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You’re planning a trip to Europe.
What should you pack?!
It’s hard to know what the must-bring items are (and what you should leave at home) before you even leave.
I’ve been traveling to Europe in all 4 seasons for nearly 30 years and have made every packing mistake you can imagine.
I’ve lugged around items I regretted packing, spent hours of my trip searching for things I should have packed, and wasted more money than I’d like to admit.
Fortunately for you, you can learn from my mistakes!
These days, I’ve got packing down to a science. So I thought I’d share my most essential travel items. Everything (except for just a few items) on this list is something I’ve used for several years and love. I hope you find it helpful!
A few notes about how I travel and pack:
- I am mostly a carry-on only traveler, especially when I travel abroad.
- I travel year-round for both work and fun.
- I’m a frequent solo traveler but I also travel with my husband a couple times a year.
- My style is fairly practical. I like to be comfortable and I love it when items do double-duty.
- You’ll see that I frequently say that I’ve had an item for years and years — it’s true! Except for a few items I have my eye on for my next trip, I’ve only listed the things I have used (and used and used) and love.
Packing List for Germany…and Beyond
Eagle Creek Women’s Travel Backpack
I have an older version of this travel backpack and I LOVE IT. I’ve had it for about 10 years now. It’s comfortable, durable, and easy to pack and keep organized. I’ve had several travel backpacks over the years and because this one is built for a women’s frame, it fits me so much better than anything else (I’m 5′ 5”). It comes with a zip-off day pack but I don’t use it very much because I often bring a travel purse or crossbody bag instead.
UPDATE: just prior to my December trip to Germany I was sent a Clark & Mayfield backpack to try out. What a fabulous backpack! Comfortable, stylish, good organization, and you can carry it as a backpack or bag, plus you can slip it over your suitcase handle. I love it!
Eagle Creek Carry-on Suitcase
I have an older version of this carry-on suitcase and it’s awesome. I’ve used it for years and years and it still looks new. I’ve taken it to four continents, lugged it down cobblestone streets, up many fights of stairs, and stowed it in the overhead compartment on numerous flights with zero problems (on very small planes I gate check it). The compartments are well-thought out and easy to pack (I can fit a huge amount of stuff in that little suitcase). It hope this suitcase never breaks because I want to use it forever!
Update: just before my winter trip to Germany I received this carry-on sized spinner suitcase to try and I LOVE it!
North Face Women’s Recon Daypack
I often use this daypack in conjunction with my carry-on suitcase. I love the size – big enough but not too big – and it’s comfortable, even when stuffed full or when I’m carrying heavy items. I’ve even used this backpack as a travel pack for a 3-week trip to Europe! There are several pockets that make packing and staying organized easy, and I love the mesh pocket on the front for stowing things when I need my hands free (sunglasses, train ticket, lightweight jacket, etc).
I have several travel purses, bags, and clutches that I use while traveling (as well as at home). When I travel, I choose one from my collection that will meet my needs on that particular trip. Check out my guide to finding the perfect travel purse!
I have a few different travel wallets that I use, depending on the type and length of my trip. One of my favorites is very similar to this one. The zipper makes it more secure and I like the option to use it as a clutch.
Packing & Organization
I’ve used these for years! Before I invested in a few sets of packing cubes I organized all of my clothes and other items with ziplock bags. I prefer the packing cubes because they don’t rip. I have these three sets of packing cubes: these original packing cubes, this lightweight starter set, and this 3-pack set. I never use all of them on one trip. After I lay out all of the clothes and items I plan to pack, I choose my packing cubes. They keep my clothes, electronics, and miscellaneous items SO much more organized. And packing/unpacking takes about 5 seconds.
Lightweight Storage Bags
I sometimes use these lightweight storage bags for clothing but more often for all of those little miscellaneous items you need when traveling. I usually have one for things I need on the plane, one for my mobile office, and one for technology. If you’re worried about the white color, which I was, don’t worry. I wash mine after each trip and they still look good as new, even years later.
