The Essential Packing List for Europe: Our Ultimate Guide on What to Pack
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Wondering what to include on your packing list for Europe? Don’t worry. Packing for Europe doesn’t have to be as overwhelming as it seems.
If this is your first trip across the pond, you’re probably thinking you need to pack everything but the kitchen sink. Trust me here: Resist the temptation to overpack, especially if you’ll be visiting more than one city. The less you pack, the better off you’ll be.
Even on our three-week vacations to Europe, we try to fit everything we need into one carry-on and one piece of “hand luggage” per person. This saves us from lugging an extra ten tons of baggage from city to city, plus it means we don’t have to wait at the notoriously slow baggage claims found at many European airports.
To help your packing go smoothly, we’ve created this “Ultimate Packing List for Europe.” We’ll cover the essential items you’ll need to pack for your vacation, offer recommendations on some of our favorite travel products, and include some optional items that are nice to have if you can spare the room. And, to help you even more, we’ve made it super easy for you to check off the items as you pack them in your suitcase. Just download and print the checklist here.
Sound good? Let’s get started!
Passport – Let’s be clear: You can purchase almost any other item on this list after landing, but – if you forget your passport – you won’t even get off the ground. Having your passport is the most important thing on this entire list. To get to Europe, you’ll need a valid passport, preferably one that doesn’t expire for at least another six months. If you don’t have a valid passport (or your passport is nearing its expiration date), you should apply for a new passport at least ten weeks before your trip. Processing a new passport usually takes several weeks, so this should give you plenty of buffer room before you go. Once you receive your passport, make two copies of the photo page just in case you lose your passport while traveling – one to carry with you and one to leave at home with a friend or relative. For rush orders, you can also try a service like TravelVisa Pro (get 5% off using the link and code TVP5). They are expensive, but – in an emergency – you can get your passport in as little as 8 hours.
Credit Card – In my opinion, the best way to travel with money is by using a credit card whenever possible. It’s easier to carry, there’s no paper money to worry about, and – if it gets lost or stolen – you can simply call and cancel your card instead of losing the money. Be sure to get a good travel rewards card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Earn a signup bonus before booking the trip and you may be able to get your flights or hotels for free. The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers great benefits and no foreign transaction fees, which helps make it our favorite card for beginners. Follow the link to learn why it should be the first rewards card in your wallet.
ATM Card – Even though I prefer using a credit card, the fact is that many European businesses still require you to pay in cash. Rather than carrying hundreds in cash with you, simply bring your ATM card and grab some cash from a machine once you’re there. (Important Note: Before you leave, don’t forget to let your bank know your travel dates or your card could get declined.)
Universal Power Adapter and Converter – Don’t make the mistake of going to Europe without a power adapter AND converter. (Trust me, I’ve done it.) Not only do the outlets take different shaped plugs, but the voltage of the electricity is also different. So, if you have an adapter but not a converter, you could end up destroying your electronics. Personally, I use and love the all-in-one adapter and converter found using the link above. It has three AC plugs and four USB ports, so you can charge seven devices at once.
Shirts and Blouses – Regardless of whether you’re going for one week or three, I recommend packing between five and seven shirts or blouses for daily wear. You may also wish to pack one or two “nice” items for evenings out. Keep in mind, most of Europe stays pretty warm from Spring through Autumn. In the summer, it can get downright hot. So, unless you’re traveling in the winter, short sleeves that cover your shoulders are usually best. (Hot Tip: Rolling your clothing rather than folding it can save you tons of space in your suitcase!)
Pants and Shorts – When it comes to pants, I usually wear a pair of blue jeans to the airport while packing another pair. Then, depending on where we are going, I typically bring two pairs of shorts to wear when we’re out sightseeing. If you’re not into shorts, bring a few pairs of lightweight pants along instead. Also, keep in mind that some sites, particularly some religious sites, may require that your knees are covered. Although I haven’t used them, my friend swears by these convertible travel pants for men which double as pants or shorts. Again, roll your pants to create more room in your suitcase.
