Backpacking Europe: What Gear Worked and Which Didn’t


I promised an update once we had returned on what worked and what didn’t while we were traveling. This is the exact list I had posted earlier, with my notes added in italics:

Brian had a rolling suitcase (a very heavy-duty one) and I had a backpack. We only had to deal with the suitcase and backpack if we were changing locations. When you’re in a city and have a room or somewhere to stay, you aren’t moving the large bags at all. With that said, I think it is just a matter of preference. If you have a bad back and are strong enough to hoist a rolling suitcase at certain times, like up stairs, then go for it. For me, a backpack was better as I had two hands free and I didn’t have to worry about lifting a a heavy bag.

Packing cubes came in very handy, as I had three and was able to fit all of my clothes rolled up into all three packing cubes. It eliminated the need to dig around in a cavernous backpack looking for one item of clothing – everything was in the cubes. It also made packing back up a lot faster – throw all clothing items in the cubes, throw cubes in the bags, then go.

Packing Cubes


3 t-shirts *Wore only to bed, so essential. Kind of wish I had maybe one or two more.

2 yoga pant/legging (black) *One of these was supposed to be part of outfits I would wear out, which I did for the first two weeks – until I sat in my own gum, which was white colored and would NOT come off. So these were put out of commission for wearing in public, anyway. Would’ve been great in the hotter locales later on like Croatia.

1 running short *I didn’t wear these barely at all. Only the few nights it was warmer for bed.

1 khaki short *These were my only warm weather clothing, unfortunately. I also hate wearing shorts with flats, but I had no choice as these were my only shorts and I didn’t want to wear running shoes all the time. The upside is that khaki goes with almost any top.

1 khaki travel capri pant *Comfortable, but didn’t wear these as much as I thought I would, I think because these made it harder to blend in in cities, and they were capris so they weren’t always warm enough.

2 travel pants (black, brown) *I wore these to DEATH. They were Athleta brand travel pants, which look like normal corduroy jeans, but were way stretchier and the waist was elastic, making them pretty comfortable. It was easy to dress them up or down, and the black hid any stains/dirt. I still wear them here at home.

1 cardigan (black) *Good enough, didn’t wear it a ton since it was cold enough for jackets – could have left out.

1 pullover sweater (grey) *I also wore this tons. It was neutral enough to go with everything and was good for layering. Also comfortable without looking frumpy. Still wear this at home.

1 longsleeve travel shirt (black) *This shirt was really flattering on, so it was easy to dress up but still comfortable, and was made of a certain material that dries very quickly, so that was handy for hand-washing.

1 3/4 sleeve shirt (striped)

3 long sleeved shirts (white, black, purple) *Staples and what I wore almost everyday.

2 short-sleeved shirts (striped, black) *I wished I had more short-sleeve, casual tops. It got hot through Croatia and I only had these two.

1 blouse *I loved this top – it was flowy and had a flowery pattern, so it was more dressy than a plain cotton top but still super comfortable. It was easy to dress up and was nice to just wear down and was sleeveless for when it got hot but I still wanted to look nice.

2 tank tops *Didn’t wear these a ton, as it was cold much of the time.

1 bathing suit *Good thing I actually brought my suit, but Brian didn’t. Came in handy only in Croatia, but takes up very little room.

2 scarves *I wore these a lot since it was pretty cold a lot of times, plus they kind of dress up a plain outfit, and can have other practical uses.

1 North face jacket *Great for really cold places so I could layer jackets.

1 fleece sweater, Columbia zip-up *This was a last-minute purchase, but it was a Godsend since I ended up wearing it every single day almost. It was more stylish than my bulky North Face jacket, but really warm. In the really cold places, I wore this under my North Face for two jacket layers.

1 beanie *Only wore this going to the Alps, but it took up very little room, so I liked having it.

2 sports bras

4 pairs cotton socks *Could have brought a few more pairs, as they take up no room, and having to wash and air dry the ones I had was a pain.

1 pair thick wool socks

1 running shoe, Asics *These really came in handy towards the end when my feet couldn’t stand one more minute walking in flats. Also needed these for the Alps, any hiking, etc.

1 Patagonia flats *Lots of thoughts on these. I tried really hard to find a walkable black flat to bring because I already felt like a slob wearing the same clothes over and over again, so not wearing ugly clothes and running shoes everyday was important to me when in huge cities like London, Paris, etc., and going out to dinner. I was glad to have these then. The first few weeks wearing these all day, everyday, they tore up my feet. I was really in pain with open blisters trying to walk around. But once I broke them in, they were pretty good – I was able to walk, sightseeing mostly all day and still be a little fashionable. It was another story towards the end of two months, though. By the end, I never wanted to wear these again. They smelled, turned the bottom of my feet black every time I put them on, and my feet were just simply tired of having little support. I switched solely to running shoes towards the end.

