Your flight is booked, you’ve secured your first few night’s accommodation, and you’ve had “going away drinks” with friends. You’re nearly ready to embark upon your European adventure, but you still haven’t packed your bag! Figuring out the perfect Backpacking Europe packing list can be a daunting task, but luckily I have been there before and can offer sage words of advice to guide you through this stressful time!
Backpacking Europe Checklist: Before You Start Packing
Before you start thinking about what items to include on your Backpacking Europe packing list, it’s worth taking time to make sure you’ve got all the crucial components of your trip organised. It’s worth taking care of these items at least 1-2 months before you depart to ensure you have everything organised in time!
Have a Rough Route & Budget
It’s worth picking out a few must-sees for your trip and then determining a rough route around those destinations. There’s no need to over-plan your route as you’ll undoubtedly want some flexibility when you finally arrive in Europe. However, if you want to visit a popular festival or city that is known for getting a lot of tourists in high season then it’s worth planning that well in advance. If you need some inspiration for routes, then check out our five great backpacking Europe routes that we’ve compiled!
Once you have a rough route in mind, this will help determine what daily budget you need. An average daily budget for backpacking Europe is around €40 – 50/day. This will cover you for most places in Central and Eastern Europe, however, you can expect to pay more in Western European countries and less in the some of the more affordable countries in the East.
This daily budget will cover you for a dorm in a hostel, cheap meals (with the occasional splurge meal), transportation and one or two activities per day. Click here for a full breakdown of costs of backpacking Europe.
In addition to your daily budget, you need to make sure you have enough funds to cover pre-trip expenses such as flights, gear and travel insurance.
Organise Your Transport
Hopefully, by the time you’re thinking of packing for Backpacking Europe, you’ve already got flights booked to Europe. If not, it’s worth taking the time to play around on Skyscanner to find the best deals on flights to Europe.
You also need to consider, how you will get around Europe when you land. If you plan to make use of the extensive rail network, it can be worth booking some popular trains in advance (particularly in summer!) as you will get cheaper rates and there will be a lot more availability – you can click here to view train schedules in Europe.
Finally, if you’re planning on using the train extensively over a short period of time, a Eurail or Interrail pass can be incredibly good value. If you’re living outside of Europe, you can click here to browse Eurail passes. Or alternatively, if you’re based in Europe, click here to browse Interrail passes.
Choose the Right Debit or Credit Card
What is the right debit or credit card you might ask? The ones with no foreign transaction fees!
The last thing you want to be doing on your backpacking Europe trip is giving away part of your daily budget to the banks! Applying for a debit or credit card without foreign transaction fees will mean you won’t get charged extra each time you withdraw money which can save a lot over the course of a few months backpacking. It’s worth making sure you do this as soon as possible as it can sometimes take a little while for banks to approve your application.
Buy Travel Insurance
Buying travel insurance is one of the most important items on your backpacking Europe checklist! Travel insurance gives you peace of mind in case you get unwell on your trip or if you want to ensure some of the more expensive items you’re bringing with you!
When buying travel insurance for backpacking trips, we always use World Nomads. Their policies are designed with backpackers in mind and have a number of advantages over traditional insurance companies. These include being able to extend your policy while on the road, cover you for a large number of activities such as scuba diving and have a straightforward online claims process.
They also give you the flexibility to extend your policy while on the road, cover you for many adventure activities, allow you to take out a policy when you’re already travelling and have an easy to use and online claim process. They offer two basic plans (Standard and Explorer) and also allow you to ensure additional valuable electronics. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads
If you’re looking for a more affordable policy, then SafetyWing is another good option. They offer travel medical insurance at some of the lowest rates in the market. Click here to get a quote from SafetyWing
Book a Night or Two or Accommodation
After getting off a long flight and being jetlagged, the last thing you want to be doing is walking aimlessly around a new city trying to find somewhere to stay. Book your first few nights in a hostel and have the comfort of knowing that you have somewhere to stay when you get off the plane!
Alternatively, if you prefer a bit of privacy for a couple of nights to recover from jetlag, booking a private room in an Airbnb can be a good option.
