Becoming a Master Packer

2 Weeks in Europe Packing List by Natalie Parker

It took four years for me to be a master packer.  Four years and a couple of embarrassing trips hurling suitcases everywhere leading to near divorce.

Packing light is tough for me because I like being prepared and I get uncomfortable really quickly if the weather changes.  I get too hot.  I get too cold.  I get crabby if my feet start hurting.  I don’t like sticking out.  I like to look nice.  I get bored if I’m wearing all neutrals. I don’t like wearing shorts.  You get the picture.  Effortless and my wardrobe generally aren’t said in the same sentence.

But behold, here is what I’m packing for just over two weeks in Europe.  Temps range from 65 – 86 F during the day.  It could rain, it could not.

It’s still REALLY hard.  But the point is, if the over-thinker/control-freak behind this message can do it, so can you!  I’m also taking comfort in the fact that I will go shopping while I’m there.

Check in on Instagram as we make our way through our next trip and see if I chose correctly or chose poorly.

What are your best tips for packing?

Why I Don’t Love Art Museums

Art Museum by Natalie Parker

Yes, I said it.

Send the travel police to come arrest me, but I don’t love art museums.

I get along okay with art museums and I like visiting them, but we’re never going to have a serious relationship.  And you know what?  That’s okay.

Here’s the Truth: There Are No Rules for Travel

It’s just not my thing.  I’m okay spending a couple of hours at The Famous Museum.  But too much longer and I get bored and sleepy like a five year old.

If there’s a piece I know and really want to see, I will really enjoy it and have one of those out-of-body experiences.  I remember seeing Starry Night for the first time.  I remember sitting for at least twenty minutes with Washington Crossing the Delaware.  I checked out David for at least thirty minutes.  It’s not that way with every painting or every gallery.

Some say in Florence that you must spend at least half a day in the Uffizi Gallery.  Mr. P and I spent a couple of hours.  I enjoyed sitting with the Birth of Venus and watching other people elbow each other around the painting to get a picture.

Just because the art museum is The Famous Thing To Do in a city doesn’t mean that it’s best for you.  Even if Rick Steves gives it three diamonds.  I actually love the Orangerie in Paris much more than the Louvre.

Oh, the crowds.  I bet you thought that would be at the top of the list.  Yes, the crowds are annoying sometimes.  I am part of the crowd as a visitor, of course.  But yes, the constant shove of people trying to get a picture of The Famous Painting gets a little old.  Sometimes I enjoy people watching though.

Venus De Milo Florence by Natalie Parker

Yes, that was what seeing the Venus de Milo in Florence was like when we visited.

Do I wish I knew more about art history so I could appreciate it more?  Sometimes.  But I wish I knew everything about every city I travel to.  I don’t know everything.  And even so, I still think I’d get cranky and sleepy.  I can’t help it.

The bottom line is that like anything else in travel, there are no rules.  Do what you want to do and don’t stick to what the guides or your friends say you must do.

Do you love art museums?  We can still be friends.

Italy: How to Handle Rome’s Crazy Train Station

Surviving Roma Termini Train Station

Roma Termini is a huge train station.  If you are planning on training around Italy at all, odds are you will be there at some point.

What We Thought of Our Experience

We were super on guard and prepared for this and it ended up being a fine experience.  If you can navigate trains or public transport in other countries, you should be fine here, but pay attention to the below tips before you go!

Roma Termini Station

Things to Know About Navigating Roma Termini

1. Get there early.  Do yourself a favor and give yourself time to sort everything out.  Even with these tips, the place is chaotic and being in a rush is no bueno.

2. It’s served well by public transport.  We took a direct bus from our AirBNB in Trastevere.

3. Ignore those who ask if you need help.  They don’t work for the station and will try to pickpocket or fleece you.  Those that actually work there will be behind a desk or counter and will not actually seek you out.

4. Buy your tickets at machines or you can wait in line for a human.  Yes, you can buy your tickets online ahead of time via RailEurope or similar sites.  Remember to have cash if you don’t have a European credit card.  Read more about using credit cards abroad here.

