The Ultimate Packing Guide for Backpacking Europe

The best way to travel Europe is with only one carry-on sized bag. Budget flights that don’t include a checked bag, buses and trains without luggage racks, uneven cobblestone streets, fourth floor hotel rooms without a lift, and tiny taxis with no extra room all create an environment that is not very luggage friendly. If you’re thinking it can’t be done, think again! I’ll show you how to fit everything you need in one carry-on.


My husband and I backpacked Europe together for four months with nothing but two carry-on sized backpacks. We packed clothing for multiple seasons that was appropriate for everything from working on a horse ranch to Sunday morning church services in cathedrals. It can be done! I’ve outlined exactly what we brought to help you create your own packing list.

What I packed

It’s surprising how much a carry on can hold once you take a little time to pack it wisely. The trick to making a little bit of stuff go a long way is to bring items that have multiple uses or that can be used in several outfits. Here’s what was in my bag:



What my husband packed




Additional tips


The bag we loved- We brought two different bags on our trip; the Osprey Porter 46 L and a Mountain Warehouse brand bag. Though they both did their jobs, the Osprey Porter 46 L ended up being the better bag. At the end of four months it still looked brand new and we look forward to using it again soon! You can find this bag and our other travel favorites in the “Shop” section of Southern Abroad.

Pack wisely- Make sure you have everything packed in a way that doesn’t leave pockets of space unused. Save small items for last to fill in empty crevasses. If you’re using the Osprey bag, try to pack it as flat as possible, then use the straps to cinch it down even more.

Bring a shower bag with a hook for hostels- This is the one additional thing I wish I had brought. Many hostels don’t have a place for you to set your shampoo and conditioner while showering, but usually there is a place to hang things. A shower bag with a hook will come in handy during hostel stays.

Check airline guides- Before buying your bag and after you have your bag packed, check the carry on restrictions for all of the airlines you plan to fly on. The last thing you want is to get stuck with a gate check bill from a budget airline because your bag is too big.

Pack smart as a couple- One of the benefits of traveling as a couple (or a group of friends) is that you can split shared items between your bags. Things like sunscreen, contact solution, cameras, etc can be put in one bag or the other, but both of you don’t need to find room for them.

Read Next

8 Budget Travel Tips for Backpacking Europe

Why Doolin, Ireland is the Best Base for Seeing the Cliffs of Moher

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