Trip to europe: what to pack

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downtown warsaw

I asked this question on Twitter last night:

Fill in the blank. When traveling in Europe don’t forget to pack ___________.

Today, I’m asking you.  If you’ve traveled abroad anywhere for a length of time, tell me what I should be packing.  If you’ve traveled to Europe, even better.  And if you’ve traveled to Europe with kids for any great length of time, you win the prize!
{There really isn’t a prize, but I have some gum at the bottom of my purse if you want it.}
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Allison

Well, hello there! I'm Allison Czarnecki, founder + editor of Petit Elefant, a blog all about style on a budget for every part of your life: style / home / travel / family. We do a lot of how-to beauty + style tutorials, travel posts, easy recipes, crazy home remodel projects, and cool (yes, cool) DIY crafts you'll totally want to try. I'm super happily married (to a hot Polish immigrant) and am the mother of two kids, a daughter and son, all of whom are featured here on the regular. We live in the country but we're a little bit rock + roll. Welcome!

29 Comments

  1. Kelly :

    You pack what you would normally take with you on long trips – contact solution and extra contacts (if you wear them), sunscreen, reading material, tour book, camera, comfortable shoes, umbrella and clothes to layer. If you are talking about moving to Europe, you want to start looking carefully at your everyday appliances (phones, computer gaming equipment, camera chargers) and figure out which can handle the change in voltage. You should bring a couple of plug adapters; but if you are here a while just buy a cheap hairdryer etc with the european plug.

    If you have a favorite food or food allergies – bring what you need to deal with those. We miss green chiles, enchilada sauce, and cinnamon candy. I ask visitors to bring those things when they come to see me.

  2. Audrey :

    Comfortable walking shoes! Cobblestone streets are beautiful, but you feet will HURT!

  3. Allison :

    An extra battery and memory card for your camera. My battery died just before we got to the Colosseum! Blargh! This advice goes double for video cameras.

    A little notebook to jot down your thoughts on what you’ll be seeing. If you’ve got an iPod touch, there’s a voice recorder feature that works great for this.

    Before I go to Europe, I always head to the Rick Steves website and read the articles on the area I’ll be visiting. If you’ve got the time, I’d read up on his travel book for your area as well. It makes me feel more prepared if I know a little of what to expect for the practical stuff like transportation.

    Have fun!

  4. Marelize :

    Comfortable shoes for walking but still stylish…NO tennis shoes (or fanny pack for that matter). You can always tell the Americans from other visitors :)

  5. Susan :

    My suggestions are not exactly breaking news, but they’ve been really helpful when I’ve travelled internationally. First, a pair of flip flops are great for when you return to your hotel in the evening (or your host’s home). Since vacation usually means a lot of walking, giving your feet a breather feels great (even when you’ve worn comfy walking shoes). Sometimes I’ll even wear them for a short evening walk and it makes a big difference (also great for using in gross showers). I also always pack a pashmina (or other wrap) or two. They are so handy and versatile for added warmth on the plane, dressing up an outfit, squashing as a make-shift pillow, wrapping around at the beach, etc. The last item I’ve packed is a mesh pop-up hamper. We generally travel with our 3 kids and even when we stay in family member’s homes, having one spot to collect dirty laundry helps with the sprawl of travelling. It makes it much easier to do laundry and keep tabs on the clothing situation. If we’re travelling by car, we’ll just bring the dirty clothes home in the hamper and can start laundry right away when we get home. Enjoy!

  6. JourneyBeyondSurvival :

    I WIN! We lived in Europe for 9 months, from Italy to Germany and back again. But. I have my own gum. My kids were 15 months and 3 when we left.

    Mistakes I made were being scared about being able to buy essentials. If I were to do it again, I would just buy a hair dryer there. Diapers there. I wouldn’t even pack that many clothes, because I need new ones anyway. Don’t pack too much if you care about every European (especially those Italians) laugh at those Americans.

