How to pack for a Spanish vacation

February 14, 2013

Planning European vacations takes a lot of preparation. Once the airline tickets have been booked, hotel rooms are reserved, and the activities are planned, travelers can just about see the silver lining, but one crucial obstacle still lies ahead: the dreaded task of packing.

Packing for a vacation should not consist of mindlessly throwing random items into a suitcase the night before departing. Start the process a few weeks before a trip to pack in a simple and organized way. The biggest problem that people generally tend to over pack, said Anne McAlpin, a nationally recognized “packing expert” who has been featured on programs such as Oprah, CNN and The View. Her book, Pack It Up, is a helpful guide to mastering the art of packing. It includes tips on how to decide what to bring and how to pack it in ways that saves space.

What to consider before packing

First, make a list of the things needed for the trip in order to stay organized and not forget anything essential. Keep in mind while packing that airlines have strict regulations for luggage size and the way that items should be packed. For example, all liquids that are in carry-on bags must be under 3.4 ounces and placed in a clear, plastic bag.  Checked luggage must be 50 pounds or lighter and not exceed more than 62 inches. For carry-on bags, most airlines require bags to be 40 pounds or less. Knowing the airlines’ regulations on baggage size will make check-in and TSA security a breeze, providing a stress-free start for a trip. McAlpin suggests that travelers going to Europe take smaller luggage so it is easy to fit on the trains and in the car rentals.

“The largest suitcase I would recommend anyone ever take to Europe is 24 inches,” she said.


Twenty-four inches of suitcase seems very small to pack an entire trip’s necessities in, but it is possible. While sitting in a room amongst a pile of 57 carefully crafted outfits, you might wonder, will I wear all this? Travelers who enjoy shopping might even purchase some of the clothing they will wear on their trip after arriving in Europe. Madison Neely, a senior majoring in marketing at Georgia College State University, recently traveled to Spain for study abroad and over packed.

“I brought more than I needed and did not wear most of my clothes,” Neely said. “I ended up shopping a good amount and wore what I bought.”

McAlpin advises people to pack for half the amount of days a trip will last and wash clothes along the way. When choosing the clothes to bring, think about each piece’s functionality. For example, a light cardigan can be worn in many different settings and with many outfits; a beaded cocktail dress cannot. Of course, fashion choices should blend in well with the European culture. First rule of thumb:  leave the fanny packs, white tennis shoes and the nylon red, white and blue jogging sweats at home. Not only do these items make travelers stand out as obvious targets for pickpockets, Europeans tend to dress a nicer than Americans. Dress customs should be respected when visiting another country. McAlpin stressed how important it is to follow the European dress code. For example, some famous cathedrals will not let visitors in with spaghetti strap shirts or mini skirts on, she said, so it is important to consider the appropriateness of an outfit when going to certain places.

“Throw a pair of Capri pants or something that will cover up your thighs in your backpack, and if you’re wearing a tank top then roll up a light weight shirt to put in there that you could throw on when you go in a cathedral,” McAlpin suggested.

Women should focus on packing jeans or casual pants, shirts, sundresses and a variety of accessories like scarves and hats to dress up outfits. Bring a few sweaters or cardigans to layer at night when it gets a little cooler. As for men, pack jeans and t-shirts for daytime and button-up shirts and trousers for evening. McAlpin suggests packing all casual clothes and one nice outfit for any special outings.

Packing clothes that work in a variety of different types of weather is essential for comfort, especially when traveling to different regions and cities in Spain, as climates may vary. While the winter climate in Madrid is relatively dry with temperatures ranging between 32 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, Seville is predominantly warm year round. The most important thing to consider when choosing clothing is comfort. Travelers often spend entire days and sometimes the night in the same outfits they left the hotel in. Therefore, these clothes need to be comfortable. Bring shoes that are conventional and can be walked in for long periods of time.

Personal Items

Personal hygiene products, as well as medications, are the first things to put into the suitcase so they are not forgotten. Purchase travel size shampoo bottles, toothpaste and deodorants at the drugstore so normal sized bottles won’t take up a lot of space in the luggage. These items can also be purchased in Europe.

“If you aren’t too picky about your toiletries, just buy stuff there!” Neely said.

Pack the correct amounts of medications plus extra that might be needed over the course of the trip.


Electronics that travelers bring on a trip are most likely carried around to the majority of the places they go, so when packing them, consider which ones are really needed. If you pack a laptop and don’t use it on the trip, you might as well carry around a backpack full of rocks.

Also, consider packing chargers for electronics. There are different outlets in Europe than in the United States. Before a trip, purchase the proper converters and adapters needed for electronics to work in foreign countries.  These adapters are important to bring so you do not start a small electrical fire while trying to do something as simple as charge a cell phone. Converters and adapters are sold on a variety of websites like, and Neely recommends that people not pack their hairstyling tools, as they may easily get ruined.

“Buy them there. You can buy them in small stores they have,” she said. “It can mess up the hairstyling tool when coming back from Europe because of the voltage.”

Documentation and money

Documentation is the most important thing to pack when going on a European vacation. To ensure that a passport, ID, tickets, credit cards and cash are protected, McAlpin advises all travelers to purchase a security wallet.

“The most important thing people need to take is a security wallet for your passport and credit cards,” McAlpin said. “Guys and girls like the neck pouch. It is really inexpensive, under $15. Everyone needs to wear one.”

Also, make copies of all forms of identification along with airline and hotel reservations in case of any problems.

“Always have a copy of your passport with you just to be safe.” Neely said. “We left our passports in our apartments but kept a copy with us.”

McAlpin suggests taking one credit card, if not two. When deciding how much cash to carry, aim to bring a decent amount of Euro to pay for a train or cab expense after landing in Europe.

“Bring at least 100 Euro with you. You can get that from your bank before you leave,” McAlpin said. “That way when you land, you have Euro and are ready to spend money without having to go to the bank right away.”

Miscellaneous Items

The packing list provided offers some suggestions of miscellaneous items to bring to make a trip more comfortable. Bring one or two travel guides like Frommer’s or Lonely Planet. These guides give helpful reviews of where to stay, what to eat, and where to go in your destinations. They also provide maps and popular tourist attractions categorized by cities.

If a suitcase is close to the maximum weight upon leaving home and you plan on doing a lot of shopping, McAlpin suggests packing an expandable tote bag to bring purchases home in.

Don’t procrastinate and pack smart. Once the bags are stuffed tight and zipped shut, the travel fun begins. Bon voyage!