Updated: December 16, 2016
I wrote this backpacking Europe packing list because packing for travel can often be very difficult — especially for beginners. Many first-time travelers make the mistake of bringing way too much gear so that travel quickly becomes tiresome. It can also make you a bigger target for thieves because you’re not able to keep track of your belongings as well. This packing guide for Europe will help you know what type of clothes and gear you should bring, and also includes tips for packing light.
Hey Ladies! Check out our new Women’s Packing List for Backpacking Europe — it’s a similar guide to this one, but the suggestions are geared toward women.
This Guide Includes:
- Quick Tips for Packing Light
- Travel Accessories
- Electronics for Travel
- First Aid Items
- What Not to Bring
- Where to Buy Gear
First, I suggest limiting yourself to 20-22lbs worth of gear (including your backpack). If you exceed 22lbs (10kg), you start running the risk of exceeding the carry-on weight limit for budget airlines (like Ryanair). Even if you don’t plan on taking planes, I still suggest keeping your weight around 20lbs.
Cut the Clothing: Pretty much all the weight in your backpack comes from your clothes. Most inexperienced travelers bring way too much. There isn’t really any difference between packing for 6 weeks and packing for 6 months because you’ll do laundry just about every week.
- You’re only going to have a few shirts/pants, so make sure they all match each other. Choose dark and neutral colors (dark colors hide dirt/stains better than light colors). Most Europeans tend to wear more subdued clothing anyway.
- If it is going to be cold, you should dress in layers. A big bulky coat isn’t going to be practical (unless you’re going somewhere extremely cold). A thermal base layer, long-sleeve t-shirt, sweater, and fleece jacket combo is much more practical than a big coat. You can always add/subtract layers if needed. Click here for the Savvy Backpacker guide to keeping warm in the winter.
Cut the Toiletries: Liquids/gels/etc. weigh a lot. Limit yourself to the very basics.
Lose the Bulky Guidebook: Guidebooks are great, but they can be heavy. Cut out the pages that are of interest to you. You’ll lose most of the bulk this way.
Special Note – Looking Good vs. Packing Light
You want to look good in Europe, I understand. Europeans are known for being super fashionable and you want to be the same. It just isn’t practical to wear really nice clothes as a backpacker. You have limited space in your bag, so it doesn’t make sense to pack an outfit that you’re only going to wear once. This doesn’t mean you have to look like a slob. It is really simple to look presentable as long as you pack items that look good when worn with each other. I’ve put together an article with some general European fashion advice. Okay, on to the packing list.
Clothing Packing List for Travel in Europe
Socks and Underwear
This is one area that many beginner travelers don’t consider, but experienced travelers know how important quality socks and underwear are. If you think about it, socks and underwear are worn close to your skin, so they can be the difference between being comfortable or not. I highly suggest spending a little extra money to buy quality items because you’ll be much more comfortable.
Socks (4-5 pairs)
High-quality socks are essential. Unfortunately, nice socks can be expensive and a lot of people don’t want to spend the money on something as unsexy as socks. But, I suggest you spend a little extra money to get a few nice pairs (plus, nice socks will last for years so you can still wear them when you are home). Most experienced travelers recommend quality wool socks—you can get lightweight wool socks for the summer and they’ll actually keep your feet cool and dry. Obviously you’ll want heavier-weight socks if you are traveling in the winter. Trust me about nice socks. I can’t even wear crappy cotton socks anymore. Look for socks that are:
- Moisture-wicking – Your feet will sweat a lot (especially since you’ll be doing a lot of walking), so you want a sock that draws moisture away from your feet. Having dry feet helps eliminate odor and stops the formation of painful blisters.
- Quick-drying – It is pretty easy to wash your socks in the sink, so you want a pair that will dry overnight (about 6 hours).
- Odor-eliminating – Some synthetic socks have special anti-bacterial features that help eliminate odor. Light-weight wool socks will also do this naturally (light-weight wool can also work well in the summer).
- Avoid Cotton! – Cotton socks soak up moisture and won’t dry well once wet. They will start to smell very quickly.
