If you want to enjoy roaming around Europe, then only take a minimum of clothing and bare essentials packed into one small to medium-sized backpack. That’s it. If you find you need something you didn’t bring with you that you really must have, then visit a store and buy it.
Of course, you will need to wash your clothing. That’s no problem. Wash single items in the sink in your room. Also, many hostels have a laundry room or they can direct you to one in the neighbourhood. No worries. You really don’t need to bring much on your trip. As a bonus, a smaller backpack is easily carried on an airplane, so you’ll have no checked baggage. Even better.
During the day, you can leave your backpack locked in your hostel room locker. Bring little, have a light backpack, lock it up during the day – now that’s freedom, and it’s a great feeling.
- Passport with any visas (student or work) you may require.
- Flight e-ticket printout and your reservation/flight itinerary printout.
- ID: A drivers license and another photo ID showing your age.
- Student ID: With proof of student status you can apply online and get an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), highly recommended. With it, you’ll be able to get discounts in museums and other places that are, sometimes, substantial. It is worth the time and trouble to get one and take it with you.
- Travellers cheques: just joking, few people use ’em nowadays.
- Debit card: (to withdraw cash from local banks) and a credit card with no foreign transaction fees (Schwab or Capitol One Venture), and a stash of cash for emergencies only.
- Travel medical insurance
- List of names, street addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses of family and close friends. It may come in very handy.
- International driver’s permit: This is very handy for leaving as a deposit at various locations and not having to leave your passport or driver’s licence.
- Two small TSA combination locks: (without key) To lock-up most important compartments on your backpack and to use on your hostel room locker. Standard padlocks are too large to fit on European lockers. Bring the TSA type.
- Bike Lock: This is great for locking your backpack to your bed in hotels or in hostels that don’t have large enough lockers in the dorm rooms.
- Money pouch: For most of your money, passport, second photo ID, and all bank cards, wear it under your shirt. Consider a money belt as well as the money pouch. You can put your emergency cash in the money belt.
Before leaving home:
- Make a photocopy of your passport, all of your important documents and cards including debit and credit cards, medical insurance information, and your itinerary and leave the photocopies with a close friend or trusted family member.
- Make a second photocopy of your passport and store it separately in your backpack. Should you lose your passport this will make replacement much easier.
- Send a copy of all the important documents and cards you photocopied and email them to yourself, perhaps as an attachment. This way backup will be easily accessible (to you only) while you’re in Europe.
In general, Europeans tend to wear clothes that fit well (not baggy or too tight), and in colours that are subdued such as earth tones, charcoal grey, and black.
It is best to bring wrinkle-resistant clothing in moderate colours that mix and match well. Don’t bring anything that’s white.
If possible, avoid anything that is 100% cotton- it’s heavy and bulky to pack, it takes way too long to dry, and it can mould (mold) surprisingly fast if packed damp.
Instead concentrate on getting clothing made from modern materials that are light, moisture-wicking, non-chafe, and fast-drying (like Merino wool).
The following lists include what you wear on the airplane:
- Underwear (boxers, briefs, panties, knickers): 3-5 pair max. Avoid 100% cotton- it loses its softness when air-dried. Under Armour® or ExOfficio® are the best. It will cost a bit more but it’s worth it.
- Swim shorts: If you plan to be on the beach in warm weather, or for wear when doing laundry.
- Shorts: 1 pair, maybe. Shorts are never OK in churches. I would never wear shorts in Europe except near the beach in warm weather. Most of Europe has temperate temps, far too chilly for shorts. Besides, Europeans consider shorts children’s clothing, and you want to be thought of as an adult, right?
Note: Also, wearing shorts away from the beach will make you stand-out. That’s not good because the idea is to avoid pick-pockets, and not advertise your presence as a “rich American tourist”.
- Shoes: 1 pair – This is an item that Americans often have trouble. It is important that you bring a pair of light but study walking shoes that are very comfortable. You will be doing much more walking than you might expect, so comfort is the key.
But, keep in mind that Europeans never wear athletic shoes, such as running shoes, on the street. That said, running shoes that are not white and not a bright colour is passable for day-time wear in tourist areas. However, casual sneakers, leather sneakers, or walking shoes in a subdued colour (not white) are a better choice. Casual shoes such as Rockport® (for men) are also a better choice.
If you are coming to Europe during a rainy period, I would opt for waterproof light hiking shoes with an all-terrain sole. They may not be stylish but they are comfortable (if broken-in) and they will keep your feet dry.
Note: The shoes you bring to Europe should be well broken-in before your trip.
- Flip Flops/Thongs (in Aussy) : 1 pair – To wear in the hostel shower and at the beach – only.
- Socks: 3-5 pair. Buy some good-quality socks made from a fabric other than cotton. A good choice is a moisture-wicking fabric (draws perspiration from the body); these fabrics also dry quickly. Another moisture-wicking fabric is light-weight wool, such as Merino wool, which is surprisingly comfortable and remains comfortable even in rainy weather. Wool also controls odour well and dries quickly. (Wash wool in cool water by hand after soaking, use very little wool cleaner, never use detergent, and never dry wool in a dryer, it will shrink!) Few people will take this advice and buy quality socks, but if you take a chance and try it, you will never wear cotton socks again.
