What do you pack if you are backpacking across Europe?

I was going to hijack this thread, but I felt it best to start a new one for this question.

My wife and I recently went to Europe (England, Scotland, France) and we noticed a bunch of the backpackers.

They were so laid back and friendly and would have answered any questions I had for them. But I was a bit embarrassed to admit the gulf between us. (Plus, we never had their full attention, because they were always trying to pick up local girls and guys!)

My wife and I were staying at the Radisson with a lot of luggage and we wondered how they do it? (Of course, those doing it are usually a little younger…)

There is a certain romance to the whole thing, but being older, we focused on the more practical considerations.

The question that baffeled us was what is in that backpack?

If you were going to spend a summer in Europe and were going from hostel to hostel, never staying in one place, what would you have in your pack?

Assume it is summer and heavy winter clothes are not required. You are trying to see as much of Europe as possible.

How many pairs pants, slacks, underwear?

Are the backbackers less concerned with cleanliness (is that part of the backpacking thing?)

Can you stay clean? Can you keep from wearing dirty clothes (I don’t see anything wrong with re-wearing, I’m just saying can you clean your clothes before they get too FUNKY!)

You want to balance the convenience of having as many possessions as possible without over burdening yourself with weight.

How big a back pack? What’s in it?

I find the idea fascinating, but I realize I am too old and spoiled to ever do it.

I’ll admit, a twinge of regret.


Well, if backpackers are staying in low-cost hostels or in campsites, both of those will have showers etc and facilties for washing one’s laundry.

Or, in Bed & Breakfast/Guest House set-ups, it’s practical enough, for “smalls” at least, to wash things by hand and let them dry overnight. Tiny little travel irons exist, also, although Iwould hardly thinkof ironing one’s clothes as a priority. :slight_smile:
So if a couple of nights involve just grabbing some sleep on a train or whaever - ie no laundry facliity, jsut shove stuff in little bag for when you do get to make friends with the right facilites.

Come to think of it, a lot of the backpackers might be students and could therefore, in bigger towns/cities anyway, locate a local Students’ Union, and use that for cheap meals and laundry facilites.

Slight hijack, so how was your recent trip? If you have posted a thread about it before, please to provide a link, as I’d enjoy reading about where you visited and your experiences and so on.

Besides, travel anywhere in the Universe travel works well as long as you “know where your towel is” :smiley:
Hurrying off, grumbling that the only place I get to go to is local shop, but at least I have now remembered that I should but some washing powder, thanks to this thread. :slight_smile:


The less you bring the happier you are. Your priorities really change when you realize what a drag carrying a heavy backpack is.

My pack was a Gregory Shasta in the XS size (which still has a high capacity, its a large pack) Contents were basically: 4 or 5 t-shirts, 3 pairs of shorts, a weeks worth of undies, 1 crumple-immune sundress and a pair of flat sandals, one long-sleeve/long skirt combo for religious venues where showing skin is bad, 1 warmer layering layer, 1 raincoat, toiletries. Books for the trainrides. Snacks and water bottles. Left some space for souveneirs.

1 small container Tide detergent (smells like home, natch). You can do minor laundry in the sink at hostels, and full cleanlinizing at Laudromats periodically. I think I did full laundry three times that I recall in a 7 week period.

The general principle is this: take half the stuff and twice the money you think you’ll need.

Duh! And a towel!

When I pack for myself, I carry:

clothes (minimal amounts, say a change of jeans, two Ts and some underwear - make sure to select the bras from those I can wear a couple days in a row), tampax (even if I’m not having my period, I’ve often handed one to some very embarrased woman), pen and pencil, camera, ID, money, small bottle of water. And that’s about it. Any jacket or similar is on me.

If I’m traveling for work, add the laptop and make sure the clothes don’t include stuff like a “Chtulhu for president” T-shirt.

And if it’s my mother doing the packing… UGH… she’ll pack clothes for if it’s cold, for if it rains, for if it’s sunny, for if the hotel has a swimming pool… how can a single person fill THREE whole suitcases for a 5 day, 4 night stay is just beyond me, no matter how many times I see her do it.

Opinions and techniques differ. You will occasionally see peole with TWO backpacks, one on the front, which is crazy IMO. I have also met people who regard a boombox or even a guitar as essential backpacking accessories. And one Canadian girl who was visiting Europe on her way back from Africa, whose backpack held a souvenir bongo drum…

Personal clothes packing list:

Two pairs of trousers - combats, army-surplus khakis or other lightweight, hardwaring pants. Jeans are heavy, stiff and hold a lot of water when they get wet. Like them, but not for backpacking.

One pair of tracksuit trousers - double as PJs, emergency spare trousers, can be worn under combats if you head somewhere cold (e.g. Alps.)

Four pairs boxer shorts - black, no buttons, front stitched shut. Enough to keep handwashing and drying in rotation, can double as swimming trunks in a pinch (but not white ones!) Likewise, four pairs of socks, same tactics.

