Packing Tips for A Trip to Europe

Traveling to Europe this summer, but not sure what to take? Here are a few guidelines for what to pack that’s practical and Euro-chic.

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1. Pack Neutral and Dark Shades

Just because it’s summer, don’t assume you should be packing bright-colored clothing and fun prints.  What looks cute and sporty in North America can look loud and unsophisticated in Europe. In general, Europeans prefer few patterns and darker, more muted colors with splashes of color here and there instead of head to toe. European style has a more elegant, understated vibe.

2. Assemble a Classic Mix and Wardrobe Capsule

A travel wardrobe consisting of simple, classic pieces will always make you look chic. Instead of packing several completely separate outfits, choose pieces that you can coordinate with each other into multiple outfits. By mixing and matching, you can pack less.

Cropped pants,  jeans, leggings, and sundresses are chicer than shorts. Stick to neutral colors and mix and match these pieces with more colorful accessories if you like.

For browsing an eclectic market, a print cotton sundress worn with metallic, flat sandals and big sunglasses looks cute. For an afternoon at a museum, black crop pants or capris can be worn with a cami, and a light cardigan rolled up at the sleeves.

A classic pair of dark wash jeans is a travel staple that can be dressed up or down.  For a day trip, cuff your jeans up to the narrowest part of your calf to create a casual capris look. Wear a loose-fitting cotton camisole over your jeans and wrap a silk scarf loosely around your neck. Dress your jeans up for the evening by rolling them back down and pairing them with a silky blouse.
black maxi with sweater


3. Think Layering

You never know what the weather is going to be like, so you need to pack smart. Layers are the way to do it. Think tanks, tees, cardigans, wraps, scarves, sweater coats, and light jackets. Make sure they are easy to roll up and throw into a handy tote. Stay away from fabrics that are heavy, stiff, or that crease easily.  You want to be able to grab and go.



4. Choose Very Comfortable Footwear

It can be hard, but try to resist the temptation to pack every style of shoe in your closet. All you need are a couple of pairs of comfy shoes that you can wear to sightseeing and dining while you are on vacation. The top priority is a pair of good walking shoes for those long day trips when you want to keep moving and see everything you want to see.

Look stylish and feel comfy by packing a pair of flats or flat sandals that support the arch of your foot. A neutral color will work best with everything else you packed.

If you’re planning on a formal night out, you’ll also need a more elegant pair of shoes.  Depending on where you are going, you might want to bring a pair of pumps or strappy sandals (not too high) with a wider heel. However, most travelers find that a low wedge sandal is most practical, comfy, and cute, especially when worn with a simple summer dress.

5. Be Smart about the Bag You Bring

When you’re traveling, you need a versatile bag that can carry tourist must-haves like guide books, sunscreen, and, of course, your camera. However, a large backpack will instantly peg you as a tourist. A messenger bag is a great way to achieve both style and roominess. Wear a bag with a cross-body strap so that you can be hands-free to browse through shops and take photos. It can also double as your carry-on bag to save luggage space. A large nylon tote is another option if you prefer something light.  You may also want to pack a small evening clutch for a dressy night out.


Join the Conversation

24 thoughts on “Packing Tips for A Trip to Europe

  1. I would love to find the black crossbody bag with the zip flap. Do you happen to know the name of the designer/brand?

  2. I pack almost everything I take in some sort of plastic ziplock-type bag not only to protect my items but also to facilitate inside-the-suitcase checks and personal items handling of items by airport security. In all my years of traveling I never, ever had an issue any where in the US or elsewhere. You’ll can squeeze the air out of the bags for more packing room by rolling them then sliding the seal on the bag. Also I wrap the tops of all bottles and jars with plastic wrap to help prevent leakage in the plastic bags.
    Enjoy your trip! xoxo

  3. I’m European, 50+ and living in (Western-)Europe. Also travelling a lot across Southern Europe. I can assure you that it is perfectly normal to wear tennis shoes or sneakers everywhere here, we are all doing that nowadays. What makes you stand out immediately as American (in our eyes) is: 1) wearing baseball caps and 2) being overdressed: too colorful, too bright, too much/large patterns, too much jewelry and make-up, or golden shoes ;-). In addition, you might want to take a critical look at your loved one: American men seem to wear a typical type of pants (kaki, too wide, with pleats at the front?!) I never see any man I know wearing here. And again the baseball caps!
    On the other hand: why care? There is nothing wrong with being American and looking American, is there?

      1. Yes Barbara, dark dress jeans are classy, but I would suggest you stay away from jeans with a jean jacket. Too matchy matchy. Try a khaki army-inspired jacket or light leather jacket or even a fitted blazer. Even a poncho or long sweater if you are going in the fall. Hope that helps! Cheers, Deborah

  4. I’m also always keen to hear new hints from your other readers. Can you please tell me where I can find that? TIA – and I hope you have a wonderful trip. We are doing our first river cruise this time round so a new experience for us.


