t my pillow’s fault). The whole thing rolls up tidily to a small size. This pillow kept me from flopping over forward while sleeping, or, worse, flopping sideways on to the college-aged seatmate to the right (who was elated to realize, at the end of our 10-hour-plus flight, that he’d watched all three Matrix movies in a single sitting. Imagine that! I, too was amazed).
- Bucky 40 Winks mask. YES. I liked this one because it’s contoured—not just a flap of material pressing down on my eyeballs. It’s really pretty comfortable and does make it easier to doze. And no, they don’t pass them out free in Coach (but I guess you could ask). Don’t worry about people looking at you funny when you don this little beauty—when I lifted mine up to look around, I saw lots of others with ’em on, too. There’s acceptance in numbers, you know.
- Trail mix, nuts. NO. Lufthansa fed on every single leg of our flights. An eggplant and cheese sandwich triangle, even, on the short Frankfurt-to-Amsterdam flight. I don’t really like eggplant, though, and it was less appealing to me at 15,000 feet… YES to breath mints, though. Especially if I had partaken of the eggplant sandwich.
- Tylenol, Bonine, antihistamine, decongestant and lomotil. YES. But thankfully didn’t need anything but the Tylenol. No-Jet-Lag pills. No. They didn’t work for me coming back (I was still fighting weird sleep patterns six days after the westbound flight home). But heading to Amsterdam I felt fine, so maybe they do work–sometimes? Or perhaps it’s just because at the beginning of the trip I was so darn excited to do those tourist things that the jet-lag wasn’t evident? I dunno. At least they didn’t taste obnoxious.
- Olba inhaler. YES. I’m in love with these things; one little sniff and I get a blast of wintery freshness that just cheers me up. Especially nice when flying and you wake with that icky feeling that your head has been bouncing around in a clothes dryer for hours. Also great if you do (sniff, sniff) get a bit of a cold while traveling.
- Disposable wipes for seat trays, armrests, etc. Hand sanitizer. YES. Hey, during boarding I even saw one of those “richer” customers in Business Class using wipes to clean off their seat area. See, you can do it, too, and be smart, just like them.
- Black Diamond Headlamp. YES. I always fly with one of these. I know, I know, if a plane were going down you probably would be no better off with a headlamp, but it makes me feel like I could find my way out of someplace more easily in the dark. But maybe that’s just me…
- Stain stick. YES. ‘Had to use it. I hate spilling things, but I seem to do it. Especially mocha drinks…
- Firm-sided glasses case. YES. While I dozed fitfully in my Coach seat, at least I knew I wouldn’t be squishing my glasses.
“Other” items for this 15-day river cruise, plus pre- and post-trip extensions:
- ID and travel documents. YES. You’ve gotta have those; my advice is to take a backup as a PDF (or a photo) o your table/smart phone as well as a copy left at home. Also, I guess you’re supposed to carry your passport with you at all times. I liked keeping mine in the Atla’s room safe, though. Instead, make a color copy of the passport to carry “out” with you.
- 1″ Titanium BaByliss Flat hair iron. YES, with caveat: Only if you have hair… This one did just fine with the 220 current you’ll find in Europe and was small and quick to heat. I also liked that it’s cheaper than my “regular” flat hair iron at home so if I accidentally blew it up on the weird European electricity (you never know!), I wouldn’t feel so bad—and I’d still be able to do my hair when I returned home. This is very important; upon returning from “three weeks in Europe,” one really needs to look her best so it doesn’t belie that such a sophisticated trip was wasted on a total goofball.
- Makeup, lotions, favorite shampoo. YES. I loved the l’Occitane products Viking provides in your bathroom, though, but my favorite shampoo is just, well, my favorite.
- Sunglasses. YES. Great for those afternoons up on the top deck spotting (still more) castles.
- Small binoculars. NO. I had them but never used them. I did see a few folks who really liked castle-spotting with the binoculars. Maybe it’s just not something I like to do that way. I wouldn’t take them next time.
