Essentials for Backpacking Europe | What You Need

You’ve got your plane tickets purchased and maybe you’ve even convinced some of your friends to come with you to Europe, but now you need to figure out what to bring. There are millions of options out there, but here is my take on the essentials you’ll need to be able to efficiently navigate and backpack through most European countries. 

  • Gear: All the stuff you’ll need to be ready for everything to Backpack (no suitcases obviously)
    • A backpack is probably a key essential to actually backpack through Europe. It gives you the opportunity to still walk around with all your stuff when you’re moving between cities or if you can’t check into your hostels yet. Size of backpack is very preferential so I can only speak on my experience and what my friends have said about theirs. The key to a good backpacking backpack, is one that can store a lot of clothes, but isn’t too bulky to walk around with and also feels comfortable wearing. Another point if you need to buy a pack, is what’s the likelihood you’ll keep using it. Hiking (technical) packs are expensive, but great at packing a lot of gear in and being very comfortable. Sure, slinging a large duffel bag over your should could work too for a cheap solution, but it’ll be very uncomfortable on long travel days. Something to think about.
    • Backpack sizes are in Liters (L), and they can range from 25L school backpack to +90L long distance trekking backpacks. Regardless of how long you’re going to be traveling for, a funny quote is, “Pack everything into your backpack, take it all out, get rid of half the stuff, and then re-pack it.” I have friends who have gone months of travel in a small duffel bag, and others who pack 70L packs for a long weekend. So this will all depend on how many times you’d like to re-wear your clothes during the trip and obviously what type of clothing you need to bring. Going to Spain in the summer? Well then you only need a handful of T-shirts and shorts and you’re set (25L). Headed to Norway in the winter? Then you’re gonna need a big back to fit all those jackets and layers.
    • Size for length of travel if you’d like to bring ample clothing without having to re-wear dirty stuff.
      • 1-3 Days = 25L
      • 1 Week = 35-45L
      • 2 Weeks = 60-75L
    • Great Packs to check out:

    • Clothing (recommendations)
      • I alluded to this before, backpacking can be done with one set of clothes, or enough to last you multiple weeks. It all depends on what type of person you are. I’m personally fine with wearing clothes, including undies, more than once. This is all about packing smart, bringing versatile items that can be worn both comfortably walking around cities and traveling, and also out to bars, restaurants, and clubs. This is especially important since most clubs have some sort of a dress code to keep out the riff-raff. Wick-away shirts are great at not getting smelly, so it’s a good idea to pack these for the days you’re wandering the cities and also for when you’re stuck for hours on a stuffy train.
      • When packing your stuff, lay it all out by day to make sure you don’t forget anything. Overall, you’ll end up wearing the same things you’d be wearing in the states, but across the pond. I always try to bring flip-flops with me, even if I’m going somewhere cold, since it’s a good change of pace to get out of shoes or hiking boots when I’m in the hostels.
    • Lock
      • This is one the most universal items you should pack, and by far one the most necessary. Something you’ll always have to be aware of, is you backpack’s security. Whether you’re in the hostel, train station, or in the park for a nap, you’ll want to make sure locker is locked or at least your backpack is secured to a fence or the zipper secured together. Pick-pockets and theft is a top problem in the popular European cities like Paris and Barcelona, and rarely is it caught. On my first backpacking trip, we all did not have one and had to buy them from the first hostel. 
      • So do yourself a favor and get a combination, TSA-approved, luggage lock. Most hostels have lockers, cages, or some type of storage device in the room or in a common room for you to put your bags, but they usually don’t have locks on them (you have to buy them). But you can just use your own lock for this instead. And they also come in handy when you’re taking a nap in the park before your next train and you can just lock your bag to a tree or yourself so that you won’t have to worry about someone swinging by when you’re asleep.
      • TSA Approved Luggage Travel Lock by BV:
    • Pack Towel
      • Something you might overlook when traveling in the states, the towel to use after the shower. So if you’re staying in hostels, towels are most likely not included. Of course you can rent them at the front desk for a few Euros, and I’ve kept my towel from the first hostel for the entire trip before. But it’s way easier to bring your own towel or more specifically a pack towel. They are much smaller, and dry way quicker.
      • Packtowl Personal Packtowl by PackTowl:
    • Outlet Converter
      • This is an obvious need for your next trip. Check wherever you go to see what type of outlets they have, and buy a convert for it. There are an infinite amount of options online for this, so you can either choose the all-in-one converter for every country or go with the iphone-block sized ones. I personally have the one below, it’s great because it allows me to charge my iPhone via the USB port, and then my camera gear via the charging prongs. I haven’t run into any issues with charging too many products at once, but you could also bring a surge protector from home to charge more devices with only one converter.
    • First-Aid Kit
      • This is optional, but always good to have when traveling outside the country, or when you’re off the grid. I just pack a DIY version that includes band-aides, Neosporin, Advil, and gauss pads. It makes it easier to have access to these things than trying to deal with a language barrier at a sketchy pharmacy in another country.
    • Water bottle
      • Backpacking through Europe builds an appetite an thirst like no other. So instead of having to continuously buy water bottles after water bottles from convenience stores, you can save a few bucks by bringing your own Nalgene and filling it up at public water fountains in the parks or at public restrooms.
    • Toiletries
      • Since you’ll be on the move for the entire trip, make sure you get smart about what you bring in your toiletries bag. Most places you go won’t have shampoo and other conveniences you get here in the states’ hotels. So make sure you bring your own soap (full-bar), tooth brush and tooth paste, shampoo & conditioners, mouth wash, razor & shaving cream, full size deodorant, and definitely baby-wipes. Some days you’ll be stuck walking through a city to catch a train, be on the train for hours, and then not make it to your hostel room until night time. That’s a long time to be stinking up the joint. So prepare accordingly and make use of public restrooms for all they’re worth.
    • Maps to get around the cities
      • MAPS.ME This is a must-download app, I cannot emphasize this more. It’s a 100% offline app that you can use in another country, without having to worry about finding Wifi or using foreign data. I’ve written all about it, but in short, it is the best travel maps app to find anything from ATMs and Bars, to public rest rooms and public transportation.

