Making a packing list for Europe shouldn’t be too complicated. It may seem challenging, but from my experience, you really just need to follow some simple guidelines and tips.
I spend several months a year travelling around Europe every year and have learnt how to create the perfect packing list over the years.
As a result, this Europe packing list is minimalist but also comprehensive and detailed.
I always recommend minimalist packing, bearing in mind that you’re going to countries where you can buy just about anything while there if necessary, so there’s no need to carry too much with you.
Packing light will also give you much more flexibility on a multi-destination European trip.
This essential packing list for Europe covers clothing, toiletries, electronics, luggage and documents.
There are some optional items on the packing list and you can adjust it according to your travel style and the weather forecast.
It can easily be adapted for a vacation in Europe in summer, winter, spring or fall.
In the following sections I’ll tell you exactly what to pack for Europe, whether you’re going backpacking or on a luxury holiday.
Use the checklist at the end of this post for quick reference or last minute packing.
Carry on luggage and day packs – the best bags for a european trip
To find the best luggage for your trip to Europe, there are some choices you need to make.
Travel in europe with a carry on backpack
I use The Journey packing system as my carry on backpack. The huge advantage of this system is that it has 5 bags in one system; it also includes a day pack, a toiletry bag, a laptop case and various smaller bags, so you basically don’t need to buy any extra pieces of luggage once you get it.
If the video has piqued your interest, read my full review of this carry-on bag here.
The Journey can also be carried like a suitcase, but I personally prefer to travel around Europe with a bag on my back. There are many good reasons for that:
* Cobblestone roads: Europe has a lot of them. Even in areas where it makes no sense to have them.
Dragging a wheeled suitcase on a cobbled street is terribly annoying, to say the least, both for you and for everyone in the vicinity.
* Stairs: You’d be surprised how many train and metro stations in European cities don’t have elevators or escalators.
I often watch people struggling to carry their suitcases up these stairs and it doesn’t look like fun.
It’s not just train station though. Your hostel, hotel or vacation rental may not have an elevator either.
When you’re tired after a long flight, the last thing you want to do is carry a suitcase up the stairs to the third floor…
* Moving through crowds: Some big cities in Europe are awfully crowded.
Both main streets and public transport can be difficult to navigate if you have a pull a suitcase behind you.
* You want your hands free: When you need to find something on your phone, search the map, take out your metro ticket or hold an umbrella, you want your hands to be free.
A backpack is an easy solution to all of these problems.
Carry on suitcases
If you suffer from back pains, or prefer a suitcase for some other reason, get a wheeled suitcase instead of a backpack, or a convertible carry-on bag.
Carry-on or checked luggage?
The second decision you want to make is whether you want to travel only with a carry on backpack or with a larger piece of luggage that you check at the airport.
I always prefer to travel light and never check luggage, and there are many good reasons for that as well:
1. Money: Carry on luggage will save you a lot of money when you fly around Europe.
Low cost airlines in Europe can be amazingly cheap to fly with… unless you add checked luggage, which in some cases can seriously increase the price.
Flying with only a carry-on means you’ll have much more flexibility in choosing flights within Europe.
2. Weight: Limiting yourself to a carry on bag is a good way to avoid overpacking.
We all tend to take way too many things that we don’t actually need when we travel.
If you choose a backpack over a suitcase, it will most likely become uncomfortable if you overpack.
3. Stress: I never worry about my bag being stolen, lost or damaged. It travels with me on the plane, so I know where it is at all times.
I also never have to wait by the luggage belt once landed, saving precious travel time.
Foldable and anti-theft daypacks
Your small day pack should be spacious enough to contain all of your day-to-day necessities.
Your phone, sunglasses, waterproof jacket, camera, documents etc. should all fit into the bag.
I also suggest you buy a bag with a water bottle holder. It’s never a good idea to have a water bottle in the same pocket as your phone.
I use the day pack that comes with The Journey, but if you want to buy your carry on and your day pack separately, there are many foldable day packs on the market.
Eagle Creek’s packable daypack is lightweight, folds into a small pocket and has lockable zippers.
If you’re going to areas notorious for pickpockets, consider getting an anti-theft daypack.
These are bags that have many features, such as secret pockets, security hooks, RFID-blocking pockets to protect your passport and credit cards and more.
Pacsafe is the leading anti-theft bag brand. Pacsafe Venturesafe is a 15L anti-theft daypack that looks like an ordinary backpack, but has a lots of concealed safety features. If you need a larger daypack, go for the 25L Pacsafe Metrosafe. Watch the video to see what it looks like.