5. Waiting in line for a human wasn’t that bad.  Your results may vary, but the line seemed to move quickly.  We waited about 15 minutes after being confused by the machine.

6. Platforms are easy to find.  Everything was pretty well marked.

7. There are plenty of food options.  Nothing ah-mazing foodwise, but there are options and better than we’ve seen in other cities (Gare du Nord in Paris, I’m looking at you!).  If you get there early and need a bite before getting on the train, you will be fine.

8. Stamp your ticket at the machine before getting on the train.  This is not a subway/metro and there are no fare gates that prevent you from getting on the train.  However, you need to punch/validate/stamp your ticket at one of the green machines before boarding (they look like this).

9. Watch your stuff, beware of pickpockets.  Train stations generally are easy pickings for thieves.  Do not leave bags unattended.  Do not set your purse on the ground next to you.

Photo courtesy Prasad Pillai via Creative Commons license.

Italy: Taking a Food Tour in Rome

Best Rome Food Tour

Mr. P and I are all about food, especially when traveling.  A coworker recommended Eating Italy Tours to us, so I booked a Trastevere walking tour.  To be honest, I did zero research and just booked it.  I trust the foodies at my office.

Our Thoughts on the Food Tour

Come on an empty stomach.  We ate so. much. food.  Some places we had little bites.  At others, it was much more.  We sat down as a group and shared three platters of pasta and wine at one stop and sat at another restaurant for dessert at the end!

Best Rome Food Tour

We learned a lot about local food and how it’s made.  So many of the places we stopped at had been in business for decades or even generations.  The pride in their work was evident and the food was amazing.  At the porchetta shop, the owner’s 90+ year old mother still sits at the register.

Best Rome Food Tour

We learned how to tell real gelato from fake.  I consider this a necessary public service announcement so I wrote about it in its own separate post.

Best Rome Food Tour

Easy-going, good-sized group.  As you know, I don’t like tours generally.  I make exceptions for food tours and this one was great.  I didn’t feel like I was getting herded along.  It was nice, down to Earth, and with a good-sized group.

We went back to several places we visited.  Later on that same day, Mr. P had to go back and get a porchetta sandwich.  It was a real porchetta emergency.  We also had snacks and dinner at one of the other restaurants and had the best cacio e pepe of our time in Rome!

Best Rome Food Tour

You get a list of the stops at the end.  Don’t worry about writing everything down!

They helped us with restaurant reservations.  We passed by a restaurant that we’d been trying to get into for dinner.  Even though it wasn’t on the tour, the guide stepped in for us and got us dinner reservations!

In sum, I’m still dreaming about what we ate.  It was that good.

Best Rome Food Tour

Should You Go?

At 75€ per person, it’s a bit pricey but you get a huge amount of food and an English-speaking guide.  I wholeheartedly recommend it if you even remotely like food.  You don’t have to be a big foodie to enjoy it, it’s paced well, and you get to stop in places you never would have thought to check out.  It was time very well spent for us!  They cater to some food allergies/issues, so check it out!

Eating Italy Tours

Note, I am not listing our stops on the tour here as it would not be nice to the company.  I received zero compensation from the tour company for my thoughts here — they don’t even know I’m writing this review.  To the extent we visited any of the stops on our own, I will talk about those experiences in another post.

We traveled to Italy in May 2015.  Click here for all of my tips and things we wish we’d known before our trip!

Italy: 8 Key Tips for Visiting the Colosseum

Rome Colosseum by Natalie Parker

Click here for all of my Italy tips!

What We Thought of the Colosseum

I’ll be honest: I’m glad we went, it was cool, but I wasn’t in awe.  It didn’t rise to the awe-inspiring moment of the Eiffel Tower.  Your results may vary, of course!

We weren’t in the best mindset when we got there because a bunch of the roads were shut down, we had to walk a long way, and it was really hot.  Still, I think I enjoyed sitting outside and looking at it more than picking my way through the inside.

