Updated: November 5th, 2018
Show of hands — how many of you look exactly like her when you’re packing for a trip?
That could very well be a sculpture of yours truly–buck naked, in utter despair on the floor next to an empty suitcase asking myself, “Why can’t I look cute when I travel like all those bitches on Instagram!?” I don’t even need to look cute necessarily, just less like a hobo than I usually do. I’ll just sit there waiting for something half decent to spontaneously materialize. It’s like filling out an organic chemistry essay exam all over again. At least this time I had a wide open void to scream obscenities into.
My standard wardrobe consists of T-shirts from Target, jeans from high school, and a pair of Converse sneakers (I even got married in them; my apologies to Versace, the goddess of high fashion). This should illustrate that I’m not fashion forward to begin with so looking “cute” on Instagram is just better reserved for those travelers without adult acne and tops exclusively by Mossimo.
When deciding what to pack for London and Paris in the winter–the latter being the fashion capital of the world–the word “chic” kept popping out at me like a demon child in a horror flick about how unfeminine I am. You’re all at home like, “Oh no, she’s opening the closet. DON’T GO INTO THE CLOSET, GIRL!” But my question (besides Is this a top? Or a skirt? How the fu– do I wear this!?) is, “How does one look ‘chic’ in the winter? Whilst touristing?”
So I did the
dumbest thing possible first thing that came to mind–I consulted Pinterest. And while Pinterest is GREAT for planning trips, it’s absolutely useless when planning packing for those trips. Unless you’re a runway model. Which my collection of hoodies proves I clearly am not.
WHAT TO PACK FOR LONDON AND PARIS IN THE WINTER… FOR REAL PEOPLE
The problem with Pinterest fashion is… that shit ain’t real. No one dresses like that in real life. Especially not tourists. If your Instagram (or blog or Facebook page or Shutterfly photobook) is full of photos of you looking fabulous in front of famous landmarks or looking effortlessly chic in the Caribbean–YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.
Where are all the real people? With real advice for real travelers? The ones covered in cat hair trying to re-fold maps back to their former compact glory? The ones accidentally saying “gracias” to their French waiters and staring at Tube routes like they’re seeing a Jackson Pollock for the first time? (“I just… don’t… get it…”)
Search for “cute winter outfits” or something similarly embarrassing you pray no one ever sees in your search history and this is what you get. Would someone please tell me, IN WHAT WINTER ARE THEY LIVING? It must be one of those weird places where it’s only winter four feet above the ground and up with summer temperatures staying closer to the Earth’s surface. I’ll never understand a world that mixes sweaters and coats with mini skirts and bare skin. (And now you’re telling me I should be shaving my legs between November and March? Imma just skip right over your shocking insinuations…)
Winter for me is the soul-sucking worst. A time when the only pieces of skin to see daylight are my fingertips (for typing) and the bridge of my nose. My husband recently gifted me two new electric blankets so I could have one on the couch and in the bed (aaaand to replace the one the cat puked on) because I physically can’t survive in temperatures below 75°F. And no amount of Pinterest-pressure is going to change that.
Nailed it. At least I’m not the one wearing track pants.
So what are the differences here? I may personify the definitive opposite of chic but at least I don’t look miserable. Real life (and travel) is so much more fun when you WEAR PANTS IN THE WINTER.
WHAT TO PACK FOR LONDON AND PARIS IN THE WINTER | APPAREL
Going forward, please note that cat hair is always optional. (I told you this was a post for real people. And real people have pets that shed so much you’d think there were wooly mammoths living in their homes.)
Contrary to what Pinterest would have you believe, wintertime, outdoors, is actually cold. *GASP* Don’t let the stems and stilettos fool you into underestimating what you’ll need to pack. You’ll need to cover every inch of your body and no, it won’t be sexy. It won’t be chic or Instagram-worthy but you’ll show yourself off anyway because a terrible picture of yourself in front of the Eiffel Tower is still better than a great picture of yourself behind a work desk.
What it will be is 0°C. There’s a good chance it will also be: raining, snowing, sleeting and hailing (somehow they’re different?), windy from all directions, cloudy but also blindingly bright, misty in the mysterious way where it feels like someone might be peeing off the roof of a nearby building and somehow still as HOT as a long day in Hell due to overcompensating indoor heat usage. In short, your suede stiletto booties that cost more than the entirety of this trip may get ruined.
UNDER WEAR (NOT UNDERWEAR)
These will be the most important things you bring with you. (Besides actual underwear, of course.)
