My friend Stephanie and I traveled through Europe from the end of January to the end of April. We went to Scotland, Switzerland, Amsterdam, Prague, Norway, and Germany. I am the WORST packer so I read post after post and watched a million videos about what to pack for winter.I’m also from California where it really doesn’t get THAT cold, so I wasn’t 100% sure what I’d be needing on a daily basis. I’m actually pretty damn proud of how I packed to be honest – only a few items that I regret bringing, and I fit everything into a carry on suitcase and small backpack because I am insane! MAJOR WIN for me, the girl who used to bring a suitcase to a sleepover.
I was even able to squeeze most of it into my carry on for a couple of the Easy Jet flights we took (they don’t allow a personal item). The trick is having a giant coat with lots of pockets and a giant scarf to hide your DSLR camera with. 😉
Here’s what I took (dragged) with me:
OUTERWEAR/JACKETSWarm outerwear waterproof (this is KEY) jacket with hood – I got black so it would go with everything and I could wear it when I went out, too, and it wouldn’t look TOO out of place. The hood is also removable, which is nice, but can also be annoying when you accidentally unsnap it (which happened one too many times).
Thin Patagonia ‘Houdini’ Jacket – I wore this every time I went running (which was like ten times lol). It packs down small so it’s nice to toss in your day bag just in case you think it might get chilly.
1 black cardigan – I wore this mainly for going out, and for everyday in the spring once temperatures warmed up. It also worked as a thermal layer under my clothes when my regular thermal was dirty.
TOPS1 thermal base layer – This is CRUCIAL. I wore this almost everyday under my sweater and coat in the winter (I didn’t really need it anymore by mid-March). And no, I don’t think you need to get a wool one (I personally find it itchy) – mine was synthetic and worked fine!
3 sweaters (2 black, 1 red) – I’d advise just packing 2 or packing 3 very different ones; my 2 black ones are pretty similar, except one is cropped and the other isn’t. I just liked using the cropped one for going out.
5 tops (4 dressy/going out for nice dinners/bars or everyday, 1 t-shirt) – Make sure to bring very different tops so it doesn’t look like you’re wearing the same thing every damn day. But also make sure that they’ll go with at least 2-3 different outfits so they don’t end up sitting in your suitcase.
1 loose sundress – This worked for everyday and for going out (don’t worry I wore warm stuff under it haha) – I didn’t wear this too often (Europe is windy – bring shorts to wear under! Luckily my pj shorts also doubled as those for me), but it was nice to have for dressier occasions.
PANTS3 pairs leggings (1 fleece, 1 regular black, 1 work out) – I’m happy I brought all 3 with me. If you’re really trying to save space though, you could probably just use 1 pair of fleece ones and one for working out.
2 pairs black jeans – I wish I’d brought a different pair of blue jeans to change it up, but it was nice that I’d brought 2 when one of my pairs ripped.
2 pairs shorts (1 jean, 1 loose/flowy) – I like how shorts look over tights with thigh high socks, so I figured I could wear that look for going out or every day in warmer weather. The loose pair was cute enough for wearing out, but also doubled as PJs when I didn’t feel like wearing pants.
SOCKS/UNDERTHINGS9 pairs socks/tights – I brought 3 pairs of wool socks for cold weather/everyday, 3 pairs regular socks (I ended up buying one more pair of these on the road), 1 pair thigh highs, and 2 sets of black tights.
3 bras – 1 black with straps, 1 nude strapless, and 1 for sports.
8 pairs underwear – I wish I brought more; I ended up buying 3 more pairs on the road.
1 pair LOOSE comfy pants – The LOOSE part is key! I hate getting out of the shower and putting on tight leggings.
2 pajama tops – I purposely chose cute t-shirts that could also double as a work out or regular top.
Bathing suit – You never know if you’ll have the opportunity to go to a hot tub or hot springs! I used this when I went swimming and to the sauna in Germany.
SHOES1 pair lace up waterproof boots – If you go to Europe in the winter without a pair of (waterproof) boots I’d say you’re insane. I purposely chose ones that were good for everyday as well as going out. Just make sure you break them in first – don’t be like me and bring boots you literally JUST BOUGHT because you will do a ton of walking in Europe and your feet will almost fall off.
