Many first-time travelers make the mistake of bringing way too much gear so that travel quickly becomes tiresome. It can also make you a bigger target for thieves because you’re not able to keep track of your belongings as well. This packing guide for Europe will help you know what type of clothes and gear you should bring, and also includes tips for packing light.
Pretty much all the weight in your backpack comes from your clothes (and liquids/gels/etc.! They weigh a lot. Limit yourself to the very basics.) Most inexperienced travelers bring way too much. There isn’t really any difference between packing for 6 weeks and packing for 6 months because you’ll do laundry just about every week.
- You’re only going to have a few shirts/pants, so make sure they all match each other. Choose dark and neutral colors (dark colors hide dirt/stains better than light colors). Most Europeans tend to wear more subdued clothing anyway.
- If it is going to be cold, you should dress in layers. A big bulky coat isn’t going to be practical (unless you’re going somewhere extremely cold). A thermal base layer, long-sleeve t-shirt, sweater, and fleece jacket combo is much more practical than a big coat. You can always add/subtract layers if needed.
SO, WHAT TO PACK?
First things first.
- Airline Tickets – If you have e-tickets, print out the e-mail confirmation
- Passport – Should be valid for 6 months past your date of entry
- Wallet – While any old wallet will do, many people feel more comfortable with money belts, especially in the high season (summer and during Christmas markets) when the chance of petty theft is highest
- Cash – Ideally euros, you don’t need much to get started. Just enough to buy a transportation and some snacks before you find a Geldautomats (or ATM) for the lowest fees
- Smart Phone – This indispensable item has become many traveler’s everything – map, camera, guide book, wallet, etc. Be aware of roaming charges with your company and investigate if it needs to be unlocked to use a foreign sim card (the best solution for a long-term stay in Germany). Wi-fi is plentiful in Germany, although still more limited than in places like the USA.
- Driver’s license (if you want to rent a car)
- Contact numbers – Keep your emergency numbers somewhere outside your wallet. Include personal contacts in your home country, number for your banking institutions, government agencies like embassies, etc. This can be invaluable in case your credit card/passport is lost or stolen
- Copy of medical history and prescription for any drugs you are carrying – This can help if there are any questions at customs
- Medicine – While most things you leave behind can be purchased in Germany, you should know that some common over-the counter goods aren’t available. You need to go to the pharmacy for things as simple as antacids and they will probably carry different brands than you are used to. If there is anything you can’t live without – bring it with you.
- Toiletries – Toothbrush, toothpaste, lotions, shampoo, shower gel, razor, shaving cream, etc.
- Phrasebook – While the number of people who speak English is always increasing and very high in places like Berlin, it is always best to know some key German phrases
- Adapters – Electrical sockets in Germany are one of the two European standard electrical socket types: “Type C” Europlug and “Type E” and “Type F” Schuko. Also note that voltage is higher than in North American at 220-240 Volts
Button-up shirts (4)
Long-sleeve button-up shirts are the best option when it comes to shirts. When looking for a shirt, keep the following things in mind:
- Versatile — Don’t bring fancy dress shirts, but a nice casual button up will work well during the day and at night. Basically, pick something that will look fine in a church/museum, in a café, and at a bar.
- Non-wrinkle — It is hard to keep clothes unwrinkled while traveling, so non-wrinkle fabrics are a nice option.
- Easy to wash — Stay away from things that you can’t easily wash or that are high-maintenance.
- Dark colors — Dark colors do a better job at hiding stains.
Sweaters (1 or 2)
Lightweight sweaters are nice for dressing up or for cool nights. For maximum versatility, make your sweaters and button-up shirts all look good together because you can wear them together. If you’re traveling in the summer, it might be wise to save space by not bringing a sweater.
T-shirts (3 or 4)
T-shirts are good for around the hostel, sleeping, wearing under other shirts, and sometimes wearing around town.
You can’t go wrong with a pair of dark slim-fit jeans. Dark jeans can be dressed up or completely casual, and they match everything. You can wear jeans for months without washing them and they still won’t stink. Some hardcore travelers don’t wear jeans because they are fairly heavy and take forever to dry. While they’re right, jeans are still the best way to go in Germany in particular and Europe in general. Also bring a pair of well-fitting neutral/dark color chinos (light-weight cotton). These look nice if you want to dress it up a bit. Please don’t wear those travel pants that zip off and turn into shorts — they are just way too dorky.
Shorts – Most European adults don’t wear shorts. You’ll probably be pegged as a tourist if you decide to wear them, so keep that in mind if you plan on bringing them. Just stay away from khaki cargo shorts because that is the stereotypical American tourist outfit.
Swimwear – If you go to the beach, then you’ll need something to wear.
Obviously, whether you take a jacket or not will depend on when and where you travel.
Fleece Jacket – A nice fleece jacket is great because it is very lightweight and it provides a lot of warmth. Bring a black one because it will be the most versatile.
Rain Jacket – A rain jacket is one of those things that take up a lot of space and are rarely used. Therefore, this can be optional. You probably don’t need one if you’re only visiting cities (just bring an umbrella). If you plan on doing a lot of hiking/being in the wilderness, then you might consider it.
Softshell Jacket – A softshell jacket is a nice combination of a fleece and a rain jacket. It won’t be quite as warm as a fleece, but it will be fairly waterproof.
You should only pack one pair of shoes because shoes are bulky and heavy. But it is understandable if you want to bring two pairs. You’re going to be on your feet a lot while in Germany, so you really want a sturdy pair of comfortable shoes for sightseeing. Guys can get away with a pair of nice leather sneakers that are comfortable during the day and look nice enough for going out at night. Some people opt for sturdier “hiking” shoes. They’re usually waterproof and have an all-terrain sole. They’re not super stylish, but they are usually pretty comfortable. Throw in a cheap pair of rubber flip-flop sandals if you’re going to stay in a hostel. You’ll want them for the showers. Leave your dress shoes at home. While sneakers would probably prevent you from entering any super swanky nightclubs, most budget backpackers can hardly afford those places anyways.
Note: Americans seem to have a love affair with white sneakers/athletic shoes. Don’t wear white shoes if you don’t want to be instantly recognized as an American tourist. But if you don’t care, feel free to wear them.
Underwear and socks:
High-quality socks are essential. Unfortunately, nice socks can be expensive and a lot of people don’t want to spend the money on something as unsexy as socks. But, do spend a little extra money to get a few nice pairs (plus, nice socks will last for years so you can still wear them when you are home). Most experienced travelers recommend quality wool socks—you can get lightweight wool socks for the summer and they’ll actually keep your feet cool and dry. Obviously you’ll want heavier-weight socks if you are traveling in the winter. Look for socks that are:
- Moisture-wicking – Your feet will sweat a lot (especially since you’ll be doing a lot of walking), so you want a sock that draws moisture away from your feet. Having dry feet helps eliminate odor and prevents blisters.
- Quick-drying – It is pretty easy to wash your socks in the sink, so you want a pair that will dry overnight (about 6 hours).
- Odor-eliminating – Some synthetic socks have special anti-bacterial features that help eliminate odor. Lightweight wool socks will also do this naturally (lightweight wool can also work well in the summer).
- Avoid cotton – Cotton socks soak up moisture and won’t dry well once wet. They will start to smell very quickly.
Bring 4 to 5 pairs of comfortable underwear and rotate them regularly.
Do a Test Run Before You Go
Load up your bag and see how heavy it is. Walk around with it for 20 minutes. You’ll be surprised how heavy all your stuff can be. You might consider repacking if your backpack weighs too much. Try to keep your total bag weight around 22 lbs (10 kg).