So you have decided to have the ultimate adventure: backpacking across Europe. But you don’t know where to start when it comes to what to put into your bag.
After all, if you want to adhere to budget airline (such as RyanAir and Vueling) guidelines, and not check luggage, your backpack will not be very large. In order to help, I have compiled a list of all the things I put into my backpack, why, and where you can get them.
My backpack and I have now spent the last 20 days traversing through 9 countries (and counting!) so I decided that it was time to write a full expose on the things that I did and didn’t need that I packed. “Be prepared for anything” is not always a good motto to live by, especially when you have to carry everything on your back.
I believe it is my duty, having come to this conclusion and many others, to inform the world of it. So without further ado: what I thought I needed vs. what I really did need to backpack across Europe, an expose.
First and foremost, before leaving on this trip I did lots of research reading other travel blogger’s articles, digging through Pinterest boards, pouring over travel guidebooks, talking to people who had gone on any sort of similar trip. I felt prepared. My backpack, I measured, weighed, and stuffed literally everything I possibly could into it until my back felt like it was breaking every time I wore it. Then the weight, the heat, the cold, the walking, the packing and repacking started to wear on my patience. I began tossing things. I succumbed to not blowdrying my hair (even though it was the world’s smallest and most adorable blowdryer), I ditched my compact easy dry towel (most hostels have towels available for use) and I scoffed at myself for thinking I needed a portable luggage scale. With other items, I realized that I had a compact version of them in my phone: an alarm clock, a flashlight, a compass. And even others I decided that I could get creative: get rid of the silverware and use the lid of the peanut butter to make my sandwiches.
So here is my advice: Use this list as a place where you decide what you really need. I will list the things I originally packed, and other suggestions in case you are bringing a large pack, and then a list of things that I have thus far ditched in various countries.
The Backpack Itself
The carry on requirements for RyanAir, which is one of the cheapest airlines to use to get around Europe, are as follows: 55cm x 40 cm x 20cm or, 21.65in x 15.74in x 7.8
7in. Because I am a 25 year old girl traveling around by myself, my number one priority in choosing a backpack beyond fitting the measurements was safety.
I picked a backpack with a slash-proof wire mesh inside the fabric, turn and lock security hooks that hold the zippers in place and an RFID blocking pocket to protect your personal information from thieves. I bought the Pacsafe 25L Anti-Theft Backpack. It’s a little pricey, sitting at $119.95, but for me, I thought this was a good investment because it is the main luggage I will have with me for six months.
You can get it here: Pacsafe 25L Anti-Theft Backpack
Most of the toiletries that you are going to need you will be able to purchase while you are in Europe, so you should only bring the bare minimum. I bought small travel containers and put my product in those containers.
In these containers I put: shampoo, conditioner, body wash, pomade/hairspray
I also bought small toiletries from the travel section of target which include: toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, face wipes/makeup remover, deodorant, chapstick, moisturizer, hand sanitizer, Q-tips, bobby pins.
**If you want to bring perfume, go to the perfume counter and get free samples and bring one of those small tubes with you. You use a lot less than you think you do.
I am bringing three pairs of shoes. Nike Women Roshe walking shoes. I bought these, and not only are they super stylish, but also incredibly comfortable. Next, I bought Birkenstocks because they are also very comfy walking sandals.
I highly recommend these ones:
Finally, I packed shower shoes. I highly recommend bringing shower shoes to protect your feet, especially if you are staying in hostels. Buy the cheapest water-proof flip flops you can find that will also take the least amount of room in your bag.
These shoes will roll up in your bag: Shower Shoes
What you are planning on doing while you travel will determine what technology you will need to bring. For me, I will be writing and photo blogging, and also attending school in the midst of backpacking, so my laptop and camera are necessities. I will be bringing a 13” Macbook Air and a Canon Powershot G7, which is smaller than my usual DSLR, but will still take high quality photographs. Don’t forget charging cables, backup batteries and memory cards.
Once you disconnect the service from your phone, you are able to put in a European SIM card, which will be monumentally cheaper than using US data for your backpacking experience. I transferred my service over to a flip phone for while I will be gone in order to have an unassigned mobile device to use while abroad. This also simultaneously keeps my number for when I return. You can buy a flip phone at Target, but I highly recommend posting on Facebook, or asking your friends if they have old phones they no longer use.
The best advice I received when packing was that I should be able to close my eyes and reach into my bag, grab out a shirt and pants of any kind, and they should match. Remember to cater to your needs: I didn’t pack any shorts because my legs chafe when I walk for significant amounts of time, and I would rather be hot than in physical pain. It is also important to pack things that you can layer on top of each other to create warmth if needed.
2 bras (a sports bra and a regular t-shirt bra)
6 pairs of socks (make sure they are socks that quick-dry, air out, and will give a little extra support)
For extra protection, I purchased this Luggage Lock to make sure that my bag would not be broken into while it is on my back or in the hostel. I also bought this Personalized Padlock in case I need to lock it to something while I am traveling.
Random things that would be helpful if I had thought of them beforehand:
Less is more. If you need something, you will be able to buy it. Don’t freak out if you have to leave stuff behind, you will find that it will be easier than you think to live out of a backpack for the sake of adventure.
In case you are curious, here is a list of all of the things that I thought I needed, but I have ditched at random stops along the way:
-traveling duct tape
-digital luggage scale
-digital alarm clock (I now use my cell phone)
-water bottle (I have gone so many places where it is not recommended that you drink the water from the tap, so I have been purchasing water bottles almost everywhere that I go. For this reason, my water bottle has just been taking up space.)
-mini compact hairdryer
-compression bag (This one, I wish I could have kept because it was SO helpful, but it broke.)
-mouthwash (The airline actually made me get rid of this one, the new rule is that you can only bring one quart size plastic bag of your liquids that are under 3 oz. on the plane in your carry on.)
-laundry supplies (Europe has Laundromats)
-umbrella (There have been times that I regretted this, but it has also made for some great stories)
-money belt (Having a fanny pack and a lock for my backpack when I’m out of the hostel has negated the need for a money belt.)
There are so many things that we think that we can’t live without. I am one of those people that clutches desperately to my worldly possessions because I think I need to be completely prepared for any possible situation that arises. This was something I came face to face with when I sold 85% of everything that I owned prior to packing up my backpack and leaving the comfort of the United States. Honestly, to bring it full circle, I’m not the only one who feels like my stuff will somehow protect me. I know plenty of people who struggle to let go of things that make them feel prepared for anything that comes into their path. But what I’ve started to realize is that this need can be unhealthy, and often, it prevents growth. If I had not begun to let things go, then I would not have had half of the amazing experiences that I have had, and I would have been inhibited from letting this trip help me to become stronger, more inventive and mature. And I could not be more grateful.
(Study Abroad Fall 2016, Amsterdam)