Summer Travel to Europe – What I Pack

By Kate Riley May 8, 2018

I will be in Europe for two weeks in June and I’m already planning what clothes I’ll bring this trip. A great question landed in my inbox last week. Cheryl J. wrote:

Hey Kate, I am going to Paris in July. I noted that you went in 2016 and I am making notes from that post. Have your ever posted a ‘What I wore in Paris in July’? Maybe you could share some helpful travel packing tips and what worked really well for you? Just curious. Thank you, Cheryl J.

Thanks for asking Cheryl! I fully embrace the philosophy that one should travel as light as possible. Maximum comfort is key for me, so is limiting the amount of clothing I bring, and I’ve mastered the art of strategically packing all the clothes I need for 2 to 3 weeks in a single carry-on suitcase.

I follow a lot of travelers on Instagram and many of them are posed in beautiful outfits with their back turned, hair flowing, and they’re staring out into some amazing vista. Those are great images, they look beautiful, but I’m just not fancy like that. I travel on a budget and I’m there for the experience, so my priority is comfort, but I still do want to look cute when I’m out and about in a new city.

 

Here’s my philosophy: it’s stupid to pack clothes for the sole purpose of looking cute if they’re totally uncomfortable. Be smarter than that, bring what looks nice but also what you’ll feel good wearing all day. Here’s what I consider essential:

Packable Travel Hat

This explorer is always concerned about skincare during travel, so I make sure to pack a hat, usually two. I don’t like the sun in my eyes or on my face when I’m outdoors all day. Most days I’m walking several miles visiting historical sites, meandering streets, and relaxing in cafes or biergartens and in summer, that’s a lot of sun exposure.

For me, hats are essential, they don’t take up a lot of space but they’re a little tricky to pack so here’s how I do it. I stuff the crown with socks or undergarments and strategically wedge the hats into the middle of my carry-on suitcase, using other clothing to support and protect the brims. I recommend bringing at least one hat not only for sun protection but also because every lady looks cute in a hat and sunglasses!

 

black pattern fedora / wide brim straw

textured wide brim / straw with black ribbon

Comfortable Knit Dresses

I pack a few soft stretchy dresses, ones that are stylish and comfortable, for when I’m spending my days walking around town, standing in art galleries, or popping into shops. When you add jewelry, a great travel dress transitions nicely for dinner in the evening at a cafe. Knit dresses roll up really small so I’ll bring three or four for that reason.

 

 

I recommend shopping the athletic wear sites like Athleta or Pategonia, they have advanced technology fabrics that are super comfortable. Bring travel dresses that don’t cling to you in weird places or will rub against your skin and cause irritation.

 

santorini printed / sleeveless print (multiple colors)

jersey dress / striped midi

 

Lightweight Sweaters

European weather is unpredictable in summer. It’s sunny one day and then cloud cover the next, and a light summer rain is common too. If there is a chance of rain, I find I’ve never really needed more than a lightweight sweater (and small umbrella). I pack for my trip two lightweight sweaters, or one sweater and one lightweight jacket, and I’ll usually wear one of them on the plane since I often get cold during a flight.

 

 

crochet trim / three quarter sleeve

draped cardigan / wrap sweater

 

Great Walking Shoes

We ladies love our cute shoes, and I realize it’s hard to live without access to your collection, but you’ve got to do it. I do my best to pack only three pairs of shoes, and no more than four if two pairs are sandals. I bring one (maybe two) pairs of walking sandals, one pair of cute closed toe sneakers (you could substitute ballet flats), and a low heel for evening (which I only wear once or twice to dinner and could probably live without.)

 

Comfort is the most important thing to keep in mind, but you don’t need to sacrifice style. Invest in a pair of great walking sandals and cute comfortable sneakers, they will be what you wear 90% of the time! I wrote about my favorite travel shoes, and just ordered another pair of the white ones since I wore out my first pair.

 

croc leather sandal / caspian sneaker

 

Final Tips:

– For your entire wardrobe, stick with limited palette so you can mix pieces. I typically pack black and white and gray separates, with an accent color thrown in, like red or pink.

– Consider carrying a small backpack instead of a purse for daily excursions. I noticed that a lot of Europeans carry backpacks too, so I feel like I blend in more when I carry one too.

