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Traveling to Europe for the first time? Not sure what to pack for the trip. Read on to see my top picks for Travel Essentials for Europe and your transatlantic flight.
I had the opportunity to travel to the country of my ancestors, at least some of them when we decided that our oldest son would go on his Eighth Grade German Trip.
Once we committed to the trip, the next thing was deciding what to pack. I love to travel. We have been to Mexico, Canada, and the islands off the East Coast of the US, but I had never traveled to Europe.
As excited as I was also a little nervous too.
Really I guess with any trip it starts with what type of luggage to pack. Air travel is a lot different than it used to be and luggage is closely monitored. In the case of our school trip, we planned to visit 5 Eastern European Countries in 12 days. That means that we would be on the move almost every other day. So packing smart was very important.
I also decided that my son and I would each take a small piece of luggage because we would be primarily responsible for moving our own luggage as we traveled from hotel to hotel, on and off the bus, and to and from the airport.
What to Pack for Europe
The following are tips that I use when I plan a trip, but they are really essential when you are packing for extended travel anywhere.
10 Packing Tips for Your First European Trip
#1 Save Your Back
I made the decision that we would each take a 22-inch piece of luggage #ad, with wheels. It’s really just a large carry-on, but we checked them and also carried a small backpack with essentials (change of clothes, toothbrush, headphones, portable charger, slippers, money, copy of your passport, and other identification) in case our luggage was lost.
I know you probably can’t imagine packing for a 12-day trip in a 22-inch piece of luggage, but it can be done. And you will be so glad that you did when you are dragging that luggage along behind you.
- 22-inch carry-on (check airline for size limitations)
#2 Pack for April Showers
Europe also has different weather than my local weather so bring a lightweight rain jacket and a scarf. We were traveling in June when the weather at home is usually hot, but Europe can be cool, especially at night.
A scarf can be used as a lightweight wrap in restaurants as well as add color to your clothes. Also, consider including a small compact umbrella in case it rains on your trip.
At the opposite extreme is the sun. If you are traveling in the warmer months, make sure and remember sunscreen, sunglasses, and a collapsible hat made for travel. The last thing you want is to have a sunburn on your trip or really any time.
- lightweight rain jacket
- small compact umbrella
- collapsible hat
#3 Keep Your Tootsies Happy
The plan for these school tours is walking and walking and walking. So it’s important to take at least 2 pairs of comfortable shoes. Think of comfortable walking shoes or sandals. Include extra socks in case your feet get wet.
Another important shoe to remember is a pair of flip-flops or
Slippers for the pool, bathroom, or even in the room. You will be glad to have them and they won’t take up much room in your suitcase. Slippers are good for the long transatlantic flight too.
- 2 pairs of comfortable walking shoes
- flip flops or slippers for the plane and room
#4 Protect Your Luggage Contents
Pack travel amounts of shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and other liquids. An important tip is to cut pieces of plastic wrap, place them over the bottle opening and then attach the lid and tighten it. Place in zip lock bags.
This is important to save other items in your luggage. You may not have access or time for laundry if your liquids leak and get on your luggage contents.
Remember that liquids over 3 oz can’t be carried on flights, but check your airline for their specific rules.
#5 Conserve Space
Roll your clothes. This will save space and will decrease wrinkles. There are travel bags that work great and keep your clothing neat and organized.
Try it. It works.
Speaking of wrinkles, pack clothes that won’t require ironing. Tailored cotton knits are stretchy, very forgiving, and cool if the weather turns hot.
#6 Plan Your Clothing
Plan your clothing. Think about mixing and matching outfits. Neutral solid colors for tops, skirts, and pants help with this. Add in a colorful scarf or two and you are set.
Europeans are very style conscious. They are not into athletic wear and tennis shoes unless they are working out. Nothing screams American like sporting your favorite leggings and tennis shoes when you are on tour.
When I was in Europe there was a lot of unrest and I wanted to blend in with the locals. I left my leggings and tennis shoes at home.
- travel shirts and pants
#7 Secure Your Valuables
Just like in the US, the places you will visit in Europe will often be tourist traps, and with that comes the opportunity for pickpockets. Think about a cross-body bag with lots of zippers to secure your phone, money, and other valuables such as your passport.
I would recommend only having the money you think you might need for the day and keeping other money in a money belt under your clothes.
- cross-body bag
- money belt
#8 Emergency Power
Pack a portable charger for your phone. There may not always be a place to charge your phone when you are on the go. A portable charger may save the day.
- portable phone charger
#9 Be Adaptable
Remember to include electrical adapters so you can charge your phone with European outlets. American outlets run 110 volts, while typical European outlets are 220 volts. Some small appliances like blow dryers and flat irons may be able to convert to European voltage. Check the appliance information.
Electrical outlets vary from country to country in Europe so you can purchase an adapter that will work in multiple countries or bring adaptors for the specific countries where you will travel. Check out Rick Steve’s article on European Electrical Adaptors.
