Backpacking around Europe is an exciting adventure that many people embark on each year. If you’ve never lived out of a backpack before, you’re in for a treat!
You’ll learn a lot about yourself and you’ll also learn how little you actually need to live. You are packing your entire life into a super small area and living out of it for a few weeks to a few months!
Figuring out what to pack is one of the most important things you need to do before you leave. You’ll want to maximize the utility of the items you bring while minimizing the size and weight. At first you’ll probably think there is absolutely no way you’ll be able to fit everything in one backpack. But if you follow along with this post, you’ll quickly see it’s all doable and just takes some creativity.
One of the things you need to keep in mind is whether something is a want to have or a need to have. You need to always pack the need to haves before you think about packing the want to haves or else you won’t have enough space.
When I left for Europe it was my first time backpacking. I did a ton of research to figure out exactly what I should bring. It all worked out great.
Even though it all worked fine, there are definitely some things I noticed while backpacking that I wish I did differently. I’ll list everything that I brought with me on the trip and explain exactly how I changed it moving forward.
I’ve included links throughout this post to more resources that will help you out. These include links to products as well as links to other blogs with more detailed info on specific items.
This post is organized into 6 different categories:
You can click on the links above to get to that specific section, or you can click on the bubbles in the picture below to learn more about a specific item. I’ve included a similar image in the toiletries section to make navigating the page simple as well.
Staying organized seems like it would be an easy task when barely have anything with you, but it’s actually quite challenging in such a small space.
You need the proper systems to ensure that you always put your stuff back right where it belongs. This will keep you from having to take everything out of your backpack just to find a long lost sock.
To help us stay organized, there are four 5 different types of bags, backpacks, and containers that we will use.
The main backpack is where everything must fit. This is what you’ll carry with you whenever you move from one place to another. Go to your local REI and try on some different backpacks before you find one that you like.
I didn’t want my backpack to look like ‘backpacking’ backpack so I went with something a bit smaller. There are plenty of things to think about when picking out the right backpack, but here are the ones that you should pay most attention to:
1. Size – To save money when you’re flying, you’ll want to ensure that your backpack is small enough to be considered a carry on all of the airlines that you’re flying.
If you’ll be flying on any of the flights in Europe you’ll likely be taking a Ryanair or Easyjet flight since those are the cheapest. Check their bag limitations before you get over there and find yourself paying money because you have to check your bag.
Currently, the Ryanair carry on baggage limits are: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm weighing up to 10kg, which is about 22 pounds. My bag weighed about 25 pounds and I didn’t have any issues with them weighing the bags. With that said, airline rules and security seem to constantly be getting stricter, so do your best to keep it within their limits.
Easyjet’s carry on baggage limits are a little bit bigger: 56cm x 45cm x 25cm.
The fact that it has to fit as a carry on is actually a blessing in disguise. It forces you to only take the essentials. This saves you from carry around a 50 pound backpack everywhere you go with a bunch of stuff you don’t actually need.
2. Comfort – No matter how much your backpack weighs, if you carry it around long enough it will start to get uncomfortable. The best thing you can do is find a backpack that limits this feeling of being uncomfortable as much as possible.
Unless you’re walking around REI for an hour with 20+ pounds of weight in your backpack, you won’t really know how comfortable your backpack is until you’re in Europe. Make sure you read reviews about the backpack you’re considering before you leave.
One of the things you should pay attention to is the waist strap. Make sure it’s padded. You don’t want all of the weight on your shoulders, so most backpacks include a waist strap. This helps you rest the backpack on your waist and makes it a lot more comfortable.
However, if the straps around your waist are not padded, it will dig into your sides and not feel very good. I made this mistake with my backpack and I don’t recommend you doing the same.
3. Organization – As I pointed out above, organization is key when you’re traveling. The backpack you choose can play a large role in how organized you are. If you choose a backpack that you have to pack from the top down, you’ll always have to take out the stuff on top to get to the stuff on the bottom.
If you can find a backpack that can fold open, staying organized will be a lot easier. I went with a top-down backpack. It wasn’t extremely inconvenient, but it did take me more time to pack and find stuff than it should’ve.
Do your research before you leave. Companies are always coming out with new and improved designs that solve these problems. Read reviews and listen to other travelers’ opinions about what works for them.