A nice pair of socks can be worn 2-3 times before they start to stink (although you’ll want to rotate the days you wear each pair).
Recommended Sock Brands:
- SmartWool Socks (also via Amazon.co.uk) – I love my SmartWool socks. I wear them all the time. They have a wide range of socks (from light- to heavy-weight).
- Darn Tough Socks (also via Amazon.co.uk) – Made in Vermont, this brand of really nice socks will last for years. They get great reviews.
- Wigwam Socks – Worth checking out.
- Thorlo – Thorlo makes quality socks that aren’t too expensive.
For a more in-depth article about the wonderful world of socks, check out our favorite socks for travel.
Underwear (5 pairs)
I like to bring a few pairs of underwear. You can probably get away with whatever you normally wear, but I really like Exofficio Travel Underwear (here is the link for women’s). This underwear fits well, reduces chafing, wicks sweat, and fights odor. Many travelers rave about these because you can get away with wearing them for a few days before needing to wash them. They are also ideal because they dry quickly, so you can easily wash them in the sink. Exofficios are a bit pricey, but a lot of travelers say these are must-have items. Many people also like Under Armour underwear.
For a more in-depth article about travel underwear, check out our favorite travel underwear!
I always stress that you should only pack one pair of shoes because shoes are bulky and heavy. But it is understandable if you want to bring two pairs. You’re going to be on your feet a lot while in Europe, so you really want a sturdy pair of comfortable shoes for sightseeing. Guys can get away with a pair of nice leather sneakers that are comfortable during the day and look nice enough for going out at night. Some people opt for sturdier “hiking” shoes. They’re usually waterproof and have an all-terrain sole. They’re not super stylish, but they are usually pretty comfortable. If you plan on traveling during a rainy time of year, I would suggest this option. While we’re talking about hiking, I suggest leaving the hiking boots at home unless you plan on doing some hardcore winter hiking. Throw in a cheap pair of rubber flip-flop sandals if you’re going to stay in a hostel. You’ll want them for the showers. Trust me. I highly recommend that you leave dress shoes at home. While sneakers would probably prevent you from entering any super swanky nightclubs, I doubt most budget backpackers can afford those places anyways.
Note: Americans seem to have a love affair with white sneakers/athletic shoes. Don’t wear white shoes if you don’t want to be instantly recognized as an American tourist. But if you don’t care, feel free to wear them.
For a more in-depth guide to finding the best shoes, check out our guide to fashionable and comfortable travel shoes.
Shirts and Tops
Button-up shirts (4)
I think long-sleeve button-up shirts are the best option when it comes to shirts (be sure to check out my guide to fashion in Europe for a more in-depth guide on being fashionable while traveling in Europe). When looking for a shirt, keep the following things in mind:
- Versatile — Don’t bring fancy dress shirts, but a nice casual button up will work well during the day and at night. Basically, pick something that will look fine in a church/museum, in a café, and at a bar.
- Non-wrinkle — It is hard to keep clothes unwrinkled while traveling, so non-wrinkle fabrics are a nice option.
- Easy to wash — Stay away from things that you can’t easily wash or that are high maintenance.
- Dark colors — Dark colors do a better job at hiding stains. Plus, most Europeans tend to wear darker colors, so you’ll blend in better with the locals.
Sweaters (1 or 2)
Lightweight sweaters are nice for dressing up or for cool nights. For maximum versatility, make your sweaters and button-up shirts all look good together because you can wear them together. If you’re traveling in the summer, it might be wise to save space by not bringing a sweater.
T-shirts (3 or 4)
While I prefer wearing mostly button-up shirts, I still like the option of wearing a t-shirt. They are good for around the hostel, sleeping, wearing under other shirts, and sometimes wearing around town. I usually pack about four solid color shirts.