Skirts and Tights – For ladies, it’s smart to bring along a skirt that covers your knees. This should satisfy any dress code for certain religious sites. A comfortable pair of tights to wear underneath is also recommended.
Belt – Packing at least one belt is usually a good idea.
Shoes – Traveling to Europe typically involves a lot of walking. That makes having the right shoes one of the most important things to pack for Europe. I like to bring along a good, comfortable pair of walking shoes that are already broken in. To save room in my suitcase, I generally wear these shoes to the airport and pack a pair of sandals if we’ll be heading to the beach. Personally, I skip the dress shoes, but you may consider bringing them if you’re checking a bag or have extra space.
Sweater, Long-sleeved T-Shirt, or Lightweight Jacket – Although it gets warm during the day, it’s usually pretty cool early in the day. I like to bring along two long-sleeve T-shirts to wear in the mornings and to stay warm on the airplane. These are especially important if we plan to spend any time in the mountains. Once it warms up, I tie them around my neck or waist and keep on truckin’.
Shawl and/or Scarf – Ladies may also consider bringing a shawl or scarf to stay warm when it’s cool. These can also double as a shoulder cover at certain religious sites with a dress code. They’re a great way to add a splash of style to your traveling wardrobe as well.
Socks and Underwear – No vacation packing list would be complete without socks and underwear, right? With all that walking, you’re going to do some sweating – especially if you’re visiting during summer. So, I recommend packing about seven pairs of each. Try a cotton/nylon blend because they’ll air dry quicker. (Europe doesn’t have a lot of dryers!)
Pajamas – If you’re a pajama fan, be sure to bring two pairs of sleeping clothes with you.
Swimsuit – If you plan to hit the beach, don’t forget your swimsuit.
Hat – The sun can be brutal in certain areas of Europe, especially during the summer. Packing a hat to keep the sun off your head and out of your face is definitely something I’d recommend.
Packing Cubes – Packing cubes are a great way to save space and keep your clothes organized inside your suitcase. Holly loves hers!
Clothesline – When packing for Europe, the goal is to pack light. Washing an item or two in the evening – either by hand or with a washing machine – can help you bring fewer clothes! Since finding a dryer can be tough, we always bring two clotheslines with us. We like this bungee cord style because we can hang them anywhere.
Money and Travel Information
Hotel Information – Although we typically use our smartphones to help us navigate a new city, there are times when we step off the plane or train and the map feature doesn’t work…and it sucks. That’s why we always carry a folder with paper copies of our hotel reservations, rental car reservations, and hotel contact information – including step-by-step directions to our hotel – with us. Trust me, these can be a lifesaver.
Sightseeing Passes – Many large cities in Europe have sightseeing passes that can save you time and money at the area’s top attractions. While most of these are now available in a digital format, it doesn’t hurt to have a physical copy of the pass with you as well. Here’s a list of sightseeing passes throughout Europe (and the U.S.) that we recommend.
$100 in USD – Although you won’t be able to spend it there, I like to bring about $100 in USD for emergencies. If all else fails, I can exchange my $100 for the local currency and I won’t be completely broke. Personally, I carry mine in denominations of $20 and below.
Money Belt – Carrying a money belt is an excellent way to protect your belongings while you’re traveling throughout Europe. This provides you with an easy way to carry and access your cash, credit cards, and documents while making it extremely difficult for pickpockets to swipe them. I prefer to wear a flat belt that fits nicely under my shirt. Follow the link above to see an example.
Guide Books – A great guide book can be a wonderful addition to any trip. Before we visit each destination or attraction, I like to get some background information on it from my book, helping me understand the site better once I’m there. (FYI, this is a great activity to do on a plane, bus, or train.) Then, I review those sections of the book after our visit in order to cement what I’ve learned.
