Preparing for your very first Eurotrip can be a bit daunting. I remember when I first head out to Europe on exchange, I had no idea what I was in for. I packed everything and the kitchen sink. I was able to make it work with the gear that I had brought over but it was definitely not the most efficient. For my second trip to Europe, I did more research, purchased better gear, and it turned out to be a much more pleasant experience.
The key to having a great backpacking trip to Europe is making sure you’ve done the right preparation beforehand. The hope for this guide is to walk you through what you should be thinking about when packing for your trip.
This guide on preparing for your trip is based on my own personal experiences packing for Competitours, a 14 day, all-around Western Europe trip. It’s Amazing Race but for normal people.
Eurotrip Preparation Wisdom
Some of this may seem obvious and intuitive and others you may have heard others say but don’t believe. I’m going to lay out all the things you really should be thinking about and putting into action when you prepare for that epic trip to Europe.
- Pack light – This is probably the hardest one of them all. It’s easy to bring everything you “think” you’ll need on the trip but the truth is you’ll use less than half of that and you’ll hate yourself for doing it because of all the extra weight you have to carry around.
- It’s not a fashion show – I know this is hard to accept for some, but there’s really no need to look that good on the road. You’re going to wear those same khakis for a couple days straight and you’ll probably end up rotating through the same 5-6 shirts. It’s okay. Do yourself a favor and leave those jeans at home. They’re not versatile, they’re heavy, and impossible to dry when wet.
- Good shoes are key – Europe is 100% walking. If you don’t have good shoes, you’re going to be complaining most of the way through.
- Washing your clothes – The only way to bring less sets of clothes than the number of days you have on the road is to wash your clothes. One option is to find a laundromat and the other is to hand wash them yourself. The hardcore backpackers know they can survive on 2-3 pairs of underwear because hand washing them every night is very do-able. Watch my hand-washing video to learn how. This is why fast drying clothes are also key.
- Play it safe – The worst thing that can happen to you on your trip is to have your stuff stolen. Never take those dumb risks. Don’t put your backpack down on the ground unattended, always wear a money belt, and lock your gear up if you’re staying at a hostel.
- Don’t stress – Europe is very developed so whatever you might’ve forgotten, you’ll be able to buy along the way.
A critical piece of gear that makes the whole Eurotrip work is the backpack. The core piece is the main backpack which is going to carry everything you’ll be living off of. From my experience a backpack around the 50-55L is just right for a multi-week trip around Europe.
Now you’re probably wondering about the second pack there. It’s almost as big as my main pack. I’ll say this. It’s a bit overkill, yes, and I wish I had a smaller backpack in this case but there are two things. 1) You always want to make sure you have a day pack when you’re travelling. Those collapsable backpacks like the New Outlander are great for this. 2) The tricky part is in that I have a lot of gear (camera, video, and laptop) and when you start looking at ones with padded compartments they’re no longer going to be collapsible. Because yes, ideally you’d be able to keep everything in one main pack but with with this configuration I’m going to essentially have to carry the main pack on my back and my day pack in the front.
- Mountain Hardwear Ozonic 50 Outdry – I intended to use this for Peru but I figure why the heck not use it for Europe as well. This guy is a tough backpack being fully water proof and all but what’s been great about packing it so far is that it’s packed with a lot of features like the top flap zipper compartment, the flexible side pockets, and the hip pockets. I purchased the M/L size which increases the capacity to 55L. I was also left with tons of room to spare after fitting everything in.
- Thule Covert DSLR Rolltop Backpack – Some of you may seen this in my China video but what I have to say about this backpack is that it’s a fantastic travel pack because it handles the need of having super safe and secure compartments for the camera while also coming with a lots of compartments for gear you’d want to put in a daypack. Quality is top notch and extremely rugged. The only drawback of course is that it is a bit large. I would’ve opted for a smaller bag for this trip but the life of a travel blogger (with video ambitions) means the need for way more stuff than a normal person.
Shirts & Underwear
For shirts, I’d say there’s really no need to bring more than 7 sets and even then it might be more than you need. The key again is that you should never be afraid to wash your clothes. The reason I’ve stopped waiting for laundromats is because you often have to allocate time to find them, drop-off and pick-up. With hand-washing, you can pace yourself by doing one a night and that way you’ll never run out of clothes.