    My advice? Leave life at home. Enjoy the unique opportunities and go for it!

  7. Andy :

    A great (WASHABLE) wrap/scarf that can wad up and be shoved in a bag. I’ve used mine for everything from dressing up what few things I packed for a night out in Paris, to wrapping it around a pair of shorts, as some cathederals won’t like you to go in shorts or bare shoulders. And I think I’ve even mopped up a child spill or two with it in an emergency. Rinsed it out in my hotel sink and hung it to dry. A fabulous dress that doesn’t wrinkle, can be washed in a hotel sink, and can be dressed up with great shoes, or worn all day with a denim jacket and flip flops.

    Most importantly, don’t pack shoes… BUY THEM THERE!

  8. KJ :

    I hate to say it, but limit your shoes to a pair for dressing up, a pair for walking/traveling. You might buy another pair there. Lightweight layers, pieces that all work together, things that launder easily, and a couple of fab accessories. Don’t forget adapters for your hairdryer and such. No to track suits, sweats, baseball caps, fanny packs or anything sloppy. A roll-up shopping bag is handy.

  9. erin :

    adapters (or if you are staying in hotels, some might have some you can ask to use.. i would call/email and ask. it will save you room and money!), comfy walking shoes, camera (duh) with extra batteries or charger (make sure you have the right plug adapter for europe), extra space in your luggage or an extra duffel for souvenirs. Also.. if you are concerned about space in your suitcase, you can consider buying some of your toiletries there instead of packing them.

  10. Arianne :

    It depends on the kind of trip! Where are you going? We were in Italy for a while and I was grateful for that perfect (big) wrap, lots of layers, but the kind that are all interchangeable so I could create plenty of outfits from just a few pieces, comfy shoes and a journal. We didn’t even take computers, just the camera (but this was pre-social media addiction). If you’re doing more of a city thing and no exploring of the country, it’s different clothes, but for the most part you gotsta pack light. We didn’t have the money to buy things there, like most people suggested (all the money was in the trip itself!) and it would annoy me to have to spend time buying things instead of just going and doing. Can’t wait to hear more details! <3

  11. Anne :

    walking shoes that are NOT sneakers. Decent slacks that are NOT khakis (I prefer grey pants because they show less dirt than any other color–how gross do I sound?).

  12. Mandi :

    Clothes that can be smashed in a suitcase, taken out and worn immediately. Also, clothes that you can wash in a sink if you need to and will be dry by the next morning. We were in Europe for 3 weeks and only took carry on bags — all 10 of us!

  13. Jamie S :

    Comfortable shoes (not white tennis shoes please!)
    An assortment of bandages when your shoes aren’t comfortable enough
    Scarves, wraps, accessories – use them to add variety to a smaller wardrobe
    A couple of plug adapters
    An unlocked cell phone so you can purchase a local sim card

  14. Heidi E :

    O.k, I have never been to Europe :(, but I have been a few places outside of the U.S. So my idea for the kids is to get them a journal/notebook just for their trip. Perhaps get them one of those disposable cameras even. They can document their own highlights and favorite parts of the trip. It can be kept as a great treasure of memories or even used in a school project some day. On the flight over encourage them to make a list of questions they would like to ask their Grandparents too and record the answers in their European vacation journal.

    Hope this helps! Hope you have a great time!

  15. Emily :

    Pretty much what everyone else has said except I like having my own tampons. Anyway, clothes that don’t wrinkle easily and can be washed in a sink, a camera, meds (prescription and non prescription- pepto totally saved me the first few days), and NO shorts/messy clothes unless you’re going to be at the beach all day. I think you should bring shoes that are already broken in and look nice (ie not ratty workout/yard shoes).

