The key to packing is to keep it basic and light, extra weight will wear you down and slow your pace. As you’re packing, think about how long you’ll be gone, then ask yourself do you really need items X, Y and Z and do you really wanna lug ’em around from country to country, city to city. Ideally, you want to leave about one-fourth of your bag empty to allow for souvenirs or other miscellaneous items you may accrue while abroad. Then there is the perennial debate that pits flat packing vs. rolling your clothes. We applaud both methods, though the former seems to allow for a more wrinkle-free result.
Note: Anything you absolutely must have upon landing (e.g. prescription drugs, toiletries, extra pair of undies/socks) pack into your carry-on bag — not your checked luggage!
Before you get started, watch former Bond Girl Rachel Grant pack over 100 items into her carry-on bag. The video is edited using time-lapse, thus it only takes 2 minutes to watch. Click play. It’s amazing, but more importantly, inspiring.
The following is a suggested packing list. Bring…
1 pair of jeans
1 pair of lightweight cotton pants
6-7 shirts (or, forget the cotton pants and pack only 3-4 shirts. While abroad, buy a few shirts and a pair of cargo-style pants to add a touch of Euro pizzazz to your wardrobe. What’s more, these garments make for a nice remembrance of your trip).
1-2 pair of shorts; perfect for hikes, hot days, to lounge around in, and for guys shorts can double as a swimsuit.
6-7 pairs of underwear, socks. (How many times do you want to wash clothes per week?) Note: Bring a large-sized (preferably sealable) plastic bag to store your dirty clothes in.
Comfortable shoes. (Make sure they are absolutely worn in before you leave. If they’re new, and suddenly you find yourself walking across European towns and cities from site to site, your feet will ache with pain!)
Sandals/flip flops (avoid going barefoot on hotel floors and in showers).
Sunglasses (preferably cheap ones in case you lose ’em).
Light, water-resistant jacket, or heavier if wintertime.
Hand gloves and scarf if going in winter.
Towel: Travelers spending every night in a hotel won’t need to bring a towel. However, travelers spending the night in a pension, B&B, or a hostel should bring either a travel towel (compact, absorbent space-age fabric that dries ultra fast) or an old towel that can be left behind if needed.
Toiletries: toothpaste, toothbrush (and plastic tube container to store it), dental floss, deodorant, razor, liquid soap, shampoo/conditioner, etc. (consider using a resealable zip-top bag to separate these items from the rest of your gear). Note: Do not pack into your carry-on bag more than 3.4 ounces (100 ml) of any one liquid. For more info on what’s allowed, browse your airline’s Web page or the TSA (United States: “Transportation Security Administration”) here.
Liquid soap: Rather than a bar of soap, travel with a handy squeeze bottle of liquid soap (that you may want to put in a resealable zip-top bag to separate from the rest of your gear in case of leakage). Note: Do not pack the liquid soap in your carry-on bag to avoid having it taken away while going through airport security. For more info on what’s allowed to carry-on, browse your airline’s Web page or the TSA (United States: “Transportation Security Administration”) here.
Shampoo/conditioner, small travel-size; (use a resealable zip-top bag to separate these items from the rest of your gear). Note: Do not pack into your carry-on bag more than 3.4 ounces (100 ml) of any one liquid. For more info on what’s allowed, browse your airline’s Web page or the TSA (United States: “Transportation Security Administration”) here.
Self-compiled survival kit containing aspirin, Band-Aids, ChapStick, ear plugs, hand sanitizer, a few packets of tissues, small travel-sized container of sunscreen and/or moisturizer. (Consider using a resealable zip-top bag to separate these items from the rest of your gear.)
Passport: Don’t forget your passport! And double check that it will not expire while you’re on the road (and a short while beyond your intended stay in case of an emergency, like in the year 2010 when the volcano in Iceland spewed ash across Europe closing airports and forcing vacationers to stay abroad a week longer than originally planned).
Money: Don’t forget your credit and debit cards. Call your bank/issuer beforehand to let them know you’ll be using the cards overseas (customer service number is on back of card). If you do not notify your bank/issuer, chances are your account will be frozen when they see transactions coming in from abroad. For more info on this topic, click here.
Adapter (not voltage converter): Today, most all mobile devices (e.g. smart phones, laptops, tablets) are dual voltage (100-240v), thus you will only require an adapter to plug your device into the outlet. Even better, consider investing in a travel charging station like the one listed below under “Optional items.” Note: If you own a hair dryer, curling iron, or whatever appliance that is 110-120v, do not bring it to Europe where voltage output is 220/240v, enough to fry any North American gizmo.
Adventure novel to read during downtime. If you’re a big reader, bring extra material, preferably that thick paperback you’ve been meaning to consume for months. (Consider Harriman’s novel “Quest for the Bavarian Cross, Adventure in Europe“.) You may wish to consolidate all your books into one lightweight, easy-to-carry eReader like something from Amazon’s Kindle series.
Drink/water bottle. Consider reusing the disposable plastic bottle you bought in the grocery store. (At the airport you’re not allowed to bring a bottle of water beyond the security check but you are allowed to bring an empty bottle to fill on the other side.)