1 flip-flops *Thanks for nothing, flip-flops that broke on like our fifth day of the trip. I used these primarily for shower shoes in places where it was a shared shower or it was just gross and I didn’t want my feet touching anything, except the part that holds your foot in broke on one of them, so I was constantly having to temporarily rig it so I could at least stand and then drag one foot – annoying, and made it impossible wear anywhere else, like the couple times we went swimming.


1 pack towel *These are handy. Not as luxurious as a normal bath towel, but it was nice having the option of using our town towels if the ones provided were questionable.

1 sleep sack *I wasn’t sure how often this would be used, but I loved it. I am a weird germy person, so I really liked having a barrier between myself and whatever questionable beds or sheets we were having to sleep on. Didn’t need it every single night, but I was so glad to have it the times I was kind of grossed out. I will take this on any future backpacking trips.

1 money belt *We used this pretty much everyday. Brian had it on his waist, under his clothes and we would put cards, cash and passports in there. It’s really unnoticeable even when you are getting cards or cash out of it, surprisingly. I would imagine it’s nearly impossible to be pick-pocketed with one of these, unless you’re passed out or something.

1 moleskin journal *Didn’t use it, since we had a computer, so any writing I did was done on the laptop.

1 dry hand soap sheets

1 package Colgate wisps *Didn’t use these as much as I thought we would, as even overnight trains had sinks in your cabin, so we were pretty much always able to brush our teeth the normal way.

1 travel-sized first aid kit

1 pack moleskin blister bandages *Thank God for these because my flats tore up my feet for the first few weeks.

2 travel sized packages of baby wipes *Good for loooong travel days to freshen up, but didn’t need all of them.

2 travel packs of Tide sink detergent *We used all of this up and needed more.

1 Brita filtering bottle *We used this at first when we didn’t want to spend a ton on bottled water, but then it got dirty and we kind of got lazy and just surrendered to tap water and stocking up on large bottles of water. Note: water at restaurants in Europe isn’t free.

Toiletries bag w/mini shampoo and conditioners, dry shampoo, face wash, toothbrush, lotion, some make up, etc. *Ran out of shampoo and conditioner and body wash very quickly – just used Brian’s shampoo and didn’t buy more of my own so we could carry one bottle instead of two, and went without conditioner. Just bought more body wash at a drugstore.

Ziplocs, sunscreen, hand sanitizer, Emergen-C packets *The Emergen-C packets were so amazing. Wish we had more. Ditto on the hand sanitizer, which we used multiple times daily coming off public transportation where you are constantly touching everything.


2 unlocked iPhones *I pretty much wiped my entire phone so I could unlock it with the intention of us buying SIM cards wherever we were, which never happened. We didn’t stay put long enough for it to make sense, and we had access to internet in our accommodations, where we could message/email/call people on Skype or Viber. We did use the phones for impromptu photos, or times when the big camera was put away but we wanted a quick picture of something. We also used a TripAdvisor app that came in really handy and worked without internet. The only issue was not having a means of communication whenever we weren’t in our room, basically. And not having an interactive map while we were out wandering or driving.

1 Sony A57 *We really love this camera, and it took amazing photos throughout the trip – it is also light and doesn’t take up very much room.

1 Vado HD mini video cam *This is good for video, but it has some glitch now that is common with these so I’ve read, and I can’t get a lot of video we took off of the camera and onto my computer. The Sony takes HD 1080p video as well, so not totally necessary.

1 Canon PowerShot *Never used the small, handheld camera. I guess it didn’t make sense to take photos with this when we had the Sony.

1 laptop *We decided to only bring my laptop, but we sort of wished we each had our own sometimes.

What we wished we would have had but didn’t:

Cold medicine, a sundress/maxi dress, better flip-flops, swim trunks (Brian), a second small netbook or possibly an iPad, a pack of cards, a good book, Dramamine.

I may add to or edit this as I think of more advice/reviews!

5 responses »

  1. Great advice. I will have to use these tips on our trip to Norway next month. Love the bag packing cubes. I agree that you can never have enough hand sanitizer. I’m sort of a freak about that stuff ;-) I’m nervous about being able to use our phones over there but my husband works at Verizon so he’s figuring all of that out for us. Thanks for the great tips!

  2. Tap water is drinkable in most European counries. I never understood why Americans buy bottled water even in places like the Netherlands, where the tap water is the cleanest in the world. On a side note – I think tap water should be served by default in any restaurant.

    • Yeah, we figured it was fine, but once our water bottle got really dirty we just resorted to bottled. I wasn’t completely sure what would be coming out of the tap in questionable hostels, etc. especially in big cities, because it didn’t necessarily taste really clean.

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