Packing Light List: Backpacking Around Europe Guide and Tips

What to Pack for Europe

Pack for Europe: Awesome Things to Bring on Your Trip

YOU’RE GOING TO EUROPE! Even though we’ve been a bunch if times, we still are super jealous. Europe is an awesome destination for beginning travelers and seasoned veterans. The culture is ancient and interesting, the architecture is steeped in history and romance, and the parties are off the hook! If you are planning a multi-country trip, it’s important that you pack light and efficiently. Regardless of what size bag you are taking, the below list will be a fantastic guideline for all your packing needs. If you start to think you need more than the list below, remember this rule: “half the clothes and twice the money.” 

best backpacks for traveling Europe

It’s always best to pack light for vacation, especially if you plan on traversing multiple countries. The key is to pack exactly what you need and nothing more. Europe can be difficult to pack for depending on the season you visit because there is a very high chance you will be backpacking across different climates. You can avoid over packing for multiple climates by layering and following the packing guide below!

What to Bring on Vacation in Europe: Clothing List
packing list for international travel in Europe

Clothing is going to take up at least 75% of your packing space. A common mistake people make is to pack outfits instead of layers. The key to strategic packing is to pack exactly what is needed and nothing more. This is why layers are superior to outfits. Layers allow you to stay stylish and warm while packing less. For more information on packing layers check out our guide here.

Good travel clothing starts with your underwear and socks. Invest in clothing items that wick away moisture and can easily be washed and dry overnight. After that, depending on weather, layer on thermals, t-shirt, long sleeves, crew sweaters, a heavier sweater, and finally a jacket. Peel off layers as needed. Dark neutral colors work the best because they will  match and not show stains. You can also inject a bit of style and personality in with a cool jacket, shoes, and scarf.

  • Shirts/blouses. Depending on how long you are traveling through Europe you will need quality shirts or blouses that can be layered or worn independently. Bring five short sleeve shirts/blouses and two long sleeve shirts/blouses for the Summer and Spring. For Winter and Fall bring three long sleeve and three short sleeve. Long sleeves can always be rolled up and used as short sleeves, to sleep in, or layer over t-shirts.  Cotton and polyester blends are the fine but synthetic fabrics that are easy to wash and dry over night are the best. It is likely that these articles of clothing will be instrumental in all your future traveling checklists so invest in something that will last.
  • packing checklist for vacation in EuropePants. If you’re wondering what to pack for Europe in October and beyond, consider bringing two pair of lightweight pants. For Spring/Summer pack one pair of lightweight pants and one pair of ultra lightweight pants. Select something stylish and functional that will allow you to blend in while traveling Europe and gain you access to nightclubs. We are a big fan of denim pants because they are durable and stylish, although the downside is they take longer to dry. Stay away from any kind of zip off pants that turn into shorts, they are ridiculous and dorky.
  • Shorts and Skirts.  In Europe shorts aren’t normally worn by locals. If you do plan on wearing shorts stay away from unflattering cargo shorts or anything too long. Lightweight chino fabrics in khaki and navy work great. If you’re a women who’s wondering what to pack for vacation, and can’t decide on shorts or skirts, go with one of each. A good skirt can easily be paired with other clothes for sightseeing during the day and worn at night to clubs and restaurants.
  • Underwear. It can be really annoying if you don’t bring the right amount of underwear.  The universal travel rule is five but, unless you like re-wearing underwear, we say eight to ten.  When it comes to your under garments don’t go with cheap bulk cotton underwear; invest in breathable and quick drying brands like Under Armor. For women who like to pack light we suggest a blend of your regular garments and something that wicks away moisture.
  • Shoes. You will want to bring one pair of comfortable walking shoes that have good traction. Dark colors and styles that can easily be paired with evening clothes will allow you to save room in your bag. Make sure they support your arches and are broken in before you pack them. Also bring one pair of nice dress shoes or boots. If you are wondering what shoes to wear for Europe in winter, look for something warm with excellent traction. Alternatively, if you are going hiking or trekking in the heat, consider some sandal shoes. Lastly bring a pair of disposable flip flops for lounging around and showers. 
  • Sweater. Wondering how to pack light for winter travel in Europe without freezing? Try to find two lightweight sweaters or fleeces that are stylish, dark in color, and can be easily layered. Nothing too bulky.
  • Socks. Having cold wet socks will make you miserable real quick. Instead of suffering, buy socks that are wool or nylon that wick away moisture. You’ll stay warm and dry. Dark color socks are recommended because they are easier to pair with clothes and don’t show stains.
  • how to pack for backpacking EuropeJackets and Hoodies. Investing in a decent jacket will pay off in the long term. Not only will you wear them traveling but also around your home country. Leather and denim never go out of style and allow you blend in while standing out in Europe. Ensure that your jacket isn’t too bulky, can be easily layered over other clothes, and fits your form. Also bring a waterproof windbreaker that is a neutral color and a cheap. If you think you will need a heavier jacket consider something collapsible.
  • Scarf. (Optional) Scarfs are the most diverse piece of clothing when it comes to traveling. We recommend picking one up as a souvenir from Turkey or Ireland.  If you don’t want to wait, find something stylish you like that goes with your travel outfits.
  • Swimsuit. A lot of places in Europe require a proper swimsuit, shorts or underwear won’t cut it. Get something fun and functional.
  • Sleepwear/Thermals. (Optional) Instead of packing thermals and sleepwear, use thermals or long sleeve shirts. There’s a lot of comfortable and stylish options out there, so get something good.
  • Hats and Beanies. No one wants to get sunburned on their face while staring at the Eiffel Tower. Make sure to bring a good hat that can be crushed and put in a backpack. We love snap-backs because you can easily attach them to your belt our pack.  Always bring along a beanie to keep warm at night and to sleep in on a bus or train.
  • Going Out Clothes. For guys bring three nice button up shirts for formal events that are fitted and easy to layer. Two casual flannels for going out and one nice dress shirt will cut it for most restaurants and clubs. For women, rompers and dresses are super versatile. Ladies; it can be tempting to pack all your cute clothes but it’s going to be a pain when you travel, so pick your top 2-3 go to pieces. Don’t forget to bring leggings or stockings to keep you warm.