Clothing – what to pack for europe
Clothing, including shoes and accessories, are the bulkiest items on your packing list for Europe and will take up the most space in your luggage.
Before we go into detail, here are two things to remember when packing for Europe:
* Travel light: As a general rule, it’s a good idea to pack for one week, even if you’re going to travel for longer.
This is one of the most basic tricks if you want to travel light.
Pack for one week, do your laundry once a week, and you won’t have to deal with the headache of overpacking.
Avoid packing every item of clothing you think you might want to wear – pack only what you will definitely wear. No maybes.
* The European weather: In many places around Europe, the weather can be very unpredictable.
This is true for many of the most popular destinations in Europe. Sometimes you will experience four seasons in one day 😉
The easiest way to prepare for that is to use layers. More about that below.
Tops & jackets
T-shirts and other tops
T-shirts are the most basic items on any packing list for Europe, whether you travel in winter or summer.
They may be simple, but you can add accessories to make your look more interesting and versatile every day.
I highly recommend quick-dry t-shirts. You’ll be grateful for packing those every time you do your laundry during your trip (don’t assume you’ll always find a drier).
Some brands to check out when you’re shopping for quality travel tops:
- Uniqlo developed their own innovative dry-ex and AIRism technologies. Their shirts for women and men are breathable, moisture wicking and dry quickly.
- ExOfficio are famous for their quick dry, moisture wicking travel clothing.
- Anatomie for wrinkle free travel tops.
- Bluffworks – for moisture-wicking, quick-dry and odour-resistant technology.
You may want to add a top that’s more elegant, a blouse or a button up shirt, for going out at night or for more formal occasions.
Because the weather is unpredictable in many places in Europe, you may be sweating on a crowded train, but freezing on the street.
So you want to add some warmer layers beyond the basic t-shirts, as well as a waterproof jacket.
[If you know you’re only going to be in hot places where the weather is predictable, just skip this section].
To save space in your bag, I recommend packing a long sleeve thermal top, rather than a sweater.
These are lightweight and do not take up too much space in your luggage, but are absolute life savers when the temperature suddenly drops.
Jackets and raincoats
As for jackets, a good fleece jacket is essential for cooler evenings during summer.
Fleece jackets are lightweight and and will also dry quickly when washed or if you’re caught in the rain in the middle of summer…
Check out these brands to buy a quality fleece jacket for your trip:
Another option that’s perfect for travel is a SCOTTeVEST.
These are designed with a surprising number of hidden pockets that you can store just about anything in!
Pick a jacket in a dark solid colour that will match the rest of your clothes.
If you’re going to travel during winter in cold European countries, bring a warmer coat.
A rain jacket is essential when packing for Europe, whether you travel in winter or summer.
Pick a lightweight, foldable, water-resistant windbreaker with a hood, that you can just throw into your daypack and forget about it, until you need it.
Pack comfortable trousers for flights and train rides (I usually wear yoga pants). This is important especially if you’re arriving in Europe on a long flight.
I recommend trousers in dark colours only, because they’re easy to match with the rest of your clothes.
It may be a good idea to pack shorts or skirts if you plan a trip to Europe during summer, but only if you’re going to hot countries, mainly in the south of Europe.
Otherwise, they may be a waste of space in your luggage.
The weather is so unpredictable in some areas of Europe, that walking around in shorts during the day may prove a mistake when it gets cold in the evening.
For the same reason, cropped pants aren’t the best idea either.
You may also find that shorts or skirts are not acceptable in some religious institutions.
You may be about to enter a beautiful cathedral and find out that what you’re wearing is inappropriate…
There will normally be a sign at the entrance with a dress code.
That’s why you want multi-purpose trousers:
* Long trousers you can roll up when it’s warm (like leggings or yoga pants), and
* Convertible travel trousers with a zipper at the knees that turns them into shorts.
The latter would normally also be of a quick-dry material, which is always a good idea when you plan your packing.
Leggings can also be used as a base layer in cold weather.
As you can see, these two options do not include jeans.
Jeans are bulky and take a long time to dry, so they’re generally not the best item to put on your packing list for Europe. Save them for short trips or quick city breaks.
Trousers tend to take up a lot of space in your bag, so consider how many you will actually need for a week (remember, you want to do your laundry once a week).
I recommend two pairs and in any case no more than three.
There’s a huge selection of travel trousers out there.
Here are some brands you want to browse to find good quality travel clothing:
On your trip to Europe, you’ll be using your feet a lot.
Walking around, going up towers for panoramic views, going up and down stairs at public transport stations, walking on those weird cobblestones…. you get the picture.