1 pair sneakers – Bring ones that can double for working out/hiking but also be cute enough to wear every day. Your feet WILL want a break from your boots, I’m telling you.
1 pair lace up flats – I wore these during the day in warmer weather, but mainly for going out.
WARM WEATHER ACCESSORIES1 pair waterproof gloves – I actually ended up buying another thinner, non-waterproof pair for everyday; I only wore the waterproof ones on days that I went for a hike or knew it was going to be very rainy. And we ended up losing the waterproof ones by accident, so I’m happy I got that second pair!
1 warm, long scarf – This is pretty much a non-negotiable NECESSITY. Not only does it change up your outfit (there are a million ways to tie a scarf!), but it also can serve a million different functions. I wrapped mine around my face when it was really cold/windy, used it as a blanket on long bus/train rides or planes, and folded it up to use as a pillow!
1 turtle fur – Not a necessity, but I did like wearing this when I didn’t feel like dealing with my long scarf. It also came in handy when it was super windy and I wanted to wear both haha, I’m a baby.
1 black beanie – If I’m being honest, I didn’t really bring this for the warmth – more for when my hair was lookin’ real gross and I didn’t feel like washing it (which happens more often than I’d like to admit).
Earmuffs – I didn’t really wear these lol, not sure what I was thinking when I packed them…I used to mainly use them when I was biking in the cold, but I didn’t do a ton of biking in the winter this time around, soooo…
1 hat – For keeping the sun off my face on warmer days. Lol again didn’t really use this, only really when I went hiking. Most people in Europe don’t seem to do the hat thing.
TRAVEL & PERSONAL ACCESSORIESToiletries – I think you can guess what’s in this category: floss, toothbrush, contacts, etc.
Make up – To make my outfits more interesting when I was sick of wearing the same thing 494857 days in a row 🙂
Advil – Apparently this can be more expensive in Europe, so I just brought some with me. Same with contact solution.
Melatonin – This is SO necessary for me to sleep on planes. And to help me fall asleep at a normal time when jet lag kicks in.
Aquaphor – I get really really dry hands/skin in the winter, and this is the ONLY thing I’ve tried that prevents my hands from turning into actual reptile skin 🙂
Travel straightener – I borrowed my friend’s curling wand, but if she hadn’t brought hers I’d have also brought mine. We didn’t have any issues with our converter, but I have heard horror stories of some people totally frying their hair tools! I’d recommend either purchasing one abroad OR bringing one you’d be ok with potentially ruining just in case! For reference, my mini straightener was Conair and my friend’s curling wand was NuMe.
Neck pillow – I was never sure if I would be a neck pillow person (I can’t usually sleep on public transportation), but I LOVED this! I used to have an inflatable one that sucked and would go flat while I was asleep so I’d wake up with a broken neck. However, I’ve since seen the light and am OBSESSED with my current one.
Earplugs – PLEASE DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND HAVE LIKE 5 PAIRS OF THESE ON HAND!!! Especially if you’ll be sleeping in shared dorms in hostels.
Eyemask – SEE ABOVE (except you just need one). I’d recommend a silk one like this bad boy (so comfy).
Passport, Credit/debit cards/ID and copies – Yes, make copies of your documents and keep them in your luggage, just in case you lose them. This makes them a lot easier to replace if that does happen!
Journal and random notes notebook – Because I LOVE keeping a travel journal!!
Teaching supplies – This blog post by See Nic Wander is what I referenced when purchasing my supplies!
Lanyard – Super random, but actually helpful because a lot of AirBnb hosts/house sitting hosts gave us keys without one, and it made it easier to find them in my bag.
Binoculars – I’m a bird nerd lol, although I didn’t use them as much as I originally thought I would.
Reading light – I mainly brought this in case the overnight buses/trains/planes didn’t have a light, and since I was sleeping in the same room/bed as my friend a lot of the time (that budget travel lyfe) so I didn’t want to bother her if I wanted to read in bed. However, all the public transportation had lights and if I stayed up later I usually just went in another room. It was useful when we had a private room in an AirBnb though, and I couldn’t go into another room!
