In a few short days, I hopped around in Belgium from Brussels to Gent, Bruge and Antwerp. These are my thirteen favorite photos from my time there. The rest of the set is available below.
How to Pack for a Two Week Trip To Europe
The best travel tips when traveling to Europe for two weeks.
Get an unlocked device or unlock your phone. Determine if your phone uses a sim, micro-sim or nano sim. Reeview your contacts to ensure that their phone numbers start with +1 or else numbers will look incorrect and might not work smoothly, especially with iMessage. A number should read like this: +1 (210) 555-1212 instead of just (210) 555-1212. Check this wiki for information on carrier options in each country. Set APN information on your device. If you’re using an iPhone, check this site from your iPhone and it can set the information for you. Buy the sim in the country you’re visiting. In some countries, they will ship the SIM to a local address in the country you’re visiting. Mobile Vikings, who was great in Belgium, did this. I inserted the SIM and activated it and was up and running in minutes. Orange France’s Mobicarte is miserably slow in activating a new sim – it can take 48 hours. At least they tell you upfront that it will take this long. Three UK’s Pay As You Go 15 was a great deal with unlimited data and it provided a local number and texting.
Although the people in Europe are full sized, their hotel rooms, elevators, washrooms and cars are not. Packing giant luggage for a tiny room is a surefire way of angering your travel partner and likely carrying heavy bags up and down stairs. I travel with three pieces of luggage. A bulletproof Kirkland Signature carryon from Costco, a Patagonia Lightwire backpack (model no longer available, so pick a new one) for my laptop and gadgets and a Patagonia Atom day bag with bonus Gypsy strap. Gypsy strap is not an official Patagonia term. It’s what I call the secondary strap that wraps around your body to prevent someone from flipping your bag over the back of your head and absconding with your gear, as I witnessed in Prague. Packing so little requires some planning, but makes lost bags due to the airline nearly impossible. If you lose your bags on the flight over, at least you tried your best. Space is now at a premium so pack wisely. Oh, you want to know what I pack? Follow me.
What to Pack
Sure, my mom made me start washing my own clothes at 15 because I changed three times a day. I like fresh clothes. In Europe, it’s best to get over it and recycle. Before any gear goes in the suitcase, I Camp Dry it. Camp Dry is a silicone spray used for tents and outdoor gear to keep them dry in the rain. Buy a couple of bottles online or in the Target shoe department. I coat my hat, scarf, jacket, shoes, pants and bags. If you get caught in a small shower, you’ll be able to wipe the water off your clothes and gear. Camp Dry also prevents stains if you opt to wear a meal.
Packing socks and underwear for a few weeks eats up space faster than phonebooks in landfills. Instead, grab travel underwear from ExOfficio. It’s anti-microbial and fast drying. Pick up two or three so you can have a fresh pair, while another pair is drying after you hand washed in the shower or sink. They’ll be dry in an hour, I promise. Even in the winter. When it comes to socks, grab a few pair of SmartWool socks. These are also anti-microbial and will keep your feet padded and warm on a cold day. If it heats up, the wool stays cool. They have magic in the threading. Those suckers will stay fresh longer than Will Smith.
When it comes to shirts, I opt for polyester long sleeve shirts. Everyone makes them. Adidas calls them ClimaCool, Nike makes DriFit. Pick your favorites. You can wash these in the sink or shower as well and they dry fast. Wearing black or gray always looks clean and people can’t tell that you’re recycling clothes in the photos. While you’re at it, bring a pair or two of long underwear, too, if it’s the right season. Get the polyester version of those. Again, easy to wash, fast to dry.
With shoes, I wear running shoes. I walk close to 12 miles a day, so I’m looking for comfort. I also suggest that you bring one with a decent sole. The Brooks Ghost running shoes were perfect to cruise over the cobblestones and uneven ground of Europe. I also brought a second pair of shoes, black leather Ecco shoes that were good for walking, too. Since the Brooks are fabric, with enough rain, water will get through. If you get in a multi-day rain, you’ll want to have some shoes that will keep your feet dry. You’re a world traveler, rain won’t keep you indoors! Of course, if you choose to buy new shoes for your trip, I’d suggest a comfortable pair ready for rain. Solomon makes some great shoes.
If you’ve not lived in the north, pay attention. A scarf and a hat will save your bacon on those chilly nights. Have at least one of each with you. I thought scarves were stupid. Turns out, I was an idiot. The night I wrapped a scarf around my neck in Prague, it felt like a warm hug. I was sold. Go buy a scarf already. Oh yeah, if it starts raining and you lost your hat and forgot an umbrella, you can use the scarf on your head. You Camp Dry’d that thing, remember?
