I bet you’re tirelessly planning your summer trip to Europe now and feeling a bit overwhelmed planning your itinerary trying to pick the things you want to do (because there is SO much do here that choosing is kind of impossible).
With that said, I thought I’d jump in to make your life a little bit easier by compiling a packing list for you so you can spend the time doing what really matters: actually planning your adventure in Europe!
Did I mention it’s a carry-on only packing list? I’ll show you how I pack for most of my trips, including tricks on how you can take EVERYTHING you need to pack for a summer in Europe in just a carry-on.
The Benefits of Packing Carry-On
I love being a carry-on packer when I travel in Europe and I don’t really intend on going back. Here’s why:
- Budget airlines in Europe charge for checked luggage. It can be really cheap to get around in Europe using budget airlines. It’s nothing luxurious, but it gets you there with enough comfort. I once scored a return ticket from Germany to Morocco for $25 (both ways), and several out of London to Eastern Europe for like, $30.
It sounds too good to be true, and that’s because it is. The way budget airlines make money is by charging for extras, and that includes checked luggage. By packing a carry-on, you avoid these fees and you’ll get to your next destination for almost nothing.
- No lost luggage. Airlines lose stuff, and that could be your checked luggage. If you pack carry-on only, you can rest assured that all your stuff is safe with you.
- You’ll save money and avoid headaches. Traveling with little luggage means being able to take public transport to the airport/train station instead of sticking to expensive taxis. Carrying huge luggage equals getting dragged down by the weight.
This carry-on packing list for Europe in summer works for short and long trips!
I can’t stress enough that carry-on packing is possible regardless of the length of your trip.
I’ve traveled for three years using just a carry-on and honestly? I never lacked anything. Packing for a one-week trip should be the same than for longer trips, because 1) If you forget something, you can buy it anywhere and 2) Washing your clothes is possible everywhere in Europe (this post covers how to do that, too).
My mantra is that dressing for travel should be the same as dressing at home. You don’t wear a different outfit every day of your life, do you? Nope. You probably repeat outfits or mix and match items. The same habit should be applied while traveling.
Here’s my carry-on packing list for Europe in Summer:
Clothes + Accessories
- 7 undies
- 5 pairs of socks
- 3-4 bras
- 5 t-shirts
- 1-2 pants
- 1 pair of leggings
- 2 skirts/shorts
- 2-3 dresses
- 1 cardigan
- 2-3 bikinis
- 1 pair of sandals (preferably nude so they match with everything)
- 1 pair of sneakers. Wear them on the plane so they don’t take up space in your luggage. There are so many cobblestone streets in Europe that heels are just a waste of time and energy. I always bring white sneakers like these Toms because they are always trendy and go with any outfit (even dresses).
- 1 pair of nice shoes (optional). I don’t usually bring fancy shoes when I travel, but in Europe, there is a bit more pressure to dress nicely. For nights out, I like packing either flats or a pair of chic ankle boots with a small heel.
- 1-2 pashminas. I like pashminas because they have so many uses and take almost no space. They are a great accessory to add a bit of style to your outfits. They can also be used to cover your arms if the weather gets a bit chilly or in the case you want to enter a church. Aside from that, they can act as pillows for plane/train/bus journeys.
- 1 purse (optional)
- Flip flops. These are useful for hostel showers or questionable hotels. I love the Sidekicks Foldable Flip Flops because they are foldable and they don’t take up much space in my luggage. They aren’t meant for walking long distances, but they are perfect for showering at hostels.
- Day bag. I travel with a 20-liter backpack from Quechua (I love their products and have been using them for three years). A day bag is a small backpack you can use to go out and about exploring, or simply to put your most important stuff in when traveling.
- Extra: If you are headed to countries in the north, I recommend adding to your list two long-sleeve shirts and a light jacket. The problem with packing for northern Europe is that the weather is super unpredictable. I’ve spent summers in Germany where the weather reached 38 C (100 F) and the next summer, it got a bit chilly. In such a case, layers are the key.
Tips for choosing the right clothing items to pack for Europe:
Traveling with small amounts of clothes doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice style. The key idea to keep in mind while packing is to go for neutral colors that you can mix and match. The number of outfits you can come up with this technique will really surprise you!
Here’s a visual of how I do it. All of these things easily fit in my carry on and even leave me with space for extras like a few colorful dresses when I want to spice things up.
I didn’t even exhaust the options for outfits here, but I think this acts as a pretty good representation of what I mean.
Basically, just dress like you would at home by mixing and matching items and you’re good to go.
I never pack too many toiletries because Europe has supermarkets and you can find everything here.
- Travel-sized shampoo or dry shampoo.
- Travel-sized conditioner
- Travel-sized toothpaste
Pro tip #1: If you are very particular about shampoo or conditioner that you know is not available in Europe, get this set of travel bottles and fill them with your shampoo or conditioner of choice.
This will ensure that they don’t get thrown away at the airport as you are only allowed to fly with liquid bottles that are less than 100ml for security reasons.
Pro tip #2: Don’t bother bringing a big toiletry bag if you’re flying between European countries. By law, liquids have to go into ziplock bags when they go through the security scanner at airports.
It’s honestly super annoying having to take your liquids out of your toiletry bag and into a ziplock, so I just use ziplock bags as my toiletry bag during the entire trip. Not fashionable at all, but who cares, really? You can also get these TSA approved bags for toiletries in case you don’t want to sacrifice style.
Makeup + Hair
I usually carry a small neutral eyeshadow palette (browns), eyeliner, mascara, eyelash curler, and concealer with sun protection.
To be completely honest with you, I rarely wear makeup and even less so when I travel. Still, I like to have the option to pep myself up at times. A little mascara and eyeliner can go a long way!