I’m talking about thin (and for lack of a better term) Under Armour-style under layers. The landlubbers’ wetsuit. The same concept as Spanx only you’re desperately holding in the warmth, not the fact that you love Double Stuf Oreos.
I got mine from my local Uniqlo store but my husband exclusively wears Under Armour products. And if you think these things are great for athletic performance, just wait until you see what they can do for your Changing of the Guard watching, your Eiffel Tower climbing, your nighttime river cruising!
These thin leggings will keep you warm in any kind of pants you want to wear, SO WEAR PANTS. I can’t believe this is something I have to address in this post. I would advise bringing two pairs of these leggings to alternate but I only have one pair so I wore them almost every day. Yes, I’m gross.
I’m also a big proponent of knee socks because, as I’ve said, I’m the coldest human on Earth. Bring many pairs of these, preferably with cats on them or relating to the upcoming-est holiday (for me it was Valentine’s Day). For some of you maybe your cat was your valentine so there ya go.
TOPS AND BOTTOMS
You’re right – none of that is chic. Eek! maybe, but chic? No. But here’s the dilemma: You’re going to be outside a lot in London and Paris, even though it’s winter. You’ll walk across London’s Tower Bridge and sit outside atop a double-decker bus. You’ll ascend the Eiffel Tower on the wettest and coldest day of your entire trip. You’ll head up the towers of Notre Dame to check out the view if the sun ever comes out. You’ll visit the Tower of London and Big Ben and the London Eye… the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Élysées, take a cruise down the Seine and probably stand in a long outdoor line at all of those. Chic is out, not contracting hypothermia is in, dahling.
Pack according to your own style (like I’d ever tell you to adopt mine) but hear me out:
- Jeans. suck. I mean, I love jeans… but not in the winter. They are the coldest pants, absorbing the icy wind and holding on tight with a relentless denim grip. Holding in the cold the way Spanx holds in all evidence of your post-Valentine’s discount chocolate binge. Jeans in the winter are like those blue things you freeze to keep the beer in your cooler cold. I don’t know about you, but I prefer my buns in the winter the same way I prefer my fast food–hot and fresh, never frozen.
- For me, it’s all about the thick stretchy black pants. I’m particularly nuts about a couple of pairs I have from Express that are warm, super comfortable and don’t have any say whatsoever in how many crêpes I can consume. I mean… they’re kinda like yoga pants… but they have pockets and belt loops so they’re totally acceptable to wear in public with shirts that have buttons. To prove I’m not talking about yoga pants, here’s the link. Buy. these. pants.
- [Sidenote: I also saw these track pants on the Express website. What are the freaking odds?]
- On a related note, winter is wet. Don’t pack any pants that you can’t tuck into your boots. This is not high school; this is not a music festival in April; this is not 2003. Your pant legs will absorb all the rain puddles and old dirty snow slush and this will bug the crap out of you. You’ve just had the best scone of your life and realized you’ll never have one this good again–you don’t need another heavy load to drag around the streets of London. Just say no to boot cut.
- Stick to thin top layers. Earthlings have yet to figure out adequate indoor winter heating techniques and while sweaters may do you good on the open upper deck of a tour bus, the minute you head in for a pint you’ll sweat your fish and chips off.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE LEFT BEHIND
- The denim
- …that was also boot cut. #Ineedtogoshopping 🙄🔫
- The scarves. Mind you, these are not winter scarves. These are for looks only. And being not a middle-aged Italian man having just squeezed all my junk into a pair of Prada skinny jeans, these just don’t work for me.
Besides the word chic being overused to describe how one should dress in Paris, scarves kept coming up as well. I get it; French people wear scarves. However, I think it’s blatantly obvious that I am not French so what the hell is the point in trying? Who am I trying to convince? I’m at the Eiffel Tower with a camera around my neck; I’m marveling at the Statue of Liberty inside the Musée d’Orsay; I had eggs for breakfast and only ate half of my croissant. I’m clearly not from here.
Another conundrum this causes for me: it’s really cold out. Do I wear my winter scarf… over the pretty one? Or just the pretty one? ‘Cause that ain’t cuttin’ it–it’s hard out here for a wimp. Fashion should not leave me with more questions than my 8th grade “health” class did.
WHAT TO PACK FOR LONDON AND PARIS IN THE WINTER | SHOES
Here you’ve got my feeble attempt at looking decent, then what I turn to when I realize I care more about comfort and function, and finally, what I’ll wear for mall-walking after I age 40 more years.
THE ONLY SHOE I NEEDED
- My black combat boots — as in, the crowd at the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace is a BATTLEFIELD.