– Resist the urge to bring more than the pared down essentials. Don’t over pack. Chances are you’ll be walking with your suitcase down cobblestone streets or carrying it up flights of stairs or squeezing into a small elevator so take only what you absolutely need.

– Consider staying in an apartment instead of hotel. One of the reasons I choose Airbnb apartments is because I can do laundry halfway through the trip, this allows me to fit everything in one carry on bag and wear it twice.

– In addition to clothing and toiletries, I always have these items with me when I travel to Europe: international adaptor with USB, portable charger, travel camera, fold up tote (for trips to market, souvenirs, or separating dirty clothes), foam earplugs, headphones, umbrella, eye mask, ziplock bags for toiletries, ibuprofin & antacid, protein bars, sunscreen, digital copy of passport.

Previously I listed my airplane travel essentials , and you can find my favorite travel camera, eye mask, etc. in my Amazon shop.

Let me know if you have any more questions! I’d love to hear about your travel essentials too, feel free to share!

27 comments

  1. I am obsessed with packing light, and it’s so liberating! I’ve done multiple 2-3 week trips to Europe in recent years with nothing more than a carry-on, and actually had clothes I could have done without.

    My last trip (which included Paris!) I packed this shirt in 3-4 colors (https://www.grana.com/women-s-pima-modal-tank/), 1 pair of jeans and 2 pairs of shorts for most casual outfits, as well as this dress in black (https://shop.nordstrom.com/s/socialite-pocket-tank-dress/4899637) and a patterned maxi dress from target for a slightly dressier look. I also packed a light jacket, leggings for travel days, a pair of super comfy sandals (Birkenstock Gizeh) and a pair of light sneakers (the Saucony bullet, I think). I think that’s literally it! This wardrobe worked wonderfully for an entire month in Spain, France, and England.

    I’m low-key obsessed with perfect packing and could talk about it all day :-)

    • I always pack one pair of leggings too, since I travel in them back and forth (and will wear them on a cold day). I like your point about packing separates, I do that too, mixing different lightweight tops with capris or a loose skirt. :) Thanks for sharing your list!!

  2. Just a note about traveling with hats! My husband wears hats daily at home to protect his face from sun, so he has done a lot of research on hats to travel with. I’m not sure on what brands are out there for ladies, but there are hats for travel that are crushable. If a hat is an important accessory then investing in a good UV crushable hat would be a good idea!

    Great tips though, I travel often and I always learn one new thing when reading one more blog on what to carry in your suitcase!

    • Excellent point Nancy! The hats I linked to are all “packable” so they should retain their shape even if folded or slightly crushed in transit. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Thank you Kate,
    You forgot one thing, jewelry. Did I miss that in your dialogue? Costume jewelry perhaps but not anything that really matters. I have a simply gold band that I often wear when I travel as my wedding ring. The important one I leave at home.

    • I completely agree! I pack a very small amount of jewelry, usually costume like you said, or pieces I haven’t spent a lot of money on, just in case I was to lose them. I never bring my diamond wedding ring, I wear a simple flat gold band instead. :)

  4. Thank you for this timely post. I’m traveling to Italy this summer, my first trip to Europe. Could you share more about the digital passport. I’ve been told that you should have your passport on you at all times when traveling in Europe.

    A friend recommended Vionic sandals as she wore them almost exclusively on a European vacation. I bought a pair online and they are extremely comfortable.

    • Hi Karen, you’ll love Italy, I’ve been several times, it’s an amazing place! I meant to write “digital copy of passport” emailed to yourself so that if for any reason you lose yours, you have an image of it with your book number so you could get an emergency passport at the local embassy or consulate so you can get home :)

      • Thank you for the information. I appreciate all the tips that will make our trip more enjoyable. Do you have any thoughts on safety? I’ve been told to be especially cautious of belongings when taking a train.

        • Hi Karen, I just keep my backpack next to me at all times, usually looped around my arm, always in view. You do need to be careful on crowded trains with a lot of people standing (and if you’re one of them). Don’t be distracted by your phone or conversation with a travel mate, keep your eyes open and on alert.

  5. I’m just on a plane going home after my 2-week Europe trip, and I swear next time I’ll travel like Europeans – with just a carry-on. I also highly recommend using packing cubes. They save so much space in the luggage and make packing much easier. Packing/unpacking between hotels was also a breeze. Like you said, comfort is key!