Daypack: Use a small backpack, or carry bag, to stow all your must-haves (e.g. picnic goodies, water bottle, souvenirs, maps, tourist info, etc) while you mosey about town for the day.
Student ID: If you’re a college student, bring a valid International Student Identity Card (ISIC) for discounts. Many cashiers only accept this ID card. Other cashiers, however, aren’t bothered and will equally accept your official campus ID.
Note: If you do forget something from your packing list, don’t panic, you can typically buy it on the road. You’d be surprised what name brands, or products, you can buy these days in the most unlikely of places.
Money belt (this should really be an essential item on the packing list but not everybody is used to wearing one)
Nightshirt (for women)
Sweatpants to sleep, or lounge around, in — (recommended during wintertime)
Black dress: While not necessary for the casual tourist, some women may choose to pack the out-on-the-town black dress and appropriate shoe wear.
Travel charging station, such as this slim power strip with 4.5-inch cord and an array of international adapters or this compact and cordless power adapter set for sale on Amazon. A charging station is extremely handy because often hotel rooms have only one power outlet and we travelers have any number of devices to juice at once (but know, for example, an appliance that is not dual voltage, like a 110-120v hair dryer, will typically not work with charging stations internationally. If it is a hair dryer you require, buy one that is dual voltage (listed below) or perhaps your hotel can provide you with one. Note: If you own a hair dryer, curling iron, or whatever appliance that is 110-120v, do not bring it to Europe where voltage output is 220/240v, enough to fry any North American gizmo.
Hair dryer (dual voltage 100-240v), like one of these for sale on Amazon
Travel iron (dual voltage 100-240v), like one of these for sale on Amazon
Journal to document your travels
Language translation book (or if you’re bringing your smart phone download the useful Google Translate app)
Liquid detergent soap to hand wash your underwear, socks, light shirts, etc. Laundromats in Europe are somewhat expensive and often few and far between. Note: If you do plan on washing light articles of clothing in hotel sinks, bring a stopper, small rubber ball, or something similar because many sinks are plugless! Also, bring a large-sized (preferably sealable) plastic bag to store your dirty, or damp, clothes in.
TSA-friendly luggage lock: The theory behind this lock-type (identifiable by a small red-and-white diamond logo by Travel Sentry) is the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has the universal master key to open it and therefore won’t have to cut it if a baggage search is warranted. We use Travel Sentry locks and haven’t had any problems — knock on wood.
Hostel sheets: If you’re planning on staying in hostels, occasionally you will be charged extra (few euros) to rent sheets, but if you have your own set you may be able to avoid the charge. Consider bringing a cheap sleep sack, often available at super stores like Walmart or Target.
Multifunctional camping knife (with spoon, fork, corkscrew, etc) for picnics and whatnot. (Be sure to pack it into your checked luggage, not your carry-on.)
Deck of playing cards
Motion sickness remedy
Travel insurance: Consider buying travel insurance. What if you experience major flight delays, lost luggage, or there’s a medical emergency? This wholesaler is a good start to finding a respected provider.
Don’t forget your medications! And, if possible, keep them in their original containers so (if necessary) you can readily provide the name of the drug and the dose. Bring ample medications to cover the entire trip and any possible delays; (think Icelandic volcano in the year 2010 when it spewed ash across Europe closing airports and forcing vacationers to stay abroad a week longer than originally planned).
Don’t forget your contact lenses with sufficient supplies. If you have a pair of glasses, consider bringing them just in case. Make sure you know your prescription (glasses/contacts) so any necessary replacements can be made easily and quickly.
Don’t bring clothes that bleed color
Leave expensive jewelry behind, especially if you’re traveling through Southern Europe!
Consider making photocopies of your important documents (e.g. passport, travel itinerary, travel insurance, medical info, international driver’s license, etc.) as a back-up in case a problem arises. What’s better, if you’re computer savvy, scan the documents and email them to your Inbox.
Confirm your first night’s hotel reservation to avoid any lodging hassles after landing.
Limited liquids: Get to know the amount of liquids that are allowed to bring aboard an aircraft. In most cases, you are only allowed 3.4 ounces (100 ml) per item. Medications, breast milk, baby formula and food are allowed in reasonable quantities exceeding 3.4 ounces and are not required to be placed in a zip-top bag. Declare these items for inspection at the checkpoint. (Officers may need to open said items to conduct additional screening.) United States residents, on the TSA site you will find the amount and type of liquids allowed to carry on an airplane. If in doubt, pack the liquids in your checked luggage.
Prohibited items: For the safety and security of the traveling public, national security agencies and airlines have prohibited certain items from being brought onto airplanes in carry-on and/or checked bags. To help you plan ahead and avoid the potential of additional screening, (United States residents) be sure to check out the prohibited items’ list on the TSA site and pack accordingly.
And so…with all the pre-travel formalities checked off, you can now close your cases (zip your bags), set ’em by the door, and begin the countdown to the trip of a lifetime!
(Last updated January 2017)