Man taking photo of Seattle landscape.

Packing Essentials for a Whole-Day Tour of Seattle

February 3, 2020

Are you planning a whole-day trip to explore Washington’s largest urban jungle?

This time, the adventure starts right in front of your hotel door, where you’ll catch yourself gasping at the sight of the Space Needle. Although there’s no chance you’ll starve or have to splint a broken leg with deadfall branches, you will still be walking your legs off, and circumstances in the city change rapidly.

From the Central Public Library to the Seattle aquarium, there’s so much to experience in this exciting city that you wouldn’t want to lose even a minute of your day handling an unexpected problem that could have been avoided. That’s why it’s important to prepare everything you can in advance so you wouldn’t have to see your “base camp” before you planned.

Step One: A Bag with Many Pockets

Imagine that you find yourself on the stunning Pioneer Square. Amazed by all the beautiful sites, you reach for your camera. You spend the next 20 minutes looking for the camera, taking out everything you have in your bag in front of the horrified passers-by. 

Urban adventure is all about having what you need when you need it. Whether that’s a wallet, sunscreen, or a jacket, the last thing you need is to be rummaging in a large-compartment bag (or backpack) when it’s time for a quick exchange or a smooth transition. 

Choose a bag that:

  • Is sturdy and tough.
  • Doesn’t add unnecessary weight. Keep it as light as possible since you’ll be carrying it around the city for the whole day.
  • Is big enough for all the souvenirs you pick up along the way. Best case scenario, you’ll walk out the Uwajimaya market innocently only with a sweet cat that brings good luck. Worst case scenario? Well, you can only imagine!
  • Has pockets where you need them. You also want to memorize what’s in each pocket and be practiced at reaching in almost without looking. Don’t forget your zipper security (pickpockets)!

Tips for us girls: You may find that a cross-body bag or one that slides over both shoulders is more comfortable than a bag that simply sits on one shoulder, especially if you have a lot of gear to carry or you’ve packed for more than one.

Step Two: Choose the Right Outerwear

Shoes. Just like bicycle tires differ from mountain biking to urban biking, so do your shoes. Hiking boots aren’t going to get you around all the wonders in Chinatown-International District, and neither will dress flats or loafers. You need real walking (or running) sneakers built with good cushioning arch support and rolling soles. In case you’ve tried urban adventuring wearing dress shoes, you can probably confirm it’s an unforgettable experience.

Dress in layers. Seattle is known as a rainy and windy city. Depending on the season, the city’s temperature varies a lot in different hours of the day. The temperature at noon can be as much as 15 degrees warmer than the temperature in the deep shadow of a Seattle’s first skyscraper, the Smith Tower. Your body will constantly adapt as you warm-up and cool down while walking and entering shops and museums, so it’s best to pack layers.

For example:

  • Start with a t-shirt or a long-sleeve shirt that will keep you warm and insulated without leading to overheating as you move around. Pay close attention to the materials of the shirt, since some fabrics are more breathable than others. 
  • For a middle layer, consider a merino wool sweater or a hoody if it’s cold.
  • Finish with a wind-breaking and water-resistant jacket on top. This is especially useful if you plan to get a ride on the Washington State Ferries.

Pro tip: Aim for lightweight in every clothing item you bring along to make your life a lot easier (pun intended). 

Red tomato lot on blue baskets

Tomatoes at the Pike Place Market. Photo by Anne Preble.

Step Three: Take Adequate Food and Water

First of all – a travel bottle is an absolute must so you don’t get dehydrated. While many of Seattle’s trails provide water fountains (not to mention convenient bathrooms where you can both refill your bottle and relieve your bladder), you’ll want to make sure  you bring enough water to get you through the day. People with sensitive stomachs usually carry a bottle with a built-in filter to save them from the microbes they aren’t used to.

You’ll surely be tempted to taste everything Seattle has to offer: from fancy restaurants to the Pike Place Market guided food tour. Seattle is also home to the Starbucks’ coffee wonderland – a crucial destination for coffee lovers. However, as you probably don’t want to be required to stop, buy, or re-route for food when non-stop walking makes you hungry, pack (just in case):

  • A few sandwiches – store them in a rigid container in your bag. You can eat them or share them with someone for an opportunity to hear their amazing personal story. Consider making the sandwiches from food that won’t spoil too quickly. I’m looking at you, dairy products.
  • Granola bars or crackers for a quick energy boost.
  • Fruit or fruit snack

Step Four: Don’t Forget the Technology 

In a city as thrilling as this one, there will be numerous moments where beauty strikes you completely by surprise – from an artsy neighborhood with a hip Sunday Market, to a surreal museum of a famous glassblower. The Seattle Monorail, built in 1962, is one of the most recognizable Seattle’s landmarks and an unskippable stop for every urban explorer. So don’t forget:

  • Your camera (add an extra battery).
  • A portable charger for your phone. You’ll find this incredibly useful.
  • Optional: external battery for your phone.

Step Five: Your Wallet Essentials

Excited about city adventures, people often forget the risks of pick pocketing. You can keep your money and ID in a money belt to make it less accessible. Some professional travelers even use a decoy wallet — an old wallet with a few old library cards and one-dollar-bills.

Make sure you have your ID, credit cards, and at least a handful of starter cash. You’re in a place where ATMs are available, so there’s no need to load up on too much cash. Make sure you have enough for street snacks, tips and a well-known Seattle Great Wheel ride. You can even ask for a private cabin with a VIP pass if you want to pop the question!

Lastly, it’s good to have an emergency contact card. Include your name and phone number, in case someone finds your lost wallet after a fiasco. Also, include the information on your personal emergency contact person in case you’re phone isn’t reachable.

Hammering man on the front of Seattle Art Museum

Seattle Art Museum. Photo by David Herrera.

Bonus accessories: Hat, Shades, and Sunscreen

Don’t underestimate the sunshine even in an urban environment. When you’re discovering the city for the whole day, the sun can become a surprisingly serious enemy to your adventure.

In summer, a wide-brimmed hat can help keep the sun out of your eyes and even block some of the heat. In winter, a warm, cozy cap can help keep your ears warm and prevent valuable body heat from escaping from your head.

Regardless of the season, add sunscreen or an SPF lip balm. The protecting shades are a must – get the chic ones, so you can blend in the exhibitions of the famous Museum of Pop Culture. When talking about the museums, the Seattle Art Museum with the famous Hammering man could be a lot for one day, but it’s surely a great reason to come back to this beautiful city.

Taking an adventure into the urban jungle can lead to invaluable memories. Make sure to plan your Seattle explorations in advance for the best experience. Following this detailed guide, we’re sure you’ll have a great time!

Featured image by Roberto Nickson.

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