One pair of thick outer socks for hiking.

Three T-shirts, one short-sleeved shirt.

Two pairs of shorts, one pair swimming shorts.

Two thin long sleeved layers e.g. sweaters, track suit tops, sweatshirts.

One waterproof, of the kind that stuffs into a pouch about the size of two fists.

One pair of low boots. I’ve an irrational attachment to 12-hole DMs, but there are lighter boots out there, and DMs are terrible on ice/snow. Which you still might encounter if you decide to head somewhere high.

One pair of high tech sandals. I like Merrells. Very comfortable without socks. The soles are good enough for some light trekking, BUT there’s no ankle support so be careful, and wear the boots if the terrain’s uneven and you’re tired.

One hat of some kind. I hate hats, but they are necessary.

Overall, this is pretty flexible. Most of the time I would slob about in shorts, sandals and T-shirt. If you’re selective, your khakis, short sleeved shirt and boots are reasonably presentable. (Tip: a lot of churches in say Italy or Greece WON’T LET YOU IN in shorts.) If you end up in high-altitude cold, you can wear two sweaters over a T-shirt with the waterproof as a wind break and even the tracksuit trousers under the khakis.

Oh yes!

Sure. Hostels have showers. Some have laundry facilities. In some countries such as Switzerland and Germany, the hostels are VERY well appointed, others are more rough and ready. I tend to hand-wash underwear, socks and t-shirts with shower gel and let them dry overnight on the end of the bed. If they’re still damp in the morning and I’m moving on, they get pinned to the outside of the pack.

I like Radox shower-gel as an all purpose cleaner for myself and my clothes. You can buy tubes of “travel wash” detergent for clothes but I haven’t noticed it being any better than shower gel.

I use a 75-litre internal frame with side-pockets.

In addition to the clothes, I carry - toiletries - shower gel, toothbrush, roll-on, wet-razor, AOL CD as shaving mirror.

Flashlight, cheap imitation swiss army knife - one with scissors. (The saw blades are also good for cutting baguettes!)

Simple first aid kit (bandaid, paracetamol, disinfectant creme, hydrocortozone cream for insect bites, couple of other things). NAIL CLIPPERS! Sewing kit in a 35mm film cannister - needle, few safety pins, thread. Also in the cannister goes a folded book of cardboard matches. (Or safety matches and striker strip, but you have to cut the matches shorter.) Baby wipes, TP.

Small towel. Sarong - not to wear, but to sit on on the beach, lie on the grass etc., also doubles as emergency towel, impro sun shade. Daypack - you don’t want to carry this lot everywhere. Camera, maybe binoculars. Small notebook and pen. Pack of cards. Battered paperback (it will get tattered to death! Get something swappable.)

PLASTIC BAGS. I used to keep everything packed and seperated in plastic shopping bags. I have recently converted to the wonders that are large clear ziploks. In any event, take a few spare for wet/dirty clothes, wet towels, slightly-dirty-but-will-do-in-an-emergency clothes, covered-in-crud boots.

Different strokes etc. You can work up to it, or go halfway. Just doing the usual suitcase-hotel thing, but swapping the case for a backpack, will teach you to pack light. (I NEVER use a suitcase!) You’ll have the hotel laundry at your disposal, and you can at least move your stuff more than 50 yards without the need for a trolley or a paved surface!

I spent 6 weeks in Europe twenty years ago, as a college student. Back in the Europe on $25/day era. We didn’t actually hike, nor did we go anyplace fancy. Lots of free museums on our itinerary! We avoided hostels & stayed in private homes instead, where seniors were supplementing their income by taking in travelers.

Of course I can’t remember exactly what I packed, but I do recall that the most useful thing I brought was a no-wrinkle skirt, it looked spiffy no matter what. Bought a jumper dress in Italy that came in handy, and a briefcase in Paris. It’s more fun to “buy local” so you can blend in, you can always mail some stuff home. When I was carrying that briefcase around, people started talking to me in French!

And I bought an acrylic blanket in East Germany, it started getting cold by the end of our trip. Still have that blanket, it’s wonderful.

Never pack anything you can’t replace or don’t want stolen: not a comment on Europe, just a general observation on backpacking.

My best packing accomplishment was a six week trip to Southeast Asia using a backback that is roughly the size of a standard school bookbag… maybe mine was a bit smaller.

I had one pair shorts, one pair slacks, two tshirts, one button down shirt, 4 pairs socks and 4 boxers, shaving kit with a few essential medicines, mosquito net, and water bottle. Oh, and I bought one of those supercool wicking towels and some swim trunks along the way. My shoes were flipflops and hiking boots (which tied to the outside of my bag). That was it.

I went in spring, so it wasnt too hot. I had my clothes washed once every 5 days or so.

The only thing I wish I had brought was a walkman.

