Your Packing List to Know Exactly What to Pack for Europe.
Packing: you either love it or you dislike it. While we love it because it means we’re heading out on another adventure, it wasn’t always a favourite pre-trip activity. Now, we like to think we’re packing pros when it comes to our travel needs.
It should be noted that we aren’t your typical travellers. We pack light. How light? Well, we usually only travel with carry-on luggage. No checked bags – we find they slow us down. We’ve learned to pack effectively to have the necessary gear and clothing options for multiple seasons and occasions. How do we do it? Trial and error, mostly.
If you’re heading out on your first big trip to Europe, you’re (most likely) going to over-pack. That’s just what happens! But as you travel more, you’ll continue to refine the “go-to” items in your bag. You’ll recognize that a pair of pants sat in the bottom for 5 weeks (2015 version of Eric). Whatever your travel style and purpose, you’ll get better at recognizing what works for you and what doesn’t. Eric packed his carry-on-backpack for Europe in about 45 minutes. He legitimately didn’t forget anything. It all comes from experience.
In this post, we are breaking down what we usually pack for a trip to Europe. We’ll provide you with links to the exact or very similar products on Amazon so you can visualize what we are talking about. If you find that you’re missing an essential travel gadget for your trip, you know where to find it. Oh, and in another post we talk about a packing list for studying abroad. So if that’s you, head on over!
Our Travel Backpacks
Let’s start with the bags themselves. Lisa uses the Osprey Farpoint 40 – a renowned bag for its ability to fit into carry-on luggage standards for most airlines, its ability to open fully flat (like a book), and its straps and design. You can find the Osprey Farpoint 40 here.
Eric travels with a MEC backpack. MEC stands for Mountain Equipment Coop, a Canadian store for outdoor goods and adventure gear. While his backpack is only available in Canada, here’s a model that is very similar to his based on size (it’s a 50 litre) and style. You can also read our massive guide on choosing the perfect backpack for Europe.
Besides our larger bags (that are still small enough to be carry-on luggage) we usually also have a daypack. For this, we use Eric’s trusty orange 10-year-old MEC backpack (here’s one that’s almost identical) and/or a collapsible Herschel daypack that folds up very tiny into its own little bag and weighs next to nothing. You can find that bag here. Depending on the airline, we’ll put the daypack into one of the bigger bags during the flight and still have room for the clothing and gear below. We’ll outline exactly what we bring and how we do it!
Quick Tip: Rolling your clothes gives them a smaller overall profile and can help you fit more into your bag.
Having suitable outerwear for the season and the weather is very important. We often travel in the winter so we have to be more aware of little gear items (hat, scarf, gloves) to stay warm. If you’re travelling in the summertime you won’t need these types of items but you’ll have seasonal items that will replace those (bathing suit, flip flops, etc). In general, do your research, know your body, and only bring what you need.
- Jacket – We recommend a lightweight jacket with a hood that’s wind resistant as well as water resistant, at a minimum. Time of year is obviously dependent but Eric wears his thinner North Face jacket with the right layers (read below) in winter and is warm and dry (but he is also Canadian, so keep that in mind).
- Scarf – There are many different types and materials for scarves that work for different people. We personally prefer light-weight scarves since they take up less room if we have to store them in our backpacks.
- Hat – Canadians call them “toques” but a warm hat is a warm hat and a necessity during the colder months.
- Gloves – We use “tech tip” gloves for texting/snapping photos with gloves on and they work great.
Our general rule of thumb around tops is to pack clothes that we can layer so we won’t ever be cold. Another thing we try to do is to pack shirts that are versatile and go well with the other clothing items that we have packed. If you are travelling during the spring and fall it is especially important to have different options to choose from given that temperature can change noticeably within a few days.
What Eric Packs
- 3 Henleys – Henleys are the ultimate versatile shirt. With a 3/4 sleeve, they can be worn as the base layer, as your only layer, as a sleeping shirt, or as a shirt to wear out for dinner with a sweater on top. Henleys come in different styles and some have buttons 1/4 ways down the front which makes them a little “nicer” than just a t-shirt. Eric usually brings three in different styles and colours so it doesn’t look like he is wearing the same shirt all the time.
- 1 Thicker Sweater/Cardigan – If you’re travelling in the colder months a thicker sweater goes on top of the henley and gets worn on the plane.
- Zippered Hoodie w/ Zippered Pockets – Eric’s grey zip-up from prAna is his favourite travel clothing item ever. It’s a fleece-like material that’s super warm. The best part is the pockets: there are three zippered pockets. One pocket is at chest level (good for securing a phone, money, or passport) and two front pockets are at waist-level. It can be worn as the outer layer or underneath the Northface jacket. An alternative to this type of hoodie is a nicer cardigan depending on your activities.
- 2-3 T-Shirts – Eric usually packs two white shirts and one other coloured shirt depending on the pant colours on that particular trip. They are good for sleeping, as a base layer, and as the only layer if it’s warm out!
- 1 Collared Shirt (optional) – Having an Oxford shirt that’s a neutral colour, such as blue, can be versatile for dinner and drinks out on the town.