  5. I always pack my socks and underpants inside shoes. It helps keep the shoes in shape and eases up space (naturally). Also we fly from Australia and have connecting flights (to Europe). Also my medication always travels in my carry on luggage – that is not the time to lose that sort of thing.

    A hint – if you are going to visit churches in either Italy or Spain you MUST have your shoulders and knees covered – both men and women. At the more popular churches they have people checking that you are dressed according to protocols. We’re about to head to Europe on our 4th trip.

    1. Hi Julie,
      Good point about the scarf. I think a scarf is one of the best things you can take on a trip. You can use it in churches, wrap it around your neck on chilly mornings, and if it is wide enough, use as a shawl in the evening time. I never travel without one. Cheers! Deborah

  6. One of the tricks I’ve learned over the years,is to pack all your toiletries,makeup,and even your
    jewelry in zip-lock baggies. You will never regret having all your clothes clean,fresh,and ready to
    wear when you arrive at your destination. Besides that,they’ll save you room when you want to
    bring home souvenirs and goodies(smile).

    1. Hi Tonja, Excellent tips! I know one gal who even packs each outfit in a zip bag. You can get these special 1 foot by 1 foot zip bags at organizing stores. This way you just open your suitcase and start unzipping a bag a day. Nothing to think about, no stress!! ….+ it keeps your suitcase super organized. Cheers! Deb

  7. You gave great advice! I am a flight attendant and travel overseas frequently, none if us like to look like a tourist. Europeans don’t tend to wear flashy colors. Leave the tennis shoes for working out. Nothing screams tourist like tennis shoes and a bag you wear around your waist. Asia is hot and humid in the summer so you probably won’t need the leather jacket. Thanks for great articles!

  8. I went to Europe for two weeks at the end of May. The cross body bag type bag you mentioned worked GREAT! I would recommend getting a nylon bag rather than leather so you don’t add extra weight from the bag, to carry around. When you shop for a bag, compare the difference in their weights, you might be surprised! My bag also had a wide strap with a cushioned shoulder cover. It was very easy to carry and along with the usual purse type essentials, I carried my point and shoot camera, prescription sunglass, iPad mini and small bottle of water.

    I don’t like to be cold, so also in the bag, I kept a silk scarf (rolled up, weighed almost nothing and took up almost no space – you could also tie it on the outside of your bag), I also kept a lightweight, wrinkle free cardigan rolled in the bag. These came in handy many times especially when weather cooled in the evening.

  9. Hi Deborah-I have traveled to Europe and find that with every trip I eliminate one thing, like one year I stopped using packing cubes for all my. clothes. I use them for underwear and pj’s and very casual t’s and workout pants, not good tops or pants or dresses. Another year I changed to only ziplocks for meds, labeling each one with what time of day and then putting all the bags into a large one and then in my carry-on. No heavy pill organizers. I also combine all the products that I will use after I rinse my hair (after a shampoo) into one spray bottle. I no longer bring my own blow drier. I find that most hotels have them and if they don’t work then most places will supply a working one. Packing neutral colored pants as you do and tops that will go with almost everyone of them. Am off again in Mid to late Sept. I’ll see what I do differently this year.

  10. I find that lightweight, colorful scarves and jewelry options can really extend the travel wardrobe. They keep me from getting too bored with my own clothes when I don’t have access to my whole closet.

    1. Hi Kathy,
      There’s always something you forget to pack and this was it for me. I was just in the UK and some days it got a tad chilly. A scarf in the morning hours would have really helped and you are right about the way scarves can totally change the look of an outfit. Next time, I will not be without. Thank Goodness I had my cashmere throw which I wore a lot! See here:
      Cheers, Deborah

  11. We went to Europe this past fall. My suggestions would be to take pieces that can be worn at least twice each (mixing/matching), very comfortable shoes for walking and maybe one or two other pairs that will go with your outfits for activities other than sight-seeing, and take two or three scarves. A maxi dress is always a great idea (if you wear them), but I’d steer clear of the leather jacket unless you’re really looking to make a style statement. Cardigans, a classy jean jacket (cropped), or a wrap is really the way to go. Streamlined, well-fitting clothes are best for Europe. Limit jewelry to two sets that you love, but wouldn’t crush you if they get lost. I found these things to be a great help, but your purpose for traveling and mine may be somewhat different. Europe is a wonderful place to visit! Enjoy!

    1. Hi Heather,
      I would add that if you do take a leather jacket, (and that would be in cooler months), make sure it is very lightweight…nothing heavy. It also should be very soft and easy to fold up, almost like a leather sweater. Cheers, Deb

  12. The suggestions above seem more suitable for Europe in Autumn. Last time I was in Italy, Spain and France during summer it was so hot that cotton skirts and sundresses were the go, with perhaps a 3/4 cotton cardigan for the churches or evening. I think most women would swelter in jeans and a leather jacket – especially for those of us over 40. The shorts and maybe the capris seemed the most sensible ideas.

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