Bring snacks with you. Instead of forking over for crap food, bring hearty snacks like trail mix and low sugar, high protein bars. You’ll save cash, you can keep moving without cueing behind tourists for a churro or kebab. Save your cash to enjoy the local fair and a local brew later. Speaking of food and your belly, you should also bring vitamins and probiotics. Start taking them weeks before you travel. You want to be healthy on your adventure, there’s a ton to see! The probiotics will keep your tummy feeling good when you try new foods, especially if you don’t have the stomach of a billy goat. Eating the local yogurt will put the local probiotics in your system, too. Do that. Before you drink the water, check online to see if the water is safe to drink. If you’re smack dab in the European Union (ie France, Germany, Austria, etc) you’re good. Just in case, pack Pepto and carry it in your day bag. Even if not for you, you can help save some other tourist that’s not having a great day. There are also dissolving tabs that will prevent vomiting, but you’ll have to talk to your doc. Good news – the generics are cheap and they work.
Most of your gadgets are ready for 110 and 220 volt, especially if they can charge via USB. Be smart and look on the plug to ensure voltage compatibility. Beyond voltage compatibility, you will need plug converters. Your hotel might have some to loan you, but I like coming prepared. T-Tech makes a sweet plug that works in most of the world thanks to the flexible plug situation built in. It provides one power outlet and one USB outlet.
Take a knee. Pack a camera. Your memories deserve better than the awful pictures you’ll shoot on an iPad. Also, you look ridiculous shooting pictures with an iPad. Read your camera manual so you understand how it works. You’re going to see beautiful landscapes, buildings and people that you’ll want to photograph. If you don’t know why your camera isn’t giving you what you see, blame yourself. I’m telling you, read the damn manual. After you’ve read the manual, learn how to shoot. Don’t just use Instagram to shoot, the resolution of those photos is pathetically low. If you decide you want to print one for later, it is going to look like you printed it in 1998 on an inkjet. People barely want to see your travel photos. Do your friends and family a favor and make them good, ok?
Do you need help packing? I’ve got you sorted out there, too. I prefer the bundle wrapping method. It’s so awesome, a TSA agent in Kansas City fist bumped me after checking my bag. A security agent at London Heathrow told me my bag was packed very efficiently after having a look. When people who see thousands of bags take notice, you know you’re doing it right.
One More Thing
When you are traveling in a new country, especially in public transportation, take your headphones out. Sure, it can be for safety, but it’s bigger than that. I love listening to music. Probably more than most. Taking your headphones out exposes you to the world. It is an opportunity to pay attention to the needs of others and offer assistance if someone is lost and you know how to read a map. You become available for conversations that will enrich your life and make your travel more memorable. Save the music for later and make yourself available. It adds to the tapestry of your trip.
2014 Addition – Here’s a fun and cool packing checklist tool that is printable from Budget Direct in Australia.
Hello, Brussels, You Old Sailor
The flight to Brussels was as good as I could want, other than putting a wrinkle on the earth and jumping from one continent to another. I had an entire row to myself from Newark to Belgium. The hack I put together worked. Moving up from United’s Economy to Economy Plus gave me a few precious inches of leg room, feeling like an emergency row on Southwest. There was a strategy behind the seat I chose. Instead of picking and aisle seat, my favorite and most expensive option on the hop, I opted for the cheaper middle seat. There were a few rows still uninhabited around me. I reasoned that if a couple were to book, one of them would ask me to move so they could sit together and I could get a better seat for less. Secondly, I figured that people booking would likely skip the row all together to not bother with the fool in the middle seat. Admittedly, there was no guarantee either would work…but it did. Full row for 6.5 hours. I was so happy I nearly shed a tear – but I hadn’t planned on crying in front of others that day, so I refrained. I ate, watched 21 Jump Street and slept – all with a goofy smile bolted to my face.
Welcome to Brussels, Dummy
My sister is training for a new job in Brussels for a month. She’s been updating her Facebook page with her ridiculous experiences. Thankfully, I was warned to enter the bus from the front and exit from the back or expect a tongue slapping in French, Dutch or some Biblical tongue in an update. What I didn’t know was how to read Dutch or French on the stupid ticketing machine. Also, I wasn’t bright enough the first three times to hit the blue button that had flags on it to change languages, but I was out of buttons to press and knobs to turn. English! Well, Engrish – mostly English. Ticket challenge, complete! On the bus, I repeated “In through the front, out through the back, in through the front, out through the back.” Don’t worry, I wasn’t rocking back and forth like Rainman.
Death to Paper
Paper maps are archaic. I would rather avoid paper cuts and the frustration of folds. Who am I, Magellan? Handsome beard? Yes. Able to navigate by the stars? Wear a ‘coon skin hat? Not so much.