Train Tickets – Traveling through Europe by train is a fast, efficient, and comfortable way to get around. Although tickets are almost always available at the train station on the day of your trip, we like to book reserved seating before we go. This helps us plan our travel days, saves us from unnecessary hassle and stress, and we get to book guaranteed seats that are usually together. If you do book reserved seating, be sure to bring copies of your tickets with you. Personally, we like to use Trainline to book ours in advance.
Lightweight Bag or Tote – A lightweight backpack or tote bag that folds up is great for carrying items while you’re out. If you’re out walking or on a guided tour, you can stash your guide books, camera, water bottles, and more in here.
Toiletries and Personal Items
Sunglasses – Trust me, you’re going to want these. Oh, and don’t leave them in the back seat of the plane like I often do…
Toiletries Bag – Bathrooms in Europe tend to be small, and there is usually almost zero counter space to put your stuff. A hanging toiletry bag like this one is a good way to stay organized and save space. Rather than transporting all your toiletries in this bag, however, it’s usually a good idea to put all of your bottles inside a gallon ziplock bag. That way, you won’t end up with a mess from leaking bottles due to air pressure changes on the plane.
Medications – If you take daily medications, packing these are almost as important as your passport.
Toothbrush – Don’t forget this…
Toothpaste – …or this…
Deodorant – …or this.
Cologne or Perfume – If you enjoy wearing cologne or perfume, don’t forget to add this to your packing list. Dabbing on a little scent can also be a good way to stay smelling fresh during those hot summer days. Remember, if you’re carrying liquids onto a plane, each bottle must be 3 ounces or smaller. Additionally, all liquid containers must fit inside a quart-sized resealable bag.
Tampons or Pads – For those who need them, be sure to pack these in your carry-on. To save space, remove them from the box and stick what you need into a resealable plastic bag. If you forget, you can pick these up when you get there. Just visit any pharmacy (they are the businesses with the green cross sign) and they’ll have them. Of course, it may not be your favorite brand, but at least they’ll have something.
Brush or Comb – For the follicly gifted, you’ll probably want to throw one of these in your backpack as well.
Hairspray or Gel – Worried about sporting a stylish hairdo? Don’t forget your hairspray or gel!
Hairdryer – If you’re worried about your hair, it’s always a good idea to bring a hairdryer with you. While some hotels and apartments have a hairdryer available, many do not. Smaller, compact hairdryers travel best.
Makeup Bag – Again, if you are somebody who can’t live without putting on their face, don’t forget to pack your makeup bag.
Sunscreen – You’ll likely be spending a lot of time outdoors while sightseeing. At times, the sun can be brutal. Pack a few smaller bottles of sunscreen (remember the 3 oz. rule) and/or pack a couple of solid face sticks. When we’re out sightseeing, I like to carry these in the pockets of my cargo shorts. If you don’t have space in your carry-on, you can also pick up sunscreen at a pharmacy once you get there.
Digital Camera – These days, smartphones have some pretty nifty cameras on them. Unless you’re an experienced photographer or you want some specialized shots, there’s not much you can do with an actual camera that you can’t do with a good smartphone camera. With that said, if you’re a beginner or intermediate photographer who is looking for a good camera with lots of lens options, I use the Canon Rebel T6i.
Extra SD Cards – If you’re like me, traveling through Europe means taking hundreds of photos a day. Regardless of whether you’re using a digital camera or your smartphone, be sure to bring an extra SD card so you don’t run out of space.
Smartphone SIM card or International Data Plan – You don’t want to be stuck with thousands of awesome photos and no way to share them, do you? When packing for Europe, be sure you have either an international SIM card or an international smartphone plan. If you go the SIM card route, get a card that has data as well as talk and text. You’ll also want to ensure that you have your phone set up to work with it before you go. (See your service provider for details.) If you travel frequently like we do, you may want to switch to a plan like T-Mobile which includes international talk, text, and data.