Top Things To Consider for a Backpacking Europe Packing List
Choosing A Backpack
One of the biggest tips I or anyone else could give when you’re assembling your packing list for backpacking Europe is to make sure you travel light. There is nothing more uncomfortable than having to lug an outrageously heavy backpack through winding European streets, which is why I would suggest that you aim to keep the weight of your bag under 15 kilos (33 pounds), and ideally under 10 kilos (22 pounds).
It is also more convenient to have lighter luggage when you are moving between cities. Obviously, you need to be conscious of weight when you are flying as anything over 20 kilos (44 pounds) in order to avoid exorbitant extra fees. However, though it is highly unlikely you will be financially penalised for it, it is so much easier to have lighter luggage when you are on ground transport, as well. If your bag is very heavy, you’re going to have a lot of trouble hoisting it onto luggage racks or carrying it up or down a flight of stairs.
The second thing you need to consider is the actual bag you plan to take. It can be really confusing as there are seemingly endless options when it comes to finding the best bag for backpacking Europe. I would suggest you try to keep the main bag under 50 litres, mainly because it both prevents overpacking and also because a smaller backpack is a lot easier to manoeuvre.
You want to look for luggage — whether you are planning of going for a backpack, wheeled backpack, or even a traditional suitcase — that is durable and can withstand a fair amount of wear and tear. Constant packing and unpacking and lugging through city streets and on and off transport can do a considerable amount of damage to luggage and you are going to want to buy something that can withstand that for many trips to come.
Personally, I use the Osprey Farpoint 55 (also available on REI here). The main pack itself is 40 litres and it also comes with a 15-litre detachable daypack. It is incredibly well-made and also comes with a lifetime warranty. It’s come with me on many a trip and I’ve yet to come up with any complaints. Michael uses the Osprey Farpoint 70 over the Farpoint 55 which is slightly bigger but essentially the same backpack.
If you’re looking for more stylish options for your European backpack, then other options include the Tortuga Setout which can be used as carry-on luggage or the Osprey Meridian (also available on REI here). which is a great choice if you’re after a wheeled backpack.
Organising Your Gear
The third thing to consider is how you actually pack your backpack. There are a number of techniques you can use in order to maximise the space in your bag, from rolling your clothes to stuffing your socks and undies in your shoes. However, I’ve found that the best way to keep organised and to save space in my backpack is to use packing cubes.
Both Michael and I use Eagle Creek compression packing cubes (also available on REI here) and don’t have enough good things to say about them. They’re super lightweight and really durable and well-made. Honestly, they’ll just completely change the way you pack and I don’t know what I’d do without them. Click here to read more about the best packing cubes for backpacking!
Decide Which Electronics You Need
Before you start packing, it’s worth thinking about which electronics you need with you in Europe. Unless you’re working online there’s little point lugging around a large laptop during your backpacking Europe trip. However, you might still be keen on having something to browse the web, upload photos or chat with friends back home. In this case, a lightweight tablet like the Amazon Fire Tablet might be a good option.
Another electronic item that I specifically bought for my travels was a Kindle Paperwhite. If you like to read while travelling but want to reduce weight in your bag then this is a must!
Finally, make sure you have a camera so you can document some of the amazing memories you will undoubtedly have. If you’re not into photography, then the camera you have on your smartphone is likely to be sufficient. If you want to get more professional with your snaps, then I recommend the Sony A6000. It’s a mirrorless camera, lightweight and a good mid-range camera if you want to learn more about photography.
What to Pack When Backpacking Europe
The Backpacking Europe packing list below is a variation of what I brought for three months travelling through the Balkans and Eastern Europe, but could just as easily last you two weeks to six or more months. It also can be used in any season, with some variations.
Clothing Packing List
The biggest tip I could give when you’re wondering what clothing to bring when backpacking Europe is to only pack versatile, neutral-coloured clothing that can be mixed and matched with most things you’ve included in your backpack. Basically, don’t bring anything that only goes with one other thing. You’ll regret it and, honestly, you might even end up dumping it along the way.
- 4 t-shirts
- Depending on the season you are travelling, I recommend taking a mix of short and long-sleeved t-shirts. Obviously, in summer you should take more short-sleeved and in winter increase the number of long-sleeved!