  • Logistics: How to get from city to city (efficiently and cheap)
    • There are dozens of ways to get from city to city (and within the city) when you’re traveling through Europe. Some options are best to plan weeks in advance, while others are perfectly fine to just show up a few minutes before. The type of transportation you want, also depends on how much time you have and your budget. You can see much more of a country if you rent a car, but that’ll be more expensive than catching the bus. Sure, the train might seem like the simplest option, but it can be cheaper and quicker to fly a budget airline on a one-way flight. A good resource to see what the best way for you to get from city to city, is by using the site:
    • Airplane
      • Something Europe has that we in the states lack, is cheap, no-frills airfare. Carriers like RyanAir and EasyJet can offer one way flights from major cities like Paris to Barcelona. Where you could fly for $100, or take the 6hr train for $200. The caveat here is that these carriers are infamous for charging steep fees for larger bags, more than 1 bag, or general nonsense. So you just have to make sure you’re aware of this before you book it, or you could be spending $50 at the gate to get your extra bag on board with you.
    • Trains
      • Don’t be fooled by the allure of the EuroRail pass. They seem good on paper, but are really a way to scam tourists. Unless you’re going to be traveling endlessly for weeks/months, it’s smarter and cheaper to by the train tickets individually. I personally hate being rushed out my hostel to catch a train to the next city while being hung-over, so I like to have the flexibility to buy my train tickets the day of. This works for local trains that run hourly, but if you’re planning to take a +3hr train, you might want to book it days/weeks ahead of time to guarantee you have a seat on that train. I am also a fan of the flex-pass when the train offers it, that allows me to rebook my ticket any time within 24 hours of the scheduled. This not only helps when the group is late, but if you’re bored and done with a city already, you can move on to the next one a few hours earlier.
    • Metro
      • This is a must for moving quickly in European cities. For most Americans who don’t live in NYC, metros can be confusing. Fear not, simply ask a worker on the train platform or another commuter which train to get on to see (insert tourist trap), and they’ll get you started. Within a few rides, you’ll feel like a 10 year veteran of the subway system. Most cities offer a passes that allow you to ride the metro unlimited times for a day, or multiple days. We’ve used this option in a few places, and it’s allowed us to see way more of a city than we could ever imagine.
    • Bus
      • These are great, and romantic, option to get from place to place for only a few euros. But any long distance bus that you’ll have to take will consume your whole day. I tend to only stick to the inter-city bus loops to take a few steps out of the way. 
  • Lodging: Where you rest your head each night
    • Some people like to have the full experience when backpacking, and wandering from city to city without a plan of where to stay and winging it. I am not that type of person. I travel to see places and experiences, not walk miserably through the city from no-vacancy hostel to the next on a busy Saturday night. With that being said, it only takes a few minutes before a trip to book all your hostels/lodging ahead of time and can make your trip more epic. Especially when most places you’ll be able to stay at cost only $10-20/night.
    • The options you have when traveling in Europe are hostels, hotels, guest houses, AirB&Bs, camping, and not sleeping. All of these are relatively easy to find on the internet before you head into any major European city. I am personally a big fan of shared-room hostels because it allows you to meet people from different countries, backgrounds, and cultures who are all there to do the same thing, experience traveling. A great resource to find out where the best hostels to party and be close to the city is at They have a great rating system and great traveler reviews. No two hostels will ever be the same, or your experience for that matter, but you can never have a bad time at one if you go into it with an open mind and a lot of stoke.
    • Just remember when you book your lodging that you get what you pay for. Some great places can be found for only $15/night for a bed in a dorm style hostel. But don’t expect them all to be great. If you’re going to be traveling for multiple weeks, try to splurge a little bit half way through the trip to get a smaller or private room in a hostel so that you can recharge with a better night sleep or have a private shower.
    • Not all places will have good Wifi, a clean bathroom, free sheets, quiet rooms, good roommates, or good accommodations. So just be prepared to get what you pay for, and make the most of it.

Now that you got everything you need, you can worry less about what to bring, and focus more on what you’ll do first in Europe. 

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