When you’re backpacking Europe, you won’t constantly have your backpack on. You’ll stay in a city for a few days and probably do a lot of walking. When you’re taking tours, day trips, and going on hikes, you don’t want to carry around your big backpack.
Having a small day pack is excellent for when you spend days walking around. I recommend getting a collapsible day pack that folds in to contain itself. It is very compact and works great for day-to-day activities. It’s not the most comfortable or advanced backpack, but its cheap and it works well.
Although you’re going to be on an amazing adventure, there is one thing that still won’t go away: laundry. Having a place to put your dirty clothes is a must. You really don’t want your smelly socks stinking up your entire backpack.
You can carry a plastic bag around with you and put your dirty laundry in there, but there’s a better solution.
Get a Clean Dirty Cube. These things are awesome. It’s a double sided container for your clothes. On one side there is a mesh lining that is breathable for your clean clothes. On the other side is a plastic lining that keeps all the odors in, which is for your dirty clothes.
This is also a great way to stay organized and it has a handle so it’s easy to bring into the bathroom with you when you take a shower.
There are a lot of little bottles and small items that you’ll bring with you on the trip. It’s important to have a place to put all these items and keep them organized.
Look for a bag that has a hook on it so you can hang it up in the bathroom or shower. This will make it easier to access and it will keep you from putting the bag on the sometimes unsanitary floor and then putting it back in your backpack.
For security purposes all of the airports make you put your liquids and gels in a 1 quart see-through bag. Get a see through plastic case that holds exactly 1 quart. This will save you time at the airport and make it easier to get through security.
Depending on when and where you go, beanies are great to have. In Ireland and the UK, it rains quite often. Having a beanie to keep you warm is nice.
Another added benefit is that it works like an eye-mask. Just pull the beanie over your eyes and it’ll be darker so that you have an easier time falling asleep. This is beneficial in trains, planes, and in hostels.
If you like to wear sunglasses, I suggest bringing a pair of cheap ones with you. You don’t need to be rockin’ some Ray Bans while you’re backpacking.
A rain jacket is a must! Unfortunately, it’s going to be one of the biggest items in your backpack. However, it’s definitely worth the space.
When it rains, you don’t want to be stuck inside unable to see the city you’re visiting. When you have a rain jacket you can keep doing everything you wanted to do anyways. Make sure its water proof. Yes, it will cost you a bit more money than a water resistant jacket, but the experiences you can have in the rain are absolutely worth it.
I brought a sweater with me in case I needed to dress up a bit nicer for anything. These occasions didn’t happen very often, but when they did I wished I had a button-up shirt instead.
The only problem with most button-up shirts is that they will get very wrinkled in your backpack, which is why I didn’t bring one with me. However, there are a couple of solutions that will help you out.
Having a long sleeve shirt is great for days that don’t require a jacket. If you start early or are out late at night, a long sleeve shirt works great. If you get too warm, simply roll up the sleeves and you’re good to go.
Merino wool doesn’t absorb the smells your body puts off. If you’re going to be in a shirt for 15+ hours a day, I guarantee you a normal shirt would smell at the end of the day. I’m not a big fan of smelling like B.O. so I bought 2 merino shirts before I left. They are by far my favorite shirts ever.
They are also durable enough to be washed in the shower. There are a few things you should know before buying a merino wool shirt:
1. Don’t get white – Merino wool is somewhat see through and white gets dirty very quickly. Get a darker color like black, blue, or gray.
2. Be careful with deodorant – When you put deodorant on your under arms, it can temporarily stain the arm pit area of your t-shirt. Look for a blue deodorant that is more of a liquid than a paste. The white deodorant paste that is common in Europe shows works its way through the shirt very easily.
A watch is important, especially when you have flights and trains to catch. If your phone dies, having a watch is great. Don’t bring a fancy watch that would catch a pickpocketer’s eye. Just bring something simple and preferably waterproof.
This will be on you most of the time so don’t worry too much about weight or size. I like the reversible belts that switch between brown and black.
Some people say not to bring jeans, others say jeans are a must have. You can debate either side. If you like wearing jeans at home, you’ll like them abroad as well. If you don’t, then go get some travel pants. Jeans are heavy and bulky, but I think they still work great for a backpacking trip.