- These long-sleeved t-shirts (men’s click here) make a great base layer in the colder months and will keep you nice and toasty!
- 1 fleece outer layer (men’s click here)
- These fleece sweaters will keep you WAY warmer than cotton and stays warm even when wet. Great to have if you’re travelling outside of summer or plan on going hiking
- Also available on REI here
- 1 regular sweater
- I would also recommend bringing a sweater that can be dressed up, so you can look nice even when it’s chilly outside.
- 1 compactable ultra-light down jacket (for men’s click here)
- They’re super warm, durable, lightweight, pack down very small and are quite affordable. I really can’t say enough good things about these jackets.
- 1 rain jacket
- 2 pairs of pants/trousers
- One pair of jeans, I like darker jeans that I can easily dress up or down depending on the circumstance
- One pair for hiking/walking pants/trousers or another pair of jeans or chinos if you don’t plan to be that active
- 1-2 leggings/thermals
- Leggings/thermal pants are great if you’re travelling in winter for an extra layer under your jeans.
- I also wear leggings when hiking and opt to bring two pairs of jeans rather than a dedicated hiking/exercise pant. Basically, leggings are super versatile and should definitely be on your Europe backpacking packing list.
- 1-2 pair shorts
- For late spring, summer, and early autumn. If you’re travelling outside of these seasons, then don’t bother bringing them. It will be too chilly and they’ll just take up unnecessary space.
- 1 nice outfit
- For nicer restaurants/going out
- Collared shirt for men, dress/skirt/nice pants for women (or whatever is a little bit nicer than your typical backpacker wear and makes you feel comfortable)
- 5-10 pairs of underwear
- 5-10 pair of socks
- 2 tank tops
- Good as a base layer in the winter or chilly autumn days, or as a top when it’s hot outside
- 2 Bras
- One regular, one sport — obviously for women
- 1 pair of pajamas
- I’ve also noticed a lot of men (Michael included) tend to wear just a comfortable shirt over underwear
- 1 swimsuit
- If you’re travelling in summer and planning on swimming a lot, I like to pack two just in case one hasn’t dried when I have to pack up to avoid a mildew situation
- I also tend to bring a swimsuit even if I’m travelling to a colder climate. You never know when you might need it!
Shoes Packing List
When packing for backpacking Europe, one of the most important things to do is ensure you have comfortable shoes to walk in. After all, you will probably be spending a lot of time on your feet!
The most important thing to do is to make sure you plan appropriate footwear for the activities you plan on doing and the season you are travelling in. I’ve listed the shoes that I always recommend taking below. I have also written a detailed guide for choosing the best shoes for backpacking Europe if you want some more advice!
- 1 pair of boots or hiking shoes (for men’s click here)
- 1 pair of walking shoes (for men’s click here)
- Nice trainers or other comfortable shoes for traipsing city streets
- 1 pair of rubber flip flops
- For the beach and grubby hostel showers — no one wants athlete’s foot ruining their travels!
- 1 pair of sturdy walking sandals
- For spring and summer, I like Birkenstocks (also available on REI here). I know they’re a bit geeky, but I never have sore feet even if I’ve been walking all day in them. Also, the arch support is out of this world.
- 1 pair of ballet flats (optional)
- For women wanting a nicer shoe, there are a number of foldable ballet flats on the market that can make your outfit look nicer without taking up a bunch of space.
- I tend not to bring these, however, some might want a nicer shoe.
Electronics To Pack
The number and type of electronics you add to your backpacking Europe packing list depends on your planned usage and whether you need to do any work on the road. As we work when travelling we tend to pack additional electronics, however, if travelling purely for the sake of travelling, then you should consider carefully what you actually need and plan on using.
- Camera/extra battery
- Michael is the photographer among us and he travels with a Sony A6000. It’s a mirrorless camera that is lightweight and a good entry-level camera for budding photographers.
- Bring an extra battery and SD card for your camera. You don’t want to be short of power outlets or storage space and not be able to photograph something amazing.
- He also travels with a Joby GorillaPod Kit which is a fantastic lightweight tripod.
- Kindle E-Reader
- Universal plug adaptors
- I love this adaptor as it works in all countries and contains two USB ports meaning you can charge multiple electronics overnight!