Lightweight Toiletries Bag
This is another item I’ve used for years! I love that it’s lightweight, not at all bulky, and easy to wash and keep clean. I use the small toiletries bag for my non-liquid toiletries in conjunction with a TSA-approved liquids bag like this one. If the toiletries bag I use is too small for you, check out this larger version.
These are so awesome! I use GoToobs for all of my travel liquids. I’ve tried different sizes and found I prefer the small ones, especially when I’m traveling carry-on only. I can travel for about a month with the small GoToobs. I may have to spring for a new set because they now come with locking caps. I’ve never had a problem with them opening up or leaking during travel but better safe than sorry, right?
If I’m traveling for business or if I know I’m going to spend a lot of time outside and there’s a good chance of bad weather or if I’m traveling with my husband (he wears glasses and always uses an umbrella), I take a small, lightweight umbrella. Sometimes, though, I just risk it and either get a little wet or buy a cheap umbrella abroad (and then leave it in my last AirBnB for someone else to use).
While I typically use the towel provided in my hotel or AirBnb, I usually bring a small microfiber towel when I travel. It comes in handy when the provided towel is small or if I decide to go to the beach or lake and don’t want to carry a larger towel with me. That said, I’ve been looking at this Turkish Towel and am thinking about using that instead, as I’ve been hearing good things about them (super absorbent, dries quickly, large enough for the beach, and it seems like it would have a nicer feel than a microfiber towel).
DevaCurl Towel for Curly Hair
I have curly hair and this little towel has been a game-changer! My hair frizzes easily, especially when traveling in different climates, but using this towel has drastically reduced the frizz. It’s small and light-weight so it doesn’t take up much space in my luggage.
I like to be ready to do hand wash when I travel, so I always bring Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap. I’ve tried doing travel hand wash with all kinds of laundry soaps (liquid, powder and those little sheets of soap) and Dr. Bronner’s worked the best. It’s all natural, gets my clothes clean, and smells great (lavender is my favorite)! I buy a big bottle of Dr. Bronner’s (I use it at home all the time) and fill up a small GoToob for each trip.
For years and years I did hand wash in a sink or bathtub. Then I tried using an extra large ziplock bag. The best by far? The Scrubba! It’s easy to use, there’s no mess, and it gets my clothes really clean. I like it for travel, camping, and for emergencies at home (if the power goes out). That said, I don’t take it on every trip. If I’m staying in AirBnB’s where I know I’ll have access to a washing machine, I leave the Scrubba at home. (A super large ziplock will work for a couple small washes, too.)
Must-haves For the Flight
Memory Foam Travel Pillow
I bought a memory foam travel pillow just before flying from the US east coast to Melbourne, Australia and I’m SO glad I did. This pillow enabled me to sleep upright like no other travel pillow has.
These are another must-have. I have a stash of disposable ear plugs and just grab several sets for each trip. With my travel pillow, eye mask, and ear plugs I can reliably get sleep on long flights, finally!
Scarf with Hidden Pocket
This is such a great idea! It’s an infinity scarf (so it won’t fall off) that has a secret pocket for items you want to keep close to you, like your passport, credit cards, room key, phone, etc. You can keep priority items secure and easily accessible while looking fantastic! Check out my guide to finding the perfect hidden pocket travel scarf!
This is one of the most important things I take traveling! I love sitting down in a cafe or even on a park bench and jotting down notes about my day…and then having a wonderful memory of my travels to look at weeks, months, years later! The travel journal I’ve linked to is one I created. Click here to read reviews!
Clothes & Shoes
Merino Wool Cami
I bought a merino wool cami a few years ago before I left for a month in Europe in the summer and it’s now one of my must-must-must have travel items! Merino wool is perfect for travel because it doesn’t stink, and it will keep you warm on cold days and cool on warm days. It’s easy to wash by hand (if needed) or you can throw it in the washing machine. I also recommend getting at least one merino wool t-shirt or long-sleeved base layer.
Merino Wool Shoes
Merino wool shoes are awesome! Mine pack flat, which saves room in my suitcase or backpack, they keep my feet warm on cool days and cool on warm days, and – best of all – they don’t stink after I’ve worn them all day!