European Travel Necessities: Toiletries List
What to pack Europe: Things needed for Travelling

Nobody wants to be caught without deodorant or wet wipes when traveling. Having a fully stocked travel toiletry kit makes life on the road way easier and convenient. It also helps to have it organized properly so when it comes to bath time you can get in and out.

  • Toiletries kit. No packing list would be complete without toiletries: deodorant, shampoo, soap, conditioner, travel toothbrush, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, hair product, and shaving supplies. Put them in  clear pouch so security can easily inspect them, nothing over 3 oz.
  • travel necessities for EuropeFirst-aid kit. Click here to see our post on how to assemble a first aid kit with pepper spray!
  • Small towel/washcloth. Carry a travel wash cloth and travel microfiber towel.  Get a dark color to avoid stains.
  • Travel alarm/wristwatch. Most people will use their phone but I recommend buying an inexpensive watch that can set an alarm and shows multiple times as a backup.
  • Hairdryer, Curling Iron, Straightener. (Optional)
  • Condoms. The likelihood of you getting lucky traveling is extremely high so it’s important to protect yourself from STI’s. In some parts of the world they don’t have contraception so bring your favorite brand.
  • Tampons/Feminine Hygiene. Pack enough of these before you travel and stock up when you get low. In Europe they should be plentiful but better safe than sorry!
  • Wet Wipes/Moist Towelettes. No traveler or backpacker should be without these. Being stuck on a long bus, train, or plane sucks if you can’t get a shower; use these as an easy way to clean and refresh yourself.
  • Cologne/perfume. Bring a small bottle of your favorite fragrance.
  • Medicine and vitamins. Bring a good multi-vitamin and any medication you take. Keep all medications in the original bottles. If you have food allergies have a list of them translated into the language of the countries you’re visiting. If you have other medical conditions have a card or bracelet to give to paramedics.

Extra Things You Need for Backpacking Europe
What to bring on a trip to Europe

These miscellaneous travel accessories are more focused on convenience and comfort. You may decide you want to forgo them, only to realize when you’re stuck on a 20 hour flight you wish you brought that neck pillow, or when your clothes are soaked and smell and you wonder why you didn’t invest in some stuff sacks. Packing for travel is all about being low maintenance and comfortable, so why suffer when you don’t have to? Below are great travel items that you should in everyone’s backpack.

  • Small day pack. This is crucial, no one wants to carry their heavy pack or luggage around on day trips. There are a lot of options for small, collapsible day packs.
  • Stuff Sacks. These cheap little sacks make it easy to separate dirty laundry, store dirty shoes, or to keep your clothes dry.
  • Water bottle and Water Purifying. We bevel in sustainable travel so consider saving your Euros on bottled water and pack a refillable water bottle.
  • Headlamp. Rummaging through your bags in dark rooms or under a bus sucks. Get a headlamp so you can easily find stuff, go night time hiking/trekking, and scare your friends with.
  • backpacking EuropeInflatable neck pillow and earplugs. Nice for sleeping on trains and planes.
  • Insect repellent. Bring some along if you’re prone to bites and are going somewhere especially bug-ridden. Since you won’t be running into Malaria or Dengue regular bug spray is fine.
  • Tiny locks. Carry a few small locks: one for your travel pack, one for your day pack, and a short cord to tether your gear to something if no locker is available. They won’t stop determined thieves but it could be the difference between your bag getting stolen or someone else’s. It’s highly recommended you buy TSA approved locks.
  • Sewing kit. Clothes and backpacks can tear while travelling so have a travel sewing kit.
  • Duct tape and zip ties. (Optional) Things break and tear when traveling and duct tape can easily repair them. Don’t pack the whole roll, instead find duct tape that matches the color of your bag and wrap about 6 feet around the straps so you can peel as needed.
  • A good book. Specifically one by a famous author about the country you are visiting. It can be as simple as Sherlock Holmes for London or Kurt Vonnegut for Austria. It helps get in touch with the culture on a deeper level and you will appreciate the experience more.
  • Seal-able plastic bags. Great for wet clothes, snacks, and bagging potential leaks
  • Clothesline. (Optional) Hang it up in your hotel or hostel room to dry your clothes.
  • Bandanna. Take two bandannas wherever you travel, one for your nose and one for miscellaneous.
  • Glasses/contacts/sunglasses. Don’t forget these, and ensure you put them in protective cases as to not get crushed.