- Laundry stuff. YES. I used all these items more than once. It included eight small wire clips for hanging items to dry on shower clothesline. Also, two old-fashioned wire hangers to use for damp clothes on the clothesline, if needed. The stateroom does have hangers in the closet (and you can ask for more, I found out), but the thin wire hangers multiplied our “hanging” space for damp stuff. Especially when it rained. I left my hangers in Budapest (not quite as poetic as leaving my heart in San Francisco, huh?).
- ZipLoc bags (3 gallon size, 4 quart size). NO, not in the quantity I took; only a few for the purposes I thought I’d use ’em for. I was told the large size could be used for washing clothes if the sinks were too small—but the sinks were just the right size for my small bits of laundry so I didn’t need them for that. I was also told to take the smaller bags to help spirit a few pastry/fruit/cheese treats back into the stateroom for between-meal munchies. Definitely not needed for that! Fresh fruit, cookies and biscuits were always available; frankly, we were so well fed by Viking that by Day 12, I was weary of even thinking about food. If you like ZipLoc bags, go ahead and pack a few, but you won’t need them to save yourself from hunger pangs. I promise.
- Bonner’s liquid soap for laundry. NO. The Viking-provided l’Occitane shower gel and shampoo worked fine for laundry and rinsed out easily. Plus it smelled really good.
- PacSafe Metro 100 Hip/Shoulder Bag. YES. I typically carried my daily cash in my PacSafe hip bag (I learned from Australians that you should never call these a fanny pack; but I’m too polite to explain why. Go ask a friend who happens to be from the land down under. You will blush.) I like this because it is “slash proof” and has multiple anti-theft features. I’ve used it for years when I want to be “hands’ free” yet carry important stuff safely. I just wish the strap could be made shorter (but, in reality, it makes me smile when I realize the strap is at the shortest point possible and it’s still a little big for my hips. Hee hee; I’m not as big around as I thought). Anyway, back to the bag: I alternated between wearing this bag and wearing my SCOTTeVEST jacket/vest setup. Both served the same purpose.
- Eagle Creek Undercover Money Belt. MAYBE. While my passport and larger amounts of cash were usually stored in my room safe onboard the Atla, there were a few travel days that I needed to have all my high-risk stuff with me (passport, cash, extra ATM card). That’s when I wore this money belt. It was soft and I really didn’t remember that I even had it on most of the time. This model is better than the Lewis & Clark belt because the “extra” elastic on the waist is caught up nicely in this one, on the L&C belt the elastic just dangles unattractively. If I was a guy, though, I think the Eagle Creek Undercover Neck Wallet would be more accessible; it just wouldn’t have looked right with my build, I don’t think.
- ZiCam Cold Remedy Rapid Melts. YES. I only brought a half-filled bottle of these and I wasn’t able to find any more anywhere in my travels on this itinerary. I did go to an apothek and showed them the bottle label, but they had nothing close; I ended up spending almost $30 for zinc capsules but they were definitely not the same. Thank goodness Mom had an unopened bottle in her toiletries; we stayed healthy after all, even with a nasty cold making its rounds among the passengers. ZiCam is my go-to when I feel a throat tickle or my nose suddenly tells me something bad seems to be happening. The secret of these, at least in our family’s experience, is to take them soon enough (right at the start of feeling a cold coming on) and taking them often enough (every couple of hours, really). It seems to help fight off a cold and lessen the severity.
- Eagle Creek Bi-Fold Travel Wallet. YES. I carry this wallet every day because it’s thin and easy to manage. For this trip, it was even more ideal because the paper money section is tall enough to handle euros and it has a secure zipped area behind the bills; I used this area to store euros, for example, when we were in Hungary and our currency was forints. This way it didn’t get the two currencies mixed up. No, it’s not really pretty, but it works! Also is RFID.
- Coin purse. YES. Just one of those little leather coin purses with the metal snap-type closure. You use a lot of coins in Europe (think of the toilets!) and you don’t want to have to access your entire wallet just to pull out 70 cents in euros. Of course, if you have a pocket, that can work, too. My pants didn’t have pockets…