Pants (2 pairs)
I like to bring a pair of dark slim-fit jeans. Dark jeans can be dressed up or completely casual, and they match everything. You can wear jeans for months without washing them and they still won’t stink. Plus, jeans are a staple in every European’s wardrobe (I lived in Paris and most locals wore jeans all the time). Some hardcore travelers don’t wear jeans because they are fairly heavy and take forever to dry. While they’re right, I still think jeans are the best way to go in Europe. Also bring a pair of well-fitting neutral/dark color chinos (light-weight cotton). These look nice if you want to dress it up a bit. Please don’t wear those travel pants that zip off and turn into shorts — they are just way too dorky. I personally think a pair of jeans and a pair of chinos is all you need, but some feel more comfortable with an extra pair of pants.
Shorts – Most European adults don’t wear shorts. You’ll probably be pegged as a tourist if you decide to wear them, so keep that in mind if you plan on bringing them. Just stay away from khaki cargo shorts because that is the stereotypical American tourist outfit.
Swimwear – If you go to the beach, then you’ll need something to wear.
Jackets and Rainwear
Obviously, whether you take a jacket or not will depend on when and where you travel.
Fleece Jacket – A nice fleece jacket is great because it is very lightweight and it provides a lot of warmth. I suggest getting a black one because it will be the most versatile. Patagonia has a lot of amazing options.
Rain Jacket – A rain jacket is one of those things that take up a lot of space and are rarely used. Therefore, I’d say this would be optional. You probably don’t need one if you’re only visiting cities (just bring an umbrella). If you plan on doing a lot of hiking/being in the wilderness, then you might consider it.
Softshell Jacket – A softshell jacket is a nice combination of a fleece and a rain jacket. It won’t be quite as warm as a fleece, but it will be fairly waterproof. The Marmot Precip is an extremely popular jacket, and the Marmot Minimalist is a nice and sleek option.
Sun Glasses – Rayban sunglasses are very popular at the moment.
Scarf – Both men and women wear scarves in the summer and winter.
Hat and Gloves
Choosing a backpack is too complicated to outline here. We have a guide for how to choose the perfect backpack for traveling Europe and our recommended travel backpacks for Europe.
A small backpack you wear while exploring the city. It should be just big enough to carry a few things (journal, souvenirs, small umbrella/light rain jacket, those cute mini-bottles of alcohol, etc). Ideally, you want to be able to pack it into your main backpack without it taking up a ton of space. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite daypacks here.
Packing cubes are great for keeping all your clothes organized — which is important when you live out of a backpack. There are many companies that make packing cubes, but I like the eBags cubes and the Eagle Creek packing sleeves. If you want more information about how to use packing cubes (or how to properly pack your backpack) check out our guide to properly packing your backpack.
A quick-drying towel is one of my favorite travel accessories. To be honest, I hate the feel of these towels, but they do an amazing job. They absorb a ton of liquid and they dry in a few hours. Normal towels take hours and hours to dry and they will really make your backpack stink. This is a must-buy. Some advice: These towels are much smaller than a normal towel. I suggest buying the large or XL size—especially if you have long hair.
This is essential. A key chain flashlight is perfect for those nights when you return to your hostel dorm room late—don’t piss off your roommates by turning on the lights at 3am. The Streamlight 73001 Nano Light Miniature Keychain LED Flashlight is an amazing little flashlight that is super bright and tiny.
Ear Plugs & Eye Mask
There is a 300% chance that you’ll encounter multiple snorers and people who turn the lights on at 3am. I highly recommend Hearos Ear Plugs (they’re cheap and effective), and there are a range of eye masks for sleeping.
It is a great idea to have a small notebook while you travel because you’ll want to jot down notes about interesting things. I prefer using the classic Moleskine Notebook. Plus, this notebook will serve as a great souvenir after your journey is over. Or you can make your own travel guide — see my post about making your own travel guide.
Travel Sleep Sheet
I found that most hostel sheets were clean, but it isn’t uncommon to find that some are a little less than clean… If you don’t want to chance it, then I suggest a cotton sleep sheet. Cotton can get a bit heavy and bulky, so silk is another option. Not only do silk sleep sacks feel really nice, they are also lightweight and compressible.
Flexible water bottles are lightweight and hardly take up any room in your pack. I prefer these to the common “Nalgene” bottles because these take up much less space.
If you plan on ever washing your own clothes in the sink, you’ll need a travel sink stopper.
