Packing for a Europe vacation

What to Pack for a Summer Vacation in Europe

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Every time I show my fairly minimal carryon situation via my social media, I’m flooded with questions. You’re traveling for three weeks in that tiny bag? What? How? And do have tips for me for packing for a Europe vacation in a similar manner?

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

Packing isn’t that hard, once you realize you don’t need as much as you think you do. And as I pack for my own summer vacation in Europe next week, I’ve put together a packing guide for those of you who have your own trips coming up in the next few months.

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Tips for packing light

Before we get into specifics about packing for a Europe vacation, let’s talk actual packing strategy in general.

Use compression cubes for organizing

For packing no matter where I’m going, I find that compression cubes help me not only keep my bag organized, but be mindful of what I’m taking with me so I don’t throw excess clothing I won’t wear into my bag without thinking it through. I use each cube for either outfit or day or by theme—e.g. T-shirts in one, pants in another, underwear in another—and I really like these packing cubes as they’re sturdy and last for years. If you don’t want to spend that much on compression cubes, Amazon has hundreds of cheaper options.

Go light on the electronics

Your electronics can be the heaviest items you pack, and honestly, how much are you going to be on your computer when you’re on summer vacation in Europe anyway? I have the lightest of the Kindle versions, which always goes in my personal item as I read on flights and before bed each night, and on this upcoming trip to Paris, I’m leaving all my bulky camera gear and lenses behind, in favor of this workhorse, which I rented for 10 days and fits perfectly in my fanny pack.

Renting a camera for your summer trip

Rather than spending hundreds of dollars to buy a camera for a vacation, you can rent a compact camera here (and if you use LUNATIC15, you’ll get 15% off, thanks LensRentals!).

Forgo excess shoes that take up space

You do not—I repeat, you do not—need heels of any kind in Europe. Have you seen those cobblestone streets? Heels will bring you nothing but a broken ankle. Packing for a Europe vacation, you’ll want flat-bottomed shoes that can handle the uneven surfaces.

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

For shoes, I max out at three pairs: these sneakers, which I wear on the plane to save space, a pair of walking sandals and a pair of sturdy slides that are comfortable, steady, and that I can wear out to nicer dinners but also walk in to save taking an Uber. If you only plan on wearing tennis shoes during the day—these are the shoes I bought for our upcoming Europe trip, by the way—you could get away with just packing one pair of sandals for nighttime.

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

Take one purse or belt bag, leave the rest at home

My top tip is don’t overpack when it comes to shoes and purses—I find that women, in particular, take up unnecessary space in their bags with shoes and purses. I usually take only one of these bags, and it’s often the belt bag (fanny pack) to use the entire trip, though I got Mom this larger crossbody bag version for our Paris trip and me this sling backpack to comply with stadium bag regulations at both the French Open and the Eras tour (under 15L in size). If you’re going somewhere that requires a clear bag, this Lulu fanny pack or this clear backpack is perfect (though note that many European stadiums don’t require clear bags, but rather have size requirements, usually around 12″ x 8″ x 8″ or 10cm x 20cm x 30cm).

In the crossbody purse or belt bag (fanny pack), I pack my wallet, passport, sunglasses and any other day-to-day items within it, then house it at the top of my carryon, a backpack. If you choose wisely for your personal item, you’ll also be able to use the backpack during the day if you need more space, like to bring an extra layer or a rain jacket.

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

What to wear on your flight

For your long flight, dress for comfort. You want something that’s going to feel cozy when crammed in a metal tube for 10 hours or more, and you want to be able to fall asleep easily. My go-to plane outfit for years has been these black Cozy Earth pants paired with a loose-fitting long-sleeved shirt and a long cardigan that can double as a blanket if the plane is super cold. This is the cardigan I fly everywhere with these days, and it has deep pockets, which are perfect for my passport and phone when waiting in a security or customs line.

On my feet, I wear Bombas ankle socks always and OnCloud shoes that I can slip on and off easily when I need to make trips to the lavatory. These shoes also double as my walking shoes for in destination; they’re incredibly comfortable and cute. You may also want to consider wearing compression socks, which we all did for our long-haul to Africa and it made a huge difference for post-plane swelling.

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

If you’re flying an airline that does not give out pillows and blankets, consider taking your own. I like the idea of this compact Snuggie-like blanket, and I also frequently pack this neck pillow in my carryon or personal item when I’m not flying business and know I need to get some sleep.

What to pack for a European vacation

If you’re moving locations like we did on our last Italy and Switzerland vacation with our niece, you’re really going to want to heed these tips for packing for your Europe vacation. If you’re traveling around Western Europe by train or car, you are going to want to have the smallest bag and least amount of things with you possible as the cobblestone roads and uneven walkways are going to make maneuvering bags in and out of hotels much more of a pain than you want.