What Lisa Packs
- 1 Thicker Sweater – Same as Eric, Lisa likes travelling with a thicker sweater during the winter months. Usually, she wears this sweater on the plane so she doesn’t have to stuff it in her bag.
- 3 Long-Sleeved Shirts – One of the long-sleeved shirts is usually very simple which makes it great for layering or wearing as a nightshirt. The two other thin long-sleeved shirts are a bit nicer and can be worn by themselves or on top of the other shirt for extra warmth.
- 2 T-Shirts – When travelling, Lisa’s wardrobe consists of basic and neutral colours so she can combine lots of different clothing items with each other. As such, she usually packs one black and one white T-Shirt.
- 1-2 Nicer Shirts – These shirts/blouses are made of a lightweight fabric, which means that they fold very small in the bag and don’t crease a lot. They are perfect for special events or going out for dinner.
- 1 Cardigan – A cardigan is a must-pack item for Lisa – especially in the summer when she doesn’t take a thicker sweater. Even when the days are hot, the evenings in Europe usually get a little colder. Having a cardigan that can be thrown on top of a T-Shirt comes in really handy.
Our rule of thumb on bottoms: pants (or trousers if you’re in the UK – don’t get cheeky on us) can be worn again… and again… and again. Once Eric wore one pair of blue pants for weeks on end. They didn’t get overly dirty given the weather and the colour went with all his shirts. Lisa likes to switch out (read: wash) her pants a bit more often, but as long as you have at least two pairs of pants and plan a bit in advance that won’t be difficult to do.
What Eric Packs
- 2 Pairs of Pants – For Eric this means 1 pair of jeans and 1 pair of khaki pants.
- 1 Pair of Shorts – This is weather/season depending, but it would probably be a good idea if you are going to some warmer European destinations in spring, summer or fall.
- 1 Pair of Comfy Pants – Most of the time these are track pants and also work well as sleep pants if required.
What Lisa Packs
- 2 Pairs of Pants – Lisa really likes jeans (Levi 711) so sometimes she takes two pairs of jeans – usually one blue and one black. Other times she switches one pair of jeans for a different kind of long pant.
- 1 Pair of Shorts – Most of the time Lisa opts for a pair of shorts because it is just easier than a skirt – especially if we might do activities that involve hiking, climbing etc. If we know we are only staying in cities/close to the beach and don’t have crazy activities planned, she sometimes chooses to bring a skirt or dress instead.
- 1 Pair of Comfy Pants – A pair of comfy pants is a must. There is nothing better than putting them on after a long day walking around.
Other Clothing Items
Of course, there are a few other clothing items besides tops and bottoms that we take on our trips. We recommend that you don’t bring too many pairs of underwear, socks etc. as you can always hand wash them if needed.
- Underwear for a Week – We only take underwear for about a week and then usually hand wash them every few days or so. Sometimes when we stay in Airbnbs we also have a washing machine so we will do a load of laundry every once in a while. A good option is to buy quick drying underwear – we haven’t done so yet but lots of our travel friends have them and say it makes washing underwear so much easier (you can see an example if you click on the link).
- Long Underwear – If you’re travelling in the winter you should consider packing a pair of long underwear or tights. However, if you are travelling to popular European destinations (i.e. not to the northernmost places of Scandinavia) from the spring onwards, you probably won’t need that. We brought long underwear for our January trip through Eastern Europe and looking back that was a really good decision.
- 1 Bathing Suit/Bikini – We’d suggest packing a bathing suit if you MIGHT go to the beach or to an indoor pool/thermal bath. Even when we are doing a city trip we usually take one bathing suit (definitely comes in handy in Budapest or Reykjavik).
- 4-5 Pairs of Socks – Depending on the season we bring ankle socks or warmer, thicker socks. This is also dependent on the type of shoes we are bringing.
When we are gone for a week or longer we might take more than one pair of shoes – but never more than three. Usually, we take two. One sturdy pair that is good for hiking, walking around or any activities where you’d want to wear good shoes. The second pair is a more lightweight pair – maybe sandals/flip flops in the summer. Usually, we wear the heavier/bigger shoes on the plane to have more room in our backpacks.
Here are the exact shoes Lisa is currently travelling with, and two very similar ones (same brand, same style) to the ones that Eric has on our current Europe Trip:
Toiletries can be tricky to recommend because everyone has different needs and requirements. Not to mention that flying restrictions on liquids and gels make it a little more difficult to bring what you want onto an airplane in your carry-on luggage.
In case you’re not up to date with the liquid limitations: Passengers can only take liquids and gels in small-sized packages that measure up to and do not exceed 100ml in their carry-on luggage. Furthermore, all liquids and gels have to fit into a 1 litre plastic bag. You can get these bags at the airport (most of the time – some European airports don’t give them out for free). We recommend grabbing 2-3 extras and keeping them with you in case they rip, or you need a small plastic bag for keeping things dry/clean later on in your trip! Here’s generally what we pack for toiletry items:
- Small Toiletries Bag – A small canvas or leather zippered bag is a great place to keep non-liquid items: trimmer, Q-tips, floss, etc. The smaller you can buy, the easier it is to hold yourself to only packing lightly and with the essentials.