- Belt: 1 (Money-belt?)
- Sweater: 1 light weight, neutral or dark colour is perfect for cool evenings.
- A rugged, waterproof windbreaker: Even in the summer, London and Paris can be chilly after sundown. Avoid bringing a “rain jacket” because they are bulky, not especially comfortable. A windbreaker is light and when fold-up it takes very little room. A viable alternative is a fleece jacket. They are super warm, comfy, and lightweight.
For cooler weather, a medium-weight sweater and a windbreaker should suffice, also you should dress in layers in cooler weather. Make sure your windbreaker will fit comfortably over your sweater. Again, a fleece jacket is a viable alternative.
For colder temps, bring a warm sweater and a warm jacket or coat that comfortably fits over your warm sweater. You might also consider a light down-filled coat.
- and a Scarf: Europeans, both men and women, wear a scarf for warmth when the temps begin to fall. This is a typical European habit that makes sense. Woman may wish to bring 2 warm scarves in different but low-keyed complimentary colours that will match well with her other attire. Men can bring 1 scarf in an earth tone or neutral colour.
It may surprise you to know that Europeans wear athletic clothing ONLY while playing sports. When they have finished playing, even teenagers will dress in ordinary street clothing before they leave the sport facility.
If you see someone or a group wearing athletic clothing on the street, this should be a signal for you be on alert and to avoid being too close. Athletic clothing is only worn on the street by a subculture of delinquents and assorted young malcontents often involved with petty criminal activity. Don’t mess with them as they sometimes prey on tourists of all ages, and they can be aggressive. Seriously.
So, I suggest you steer clear of wearing sports-related clothing, including bright-coloured or white athletic running shoes while on the street. This is a big issue for Americans visiting Europe because many restaurants, bars, and pubs will refuse to serve those thought of as potential troublemakers.
- Pants/trousers: 2 pair of light-weight cotton pants like Dockers™ are ideal. But, IMO the zip-off pants idea is a bit daffy.
Jeans are commonly worn in Europe. But if you’re thinking of wearing jeans, be aware that jeans are hot, bulky, heavy, and they take forever to dry after walking in the rain. Cotton always takes a long time to thoroughly dry. If you do bring jeans, well-fitting dark jeans are best.
- T-shirts: 1-3 – Plain solid neutral or dark colours, no bright colours, no graphics. Wear one for sleeping, around the hostel, to a very casual bar or pub. Wear one as an undershirt at night. Europeans guys usually do not wear only a t-shirt on the street. Take at least one that is moisture wicking.
- Shirts: Make sure you bring shirts that are made from non-wrinkle fabrics, neutral or dark in colour, casual design (no dress shirts). Shirts that are easy to wash and dry like nylon (no 100% cotton) are perfect for travel.
- 1 button-up short-sleeve,
- 2-3 button-up long-sleeve.
- Socks: In addition to ordinary socks, consider bring one pair of black socks for dressier occasions.
If you plan on visiting a conservative or religious area, note that men will treat you with much more respect if you dress in a conservative manner.
- Bra: 2 – to make sure one is always dry, if you wear them.
- Slacks/pants: 1 warm pair such as light wool.
- Skirt: Not necessary in many parts of Europe, so you may wish to substitute with a second pair of slacks. A long skirt or wrap skirt is a good idea in areas that are especially conservative and religious- locals will respect you a lot more.
- Tops: 4 – Make sure you bring tops that are made from non-wrinkle fabrics, and easy to wash and dry (no 100% cotton). Bring one that covers well for conservative and religious locales.
- Sanitary napkins, tampons
- Jewellery: At most, bring only a few pieces of inexpensive costume jewellery. Since pick-pocketing is quite common in many popular cities in Europe, you may not wish to bring anything with you that is expensive, such as a real engagement or wedding ring. Buy a nice fake engagement or wedding ring for the trip- even if you are not married or engaged! Anything that cannot be easily replaced if stolen should not be brought with you on your trip. Seriously.
- Pocket Mirror and minimal makeup in unbreakable bottles/containers.
- If you’re thinking of bringing a purse or pocketbook, don’t bring a straw bag that doesn’t close. It’s really easy to pick-pocket. A crossbody bag is a much better choice.
- Personal safety items:
- A bra stash pocket or a money shoulder holster for emergency cash
- A small flashlight / personal alarm is very useful and perfect for walking streets at night
- A whistle, wear it around your neck
- A wedge-shaped doorstop alarm isn’t heavy and can make you feel a lot safer knowing it will stop an intruder from entering your hotel room
You can always buy toiletries like shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, makeup, comb, and razors in Europe as you need them. Or, you can take some with you.
- Toiletry bag (a large Ziploc baggy?)
- Toothbrush and small travel-size toothpaste
- Dental Floss
- Shampoo, small bottle
- Shower gel, small bottle
Ladies please note: Sometimes it can be difficult to find toilet paper in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe. Carry toilet paper (and maybe hand sanitizer) with you.