- EU electrical adaptors
#10 Prepare for the Worst
Pack extra ziplock bags. Gallon size and sandwich size. The gallon size can collect dirty or wet clothes that haven’t had enough time to dry if you are on the move.
Also put together a small emergency kit of bandages, acetaminophen, Pepto Bismol, antibiotic ointment, Benadryl cream, etc. These may not be used but will save you time finding the local apothecary.
#11 Pack a Snack
Pack some snacks from home for when you are on the go and don’t have time to stop. Snack bars or other prepackaged snacks that travel well are good to have. Of course, you will want to sample the local food whenever possible, but trust me there will be a time when you will want a quick snack.
#12 Record Your Trip
Something else I didn’t take but will do on the next trip is a journal. Notes about what I saw, what I liked and didn’t, and where we ate, etc would be great info to build on for future trips.
Keep reading for what to pack for a transatlantic flight.
If You Don't Already Have a Passport, Get One
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I found is that being in Europe is very much like being in the states. There were major interstates and traffic flowed freely because of the European Union, travel between the countries at least we traveled was very much like crossing from state to state.
We did, of course, go through customs when we flew into Amsterdam as we were coming from the States. Customs is an intimidating process, especially if you are tight on time for your connecting flight. Be prepared for questions from the immigration agents. Remember they are there to keep us safe. Be calm and answer their questions.
We also went through customs when we flew into Berlin. After that, the only time when I saw a checkpoint is when we traveled from Hungary to Austria. There was a physical barrier, but our bus was not stopped and we traveled through the border unhindered. My passport was used at the airport, during customs, and when we entered the states. But, you should keep it with you at all times.
Keep your passport in a safe place. Also, make a couple of copies of your passport and driver's license and keep them in your luggage. I would also leave copies at home. Just in case.
If you don’t have a passport, then you will want to get one within 6 months of travel. I got my passport through the post office. It was an easy process, but I did have to wait my turn so they could process our paperwork and take our passport photos. So try to pick a time when there won't be a long wait.
Don’t wait until a month before you travel to start the process in case there is a delay in processing. Mine was back within a month after applying, but you don’t want to be sweating the week before your trip because you are hoping to see your passport by the time you head to the airport.
Depending on which countries you are traveling to, you will need to think about the currency accepted in that country. Check out which currency is current for the countries you will visit. Exchange rates vary, and where you exchange your money can differ in what you pay. Once you are in the country there are places where you can transfer currency but it can come at a cost.
ATMs are a good place to do this. Make sure and alert your bank before you leave on the dates and countries where you will travel. For a good overview of how to handle currency exchange if you are traveling to countries that don’t use the Euro, such as the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary check out this article by Rick Steve’s Cash and Currency Tips for Europe.
Travel Essentials to Pack for Your Transatlantic Flight
Transatlantic flights are long. Typically 10 hours plus if you are flying from the states. Unless you are fortunate and can afford an upgrade, flying coach is cozy and tight. Make sure and have a few travel essentials to make the travel as pleasant as possible. Consider taking the following:
A neck pillow to help support your head as you try to get a few winks. It's hard to get comfortable on these long flights and you will be glad to have a pillow. Most of these pillows hook together and it makes it easy to loop over your luggage handle for moving through the airport.
2. Noise-canceling headphones. You won’t be sorry if you sit next to a young child having trouble with the pressure in their ears.
3. Slippers. Flying is a setup for lack of circulation and swollen feet. Sitting for 8 hours plus in close quarters can be uncomfortable. A pair of slippers will help keep your feet as comfortable as possible. Make sure and wear them on trips to the loo.
4. Pack a snack. Most transatlantic flights will serve 2 meals and snacks in between. In my experience, the food is not great, but the process is a diversion. A snack you like may tide you over until you land.
5. Jet lag is a major bummer after an overnight flight. It’s important to stay hydrated and if possible try to catch a few winks. Focus on water to stay hydrated.
6. Many flights have a library of movies that you can view during your flight. They may also have games. Of course, I had my favorites on my phone.
8. Remember to wear comfortable clothes for the flight. Stretchy pants and loose tops are important. You want to be comfortable, which is a challenge when you are sitting for 8-plus hours on a plane.
9. Consider wearing a travel wrap or light sweater for the plane. Flights are notoriously cold and the light blanket they provide on the flight may not be enough to keep you comfortable.
10. It’s also a good idea to pack small travel packs of sanitizing wipes or wet wipes. You will have many opportunities where will need a wipe to clean your hands or wipe up a spill.
11. Many airlines no longer take cash on flights. So it's good to have a debit card so can purchase drinks or water.
12. Of course, bring a good book to help pass the time.
13. Lastly, when exiting the plane make sure you have your phone, your tablet, your computer, and whatever other valuables you may have taken for your entertainment. Jet lag makes it easy to wander off the plane only to later realize you’ve left you’ve valuables in the seat pocket.
These packing tips should get you started on your first or tenth trip to Europe.
October 2022 Update: Image and post updates.