Advance Planning: Spring Travel Wardrobe For Europe

spring travel wardrobe for Europe

It’s hard to believe, but we’ll be taking off for Italy in just a little over five weeks! We’re really getting excited about this trip. It’s been six years since we last visited. We’ll be spending a few days each in Rome, Lake Como and Venice, before stopping for a couple of days in Paris on our way home.

When we were last in Italy in 2011, much of Europe was experiencing an unusually hot and dry Spring. Temperatures were in the mid-90’s to low-100’s F for most of our visit that May. While it’s still too early to get a reliable weather forecast for this trip, I’m starting to compile my packing list based on average temperatures and the types of items that have worked best in my past travel wardrobes. (Have my fingers crossed for cooler temperatures this time, but at least I’m better at packing for the heat than a few years ago.)

Above, a potential “starter kit” for my Spring travel wardrobe. Yes, I’ll add a few pieces incorporating more color and pattern to fill out this wardrobe. Some of the items pictured in the collage above are no longer available, so I’ve linked to similar items in those instances.

Left: scarf (similar) | top (similar) | pants | shoes
Middle left: sweater (similar) | tee | cardigan
Middle right: scarf | tee (similar) | jeans | sandals (similar)
Right: jacket (similar) | pants (similar) | boots (similar)

My Travel Wardrobe Building Blocks

  • Shoes: I usually bring 3 pairs total, and wear the heaviest one on the plane. Comfort is key, and I look for styles that can be dressed up or down.
  • Bottoms: I usually include 4 total, one of which is worn on the plane.. one or two pairs of slim dark-wash jeans, one or two pairs of black pants (Eileen Fisher stretch crepe is a favorite…they dress up or down and are washable), and possibly a pair of lightweight chinos or cargo pants. If you prefer skirts, you could substitute for some or all of the pants.
  • Tops: Two tops for every bottom is the ratio I find works best for me. Depending on the forecast I’ll bring a mix of long or 3/4 sleeve tees, woven shirts, sweaters, and cardigans. For warm weather travel I’m a big fan of linen knits which have the breathability and washability advantages of linen without worry about wrinkles. A linen shirt that can be worn on its own or open as a lightweight outer layer is another favorite. I find that when the sun is beating down, I actually stay cooler with more skin coverage as long as the fabric is light and breathable. Cotton gauze is a another good shirting option. For sweaters, I’ll pack at least one lightweight linen– or tencel-blend sweater, and one cashmere cardigan or pullover for the plane and for chilly conditions. Merino wool is another good choice for travel, as it adjusts to a variety of temperatures, is lightweight and resists picking up odors.
  • Dresses: Up to you. I don’t wear them often at home so rarely pack them for travel. As with tops, look for lightweight fabrics and styles will layer well. Washable knits are an option that travels well.
  • Scarves and accessories: These are great way to add color and pattern, and create variety in my travel wardrobe. I usually bring 3 scarves of varying weights that coordinate well with my wardrobe pieces. A cashmere scarf or wrap for the plane is a must. I don’t pack a lot of jewelry, and especially leave any fine jewelry other than my wedding ring at home. I’ve learned to select my jewelry using the concept of “Beauty Bundles” that helps me coordinate and choose well.
  • Outerwear: I always wait until immediately before we leave to make my final outerwear choices, based on the most updated weather forecast where we’re headed. For cold weather, I love my packable down parka. A lightweight water-resistant jacket is likely to make my final cut for spring travel.

I’ve found that “smart casual” is almost always as dressed up as we need to be. Simple pieces in neutral colors are easier to dress up with a bit of jewelry if needed. I usually include a lightweight jacket and at least one silky top which also skews more formal if needed. If you have a truly formal occasion as part of your travel itinerary, you may need to pack shoes and clothing that would not be worn for other activities.

Do you have any strategies for packing for those seasons when the weather can be quite unpredictable?

Spring Travel Wardrobe Options…

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  1. Layers are always good, and don’t feel bad if the weather is so nice that you don’t wear the coat you brought. Better safe than sorry. I have found that leather is good in spring–waterproof and windproof, so if you have layers underneath and button/zip it up, you can stay warm, but if it’s nice out, you can go with a T-shirt and leave the jacket/coat open and be comfortable (and set for warmth when evening falls by just closing the coat). Unless it hits 100, but then you leave it at the hotel.

  2. Hi Susan,

    I’m really loving this blog.

    My treat Is to travel by myself overseas every year which I have done for quite a number of decades now. My husband wont travel to the places I want to see.