Comfortable walking shoes are probably the most important item on your packing list for Europe!
Uncomfortable shoes, or new shoes you haven’t broken in yet, can and will ruin your vacation.
Here are some tips to help you choose the right pair of shoes:
* Choose walking shoes in a dark colour, so you can easily match them with the rest of your outfit.
* Ideally, look for dressier sneakers, that you can use for walking during the day and when going out at night.
* If you’re going to rainy destinations, pick shoes that are waterproof.
* It is a good idea to invest in good insoles before your trip.
* If you’re going hiking or mountain climbing, pick the right shoes. You can also wear them around the city.
* Walk in your new shoes and break them in before your trip. You’ll thank yourself later 😉
They take up minimal space in your luggage and are also handy in warm weather and when you go to the pool or the beach.
I always travel in Europe with one pair of black slip-on sneakers that I wear everywhere, plus flip flops for showers.
That’s the most minimalist you can go when packing for Europe.
Underwear & socks
As with shoes, comfort is key when you choose the underwear to pack for Europe.
It’s also a good idea to use quick dry underwear when you travel. You’ll be able to wash them in the sink and they’ll dry quickly.
Cotton does not dry quickly unfortunately, but there are some quick dry underwear on the market.
The number of pairs you bring depends on whether or not you like washing underwear in the sink. In the video above, the guy used 2 pairs on a 2-year cycling trip! That’s the huge advantage of using quick dry underwear.
I personally have found that I’m too lazy to wash them in the sink after a full day of exploring, so I have to bring more pairs.
For women, two bras should be enough. Make sure they’re your most comfortable ones, as you’ll be wearing them for long hours each day.
For your pyjamas, there are no rules; use whatever you find comfortable, as long as it’s lightweight. Leggings or yoga pants and a t-shirt are great. If the weather is cold at night, you can sleep in a long sleeve thermal top.
The best socks for travel are comfortable, moisture wicking, dry quickly and odour resistant (or anti-bacterial).
So your standard cotton socks are not ideal for travel… I peronally prefer bamboo socks.
Just as with underwear, if you’re happy with washing them in the sink, you can bring less socks and save space in your luggage.
On long trips around Europe I wear the same t-shirts again and again, but always use some fashion accessories to make things a bit more interesting.
Bring some necklaces, badges, watches, bracelets and scarves to mix and match during your trip.
The only thing you don’t want to pack are expensive jewellery, as you may not always have a place to store them safely.
Other than that, play around with colours and patterns.
Even if your a minimalist packer like me, small accessories hardly take up any space in your luggage.
Toiletries & health – europe packing list essentials
A hanging toiletry bag is super useful when you travel.
It’s compact and keeps your toiletries organised in pockets.
Hang it on the towel rack or the bathroom door and you’ll have access to everything you need easily.
When you create your packing list for Europe, you may be tempted to take your entire bathroom with you. There’s no need for that.
I strongly recommend minimalist packing when it comes to toiletries, for two reasons:
1. There are limitations on the quantities of liquids and creams you can carry on planes.
2. You can buy them cheaply just about everywhere you land.
Because you can only bring liquids and gels in small quantities on flights in Europe (100ml or 3.4 ounces), it’s a good idea to look for solid versions of toiletries.
Instead of carrying a bottle of shampoo, I use the a shampoo bar, which can also be used as body soap.
If you’re on any prescription medicine, don’t forget to add it to your packing list.
The same goes for vitamins that you take regularly.
I usually also take some basic painkillers, just in case.
Of course you can buy them at your destination, but you may not be able to buy them just when you need them (imagine a headache that keeps you awake late at night…).
Beyond the essentials, here are some optional items you should consider bringing:
* Small pack of tissue – It’s always of to have them in your daypack.
* A towel – Depending on where you’re going to stay, you may need to bring your own towel.
It’s best to pack a quick-dry travel towel that’s lightweight and folds into a small pouch in your luggage.
* Make up – If you use make up and can’t live without it when you travel, pack only as much as you will actually use, preferably in a compact travel kit. You can always buy more in Europe if needed.
* Anti chafing cream– If you’re going to hot countries in summer (or even cooler countries, because there’s a heatwave in Europe every summer), pack this cream to avoid chub rub.
* Hygienic products for women – If you use tampons or sanitary pads, you should be able to buy them just about anywhere in Europe.
Calculate whether you’re going to need them shortly after you land, and in that case bring some with you. Otherwise, just buy them during your trip.
There are better solutions for travel these days, such as a menstrual cup or period underwear .
