18 Must-Have Backpacking Europe Essentials


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So it’s only a few weeks until you get on a plane and fly off to Europe. You’ve spent months planning your perfect backpacking Europe route. You’ve saved for your trip and know your daily budget back to front. You’ve narrowed down the list of hostels you want to stay at in each city. Yet as your trip gets closer and closer, have you wondered what you may have forgotten? Never fear! Here’s our list of 18 backpacking Europe essentials that we never fail to bring on any trip.

These items are often left at home by travellers who get caught up in the excitement of their trip and can be difficult to pick up on the road, particularly in Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

A backpacker enjoying a city view

18 Must-Have Backpacking Europe Essentials to not Leave Behind

1. Packing Cubes

I honestly don’t know how I used to travel without these before. My backpack was always a mess and I would have to take everything out to find the one item I was searching for. These days, even if I’m only going on a short weekend getaway, I always take my Eagle Creek compression packing cubes (also available on REI here or direct from Eagle Creek here).

They are incredibly lightweight, come in a range of sizes, compress my items and make finding things a breeze. They will score you great karma points if you are staying in a hostel as you won’t be that one traveller that seems to always be rustling plastic bags in the early hours of the morning!

While there are many packing cubes to choose from, I recommend these Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes as they have the additional benefit of compression which alot of packing cubes don’t have.

Packing cubes are, without a doubt, backpacking Europe essentials!

2. Universal Plug Adapter

Many hostels are notorious for having a lack of electric outlets in their rooms. I’ve often stayed in dorms where, despite there being eight or ten beds, there are only one or two outlets in the room! Rather than fighting with other backpackers over those outlets, I now travel with a Universal plug adapter that has additional USB slots.

This means that you can charge multiple items overnight and also be covered if visiting a country with a different plug socket. You’ll also likely become the hero of your dorm with this Universal Plug Adapter as several backpackers will be able to share the one outlet!

3. Power Bank

Speaking of lack of electric outlets, another great gadget to have if travelling with multiple electronic items is a power bank.

These lightweight nifty devices allow you to charge items when on the move. This is super handy if you’ve had one too many beers the night before and forgot to plug in your phone before going to bed! They’re also great if you’re planning on camping throughout your trip.

I highly recommend the Anker Powercore Power Bank as one of my backpacking Europe essentials as it’s one of the most lightweight power banks on the market.

4. Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is a must-have item for backpacking Europe, to ensure you are covered for any unfortunate events that might occur during your travels.

For many backpacking trips, I have used World Nomads as their policies have been specifically designed with backpackers in mind. Two great advantages of World Nomads are that they allow you to specifically to cover high-value items and you can extend your policy while on the road if you decide to extend your trip.

They also have two different types of policies available (Standard and Explorer) which allows you to easily decide the level of coverage you might want. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads.

Another good option if you’re travelling on a tight budget or long term is SafetyWing which offers travel medical insurance at extremely affordable rates. The coverage isn’t as comprehensive as WorldNomads but they do provider cheaper policies. Click here to get a quote from SafetyWing and also check out our detailed review of their service.

Don’t know where to start when it comes to packing? – Check out our complete backpacking Europe packing list!

5. Kindle E-Reader

For a long time, I resisted the development of technology and stuck with paper books. However, a few years ago, I finally bought a Kindle E-reader to save space in my backpack and I haven’t looked back since.

Not only are e-readers significantly lighter than paper books but I’m now able to load several books onto my device before beginning a trip. This means I’m no longer in danger of being stuck with the one torn paperback left in the hostel book exchange before a ten-hour bus ride.

I recommend the Kindle Paperwhite as it has a backlight which is useful as many hostels don’t have bedside lamps!

6. Smartphone

As somebody that travelled before the age of smartphones, it pains me to say that this is a backpacking Europe essential. However, travelling with a smartphone makes your trip so much easier! Whether it’s having access to maps to navigate to your hostel, a translate app to communicate in more off the beaten path areas or know the correct exchange rate, having a smartphone will save you time and money.

To prevent dealing with some of the negative consequences of having a smartphone, consider limiting your time on social media and remember to enjoy your surroundings rather than staring at your phone!

7. International SIM Card

While you can get by with having a lot of offline apps, it certainly makes sense to have a SIM card when backpacking Europe. Whether it’s finding your way to your hostel, letting your mum know that you’re alive or meeting up with friends you meet on the road, having data on your phone is incredibly helpful.

I recommend this Three Prepaid SIM with 12GB data or the Orange Prepaid SIM with 20GB Data as the best international SIM cards for Europe. Just remember, to not let having access to the internet take away from the experience of backpacking Europe!

If for whatever reason you decide that a SIM card isn’t for you and you prefer to rely on public WiFi then make sure you subscribe to a quality VPN such as ExpressVPN to ensure you can browse the internet safely.

best sim card for europe with data

8. Noise Cancelling Headphones

One of the most relaxing aspects of travelling can be getting onto a long train or bus ride, playing your favourite music or podcast and tune out while looking out the windows.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of distractions that can get in the way of this such as a noisy passenger or the bus driver deciding to blast his favourite album! That’s why an essential for backpacking Europe is a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones that drowns out the noise around you!

