Visiting the Swiss Alps? Secret Packing Tips

Travel Tips — By Sonja Holverson on July 20, 2010 at 7:43 pm
Lake Geneva Region Local Expert Sonja Holverson: image courtesy of Sonja Holverson

While I write this bog  reflecting  on my acquired wisdom (read: never-ending mistakes) as a world traveler over the years, I am in the process of packing for a trip leaving Geneva tomorrow morning to see my family in the USA. Besides trying to finish all of the usual preparations for being absent for any period of time, packing for most of us has become a scientific calculation which requires a great deal of thought, nano-technology, miniature toiletries, rapid drying sun proof miracle textiles and Zip-Lock bags.

In addition to the length of stay, the season in which you will be visiting in Switzerland will eliminate much of the anguish of decision-making. Next you focus on your planned destinations (cities, villages, pre-Alps, medium and high Alps, etc.), your activities (city walking tours, pasture / vineyards hiking, serious mid to high mountain hiking, snow shoeing, skiing, snowboarding, etc) and the types of venues you will frequent (friends’ homes, casual hotels, palatial hotels, Alpine hostels, fine dining, brasseries or all of the above). Be sure to eave some imagination for the pleasant surprise occasions that will surely happen to you and this will test your creative advance packing skills on the spot.


Where to Start? Most of Us Use the “Bed Method”: image courtesy of dvortygirl, flickr

Think feathers! While weight is crucial; not only for your body health (especially carrying it uphill in the higher altitudes of Alpine country) but also for complying with regulations of all airlines if that is your mode of transportation.  Although most airlines have reduced the baggage allowance even on Transatlantic flights, it is still basically calculated per piece and not by weight (except for the maximum of 50 lbs).  However, within Europe, baggage allowance is determined by weight. Therefore, when packing, try to imagine how you will be travelling once you are actually in Europe and Switzerland.

For train travel, it’s also about volume and being able to put bags in the sometimes narrow overhead bins. On many Swiss trains you can fit suitcases in between the sets of seats unless your suitcase is exceptionally wide (not everyone has figured this out yet so you can usually get a space).  The CFF (Swiss Rail) can forward your luggage to your destination if you want to stop over in some towns or go hiking and not have to carry a lot of bags and meet up with them later in a city or town or even village.

Remember that almost everything is available for rent these days, even in Switzerland (from snow shoes to roller blades to specialized mountain climbing gear) so unless you are emotionally attached to some of your equipment for various activities or do not have far to travel, leave your gear at home and travel light.

Like other countries in Europe, Switzerland has 220 volt electricity. The plugs in most European countries have not formed their own “union” and countries like Germany and the UK and also some other countries have different plugs than Switzerland although sometimes they “look” the same. You will need an adapter. Swiss plugs have either 2 or 3 round prong holes. Make sure your appliances have dual voltage. Don’t forget your phone charger. As you already know they are all different. You can also rent a European cell phone at the Geneva airport near the exit of the baggage claim area.

Organization Is Important. But Weight is the Key Success Factor: image courtesy of feserc, flickr


  • Some Swiss francs cash to handle arrival transactions (Euros are also accepted in most, but not all places of business)
  • A copy of your passport , phone numbers) of the credit cards that you are carrying and put this in a separate bag so the replacement processes will be expeditated in case of loss. The US Embassy is in Bern and they have an easy to find website:
  • Embassy of the United States of America, Sulgeneckstrasse 19, 3007 Berne. Tel: 031 357 7011/ (emergency 24 hours) 031 357 7011 email:
  • Comfortable shoes (for the flight, if you take one, as your feet swell) as well as for walking because that is one of the best ways so seeing Switzerland. If you should get blisters, go to the pharmacy and they have variety of blister pads (prevention is good) called Compeed. Spike heels and Medieval cobblestoned towns do not mix. Leave some of your vanity at home (OK perhaps some spikes for the evening but do be careful walking to the venue!). Stuff the toes of your dancing shoes with the socks you will need (in sandwich bags) in order to keep their shape and put the shoes in Zip Lock bags which will help protect them from getting banged around in your bag because of the trapped air inside.