Underwear works the same as I’ve budgeted 7 sets of socks/underwear for 14 days. I could probably do with less socks since I do plan on wearing flip flops or sandals for part of the trip.
The last thing I’ll mention is the use of these stuff sacks. For my t-shirts I love my Eagle Creek organizer that allows you to cram SO MUCH into one nice little neat package. It’s all thanks to the technique of rolling your clothes (see the video). I simply throw it into the backpack and with the handle at the top, all I have to do is pull it out. The stuff sack mesh bags are also critical to any backpacker. I make sure everything is a different color and that way I can keep my pack organized. This way you won’t have to dig through piles of clothes inside the bag. Need PJ’s or that button up shirt? I just need to pull out the blue bag. Need underwear or socks? Just pull out the orange bag. It makes life so much easier.
- Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube (M) with 7 t-shirts- This packing cube was one of the best discoveries. This helps keeps my shirts nice and tidy.
- Cactus Creek Mesh Bags (M) with PJs – These used to be sold at MEC in Canada but they seemed to have disappeared. Honestly any mesh bag will do but make sure they’re color coded. I have 3 sizes. This particular one is the medium.
- Cactus Creek Mesh Bags (M), 5x socks and underwear – If I could, all of my underwear would be the Exofficio Give-N-Go Boxer but I only have 4. Sock wise, I probably don’t need that much since I’ll be alternating between hiking shoes, flip flops and sandals but I figure why not since I have the space.
- North Face Short Sleeve Button Shirt – Picked this up at the outlet not too long ago. I packed this just to mix it up if I wanted to. The great part about this shirt is that it’s still very light.
Pants & Jacket
Where most people go wrong with the packing is in the pants.
Rule #1: Jeans are a no-no – There’ll be that initial desire to bring one because that’s what you comfortably wear at home on a day-to-day basis but on the road it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The main issues are that they’re not light nor can they be packed into a tight form factor.
Rule #2: Versatile clothes may not be sexy but are useful – The khakis I have below are great because they’re lightweight and quick to dry and I have the option of zipping away the pant legs to turn them into shorts. Probably not something you’d wear at home but on the road, I zip away freely. Nobody’s judging!
Rule #3: You just don’t need a whole lot of pants – The way I think about it is, as long as the underwear changes everyday, I should totally be happy with wearing the same pants everyday. I have 3 pairs of main pants and that is more than enough.
- Eddie Bauer Khakis – Another great purchase from the outlet. These pants have served me well for the past couple of trips.
- Assortment of capris – Hey guys can wear capris too right? I’ve been a big fan of these for travel but honestly completely your personal preference. For me, it’s all about making sure I have additional pockets.
- O’Neill Men’s Hybrid Freak Boardshort – Again versatility is key. I love these swim trunks because they’re perfect for the water but they also look fantastic on land.
- Cactus Creek Mesh Bags (L) – Probably hard to see but this is the large version of the mesh bag. I use this to carry all of my pants in one organizer. Since this tends to be the largest stuff sack, I will usually make sure this goes near the bottom of the bag to balance the weight properly.
- Patagonia H2No Shell Jacket – It doesn’t make a lot of sense to bring an umbrella when you can bring a waterproof jacket like this that can also double as an additional layer. Shells like this are perfect for travelling because they’re versatile, light and easily rollable.
This is my current line up of shoes. It may seem like a lot but the flip flops don’t really count because those fit just about anywhere. The hiking shoes are my daily walkers but I usually will end up interchanging them with my sandals for those super hot days or if I know I’ll be walking into water.
The tricky part though is if you plan on doing any clubbing. Like clubs at home, most places will only let you in if you have the proper clothing and shoes which goes against everything that’s optimized for travel. If you plan on doing that kind of partying, you’re just going to have to suck it up and bring a dress shirt, jeans and dress shoes/nice sneakers.
- Merrell Moab Ventilators Hiking Shoe – These shoes have been the bread and butter of all my trips for years now. They’re incredibly comfortable and great in all situations. These ones aren’t waterproof but for city walking, this fits the bill.