Let me introduce: the Harley-Davidson Jammie from Zappos. No, I’m not a biker. I don’t even own a bicycle. The only wheeled gadget I ride is the elliptical machine at the gym. Sometimes, if you pedal fast enough, you can get a good breeze going. And if my hair wasn’t matted to my face with sweat I’m almost certain it’d be blowing wildly behind me.
This is basically the only shoe I wear between October and May (I live in New England, wah-wahhh). They’re warm, comfortable, sturdy, no one would ever know they were Harley-Davidsons and they give me a false sense of being able to kick anyone’s ass. They give me…
You will not find a single gameshow host whose ass I cannot kick in these boots. They’re part hiking boot, part walking shoe, part rain boot and they’re perfect for a Bush concert.
During my 5 days in London and 3 days in Paris I:
- Walked all around London and Paris – through museums and sites, back and forth over the Thames and from pub to pub to pub (there were many); hiked from the Greenwich train station uphill to the Royal Observatory; strolled five miles through the Louvre and all the way from Notre Dame, up the Champs-Élysées from Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe.
- Toured the Tower of London, the WB Studios in Leavesden and stood waiting outside Buckingham Palace for almost two hours (er, minor planning error).
- Climbed 528 steps to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral, 387 up the towers of Notre Dame, 284 to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, and about ten down into a WWII bunker.
- Chased one man down the street after he left his fedora in the restaurant booth next to me.
…and my feet felt great THE WHOLE TIME. I’ve worn these boots for three years and they’re the most reliable thing in my closet. They show up for me more often than the fear that the shelves I installed are going to come crashing down at any moment (again). I guess this is what happens when you pay more than Target prices for your footwear. Still DIY-ing those home renovations though…
(By the way, Zappos.com is THE BEST. They offer free next-day shipping and free returns–so if you don’t like a shoe or you need another size, trading them out is fast and completely free. But one of my favorite things about them is that, besides just showing you pictures of the shoe itself, they also provide a video of someone wearing them. Real people. Ladies, you get me.)
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE LEFT BEHIND
- All evidence that I tried. The tan ones are over-the-knee and super cute but suck as a travel shoe, they do. I wore them one day (and had to wear two pairs of socks to keep my feet thawed) and they took up quite a lot of space in my suitcase–so, pointless.
- Sneakers. I will rave about Skechers memory foam sneakers until the day I die but I just didn’t need them this time. I brought them just in case wearing boots all the live long day hurt my feet or if I decided to join a power-walking meet at the last minute, which I did not. Luckily they weigh about 8 ounces and squish down easily into a packing cube–so, no harm done.
WHAT TO PACK FOR LONDON AND PARIS IN THE WINTER | OUTERWEAR
I used everything you see here… except the umbrella. Unless you count carrying it around in my purse but refusing to pull it out even when it started raining using it.
- In the spirit of covering up your entire self in an effort to maintain a healthy basal body temperature, you’ll want to bring: a moderately heavy coat, gloves, some actually useful scarves and something to keep your ears warm. For me it’s this gray thing I made; for some it may be a hat–apparently hats look good on some people; for others it may be a ski mask. It’s not all that chic but it’ll do the job. You may even go home with a little extra cash to boot! People will probably just be handing over their wallets left and right. Or better yet, just smother yourself in your own hair:
- Sunglasses — because even though it’s probably going to be cloudy for your entire trip, the bright white glare will still blind you. Crossing the street is hard enough when you don’t know from which direction the traffic is coming but now you have to do so blindly. And like walking with your arms out in front of you is going to stop a moving vehicle. Bloody fool.
Now I may spend $30 on an entire outfit but, having both worked at Sunglass Hut through college and sensitive eyes, I’ve come to understand the importance of owning a really good pair of sunglasses. Working at the mall also taught me that the human body can survive solely on a diet of Wendy’s Jr. Cheeseburgers and Chik-fil-a waffle fries (just not on Sundays). I finally gave up the vicious cycle of purchasing those shitty sunglasses from Target that break in the middle and got some Ralph Laurens that have lasted me years. And for the glare, it’s polarized or bust! To Wendy’s we go!
- Scarves — you’re going to London. You’ll need at least one scarf in the Hogwarts house of your choosing. Just kidding–we all know the hat chooses for us, pshh.
- An umbrella — because it’s winter but also because it’s London and London really isn’t known for its sunny, dry Februaries.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE LEFT BEHIND
- Crappy ass gloves. You’ll definitely need gloves. Just please, spend more than $3 on them. Not getting your gloves stuck in your coat zipper, in the hinge of your sunglasses or in your teeth will be worth every penny.