Electronics – what to bring to europe and some optional items
Some of the most essential items on your packing list for Europe are the devices you’ll be using on a daily basis and their chargers.
Phone and sim card
Bring your own phone if it’s unlocked or buy a cheap one in Europe.
When you buy a sim card in one EU country you will be able to use it in other EU countries that are part of “Roam Like at Home”, meaning you won’t pay extra when you move between countries (but do check the fine print).
I always take two portable chargers for my phone with me when I travel around Europe.
Although I normally use only one, it’s best to have an extra one as backup.
You’ll probably be using your phone more than usual on your European trip, for navigation, translation, taking photos and keeping in touch with friends and family back home.
Buy a reliable power bank, not one that will stop working just when you need it most.
Also don’t forget to pack all your device chargers and charging chords.
The best power adaptor to pack for Europe is a universal adaptor with USB ports.
Most countries in Europe use the 2 round pronged outlets (Type C).
However, The UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta have a completely different outlet, 3 pronged and rectangle (Type G).
You can buy power adaptors when you arrive in Europe, but I recommend you buy them in advance and take them with you.
It will make life easier when you land. Running errands when you’re just starting your vacation is no fun.
Use it to charge all your devices, just bring USB cords.
This is much more compact than a long power strip and will save space in your luggage.
You can take photos on your phone or tablet, but if you’re not entirely happy with their quality, it’s best to bring a camera as well, so you won’t have to regret missing out on capturing memories from your European trip.
Don’t forget to bring an extra memory card and battery charger (and maybe an extra battery).
You may want to bring a tablet instead of or in addition to a phone.
It’s handy for taking photos, reading and messaging apps.
If you ever carried paper guidebooks with you, an e-reader will definitely save space in your bags.
Download your maps and travel guides onto your e-reader instead (TIP: Lonely Planet let you download ebook versions of their guides).
Carrying a laptop with you is not a good idea, unless you are a digital nomad or actually plan on doing work that you can only do on a computer.
If you can do everything you need to do on your phone or tablet, then you’d better leave your laptop at home.
It’s just a heavy, expensive, fragile item that you don’t want to carry around with you.
You also don’t want to have to worry about whenever you leave it in your hotel room.
Travel documents & money
The most essential documents you need are your passport, travel insurance, airplane ticket.
Save photographed copies of all of these on your phone as backup.
If you also have train or bus tickets booked, or car rental confirmations, make copies of them too.
Keep your hotel or vacation rental reservation confirmations handy on your phone or printed them out and take them with you, including instructions on how to get to your accommodation from the airport or station.
I also note down the phone number of my vacation rental host / hotel just in case I get lost on the way (it’s only happened once 😉 )
Don’t forget to bring any cards or certificates that you may need: A driver’s license, a ho(s)tel membership card, an international student card etc.
Keep your money in different places in your luggage.
It’s never a good idea to keep all your foreign currency in one bag, in case it gets stolen.
You may want to use a neck wallet or a money belt to hide your cash, especially of you’re going to spend time in big cities that are known to have a lot of pickpockets, such as Barcelona, Rome, Prague or Madrid.
Speaking of cash, not all European countries use the Euro, so do check in advance which local currencies you’ll need (click here to check currencies).
I recommend taking an extra credit or debit card as backup.
For your peace of mind, keep it hidden and separate from the card you normally use.
Payment methods vary between countries in Europe, and sometimes even between cities in the same countries.
Many places are going cashless these days, but you will still find shops and restaurants that don’t accept cards…
That’s why it’s best to have both cards and cash on you.
Packing List for Europe – The Checklist
Here’s the full list – both minimalist and comprehensive 🙂 Some items are optional, depending on where and when you’re going to Europe.
- Carry on backpack / wheeled luggage / a convertible bag.
- Packable daypack and/or an anti theft bag.
- Money belt / neck wallet.
- 5-6 t-shirts and 1-2 dressier tops
- Long sleeve thermal top
- Fleece jacket and/or Scotts Jacket
- Rain jacket
- 2 pairs of trousers
- Walking shoes
- Flip flops
- Fashion accessories
- Phone and sim card
- Device chargers
- Power adaptors
Travel documents & money
- Travel insurance
- Plane tickets
- Accommodation reservations
- Accommodation directions and phone number
- Credit / debit cards
- Transport tickets
- Car rental confirmations
- Driver’s license
- Ho(s)tel membership card
- International student card
Toiletries & health
- Laundry detergent
- Prescription medicine
- Make up
- Tissue paper
- Hygienic products
- Anti chafing cream
Leading travel gear brands
- Eagle Creek
- The North Face
- Briggs & Riley