How to Pack for Europe (Using Only a Carry-On!)

2001 was the year of my first European vacation.  I would be there for about a month, traveling between countries studying WWII history with a group from my university.  For this month, I took two GIGANTIC rolling suitcases, a backpack, and a carry-on.  As you can imagine, this made getting on and off trains ridiculous and I didn't wear 75% of what I had brought.  Thanks to Lara Dalinsky, founder of En Route Traveler, I can up my packing game for my return to Europe this summer.   Read on for her tips!

Europe is an ideal destination to visit in the summer. The warm weather makes it a prime time to partake in outdoor activities and explore the local culture. The last thing you want to do is feel bogged down on your adventure, especially when navigating Europe’s tricky train stations, narrow streets, and tiny elevators. Fear not, unless your trip requires a lot of specialty gear, summer clothing is light enough to all fit into a carry-on suitcase and day bag. The following tips and packing list will keep your luggage light and you feeling prepared for your exciting journey:

PACKING TIPS

Check the weather forecast

European weather can be finicky in the summer, especially the further north you roam. Research the projected 7-day forecast to plan for unexpected climate changes and adjust your packing list accordingly.  (Tip:  Whisked Away will email the forecast of your surprise destination to you, two weeks prior to travel.) 

It’s all about layering

Even in summer months, European temperatures can fluctuate between chilly evenings and strong midday heat. The key to staying comfortable is to layer your wardrobe. Choose tanks and tees as a base, then top it with a cardigan or hoodie that can easily be tied around the waist or stowed in a bag. A chic scarf can also add extra warmth and doubles as a shawl to cover bare shoulders in churches and sacred spaces.

Keep it coordinated

Choose classic, basic pieces in a limited color family that can be mixed and matched. Consider packing items that can be dressed up or down – you can never go wrong with something black. Materials that are wrinkle- and UV-resistant, breathable, and quick drying will keep you comfortable.

Lara in France, layering it up!

Lara in France, layering it up!

Rewear clothing

There’s no shame in wearing the same clothes again over the course of the week. Pants are especially durable and versatile. They can be worn multiple times, so only pack two lightweight pairs. Black stretch pants or khakis can easily be dressed up with a nice top or used for more physical activities like hiking.

Use a packing system

Employing packing cubes or compression bags will greatly reduce space in your suitcase. On top of that, it will also keep your belongings more organized during your trip. Learn more on using packing cubes here.»

Don’t overpack toiletries

Keep toiletries to a minimum. You can always use the complimentary soaps and lotions provided by the hotel or venture to the local pharmacy. If you prefer using your own products, stick to bring multi-purpose items like castile soap that functions as body wash, shampoo, and laundry soap.

Wear bulkiest items on the flight

Save space in your suitcase by wearing your bulkiest clothes en route to your destination. As an added benefit, sporting a light jacket and sneakers will keep you comfortable and adaptable to the changing temperatures in airports and planes.

Wear bulkiest items on flight to save precious room in your suitcase!

Wear bulkiest items on flight to save precious room in your suitcase!

Add style with a couple of key accessories

Packing basic clothes doesn’t mean you need to look boring. Wearing a pretty scarf or piece of unique jewelry adds personality to any outfit.

Do laundry when traveling over one week

If you’re traveling for an extended period, washing clothes will be necessary. Opt for quick-drying, high-tech fabrics that incorporate cotton blends or synthetic weaves of polyester, rayon, or Nylon. If there’s not enough time to have the your clothes laundered, wash small loads in the sink every few days. Use warm water and a mild detergent – thank goodness you packed that castile soap! Wring excess water out by rolling clothes in a bath towel and hanging them in the shower or outside to dry. If you’re short on time, use the hotel hair dryer to speed up the process.

BASIC SUMMER PACKING LIST

BOTTOMS

  • 1-2 lightweight pants (black or khaki can easily be dressed up and down)

  • 1 pair of shorts or a skirt/sundress

CALLOUT: Northern regions of Europe may be colder than the south. Adjust your wardrobe by packing heavier pants and heavier tops over tees.

TOPS

  • 1-2 long sleeve shirts (cardigans and hoodies are easy to layer)

  • 3-5 tees/tanks (at least one black top)

  • 1 packable rain jacket

  • 1 set of pajamas or a cover-up

DELICATES

ACCESSORIES

  • Hat for sun protection

  • Scarf (can double as pillow, sarong, or blanket)

  • Sunglasses

  • 1-2 pieces of non-precious, versatile jewelry

SHOES

  • 1 pair of comfortable walking or hiking shoes

  • 1 pair of sandals or slip-ons (such as the waterproof EVA Birkenstock line)

TOILETRIES BAG

Reminder: Liquids may not exceed 100 ml in carry-on luggage.

ELECTRONICS

  • Cell phone

  • Camera

  • Headphones

  • Memory cards

  • Chargers and batteries

  • Converters and adapters (BESTEK offers small power strip version so you can charge multiple devices at once)

  • Cables

  • Headlamp or small flashlight

  • Optional: tablet or laptop

MISCELLANEOUS  

  • Whisked Away info packet

  • Passport and IDs

  • Travel tickets, documents, and visas

  • 1-2 plastic bags to keep dirty laundry and wet items separated

  • Reusable water bottle

  • A few snack bars

  • Lens cloth

  • Reading material

  • Travel journal

  • Compact umbrella

  • Foldable tote bag (handy for groceries or hauling new souvenirs home)

Thanks, Lara!  Is there anything else you would add for the perfect European packing list?

ABOUT LARA DALINSKY

Lara is the founder of the independent travel site En Route Traveler. She was instilled with the travel bug at an early age thanks to her mother’s job as a flight attendant and has visited over 30 countries. She recently relocated to Seoul, South Korea, where she hopes to explore much of Asia for the next couple of years. Lara also works as a freelance graphic designer and in her spare time, contributes as a Local Expert to AFAR, enjoys vegetarian cuisine, instructs Zumba, practices yoga, dabbles in photography and, of course, travels as much as possible.

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