I love to read when I travel and I rarely buy hardcopy travel guides anymore, so my Kindle Paperwhite comes in very handy when I travel. If I’m really pressed for space I’ll leave the Kindle at home and just use my iPhone but I prefer to read on my Kindle.
I was given a pop-socket at a conference a few years ago and I love that I no longer worry about dropping my iPhone when taking a photo or getting it bumped out of my hand when I’m looking at a map on the street or reading on public transportation.
I always bring enough socket adapters so I can charge all of my devices at the same time. They’re small and lightweight (the ones you need for the UK are a bit bigger) and worth the little bit of extra space they take up.
Apple Laptop Adapter
A few years ago I got this special Apple Laptop Adapter kit and I love that the socket adapter fits right into my power cord. So much easier to use when I’m traveling for work or want to use my laptop in a cafe.
Protective Laptop Shell
After my laptop slid off my lap and the screen cracked – 3 days before leaving for a work trip in Europe! – I bought a hard laptop shell. It makes my laptop slightly thicker but much safer, which is important to me, since I almost always take my laptop when I travel. These laptop shells are inexpensive and come in tons of colors and designs.
Pocket Sized Camera – see update!
These days, I find myself using my iPhone more and more to take photos and videos but I still bring my small Canon Powershot camera. I’ve had it for about 8 years now (and had two other Powershots before that) and it still takes great photos and videos, plus it easily fits in my pocket.
UPDATE: last spring I upgraded to a Fujifilm XT30 and LOVE it. It’s a mirrorless camera so I have lots of control over each shot but it’s small enough to be travel-friendly. It takes fabulous photos and video!
Portable Back-up Battery
This is another must-must-must have!! I use my iPhone all day when I travel (checking my offline maps, reading my guidebook, taking photos and video, getting on wifi when I can, etc) but my battery doesn’t last all day. So, I make sure my back-up battery is fully charged and I bring it with me each day. It’s easy to charge my phone while I’m out and about because the battery is small and easily fits in my purse or bag. It also comes in handy on long flights and in AirBnBs where the outlet is really far away from my bed. 🙂 I’ve had two Anker back-up batteries and I’ve been impressed with both. I can usually get 2-3 full phone charges before I need to charge the back-up battery.
I admit, travel insurance isn’t something I’ve always packed. But after my husband needed emergency surgery in Germany, and the two of us were evacuated during a forest fire in Washington State, I’ve realized how important travel insurance is! I highly recommend putting travel insurance on your packing list.
Items I’m Thinking About Getting
This seems more like a nice-to-have rather than a must-have but I’m intrigued by it! I like that you can open this bag up and easily see everything inside. I also love the lightweight fabric and that there are six pockets for organizing your things.
I always need to charge multiple devices when I travel and I often don’t have enough outlets in hotel rooms and AirBnBs – or they’re hard to reach behind a couch or nightstand table. I’m considering a multi-device charger so I can charge all of my devices easily and in one location. I’m thinking this will be even more important on my upcoming trip to Europe with my husband…twice as much to charge each night!
Now that I take more video when I travel (as well as at home), I’m looking at getting a stabilizer/gimble. I’m amazed at how much smoother and better videos are when you use a gimble! I’m just not sure I want to carry it around all day.
Update: a friend of mine says she uses this GorillaPod instead. It’s not as smooth as a gimble but she said it works pretty well and is a lot less expensive. I’m going to get one of these when I buy my new camera and will try it out on my upcoming trip to Germany.
Reusable snack pouches and straws
I like to buy healthy snacks at the local grocery store to eat while I’m out sight-seeing and on transit days. I often bring a few ziplock bags with me when I travel but they wear out pretty quickly. So I’m thinking about buying a few reusable bags. I’m trying to decide between these, these, and these. Update: I’m now thinking about getting this beeswax wrap instead because I think it’ll pack flatter and be more versatile. I’m also trying to reduce my plastic straw use and am consequently looking at this reusable straw and this one.
Have you used any of these items? I’d love to hear how you like them!
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