How to Pack Light for Europe

Did you know I have a Travel Tag on my blog? It doesn’t get updated very frequently, but I have posts about trips to Hershey, PA, NYC, and San Francisco in there. Soon, my Europe trip recap posts will be added to the list. But first I want to talk about packing.

Just before leaving for our European adventure, I posted this pic on Instagram and Facebook commenting that Hubby and I were taking just two carry-ons and a back-pack for our two week trip through the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany. I got quite a few comments on Facebook asking how we did it and how it went after we got back.

Why Pack Light for Europe?

Hubby and I knew we’d be taking multiple trains, buses, and walking around a lot with our luggage in tow. We didn’t want to deal with large suitcases on those travel days, so we laid out a plan to pack light for Europe. Hubby got this bag for the trip. He wanted something that could roll on wheels or be carried on his back. This bag is AMAZING – very spacious on the inside, fits in an overhead bin, and is comfortable when carrying on your back. I just used a regular 22″ rolling carry-on.

Shoes – The Space Takers

We decided to each only take one pair of shoes and one pair of flip flops. We wore our shoes on the plane, so the only shoes being packed were our flip flops. We both spent a decent amount of time trying to find the perfect shoe that would be comfortable to walk in all day and also look acceptable to wear out to dinner. Thanks to Zappos.com‘s free shipping both ways, we both ordered a handful of shoes before the trip to try on at home. I decided on these Clarks in black and Hubby chose these.

Clothing Strategy

We planned to re-wear our clothes and do laundry once during the trip, around the half way point. We each packed an empty gallon sized ziplock bag to put our dirty socks/underwear in within our suitcases. We used Febreeze to keep our shirts fresh throughout the trip. Because of the timing of our trip, we were also able to only need a light-weight jacket each.

We ended up washing our socks and underwear and a few other items in our hotel sink one night and it worked out perfectly. I washed the clothes in the sink and Hubby rinsed them in the shower. Then we just hung everything up around the bathroom/bedroom to dry over the next day or so.


This is everything I packed into my bag for the trip:

  • 2 dresses (a sundress and a dressy dress)
  • 1 pair of leggings
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair black pants
  • 1 pair black capris
  • shorts and a tank to sleep in
  • 3 cardigans – one black, one grey, and one purple
  • 2 long sleeved shirts
  • 3 short sleeved shirts
  • 2 tank tops
  • 1 water-proof jacket with a hood
  • 1 scarf
  • socks and underwear for 8 days
  • toilettries to include – makeup, curl brush, shampoo and conditioner in 3 oz bottles, sunscreen, 1 single-load packet of laundry detergent, travel size Febreeze to spray our clothes at the end of the day, finger nail file and clippers, toothbrush/paste
  • Note – One of the things I did to pack for this trip was lay everything out on the bed that I wanted to take. Then I had Hubby come help force me to put half of it back into my closet. I tried to pack clothes of a similar color palette so that things could be mixed and matched as well (lots of greens/blues/purples, although I did take one pink shirt too!)


Here’s my bag with all of my clothes packed into it.


My carry-on with a ziplock bag for dirty clothes, our electrical charging cords (including two adapters), my liquids, my hair dryer, guidebooks, and our toilettries bag.


Look at my carry-on – all packed and ready to go. And it hasn’t even been expanded!

Capturing Your Memories While Packing Light

I’ve always been a crazy picture taker. In high school, I had boxes and boxes of photos because I always had a camera with me. Obviously taking pictures is an important aspect of traveling. But we didn’t want to be lugging a bunch of gear all over Europe. I took this camera equipment on our trip:

Now you might be wondering why I would take 4 memory cards instead of just my 16-GB memory card. This was my strategy: I swapped out a new memory card in each of my cameras every night. This did two things.

For starters if either camera got lost/stolen/broken, the memory card that was in that camera would have a variety of pictures from throughout the trip. That would mean that the cards that didn’t get lost/stolen/broken would also have a variety of pics from the trip, so I wouldn’t miss out on huge clumps of the trip (or all of it if I had only used one memory card per camera).

Second, this method helped me when I got home and started sorting pictures to understand which day they were taken. I was happy with this process even though Hubby thought I was crazy for doing it!