  16. erica :

    FUN! What to pack depends on what country you’re going to. Generally, I’d say to pack light. Europeans don’t worry about an outfit for every day, and you’ll want to shop anyway.
    – 1 pair of walking shoes, 1 pair of nice shoes (but still comfy enough to walk)
    – 3 pairs of pants
    – 1 skirt or outfit suitable for a nice dinner or the theatre
    – layered shirts, light sweater
    – subdued color of coat or jacket that is rain repellant
    – messenger bag or backpack. you don’t want a sore back from carrying camera, wallet, water, maps, etc all day. i like to keep a small luggage lock on the zipper.
    – dorky passport holder for under your clothes. pickpockets are notorious and very good. take it from someone whose wallet was stolen right off of me in a pub. yes i was sober.
    – leave your credit card company phone #’s & account #’s with someone you trust so you can cancel the cards if they’re lost or stolen.
    – Lonely Planet guide books
    – assuming you’re not staying in hostels, but if you do, pack a flat sheet to wrap around yourself in bed.
    – let me know if you’re going to England. the Cadbury Chocolate factory is TO DIE FOR.

  17. Doni :

    I went to Ireland for a semester and spend 3 1/2 weeks traveling Europe with my friends.
    You need a lot less than you think you do. And it also depends on how much you care about looking like an American tourist, because packing all jeans, sneakers, and tshirts would work…. but you do stand out. Besides, wouldn’t you rather look cute in all your pictures rather than sloppy?

    Scarves are great for adding color and flair to neutral outfits, and you can buy them really cheaply all over the place.
    Also, make sure you really can walk in your shoes because there are stairs all over Europe. I was used to walking around where I was living in Ireland and still was worn out at the end of the day sightseeing in some places (Paris and Rome for example).

    Hope that helps!

  18. Ashley :

    I am a packing guru! I love packing… seriously!!

    I have been to Europe and Hawaii for two+ weeks, and took a carry on rolling suitcase and a carry on duffel (that attaches to the rolling suitcase!).

    I bring items that can be worn with each other. I hardly bring anything that is just worn by itself – double – triple up on items that go together. White crisp button up goes with jeans, black pants, leggings/jeggings, etc. It also goes with a blazer, scarf, vest, etc. All items should coordinate in some way! For shoes in Europe, I take my danskos, one pair of tennie’s, and one pair of nice flats – which I throw in my purse, just in case I go to a cathedral and feel like at most reverent.

    Heavy item go on the bottom of the case: shoes, hairbrushes, jewelry (placed inside sock, inside shoes!), lingerie, etc then I put a layer of cardboard cut to size, and covered in a fun fabric print – makes packing so much sweeter! Underneath I also pack a purse to hold my wallet, camera, passport, anything I may need.

    On top, I layer my clothing on top of each other: I place my pants (flip flopping sides) with the pant legs hanging over the case, then add my dresses, which also hang off either side of the case. Shirts, blazers, scarves, anything else gets placed on top of each other, then, when all nestled in together, fold the arms across each other, like they’re loving each other well! Place this “pack” inside the dresses/pants, which are still hanging out over the case – then fold your sides in. Now, if someone (God forbid…) has to ruffle through your suitcase, all you do is pick up your divider, and show them whats underneath!

    In my carry on duffel I place my makeup, iPad, wallet, passport, camera, pashmina (for cold airports!) etc.

    Hope this helps! And doesn’t sound too pushy and “know-it-all”!!!

  19. Cassie :

    Ear Plugs! Must for airplanes. Who needs to hear your own kids anyway? They’ll be fine. HA! Seriously, they are great when trying to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings. And some melatonin helps you to sleep also. Have fun!

  20. Ali Fingar :

    I lived in Cyprus for two summers in high school and college with family. The first trip I took was with family, including 3 very young children. Definitely a small assortment of over-the-counter meds (tylenol, advil, pepto, tums, cold medicine, benadryl). Although you can purchase those items in Europs, when a headache hits at 10 p.m., you won’t want to brave the streets to find a pharmacy. I would include in your little medical kit any prescription meds and definitely band-aids, especially for any blisters you might get during all that walking! And, if you are planning on touring any churches, take an ankle length skirt. Many Orthodox churches require/prefer women to wear long skirts. I hope you have a wonderful time!