    It Looks Innocent But This is a high Heel wearer’s Nightmare! image of Lausanne courtesy of Brent Ozar, flickr

  • A copy of your airline ticket (be sure you have the copy with the airline ticket number as you must have that to claim lost luggage and not all versions have it on eTickets and itineraires. Put it also in a separate bag. Ditto for hotel confirmations and other vouchers of prepaid activities.
  • If it’s winter, don’t forget a warm hat, scarf and serious gloves. When I first came to Switzerland I had on 2 pairs during an exceptionally cold November. Just as importantly for summer travel which most people do not think about bringing to the Alps is a wide-brimmed hat or visor. You can easily get sunburned especially in high altitudes but also a severe headache from so much sun in your eyes.  Beside it improves the view for you.
  • When traveling in Switzerland, you need to be prepared for many sudden weather changes. When you are around high mountains, the weather can change very rapidly (and this also affects the cities). One minute it’s hot (but rarely overly humid) and the next minute it’s pouring raining and the temperatures have dropped. This is especially true if you are hiking up in the moutains, even in the Pre-Alps. And perhaps most importantly when packing in any season is to leave room for the unexpected treasure that you will find and all the Swiss Chocolate that you will want to take back for family and friends (and for yourselves to prolong the pleasure of the journey!).


  • Normal sized packages of toiletries or of anything else! If you need a lot, you can buy it there.
  • More than one color scheme for clothes (saves on the number of shoes and accessories to take). And you know the color I mean – black! It’s multi-functional, easy to mix and match, hides the inevitably spots and goes with anything dressy or casual.  In winter, if you want to fit in like a Swiss local, you will be wearing black or other dark colors. Although this is not an imperative in summer, you will not be wearing an Aloha shirt or exceptionally bright colors (except a little highlight perhaps with your black).  Unless an event is designated formal, dress in Switzerland is fairly casual even when going to classical concerts for which people dressed up for in the past.

Can You Spot the Unnecessary Items? Start with the Shoes! image courtesy of evilerin, flickr
  • Tight pants and clinging jeans which are difficult to move in when you are going up and down hills (fine in the flatter neighborhoods of Geneva and Zurich or at the club!).
  • Slippers, robes, bulky PJs. Upscale hotels will give you these but even if you’re camping you can be just as comfortable in socks and a T shirt that can double as PJs.. Save that space for carrying back that Swiss chocolate!

  • A small folding umbrella as well as a fold-up rain poncho or jacket are handy items to carry around at all times for those sudden weather changes.
  • Paper (preferably waterproof which you can find in surveyors’ supply stores) and pen (waterproof) to take notes of your adventures and the names of special places that you are sure that you will never forget, but you will.
  • Maps, but only if you can read them. Remember there are no cities built in grids in Switzerland and some cities such as Lausanne have many levels superimposed on maps that make them difficult to read. It’s more fun to get lost. You can’t wander away too far from the center for things.
  • Rural maps are useful for orientation and make the trip more interesting. Detailed elevation maps for hiking are readily available and useful but firstly you have to know where you are in order to find where you are going and that is not as easy as it sounds in the Alps.

    Prepared for Another Great Day in Switzerland: image courtesy of laurelfan, flickr

    Smart phone with your downloadable guide from Nileguide.

  • Recycled plastic bags (weightless and also good for dirty laundry and wet swim suits) which can be used for covering a place sit on the ground or bench if they’re wet.
  • Swiss snacks. See my previous blog, Swiss Supermarket Discoveries Part I: Snacks
  • If you are going to do some serious hiking, be sure to read my upcoming detailed blog on what to pack for trekking on Swiss Alpine trails.

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Tags: Alpine, Alps, cities, Europe, Euros, Geneva, Germany, hiking, Hotels, Lausanne, luggage, mountain, pack, packing, snacks, suitcase, Switzerland, train, travel, travelers, USA, vineyards, “Swiss Alps”, “Swiss chocolate”, “Swiss Supermarket”

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