As I started to pack for my third visit to Europe, I started to realize I had learned a whole lot from the previous two trips. Although I had traveled extensively in the past, bouncing around Europe is a whole different monster than traveling in other continents.
I honestly had never worried much about how much I packed when flying overseas. Usually, my trips consisted of Ubering to LAX, checking in my bag, getting on the plane, getting off the plane, grabbing my bag, getting in a cab, and heading to my hotel. That’s it. Any exploring that had to be done, was being done without my luggage.
The problem with Europe (this isn’t really a problem at all, because it’s awesome!) is that it’s essentially impossible to stay in one place. If you land in Paris, why wouldn’t you want to go to Brussels? It’s right there! Why wouldn’t you want to go to Lyon, or Provence, or Amsterdam, or Switzerland, or take a short train ride to London? You see my point?! It’s hard to stay still. Now imagine moving from place to place while lugging around a giant suitcase through endless airports and train stations. Now imagine doing that, PLUS having to pay extra fees to bring it along on basically any flight (and some trains)!
The idea only gets worse when you start to consider where you are staying. Hostels usually only have small lockers in the rooms, so a large suitcase wouldn’t fit. Think you’re safe if you’re getting an AirBNB? Think again! A lot of apartments in Europe don’t have elevators (or have the tiny old ones) and have upwards of 6+ floors. Yeah, the luxury of having all your “stuff” with you starts to lose its appeal very quickly.
So, what’s the best way to pack light enough to carry your luggage up six flights of winding steps, but still be able to bring all the essential things?
LIMIT YOUR SHOES
If your heart hurt when you read that, I feel you. But really, limit the number of shoes you bring. Not only do they take up a lot of space, they’re also pretty heavy, and most airlines have weight limits on carry-on bags. Trust me, I had to pay an unexpected £50 to check in my hand luggage because it was above the weight limit.
For most trips, you can get away with bringing only the following:
- A pair of sneakers: They are great for walking around all day in the city, and also come in handy if you’re exploring nature.
- A pair of flat sandals or shoes: These will be useful for a day of exploring the town and will look super cute with dressier outfits.
Tip: Bring sandals that also match your “going out” outfits.
That’s it! I know many of you would also throw a pair of heels in there but stop. Don’t do it. You will likely never wear them. You’ll be walking around all day and your feet will be sore, you’ll be exhausted. If you can even manage to go out and party at night, the last thing you want is to be wearing heels. Just trust me on this one. I’ve learned from experience.
MIX & MATCH OUTFITS
This one is an obvious one, but try to plan your outfits in advance, and make sure you can mix and match them. If traveling in the Winter, bring only one heavy jacket (and wear it on the plane). If you’re traveling in the Summer, it’s a little easier because you’ll naturally have less bulky items to pack. Here are the essential items you will need for either season:
- Tops: Bring basic tees and tank tops for wearing during the day. Even for a longer trip, you shouldn’t need any more than 5-6 of them. Keep in mind you can always do laundry. A lot of AirBNB’s have washers, some hostels offer them, and there are plenty of laundromats everywhere. If you are traveling during Winter, don’t bring any thick sweaters. Instead, just pack lighter tops, and bring a couple heavier layers with you on the plane.
- Bottoms: Jeans ( I usually bring a blue and a black pair), two pairs of leggings, which you can wear to go hiking and do nature stuff, or dress them up with a cute top to walk around the city. If you’re going in Summer, trade one of the jeans for shorts, and one of the leggings for running shorts. Most European countries get hot and humid, and wearing jeans in 95 degree weather and 100% humidity is not fun. I repeat: NOT FUN!
- Dresses & Rompers: Obviously these don’t really apply for winter trips, but they are so great for every other season, and you can wear them during the day or at night. I normally bring about 5 different ones.
- Accessories: Most accessories are small, so they are easy to bring along. Just don’t go too crazy here! But definitely bring a couple of different fun earrings and sunnies to make that white tee look like a whole different outfit in your Instagram pictures. As for purses, I usually only bring one, and I wear it on the plane. I just carry whatever color match the shoes I am bringing (usually black) and that’s that! I can wear it every day.
I know this list seems scarce, but you may just surprise yourself with how little clothes you need in order to live.... even though your closet (and that chair in the corner) may show otherwise.
THE EXTRAS (BUT STILL ESSENTIAL)
I know! There’s still more stuff! I’m getting to it.
Electronics: If you’re anything like me, you may end up having a ton of camera equipment to bring. I could write a whole other post about this alone. Most airlines and trains will allow you a carry-on suitcase and a “small personal item”. My small personal item is a pretty large camera backpack, but I’ve gotten away with it every time. I think as long as it fits under the seat, they don’t really care.
Here’s what I keep in my backpack:
- Laptop and charger
- Camera with lens, batteries, charger
- Phone charger
- DJI Mavic Pro & Controller
- One book
- Snacks for the plane (a lot of these airlines don’t have free meals, and I’m cheap)
- Travel pillow, which I clip onto the backpack
Make-up: Relax, I wouldn’t DARE tell you to leave your make-up at home. But do you really need all of your Anastasia palettes? Do you?! You don’t. What I found works for me is just keeping my make-up separate at home, I have a little baggie with the everyday essentials, and then a large (giant) baggie with everything else. When I travel, I just bring the little baggie. Just don’t think about it much... you’ll be fine. Plus, if you ever need a full-on face of makeup while in Europe for some reason, you could probably just pop into a Sephora and ask them to “show” you some of their stuff.
Toiletries: Same concept here. I have a medium size zip bag where I keep all this stuff fully stocked all the time so when I am packing, I just grab it and go. Here’s what’s in my toiletry bag:
- Travel size sunblock
- Shampoo and Conditioner sampler packets I’ve collected throughout the months. I always have to buy shampoo and conditioner wherever I am, but it’s nice to have an emergency supply in case you can’t find it anywhere one day.
- Travel size perfume (gotta smell good!)
- Travel size deodorant (gotta smell good, I said!)
- Travel toothbrush. I use one of those that have a little LED light in the case, so it kills all the bacteria.
- Medicine: headache, allergies, heartburn, and anything else you may think you need.
- Tampons. You don’t have to bring a whole lot, as you can always buy them at any pharmacy. But better to have some just in case.
- Any other small bathroom items you use daily.
And that’s all! See, that wasn’t so hard! Now you’re ready for the tiny staircases, packed train stations, and strict European airline luggage rules.
I have used this packing strategy twice before for 2-3 week trips and found that I even had too much stuff. I am going for 3 months this time, and I am sure at some point I will miss my heels, but I think I’ll manage just fine.