- Toothbrush + Travel-sized Toothpaste – You can find “travel-sized” at any major drug store or pharmacy store these days as brands have moved to make products just for this need.
- Deodorant – Most large deodorants (in North America) are approximately 85 ml by volume so they are fine. Brands for women are almost always fine but be sure to read the label. Eric once had a security person in Malta try to take away his deodorant that was definitely small enough. After a brief math lesson, he got it through security just fine.
- Face Cream (ideally with SPF) – A Lisa recommendation, but it’s also always good to have something with sunscreen if you’re travelling to a place where the sun is going to shine!
- Travel-sized Hairbrush – Lisa recommends a folding hairbrush but a small straight one will also do if you need to bring one (if you click on the link you can see the one that Lisa has on our current trip).
- Small Airplane Toiletry Bottles 100ml or less with Body Wash, Shampoo (and Face Wash) – Once you arrive in Europe and depending on how you get around (i.e. not flying for a while) you can buy bigger sizes. They won’t be more expensive than at home – unless you’re travelling to one of the Nordic countries or Switzerland! For the first few days, however, it can be convenient to have body wash etc. at hand. Eric always brings small bottles over from Canada and then fills them up along the way.
Additions for Females (maybe):
- A Few Hair Ties – For the longer hair people in general.
- Make-up – Lisa brings a minimal amount of make-up which includes one mascara, one lip balm, one lipstick, concealer, one blush, and one powder with a travel-sized application brush.
- Computer + Charger – Depending on the purpose of your trip and/or your line of work, you might need to bring along your computer. Eric has a Windows Surface Pro 4 which is the perfect lightweight and versatile travel companion for working on the road.
- Camera/Go-Pro + Charger – We create content as we go so we always have our camera gear with us. Compared to true travel vloggers, our gear is small. Lisa has a Fujifilm XT-10, Eric has “Nicky” his Nikon D3300, and we also have a GoPro Session 5.
- Phone + Charger – You’ll probably bring your phone. We both have older iPhones.
- Small External Battery – Especially handy if you have an older phone (Lisa) that likes to suddenly turn off. We have one larger power pack and one smaller pocket-sized charger that is good to charge a phone in full one time. Good for on-the-go-travel without a plug available.
- Additional Memory Card – If you know you’re going to take lots of photos, having an additional SanDisk of 4GB or more can be handy to have!
- Additional USB/Phone Charger Cord – Cords break. It happens. Be prepared.
- Extra Plastic Bags – Eric travels with extra plastic bags of various sizes that he reuses. Some are zippered to seal and others are full-on white kitchen bin liners (they don’t have holes like standard grocery bags). People laugh – but the thing is: you never know when you’ll need a bag until the moment you need a bag. Then you wish you had a bag. Muddy shoes, wet laundry, water bottle spills – life happens.
- Small Packing Cubes – Packing cubes are especially handy if you have a bag where organizing everything neatly is not always easy. Organizing smaller items (like underwear and socks) is a breeze with cubes.
- Small Travel Towel – Depending on where you’re staying, a towel might or might not be included. There’s a lot of good quick drying towels that, unsurprisingly, dry fast and are very light and small to pack.
- Travel Adapter/Converter – If you’re travelling from North America, you’ll need a versatile adapter and voltage converter. Keep in mind the UK has different plugs than continental Europe – and even then there are variations of the European two-prong style (thanks, Switzerland). Best to get a Europlug adapter – also known as Type “C” outlet.
- Combination Lock – A lock is a MUST if you’re planning on staying in hotels in Europe. Some hostels have locks for rent but it’s usually easier to just bring your own lock because you’ll always know the combination. Lisa even has a small lock for her backpack, just in case.
- Sunglasses – Personally, Eric was notorious for breaking sunglasses twice a year until he got a pair of Wayfarer Folding Raybans. They fold, and then fold again to be extra small – and he’s had them for years.
- Small Cord Organizer Bag – If you have lots of little cords and chargers, a soft-sided bag to store them in is not a bad idea.
- Water Bottles – We use ones that are slimmer and made of a thick plastic that is BPA-free. Aluminum also works. Just have one and always have it topped up (airports, bathrooms, drinking fountains, etc.) so you don’t keep buying plastic water bottles because that’s an absolute waste of money and you’re killing the planet. We’re not kidding.
- Dirty Laundry Bag – We have a nylon one that works great but if you have two-sided packing cubes use the second side!
- Travel Journal – Eric takes a leather travel journal around on his travels and writes about all the places he visits.
- Small Purse – Lisa takes a tiny purse for going out in the evening. It can be put into a larger bag for when it’s not being used.
And there you have it – our packing list for a few months spent in Europe with carry-on luggage only! Of course, there are lots of additions and substitutions that you can make based on the exact trip you’re going on. Be sure to research the climate of your destination for the time you’re going to be there. This list is exactly how we’re travelling as we type this post (it’s winter/early spring in Romania) and we’re more than covered for when we head to Montenegro, Croatia, and beyond! Let us know what you think and keep us posted!
As always, Happy Packing and Waddlin’,