Before this trip, my homeboy, Bobby and I did some magic to unlock my iPhone. The tough part was not knowing if the unlocking worked stateside. I ordered a pre-paid SIM from Mobile Vikings in Belgium to use during my adventure. I prayed as I pushed the plastic and metal card into my phone and magic happened – it worked! I looked around…*tiny dance in the apartment” Though the new iOS maps are designed by super heroes that can jump over buildings and bodies of water, with nonsensical instructions to walk through walls and levitate over water, it’s better than becoming a luddite cartographer.
I’m geared up in the streets of Brussels. Data on the iPhone, new camera ready to capture Brussel’s beauty and a small Patagonia bag strapped to my back (It’s not a man purse, dammit!). Oh and thanks to Vid, I’ve got a fitbit to track my steps and distance. I really think he’s monitoring me, but that’s a different story for a different day.
The day’s walk took me through Grand Place. Don’t pronounce it Place, like I did. It’s embarrassing for you to sound like a hayseed and it’s disheartening for the person that has to correct you. Say it like “PLAZZZZ.” Now everyone knows how classy and educated you are. Part of the fun of having a smartphone working while your traveling is using Wikitude, an app that lays Wikipedia and Flickr information where you’re standing. You know what you’re looking at and you can steal photo ideas from better photographers.
All this walking had taken it out of me, it was time for coffee. There was this industrial coffee roaster at the entrance of Corica that drew me in. I’d buy a coffee then shoot a photo. I got much more. Sipping on my Costa Rican Lungo, I chatted up the guy behind the counter, Harold. Harold is a bro in his late 20’s or early 30’s who owned the shop with his mom. In his younger years, Harold was a smoker, spending days hanging out in the grass. His dad told Harold he was flying him to Canada, because he was a bum, so he could be one in Canada. Harold protested and asked how much money his dad was giving him before his trip. “Not much.” Away he went to Canada and lived as “a hobo.” Hobo sounds classier when you say it with a Dutch and French accent. Harold slept in a car and in the woods. It was “easier” that way as long as he didn’t run into a bear. There were no obvious chunks missing, so I think he made out alright. Harold met a girl who took him in and he worked odd jobs around Canada, gardening and such. He returned to Brussels and opened Corica. Corica reminds me of Olmos Perk in San Antonio. It’s a hip little place run by people who care about the coffee they brew. Harold isn’t looking to expand right now, there are other passions he’d like to pursue without franchising and getting gray hair. We pause the conversation. It’s his girlfriend asking if he’d be okay with carrot soup for dinner. He was kind on the phone, then he hangs up and laughs “Hhhhhell no, carrot soup is not okay. I WANT MEAT.” He asks about my political affiliations and we talk about the differing freedoms between the US and Belgium. He looks at our country as one with many personal freedoms to think as you want but more laws limiting what you do, Belgium being one of thoughts being limited but the latitude to do as you please physically.
I shot a few photos, we exchanged business cards and I zipped off. Like Pizzesco in Munich, visit Harold’s Corica when stopping in Brussels and ask about being a hobo.
What’s In Your Bag 2012 – World Edition
One against seven is never a fair fight. The body blows from seven time zones are iced when I tote my Passport. I darken tight doorways with a purposefully packed backpack and carryon.
My MacBook Air is ready to glamorize photos of abbeys. The microfiber cloth makes the glass sparkle. Splenda gives the perfect sweetness to the corner bistro’s cappuccino. A pounding headache and the aftermath of eating a few closed mussels from Brussels can be fixed with the white container. Be smart – if cooked shellfish didn’t open during cooking, don’t eat it.
Adventures are more fun when reading adventures first on a Kindle. My photos are 48% less boring when I hang the magnetic Joby Gorillapod from a street sign. Until the future arrives, gear will not charge itself. Thankfully, Tumi Tech’s universal plug rocks plugs for the UK, Europe, Asia and it bonuses with a USB port. The sunrise over the centuries old plaza is captured magically through the f/1.8 lens of the Sony RX100. Waking for the sunrise shoot is soothed by hits through the X-Mini travel speaker. What good are the photos of the worn streets if you can’t share? Sprint’s International Hot Spot with an unlocked SIM slot will do the trick for my four closest companions and me. Dead batteries are for suckers, so the ibattz with two removal batteries should do the trick.
But, if the ibattz isn’t enough, the MyCharge 5000 will finish the day out. Untested unlocked devices are never a sure bet. A Nokia Lumia 800 is Plan C if the iPhone and International Hot Spot are a bust. With the tiny MacBook Air minimizing outlets, the Apple USB to Ethernet dongle provides wired connectivity in hotels stuck in 1999. International travel requires forms when you’re drowsy and your seat mates are asleep, so I bring my own pen. USB charging is simple with the Western Europe dongle. Escaping airplane dry mouth is easiest with gum and keeps you in the good graces of your seat mate.
Time for my soles hit the cobblestone.