    I research my holidays up to 12 months in advance.

    I always choose natural fibres/fabrics over man made and footwear that is versatile (roughly three shoe choices) – ballet flats, leather ankle boots and a dressy sandal.

    I also use scarves to dress up and add colour to an outfit , my jewellery choices are simple with necklaces, rings and earrings in matching colour combinations which have no intrinsic worth.

    I.E. If they get stolen – I wont miss them.

    The same for my handbags – I take bags of little value so, if they get ‘stolen’ – I wont miss them.

    I’m a big believer in layering. If you can master that – you’ll do well.

    For example – if I was heading to Europe in Autumn /Winter I would have Merino wool camisole (s) in my luggage.

    Colour choices are also important and will help you look more coordinated and put together. Know the colours that suit you!

    I concur with Susan – I’ve never taken a dress overseas to wear. Ever!

    For myself – overseas travel is about being relaxed – being comfortable in the outfits you would normally wear at home – without the “I’m a tourist look”!

  3. I’ll be accompanying my son to Germany and Prague on a business trip in May. It’s his gift to me! My challenge is that he does carry on only — no checked bags. We will be flying business class. Any tips for a 7-day wardrobe in a carry on bag? I like leggings, skinny jeans and tunics. Will also take a trench coat.

  4. I will be the oddball here, I love to travel with dresses in hot weather. I am a big fan of the Eileen Fisher jersey dresses, and I prefer the sleeveless ones for travel- you can always pop a little cardigan over them, or a big slouchy sweater for that skirt- sweater look. They roll up wrinkle free and take up very little room in the suitcase. I toured Italy three years ago with 4 dresses, 2 pair of capri pants, on e pair of long pants, and an assortment of tops and sweaters.
    I find the best thing to take with me for unkown weather is a waterproof light jacket that is large enough to layer over warmer sweaters. Note, waterproof. not Resistant- believe me I learned the hard and soggy way to shop for waterproof. This means I don’t need an umbrella, and the jacket is light enough to shake out and fold into my purse if the weather breaks.

    1. I’d certainly take skirts in warm or hot weather. I never wear shorts except for doing house or yard work in hot weather, and am too hot in trousers in the heat. For pseu’s trip to northern Italy, I’d take some dark jeans-type trousers in a light fabric that isn’t too hard to dry, and at least two skirts. Travel skirts are easy to wash in the basin of a hotel room.

      1. I am also a believer in skirts and dresses in warm weather. I leave tomorrow to Myanmar for two weeks, no knees or shoulders allowed in public ☺️. 4 skirts, one long dress, two short dresses, one pair Of capris and the long pants I’ll wear on the plane. Probably too many tops but they all go with everything. I’m doing carry on going over and I’m thinking I may have more than I need. We tend to pack to fill the space we have.

    2. Like Meg, I wear dresses a lot. I wear them at home in Dallas and when traveling. Several years ago, I traveled in China with mostly dresses and the same in Europe. The exception is a trip to England during January. I also wear Eileen Fisher’s jersey dresses–and yes, they are mostly sleeveless.

  5. I second traveling with dresses in hot weather – 1 piece and done! And I have to admit that I struggle with Eileen Fisher pants – they bag at the knees, on me, and that’s never a good look…

    Are we lucky to always be thinking about our European packing? We’re not going to Paris until September this year, but I’m already thinking…


  6. Hi Susan!
    I am planning a trip to italy too. Would you share the hotels you havenbooked and your itinerary? I could really use some reccomendations and dont favor the tours.
    Many thanks.

  7. What would we do without our black pants? They’re certainly a workhorse on our monthly travels! Your daily basics work for me too – although I’m probably a foot taller than you 😉 The main difference in our packing needs is that on our Music and Markets Tours I need skirts or dresses and dressier shoes for the evening concerts….usually packing multiple jackets, jewelry or scarves to wear with a black sheath, or multiple tops with a black skirt. Black’s always part of the equation!

  8. Hi Susan! Oh lucky you! I love Rome & our week in Varenna on Lake Como still ranks as one of the most relaxing/beautiful places ever. Just hopped on the ferry to go anywhere- great food, villas, shopping! I’m jealous! But I am already mentally packing my carry on for Austria/ France this fall- fun!