Headlamp – For some reason I am obsessed with bringing pointless lights…I literally never used this? My main thought was just in case we stayed in a hostel (helpful to have to avoid waking up fellow hostelmates in the middle of the night) or if we needed to walk the dogs at night since we were house sitting. Or if for some reason we decided to go camping. Even though we didn’t have a tent. Idk what is wrong with me and why I pack such unnecessary things…Spork – I’m obsessed with my spork. It’s titanium (so super lightweight), and I literally take it with me EVERYWHERE. Yay for not needing to use plastic cutlery!
Water bottle – My reusable water bottle is ESSENTIAL to avoid purchasing plastic bottles! Win for my wallet and the earth. You can drink the tap water everywhere (at least to my knowledge) in Europe, so there’s no need to purchase bottled water. We even filled them up in bathrooms sometimes #desperate. And, when you go to restaurants they usually charge you for water. SO we would just fill up our reusable and take it with us. I like this one since it keeps my water cold, even on super hot days!
Chopsticks – I don’t use these as often, but I do take them with me in case I eat out and want to avoid single use wooden ones.
2 backpacks – You don’t necessarily need both, but I wanted to have 1 cute smaller one for everyday, and 1 larger one that acted as my ‘personal item’ on planes; I would’ve loved to have one that was both cute and big but didn’t feel like buying a new one.
1 small purse – I used this for going out, or when I didn’t want to bring a backpack with me.
Armband for running – Probably only useful if you run, but I’m obsessed with mine.
Satin (or silk, even better) pillow case – I am a diva and really do notice a difference in my hair’s texture when I use this vs a cotton one. Plus it’s supposed to help you avoid wrinkles and I am all about that smooth skin life. Plus I wear a lot of oils on my face at night (oil cleansing all day erryday), and didn’t want to get any on my host’s pillow cases.
Converter – Because duh. Otherwise you won’t be able to charge anything!
2 phones & charging cords – I brought my current one and an old unlocked iPhone 5 to put a European SIM in. However, I neglected to realize that it was synced to my brother’s old Apple ID, and he couldn’t remember the login for it, so I wasn’t able to use it! So, I just used my iPhone 6 with WiFi instead of purchasing an expensive international plan.
Computer & charging cord – Self explanatory.
Dongle – Thanks a lot, 2017 Macbook…
Camera & 2 batteries – I use a Canon 6D and brought my 24-70 2.8 L Lens; my friend used my other older Canon body and 16-35 f4 L lens so we occasionally switched; I’ve also used my 50mm f1.8 in the past and loved it, too! However, I think the 24-70 is my everyday lens of choice as it’s the most versatile.
Back up device – To avoid potential computer crash scares (although tbh I am HORRIBLE about backing up my things – don’t be like me!!!).
Portable phone charger – SO ESSENTIAL if you’re out all day and not sure when you’ll find an outlet. Mine is solar powered but I rarely remember to charge it in the sun lol. It was really nice to have when I was in the conservation corps and had no access to a charger for a week – the sun really did charge it (albeit very very slowly)!
Headphones – Preferably noise canceling. NECESSARY unless you want to hate everyone and everything!
I mostly ended up wearing the same “uniform” each day – thermal, sweater, outerwear jacket, scarf, leggings, pants, lace up boots. I’d occasionally change it up and do tights and my thigh high socks with the dress or shorts (plus the rest of my “uniform”), and on days it was really warm I’d wear my lace up flats!
WHAT I REGRET BRINGINGWool socks – I wish I brought one less pair of wool socks and one more pair of thin everyday ones (I ended up buying one more pair of everyday socks in Europe).
Headlamp – Like why??
Reading light – I used it once haha.
Earmuffs – It really wasn’t THAT cold. Plus I had my scarf and beanie if I really was dying.
