How To: Pack for a European Vacation

Back in high school, I purchased an old travel guide to Europe at a library book sale. It taught me some valuable lessons about inflation and changing social expectations. But I really only used it for ironic comedy value.

My friend Doug Mack, on the other hand, took his interest in 1960s travel guides a bit further. He actually went to Europe, following the advice and directions of Arthur Frommer's groundbreaking Europe on Five Dollars a Day. He's written a book about his experiences, called (appropriately) Europe on Five Wrong Turns a Day.

It's a bit more than just wacky hijinks, though. One of the interesting things Doug gets into in the book is the history of why Frommer's guide ended up being so important. It's hard to imagine today, but there was a time, not so very long ago, when the concept of "budget travel" did not exist. Frommer represented a major shift in how Americans thought about vacationing, especially vacationing to Europe.

To demonstrate just how profound that shift was, Doug put together a video illustrating the packing advice of Temple Fielding—the most prominent travel author before Frommer.

The list of items comes from a 1968 profile of Fielding by John McPhee in The New Yorker:

"Fielding uses two suitcases, and in them he packs thirty-five handkerchiefs (all of hand- rolled Swiss linen and all bearing his signature, hand- embroidered), ten shirts, ten ties, ten pairs of undershorts, three pairs of silk pajamas, eight pairs of socks, evening clothes, three pairs of shoes, a lounging robe, a pair of sealskin slippers, and two toilet kits. . . . He wears one suit and carries two."

Also, to get around baggage fees— a headache even back then—Fielding carried a raffia basket (the airlines didn’t know how to classify it, so they essentially just ignored it; try that on your next trip). Its contents included “a bottle of maraschino cherries, a bottle of Angostura bitters, a portable Philips three-speed record- player, five records (four of mood music and ‘one Sinatra always’), a leather-covered RCA transistor radio, an old half- pint Heublein bottle full of vermouth, and a large nickel thermos with a wide mouth.” He also had a calfskin briefcase that he designed himself and whose copious compartments held another forty-one items, including bottles of brandy and Johnnie Walker, a yodeling alarm clock, plus more standard items like toothbrushes and notebooks.

Read more about the Fielding vs. Frommer culture clash on Doug Mack's blog.

Buy Europe on Five Wrong Turns A Day


  1. “10 shirts…” And already, on the first item, it’s equal to or more than the entirety of what I took to Europe for a trip lasting 2 months.

  2. Strange that the yodeling alarm clock and toothbrush were the only items that seem to pass the test of time.

  3. I once made a weekend trip across Britain, from Grantham to Laugharne, with the clothes I was wearing and a backpack that held a bag of apples, a notebook, and the collected poems of Dylan Thomas. And I think I could have gone at least a week with all that if I hadn’t been required to be back.

    The only part of that trip I consider poorly planned was not knowing that the bus would drop me off in Laugharne half an hour after the Dylan Thomas museum, which was my whole reason for going, had closed.

  4. Was Fielding under the impression that Europe somehow didn’t have alcohol for sale and therefore he needed to bring his own? I understand the change of clothes in an era where wearing the same clothes to dinner that you had been walking around in all day wasn’t socially acceptable, but why the booze?

  5. LOL! Preordered!

    My parents used to drag me all over Europe, Central America, and the Caribbean on business trips throughout the 70s. By the time I was 12, I was jaded by the whole thing, and from that point on I actively resisted visiting even the next city over. I’m only just coming out of my overload now that I’m in my 40s, and the desire to go experience different atmospheres is on the rise.

    1. Opposite outcomes here. My parents did drag me all over Europe (on holiday), in a VW camper van (ah, the 80s), and now I live abroad and I think I’m really happy only when I’m driving on a motorway or up some mountain road. When I fly to the other side of the planet it feels like I’m bloody cheating.

  6. One of my favorite old-book finds is a Baedeker’s Egypt from 1904. In addition to having utterly awesome fold-out tomb maps that would be at home in any AD&D module, it gave instructions for figuring out how many servants and porters you will require, based on the size of your family and types of excursions planned. As I recall, it was also quite particular about the types of boots you should have made before you go.

  7. Ah, lounging in a robe, wearing sealskin slippers, listening to Sinatra while slowly getting buzzed. That’s civilization, people. Anything less, and the terrorists have won.

  8. I read that list to my wife. She considers it a terrible example of under packing. Where is the raincoat? The formal overcoat to go with the suits? The hiking gear – tough clothes, boots (2 pr), walking stick, backpack, etc?

  9. I still pack like this, well minus the liquor. I don’t get it. I mean add more shoes to that because there are street shoes and dress shoes. I thought I was doing a good job to limit myself to one or two color schemes. 

    1. Black and white.  I spent 2 weeks in GB well dressed in only black and white.  When everything matches, redundancy is reduced and it all goes in one (admittedly huge) suitcase.

      1.  And you look like you’re going to a funeral every day, so that’s useful too.

        With a bit of thought it’s not hard to come up with a simple, small, versatile, yet fairly colorful wardrobe for traveling that all goes together – with no black required :)

  10. Now I’ve GOT to have a yodeling alarm clock RIGHT NOW and my birthday’s not for three months. I mean, who doesn’t want to wake up to yodeling?

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