Prepping for the Flight

On the flight, I wanted to layer up and wear as many of my large space-taking clothes as possible so they wouldn’t need to be packed. I wore my black pants, a white tank top, my purple cardigan, my scarf, and my jacket. I’m always cold on flights and I ended up wearing all of it except the jacket during the flight.


This is everything that we took in the back-pack for the flight:

  1. The small back-pack
  2. Our Rick Steve’s travel guides – these things were such a great resource!
  3. Cut up apples for a snack
  4. A pair of socks for me because my feet are ALWAYS cold on flights
  5. Inflatable travel pillows for me and Hubby
  6. My Crumpler Camera Pouch containing all of the camera equipment listed above
  7. Wristlet containing my license and a couple credit cards
  8. Coin purse and kleenex pouch
  9. Kindle and sunglasses
  10. Printouts of our itenerary, copies of our passports, and our international driving permits

We also each took an eye mask to help us sleep on our red-eye over the ocean. I guess the eye masks didn’t make it in to the picture!

Can you Over-Pack when Packing Light?

Even though we packed light, we still had things that we didn’t use. I brought a travel hair dryer that I didn’t end up using because all of our hotels had hair dryers in the rooms. We also each brought one dressy outfit in case we went to a nice restaurant for dinner. We definitely ate at some nice restaurants, but nothing that required a special outfit. I also only wore my skirt one day. During the beginning of the trip, the weather was nice and I wore my sundress and capris a lot. The second half of the trip was cooler, so I wore my black pants and jeans a lot. I definitely could have left the skirt at home as well.

What things Did we Not have that we Needed?

The one thing I wished I had brought was a small purse. The first night, after sightseeing during the day, I really wanted a small bag to hold my camera, guidebook and a couple other small things to take to dinner with us as opposed to using the backpack. I thought maybe I was just being silly the first day, but the same thing happened the second day. This was easy enough to remedy – I just bought a small purse on the 3rd day and used it every night after that. We also bought a small umbrella when bad weather hit since Hubby’s jacket doesn’t have a hood.

Saving Room to Pack Souvenirs

For our flight home, we carried on an extra bag. I bought this Rick Steve’s Hideaway Tote to bring home our souvenirs. This was a very sturdy bag that stayed folded up in it’s container for the majority of the trip and provided more then enough space to bring home all of our goodies!

We actually checked our suitcases on the way home because we had some wine from Germany to bring home with us. Once we decided to check my bag, we went ahead and checked Hubby’s bag as well.

This is everything that we took on our trip! You can see that I also brought my Camelbak water bottle. We carried this with us everywhere we went and were able to refill it in our hotel rooms, restaurants, or public water fountains.

Packing light worked out so well for us that I can’t imagine having done it any other way – anything we were missing we were able to buy and everything else worked out better than I was expecting! Doing laundry in our hotel room was a fun adventure. This strategy worked really well for us. And we were lucky that the timing of our trip was such that we didn’t need big bulky cold weather clothing and multiple pairs of shoes. For our first trip to Europe, I’m pretty proud of how we did!

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3 Responses to “How to Pack Light for Europe”

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    1
    Elizabeth — February 26, 2013 at 1:18 pm

    You did a great job! This was a thing very well done . We lived in Europe for a couple of years and took many week long trips all around the continent. We also found that one small bag(we used duffels) were the way to go. Never lost luggage, never missed a connecting flight, never had to lug heavy bags all over the place. We found that we could manage very well with less than was originally thought. In fact, I discovered that i really loved having less alltogether! (We lived in Limburg and Moravia; traveled to Poland, Croatia, Greece, Italy, France, England, and Belgium. Brugge is my favorite! Although I must say, I loved every speck of Italy, too!)

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    Karen — April 2, 2013 at 5:35 pm

    You did great! I also love Rick Steves’ packing cubes for a long trip. I fit everything I needed for 2 weeks in Europe in February in one cube, freeing up half my suitcase. And I’m a size 14-16 so it wasn’t just x-s size. Great job!

    • beantownbaker — April 4th, 2013 @ 7:17 am

      Thanks! It was definitely worth the effort to not be lugging around a huge suitcase while we were in Europe.

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