WHAT TO PACK FOR LONDON AND PARIS IN THE WINTER | GEAR
It’s kinda driving me nuts now that the apple in this picture is upside down… moving on…
Unlike what I packed for Belize, I didn’t need that much gear on this trip. Now if I’d climbed up the towers of Notre Dame on the outside of the building rather than taking the stairs, I’d for sure have brought my GoPro and all the necessary accessories. The grandest physical challenge I faced on this particular trip was seeing how many 20 oz. ales I could fit into a 12 oz. stomach. And nobody wants that documented. Instead I just brought:
- My precious. My Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with 12-40mm lens and 40-150mm lens (+ battery charger) — also featuring my scarf-style camera strap, a gift from Amanda that came from here.
- A European outlet adapter. I should really buy some more of these…
- A couple of SD cards
- A set of earbuds for watching movies on the plane (specifically Ghostbusters, Finding Dory, and, as suggested by the middle-aged French man next to me, Disney Pixar’s Inside Out)
- My Samsung Galaxy S5 (+ charger) that I only use for texting my husband and my mom selfies of me in different places
- My MacBook Pro (+ charger) which I almost never ever ever take with me (here’s why)
- A curling iron. It plugs in–it counts. And I actually got to use it this time (in your face, Belize).
One benefit to traveling with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II during the winter is that it’s weatherproof: dust, splash and freeze-proof. This is so handy when you’re shooting and it begins to rain and/or snow but you’ve just got to get that picture of that guy that looks exactly like that other guy you know. And you’ve gotta hide behind a fountain to do so. Or… in all seriousness, if someone’s peeing off the roof of a nearby parking garage and you’re in the splash zone.
And I didn’t know cameras could freeze until last year when my Fuji actually FROZE while I was touring the ice hotel in Canada rendering it useless–much like myself the whole month of January.
WHAT TO PACK FOR LONDON AND PARIS IN THE WINTER | GUIDES
I travel with a legit arsenal of information. I remember when the Kindle came out and everyone went bananas over it like they did with “the Rachel” and how they eventually would with cronuts. I, on the other hand, was all, “GIMME PAPER!” Now I’m all, “Gimme seven extra pounds in my carry on! …and a cronut! Those things are f-cking delicious!”
I always bring a guidebook and something else to read after I’ve scoured all the channels in my hotel room for an English-speaking one only to find an episode of Family Guy I’ve already seen 62 times. Guidebooks give you all the basic background information you need on a place, sample itineraries, opening times, addresses and admission costs for tourist sites, helpful tips and maps, restaurant recommendations and which ones are actually open on Mondays.
I also prefer to travel with a pocket-sized (for dudes’ pockets, obviously) language guide. I love Lonely Planet’s phrasebooks for all the manageable phrases and words I’ll need BUT my favorite section and the one I use most is the “menu decoder.” No one wants to accidentally eat brain.
HOW TO PACK FOR LONDON AND PARIS IN THE WINTER
HAHAHAAahahaha. This pictures makes me laugh so hard. “Ready for Paris!” — Are you sure you don’t mean “Ready for the apocalypse!” She’s got five suitcases, a carry on and a personal item. FIVE SUITCASES. I shouldn’t judge. Perhaps she’s moving to Paris. Either that or she’s just packed February’s hottest styles:
That coat takes up one suitcase of its own.
For the rest of us, I have this advice:
- Packing freaking cubes. They make packing so. easy. Pants in one, shirts in another, sweaters in one, hybrid croissant/donuts in the other. It’s so easy to stay organized and it makes zipping up your overstuffed suitcase much less impossible. The thought that people still travel without these boggles my mind. I personally use and recommend the TravelWise 5-piece Packing Cube System.
- Wear the boots on the plane and don’t pack any others — you won’t need them.
- Forget sweaters — they’ll only live up to their name. Sticking to thin layers is more comfortable and is much easier to pack. Plus you won’t have to worry about hyperthermia!
- Keep in your purse at all times: a hair brush (winter is windy), plenty of lip balm, and this amazing lotion because winter is a dry cranky skin bitch. This stuff is so thick it takes two hands to squeeze out of the bottle. It is the best possible thing this New Englander has found for gross winter skin!
IN THE END…
As long as you’re comfortable and warm, it doesn’t really matter what you wear because every single picture you take is going to look like this:
I think it’s obvious I am tragically incapable of operating my phone with my right hand.
The moral here: When deciding what to pack for London and Paris in the winter, you can take all the cat-hair covered 5k T-shirts you want as long as you have a cute coat. Maybe pack like 12 different scarves though so it doesn’t look like you toured all of London and Paris in a single day.
Oh, and keep it real!
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