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What to Pack for Europe: The 5-Step System
Whether you’re planning to spend a long weekend in London, a semester abroad in Italy, or an entire summer traveling around the continent by Eurorail, don’t start packing your bags without referencing this Ultimate European Packing list!
Once you start planning, it’s tempting to expand your European journey from a single destination—to several. Inexpensive intra-continental flights and the speed of the local rail system make it easier than ever to explore multiple countries during a single trip. And, considering the cost of flying to gateway cities like London, Rome and Paris (fares can easily exceed $1,000 round trip) that’s exactly what most US-based travelers do.
Packing multiple destinations, cultural experiences, and activities into a single trip can make for one incredible adventure, but it can also make packing itself one serious challenge! To help you plan to journey to multiple European locales and climates (without getting saddled with excess baggage fees) we asked veteran traveler and writer Shelley Seale to share which items you really need—and which “essentials” you can do without.
Step 1: Use a Multi-Function Convertable Bag
Are you planning to roll your luggage throughout your journey—or do you need straps and a comfortable frame so that you can easily carry your gear from place to place? If you’re traveling to Europe (where modern boutique hotels meet ancient piazzas), the answer is almost certainly going to be “both.” Fortunately, with a hybrid piece of luggage (like those in Eagle Creek’s Switchback or Morphus lines), you can easily switch back and forth between your preferred methods of toting your stuff.
For most European travel, your bag can and probably will be rolled — so why put the extra weight and work on your shoulders? In those instances where rough cobblestoned streets or endless staircases (think Venice) are the norm, the ability to convert to a backpack can be a real lifesaver.
Step 2: Pack in Layers
One unchanging truth about Europe: The weather is constantly changing, often going from warm and sunny to wet and chilly in a single afternoon—and that’s if you’re standing in one spot! Hop on a flight between Dublin and Southern Italy and you may feel like you’re in another world (at least as far as the climate is concerned).
Make sure you always stay comfortable and stylish by choosing clothing that you can layer, selecting thin breathable fabrics like cotton and knits that can keep you warm in the early morning and are easily peeled back as the temperature rises. Stash one lighter, hooded waterproof jacket in your luggage and wear or carry a heavier jacket or coat to save space.
If you’re going to overpack anything, overpack socks (stuff them into your shoes and between the small, empty spaces in your bag) and underwear. You can never have too many fresh pairs of either essential!
Step 3: Choose Comfortable Footwear
Thanks to those aforementioned cobblestone streets, walking around most places in Europe is far more comfortable with when you’re wearing a comfortable pair of walking shoes, with plenty of support and cushion. Fortunately, there are some really stylish ones out there that can also look good when going out to dinner at a nicer restaurant. For Europe, I recommend trying to limit your shoe packing to two pairs: one open-air pair of sandals and one closed shoe that can be worn with socks.
Step 4. Lock Down Your Packing System
The best method for fitting everything into a single bag and make your gear easy to access? Adopting your own organized packing system. Mine came together thanks to Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes. I started using the cubes last year and wondered how I traveled for so long without them! I put all my bottoms (pants and skirts) in one cube, tops in another, and use the smaller one for underwear.
Not only do the cubes help compress your clothing down to a more manageable size, but because each type of clothing has its own special spot (much like they do in your drawers at home), it makes moving from place to place on the road a lot faster and less stressful. Say goodbye to the “exploding bag” syndrome that seems to happen once you’ve unzipped your bag in the fifth destination!
Step 5: Add in Essential Travel Accessories
Don’t forget the smaller essentials you’ll need on your journey. A USB World Travel Adapter is a good bet for plug-in items in Europe – it offers various prong configurations to use with plugs found in different countries. Plus, you can use it when traveling to other parts of the world as well. To be eco-friendly, take your own water bottle; most water in Europe can be sipped directly from the tap, and many cities have public drinking fountains for filling up. A non-BPA plastic bottle is the most lightweight bet, or check out the collapsible kind for ultimate portability.
Other useful items to put on your packing list are a TSA-approved lock and cable for your luggage (helpful when riding trains or buses to prevent theft); a travel pillow, sleep mask and ear plugs; a travel towel; and money belt or hidden wallet. When it comes to all of those items you consider packing “just in case,” Leave those behind. Remember, if you do forget something or need something else, you can always buy it once you reach your European destination.
Lightweight, hooded waterproof breathable jacket
Warmer jacket or coat (carry-on)
Several tops that can layer together
Pair of jeans and another pant or shorts
One skirt or dress for women
Socks and underwear
Two pair of comfortable walking shoes
Luggage lock and cable
RFID-blocking money belt or hidden wallet
Reading material or device
Mp3 player for music, and/or mobile phone
Camera and plenty of SD card storage
Chargers for your electronics
Personal cosmetics and grooming items (keep it minimal)
Sunscreen and lip balm
Feminine products for women
Small medicine bag (include aspirin, upset stomach pills and motion sickness medicine)
Shelley Seale is a writer and author based out of Austin, Texas but can often be found vagabonding all over the world. She can be reached at shelleyseale.com