Planning your trip to Paris is half the fun.  And a big part of planning the trip is planning what to pack.  So let’s talk about that.  While we are at it, we can also talk about some things to leave at home to keep things light.  Plan your packing early, and think about it often.  I think you’ll find that the more thought you put into your packing, the lighter and more organized you will be.  This article will give you an approach for planning your packing to France to keep you light, complete, and organized.

How Much Luggage?

The first question is how much luggage you should bring.  As a general rule, I’d limit your luggage to one suitcase and one additional bag that you plan to carry around with you (often a backpack).  That should allow you to bring everything you need, but keep things manageable.

Packing light is always a good idea, and if you know me you know I preach about packing light all the time, but you won’t hear me harp on that very much here.  The truth is you don’t need to travel extra-ordinarily light for your trip to Paris.  This is especially true if you are only going to Paris.  Having to move your luggage only on the way there and back is much different than if you are on a tour where you are unpacking and repacking every few days.  

I would limit your overall luggage to one suitcase (plus the other bag we’ll talk about in a second), but there is no reason it cannot be a larger suitcase that you need to check on your flight.  I have no specific brand or size that I recommend.  Truthfully, I don’t recommend spending too much on a suitcase.  The get banged around and worn out all the time (that’s their job, after all) and styles come and go.  If you don’t already have one, get a moderately priced model and put the savings toward fun parts of your trip.

Make your second piece of luggage something that you carry around with you.  This should be something that you take on the plane with you when you are traveling and that you might carry around with you when you are out and about.  For many people this will be a small backpack.  For some women this might be a big purse.  For photographers like me, it is a photo backpack.  In any case, this is for the stuff that you’ll want with you all the time.  Again, I have no specific recommendation, other than not to spend too much money on it.

What Type of Clothes?

Next, let’s talk about what type of clothes you should bring.  The first thing to do when considering your clothes selection is to think about what you will be doing in Paris.  For most people, this is the same two things: (1) walking around seeing the sights during the day, and (2) going out to cafes, restaurants, and bars in the evening.  Tailor your clothes to these activities.

That means comfortable walking-around clothes for the daytime, and something a little more dressy for the evenings.  For the daytime, shoes that you are comfortable walking around in are essential.  We’ll talk about those separately (see below), but they are important.  Keep your daytime clothes comfortable but smart looking.

The French dress a little more smartly than Americans.  To avoid looking too much like a tourist, dress slightly nicer than you would at home.  But you don’t need to worry.  Clothing styles are not remarkably different in France than they are in the US – just a little different.  Over time, things have become more similar.  Whereas you never used to see people in jeans or shorts in Paris, now you see a lot of it.  Granted, many of them are tourists, but remember that there are a lot of tourists in Paris.  Jeans and shorts won’t stick out usually.  So if that is what you are comfortable in, go right ahead.  That said, I usually avoid them and wear pants.

A good idea is to wear pants and and a nicer shirt, but then spruce it up with a scarf.  It might seem like a stereotype, but the French do wear a lot of scarfs. 

Of course, the type of clothes will also depend on how hot or cold it is.  Most people go to Paris from May to September, when it will be warm to hot during the day, and then cool at night.  I personally go in May most of the time, and I find it best to plan on warm days and cool evenings.  Sometimes the days are cool too, but you if you planned for cool evenings, you are all set.  What that means in practice is just having a fleece or sweater and a light jacket for the evenings. 

Now let’s get specific.  With these thoughts in mind, for a week in Paris, here are the clothes I would bring:

  • 2 – 3 pairs of pants
  • 3 – 4 shirts (t-shirts or whatever you plan to walk around in)
  • 2 nicer shirts for dinners or evening events
  • Fleece or sweater (for cool evenings)
  • Water proof jacket or rain jacket (doubles as a windbreaker, and useful whether it is cool, rainy, or windy)
  • The before-mentioned scarf (or just buy one there).

A Note on Pants

I recommend wearing lightweight, waterproof, khaki pants in Paris (or any trip, really).  You can get these at Eddie Bauer, REI, or any outdoor store for anywhere from $30 – 60.  The trick is to get pants that don’t look like climbing pants (with pockets all over the place) but rather look like something you’d wear to dinner.  My current favorites are the Lightweight Traveler Pants by Teren, although these are rather pricey at $129.  