- Rainbow Sandals, Double Layer Leather Sandal – I have reviewed these extensively before but I can’t go on a summer trip without these. They’re just so damn comfortable and great for extended periods of walking. Plus you never know when you’ll be hitting up a beach right?
- KEEN H2 Newport Sandal – My review holds this as one of the best sandals on the market. I love them because they’re just so versatile in summer conditions. Amphibious is the word that comes to mind.
- MSR Packtowel Personal – Don’t make the mistake I made with quick dry towels and buy a small one. It’s just not worth it to annoyingly dry yourself with something the size of a hand towel. This one is great because it’s large (XL in fact), packs into a small form factor, and dries quickly. While mostly used in hostels, this is the kind of thing that’s always nice to have with you because you never know.
- 20L Stuff Sack – This bag is mainly used to store dirty clothes. A stuff sack like this is great because it’s water proof so if you for some reason have wet clothes, you can use it for that too.
- Another Stuff Sack – I have tons of stuff sacks at home and I pulled this one to just neatly store my sandals in my backpack so that again, I know what that dark green bag is when I’m reaching in to pull stuff out.
There’s quite a few things in my toiletries kit so let’s jump right in.
- Hair Gel – Yah forget what I said about not needing to look good.
- Cetaphil Face Cleanser – It’s all about the travel size bottles. I got this as a sample somewhere and I’ve been using it for my trips ever since.
- Bandaids – I have an assortment of sizes with me. Waterproof ones are good to have too.
- Reactine – When allergies strike.
- Immodium – This has you covered if you ever get traveler’s diarrhea.
- Electric Toothbrush – I know it’s a bit overkill but this cheap electric toothbrush keeps my teeth clean. I also pop in new batteries before I leave the house.
- Toothpaste – I really should have a travel-sized one.
- Body Soap, Shampoo, Conditioner – Courtesy of the Fairmont Le Chateau Montebello.
- Tylenol Day/Night Cold – This has come in handy on numerous occasions on the road.
- Peptid AC – This is more for the Asian Glow than anything.
- Systane Balance Eyedrops – I have dry eyes.
- Ear Plugs – I don’t normally use these but Sam might be a snorer.
- Advil – The new tablet form factor is pretty nice.
- Off Mosquito Repellent – Big cities usually aren’t a problem but again it’s one of those things where you never know.
- Alcohol Wipes – I have hand sanitizer below. This is more for use as an antiseptic to clean wounds or what have you.
- Digital Thermometer – I’ve been sick on the road before so this has always been nice to have because to buy one on the road would be very expensive.
- Sunscreen – Got this nice package courtesy of the folks at St. Pete’s.
- Tide Single Packet – Purchased this as a package of 3. I’m only bringing this because I’m trying to kill off this last one. To be perfectly honest, using regular bar soap or liquid body soap or even shampoo are just as effective for the hand-washing of clothes.
- EmergenC – This is a great boost if you feel the onset of a cold or flu.
- Multi-vitamin – Who knows is this is actually effective or not but I usually try to take a multi-vitamin a day just to ward off anything bad. It’s hard to keep a balanced intake of vitamins when travelling so the theory is that this helps with that.
- Muji Paraglider Cloth Hanging Travel Case – Last but not least is the case that carries it all. I’ve been very happy with this Muji toiletries organizer because of it’s simplicity in design and comprehensiveness in terms of pockets, zippers and elastic holders. The must-have feature for any toiletries organizer is the hook. Hanging your bag is always a better option than letting it sit on the sink especially if you’re using communal hostel washrooms.
While I try to keep most of my electronics with my daypack, inevitably I’ll end up with a bunch of things that need to be stored away.
- Outdoor Research Stuff Sack – The Outdoor Research bag is a bit overkill but it’s a nice small stuff sack where I can throw in bunch of things and not have to worry about it tearing in transit.
- Aquapac Waterproof Case – This soft case is great because it’s extremely easy to roll away and still provides you touch control if you put your phone inside. I bring this only if I think there’s a chance I’ll have to go out into the water (i.e. kayak or canoe).