8 Tips for Visiting the Colosseum

1. Get an advance ticket. Buy advance tickets here and you can get in a special line.

2. Sometimes the advance ticket line is huge, but don’t despair. When we got there, the line for people who already had tickets was twice as long as those without.  We were pretty pissed (see above about it being hot).  Don’t despair. Our line moved quickly and we were inside within 20 minutes.

3. A Roma Pass gets you a dedicated entrance but . . . it seemed weird. Yes, their line was way shorter. But once they got inside, their line ground to a halt and we passed some of them. Did they need to use their pass to print a ticket once they got inside? Sometimes that’s the case with monuments.

4. There are restricted areas if you’re not on a tour. I’m not a tour person and I felt a tad ripped off that I couldn’t access the third level or the main platform, It seemed like a racket. Still, I don’t think the tour would have been worth it for us — we saw plenty. If seeing every last nook and cranny is important to you, book a tour. You’ll also get to skip the line.

Rome Colosseum by Natalie Parker

5. Bring a picnic, especially if it’s hot. The food options close by aren’t great. I wish we would have taken some snacks to eat inside the Colosseum or nearby in the Forum.

6. If you’re visiting the Forum after, ask for directions. We didn’t and walked the long way around in the hot sun. There was a closer entrance!

7. Bring a map of the Forum. We had a really hard time finding exits.  There was a moment when I thought “we’re trapped in here!”  Sure, we could have used this as an opportunity to explore the Forum more, wanderlust and all that jazz.  But it was hot and we were tired.

8. It’s worth the climb up Palatine Hill. There are great views of the Forum and Colosseum. We wish we’d brought a picnic here!

What would you add to this list?  Was your experience different?  Please share!

We traveled to Italy in May 2015.  Click here for all of my tips and things we wish we’d known before our trip!

Programming Note

Paper Project by Natalie Parker

A short note today for my scrapbooker / crafty audience:

You may be wondering all of this travel is great, but where are the paper projects?  Or not, maybe you love everything I write in which case, thank you!

But seriously, where are the projects?  I’ve kept this off-blog for several reasons, but we had a major issue with our new home.  As a result, I haven’t done a paper project since we moved last year.  It’s been tough keeping our heads above water but we finally have it behind us.

This weekend I worked on my first paper project in months.  It felt so normal and for that I’m thankful.

For the near future, you’ll still see a lot of travel-related posts.  I want to get all of my Italy posts from last year’s trip up, then I’ll write more about our big adventure around the world.  The paper will return as I get more time to work on paper projects!


5 Tips about Packing for Travel from the Book Wild

Wild Book by Cheryl Strayed

Have you read Wild? Maybe saw the movie with Reese Witherspoon? Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

I read the book and it struck a chord about packing for travel. No, gallivanting off to Europe is not the same thing as packing for Cheryl’s hike. But there is a lot to learn from her story.

In the book, she tries to pack everything she thinks she might possibly need. She literally cannot load her pack onto her back, it’s that heavy.

1. Every little thing contributes weight. Sure, an extra razor here, or shirt there by itself doesn’t weigh that much. It all adds up!

2. Get rid of things as you go along. On our last big trip, I had printed airline and hotel confirmations for everywhere. Like Cheryl does in the book, I got rid of each page once I no longer needed it. Every little bit counts.

3. Pack exactly what you need for toiletries. If I need 15 makeup wipes, I pack 15, not the whole pack of 25. Do 5 makeup wipes really make a difference? See #1 above.

4. You can buy it if you need it.  I won’t ruin the story, but Cheryl ends up needing something super key for her journey which she is able to get eventually.  While hiking the Pacific Crest Trail.  In the 1990’s.  Without a cell phone.  If she can do that, I should not have a problem buying something on the road if I really need it.

5. Do your best and everything will be fine.  Can you be the perfect packer?  No.  What if it’s your first trip and you don’t know what you need?  Shouldn’t an expert be helping you?  If her story tells you anything, it will be okay.  Get your stuff together as best you can and go!