9. Microfibre towel

While some hostels are beginning to provide towels for guests, this isn’t always the case which is why I always travel with a microfibre towel when backpacking Europe.

These towels dry super quickly meaning you can shower without worrying about carrying a damp towel in your backpack all day. They also pack down very well in your backpack. This microfibre towel as it has the added advantage of an antibacterial treatment to prevent odours from building up!

10. Rain Jacket

While this backpacking Europe essentials list doesn’t list every piece of clothing you should take with you (check out our backpacking Europe packing list for that!), one item that I often see travellers forgetting about is a quality waterproof rain jacket.

When on a longer trip through Europe, you will undoubtedly go through a range of climates and whether you are going for a hike or just want to keep exploring a city, having a rain jacket in Europe will ensure that you can continue your plans without everything you’re wearing getting soaked.

I recommend the North Face Resolve 2 Jacket (women’s click here) and have used it on countless trips around Europe. It is also available on REI for men here or for women here.

11. Water bottle

The tap water in almost everywhere in Europe is perfectly drinkable so avoid contributing to unnecessary waste and take a reusable water bottle with you rather than buying plastic bottles everywhere you go.

Reusable water bottles also have the additional advantages of not developing bacteria anywhere near as easily as plastic bottles and do a good job at insulating your drink so you can carry around hot or cold drinks!

12. Travel Locks

Backpacking throughout Europe is, for the most part, incredibly safe. However, it’s worth taking some precautions to make sure your items are safe. I travel with both regular TSA compliant locks and also a travel cable lock.

The regular locks can be used for locking the zippers on your backpack and for hostel lockers – I prefer combination locks so you don’t need to worry about losing the key!

The cable locks are handy for locking your backpack to a stationary object – I often do this if leaving my backpack in a common storage area or on an overnight train.

13. Flip flops

While hostels in Europe are undoubtedly getting cleaner then they were a decade or two ago, when washing in shared showers it’s always good to be extra cautious!

Flip-flops are a backpacking Europe essential if you want to make sure you avoid picking up some nasty athlete’s foot during your travels. Luckily, a good pair of flip flops can serve multiple purposes as you will surely end up at a beach or two during your travels.

I always travel with my trusty pair of Havaianas and they have served me well! Just make sure not to wear them when carrying your backpack (as I see many travellers doing!) and instead pack a good pair of walking shoes as this is terrible for both your back and your feet!

14. Eye mask & ear plugs

When staying in hostels, you will undoubtedly encounter some inconsiderate backpackers who decide to switch on the main light at 2 am and decide to unpack their entire backpack.

That’s why I consider an eye mask and earplugs absolute backpacking Europe essentials if staying in dormitories.

I prefer cotton eye masks as they’re significantly more comfortable than the cheap eye masks you tend to get on economy flights. Similarly, I like to travel with a large box of earplugs as they wear out quickly and there’s nothing worse than realising they don’t work in the middle of the night!

15. Notepad & Pen

While many millennials might scoff at the idea that a notepad and pen are essential items for backpacking Europe, I can’t imagine going on a trip without them!

Not only they are great for keeping a diary of your trip but I also find it incredibly useful for writing down directions in case your phone battery dies. Plus, your trusty notepad won’t let you down if you want to get the e-mail address of that person you just met in the hostel common room!

I start every trip with a fresh Moleskine journal and don’t think that will ever change!

16. First Aid Kit

One of the important must have backpacking Europe essentials that I recommend travellers take with them is a small first aid kit.

Chances are that at some point during your travels, you will injure yourself or get sick so rather than having to rush to the pharmacy when that happens, it’s best to be prepared with a few essential items in your backpack.

Combine this first aid kit with some basic medicines like paracetamol, ibuprofen and anti-diarrhoea tablets will ensure that you’re well prepared! And if you’re fortunate enough to stay perfectly helping during your travels then I’m sure there’ll come a time when one of your fellow backpackers will find your kit handy!

17. Pocket Knife

Either when you’re on a train, in a poorly equipped hostel kitchen or just out and about for the day, a quality pocket knife will undoubtedly come in handy while backpacking Europe!

A Leatherman pocket knife will last you for countless trips and will not only allow you to eat and drink on the road easier, but it will also help you repair bits and pieces easily while travelling. It comes with a 25-year warranty so you can have confidence it’s worth the investment!

18. Lightweight Shopping Bag

As a backpacker, you’ll surely be purchasing at least some of your food in local supermarkets, so to help and environment and avoid paying for supermarket bags, consider packing a lightweight shopping bag.

Apart from being able to carry groceries, you can also use it as additional storage if you pick up any items while abroad and is definitely necessary for many local markets where they don’t even offer the opportunity to buy a bag!

Setting out on a backpacking Europe trip is a rite of passage for many young travellers. Hopefully, this list of backpacking Europe essentials has reminded you of some items that you might have forgotten about in the excitement of planning your trip!

What items do you consider to be backpacking Europe essentials? Let us know in the comments below!

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Michael is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. When not obsessively searching for flight deals, Michael likes being ultra-competitive at table tennis, gazing at street art, and contemplating life while sipping a dram of fine single malt whisky.

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