- I like in-ear, noise-cancelling headphones because they take up less space.
- Power bank
- For charging your electronics when there are no power outlets!
- Various electronics chargers
Miscellaneous Items to Pack
- Packing Cubes (also available on REI)
- Like I mentioned earlier, these are invaluable to any backpacking Europe packing list and will make your life so much easier.
- Anti-theft travel purse (also available on REI)
- Microfibre towel
- These towels pack down small and are super light-weight and quick drying. A lot of hostels, especially in western Europe, don’t provide towels so one of these can be invaluable.
- International SIM Card
- I recommend buying a prepaid SIM card before leaving home to ensure you have data access as soon as you arrive
- Check out our detailed guide to the best international SIM card for Europe with data for more tips!
- Because you don’t want the snorer or to impede your sleep in a hostel dorm!
- Eye mask
- For the times when the drunk asshole leaves the lights on at 3 AM.
- TSA compliant lock
- Great for both securing your luggage and for a hostel locker.
- Travel cable lock
- Great for locking your bag to a stationary object (i.e. your hostel bunk!)
- So you can keep exploring in the rain!
- Notepad & Pen
- For writing a journal or your new friends’ contacts details!
- Pocket knife
- While many people opt for a swiss army knife, I personally like the Leatherman Wave. It’s an all-purpose tool that includes both a serrated and regular knife, a saw (perfect for hacking through baguettes when you’re picnicking!), a bottle opener, pliers, and screwdrivers.
- Small first aid kit
- I recommend including some basic medicines such as paracetamol/Tylenol and cold & flu tablets
- 1 scarf
- A useful accessory for all seasons!
- 1 pair gloves
- For winter and chilly autumn evenings
- 1 warm hat
- Winter and autumn
Toiletries Packing List
There is no need to overpack on toiletries when travelling to Europe. You can find a pharmacy almost anywhere and chances are if you’ve forgotten something, you’ll be able to find it quite easily.
- If you’re travelling for a shorter period of time or packing only for carry-on, I would recommend getting refillable shampoo bottles rather than wasting money on travel sized bottles.
- Women’s Razor/ Men’s Shaver
- Hand sanitizer
- Contact lenses
- Contact lens solution
- For some reason, in a lot of places in Europe you can only purchase this in optical shops. So if you wear contact lenses, sometimes it can be hard to find solution if you forget it.
- Because it’s better to be prepared!
While it may not seem like much, this backpacking Europe packing list should be enough to sustain you through any long-term trip!
Obviously, there is always room for flexibility when packing for backpacking Europe. However, I would always advise packing on the lighter side and trying to avoid letting your pack weigh over 15 kilos. This is altogether just more comfortable. Remember as well, that if you forget anything you are almost always able to purchase it on the road, often at a cheaper price than at home!
Backpacking Europe Checklist After Packing
Once you’ve packed your bag for Europe, make sure you have a bit of time left over to take care of these things to make your life easier once you land in Europe!
Call your bank
Remember that new debit card you got a few months ago with no foreign transaction fees? Before using it in a new country, make sure your bank knows about it! Give your bank a call and let them know what countries you’re planning on travelling to so they don’t flag any of your transactions as suspicious and cancel your card while you’re overseas!
Get some local currency
It’s worth trying to get enough local currency to last you a day or two for when your first arrive. While it is usually possible to withdraw money from an ATM in the airport, there is always the chance that the ATM doesn’t work or you have an issue with your bank card. By having a bit of local currency you can be comfortable in knowing that you have enough money to at least get to your accommodation!
Work out your airport transfer
Speaking of getting to your accommodation, take the time to research the best way to get from the airport to wherever you’re staying. Whether it’s public transport, an airport shuttle bus or an Uber – having these details sorted will mean you don’t encounter any unnecessary stress when you first arrive in a new country.
Make copies of important documents
Your passport and bank cards. If something happens and you lose these, you want to easily have their details on hand so you can cancel them. Make some copies, upload them to your e-mail and send them to a family member or friend so you can easily retrieve them.
Have you put together a backpacking Europe packing list? Anything that you can’t travel without? Let us know in the comments!