    • Totally agree, every time I pack super light I’m always so grateful! I’ve never tried the packing cubes, I’ll take a look into them, thanks!

  6. Kate, Thanks for the great tips! I frequently travel internationally and have found this website to be a wealth of information on travel to just about any part of the world!
    https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/
    Have a wonderful time on your trip!
    P.S. Can you include some travel photo tips on one of your posts? Your pics are always so pretty!

  7. Thank you! Perfect timing for this post to arrive. I fly to China with a 15 tour group on May 19th. I usually only take a carry on bag too but for this trip I’ll be taking a large suitcase because I plan on buying lots of souvenirs and also because I have two other stops before I return home. Great post with awesome travel tips.

  8. I always make sure my contact person back home has a copy of my itinerary, my insurance coverage and my passport/visas just in case.

  9. I take “snap” jewellery when I travel. That way you have one necklace, one bracelet and one set of earrings. Then you just swap out the different snaps to go with whatever outfit you’re wearing.

  10. I live in England so have experience of how unpredictable European weather can be – I would add a packable waterproof jacket and pashmina/wrap to that list. It can be sometimes be unseasonably rainy and chilly (I for one feel the cold more when it’s been previously been sunny and hot), and if you need to cover your head to enter a church the wrap comes in handy.

    • Excellent tip Linda! The farther north you go (UK/Scandinavia) the more likely you’ll experience chillier weather, even in summer. Closer to the Mediterranean (Italy, Greece, etc.) you’ll get more sunshine I find. Thanks for sharing the tip about having a scarf or head cover, I recall some churches won’t allow entrance if you have tank top/exposed shoulders.

  11. Don’t forget clorox wipes for the airplane! Wipe that seat and table and walls down before you make yourself comfortable. I was waiting in line to use the restroom on our flight back and the lady in front of us walked out of the toilet with NO SHOES on and went back to her seat and had her feet on the pull down table/tray and the walls. You never know what is lingering on those seats. I also always bring a scarf on the plane to cover my face should I get sat next to someone who is coughing and sneezing.

    • Ewwww Shel! Great tips to bring antibacterial wipes and scarf for those reasons!

  12. A light-weight scarf is a must… a wrap for cool evenings, protect your neck and shoulders from the sun, cool your neck on extra hot days (wet it down and wrap it around), needed coverage at religious sites, tie your hat down on windy days, if it’s big enough it works as a bathing suit coverup, wrap it up as a boho bag and carry unexpected purchases in a pinch. Possibilities are endless.

  13. Are you traveling solo again? I am entrigued and May be doing this soon. I love to hear tips and be encouraged.

  14. Great tips! Just a note on your leather sandals — they are Naot and not Croc as you have them labeled. I echo what you said about them being comfortable. They were fantastic for two weeks in Spain last year. They were more money than I’ve spent for sandals in the past, but well worth the purchase!

  15. These are great tips, Kate, and all responses above have been ripe with information and detail. I am that Cheryl who is going to Paris, by the way. I will investigate those shoe choices and do my level best to pack light and coordinate my wardrobe. I am adding several of these items to my ‘list’! In terms of safety, what I’ve learned from two friends who did encounter thievery in Paris this past year is this: wear a crossbody purse and keep the compartments zipped at ALL times (one friend left her handbag unzipped for a brief period of time while going through a train station. someone slipped a hand into her bag and stole her little purse–bye bye credit cards, cash, etc); if approached by gypsies in Paris, speak/yell loudly and clearly communicate you will not be messed with (this friend was approached by 5 gypsies–two approached her while the other three surrounded her back–right outside a major museum. She lost nothing and they ran off); be attentive, like Kate said, avoid eye contact, don’t be distracted by a cell phone, know where you are going and act purposefully. I am trying to learn some French (from Rick Steve’s French Phrases and watch French films)and learn about cultural ways before I get there. My goal isn’t to blend in as much as it is to enter with respect and a desire to learn as much as I can–soak it all up. And I want to get off the beaten path so I am open to the nontouristy segments and just graze, people-watch, and write. So I’ll be packing a journal too.

    • Fantastic perspective Cheryl, I love how you say your goal isn’t so much to blend in as to enter with respect and a desire to learn, also to get off the beaten path. So great that you journal too, I take notes myself and always write down my favorite things I saw that day before I go to bed. Enjoy your trip!

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