SD Card Adapter – Are you taking photos with a digital camera? Bring an SD card adapter so you can upload your photos to your phone while you’re on the go!
Selfie Stick – Yes, they are annoying. Yes, you look silly. But who cares? Selfie sticks are super useful when you’re out sightseeing. Forget about what others think, and get the shot you want with a selfie stick.
Laptop Computer – I never travel without sticking my computer in my backpack and carrying it on the plane with me.
Power Banks – Portable power banks are great! Just charge them up overnight, shove them in your pocket, and charge your devices while you’re out sightseeing. Trust me, these things are awesome!
Kindle or iPad – Are you traveling with kids? Help them make it through those boring plane, train, and bus rides by bringing a Kindle or iPad filled with games and activities.
Kindle Paperwhite – Speaking of Kindles, a Kindle Paperwhite is a great way to carry a bazillion books with you at once. This little device takes up almost zero space, but it can help you travel with dozens of books to help you pass the time.
Chargers and Extra Batteries – Don’t forget to pack chargers and cords for each device. Personally, I like to pack some longer cords like these so I can use my device while it charges. For devices that aren’t rechargeable, bring some extra batteries or buy some when you get there.
HDMI Cord – Recently, I bought an extra HDMI cord that I can just leave in my travel backpack. This comes in handy for a whole bunch of things, including when I want to hook my computer up to a TV monitor and catch up on my shows in the evening. You may also need a Virtual Private Network (VPN) subscription in order to watch your shows. This helps keep your computer safe when using public wifi and can make it look like you’re connected to a network in the U.S. You can get a VPN subscription for less than $5 a month here.
Other Items to Bring
Water Bottle – In Europe, the days can get long and hot. Luckily, if you have a water bottle, you can fill up at one of the many fountains you’ll find and save a few bucks a bottle.
Airplane Pillow (Inflatable) – To make your flight more comfortable, bring along your favorite airplane pillow. Also, try to take an overnight flight where you can get some sleep. Then, wake up when you land and hit the ground running to avoid jet lag.
Earplugs and Eye Mask – Although many transatlantic flights hand these out, it doesn’t hurt to bring them with, just in case. They can make a world of difference when you’re trying to sleep.
Headphones – Instead of earplugs, you can instead bring a good pair of noise canceling headphones. They’ll serve a dual purpose of headphones and earplugs!
Journal and Pen – If you’re somebody who likes to write, be sure to bring a special journal with you to document your experiences.
Rain Poncho – Rain ponchos take up almost no space, are easy to carry with you each day, and are super valuable when the weather decides to add a little moisture to your plans.
Binoculars – On certain day trips, a small pair of binoculars can definitely come in handy.
Sewing Kit – A small sewing kit is a great addition to any packing list for Europe. While higher-end hotels may provide this free of charge, packing a needle and thread can help you make minor fixes to that blouse you planned to wear more than once.
Luggage Locks – Want to keep your stuff locked up while you’re out? A few simple luggage locks are a great way to deter petty theft.
Plastic Baggies – You never know when plastic baggies will come in handy! Having a stash of resealable plastic bags is a great way to keep your stuff clean and organized. I always pack my toiletries, especially the liquids, in a plastic bag when we’re in transit. This helps avoid messes and keeps my clothes clean and dry.
Books – If you’re somebody who needs to feel the pages, pack a couple of books in your backpack or handbag. Just remember that books are heavy and take up a lot of space. So, pick one or two and call it good.
I hope this packing list for Europe has been helpful. Thanks so much for reading, have a wonderful trip, and happy traveling!
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I stumbled upon this at a great time. My wife and I head to Italy in a week!
Nice, have fun!
Good list. Pretty close to what I’m usually taking – but I really would like to know how you fit all this into one carry-on 🙂
Yep, I do – one carry-on and one backpack that fits under the seat. Clothes take up the most space, but if I roll them, that creates just enough space 🙂
It’s a good checklist when we travel to any country not only for Europe.