  9. Was in como late may 2015. Weather was wet and mild. Took a trench coat and glad I had it!

    Want to go back to Italy soon – wondering how you plan to get between Rome, Como and Venice-
    Airplane, train, or ?
    I assume you will fly to Rome, Milan or Venice at start of trip, but then what…

    Oh yes, I love your posts! Another big EF fan for daily life as well as travel.

    1. Italian high speed trains are really quite good, particularly between Milan and Rome or Milan and Venice, Rome and Venice. But it’s essential as well as paying for the journey to take the additional step and pay extra for allocated seating. Otherwise if the train is fairly full you can wander from carriage to carriage looking for a seat. Have seen people sitting on their bags in carriage entrance ways for an hour or two or more. Not a good way of travelling. If when you board the train someone is already sitting In your allocated seat you have to approach them and show them your ticket and carriage/seat numbers. They’re required to vacate the seats for you. You also need to get your ticket validated at one of the date/time stamping machines on the platform before you board. Otherwise if an inspector boards and checks your ticket you will be fined quite substantially and are forced to pay – even if you tell them you’re a tourist and didn’t know it was necessary. Have seen it happen! It’s also important to keep a close eye on your bags – sometimes thieves board the train with you and make off with unattended bags at the first stop.
      We usually travel First Class or Frecchia (spelling?) Rossa on longer distance trains. There’s a bit more room and comfort and they serve coffee and snacks included in the fare.
      There’s a shorter distance train service from the huge grand Milano Centrale station to Como and also to some of the other small towns along the lake – but the smaller stations are usually unattended and you may have to walk across the lines with your bags to get to the exit platform. Then you have to get from the train station to your hotel. Or, instead, your hotel in Milan can usually arrange a private car/driver transfer direct from there to your hotel on Lake Como. A bit more expensive but pleasant, comfortable and relaxing, particularly if you left your teenage backpack days behind a long time ago. You probably already know this, Diana, but others planning a trip to Italy may not. Best wishes, Pamela

      1. PS If you’re taking a train from Milan (or elsewhere in Italy) to Monaco be sure to pay for a ticket for a train to Monte Carlo – and look for Monte Carlo on the train timetables/rotating signs at stations. If you get on an Italian train that goes from a station in Italy to MONACO you will find yourself many hours later in Munich. As MONACO to Italian speakers is actually Munich! This is a serious trap! When we were learning Italian in Florence at a language school there many years ago our teacher warned us to be careful. Was v important for us as we were going to stay in Monaco with friends at the end of that trip to Italy. Later we actually met some more Aussies who’d done exactly that and couldn’t understand why they’d ended up in Munich. They then had to get from there to Monaco/Monte Carlo. Best wishes, Pamela

        1. Veramente, grazie mille, Lagatta. Esatto. E tredici anni fa percio le mie lezioni di Italiano – e dimentico troppo. E non buono. Ma adesso non sono giovane, sono Nonna. Parlo francese miglior. Cordialement, Pamela

  10. Love everyone’s suggestions! So helpful! One thing I wear every time I fly is compression socks. It is amazing the difference they make on your feet and calves. Do try them if you haven’t.
    Also I too never take good jewelry on a trip…only my wedding rings. So much easier and safer.
    Well, that’s my little tidbit! Have a great day!

  11. Oh yes, I am a compression sock convert. I dress in very neutral colors – usually black & grey with some accent colors in a scarf & accessories. We wear very similar colors! One thing I would have to have is a brimmed hat for outdoor excursions. I would either wear it on the plane (I have a couple of cheap fedoras that are great for plane travel) or buy a crushable/packable version.

  12. Love your blog, especially your travel posts! I was interested to see that you’ll likely be including a pair of slip on sneakers this time. After thinking about it for awhile, I recently got a similar pair by Ecco, and feel they are a very nice update for my wardrobe. One of the reasons I hesitated to acquire them was that I don’t really like walking in flat shoes. Frankly, they make me feel like I’m waddling rather than walking, which is somewhat uncomfortable and also not exactly a confidence booster:) However, I found these inserts at Ulta called Invisible Heels, and wow, what a game changer! I got a pair of the 3/4″ inserts (the lowest they make), and they have made me so much more comfortable in my slip on sneakers. I also feel they are much more flattering with a little heel boost. In fact, I’m so pleased with them that I got some Stan Smiths, which I’d been hesitating to get for the same reason. They are also transformed with my heel inserts! I promise I’m not affiliated with Invisible Heels – I’m just so happy to be able to wear sneakers comfortably and confidently that I wanted to share!

