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Packing for a Trip to Europe: Essential Things to Pack When Going to Europe Any Time of Year

There are some essential things to pack when going to Europe, no matter what type of European trip you are planning.

Whether you are going backpacking in Europe for several months or plan to visit some of Europe’s most popular cities on a much shorter trip, in this article I want to share a packing list for Europe that covers the basics for any trip.

I’m from Europe myself (from the Netherlands) and I have traveled around Europe for as long as I can remember.

It started with my parents taking us to France for our summer vacations, followed by me moving to Spain for a summer job after high school. Since then I have lived in several European countries and traveled to many more.

And yes, I want to start by saying that every European country is different and that does influence what things to pack when traveling to different parts of Europe. Therefore, in this article I will list both packing essentials I’d recommend for any trip, plus some tips specifically for certain destinations, times of year, and types of trips.

I hope that after reading this article you’ll have a good idea of things to take on a trip to Europe.

What to Pack for a Trip to Europe

1. The Basics: Passport & Other Documents

packing passports for a trip to Europe

Let’s start with the basics: make sure you have a passport and that it’s valid for at least another six months after the last day of your trip.

Six months is a nice general rule that I always stick to, but it does vary per country. The EU actually asks for a validity of at least three months after the day you intend to leave the EU, and most other European countries have that same rule, but not all. They will never ask for more than six months though.

So, if your passport is still valid for more than six months you are fine, if it isn’t you might want to check the requirements for the specific countries you plan to visit.

Residents of many countries will get a visa on arrival for visiting European countries, but just make sure that’s the case for you as well. If you need a visa, apply for it on time. Your home country (or the country of which you hold a passport) will most likely have a government website that can provide you with all the information you need.

Or, you can contact the Embassy in your country of the European country/countries you are visiting. For example, if you are going to France and live in Mexico, you can contact the French Embassy in Mexico City.

If you plan to drive in Europe, make sure your driver’s license will be accepted in the country or countries you are going to.

And if you are renting a car, it’s good to know that most car rental agencies require a credit card in your name to be able to rent a car. If you don’t have that, ask in advance if your chosen rental agency will accept other means of payment.

Also Read: Tips for Driving Abroad for the First Time

2. A Universal Adapter and a Power Bank

Different European countries use different plugs. I therefore always carry a universal travel adapter and recommend this as one of the things to buy before traveling to Europe.

If you are only traveling to one European country you can look up which plugs they use there and only buy an adapter suitable for that country. But, assuming you’ll visit other countries in the future a universal adapter is very useful.

Whichever option you go for, buy them online, as doing so in the airport might be a lot more expensive.

I would also recommend packing a power bank. Most likely you’ll be using your phone a lot to take pictures and to find your way around the European destinations you are visiting.

And the last thing you want is for your phone to run out of battery right when you want to take a great picture or have lost the way back to your hotel.

I really like this solar power bank because I can recharge it while I’m having a drink on a sunny terrace somewhere (and it’s a lot better quality than solar power banks I’ve tried before). But of course any reliable power bank will do.

3. Medicines & Painkillers

packing important medicines when going to Europe

Although you’ll find good pharmacies throughout Europe, think about which medicines you’re likely to need when packing for a trip to Europe.

Bring enough of any prescription medication you take. And if you prefer a specific brand of painkillers, food supplements, etc., it might be easiest to bring them as well.

4. A Borderless Debit Card

A question I often hear is how much cash you should bring when traveling to Europe.

My advice: don’t exchange money in your home country because that is expensive! Fees are sometimes absolutely ridiculous.

No matter which European airport you fly into, there will always be an ATM. So, just make sure you pack a debit card (or credit card) that works abroad and take money out as soon as you arrive at the airport.

Credit cards aren’t as widely accepted in Europe as in some other parts of the world. The Netherlands is a good example. We use credit cards for online purchases and car rentals but a debit card to pay in shops, restaurants, etc.

Therefore I highly recommend bringing both a borderless debit card and a credit card.

I’ve been using Wise (previously called Transferwise) for many years as my borderless debit card. With Wise, you get some of the best exchange rates on the market.

You can simply create an account online and order your debit card. You can use the card to pay in stores anywhere, and to take out money at ATMs, with low or no fees.

5. Clothes

cathedral in Valencia, Spain
What clothes to pack depends on where you are going in Europe. – Valencia, Spain

Now, what clothes to pack for a trip to Europe really depends on where you’re going and what time of year.

Spending the summer in Spain will require completely different clothes from going to see the Northern Lights in Finnish Lapland in winter.

So those standard Europe packing lists you sometimes see, recommending a set list of clothes for traveling to Europe don’t make sense to me. What I would recommend is to base your clothes on where you are going and what the weather will be like:

Will you mainly be spending time in European cities? Then bring clothes that are comfortable yet a little stylish. People in European cities tend to follow fashion trends more than in small towns, and especially for an evening out you might want to dress up a little. Don’t go crazy though. In most European cities we walk a lot (or cycle a lot) and we like to be comfortable doing so.