Overpacking in Europe (and really anywhere you don’t have an automobile to bring along) is Baaaad. Once you take a trip with enough gear to fit in a moderate backpack, you’ll never go back. Instead of wondering “how to carry everything in a rucksack” you’ll wonder “How can anyone enjoy a vacation lugging around 3 suitcases?”

I backpacked my first trip after reading “Europe through the Back Door” and followed Rick Steves packing advice almost exactly:

5 shirts
1 sweater
2 pants
2 shorts
1 swimsuit (women only, men can wear shorts)
5 pair socks
5 pair underwear
1 rainproof jacket/windbreaker
1 pair walking shoes
1 pair flip-flops
Tie or Scarf
Camera, Batteries.
Water Bottle
AlarmClock (you can get really tiny ones nowaday that double as a pocketwatch)
Advil or other painkiller (for hangovers)
Small first Aid Kit
Small Towel
Moneybelt - Atm card, credit card, 2-3 checks, cash, passport, tickets, Railpass, insurance details
necessary maps
Softback book
Daypack(small enough to be crumpled up in your main sack)

This will hold you out whether you are travelling for 2 weeks or the entire summer, its just a matter of how much laundry you have to do and soap to buy along the way. If you are going in winter this doesnt work out as well.

The general idea is to ONLY take the things you know you will use, and even then only the things you are only going to use more then once. Don’t plan for the worst, plan on the weather being great and everything going spiffy.

I went backpacking through Europe a few years ago ('99?) for 2 1/2 months with nothing but my backpack. I loved having my stuff with me all the time. Sure, it was a pain to carry around, and there were many times I really just wanted to dump that bag off somewhere, but it contained my life while I was there. My list sounds a lot like Matt’s list, so I won’t go into the details.

One thing I made sure NOT to do was pack 2 1/2 months worth of shampoo/toothpaste/etc… because you can get that stuff there. Pack travel size, and when you run out, buy some more. That’s lightens up the toiletries area a bit (and believe me, every spare inch counts!). Towel-wise, I brought one of those Aquis super-absorbent towels, which is quite small and dries quickly. Worked perfectly! Also brought some Woolite packets to do laundry in the sink, which I did pretty frequently. Yeah, I was kinda smelly, but it was great fun! I wouldn’t do it any other way! In fact, the t-shirts I brought along with me STILL have a bit of a stink to them, despite being washed over & over. I packed my stuff in big Ziploc bags, which I sucked the air out of, in order to save room. It helped immensely. That way I could get stuff out of my backpack without everything else falling all over the place and getting dirty.

Check out this site. I don’t remember what kind of bag mine is, and I’m not about to go dig it out now, but it looks most like the “Eagle Creek Ultimate Explorer.” It has a “day pack” (like a regular backpack) attached to it in the back, which you can zip/unzip off. That was very handy.

In fact, that website looks very familiar. Seems I may have consulted it back in the day while I was trying to figure out how to pack. There is definitely an art to packing for a backpacking journey!

Forgot to mention, I couldn’t have done without my portable CD player. Even though I only had a few CDs with me, it was a lifesaver on those long train journeys.

Aren’t the hostels age restricted?

Also, where do you put your bags during the day when you use the day packs? If the hostels are dorm style, wouldn’t there be the fear of theft?

No, not generally. I hosteled in England with a hiking group that ranged from 16 to 66. You just have to be accepting of the fact that the vast majority of visitors will be 18-25. Hostels vary widely. Some offer private, hotel style rooms.

Hostels do kick you out during the day, however. Some of them have secure storage available. If you stay in a cheap hotel (if you are 2 or more traveling together the cost is usually similar to a hostel) or pension, your bags are more secure and you can consider leaving them in the room (removing any items worth stealing to a day pack to carry with you). Lastly, you can leave your pack at a “left luggage” desk or storage lockers at nearly every train station, airport, etc.

One tip I’ve found immensely useful for reasonably short trips is to just throw stuff out as your travelling. Take clothes that you were going to throw out anyway and just ditch them when they get dirty instead of washing them. Your pack gets lighter with clothes as you travel which means that you can fill the leftover room with souveniers.

Another tip…backpacking or taking luggage…pack the day before you leave, and the night before you leave, put the bag in your bedroom. Then invite your best friend over and leave the room, instructing them to remove half of the crap you packed.

I went with two days worth of everything. Two jeans, two shirts, two underwear and two…welll, you get the idea. Washed every night in the sink and bought a few cheap things along the way. People forget that when you are travelling, no one notices if you wear the same shirt every other day, as long as it is clean.


Laminate your voter’s registration’s cards with a photocopy of your driver’s license face on the backside. Have that with you at all times in a different place, pocket, shoe, jacket, book than your passport. In fact you may want to make several color copies.

In a pinch this will give you something to show the folks at the American Embassy to smooth your way a little if everything else gets pinched during your travels. If you have not memorized it, you may want to encode your ssn or driver’s license number, by encode, I mean serious encryption such as a book cipher based on a book likely to be in an embassy or a text available online.