  21. Blythe :

    SUNSCREEN in my experience has been very expensive in places that aren’t America, so if you’re concerned about safe sun practice (as you should be!), I would pack some in your checked luggage. Just be sure to put it in a gallon ziploc or something similar in case it explodes (mine never has) :). In fact, any toiletry item that you are picky about or feel like it is absolutely necessary I would bring, because brands are different and some things just aren’t used as much in Europe as they are here (i.e. antiperspirant vs. deodorant, many stores are very small and don’t carry much of a selection).

    Don’t forget your melatonin! I don’t know how you are with time zones but it takes me almost a week to recover fully, and who wants to spend their vacation in their bed during broad daylight after being wide awake all night? Yuck.

    Also, don’t forget to call your bank the week before you leave and let them know where you’re going for how long to avoid your cards being cancelled after “suspicious” activity…

    Have fun!

  22. Mara :

    Money! To buy clothes! They will be better than the ones you have at home. And the stuff for kids will be to die for and you’ll want to buy that too.

    (I also like to pack peanut butter if I’m going to be there for a really long time. But maybe that’s just me.)

  23. Sarah Julian :

    Wrinkle free clothes that you can wear multiple times. Don’t bring anything you think you’ll just wear once. If you must take more than 1 pair of shoes, pack 1 and wear the other. You really shouldn’t need more than 2! On my latest trip to Turkey, I packed a few fabric softener sheets throughout my bag to keep things smelling fresh, and they worked great. A couple things got some residue from the sheets on them, but I just rubbed a dry washcloth over them and it rubbed the residue right out.

  24. JulieKP :

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned this – Duct Tape. Seriously! I went to China for two weeks twice to adopt and would have been lost without it. Buy a roll and stomp on it to flatten it. Or pack things inside of it. I was so McGyver I even fashioned a handle on a large plastic shopping bag after the little one broke in the airport on the way home.
    Also get two suitcases and make sure one fits snuggly into the other. Pack the smaller one with your things and then when you come home you will have two suitcases. One for the things you brought with you and one for the things you bought while you were there.
    The best advice I can give you is pack what you think you will need and take half out. Really you don’t need as much as you think you do. They have nearly everything you will need in Europe. I have traveled all over the place and I have yet to be anywhere where I couldn’t get what I needed. Plus some of my best memories are interacting with people in their local grocers or drug stores.

  25. Beth :

    Some of my all-time fave advice:

    #1: If it’s a need, people in the country you’re visiting will need it too… so you can get it there.

    #2: Danskos/Sanitas will work in almost any situation, so them + a pair of flip flops and you are good to go in the shoe dept. But break in new ones before you go!

    #3: A bungie cord + some clothespins is an amazing invention of humanity. String it up as a drying line for clothes, or just to create some vertical storage of things that you don’t want to lose. Company coming? It’s down and hidden away in seconds.

    #4: For the kids: puzzle books in the kids’ native language. Leave the book at the place where you’re staying, tear out a few sheets and stick them in your bag, and then train rides or waiting see much more manageable.

    #5: Bring a copy of your contacts/glasses prescription with you. Leave a copy of the 1st 2 pages of your passport with an emergency contact at home.

    #6: A lightweight, waterproof jacket saves the day in so many ways.

    #7: Bring a sense of adventure, a great attitude, and HAVE FUN!

  26. isa. :

    i’m not sure if someone has mentioned it but don’t forget your adapter(s)
    not only your adapter, but possibly a converter. a converter is necessary so you don’t blow up/fry any of your electronics. (speaking from experience here) the voltage in europe is higher than in the u.s. a lot of the charger cords (is that what they’re called) are dual voltage now a days, but some stuff isn’t. if you look at the black box on your chord or other chargers and it says “100-240V~50/60Hz” it is dual voltage and all you need is a adapter for the plugs. if not, then get a converter too. i know this because i take waaay too many things with me (laptop, nook, ipod, camera charger, and phone) and i don’t want them to get ruined.