- Mamut Headlamp – This model has since been discontinued but in general it’s a good idea to bring a headlamp because you might be doing a sunrise/sunset hike or if a power outage occurs or
- WD Portable Hard Drive – I have brought this along just because I’m worried I might run out of hard drive space on the laptop. This is also a good way to backup photos and videos while travelling so you’ll have one copy on the laptop and the other on this hard drive.
- Plug Adapters for UK and EU – I have a random assortment of plug adapters I’ve collected over the years. Always do your research beforehand but in Europe you’re mostly dealing with these two types of plugs. Universal adapters are good but the problem is with all the devices you have you’ll need multiple. I find that individual adapters like mine are more useful.
- Chargers and Cables – I pretty much throw all the random cables and chargers into the bag too. I only need them once a night so no need to put them in my daypack.
Additional Things In the Main Pack
Here are just a few things I packed but realized I forgot to photograph afterwards.
- Rick Steves’ Silk Money Belt – I have a love-hate relationship with the money belt. On one hand, it did totally save me when I had my backpack stolen in Paris many years ago. On the other hand, it’s annoying, uncomfortable and sweaty to wear all day. I usually end up making a game-time decision about it but if we’re thinking 100% about safety, having the money belt is a no-brainer.
- Outdoor Research Radar Pocket Cap – This is a great travel hat simply because you can fold the brim. This makes it incredibly easy to pack and even while on the road, I can easily stick the cap in my back pocket if I want to take it off but not go through the trouble of putting it into my daypack.
- Student Card – I’m lucky enough to have a student card that doesn’t have an expiry date so I’ve been able to use this all over. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. If you have one lying around, bring it because you’ll be able to save a good amount of money.
- Buff Headwear – I love my buff because it’s something I can wear on my wrist to wipe sweat away or around my neck if it’s cold or even on my head if I’m looking for more protection from the sun. It’s a pretty sweet piece of travel gear that everyone should own. Read my full review of the Buff.
- Flag Bag – I picked this up locally at the MEC here in Toronto and this is essentially a protector bag for backpacks. This makes the checking-in process of your backpack a lot easier because there are no loose straps that could cause problems. I also like to have this because it’s essentially another big bag that I could use if I end up buying way too much stuff. Over the years, I’ve collected flag patches and I’ve been trying to grow my collection ever since as I hop around the world.
Here’s a look at some of the things that you’ll find in my daypack.
- Air Canada First Class Amenity Bag – This is currently being phased out but it’s a great bag because I can perfectly fit my portable power bank, cables and the MacBook charger all in there.
- Business Cards – Need to get the word out about Going Awesome Places!
- Chapstick – Dry lips are no fun.
- Cepacol/Strepsil – I have a tendency to get sore throats really easily so this is always handy to have nearby.
- Victorinox Travel Organizer – This helps keep me organized with my cards, travel documents, money, and pens all in one spot. So when I’m at the airport, all I need to do is pull out this organizer and I’m good to go to check-in, go through customs, and get through the gate.
- Swiss Army Classic Knife – I love having this around but I always bring it with a bit of hesitation. You have to think about this one a bit. The big question is whether you will you be carrying-on ALL your bags when flying. If so, you’re going to want to leave this at home. The reason this might happen is if you fly with low cost carriers like Easy Jet or Ryanair which have add-on costs for almost every single thing including checked bags. Always remember to pack this into your checked bag when flying.
- Nail Clippers – Hang nails are the worst
- Xiaomi 10400 mAh Power Bank – For me, I know I’m going to be going through a lot of power throughout the day on my devices (especially my phone). This is my safety net to know that I’ll always be able to charge USB devices during the day if I need to.
- Hand Sanitizer
- Mini Tissue Pack
- Oakley Holbrook Sunglasses – Big fan of Oakley.
- iPhone 5S – This is a whole other topic unto itself but the plan for most going to Europe is to purchase a SIM card in the city they land in, fill it up with funds and use it all the way through. Italy’s Vodaphone “Smart Passport” has an amazing prepaid package designed for travellers that need data. It only costs 3 EUR per day and you get 500MB of data. More details on this in the future.
- Sea To Summit Travel Wallet – I don’t like using my leather wallet from back home because I need something a bit more rugged and something I don’t care if it gets poorly treated. This wallet is great because it has a zippered component for coins and has tons of slots and dividers.
