Liz’s 5 Step Plan – Packing For Northern Spain

It's umbrella land in Northern Spain.

Our expert in Northern Spain and guest writer, Liz Carlson, has learned not to be Carrie Bradshaw.  She learned the hard way as she travels extensively and has learned to pack light.  Now that she lives in Spain, and there are excellent shoe stores in Spain, I am wondering if she is now a Spanish Carrie.  If you get these 5 tips down, you will have a suitcase you can haul over cobblestones, up stairs, and lift to an overhead baggage compartment.

By Liz Carlson

One of the hardest things for me when preparing for a trip is packing! If you’ve seen my closet, you would understand why.  Baggage rules are strict and fitting in all the necessities for a big trip into one suitcase can be pretty tricky.  Because I travel so frequently, I have gotten quite good at packing within weight limits and learning what to leave at home.

Spring is right around the corner now, and it’s one of my favorite seasons for traveling. It’s less crowded since the hoards of summer tourists in their fanny packs and Tevas haven’t yet arrived and all the flowers and trees start to bloom again, making cities come alive. If you are planning a trip out to northern Spain this spring, here are my five best tips for packing.

 1.  Layers – The weather in northern Spain varies greatly from region to region and you have to pack accordingly. The north is much more green, wet and chilly than from the dry, hot sunny Spain most people imagine, but we also have many blue sky days scattered in making packing  much harder. The trick is layers. And I mean a lot of layers.

Liz believes in traveling with ballet flats.

Spaniards love this method of dressing, especially believing that any exposed area from the chin down between November and April will lead directly to illness. I frequently see my coworkers wearing turtlenecks, long-sleeve shirts and sweaters, all at the same time.  Try to bring a medium warm jacket, not a heavy winter coat, or a light thin jacket.  I have a nice leather coat I wear just about everywhere in the spring.

2.  Scarves –  this goes for both men and women. Remember we are in Europe after all. Scarves are an essential part of the European dress code, from babies to grandparents. You will almost never see someone in Spain without a scarf,  except for in the high heat of summer. Scarves are perfect for spring in northern Spain when days can be warm and nights are cold. You can wear one straight on your flight too, so you don’t have to worry about taking up luggage space. Or if you’re me, three.

3. Rain -  It rains alot in northern Spain in the spring, or if you are places like Basque Country or Galicia, all the time. Make sure you pack a good umbrella, and maybe a water-proof jacket. But most importantly, water-proof shoes. Traveling around Spain means a lot of time outside, walking around crumbly old cities and exploring the beautiful countryside. Having dry feet is crucial. The worst thing would to be miserable with cold, soggy feet traveling around. When I visited Pompeii, in Italy, it rained nonstop all day, and I was wearing ballet flats. My pervading memory of that day is not how cool Pompeii was, but how uncomfortable my feet were. Don’t let that happen to you!

4. What not to bring – I have a feeling this is probably much harder for women than guys.   After exploding two U.S.  hair straighteners and adapters, I have finally learned my lesson. Don’t waste the space in your suitcase bringing one; if you can’t live without one and you make frequent trips to Europe, buy a hairdryer, etc.  with a  European plug.   They  make small travel-sized ones.  Almost all hotels have hair dryers you can use, and you can email them in advance and ask.  I don’t  bring shampoo with me anymore. I’ve found it’s cheaper to just buy a bottle in a supermarket once I arrive, especially if it saves  on paying to check a bag. Do you really need five pairs of jeans? Probably not. Two will do. Be realistic, and really think hard about what you will need.

Bilbao and north

5. Shoes –  another hard one for women. As a future Carrie Bradshaw, moving to Spain and leaving behind the majority of my shoe collection was akin to abandoning my children. I may have cried a little. For a spring trip to northern Spain, you don’t need more than 2 or 3 pairs of shoes. I always bring a pair of sneakers in case I do outdoor activities. I also bring a pair of comfy flats that I can wear both during the day or at night, dress up or down. Finally, I always have to bring a pair of boots, especially for chillier days, which I usually wear on the flight over, even in the summer, but all of these are interchangeable depending on your dressing style and the kind of trip you are planning.  My major advice is to leave the high heels at home.   Unless you are half-Spanish and were raised in heels, the amount of walking required in Spain combined with cobblestones makes high heels impossible.

Related Spain Scoop:   Bilbao and north.

Liz writes Memoirs of a Young Adventuress which is about traveling and expat life abroad. Four years ago, she said goodbye to the freezing cold New England winters and hola to sunny warm Spain, and hasn’t looked back. Unsatisfied living in the same place for too long, she has called several cities in Spain home, from Salamanca to Madrid, Córdoba and Málaga, and now Logroño.

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