Packing Light when Traveling in Europe

Last May, I spent 17 days touring Europe — visiting Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, the Netherlands, Romania, and Poland (all with varying climates). Because I was on a plane near every other day, I wanted to pack light. Six months before my trip, a friend of mine had traveled to India for ten days only bringing the clothes on her back, enough underwear, and an extra shirt. While I wasn’t ready for such extreme minimalist packing, it inspired me to cut down my bag to what I actually needed.

While packing, I had to consider the typical fashion and culture of the places I was going. After doing some research, I discovered that many of the places had high dress standards and what I wear on a typical day would be rude. For example, it’s considered rude to wear sweatpants or workout gear in public in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Pick-pocketing is also a huge issue in Europe and something to consider when packing. I wanted to blend in as much as possible in order to avoid being targeted. I learned that there are a few things that make you stand out as a tourist, just from your dress. Things like tennis shoes and t-shirts point out to any European that you are there to see the sights.

Here are some tips to make your European packing experience simpler:

Pack mostly grey-scales.

Sydney Hubbel
Prague Astronomical Clock

Wearing grey scales and earth tones allows you to blend into a typical European crowd. In the places I visited, it was rare to see pops of color among Europeans. Only in Poland was it normal to see colorfully dressed people going about their daily lives. It’s important to consider the fashion of an area if you’re trying to blend in. Because Europeans have a slightly higher standard of dress than the streets of San Francisco, I packed clothes that I would typically wear to work, a v-neck, button downs, black pants, etc.

Packing mostly in grey-scale also allows you to minimize what you bring. When every article you bring matches, you are better able to mix them to create different outfits. For example, I only brought three shirts, a pair of pants, a dress and a coat for the whole trip. Still I was able to wear a different outfit in each of my pictures.

Don’t pack shoes, wear them.

Bringing multiple pairs of shoes is the quickest way to fill up your bag and add unneeded weight to your back. In order to avoid wasting so much space, choose one pair of shoes that are comfortable, fashionable, and location appropriate and wear them everyday. Where I went, Chuck Taylors were normal; and in many of the places where counter culture is still thriving, like Prague, Amsterdam and Berlin, they are even considered fashion-forward. Luckily for me, Converse are my shoes of choice even in the States.

Be prepared to buy a few things when you get there.

Sydney Hubbel
Rain in Amsterdam

My jacket ripped in Amsterdam… and then it began to rain. That’s okay though, because I was prepared to have to purchase some clothing whilst there. So, I popped into a souvenir shop and bought a hoodie. However, I didn’t want to walk around the city wearing something that made my tourism obvious. So I tucked it under my dress and went on my cozy way. Thankfully the new hoodie took up the same amount of space in my bag as the jacket I tossed.

I went from rain and wind-burns in Amsterdam and Berlin to sunshine and tanned skin in Romania and Poland in a matter of days. Because one dress was all I had packed for warm weather, I bought a pair of flowey shorts in Bucharest. These still easily rolled up and fit in my bag with room to spare.

You do NOT need more than one pair of pants.

Pack a pair of jeans and you’ll be set. Studies have shown that you should never wash your jeans, and Levi’s CEO agrees. You will be able to wear your jeans everyday without them absorbing bacteria. You may have to scrub out a spot or two in the hostel bathroom sink, but they definitely do not need to go through the wash. I brought black denim to avoid even that.

You truly won’t need more than a backpack for your next trip if you minimize what you pack. Only bring what is absolutely necessary and enjoy the adventure unencumbered by your luggage.

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