Waterproof gloves – The ones I had were a little too bulky and I only wore them on days we went hiking. The ones I had bought abroad were a little more stylish so I wore them more often! However, if you’re planning to do lots of outdoorsy things they would probably come in handy (heheh) a lot more.
I debated bringing my raincoat or an umbrella but am glad I didn’t. My jacket was water-resistant, and all the AirBnbs/house sits had an umbrella or two we could borrow. And to be honest, on days that it did rain constantly, we didn’t stay out too long anyway – there were plenty of shops or cafes to duck into and wait it out!
WHAT I WISH I BROUGHT
Stylish gloves – Maybe shallow, but my bulky waterproof ones were kind of dorky looking. I ended up getting the ones in the photo above and liked those a lot more.
More underwear – I only brought 8 pairs and wish I brought 12. However, you don’t need to bring a TON of underwear/clothes because most places you stay will have a washer (try and make sure every other place at least has one!). If they don’t you can always hand wash some underwear! Or you can just bring 38 pairs like my friend did LOL.
More “every day” socks – My thick wool ones ended up being a little too warm, and I ended up using my thinner ones most of the time. It just wasn’t as cold in Europe as I was thinking it would be. It never got below 25 F, and most of the time, it was in the upper 30’s/40’s F. In my brain I had basically been picturing torrential downpours and fierce blizzards. Neither of these was at all the case. In fact, the sun even came out at times, and it really didn’t rain nearly as much as I thought it would, and when it did it was nowhere near downpour status. Europe 1, Kelsey 0.
Another jacket/coat – I wish I’d had room for another jacket or coat to mix up my wardrobe a little (since I ended up wearing the same one every day). I borrowed my friend’s a couple of times.
A different pair of jeans – I brought 2 pairs of almost identical black jeans. Like why. I should’ve brought a pair of blue ones to change it up a bit.
WHAT I CARRIED EVERYTHING INI bought the AWAY suitcase right before I left, and I am SO HAPPY I did (not sponsored lol). Otherwise, I was going to borrow an old fabric one from my dad that had very loud/squeaky wheels and never stayed upright.
I love that my Away bag has a hard shell to protect the contents, doesn’t fall over when I stand it up next to me, and can be pulled along upright or at an angle. I will admit that fabric suitcases seem to have an easier time closing – I literally have to sit on my bag to get it to close sometimes lol – but I’m overall very happy with it and wish I’d bought it earlier! The AWAY suitcase also has a lifetime warranty. While I try not to purchase new things (I looked online to try and find a used one on eBay, but to no avail), if I do, I prefer to buy something that’s well made and will last a long time. That way I produce less waste!
So, I took my AWAY suitcase and a small-ish backpack as a personal item. I’d recommend either going this route OR bringing a large backpack.
My friend brought 2 suitcases (1 carry on and 1 checked) and it was a STRUGGLE. It wasn’t as bad since I could help her, but if you’re traveling alone, this would probably end up being a HUGE hassle when you’re trying to take public transportation and have to drag it around everywhere. Unless you are a baller and just want to Uber everywhere.
Next time I plan to bring my larger 45L backpack, AWAY carry on, and small daypack and check either the suitcase or backpack. Not gonna lie, I would love to have more clothes with me haha, plus it would be annoying to keep repurchasing razors and contact solution or only take the carry on size when I want to fly. Plus, I’ll be flying a lot less, so I won’t have to deal with those pesky extra checked bag fees as often.Don’t fall into the trap that I always used to and bring a shitload of stuff that you don’t wear at home and trick yourself into thinking you’ll wear it because you’re on vacation. If you don’t wear it at home, you probably won’t be reaching for it during your travels! I brought mostly plain stuff that I could easily remix into different outfits, and a couple statement pieces to occasionally mix in as well (a floral dress, a red sweater). Make sure that everything you’re bringing can be worn with AT LEAST 2 different outfits – that way you’re not stuck with a shirt that you only wear once because you can only wear it with a certain pair of pants/shoes.
So winter to spring travel transitions aren’t as scary as you thought, right?? I hope this helps! I agonized over what to pack for weeks, and was literally doing so until I got out of the car to catch my flight. If you have any questions please ask!!