Traveling through Europe has been one of my favorite vacation experiences so far. It is absolutely the trip of a lifetime… and it requires a lot of planning. I’m not much of a “back-packer” so when I “travel Europe” it requires a suitcase (and hotels, but that’s another story). If you’re going to be moving from city to city, you really do need to pack light and think strategically. Here are some packing tips for your European travels:
- Find a good suitcase
If there is anything an avid traveler knows, it is to invest in a nice, durable suitcase. There is nothing like coming back through customs after a long trip and having the zipper on your suitcase break apart exposing all your dirty clothes (yes, this happened to me right there in the middle of customs in Tegucigalpa, Honduras… a lot of duct tape was involved afterwards). If you’re traveling through Europe, you will be lugging your bags EVERYWHERE and they will need to hold up to a LOT of wear and tear. So splurge on something nice with heavy duty zippers and durable, easy to pull wheels.
- Find the right size suitcase for YOU
So you know you need a durable suitcase. But don’t go out and buy the largest one on the lot, so to speak. Do not bring a large, heavy suitcase if you’re traveling in Europe. You are going to be moving this suitcase from train to train, from hotel to car, from uber to plane, from train station to hotel, from plane to train, etc. etc. etc. You MUST feel comfortable moving, picking up, throwing over, etc. your suitcase from here to there. You MUST be able to pick up your suitcase and lift it over your head on a train (see Everything to Know about Train Travel in Europe). Thus, you should be traveling light.
If you can make it in a carry on, absolutely go this route. If you’re like me, or if you’re traveling during colder months, this will be difficult. I recommend the next size up from carry on for your Europe travel.
- Pack strategically
Because you are going to be very limited on space, pack your clothes strategically. Plan to layer and plan to bring things that you can switch out and change up your outfit. Scarfs are multifunctional, can really change up an outfit, and take up very little space in a suitcase. If you’re traveling during cold months, wear your jacket and warmest clothes and boots (don’t pack them, as they take up space).
- Just plan on doing laundry
If you’re traveling Europe for more than 10 days, you are just going to have to do laundry. Almost every (nice-ish) hotel has a laundry service, and if not you can do it yourself. Plan on this! It will save you a good amount of room in your suitcase.
- Make your carry-on count
Pack items that you will need during travel (sunglasses, makeup, brush, toiletries, camera, iPad, headphones, travel entertainment, chargers, etc.) in your carry-on bag. The more you fit in your carry-on, the more space you’ll have for clothes in your suitcase. Make sure your carry-on has a pouch that can slip over your suitcase. This will be helpful if you’re walking a good distance (such as from the train station to your hotel).
- You ONLY need 3 pairs of shoes. Period.
It pains me to say it, but you really need to limit your shoes for your Europe vacation. You just don’t have space for more than 3 pair (1 of which you will be wearing). So, here is what I recommend: 1) Boots or versatile sandals (depending on your travel season); 2) Walking shoes; and 3) comfortable black dress shoes/heels. These will get you where you need to go and are practical for your traveling, regardless of what you’re doing.
7. Invest in a neck pillow- they’re cheap.
Europe travel means you will be on the go a lot! And you may not realize it, but “travel days” from city to city can be long and uncomfortable. Invest in one of the inflatable neck pillows (they deflate and take up less room in your carry-on). This can be used (often) and can help you get some much needed “shut-eye” during your trip.
- Bring your iPad or Surface, not your laptop.
Laptops can be bulky and heavy. IPads and Microsoft surfaces have basically all of the features you would need while traveling and take up much less space (and the battery lasts longer!). Bring an iPad or Surface to keep you entertained on your travels, or use it to write/blog about your travels (or to check in back home, if you must).
- Make sure to bring your nice camera.
There are times when you may want to leave your nice camera at home, but traveling Europe is not one of them. Europe has BEAUTIFUL scenery and architecture, and you will want to pull out that Nikon every 5 seconds. Bring your camera and an extra battery/card. This will be a trip of a lifetime and you can’t take enough pictures.
- If you’re a guy, pack old clothes
This seems strange, but our most recent Europe trip my husband had a genius packing idea. He packed all of his older jeans and shirts (he buys completely new wardrobes annually), and threw them out along the way. This works if you’re the person who will go once a year and buy 10 new jeans and 10 new Polo shirts. By the end of our trip, his suitcase was nearly empty and provided us room for all of our souvenirs purchased along the way. Of course, this technique would never work for me (I want to look my best in Europe!) but for him It was perfect. Win-Win.