Packing Tips For Backpacking Across Europe

Packing smart for a European backpacking adventure makes traveling easy and your experience more pleasant.

After months of research and planning you're finally ready to jet off to Europe. The life-changing adventure of traveling abroad is right around the corner, and all you have to do is get there. But, there is one more challenge to overcome that will make or break your traveling experience""deciding what to pack.

Although it's tempting to pack everything you could possibly need for any situation, it just won't work. There are no bellboys in youth hostels. Whatever you decide to take will be attached to your back for the entire trip, and you have to be able to carry the load. Forget about climbing hills or running to catch a train with a ton of dead weight on your back. It just won't happen. Even if it does happen, it won't be fun.

Maximize your experience by minimizing your burden. Pack light! This is the measure of a smart traveler and can't be stressed enough. No one ever returns from a trip abroad and says, "Next time I need to pack more". If you're unsure whether to pack a particular item, ask yourself if you'll use it enough to justify carrying it the whole trip.

Whatever you bring, make sure it's versatile and practical. If you plan on wearing or using it once, leave it at home. You won't need a little black dress or a big bottle of cologne. Keep it simple.

Think about where you'll be traveling. If you're going to southern Europe in the summertime, leave the gloves at home. If you're going to Scandinavia, gloves and a heavier jacket make sense. Use your good judgment.

With that in mind, following are some tips to help you decide what's important and what should be left behind.

First, what to wear. Remember that you can do laundry.

2 pair of khaki or other casual, lightweight pants. Unless you can't live without them, jeans are heavy and usually too hot for summer travel.

1-2 pairs of shorts. Khaki or other lightweight fabric is best. Make sure they have pockets.

1 long-sleeved shirt

4-5 short-sleeved shirts made of breathable fabric. Cotton is best.

If you plan on experiencing Europe's nightlife, bring a semi-dressy shirt and pants or skirt for these occasions. Make sure they're practical and multi-functional. Ask yourself, "Can I wear these clothes during the day?"

One fleece, sweatshirt, or thin jacket, preferably with a hood. Waterproof or water resistant is best, especially if you're going to the United Kingdom.

4-5 pairs of underwear. Ladies, bring only one bra.

Swimsuit. A must for women. Men can turn a lightweight pair of shorts into swim trunks.

4-5 pairs of socks

1 pair of comfortable, sturdy walking shoes. Think about whether they will work for night and day activities.

1 pair of flat, casual sandals. These are great for summer trips and are small and light.

1 flexible hat (if you're a hat person or your head is prone to sunburn). The fishing hat style is best, since it can be squished into small crevices. Don't bring a baseball cap.

When choosing which clothes to pack: Choose clothes that don't wrinkle easily. Darker colors are better because they hide dirt.

Toiletries. Yes, size does matter.

Bring things you'll need, but buy them in travel sizes. If you need to restock, Europe has drug stores, too. And, it's fun shopping for "I think this is shampoo".

Use a travel toiletry kit that's easily portable for those early morning trips to communal bathrooms.

Don't forget sunscreen. If you're traveling in southern Europe, a regular sized bottle may be worth the extra bulk.

Enough prescription medication.

Pain reliever. Travel sized packets are best.

Small pack of tissues.

Condoms. Just in case.

Hairdryer. If you absolutely, positively cannot live without one, bring a travel dryer. Don't forget a European voltage converter.

Other stuff you may not have thought of.

A comfortable, easy to manage traveling backpack. This does not mean a roller suitcase (you will regret it and will be the laughing stock of the hostel).

A day backpack. Great for day trips if you can store your large backpack in a train station or other secure place. Some traveling backpacks come with zip-off daypacks.

Water bottle. Constantly buying bottled water can get expensive.

A watch. Leave your nice watch at home. Bring a waterproof, droppable watch.

A good paperback book you can read more than once. A must for long train rides. Recommendation: Bill Bryson's "Neither Here, Nor There: Travels in Europe".

Journal. Your soon-to-be best friend. Don't forget a pen.

Glue stick. To adhere mementos into your journal, such as museum tickets and restaurant napkins.

One good guidebook. Make sure it covers all the countries you'll be visiting, and that it's geared toward budget travel.

A few individual Shout or Woolite packets.


1 small combination lock. This will not make you theft-proof, but may prevent thieves from trying.

Lightweight cotton pillowcase.

Small towel. Super-fast drying "pack towels" made for camping are best.

Earplugs. For sleeping on a train or in a hostel with snoring roommates.

A note card with family and friends' addresses. If you can, have it laminated.

Small travel umbrella. The smaller, the better.

Travel sized bug spray, especially for southern Europe.

If you wear contact lenses, bring eyeglasses too.

Small, inflatable travel pillow. The type that fits around your neck is best.

Backpacking soap or travel size laundry detergent. A sink and window sill may have to substitute for a Laundromat.

Money belt. For travelers checks, extra cash, passport and other valuables. Keep your cash, credit cards and phone cards somewhere more convenient for easy access and to avoid drawing attention to your money belt.

Camera. A digital camera is best, since you don't have to carry film.

Jumbo Ziploc bags. For leaky toiletries, a wet swimsuit, and because you never know when they'll come in handy.

Playing cards. A great way to make new friends.

Kitchen-size plastic trash bag. To keep very dirty or wet laundry away from clean clothes.

Plastic knife, fork and spoon.

A small plastic bottle of light cologne or linen spray. Spray your clothes and backpack with it. Not only will it keep dirty clothes smelling fresh, but the scent will bring back memories of your trip for years to come. Seriously.

Remember to leave enough room for souvenirs that you accumulate. If you can ship souvenirs home, that's ideal. Otherwise, make sure what you buy is lightweight and not fragile. A bottle of Italian wine can break, and it will feel like a cement block very quickly.

Before leaving home, test your load. Pack your backpack completely and spend a long afternoon walking around with it. If you're comfortable, you've packed well. If you struggle, eliminate some items you can live without. Regardless of how well you pack, your shoulder and back muscles may be sore for a few days until you get used to the weight. Use your good judgment to determine what's too bulky versus what your body can get used to.

One of the most important reasons to travel light is to avoid being labeled as a typical tourist. You want to blend in, not stick out like a sore thumb. Too much luggage can truly hinder your experience. Being mobile and agile will put you in control of your adventure.

© High Speed Ventures 2011