European Adventures: The Gear

A month living out of a suitcase required some careful packing and planning (stay tuned for a post on what we packed, which was a process unto itself). I'll be the first to admit I own too many clothes and purses already, but I decided to splurge before our trip on a few key items that I didn't own, and knew would come in useful: a camera bag, a raincoat, good walking shoes, and, of course, our backpacks.


The Camera Bag

I have a Canon EOS Rebel T3i camera, which, while not enormous as DSLR cameras go, is not exactly slim. That said, there was no way I was leaving this lovely behind on our trip, which set me off obsessing over the perfect camera bag: padded to protect the camera; large enough to hold my wallet, a pocket tour-book, a map, and my phone; and (perhaps most crucially) not obviously a camera bag. We didn't want to be easy marks for petty theft, and toting around a camera-sized bag with the word CANON stamped on the front is a dead giveaway. An added plus, but not a necessity, was finding a bag that my husband could carry without looking like he was toting his wife's purse all over Europe.

I looked high and low, and every search returned me to ONA bags. They aren't cheap, but they are perfect: padded, and protective; a variety of sizes to hold whatever else you need to carry; not obviously a camera bag; and gender-neutral.

We opted for the Bowery bag in smoke, in part because it was one of the cheapest options (still weighing in at $129), and in part because it was small enough to be packed inside my backpack if needed (some airlines in Europe limit you to one carry-on per person). This case isn't really intended for cameras my size, but it actually worked perfectly; we could slip the camera in and nestle the pocket-sized tour books next to a wallet, and used the outside back pocket for easy access to a city map.

Added bonus: the waxed canvas is water resistant, meaning I didn't go into a panic to protect the electronics in the bag every time it drizzled. I did, however, sling the bag inside my raincoat when we got caught in a downpour in Barcelona.


The Shoes

I own a lot of shoes. Boots, flats, running shoes, sandals, you name it. But when I thought of how much of this trip would be spent on our feet--exploring cities, visiting museums, trudging through airports and train stations--I realized I didn't own any shoes that I was confident I could spend a month walking in without hurting my feet. That and I expected rain and rain and rain in Ireland and Scotland, and nothing ruins a day faster than walking around in soggy socks.

Merrells to the rescue: the Allout Blaze hiking shoe is mostly waterproof (they aren't called waterproof in the description, just "water resistant," but I trekked through some seriously rainy sidewalks without getting my feet wet) and insanely comfortable. I wore these shoes every single day we were in Europe (only changing into flats or sandals for dinner, and even then, not always), and according to my less-than-accurate (it tends to count between 10-30% less steps than actual) pedometer app on my phone, we averaged 20,000 steps a day in the month of September.

ONA bag and Merrell shoes at the top of Montserrat, Spain.

The Raincoat

Somehow, I actually didn't own a raincoat before this trip. And it's not like it never rains here.

I wanted something lightweight that I could wear in rain even if it wasn't necessarily cold--we expected temperatures between the 60s and 80s for most of our trip--waterproof (not a water-resistant windbreaker), and in a neutral color (there are a shocking number of neon orange raincoats in this world). Ideally, I needed it to collapse into a small nugget of a coat so that it could fit in my backpack.

I ended up finding the perfect solution at Eastern Mountain Sports, a khaki-colored trench-length waterproof jacket with a removable hood, that rolls into a pretty neat little ball and tucks into its own hood when not in use. It didn't rain much (surprisingly!) though it was chillier than we'd anticipated in Ireland and Scotland, so I wore the jacket almost every day for about two weeks despite the sunshine.

Added bonus: it was on sale, and I had a 20% off coupon!

EMS jacket & Merrell shoes at the Guinness Brewery, Dublin, Ireland

The Packs

We didn't go into this trip intending to "backpack across Europe," but after reviewing carry-on luggage restrictions and considering the uneven, oft-cobbled streets of old European cities, we opted for backpacks over roller bags. Not owning backpacks, we began our research, ultimately moving away from true hiking packs, which rarely, if ever, meet carry-on requirements, in favor of good old LLBean.

These LLBean Quickload Travel Packs meet most--not quite all--carry-on requirements, even for the cheap-o airlines in Europe (RyanAir, Easy Jet, Vueling), and they convert from a backpack to a shoulder bag (though I never once used the shoulder strap). These unzip completely, rather than loading from the top, which made them easier to pack and unpack at each destination. They don't have a lot of pockets and compartments, so we made good use of packing cubes (I like these from eBags), which had the added benefit of compressing our stuff so we could fit more in.

My pack was only about half-full when we left, which was actually slightly uncomfortable, as stuff kept slipping down (gravity's a bitch, y'all). But I filled it it with souvenirs and goodies as we travelled, so that problem solved itself with time... and shopping.


What are your go-to travel items? 


  1. Definitely saving this post for future travels :)

  2. This is such a great post! I did something similar before our trip, picking out a few key pieces that we needed and I'm so glad I did. You're making me think I should post about it!

  3. I'd love to see what yours were!

  4. Hope it's helpful. I bordered on obsessing in my research on these pieces; I usually shop at Target and consignment shops, so it was huge for me to actually buy $100 items NEW.

  5. Bookmarking this! I especially should get myself a raincoat -- I'm not a fan of rain gear, but it rains in Louisiana like four afternoons out of seven, so it is slightly insane that I don't own a raincoat. :p Sounds like you were very well prepared indeed!

  6. I hope it helps! I'm actually in love with the raincoat--it folds up really tiny (for a trench coat), so I could throw it in my backpack easily, but it wasn't as ugly and bulky and awful as some of the others I saw while shopping. I can't believe you don't have raingear if it rains that often by you!

  7. I really need to do a post like this.. I approached packing so differently this last trip and was amazed by how I could get by with less and cut the stress. I agree that the ONA bags are a big win. I have one that fits into purses and bags, so stuffed my DSLR with the smallest lens into it, and added it to my personal item bag. And that coat! I opted for a trench that wasn't exactly completely waterproof but did prevent me from getting soaked when it poured at Neuschwanstein and kept me warm when it was in the low 60s! Love looking at all your pictures - I know you guys had so much fun.

  8. I'd love to see how you approached it. I'm thinking of doing a follow-up on what I actually did pack--I've gotten a lot of questions on how I managed in a backpack for a month, though it's not like backpacking is exactly an original concept in 2014. But agreed 100% at how surprised I was that I could get by with so much less STUFF than I usually bring, and didn't really want for anything along the way.


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