Whatever the brand, these pants have many benefits over jeans and such.  First of all, they generally look a little nicer, so you can wear them to dinner.  Secondly, they are quick-dry, so you can wash and dry them easily.  Third, they are waterproof, which is nice in its own right, but also makes them easy to clean with little Shout stain remover packets if something gets on them.  Finally, they generally have zippered pockets to keep your stuff save.

 

Shoes

One thing I work especially hard to limit is the number of shoes I bring with me.  Shoes take up a lot of room in your suitcase!  While it isn’t a big deal to throw in an extra shirt or pair of shorts, you cannot scrunch shoes down very well.  They end up taking up a lot of real estate in your suitcase.

That said, shoes are important.  a trip to France, I usually bring two pairs of shoes.  I bring one comfortable pair for walking around during the day.  This is the most important set.  Make sure they are the type you will be comfortable walking around in all day, as it is likely that you will do a lot of walking in Paris.  Make sure they are broken in before the trip as well.  

Frankly, it might be possible to just get by with this one pair of shoes for the entire trip, but I like to have a nicer pair for going out at night.  Don’t bring anything really fancy – and ladies I would leave the heels at home – but something that is more appropriate for eating out in nice restaurants.  A big part of the charm of Paris is the cafes, and you’ll likely spend a lot of time in them.  

However many pairs of shoes you bring, plan to wear your bulkiest pair on the plane with you.  That way it won’t take up so much room in your suitcase.  In fact, I’d advise you to apply that logic to all your clothes and wear the heaviest ones on the plane.  That will save room in your suitcase, plus it can get cold on those planes.

Can You Do Laundry?

You do not need to bring clothes for every single day of your trip to Paris.  Your hotel will likely have a laundry service.  It won’t be cheap, but it will be worth it.  Plan on using it so you can re-wear the same clothes and limit the amount you need to pack.

You should avoid spending your precious vacation time doing laundry yourself.  Your time will be limited enough as it is.  In a pinch, you can hand wash your clothes yourself in the evening though.  I do this frequently when I travel to other places, but usually do not have to resort to this in Paris.  This works well if you wear quick-dry khaki pants and tech t-shirts that dry quickly, so you can wash them quickly with small Tide laundry detergent packets in the sink and then hang them up.  Your clothes will be dry by the morning.  In addition, there will be a laundry mat nearby.  One load will take care of it.

However, again, let me stress that I would avoid doing laundry while in Paris.  You spent a lot of money to get there.  Don’t waste that time doing laundry.  Splurge on having the hotel do it for you, even if the price offends you a little. 

Leave Room for Purchases

Another reason that you need not bring clothes for every single day of your trip is that it is likely you will buy something while you are in Paris.  For some people, shopping in Paris is part of the allure of the trip.  You will likely buy something and want to wear it while you are there.  In any case, you’ll need room in your suitcase to get it home.

Even if shopping isn’t for you, I can promise you that you will pass by hundreds of shops selling clothes and something will catch your eye.  Plus it is nice to pick something up as a momento of your trip.  Plan for this eventuality and leave space in your suitcase.

What About Power?

Next, let’s move on from clothes to talk about the electronics and gadgets you might bring with you.  Some of these are obvious (your phone) and I’ll talk about photography gear in a separate article.  But in any case you’ll need to get power to them, and you’ll have to plan for that.  In France, it is likely that you will need a power adapter, but not a converter.  If that doesn’t make sense to you, let me explain.

There are two issues here.  First, the plugs are different in Europe than in the US so you cannot plug your stuff into the wall.  You need an adapter for that issue.  Secondly, power in Europe is 220 volts while power in the US is 110 volts, so if you did plug your stuff into the wall, it would fry it.  You might need a converter for that.

As to the first issue (different plugs), they make adapters that convert US plugs into Euro plugs.  They are cheap if you buy them at home off Amazon, so pick up a couple before you go.  You can buy them in Paris, but then you will have to spend time looking for them and they will cost more as well.

