I’ll be honest: I used to be a massive over packer. The kind of girl that took a giant suitcase on a weeklong vacation, with a packing list a mile long. I used to bring basically every cute piece of clothing in my closet just to have “option”. Options that I never ended up wearing, because I was mostly in bikini or my favorite pair of shorts.
And packing light can be a real challenge. Although I’ve gotten very good at it, I still tend to bring a few items on every trip that I don’t end up using. Becoming a packing ninja is a skill that’s cultivated over time. My carry on packing list is pretty short now!
But what you need to pack really depends on where and when you’re going. I find it very helpful to make a packing list and as well as a travel checklist. I start a few weeks or months before my trip and narrow it down over time. The basics may be the same every time, but the actual items of clothing I take differ for every trip. So to help you along, here a guide to help you pack for a long or short trip to Europe. Including my own packing list for Europe for a 3-month trip I took in southern and central Europe.
Obviously Europe is a very diverse continent with different countries, cultures, climates etc. So I’ll try to be as specific as possible and keep reminding you to create your packing list based on the specific destinations you’ll be visiting.
When and where are you going?
The main deciding factor in assembling a packing list for Europe is where and when exactly you’ll be going on your trip. Climates vary greatly throughout Europe so it’s worth looking into weather forecasts. Summer means hot weather in Southern and Eastern Europe and a more temperate climate in the north. Winters are very cold and wet in Western, Eastern and Northern Europe, but mild in the south. So obviously you’ll need different clothes for each region and season. My packing list for Europe in summer is very different for my packing list for Europe in winter. And a packing list for Italy is not going to be the same as a packing list for Sweden.
It’s also important to look at your desired destinations and activities. What kind of trip are you taking? A city trip requires different gear from hiking in the mountains, so be realistic about what you’ll be doing and what you’ll need to bring. Your beach packing list is likely a lot shorter than if you’re packing for a cruise.
Which clothes to pack for Europe
Culture and style also tends to differ between European countries and regions. So if you’re concerned about blending in, it is worth looking into the general style of the countries you’re going to. In general, classic pieces in neutral colors are always a good choice. Leave the college hoodies and graphic tees at home, best to go with something a bit more elegant. Although to be honest, we’ll most likely still be able to tell that you’re a tourist. Or just say f*ck it and dress completely to your own personal style. You do you 😉
The key to packing light is to pack versatile pieces that you can mix and match. My general rule is to dress for comfort rather than style, especially when backpacking. But it’s even better when you can combine the two with high quality basic pieces that are easy to dress up or down. A good way to make sure that all your clothes go together is to pick a color scheme. Basically, what you need is a capsule wardrobe.
For instance: leggings work for outdoor activities like hiking and are comfortable while on long train/bus/airplane rides. Leggings as pants are pretty much a no-no in Europe! Seriously, athleisure is not really a thing here (especially outside of Western Europe) and nothing screams “American” more. Stick to jeans or comfy trousers instead. Whereas a cute dress works as a beach coverup, day look and night look.
Take clothes that work on their own and can be layered for warmth. I love things like flannels for this reason. A light rain jacket is a must and works as a windbreaker on chilly summer evenings as well. Obviously the amount of warm vs breezy clothing you need, depends on your destination and season. But a good sweater is always useful and you can wear it on the flight over to save space.
Don’t worry about running out of things to wear as most hostels and hotels in Europe offer laundry services. There are also laundromats in all big cities and you can hand wash some items in the sink in a pinch.
What shoes to pack for Europe
The major factor in deciding what shoes to bring is what you’ll be doing and what the weather will be like.
If you’re going to be exploring cities, you’ll need a good pair of comfortable walking shoes. Sneakers of tennis shoes that you walk all day in without blisters. Cute sandals are great for warmer destinations and summer trips, especially ones that are comfortable to walk in. My go-to are Teva Originals: cute and comfy! For rainy or cold weather, boots will work better than sneakers. Make sure they are waterproof. Hiking boots are really only necessary if you’re planning to do mountain climbing or extensive hiking.
But most importantly: leave your fancy stiletto heels at home! European cobblestone streets are not made for high heels and you won’t see many locals wearing them, except maybe wedges or ankle boots. Unless you’re planning to attend a lot of fancy parties, you really don’t need them.
What travel essentials to pack for Europe
Like I said, there are a few things I take on any trip. I always amke sure I back my backpacking essentials. What these are does vary a bit based on the kind of trip you’re taking. But for a regular backpacking adventure in Europe, here are a few useful gadgets to take:
- Earplugs, eye mask and neck pillow
- Small padlock if you’re planning to stay in hostels
- Foldable day pack and cross body purse
- Microfiber travel towel
- Laundry bag
- Rain cover for your backpack
- Reusable water bottle and reusable cutlery
- Copies of your documents and reservations (both hard copy and digital)
- Something you keep you entertained like books, e-readers, deck of cards etc.
For anyone looking to pack light, I highly recommend getting packing cubes. They compress your clothes so more will fit into your bag/suitcase, and they keep it all organized.
The last thing you want is to run out of battery on your phone just as you’re about to take a good picture or look up directions. So do yourself a favor and invest in a good power bank, you’ll thank me later. Unfortunately, outlet types vary across Europe so you’ll need a universal plug. Electricity is usually on a 200-220 V dual system, so if your appliances run anything else, get a converter so you don’t fry them.
Toiletries are personal and you know best what you need to bring. In order to pack light, I do recommend buying stuff like shampoo and sun cream after you arrive. Unless you are very attached to a certain brand or have allergies etc. With make-up, less is more, especially as you’ll sweat it all off in European summers. Most European women don’t wear that much make-up anyway, so you’ll fit right in. You think of things like sanitary items and birthcontrol as specific travel essentials for women.
My packing list for Europe
So, above is my packing list for a three-month trip in Europe that I took in summer 2018. I spend three weeks in Austria, 2 months in Italy and two weeks in Slovenia. My itinerary was really varied with hiking, city hopping and beach time, so I needed to pack for basically every occasion. But I wanted to do it all with a carry on and I managed to fit everything in a 40L backpack and 15L day pack.
My clothes pretty much all went together nicely, with a lot of blue, white and beige tones. I did buy a couple of shorts and tops along the way, because I couldn’t resist, even though I didn’t need them. I could have done with the stuff I brought, but after a few months those same outfits start to get a bit boring.
I always write down my packing lists in my bullet-journal, but they’re in Dutch. So here’s in translation in English:
- long trousers
- hiking boots
- first aid kit
- pocket knife
- sowing kit
- playing cards
- bullet journal
- eye mask
- power bank
- hand bag
- ear plugs
- neck pillow
Of course, this is just one packing list for one specific trip. Although this list will roughly apply to a lot of different trips, certain destinations and activities will require other things. So, to help you out, here are some tips from other travel bloggers:
So if you’re planning a trip to Europe and you’re not sure what to pack, this guide should help you along. Let me know if there’s anything you would definitely pack or leave home for a trip to Europe in the comments.
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