- Small hairbrush
- Bobby pins for quick hair-dos
- Hair ties. Europe in the summer can get hot, and if your hair is long like mine, having it down all the time will get annoying due to the heat.
- Phone + charger
- Universal travel adaptor. Most of Europe uses a Type C plug, so you’ll need an adapter. In the UK, they use a type G. I recommend getting a universal travel adapter like this one (it will work everywhere in Europe, including England).
- Portable charger so you can charge your phone on the go and never run out of battery, I’ve always used this one from Anker.
I’m also currently obsessed with this phone-charging passport holder by Lovie Style.
- Kindle (optional)
- Camera + accessories (optional)
- Laptop (optional). I carry my laptop everywhere I go because I work while I travel.
- Travel towel. I’m a new fan of travel towels because they are honestly SO handy. I used to bring a regular towel on my trips and it was super annoying because it took up a lot of space and it always takes ages for them to dry. Nowadays, I never travel without my Travel Towel by Youphoria. It’s antibacterial, super light to carry, takes very little space in my luggage, and dries very quickly.
- A book (if you don’t have a Kindle). There are many places in Europe to exchange books, so you’ll never have to go without.
- Pen (always useful)
- Water bottle. In most of Europe, it’s safe to drink from the tap. To avoid spending a good chunk of your budget on buying watered bottles, bring a reusable water bottle one that you can refill as you go.
There are a few countries and areas in Europe where I don’t recommend you to drink from the tap. Albania, Montenegro, certain areas of Romania, and islands in Greece. If you are traveling there, I recommend you to buy the GRAYL Water Purifier. It’s basically a water bottle that filters bacteria, viruses, and chemicals from any source of fresh water in seconds. Not only is it more environmentally-friendly than buying plastic bottles, but it will also save you money in the long run. I’ve used it in Mexico, Africa, and Europe and it has never failed me.
Here’s a list of the countries where drinking from the tap water is safe and where it isn’t.
- Travel-sized umbrella and/or poncho. It can rain, and an umbrella like this one is always a good idea to bring along.
- Packing cubes. They’ll save you tons of space because they compress air and they’re also a great way to stay organized. I love this set of packing cubes from Ebags.
I always use one cube for one item. Pants + skirts go into one cube, tops into another, and undies + socks into the third one. In this way, I can unpack easily and I always know where to find my things.
I’m not usually a very organized person, but using packing cubes really kind of changed my travel life.
What goes into my day bag and what goes into my carry on?
- Phone + Charger
- 1 pair of fresh socks (so I can change them on the plane)
- Book or Kindle
- Reusable water bottle
- Toothpaste + toothbrush
- Headphones or earphones
- Passport + important documents
- My travel towel (sometimes). Sometimes I put my travel towel into my day bag because it can double as a blanket.
What I carry on me
- Cardigan or light sweater. It usually gets cold in airplanes and buses, so this is my #1 packing essential. If it doesn’t get cold, it can double as a pillow.
- Leggings + Shirt
- Sneakers. They’re comfortable to wear or planes and trains. Plus they tend to take a lot of space in my luggage, so I always wear them instead of the less space-consuming ones.
Carry on luggage
Everything else on the list.
How To Wash Your Clothes in Europe
Okay, so if you read the above, you probably thought it all sounds very cool but how the heck do you get your clothes clean?
Traveling with such a small amount of things is great, but nobody wants to go around wearing dirty underwear for three days in a row, right?
These are my four methods:
The One Where You Don’t Do Anything
Many hotels and hostels have laundry machines or laundry services (they’ll do your laundry for you). It’s not a norm for hotels to offer this service, so if the place you’re staying at doesn’t or you’re on a tight budget, keep reading.
The One With The Sink
I always like to bring with me a few travel-sized packs of detergent so I can wash my clothes in the sink.
Important: It’s really bad etiquette to do your entire laundry and hang it all over the place while it dries. My trick is to wash the underwear and shirt I used on the day at night before I go to bed (I’ve done it also while I’m showering, ha! Super time-effective) and hang it during the night.
I like doing this because it becomes a sort of habit. Since you are only washing a few things every night, you barely feel the effort and you never have to run out of clean clothes.
The One With The SCRUBBA
The SCRUBBA is kind of portable washing machine in the shape of a bag.
You put all your stuff in there + the detergent, close it, scrub, and done! It weighs nothing and folds up to pocket-size, so it takes zero space in your luggage. You can find it on Amazon.
The One With The German Laundry Detergent
Sidenote: If you don’t get the title, then you need to watch the show Friends.
For non-Friends enthusiasts: Laundromats are global! You’ll definitely be able to find one anywhere you go.
Confession: I hate laundromats so I try to avoid this option when possible. It *could* have something to do with the time I moved to New York when I was 17. I was new to the “adult” life, and since I always had a laundry machine at home, I had never really stepped into a laundromat.
Long story short, I placed my clothes in the machine and I got so distracted buying the soap, that when I came back I got confused and put my coins into a completely different machine. The machine kept running for the next thirty minutes, completely empty, while everyone laughed at me.
Travel Insurance For Europe
Make sure your travel insurance covers all the countries you plan on visiting as well as activities you plan on undertaking. Some insurances won’t cover you if harm yourself while hiking or doing other adventure activities, so read your insurance terms carefully.
If you don’t have insurance yet, or the one you have won’t cover all your needs, I highly recommend you check out World Nomads.
It’s travel insurance designed by travelers and it’s super flexible. They let you extend or add countries online, so if your plans change or you decide to hit up another country, all you need wifi to adjust your insurance needs.
It will also cover you on over 150 adventure activities, so if you are planning on doing more than just sight-seeing while in Europe, you should definitely look into it.
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