Let’s be honest: as much as we all love a good pan au chocolat with our coffee as we overlook the Seine, sometimes we want to explore Europe beyond the museums and sparkling capital cities. We want an experience served up a little differently than the average-European-adventure bear. We want to invite our adrenaline to the party.
Hiking, kayaking, rock-climbing, or biking your way around Europe is not the typical summer Eurotrip your friends sign up for, but it’s even more rewarding, and not just because of the awesome battle wounds and wild tales you’ll start to collect. Hitting the road on a multi-country Europe trip for young adults is a great way to go “behind-the-scenes,” feel the crunch of new earth beneath your hiking boots, and see incredulous natural beauty.
Before you can tackle that physical mountain, though, you need to tackle the mountain of items to squeeze into your pack. Here are some of our go-to tips on how to pack for your Eurotrip (so you don't come home with blisters on your heels or sharp pains in your back!). But first, you’ll need to select an adventure.
How to Choose Your Adventure
You know there’s more to Europe than castles and vampire legends. It draws nature lovers with its spectacular alpine peaks and roaring rivers. It’s a place where adrenaline junkies can swap the cobblestone alleys and fairy-tale towers for snowmobiling on frozen lakes and cycling hairpin mountain roads.
Focus in on a regional portion of Europe you’d like to dig deeper in, otherwise you might get overwhelmed by its size and variety of adventures on offer. Note that committing to adventure travel might mean more time spent in transit than if you were simply darting from capital city to capital city. But don’t worry, the end of a long bus journey (or foot journey, you nomad!) will be uniquely satisfying (did we mention that beer pairs well with the end of epic adventures?).
In Europe, all adventures are fair game– there are even yoga retreats with your name on ‘em, perfect for chilling out after a crazy outdoor expedition. Before you commit to any Europe tours for young adults, be sure to read reviews and talk with past travelers to get the inside scoop. Online forums and threads on Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor will become your bookmarked-besties in the planning processes.
Remember: there’s no shame in signing up for a guided European tour. It means more time for fun and less time for stress. Now! Onwards to changing “packing” to “packed!”
As if you needed an excuse for an REI shopping spree anyway, here’s the gear you need to invest in to make your Eurotrip a success (or, at least, a more comfortable one):
First and foremost, if you don’t have one already, you’re going to want to invest in a backpack. We don’t mean that cute paisley-print backpack you were toting around in high school and college, we’re talking about a legitimate backpacking backpack, which can be found at a number of sporting goods stores or online.
If you plan on backpacking through Europe, this backpack can be your best friend or your worst enemy; since you're carrying it on your back every day, it’s always best to do your research and test out multiple bags before settling on one.
The type of backpack you purchase will obviously depend on your budget and your trip’s needs, but your backpack should definitely have:
- Padded hip-belt. With this buckled around your waist, the weight of your bag will be distributed around your hips and your shoulders, making it a much more comfortable experience. Be sure that the hip-belt is padded, so that you don’t have thin, unsupportive material digging into your side.
- Padded shoulder straps. Seriously, you’re going to be carrying this bag on your back for weeks, possibly months. You want it to be as comfortable as possible, so spring for those fluffy, padded shoulder straps.
- Water-resistant material. You want thick, but lightweight, so that you’re not walking around with a soggy, musty bag on your back for three weeks. Yuck!
- Compartments. It’s helpful to have a bag with multiple compartments and dividers, so you can keep your things organized and easy to find.
- Contoured back. A backpack with a slight curve allows for your back to be in a more naturally arched position and thus, is much more comfortable. It will also distribute the weight of your pack more evenly (and again with the padding: having some extra cushion on your spine is always a good thing!).
Budget airlines in Europe tend to be pretty strict, so be sure to check online to review maximum weight or size restrictions for carry on luggage. Generally speaking, purchasing a 40 liter pack or smaller and not filling it with bricks should suffice. However, if you’re planning on bringing your own camping equipment, budget for added expenses to check your pack at the gate.
You’re planning a multi-country, multi-adventure Eurotrip, which means that your feet will be doing most of the work during your trip. So it makes sense to invest in good shoes! The temptation to wear stylish stilettos on the streets of Milan might be strong, but keep in mind that most of your trip will simply require you to be able to walk miles upon miles each day. Comfortable, high-quality shoes are probably the most important thing you will pack for a backpacking trip.
So what should you bring?
- One pair of broken-in hiking boots. Don’t try to break them in on the trip, or you’ll be limping for days.
- One pair of light, waterproof shoes (such as flip flops or sandals) that you could wear on a boat or in a hostel shower.
- One pair of slightly dressier (but comfortable) shoes that could be worn for your “dress-up” days (Note that “dress up” is used very loosely here).
Yes, you read right. Three pairs of shoes. Three! If you’re a runner, you might also squeeze in your trainers, but otherwise keep it light.
Bits & Bobs
When packing gear for your trip, be sure to pack one or two locks, to keep your things safe while traveling and when staying in a hostel. If you’re American, we recommend ensuring they’re TSA-approved.
Whether it’s a plastic trash bag or a high-quality backpack rain cover shell you purchase in the store, be sure to pack something that will cover your bag from rain and inclement weather while you travel with it. There’s nothing worse than a backpack full of drenched clothes at the end of a long day of walking through the rain. Believe us.