Travel Laundry Soap
Tie the clothesline across your bunk and hang up your wet clothes. I prefer the rubber braided clotheslines because they don’t require any clothespins — you just stick the clothes through the braids. I don’t like the kind with suction-cups because they never seem to work well.
Tide To Go Stain Remover Pens are great for getting stains out of clothes. I used this way more than I thought I would. They even have mini ones that are great for your daypack. These individually wrapped Shout Wipes also work really well.
Some hostels will rent you a padlock, but it is easier to bring your own. I like the kind that lets you set your own combo because it is so much easier to use — especially after a few drinks (but they are a little more expensive). Master Lock Set-Your-Own-Combination Padlock
Retractable cable locks are amazing for locking your backpack to your bunk/luggage rack. It will deter someone from running by and grabbing your bag from your dorm or train car. I used mine all the time, so I’m glad I brought it.
You never know when you’ll need to patch something or tape your snoring roommate’s mouth shut. Don’t take a whole roll — wrap the tape around a pencil so it won’t take up much space. You can also purchase travel duct tape.
MacGyver always carried his trusty swiss army knife (he also had a pretty bitchin’ hockey-haircut). You never know when you’ll have to carve a baguette into a knife so you can cut some French cheese. (Unfortunately, I like to always carry on all my luggage when I fly, so a knife is out of the question.) If you want something more robust, then look at a multitool device.
Travel Alarm Clock
Don’t forget an alarm clock because it is easy to oversleep and miss those early morning flights and trains. Most phones have an alarm clock function, but you might want to pick up a travel alarm clock if you don’t travel with a phone. There are plenty of travel alarm clocks available, so just get a cheap one.
Digital Luggage Scale
If you plan to only carry on your luggage, you might want to get a digital luggage scale to ensure your bag is under the airline’s weight limit — especially if you purchase things as you travel.
Photocopies of Important Documents
Make a few copies of your passport and other important documents just in case you lose them.
I hate money belts, but some people swear by them. I think I wore mine for about 10 minutes before I threw it into the bottom of my bag and never saw it again. Just get a skinny wallet and put it in your front pocket. (I always leave my passport locked up in the hostel.)
Searching for an umbrella in an unfamiliar city (especially while it’s raining) isn’t any fun. Trust me. I suggest buying a travel umbrella before you leave.
Plastic travel utensils are essential for the budget traveler. They come in really handy if you get a cheap lunch at a grocery store or you want a romantic picnic in the park with your new European “friend.” If you want to be a true baller, then check out this titanium spork.
A toothbrush cover is something you’ll want to bring along since hostel bathrooms are not always super clean. I like the Steripod Clip-on Toothbrush Sanitizer covers because they sanitize the brush while the cover is on. I’m not sure how this scientific voodoo works, but it does. Or you can just get a normal toothbrush cover.
Lint rollers are a must because all those dark clothes attract a lot of lint and they need to be spiffed up about every day.
Ziploc Bags (Various Sizes)
These are good for your dirty or wet socks/underwear. Put any liquids in Ziploc bags. In fact, double bag them. I’ve seen many backpackers open their bags to find that their shampoo bottle had spilled all over their clothes. Also, for extra protection, put your important travel documents/passport in a plastic bag. I usually buy the Ziploc brand because they are better quality than the value brand. Ziploc also makes a large 3 gal bag that is nice for storing an extra pair of shoes (so you don’t get your clothes dirty).
Read my guide to traveling with electronics for more in-depth advice about using electronic devices while traveling.
Travel Power Strip
Power outlets are a hot commodity in most hostels. I’ve stayed in hostels that only had two outlets in a room with 10 people. A travel power strip can be a lifesaver when you need to charge/power all your devices. Plus, you’ll make a lot of friends when other people can plug into your power strip. This Monster 4 Outlet Travel Power Strip is my favorite (there is also a 6-outlet version). The Belkin Travel Power Strip with USB ports is another nice option.