For your electronics, all you will need is the adapter.  In other words, you won’t need a converter.  Why not?  That is because electronics, such as your phone, laptop, and camera battery chargers are all “dual-voltage,” meaning they will work on 220 volts or 110 volts.  Remember that your phones, tables, and cameras are made for a world-wide market, so the manufacturers engineered them so they work off different power supplies.  Therefore, by simply getting the little adapter for these electronics, you are all set.

If you bring other items such as hair dryers or curling irons, you will need to convert the voltage or you will fry your device.  For that you need a converter.  These will set you back $50-80 and can be a little bulky.  It is best to think twice about whether you really need the item you are tempted to bring.

One tip I have for you is to bring a small power strip or one of these (although I should note that I don’t have either of these particular models, and the power strip that I have is old and no longer available).  If you are like me, you will have upwards of 5 things that will all need charging.  On any given evening I might need to charge my phone, my iPad, my laptop, my watch, and my camera batteries.  Thankfully all of these are dual-voltage so I don’t need a converter for anything, but that is a lot of plugs!  There are usually only one or two power outlets in hotel rooms in Europe.  Therefore, rather than bring a whole bunch of adapters, I typically bring just one or two adapters and I also bring a power strip made for travel (meaning it is small).  That way I can plug the power strip into the wall (using one of my adapters) and then plug all my electronics into the power strip just like normal.  If you get a power strip, make sure it is dual-voltage. But with that done, you will be able to charge everything at once, which is nice. 

You should also think about power while you are on the go in Paris.  It is not uncommon to leave your hotel early in the morning and be gone until after dinner.  Will your phone make it that long?  If it is questionable, make sure you have a portable power bank.  These are small and cheap, and can keep you running all day (and night).

Toiletries

You’ll bring the same toiletries to France that you would take anywhere else.  So we don’t need to spend much time on this subject.  Just bring your usual kit.

Two thoughts that might help you though.  First, if you don’t already have some way of dividing things up, I would recommend small ziplock bags for different parts of your kit.  For example, you might put your toothpaste and toothbrush in one baggie, shaving cream and shaver in another, and soap and shampoo in a third.  That way if something leaks or gets put away wet, it doesn’t get all over everything.  It also keeps things a little more organized.

Speaking of soap and shampoo, I usually bring my own, but you could rely on what the hotel gives you.  It is common to the point that you can rely on it that they will have little soaps and shampoos in your hotel room these days.

Securing Your Stuff

I have found Paris to be a fairly safe city, and extra-ordinary measures need not be taken to secure your stuff.  Still, it pays to be careful, as the consequence of theft while you are in a foreign country is high.  While it has never happened to me or anyone I have traveled with, you do read stories online and elsewhere about pickpockets operating in crowded tourist areas.

If you are concerned about theft, the best way to address it is to get a money belt or a pouch that hangs around your neck.  Keep your credit cards, passport, and money in there and you will be fine.  

Personally, however, I don’t bother with that.  I keep my passport locked in the safe in my hotel room.  One of the benefits of the travel pants I wear is that they have zippered pockets, thus protecting your wallet from being swiped.  

The main enemy is really not theft, but simply leaving something in a cafe or other place.  You will be out of your ordinary routines, and sometimes in a hurry.  Be careful that you don’t leave your phone in the cafe or in a cab.  Watch that you have your credit cards back and put away after paying.  An extra second before you leave anyplace is always a good idea.

With all that said, let’s spend a second preparing for disaster.  First, make sure you have made a copy of your passport.  Second, make a copy of your credit cards and make sure that you have both the number as well as the phone number to call to cancel the card.  Most credit card companies will have you a new card when you get home.  A real benefit of American Express cards is that they can often have you a new card the next day – even while traveling!   

. . . And Remember You'll Be in Pictures

One final tip: remember that there will be lots of pictures taken of you.  This is true for everyone, in that everyone has their picture taken in front of the Eiffel Tower and such.  But this is especially true if you are coming on one of my tours.  We’ll have a professional photographer (Roben Bellomo, if you haven’t met him already) taking portraits as well as candids.  So be sure you are dressed nice for your pictures!  

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