How I Packed Just A Backpack For Europe

3 years ago

When my husband decided to travel to Europe for our vacation this year I knew I was going to have to pack light. Traveling to four cities in two weeks wasn't going to allow for a large wardrobe. He purchased Oakley backpacks for each of us to take on our trip. That's right; a backpack for two weeks in Europe. Now we weren't camping or even staying in hostels, but to survive four flights, four train rides, taxi and shuttle rides, two mile walks to a train station and a water boat taxi, I knew the backpack was my best bet.

It's been long known by my family and friends that I love clothes; lots of clothes. I'm not exactly sure when the love affair started but I think it was around 13 years old when I started seeing clothing as a way to express my personality instead of just something to go to school in.

How was I going to do this? I needed to survive two weeks with one backpack. Plus I was going to be visiting some of the most iconic places in the world. I didn't want to be wearing a wrinkled cotton t-shirt and jean shorts in a photo with the Eiffel Tower that would probably be displayed in my living room for years to come.

I knew I had to pack "light". But what does that mean? I did eventually end up packing light because my bag only weighed 15 pounds. But I think a better term may be to pack "smart". Here's how I did it:                       

1. Solid Colored Clothes

Why take solid colored clothing? It gives you more options for outfits than say, a patterned or striped shirt. Take for example this purple Express Portofino shirt. This shirt was so easy to wear with jeans, shorts or dress pants. It could easily be dressed up or dressed down. This lightweight shirt is 100% polyester so it didn't wrinkle much. It was cool enough in hot weather and still protected my shoulders from the sun. It also could be easily hand washed and hung to dry quickly, unlike cotton clothing. It looked great with jeans, shorts or dress pants. 

As we moved from city to city, I decided that each new city was a chance to re-wear my clothing again. We also rented an apartment in Venice which had a washing machine. Since this was halfway through our trip it was the perfect time to wash our clothing and give us a whole new wardrobe again.

2. Dresses

When it comes to dressing up with ease, dresses are the way to go. I packed three dresses for our trip. Dresses are a favorite of mine to pack because they provide one complete outfit with a single article of clothing. My favorite dress on our trip turned out to be a black dress I bought from H&M.

3. Scarfs

Scarfs are the perfect way to accessorize an outfit. They are lightweight and take up minimal room when packing. It's also great to have a scarf to cover up your shoulders in case the sun is strong and you're worried about sunburn. I wore my multi colored scarf from Anthropologie. It went well with a lot of my outfits and automatically dresses up an outfit.

4. Dress Pants

I packed one pair of black dress pants for this trip, which proved to be pretty valuable. I typically wear Banana Republic pants to work, so I took a pair along. I wore them pretty often especially in Paris and Rome. Also, they were much easier to wash and dry than jeans. It was very uncommon to see jeans worn in Paris and I felt more comfortable wearing my black pants there. I mostly wore my jeans when we were flying or traveling by train.

5. Comfortable Shoes

This is probably the single most important item to pack for a trip to Europe. We averaged around nine miles a day of walking just from sight-seeing! You want to make sure you have something comfortable on your feet. I wore Easy Spirit Karelly Gladiator Sandals. I bought these shoes specifically for this trip and I was sure glad that I did! They were really comfortable and didn't give off the appearance of a "walking" shoe. I walked miles in these shoes and they have easily become my go to summer shoe when I'm going to be walking for a while.

When I wasn't wearing my sandals I was wearing my Kangaroos shoes. I found these shoes about seven years ago and they are the most comfortable pair of shoes I've even worn. They are a bit of a 1980's throwback (which was a popular trend in Europe), but that suits me just fine. I've had my current pair for approximately four years and they've held up well. I wore these whenever we were in transit from city to city because they took up a lot of space in my bag. Kangaroos shoes are really hard to find in stores, but I have been buying them from Zappos for a while now.

6. Cheap Sunglasses

As tempting as it is to wear designer shades around Europe, think about how you'll feel when they get scratched, damaged or lost. That's why I decided to leave the designer shades at home and spend $30 on a pair from Express. I wasn't worried if I lost these glasses. Fortunately I held on to these glasses and they actually have become a favorite of mine to wear out and about.

7. Waterproof Jacket

A good, waterproof jacket is essential to European travel. I invested in a lightweight zip up jacket from Colombia with a hood. This jacket turned out to be perfect for cold and windy days. I wore it mostly in France where we dealt with the most rain and wind during our trip. I didn't worry about having a jacket that was too lightweight. If it was cold, I simply wore a shirt with a sweater under the jacket. As the day warmed up I would take off layers. 

8. Toiletries

Since my luggage was going to going to be carry-on I had to abide by the TSA guidelines for 3 oz. bottle in a clear plastic quart size bag. I bought all my shampoos and body washes in the travel size containers. We knew we would probably run out of something, but one of my favorite parts of our trip to Europe was shopping in local stores, trying to decipher words on products. We did end up needing toothpaste in Germany and brought the remainder of it home. It made me smile in the morning to look at the German words when I went back to work. Also, most European hotels do not provide a wash cloth. I packed one along for this trip. If you are used to using one, I would suggest packing one too.

9. Flat Iron for Hair (and power converter)

I knew when packing for this trip, the curling iron probably was going to be left at home. It's kind of big and bulky and was going to take up too much space. I was going to just resign myself to putting gel in my hair and leaving it curly for the duration of the trip, but then I remembered I had a small flat iron. This easily fit into my bag and is really lightweight. Curly hair problem solved. All the European hotels supplied hair dryers so I could leave that at home too. Just don't forget your plug adapter and power converter!

10. Jewelry

I would suggest leaving all your expensive jewelry at home. Not that it's likely to be stolen, but it's easy to forget something or lose something when embarking on a long trip. I took two pairs of earrings: one pair of hoops and one pair of studs. I took a cheap necklace too, but never put it on. I also wore a watch, but left bracelets at home (except for my Road ID bracelet with medical info). I wore three rings including my engagement ring, wedding ring and a ring I wear on my right hand. I never took these off.

What did I miss?

Surprisingly, I didn’t miss much. At first I was somewhat sad that I didn't have a large option of wardrobe choices with me. But as the trip went on, I became more creative with putting outfits together. I did miss my heels. I like wearing heels to dinner with my husband who is over a foot taller than me! Next time I would probably try to squeeze a pair of heels in my bag. I would go with a wedge heel since many of the streets are cobblestone. Also I wished I had packed an additional sweater. I underestimated how chilly sixty degrees in France would feel and ended up wearing my one sweater quite a lot.

Other than that, I probably wouldn't change what I packed. It was so easy to have just one carry-on bag. I never had to look for baggage claim or worry if my bag got lost. I kept my belongings with me all the time, throughout the trip. It put my mind at ease.

Living out of a backpack for two weeks did change my perspective. From now on, I'm only going to buy clothing that can be paired with more than one item. A lot of the items I bought specifically to use in Europe have become favorites for their ease and convenience. A dressy shirt for work that doesn't need ironing? Yes, please! A simple wrinkle resistant dress? Makes getting ready so easy! Why haven't I done this before?

Overall I was really happy with the items I packed and the amount of items I took with me. I also used a packing list from Rick Steves to help with my packing. I think the outfits I came up with were practical and still fashionable. Hopefully I will look back at my photos and not wonder, "What was I wearing?" If I can pack light for vacation, so can you!


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