Digital Camera w/Charger
You’ll obviously want a camera when you travel. Check out my guide to picking the best digital camera for travel. Don’t forget the extras…
- Extra Memory Cards: Make sure you have plenty of memory cards/high capacity cards. I made this mistake on my first trip to Europe, and I kept having to find a computer so I could transfer pictures from my card to free up space. Check Amazon for the best price/selection.
- Extra Battery: Buy an extra battery or two from Amazon. I bought a super cheap third-party battery from some seller in China and it was extremely helpful on my trip.
You can use these to help plan your trip, find directions, listen to music, and a ton more. I think these devices make travel much more enjoyable.
Laptop or iPad
Laptops are becoming more popular in the backpacking world. To me, they seem like a huge hassle and people end up spending a lot of time on them (although I understand the draw of having easy access to a computer). Personally, I use a Macbook Air, but a cheaper option is a Netbook. An iPad is also a great choice. Read our article about the best laptops for travel for more help on choosing a travel computer.
Using your mobile phone without having an international plan will cost a fortune. If possible, get your phone unlocked so it can be used with any European SIM card (which are available all over Europe). You can also buy a cheap pay-as-you-go phone once you’re in Europe.
Plug adapters change the plug on your electronics to fit the outlet of the country (UK and Europe are different plugs). Don’t confuse these with “voltage adapters”. Read our guide for traveling with electronics to find out the difference.
It is pretty amazing how heavy all your toiletries can become. Between the shampoo, body wash, toothpaste, and everything else, it’s easy to amass 5-10lbs of toiletries, most of which you don’t need. Honestly, you can buy most of this stuff once you arrive. Plus, I’ve always liked going to European grocery stores to see what they have. But if you have particular needs, you’ll want to bring those things with you.
Hanging Toiletry Bag
The first thing you should get is a toiletry bag that can hang. Most hostel bathrooms are small and have no shelf space, so being able to hang up your bag is incredibly convenient. I use the Ogio Doppler bag because it is sturdy and compact, but still has a lot of room. This will save you a lot of hassle. Trust me.
Pour the liquid into one of those small travel-sized bottles. You can always buy more if you ever need it. GoToob travel bottles get great reviews from travelers.
Toothpaste & Toothbrush
Don’t buy a travel toothbrush — they’re a waste of money and don’t really even work. I just stick with a normal toothbrush and a Ziploc bag. Don’t forget the dental floss while you’re at it.
Shaving Stuff (Razors & Cream)
I usually like to just grow a beard so I don’t have to deal with shaving. If you’re going to go this route, I suggest starting a few weeks before the trip so you don’t have to deal with the “itchy” stage while traveling. If you’re going to shave, I suggest bringing a travel size shaving foam and some disposable razors. An electric razor probably won’t work, and it will cost too much to buy a new one, so stick with the good ol’ manual shave.
French cheese is stinky enough. But seriously, I’ve found that deodorant in Europe is formulated differently than in N. America. It seemed like it took my body a few weeks to get used to the new formula, so you might want to bring your own if you don’t want to chance it.
Make out sessions are no fun with sunburned lips.
Contacts can be a pain, especially in polluted cities. Eyeglasses might be a better choice.
I don’t know anything about makeup, but try to limit it to the essentials.
Some souvenirs are no fun. If you play your cards right, you might need to buy in bulk. Eighth-grade safety tip: Don’t keep condoms in your wallet because it makes them break down quicker.
Travel Febreze/Fabric Freshener
This is good for freshening up your clothes. I like the travel-sized Febreze To Go.
Travel Size Toilet Paper
You never know when you’ll be out. This is something you really want to get.
Wet Wipes/Baby Wipes
Hopefully you won’t need them, but they are good to have. I like the Cottonelle Fresh Flushable Wipes because they come individually wrapped, so they’re super easy to pack.
Available via: Amazon.com
Hostels aren’t the cleanest places you’ll ever visit…
Go get a few of those free cologne samples from the store or buy a small bottle. Don’t bring a big bottle because it is too heavy. I like to bring a few different colognes for night/day.
A lot of people get chafing after they walk a lot, especially if it’s really hot. Anti Monkey Butt is great for those hot days.