- Uniqlo Light Hoodie – For the summer I elect to bring a lighter hoodie as opposed to a full out fleece. The purpose of this is to just have something that I can layer on in case it does get cold.
- Lanparte Gimbal – This fancy thing is something I’ve wanted to try for awhile. It’s essentially a 3-axis stabilizer for the phone or GoPro so that you can walk or run with this in hand and the video will come out perfectly smooth.
- Olympus OM-D E-M1 with 12-40 f/2.8 Lens – In the spirit of going more minimal, I’ve decided to only bring this combination for the trip. Micro Four Thirds is perfect in every way for travel and Olympus especially has done a killer job. The E-M1 gives me the pro features of a full-frame SLR but in the form factor of a point and shoot.
- GoPro Hero 3+ Black and GoPro Hero 4 Silver – Having two GoPro’s has been a godsend because it allows me to shoot different angles simultaneously versus before I literally had to run around between different places to get all the shots I wanted. The Hero 4 Silver is also a major leap forward because I finally have the ability to see what I’m shooting. One of the big value adds of the 4 Silver is that it has a built in back screen.
- GoScope – This GoPro selfie stick is great for capturing different action angles.
- Carabiners – I just love having extra carabiners around. They’re great for hooking things together. For example if you have a small shopping bag, instead of holding it, you can hook the bag to the carabiner and the carabiner to your backpack. Travel Hack 101.
- GoPole Grenade Grip – This is great for hand held action camming with the GoPro. In fact, most of my videos so far have been done with the help of this grip.
- Rocket Air Blaster – This is part of my camera kit to clean the lenses on an as-needed basis. This is a very useful tool because you really don’t want to be blowing with your mouth to get dust off which leads to spit flying all over.
- Lens Pen – The best lens cleaning tool on the market. A must-have for any photographer.
- MacBook Pro 13″ Retina – I’m going with a more powerful machine for the Competitours trip simply because I need the processing power to churn out videos while I’m in Europe. Trust me, I’d much rather go with my 11″ MacBook Air.
Things You Probably Didn’t Think About
- Two separate photocopies of your passport, credit cards and other important cards – After making the photocopies, just make sure the are stored in two separate bags. If you ever get one stolen, you’ll always have the other. This is a worst case scenario kind of thing where if you lost your passport and need some sort of way to prove your identity to the embassy.
- Call your credit cards – Before you head out, it takes literally 5 minutes to call each credit card company and let them know about your travel plans.
- Adjust your camera clocks beforehand – A huge pet peeve of mine is having the wrong timestamp on my photos and videos. The best way is to either adjust it beforehand or you can also set up a calendar reminder to pop up when you land.
- Format your memory cards – The worst is when you start taking photos/videos with your camera and you run out of memory really quickly because you forgot to clean out the old photos from a previous trip. At this point, you’re stuck with switching to a new memory card or deleting old photos one at a time which is extremely painful.
There are a bunch of items that didn’t make the photos but for the sake of thoroughness I added them below.
- Shaver – I’m not a razor kind of guy so this is pretty much a must. What I usually do is charge it full before I leave so I don’t have to bring the charger with me. There’s plenty of juice for 2 weeks.
- Water Bottle – Grabbed my small Nalgene bottle I picked up at Sundance Film Festival a few years back.
- Gnomad – Best mascot EVER right? We bought an 8″ version for home but for travel the roaming gnome stress roaming gnome.
- Snacks – I always pack a few Cliff Bars as back up. For Competitours specifically, who knows when we’ll be skipping meals or needing an energy boost.
- GoPro Mounts – There’s a whole collection of GoPro mounts that I will be bringing for this particular trip since video is a key component of it.
- Headphones – This is mainly for the plane and train rides.
- Mini gorilla pod – While this won’t be able to support my Olympus, this is great for the GoPro because I can set it up in all sorts of ways if I need a make-shift tripod.
How do you pack for a Eurotrip? I could definitely be a lot more minimalistic but the hope is that this gives you an idea of things to think about when you start throwing things in the corner as the lead up to procrastination of packing.