If any rain is predicted, an umbrella is more common in cities and towns, where a good raincoat is what I’d recommend bringing on nature walks/hikes.

Also Read: What to Bring on a Hike

Bring layers. This way you are prepared for different temperatures and you can combine them differently on different days, making your outfits look more varied.

Bring comfortable shoes. No matter where you are going in Europe, you will probably be walking a lot, so make sure you bring shoes that are comfortable.

Shorts and flip flops aren’t worn much in European cities, no matter what the temperature is. In fact, in Spanish cities they are frowned upon a bit and it’s even illegal to drive in flip flops! But hey, you want my opinion as a European? Wear what makes you feel comfortable! If it’s hot and you like to wear shorts, just go for it!

Wear modest clothes when visiting religious sites. Some churches won’t let you in if your clothes don’t cover your shoulders and knees (it happened to me in Milan, Italy). And although most churches and other religious sites won’t actually stop you from entering, they do prefer you to dress modestly so that’s something worth keeping in mind.

• Don’t forget that there are shops everywhere, including many international chains you’ll most likely know from back home. So, my advice would be to travel light. It’s so much better to buy an extra top or dress locally (which also makes a great souvenir) than to lug around a big suitcase packed with items you won’t wear.

6. A Suitcase or a Backpack?

packing a suitcase or backpack when going to Europe

Ok, there is no answer to this question. It depends on what you prefer.

When traveling in Europe I bring a suitcase. And, if my trip isn’t too long I try to only take a suitcase that fits the hand luggage requirements for the airline(s) I’m using, plus a small purse or laptop bag.

This way I don’t have to pay extra for checked luggage and won’t have to wait at the airport to collect my luggage. Plus, it forces me to travel light and think about what really is essential for my trip.

Although I would say Europe is perfect for suitcases, I can find some arguments in favor of using a backpack.

Dragging my suitcase up a hill, over a cobblestone road in a small town in Spain wasn’t great.

And you may find yourself staying on the fourth floor of a ho(s)tel that doesn’t have an elevator. A backpack will be easier then as well.

But if your European trip takes you mainly to cities, staying in mid-range hotels, or maybe you’re going on a European road trip, then I would say a suitcase is perfectly suitable.

Note: whether you bring a backpack or a suitcase, these packing cubes are great and I use them all the time! It helps organize your clothes and other items to easily find them. Maybe it’s just me, but my suitcase tends to be a mess after a couple of days of traveling, so these cubes really help me to keep things organized.

One final tip: if you plan to go hiking or spend time at the beach, bring a daypack or beach bag.

7. Other Accessories

If you like to use a particular shampoo or toothpaste, and you can take it with you, then do it.

Of course you’ll easily find shops anywhere in Europe selling shampoo, toothpaste, etc., but there is a good chance they won’t have (all) the brands you are used to.

Bringing a reusable water bottle is a great way to save money and use less plastic. In most of Europe you can drink the tap water, but just ask whenever you arrive in a new part of Europe to make sure.

Bring appropriate sun protection (sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen) if you plan to visit sunnier places.

I like to bring a travel pillow for long plane, train and bus rides.

And if you plan to stay in hostels I’d recommend bringing a padlock. Most hostels have lockers to securely store your belongings, but they sometimes only provide padlocks at a fee.

How to Stay Safe While Traveling to Europe

staying safe when traveling to Europe
Paris, France

Awareness and thus prevention is your best friends when it comes to traveling. Though Europe is a safe continent to travel to, it’s better to take some precautions.

Do some research before you travel. Read a few articles about safety in the countries or areas you are visiting.

Avoid walking around alone late at night in areas you don’t know and don’t show off your new phone or expensive jewelry.

Consider bringing a money belt to hide your money, passport, and other valuables.

And of course, make sure you have the right travel insurance.

Be wary of public WIFI. Making sure nobody can hack your phone or laptop while traveling is a serious concern. Cybercriminals may steal your personal information when connecting to your hotel internet or other public WIFI.

Your phone is often the most vulnerable gateway to your bank account and other critical personal information.

To help ensure your safety while traveling to Europe, use a VPN for your smartphone. This VPN can also be used on your laptop and other devices. By using a VPN, your data is encrypted, and online threats are significantly reduced.

Apart from this, a VPN will also allow you to bypass online geo-restrictions and censorship. This means you have access to your favorite shows, blogs, Youtube videos, etc. which you sometimes can’t access abroad without a VPN.

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a packing list for Europe

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Author: Sanne Wesselman
A traveler, wanderer, digital nomad, and entrepreneur. I spend most of my time living and working abroad and visiting destinations all over the world. I use this website to share "the good, the bad and the ugly" of traveling and living abroad. Visit the About Me page for more info.

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