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

If you’re traveling around Europe by cruise ship or riverboat, you have the benefit of not having to move your things around every day, which is nice! I still recommend trying to pack everything in as small a suitcase as you can regardless because you’ll still have to shuffle it to and around the airport.

Also, remember that you can always have the ship do laundry for you (and many hotels offer this option, too). I always err on the side of planning on having my laundry done once or twice on a longer trip than taking too much stuff that’s just going to weigh me down. And, of course, if you are staying in a cabin, Airbnb or other vacation rental, it’s likely you might have your own washing machine to do laundry. Many European apartments don’t have dryers, however, so you’ll want to plan to line-dry your garments.

For daytime casual wear

Packing for Europe in all neutrals will let you mix and match outfits and give you more ways to rewear the limited clothing you brought. In Africa, I took all white, gray, light blue and forest green tops, then khaki, gray or black bottoms so that everything could be mixed and matched and worn in other ways (ditto to the one skirt and jacket I had, both of which were in the same neutral palette).

Staying at Shipwreck Lodge on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia

For Europe, I usually wear lighter colored clothes for both comfort and coolness. My rule of thumb for packing is 1.5 outfits for each day. And I try to make every item I put in my bag something that can be worn again. This means a lot of solid-colored T-shirts and neutrals that can be paired with shorts or leggings or a skirt.

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

Men have it even easier. My husband bags a cube of T-shirts, a cube of underwear and socks, a cube of pants, a jacket for the flight/weather and his trusty Dopp kit, and that’s it, he’s packed. He always has spare room in his carryon, no matter how long we’re traveling.

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

For summer in Europe, you likely won’t need many layers as it can be hot and AC is a limited commodity. Whereas in late-spring, you can expect 70s during the day and chilly nights, in summer months, heat can top out near 100, especially if you’re in Italy, southern France, Spain or Portugal. When it’s this hot out—it hit 118 on our trip to Lisbon a few summers back—I break my own rule and pack fun dresses, too, especially since they take up the same amount of room as a T-shirt and are an entire outfit.

Walking Tour of Lisbon, Portugal

Since you’re wearing a thick cardigan on the plane, that should do for a jacket should you need one, though you may want to throw in one extra layer if you have the space and are going to be in a higher altitude. If you’re going up in the mountains like the Alps, you’ll definitely want to pack a separate jacket for the altitude. This puffer jacket folds up real nice and tight.

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

For a night out

While sure it may be tempting to go all out on fashion especially if you’re traveling somewhere like Italy, remember that this is Europe we’re talking about, and they don’t dress in the same loud colors and patterns that identify us as Americans among a crowd. Am I saying buy a whole new wardrobe for your European vacation? No (but if you want to, I’ll give you permission!).

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

Instead, I’m saying use the neutral rule of thumb, and pack skirts, dresses or linen pants that can transition from day to night. I’m a big fan of packing skirts like these that I can comfortably wear during the day, particularly if going inside a church or mosque where I need to cover up more, then pair with a nicer tank top at night for going to a restaurant. I also love gauzy dresses—this brand makes some of my favorites—that can transition easily from attractions during the day to dinner at night.

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

For your toiletries

I pack all my makeup and beauty items in a hanging toiletries organizer like this one if I’m traveling on a cruise ship; otherwise, I use my Calpak cosmetics bag when packing for Europe vacations or U.S. trips. I either use the sample sizes of shampoo, conditioner, and moisturizer that I get from either Sephora or Ulta—they must be less than 3 ounces to comply with TSA carry-on regulations—or fill small bottles like these with my products. One thing I never leave home without is this Supergoop! sunscreen, which I wear daily, in Europe and at home.

Packing for a Europe vacation

Fill a Ziplock of a couple tabs of all the OTC meds you might need like Advil, Sudafed, Imodium, Benadryl, eye drops. I run sweaty, so one thing that has helped me tremendously in my travels—particularly in the hot, non-airconditioned climate of Europe—is wearing lightweight seamless shorts like these under dresses or applying this anti-chafing product, which lives permanently in my carryon these days.

Which carryon you should take

I have a whole post dedicated to carryon bags and whether you should go hard-sided or soft-sided, but let me tell you what you should prioritize: the size (you want the largest bag that will fit in the overhead bin), the wheels (I prefer wheels that move in all directions) and the shape (I’m in favor of a squishy top that expands if I bring back a lot of souvenirs).

What to Pack for a Europe Summer Vacation

And for my personal item, I love a Calpak bag. My current favorite is the Luka laptop backpack, which is large enough to fit my laptop and plane essentials, but small enough that it doesn’t hurt my bag and I can’t stuff too much heavy crap in there. Plus, it comes in so many fun colors!

What’s your top tip for packing for a vacation to Europe?



Packing for a Vacation in Europe | Your Summer Packing List
Packing for a Vacation in Europe | Your Summer Packing List
Packing for a Vacation in Europe | Your Summer Packing List

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