Don’t worry, just because I said to bring a rain jacket doesn’t mean it’s going to be cold all the time. Most of the time, depending on when you go, you’ll want to be in shorts.
My favorite shorts are the ones that double as board shorts. You can walk in them all day and then if you come across a lake, you can hop in without any problem. The material is lightweight and dries relatively quickly compared to other materials. Since they’re meant for the water, they are also great for washing in the shower.
2 pairs of shorts is plenty. You don’t need to wash them every day and you can alternate between the two.
Bring 3-4 pairs of boxer briefs on your trip. You can make do with 2 like I did, but you’d be better off with more. This keeps you from having to wash your clothes every single night, which gets a bit tiresome. I recommend looking into boxer briefs that are great for travel. You want something breathable and movable since you’ll be walking around all day.
Bring 3-4 pairs of socks and you should be good to go. Remember that socks can add an extra layer of cushion beneath your feet, so use this to your advantage.
Bring shoes that you are comfortable walking in. It’s nice to have shoes that look good at all occasions. This means you need shoes that you can walk around in every day, go hiking in, go out at night in, etc. The most important part of this is comfort. If you’re not comfortable in your shoes, it’s not going to be fun!
Buy some super cheap sandals. They cost around $5-$7 and keep you from putting your feet in some of those nasty hostel showers. Plus they work great if you go to the beach or are just tired of wearing your walking shoes.
Whatever you do, don’t lose this! Keep it safe at all times. You can also keep a copy of your passport on you just in case.
Keep this in a safe location. If you have a lot of money on you at one time it’s smart to split it up in different areas. Put some in one pocket, another bit in one of your shoes, and the last bit somewhere else. This way if a pickpocket gets your cash they won’t get it all.
This is the best debit card for traveling abroad. Zero foreign transaction fees and they will reimburse you if you are charged an ATM fee.
Look into getting a credit card with zero foreign transaction fees before you leave. If you get one that can also earn you air miles, that would be even better.
Although getting your identity stolen throug
If you decide to get a Eurail pass, you need to keep it with you at all times. It’s almost as important as your passport. If you don’t fill it out properly or get on a train without it, you could incur some hefty fees.
It’s great to have your phone when you travel and actually be able to use it. Looking up directions and things to do is easier than ever with your phone. Make sure you keep it in a safe spot while you’re traveling so that it doesn’t get stolen.
If you’re keeping a travel blog while you backpack through Europe, a laptop is a must. You don’t want to be writing blog posts on your cell phone. If you’re not planning on keeping a blog or working on your laptop, you probably shouldn’t bring it. It’s added weight and you’d be better off with a tablet.
The electrical sockets in Europe are not the same as the ones in the US. There are also a few different types in Europe. I recommend getting a universal adapter rather than bringing a different one for each socket type.
It’s nice to be able to listen to things while you’re on a long flight or train ride. These earphones work surprisingly great for only six bucks. If you’re going to backpack for more than a couple of months, you should probably get two pairs. They tend to wear out after a lot of use.
Music, podcasts, and audio books are nice to have when you’re on a 10 hour train ride. Instead of blowing through your phone’s battery, if you have an old iPod it’s worth bringing it.
Keeping your phone charged is essential if you’re using it for directions or research. Get a large battery so that it will last you multiple charges since you don’t know the next time you’ll be able to charge it up all the way.
Instead of renting a towel at the hostels you go to, you can save money by bringing your own towel. A normal bath towel would be way too bulky to bring with you. Instead get a bath-towel sized microfiber towel. These things capture a ton of moisture and dry very quickly.
Every once in awhile you’ll need to wash your towel since it gets a bit smelly. Do this at the hostels that give you free towels to use. You can wash it in the shower like you do with your clothes.
If you’re not used to sleeping in hostels, this thing is great. You can hop in it and don’t have to worry about putting your face on random pillows. It’s even nicer to have when you aren’t staying in the nicest of hostels. By the end of the trip you probably won’t care anymore and you’ll be able to sleep anywhere, but it’s definitely comforting to have.
Hostels get noisy. There’s no way around that. You have 8-20 people sleeping in the same room. People are waking up and going to bed at different times. Some people won’t arrive until 2 in the morning and they’ll be rummaging through their belongings as everyone else is trying to sleep.
Also, you’ll get the occasional crying baby on trains and planes. Get some ear plugs and make those distractions go away so that you can rest.