What to Pack for a Trip to Europe: Optional Items

You aren’t going to want to weigh yourself down too much when traveling around Europe. That being said, some extra accessories to organize and protect your documents as well a phone or camera to take photos is recommended. The below items aren’t necessary for your trip but can easily fit into a backpack if you want to bring them.

Tips on How to Carry Documents and Money Traveling Around Europe
European Travel Checklist

“Plan for the worst, expect the best.” The likelihood of you getting robbed in most countries is pretty low, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare for the worst case scenario. Most travelers carry their passport, cards, money, vaccine cards, and other pertinent travel documents in hidden pouches or belts. For the most part these are comfortable and don’t call attention to the location of your important documents. Thieves are always looking for an easy mark, so if you have a thick wallet, heavy purse, expensive camera, and are looking at your phone constantly; you can bet you’re going to get robbed. Always be aware of your surroundings, don’t take out your smartphone unless you have to, ensure you have travel locks on your bags, and leave the heavy purse or thick wallet at home. Use these instead:

backpacking europe tips

  • Money belt. It’s important to have someplace to stash your cash and documents so get a money belt or something similar. There are ones that attach to a belt and flip under the front pocket of your pants. Don’t forget to carry back up money and cards in your pack in case you lose the other ones.
  • Money. Pack two debit cards and two credit cards, as well as some of your home country’s currency.  Carry one debit card and credit card in your money belt; keep the others hidden in your pack. Whatever you budgeted for your trip consider doubling it, you will thank yourself and enjoy the trip more.
  • Documents. Your Passport is the most important document you carry. Make about 10 copies and keep them in your backpack. Some places will ask you to leave your passport as collateral (never do this); instead give them a photocopy. Carry your plane, train, and rental vehicle documents, driver’s license or ID; and any other useful cards such as a student ID (Gets you discounts all over EU) in your money belt.
  • Travel Insurance. A lot of insurance companies do not provide coverage outside of your home country, so consider buying travel insurance if you will be traveling for more than two weeks. Some travel rewards credit cards offer travel insurance as part of the program but if not try using World Nomads.
  • Guidebooks and maps. Guidebooks are great if you like a more structured plan. Always have a physical map in case you get lost.
  • Small notepad and pen. A tiny notepad in your day pack is a great organizer, reminder, and communication aid.
  • Journal or Blog: This is up to you, but we strongly believe in recording your adventures in a journal or blog. It’s something you can look back on fondly later. Our memory is imperfect and you will likely forget 80% of your trip, so don’t let that happen!

Packing Checklist: Backpacker Electronics
things you need when traveling Europe

In today’s modern travels, it’s not uncommon to see backpackers carrying expensive phones and laptops. Technology enriches our lives in a lot of ways but it can also hold us back, especially when backpacking through Europe. It can be tempting to climb into our bunks and retreat to the safety internet browsing and social media. Don’t let this happen to you! Use your electronics to plan your trips and communicate with friends, but stow them away or leave them in a locker when you venture out. You’ll connect more with your travel experience and you are less likely to get robbed. Smartphones are being constantly snatched out of tourists hands so keep them packed away unless absolutely needed. The only tech itmees you actually need are plug adapters.

  • Smartphone/mobile phone. Smartphones are a great travel tool. They allow you to download offline maps, play music, keep in touch with people back home, and double as a powerful camera. Consider keeping your phone in airplane mode with wifi on, it will save the battery and prevent you from getting hit with roaming and international fees.
  • Digital camera. (Optional) A quick snapshot camera is great for travel. If you want to take something more professional, ensure you have enough packing space for it.
  • international travel packing listTablet. (Optional) We prefer these over laptops because they are smaller, light, and you can blog or edit photos with them. For this article we use Microsoft Surface Pro because it is durable, packs effortlessly, and quickly allows us to update our blog, edit photos, and Skype with friends.
  • Laptop. (Optional) Bring this if you have work to do or a tablet isn’t enough for you.
  • Headphones/earbuds. (Optional) Get something that cancels noise and gives you alone time.
  • Chargers. and batteries for your electronics are a must.
  • Plug adapter(s). Ensure that you have the right adapters and high speed charging cables for your electronics.

Europe Packing List Summary

When packing for Europe it’s good to pack half the clothes you had planned and double your travel budget. Packing light is made easy when you pack in layers and rol your clothes together. Follow this list when you pack for Europe and you’ll have more than enough room for souvenirs and gifts. For guides on where to go in Europe, check out Lonely Planet.