- First aid kit including an antibacterial hydrocortisone cream, band-aids/plasters.
- Doctor-prescribed antibiotic. This might be a good idea for a longer trip. But, 1) leave it in the original bottle (with the prescription label), and 2) declare all medication when entering each country.
- Earplugs can be a great relief on a noisy train, airplane, or in some noisy party hostels.
If You Take Prescription Medication: Before you leave on your trip, make sure you will be allowed to legally bring your meds including over-the-counter medications you plan on carrying with you into the countries you plan to visit. This includes allergy medications if it contains a stimulant, including inhalers and over-the-counter medications such as Sudafed®. These are illegal in some European countries because they are considered unsafe.
Check the particular country’s embassy website before you leave to make sure you can bring your prescription meds into their country. If not, have your doctor write a prescription for a legal substitute. And don’t forget to leave your medicine in the original bottles (which has a prescription label). Better safe than detained- but usually, illegal meds are usually just confiscated, if they bother at all. The thing is, they’re not consistent.
Note: Over-the-counter medications are widely available in local chemists/ pharmacies across Europe and are conveniently purchased during your trip.
Keep your electronics to a minimum to lighten your load and to cut back on loss should your stuff get jacked.
- Laptop: Most guys who bring their laptop to Europe quickly find it is a lot more hefty and troublesome than they thought. It becomes an irritating hassle to drag it around. If you are going just for 2-3 weeks, you will find precious little time for emails and Skype calls. Like, man, do you really expect Europe to be so boring that you need your laptop?
The only reason to bring your laptop to Europe is if you need it for business or if you are transfer student to a European university. Other than those compelling reasons, leave it at home.
FTI, most hostels have public computers and/or WiFi.
Instead, consider an iPad, iPad Mini, or a Tablet Computer. They’re practical because they weigh a lot less and they take-up less room in your backpack. So, if you must have a computer, an iPad or Tablet is a viable alternative. However, you may wish to consider an inexpensive Netbook or Chromebook ($200-300; €80-€120; £45-£90). If it is jacked, it’s not as bad a having your Mac jacked.
- Consider a subscription to a storage cloud for a convenient place to upload and store your digital pictures.
- Smartphone with “airplane mode”. This will allow you to use some features anywhere without connecting to a cellular network. Instead of a camera, take photos with your smartphone’s built-in camera. It’s good enough for sharing photos online, which is the only place 99% of people’s personal travel photos will be seen.
- iPod: Filled with a trunk load of good music.
- Adopter kit / universal power converter / battery chargers for whatever you bring.
Note: It is not a good idea to store sensitive information (including passwords, bank information, etc) on any electronic device (iPhone, smartphone, laptop, iPad, Tablet, etc) you bring to travel with you around Europe.
This is a very common mistake that can create an unbelievably major headache should the device get jacked or lost.
Instead, type out your sensitive information and email it to yourself to an external email account (and not forwarded to your own server, like Outlook). To access, just go to your account (like Gmail, Yahoo, etc) from any computer and get the info you need. When finished reading, make sure you 1) Delete it and also 2) EMPTY the Delete File.
If you presently have your email automatically forwarded to your home computer (to Outlook, etc) be aware that you will also need to hold the email on your external email server (such as Gmail) before you leave for Europe. To do this in Gmail:
- In Gmail, click Settings (wheel)> Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP > in the Forwarding section select Disable forwarding
- And then in POP Download in “2. When messages are accessed with POP” > select “keep Gmail’s copy in the inbox”.
Now your Gmail email will be kept in the Inbox within your Gmail account, where you can access it at any time from any computer anywhere.
Other Useful Things:
- Travel alarm clock: The light-weight, battery type.
- Very small flashlight: Great for finding your way in the dark, such as walking alone at night. You can also get a small travel flashlight with a personal alarm that’s perfect for ladies.
- Prescription glasses in a hard case
- Sleeping mask: Or take a bandana which can be used to cover your eyes while sleeping, and also double as a head covering or a small hand towel.
- Travel towel: Small, made of Viscose or quick-drying micro fibre
- Small Ziploc baggies: 3 or 4 (lots of uses for these)
- Large Ziploc baggies: 3 or 4 (useful in the hostel kitchen)
- Large plastic bags: 1 for dirty laundry
- Netted bags for things like underwear, socks.
- Compass: Very handy when walking around unfamiliar cities.
- Sink stopper: Universal size, needed to wash cloths in the sink.
- Travel clothesline: The stretchy, braided type with kooks. Use this to dry your cloths after washing in the sink.
- Silk travel sheet: To sleep on instead of sleeping on a dubious-looking bed sheet. Some hostels require you to rent one of theirs (for a small fee, of course) so don’t expect to be able to use it everywhere. Silk is ultra light and folds up to almost nothing. You can also take a silk pillow case.
- Take re-sealable element-proof storage bags such as those made by Loksak.
- Put your cloths in one, sit on it for compression, zip it closed.
- Use another water-proof storage bag for your electronics.
Have an Amazing Trip!