  13. I really like the initial ‘palette’ and look forward to not only seeing what you take but reading your post-trip report (I love it when you break down what you wore, what was surperfluous, etc). I just wrote about this very topic on my blog yesterday. It’s all about layers, as you know, and choosing the right fabrics to allow for style and on-the-go climate control.

  14. There are a couple of linen skirts among your well chosen clothing picks. Does anyone have a trick for traveling with linen, which is so comfortable in summer but, esp. in a skirt, can be very hard to keep looking nice while traveling. Otherwise, any other suggestions besides E.F. jersey dresses?

    1. Hi Jeanne, it’s just the nature of linen to wrinkle. I find that a bit of spray wrinkle remover helps. (You can sometimes find this in a travel size, or can decant into a travel-size spray bottle.) Or you can just dampen with water and smooth with your hands, and hang to dry overnight. The best linen pieces for travel are the softer ones, not too structured or starched.

  15. Susan, you know this already, but for inexperienced travelers…Take only carry-on luggage!!! On a trip to Italy, I foolishly checked my bag. It was “lost”, and because we took 2 airlines they blamed each other. All the Italians I spoke to on the phone advised me to forget about it–I’d never see my bag again. The airline gave me $50 to replace my clothes and toiletries…I wore my husband’s underwear and shirts for several days 🙂 Was determined I was getting that bag back…after making many calls and going to the airport in Palermo myself, I finally located my bag sitting in a puddle of water outside. Lesson learned…you can have fun wearing someone else’s underwear, and NEVER check a bag going to Europe.

    1. I find it difficult to not check a bag for a two week trip. So what I do is pack a couple of pairs of underwear and socks, shirt, toothbrush, brush, and my non-liquid makeup in my carry on tote bag so that way if heaven forbid my luggage gets lost or stolen, I at least have a few things on me that will allow me to feel comfortable until my luggage is located. I also wear on the plane the things I need most on my trip. So if I am doing an active trip and sneakers or hiking boots are vital for my trip, then I am going to wear those on the plane so I know they won’t get lost.

      I also learned the hard way to pack those things in your tote bag coming back. I once got stuck in a city and the airline sent my luggage ahead without me. I had nothing but the clothes on my back, which was awful.

      1. I travel internationally every year and check bags every single time. Fingers crossed have never yet lost a bag. Some airlines do have worse reputations than others for lost bags, including Al Italia.
        The main things to remember to minimise chances of bags going astray are 1. avoid checking in late as your bags may not make it to your flight 2. don’t book connections with very tight turnarounds – your bags may not make the transfer 3. make sure you have the baggage checks for every bag you check in – they can use these to track where the bag has got to, 4. make sure that in addition to your own baggage tag with your name and destination address attached to the handle SECURELY (and a duplicate name and destination address label inside the bag) there is another clear identifier on your bag. Some people paint large initials on all bags – I tie a very brightly patterned ribbon – usually a striped or spotted one – firmly to the handle of each bag to be checked in and also of my cabin baggage, as many airport carry on bags are similar. I keep an additional length of the same ribbon in my handbag.
        Last time we were in Paris my husband took the baggage checks on his boarding pass – but didn’t count them. It wasn’t until we got to the lounge that I asked him to let me check them. There was a baggage check missing. I reported it immediately to the staff member on the lounge entry desk. Ultimately the woman who’d done the check-in denied we’d checked four bags but I stood my ground and insisted on speaking to the baggage manager for the airport. I showed him the ribbon and he had his crew do a quick check by sight of all the bags lined up behind the scenes in the airport. They found all our bags, including the one which didn’t have the official airport baggage information. They fixed it immediately and it was loaded with the rest. So have never actually lost a bag but it is important to be alert and speak up if concerned.
        Best wishes, Pamela

  16. I always enjoy these posts. We are headed to Granada, Spain, for a few weeks and my travel wardrobe looks very similar to yours. I travel with a small carry on and a daypack, purse tucked inside. I sub out one dress with leggings for a pair of pants, and I pretty much always travel with a dress. I considered skipping it this time, but they are really my favorite things to wear. If the nights keep looking as cool there as they are now, I’m bringing my packable down parka, purchased after you raved about yours. We’ll be out late watching the processions for Semana Santa.

    I want to share the fantastic sneakers that have accompanied me now on trips to Europe and New York where I walked all day. They are the Ecco Chase Tie II, and I get compliments on them all the time. They are stylish, have good support, and are extremely walkable. I’m considering ordering another pair in case they discontinue them.