If you’ll be biking, rock-climbing, or doing any other sort of activity that requires equipment, don’t forget to pack a (very small) toolkit to take care of any minor repairs or adjustments. Research ahead of time to decide if it makes sense to bring your own equipment or to rent/buy cheap once you land. Be sure to bring adjustable walking sticks if you anticipate many multi-day hiking trips.
And, like all wise travelers: don’t forget a flashlight and/or headlamp!
Sweaters, Sneakers, and Socks, Oh My!
Sorting what you’re bringing is only half the battle. Now let’s figure out how to get it all into your pack...
When it comes to packing your clothes on these kinds of trips, remember: less is more. Once you’ve picked out all the clothes you think you’ll need, take out half of them. Not only will you be carrying all of this weight on your back every day while you travel, you’ll also want room for any souvenirs you pick up along the way.
More words of wisdom: roll, don’t fold. Rolling your clothes eliminates wrinkles and also saves a lot of room! Also place your heavier items at the bottom of the pack. If you’re a lover of organization, you might want to pack your clothes in packing cubes or ziplock bags. Not only does this save space, but you can also categorize each bag or cube by the type of clothes you’re packing; i.e., pants, shirts, socks, etc.
But what shall I wear?!
When it comes to the clothes you’ll be bringing, be sure to pack in layers. Europe’s weather is notorious for fluctuating, even in the summer, so you should be prepared for both warm and chilly weather.
The material of the clothes that you pack is important. Avoid heavy materials such as denim or cotton, if you can, and opt for more technical, quick-dry clothes. They tend to cost more upfront, but you’ll be thankful for the wicking later.
How many clothes you pack is, of course, dependent on how long your trip will be and what sort of activities you plan on doing. However, you should have at least:
- 1-2 pairs of pants
- 2-3 pairs of shorts
- 4-5 shirts
- A sweater or sweatshirt
- 1 or 2 dress-up outfits
Even if your trip is mainly hiking and kayaking, Europeans tend to dress up when eating out or strolling around town. A casual, yet appropriate, outfit is crucial when traveling through Europe, for those moments when you need to look a little nicer than grungy jeans and sweatshirts.
- Extra wool socks and extra underwear, always.
- 1 bathing suit
You never know when that perfect, scenic lake will appear on your hike, and girls, a sports bra easily doubles as a swim suit top!
- 1 scarf
A scarf will work in a pinch if you just need a little extra warmth, and can work as a (somewhat sad, but functional) pillow on an airport floor. It can also act as a cover for your shoulders so that you can enter and tour some of Europe’s more conservative churches, which might have strict dress codes. And best of all: scarves take up almost no room in your backpack!
- 1 waterproof jacket
- 1 fleece or warm layer
One perk of traveling in trusty ol’ Europe is the ability to pick up most equipment at affordable prices along the way. No need to stress if you’re one pair of knickers short for that incredible camping trip.
Make sure when packing these clothes that you stay within a color scheme and that you can mix and match your tops and bottoms multiple times. Always bring less than you think you need (except in regards to socks and underwear), and simply wash your clothes along the way!
Accessory necessities, comin’ right up! Here are a few miscellaneous items that definitely shouldn’t be missing from your (now very fully-packed) backpack:
- Rather than bringing actual books, bring a Kindle, Nook, or other electronic reading device. Not only will you save space, but you’ll also save yourself the hassle of carrying a lot of weight!
- Earplugs (for all those lovely evenings in the tent with your snoring mate)
- Pack small things in plastic bags, so that you can see exactly what is in the bags and everything is easily contained.
- A quick-dry towel.
- A refillable water bottle.
- Toilet paper/tissues (you should never be without it).
- Snacks for the road.
- A small phrasebook of the languages of all the countries you’ll be traveling to.
- A camera (to record all of your amazing memories!)
Leave some extra space in your pack for those must-have accessories you come along, like beautiful sea-soaked rocks or a pine cone as big as your head.
Mom-Approved Packing Reminders
When most travelers talk packing, they engage in the age-old debate of rolling versus folding. But you should also be cognizant of preparing your wallet, day pack, and inbox (or preferred digital file storage system) with these essentials to ensure your safety.
Multiple forms of ID
If you’ll be traveling on your own, or doing physically strenuous activities (downhill skiing, anyone?), it’s always smart to carry identification on you in case of any emergencies. A medical bracelet or band, with your name, blood type, medical conditions, and an emergency contact phone number can be extremely helpful if you become injured or lost in a country in which you don’t speak the language.
Be sure to pack a waterproof pouch to hold all of your travel documents and your passport, keeping everything secure and in one place. Physical and digital copies of each of these is necessary to avoid a “D’oh!” Moment while abroad.
Bringing a small first-aid kit, with basic bandages, bug spray, and suntan lotion, is also always recommended for those going off the beaten path. Plus, your mom will feel much better about this trip knowing that you packed some Band-Aids!
Europe’s pharmacies will be well stocked, but if you’re planning back-country outings, be sure to come prepared with generic cold medicines and painkillers, too.
Load your phone with any relevant numbers that might come in handy should disaster strike. Emergency hotlines, your insurance contact number, how to get in touch with your bank. Know before you go so it will be one less major stressor in case of emergency.
So just in case you missed it: pack less than you think you’ll need, but bring extra socks. Comfortable shoes and a sturdy backpack are your best friends, and be prepared for rain. But most importantly, get ready for an incredibly exciting, non-stop adventure through some of the most beautiful parts of the world! As long as you approach travel with an open mind, a dash of patience, and suitable under-roos, you’re bound to have an incredible Europe tour!