Use the bungee cord to hang dry your clothes on your bed. This saves you money by not having to use the dryer at the hostel.
You definitely need a pen if you’re using the Eurail pass. You’ll need to fill in the pass each time you hop on a train. Having one of your own is a lot less stressful than finding one each time you get on a new train.
Most of the hostels have lockers or a place to lock up your stuff. In the ones that don’t, make sure you are nice to your roommates so they don’t want to mess with your stuff.
If you don’t bring a lock, you’ll end up buying one from one of the hostels. They aren’t the best locks in the world, but at least you have some protection from getting your stuff stolen.
When you have your money, laptop, passport, and other valuable items all in one place you want to do your best to protect it.
I’ve talked about this water bottle before and I absolutely love it. It filters water as you drink it so you don’t have to worry about getting sick from drinking bad water. Sometimes there are issues with the suction and getting a constant flow of water, but I think it’s worth the trouble. There are also other great travel water bottles that you can look into.
Instead of carrying around shampoo and body wash, just grab some shampoo and use it for both. Dr. Bronner’s soap seems to be the preferred choice for travelers. Any shampoo will work just fine though.
You can always buy some while you’re traveling, but it’s nice to have chap stick when you need it!
Body odor isn’t sexy. Don’t forget your deodorant. As I mentioned above, if you’re wearing merino wool shirts, try to find the more liquidy deodorant rather than the white paste type.
If you have allergies, bring allergy medicine. If you have asthma, bring your inhaler. Bring some Airborne in case you start to feel sick. Bring pain reliever in case you have a headache or get hurt.
There are plenty of pharmacies in Europe where you can get allergy medicine and pain reliever, but make sure not to forget your prescriptions.
Regular sized toothpaste won’t be allowed through security so pick up one of the travel-sized tubes instead.
Make your dentist happy and bring some floss with you. Don’t bring the floss sticks since they’re so bulky.
If you plan on spending time outside and going on hikes, bug bites can be a pain. Anti-itch ointment is great to have on you. You don’t necessarily bring it with you since it’s available in the pharmacies.
This isn’t essential since you have deodorant, but it’s something to put on your list if you use it on a normal basis.
Yeah I know we aren’t supposed to use these to clean our ears, but I’m sure all of us do it anyway. Get a travel pack and you’ll be good to go.
In Europe lots of the places you visit will require you to pay to use the bathroom. If you don’t want to pay to wash your hands, bring some hand sanitizer. It’s also nice to have when you’re on a train or plane and want to eat a snack.
Things can happen when you’re traveling that you don’t expect. Having a few band-aids on hand will be helpful when the unexpected happens. I cut my leg on a rock in Cinque Terre and a week later I banged up my elbow while canyoning in Switzerland. I’d rather not have an exposed wound, especially when some of the places aren’t the most sanitary.
Just like with band-aids, you never know when you’ll need it. It’s nice to have some disinfectant so that a small scratch doesn’t turn into a big problem.
Bring some nail clippers to keep your nails at a reasonable length.
These aren’t really essential, but I like to bring them anyways. If you’re a bit adventurous you might get things stuck in your skin that need tweezers to be removed.
If you get sunburned easily, you definitely should bring some sunscreen. Some days you’ll be out in the sun for hours. Bring it with you and make sure you use it.
Get one of the small shaving cream bottles if you plan on shaving while you’re backpacking.
You could backpack the entire trip without shaving, but if you want to keep a clean cut look, definitely bring a razor.
If you don’t look good with bed head or you want to look a bit stylish, don’t forget your gel.
If you have allergies, tissues are great to have. You never know where you’ll be where you don’t have access to tissues or a napkin to blow your nose. Get some of the small packs and keep them with you just in case.
This stuff softens your fabric and helps to remove wrinkles. It’s not perfect, but your clothes will look better with it than without it. This is helpful if you are dressing up a bit nicer and don’t want to look like you just slept in your shirt.
There you have it. Everything you need for an amazing time in Europe! Everything fits nicely and you don’t have to carry around a huge backpack.
If you forget something, don’t worry. There are plenty of stores in Europe that will be more than happy to sell you what you need. Remember that the lighter and smaller your backpack is the easier it will be to move around.
Have fun out there!
If you have any questions on particular items, feel free to ask below.