Tips for Travel to Europe in the Summer
Are you packing for a trip to Europe this summer? Yes? Great. Although you might be tempted to throw together your usual summer getaway essentials in your suitcase and call it day, wait. There are a few summertime essentials in North America that, if worn in Europe, could flag you as a tourist. Similarly, there are a couple of additional things you should make sure to bring. Whether you’re taking two weeks in Europe as a vacation from work, or backpacking for a month or more between semesters, these packing list tips will help you bring everything you need — without overpacking.
Bags: Pack Light, Pack Light, Pack Light
Europe isn’t exactly friendly to the 40-pound rollerbag. Between cobblestoned streets, tiny cars, and hotels without elevators, a large piece of luggage will just be a hassle.
For the same reasons, backpacks and duffles are generally better. So before you even think about which pair of shoes to bring, grab a carry-on sized backpack or duffle and a personal sized item that can double as your daypack. The Outbreaker collection was born out of a trip to Europe in which the founders of Tortuga were super frustrated with their luggage. Trust me when I tell you, this is the perfect bag for city travel in Europe. Pro tip: If you’re flying within Europe (e.g. Paris to Barcelona), check the luggage dimensions for those flights — not the transcontinental flights — when figuring out if your bag is small enough (especially if you’re flying on EasyJet or RyanAir). Those flights tend to have more restrictive dimensions than the transcontinental ones. The Outbreaker 35 is your go to bag for these budget airlines and meeting their more stringent carry on restrictions.
Clothes: Layers & Nicer Outfits
No matter where in Europe you’re traveling, you should make sure you have warm-weather clothing, layers for colder climates or high-AC, and at least one nice outfit for dinners out (no jackets needed most places, a pair of nice slacks and a shirt or simple dress will do). If you plan on visiting any religious sites (e.g. a cathedral or the Vatican), both men and women will need an outfit that covers their knees and shoulders. Also, in most of Europe short-shorts are just for sports and the beach. They’re not necessarily bad to wear, just touristy. As an alternative, opt for dresses, skirts, or longer shorts. Lastly, keep in mind that summer weather varies quite a bit within Europe. If you’re headed to Sweden, Denmark, or Norway — where you’ll pants more often than shorts — take a look at our summer packing list for Scandinavia in addition to this.
Example of Packing for Europe in Summer:
- 2-3 pairs of shorts, pants, or skirts
- 3-4 tops
- 1 dress
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong that doubles as a scarf
- 1 set of workout or hiking clothes
- 1 light sweater or jacket for flights and cool nights
- 1 lightweight rain shell
- 1 pair of jeans if you’re headed somewhere cooler
- Socks and underwear
- Accessories to dress up an outfit
Shoes: Bring Sandals & Sneakers
To prepare for nights out in the city and days on the beach or in the mountains, bring:
- 1 pair of nicer shoes
- 1 pair of walking shoes
I generally opt for a pair of basic black Nike sneakers or Toms (depending on how active the trip will be) and a pair of strappy black sandals to wear on the beach or nights out. For men, a pair of boat shoes and a pair of sneakers works. Also note that in most of Europe, flip-flops aren’t worn outside the house. Only bring flip-flops (like a cheap $2-5 pair from Old Navy or Target), for hostel showers.
Electronics: Bring the Adaptor, Leave the Blowdryer
For electronics, you’ll want to have:
- Your phone and chargers: Pack your phone up with helpful apps
- An adaptor: European outlets are either type G (in the UK) or type F (everywhere else); the Kikkerland UL03-A Universal Travel Adapter ($10) is great because the different adaptors break part, so you can bring it all or just the one you need
- Headphones: Need recs? Check our in-flight buying guide
- Kindle (optional)
- Camera (optional — your smartphone may be enough)
Do not bring a blowdryer or hair straightener — they’re usually not compatible with the voltage. Instead, get crafty with travel hairstyles. If you’re bringing a laptop, double check that you’re still allowed to bring it on flights to/from Europe in your carry on… (ugh).
Essentials: Check Your Passport & Always Have a Pen
Since this is an international trip, you should make sure to have:
- A passport that’s valid for 3 months after your departure date: Make sure yours fits the bill, then make a copy that you can keep on you (separately) or uploaded digitally
- A debit card that works internationally: Generally, you just have to let your bank know where you’re going
- Credit cards that also work internationally
- A pen for filling out customs cards
- Reusable water bottle: Most of Europe has potable tap water
Money Belt or Good-Old-Fashioned Savviness
A lot of travelers will also recommend packing a money belt to avoid getting pickpocketed in Europe. If it makes you feel safe, go for it. However, they can get sweaty and gross — especially in 90-degree heat on Crete. Instead, I prefer to stay aware of my surroundings, avoid crowds, never leave a bag hanging off the back of my chair at an outdoor restaurant, and keep my two credit cards in separate places at all times.
Toiletries: Stick to Travel-Sized Basics
Bring your usual toiletries but keep them under 3 ounces and limit yourself to 1-2 small bags (forget about the hanging toiletry bags). If you’re not particular about sunscreen and bug spray, buy it there. For makeup, again, stick to the basics. Even if you’re doing the ultra-bare-bones backpacker thing, a stick of eyeliner or lipstick can go a long way in making you feel more put together. Remember: If you forget or run out of anything, Europe has shampoo too.
Backpacking Europe? Bring Hostel Items
For backpackers traveling Europe on the cheap, hostels and couchsurfing are your best friends. If you’ll be staying in any of these accommodations, be sure to pack:
- A quick-dry towel and a travel sheet, like the Cocoon CoolMax Travel Sheet ($45): Some, but not all, hostels will charge extra for these; it’s also nice to have the sheet on flights and cold busses/trains
- Cheap flip-flops for showers
- A pad-lock for lockers: Again, hostels usually provide a locker to keep your valuables safe but may charge you for the lock — or not even have one
If you’re couchsurfing you shouldn’t rely on your host to provide towels — though most will have basic bedding at minimum.
Tent or No Tent? Camping Europe in the Summer
If you want to take advantage of Europe’s campgrounds in the summertime, you pretty much have three options:
- Car + tent or hammock
- Rely on official campgrounds’ hostel or cabin-like accommodation
Some campervan rentals will provide bedding for you — meaning you won’t have to pack anything extra. If you plan on camping, try to stick to the basics: Tent, light-weight sleeping bag, flashlight. If you’re mindful about how much clothing you bring, you should be able to easily fit this and your clothing in a 45L or smaller backpack. Packing for a Month in Europe? Don’t Bring (Much) More If you’re headed to Europe for a longer trip — lucky you! Whether it’s studying abroad, backpacking, or cruising the countryside in a campervan, you really won’t need much more than otherwise. Personally, my bag for a month in Europe looks about the same as a week-long trip. Even my toiletries don’t really change (you’d be surprised at how long a travel-sized tube of toothpaste can last). Typically, I’ll pack an extra pair of undies and socks, swap out the body wash for soap (lasts longer), and possibly throw in a second book. C’est tout. To keep thing simple, pack your clothes as you would for a week-long trip, and only pack extras of things you truly need — like contact solution or medication.