Take care of your feet because you’ll be walking a lot. O’Keeffe’s Healthy Feet Cream will keep your feet from becoming rough and cracked.
I would pack minimal first-aid supplies because you can get everything easily in Europe. Just get the very basics.
The prescription needs to be on the bottle/box because some countries will check your medicine when you pass through immigration. I’ve never been asked to present any medicine, but it is possible. Also make sure you have enough medicine to cover your entire trip. I’m not really sure of the rules about buying prescription medication overseas, but I’m sure it’s a hassle.
In many European countries, you can only get medicine (even basic stuff like Tylenol) from a pharmacy. This isn’t really a problem, but some pharmacies have limited open hours. Might as well have a few pills on hand before you arrive.
For your widdle boo-boos.
Motion Sickness Pills
Don’t rock the boat — seriously, I’m going to lose it.
Anti-Bacterial Travelers’ Diarrhea Medicine
You’ll need to get the diarrhea medicine from your doctor, but it works a lot better than Pepto. Most likely you won’t need it in Europe, but… just in case.
Helps settle your stomach. The Pepto-Bismol caplets are much more convenient to carry in your bag than the liquid.
Small Pack of Tissues
These are helpful for when you look at your credit card bill.
Here is a list of things that a lot of people bring to Europe but end up never using.
Sleeping Bag: Sleeping bags are bulky and heavy. Unless you are camping or sleeping on someone’s floor, you don’t need a sleeping bag.
Sleeping Pad: There is no need for a sleeping pad if you’re staying in hostels. I guess if you’re going to Couchsurf or camp, it could come in handy.
Hairdryer: Buy one in Europe if you need it – they are cheap. Don’t bring your own because it will fry (even with a fancy power converter). The dual voltage hair dryers usually don’t work too well.
Wire Mesh Backpack Theft Protection (Pacsafe): The Pacsafe Anti-Theft Bag Protector (or via Amazon.ca & Amazon.co.uk) may seem like a good idea for protecting your backpack, but you really don’t need it — especially since most hostels provide safe places to store your bags. These might be better suited for “ sketchier” parts of the world or if you are traveling with lots of expensive electronics. But, for most travelers, they just add a lot of weight to your pack. I talked to a few people who had one and everyone said that they stopped using it after a few days.
Water Filter: The water is fine in Europe. You can always buy big bottles of water at the grocery store for cheap.
Books: Books are bulky and heavy. Many hostels have a collection of books, and you’re normally free to swap. Travelers also swap books with each other.
Valuables: Don’t bring anything that you really don’t want to lose. Leave the fancy jewelry at home. Tech stuff is trickier because it is expensive but sometimes essential for travel. Use your best judgment.
Beach Towel: These take forever to dry and take up a lot of room. If you do bring one, make sure it is dry before you put it in your backpack. A damp towel will make everything in your bag smell really musty. Or you’ll have to tie it to the outside of your backpack and you’ll look like you’re wearing a superhero cape. I recommend a quick-drying travel towel. People with long hair might want two.
Guitar: Don’t be that guy.
Hiking/Backpacking Food: You don’t need prepackaged travel meals. These are for hiking in the wilderness. There are plenty of McDonald’s/Burger Kings if you ever get really desperate (so what, I like McFlurries. Sue me).
We recommend picking up some travel insurance — which will help cover your travel gear, flights, accommodation, rail passes, and medical emergencies. World Nomads is our top choice [learn more about Travel Insurance].
Do a Test Run Before You Go
Load up your bag and see how heavy it is. Walk around with it for 20 minutes. You’ll be surprised how heavy all your stuff can be. You might consider repacking if your backpack weighs too much. I would try to keep your total bag weight around 20lbs. I’ve seen people with packs weighing over 40lbs and they quickly see how terrible having a heavy pack really is.
Check out my guide for how to pack your bag or backpack for traveling in Europe.
Amazon: Amazon has the best selection and prices.
REI: One of the largest outdoor retailers.
Rick Steves: Travel legend Rick Steves has a range of travel gear and, of course, guidebooks.
No Funny Business
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Thanks! — Susan and James