  27. Janel :

    So, having gone to Poland as a child and as an adult, I’d say that for sure bring things to entertain the kids. This helps this children as well as the adults. Back in my day it was a choice of a Gameboy, or a koosh ball or other small hand-held games. All but the Gameboy stayed in Poland with relatives. I know its been mentioned above, but one thing that I am so glad I had, and what I dragged around with me everywhere, both as a kid and as an adult, was my journal. In my younger years, it was a great way for me to make note of the things that held importance for me at that moment in my life, and I love looking back on those lists and descriptions now. I also put little inserts and created mini-collages of ads and brochures from my trip in the pages, and when I had the time, I sketched. As an adult, it was a place for me to transcribe family stories, histories, recipes, and genealogies. When you get home you could even scan and reprint various journal pages to make a family scrapbook that really shows each individual family member’s take on the trip.
    Fun music was also a big deal. When I traveled with my family as a youngster, we’d blast mix tapes (I know, old school) but similar effects can be had with an ipod.
    My last idea is something we’d always do with our family– we’d pack a few things to give away to our family and friends there, which would help us keep some space open for new things on the return trip.
    Safety pins.
    Good hand cream.
    Anti-bacterial lotion/gel. If you travel away from sizable towns, this may be your saving grace.
    Also, be prepared for food that tastes different. If you want American-tasting ketchup, buy American brands. Look for supermarkets in the bigger towns, and you’ll find them. My mom’s adventurous food attitude went really far to help me try all kinds of new food when I went to Poland my first time. (For sure try lots of ice cream while you’re there–they have amazing flavors of fruits and nuts and combinations that you just can’t find in the States.)
    Other than that, I’d say that the above comments really cover a great deal of how to pack and what to bring. I’d really try to buy a scarf or two there, as well as amber jewelry. Stare Miasto is a great place to walk around, but it is on the expensive side. However, there is a great little tea shop that serves the best herbal brews there, if you’re into that kind of thing.

  28. Vera :

    First: I love your blog. Why have I never commented before then? ;-) I honestly don’t know

    Since I live in Germany and have traveled a lot, I can maybe help a little bit.
    – Bring: comfortable shoes. I can only agree not to bring the white tennis shoes.
    (Funny story: my boyfriend’s family is American and we met his sister in Switzerland, where she was traveling with a group of about 90 Americans – all dressed in white tennis shoes :).) Also wearing sweat pants in public immediately identifies you as an American.
    – Bring: cash. Especially smaller stores/restaurants do often not accept credit cards or you have to spend a certain amount of money before you can use them.
    – Bring: a universal travel adapter – and all the chargers for your electronics. I usually pack them in one box, otherwise I would probably loose them.
    – Bring: medicine that you might need. Esp. in Germany medicine is more expensive than in the US and pharmacies usually close around 8p.m. and are not open on Sunday – like all stores. You don’t want to search for the one pharmacy that is open and also charges and additional night/weekend bonus. Grrr….
    – Bring: an inflatable travel pillow for the flight. And warm, comfortable socks. (Europeans are not used to airconditioning, can you tell?)
    – Bring: your camera + USB card.
    – Bring: Lonely Planet – I have used them for Japan, HongKong, Australia, Switzerland and Norway – and love them.
    – Bring: certificates of travel insurance and copies of vaccination card – just in case.
    – Bring: desinfection wipes – and wet wipes or something similar for your purse — I hate public toilets.
    – If you plan on visiting Catholic curches in Southern/Eastern Europe: something to cover your shoulders.
    – Enough room in your bags for all your souvenirs. :)

    Vera from Germany