Packing for Europe: 10 Rules of Thumb

As usual, I am preparing for my next trip to Europe and I am determined to do a better packing job than in the past. I am following these 10 Rules of Thumb for Packing for Europe. As I think about this trip, I remember all the trips in the past where I took clothes I never wore and lugged an over-packed bag across Europe. Not this time; I am packing light!

World Traveler

World Traveler

10 Rules for Packing for Europe

Rule 1

Start a list of what you want to bring and what you need to buy. Pack at least a few days in advance. Packing at the last minute will ensure that you forget something important and pack a bunch of stuff you will never need. Actually I start collecting things about a week in advance, adding and eliminating items as I go.

well-packed luggage

well-packed luggage

Rule 2

Think neutral. I prefer black clothes for traveling. It is so easy to dress up and dress down with black. Black pants, jacket, and shoes go a long way. Two pair of shoes should do it. One for walking and one for dressing up a little. I think flats or comfortable sandals can be dressy and good for walking. Use scarves and colorful shirts to jazz up your outfits. Just remember that Europe is a little dressier than the US. Skip the cut-offs, jogging outfits, baseball hats and running shoes, and you’ll feel a lot less conspicuous. If you look like a tourist, you will be the target of pickpockets.

Rule 3

Plastic bags are your friend. Pack underwear and knits in compression bags that remove all the air. You can buy these bags at travel stores, but I just use regular zipper plastic bags and suck out the air with a straw until it gets very flat. Put your extra pair of shoes in a plastic bag, and always put your travel toiletries case in a plastic bag in case something springs a leak in-flight.

Rule 4

I no longer take a hair dryer. Practically every hotel has a hair dryer that is minimally effective (but good enough for me) I do carry a curling iron though, and for that I bought a dual voltage model. Many curling irons are dual voltage and my Revlon model was quite inexpensive. I do need a plug adapter though, since the outlets in Europe are quite different than in the US. Which brings me to:

Rule 5

Adaptors and Converter

Be sure to take adaptors and a converter

Know what electrical equipment you need before you go. Europe is on 220 volts (instead of the US 110 volt service) That means if you plug your electrical appliance into a European outlet with an Adaptor without a Converter, the sparks will fly! You will need these for your computer, camera charger, hairdryer, hair curler, shaver and any other electrical appliance brought from the US.

Converter converts the 220 volts to 110 volts so US appliances will work (without melting) An Adaptor works with the converter to adapt the US Plug to match the European outlet. To complicate matters further, not all European outlets are the same. An outlet in Great Britain is nothing like an outlet in France. For our first trip to Europe, I bought a converter and an adaptor kit that included adaptors for all Western European countries. I still use that kit.

Rule 6

American Passport

Make copies of your passport and credit cards

When packing for Europe, be sure to take photocopies of your passport, hotel membership cards and credit cards (with numbers to call if they get lost or stolen) and carry those in a zippered pocket in your suitcase as well as in your carry-on.

Rule 7

Don’t pack anything of great value in your checked luggage. Jewelry… leave it home or wear it every day. Cameras and PDA’s need to be in your carry-on.

Rule 8

Don’t bring heavy Guidebooks. Print out info from this or other sites and throw it away when you are finished. Pack paperback books and leave them behind when you are finished. Of course, if you have a smart phone, kindle or iPad this information is now at the tip of your fingers.

Rule 9

Overstuffed luggage

Don’t overstuff your luggage… save room for souvenirs

Pack light. Take only as much luggage as you can manage on your own. If you are taking trains, you will need to put your luggage on and off the trains yourself. If you are staying in a 3-star hotel and even many 4-star hotels, the rooms are quite small by American standards and there is very little space for extra luggage. I repeat, pack light.

Rule 10

Check the TSA site to review the rules on what you can carry aboard. (It keeps changing) And when they say that your carry-on liquids need to be in a quart sized zip-lock bag, they mean a quart sized zip-lock bag. When they say bottles must have three ounces or less, don’t push it. They confiscate tons (literally) of stuff every day. And pack some extra underwear in your carry-on… just in case they lose your luggage.

Written by Terri Fogarty for

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  1. Marilyn Rolfs says

    Great tips. You can scan all your docs and leave in a folder (labeled travel) in your email acct. This way you have access if you need and no bad guys can get them. Also I only travel with a carry-on bag 21x14x9 and have for years. We have been all over Europe and only have a carry-on. We will be traveling in Sept to Denmark for 20 days, including a 9 day Baltic cruise all from only a carry-on bag. Remember layers and wear you heaviest clothes in layers onto the airplane. Ladies, you really only need two pair of shoes, not one for each outfit.
    Good Traveling.

  2. tolijo says

    Voltage is 240v not 220v…but the general idea remains that dual voltage is best. Check your items and make sure they are either dual voltage or you have enough converters to work. Also, for those that are dual voltage, consider how many you will need to plug in at a time and bring that many plug adaptors. Keep in mind that in Europe most outlets are powered by a light switch–make sure the switch is on or you will wake up in the morning to your phone (or other) not charged! (personal experience speaks)

  3. Kim says

    You’ve put together a great (and sensible) list! I recommend a few more things… Open a NEW email account. NEW so that chances of it being hacked are VERY slim! Then, Make copies of your credit cards, banking phone numbers, a copy of your passport and any medication you take on a daily basis. EMAIL IT TO YOUR NEW ACCOUNT- you’ll have access anywhere in the world to that info should you be pickpocketed or lose your belongings! Also, The night before your next flight- ALWAYS have your bags ready to go the night before, lay your clothes our, and closets cleared- Just in case you over sleep of, heaven forbid, have to evacuate the hotel. (Bent here done all that!) Lastly, if you’re not familiar with converters I want to say, YOU NEED ONE, not just the wall plug adapters! Travel safe!

  4. Maree Pierrehumbert says

    Great tips. Especially the tip on Luggage. Train stations especially throughout France have no lifts or
    escalators. Same for apartments… even if there is an elevator there are often stairs that lead to the
    apartments. I travel solo and have the bruises to prove this.

  5. says

    Another suggestion: Use packing cubes! I managed to get everything I needed for 3 months of travel across Europe into one carry-on by using them. They’re really incredible and they making packing and un-packing much easier.

  6. Stella Godfrey says

    These are some great tips and ideas. I’m preparing for a short move to Germany and this time I’m definitely packing light. Your suggestions seem to be quite helpful so I’ll have them on mind while packing. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Alex says

    Much appreciated. Even bringing a converter does NOT guarantee optimal use. But, better than nothing.

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