    I love traveling with a large silk scarf. It takes up no room at all, but it can work as shawl over a dress or scarf around the neck, and I carry it in a red print to spice up my outfits. I’ve also decided to always have a pair of pants — lightweight yoga pants, not leggings — and a wrap to wear on the plane. It also works for lounge wear once I’m there, and in this case, for a day of hiking. But I really like not arriving with stretched out pants I’ve been wearing for 12 hours. And I’m more comfy for the flight.

    Have a wonderful trip!

  17. Thank you Susan and everyone else for your travel input. The workhorses of my warm weather travel wardrobe are Eileen Fisher crepe ankle pants and their knit dresses. Susan, we pack many of the same tops. I always include a white lightweight Talbots denim jacket. I roll up the sleeves and it finishes a look as well as providing some coverage. Since I am very fair, sun coverage is a necessity. Last spring, I purchased the Lands End jacket that you show in this post. It’s been a terrific addition to my travel repertoire. Have a great trip!

  18. I almost always travel with a carry-on size rolling suitcase now. Both my husband and I now use the Briggs and Riley “Cabin Duffle” for our personal bag. This small duffle can be slid over the handle of a suitcase and secured with velcro for stable transport. This system allows me almost as much room as a larger suitcase. I make sure to leave room in the duffle for my purse. On a trip to Italy a couple of years ago in May, one person in our party traveled with a checked bag, and it was lost for three days. My friend finally found her suitcase by physically going back to the Rome airport and searching all around herself. The staff at the help counter in Rome were not at all helpful. They had been telling her that her suitcase had probably been sent back to the U.S., but weren’t really sure where it was. Finally, by luck, my friend spotted her suitcase being rolled off to who knows where and at the bottom of a huge cart. She spotted the bright and unusual ribbons on her bag. Her trip was saved!

  19. Thanks to you, Susan, I have become a very efficient packer. I just returned from a two week group trip to Israel where almost everyone had twice as much luggage. So much easier with less! There was a big range in the weather – layers and ankle boots saved me.

  20. Thank you for this post, it’s very timely as I am heading off to Paris in two weeks! The weather for this time last year looks cool, but it was quite warm in April two years ago when my father was over. I feel the cold (I live in Melbourne, Australia), so I’m not packing any short sleeves (I’ll buy t-shirts if I need them, but I bet that I won’t).

    My strategy for this trip is the standard layering, dressing up with scarves. Your post reassures me that I’m probably not over-packing. I’ve included a lightweight black skirt – can use with leggings, long boots and winter tops if cold, or 3/4 leggings and a lighter top if it gets warm. I am packing my favourite Mavi jeans, which will be fine with a lightweight top if it’s mild. I have leggings (both heavier and lightweight), a couple of tank tops and scarves, which can go under/over tops to add warmth, but I can remove a layer if I need to. I followed your lead and bought a lightweight down coat which I think that I’ll need in Annecy.

    So at the moment, my packing list consists of 3 tops (lightweight blouse, mid-weight fitted shirt, plain l/s top); 3 lightweight wool sweaters which can be layered with scarves, tank top if I need warmth; 2 pairs of pants (jeans + smarter ponti pants but still comfortable); 1 dress (l/s, not that warm but is fine for winter with leggings etc so very versatile); 1 knit skirt; leather short jacket and longer puffer jacket. And 3 scarves, 2 quite warm, 1 lightweight.

    Oh and gloves, I recommend them – if it does get cooler than expected, they are a compact way of adding some warmth. And I will take my umbrella everywhere.

    I love dresses and am debating whether to add a second wool one, will see what the weather forecast looks like. I will be wearing my dress on the plane, it’s comfortable with leggings but looks nice (I arrive at 6am in Paris so I want to be able to leap into doing some sightseeing…I am lucky in that I can sleep like a log on planes and don’t get jetlag).

    I do take checked luggage, I don’t want to cram it all into a carry-one and the suitcase gives me space for shopping to bring home. But I will put some of my clothes into my carry-one plus toiletries, travel hair dryer…things that I couldn’t live without and to make sure that I’ve got change of clothes etc. if the bag does go missing.

  21. Hello Susan, I am in Italy now and the weather is amazing. Perfect spring temperatures. I’ve noticed the local style aficionados are wearing wide leg ankle grazing pants. Definitely not for me but they look lovely on the right shape. Italy is amazing. Hopefully you enjoy as much as I am. PS, so glad I took your advice and removed 1/3 of what I originally packed.