When you are planning your euro trip certain things on your packing list are obvious: converters, health insurance, Advil, Pepto, headphones.
You will first need to find yourself a backpack. Not only are alpine bags cool and totally make you look the part of a cultured, adventurous, and fearless backpacker but they are essential to your vagabond experience. Imagine you are jumping off a train before it even completely stops, running as fast as your little body can carry you across 31 platforms in a train station you have never seen before, to try to leap onto a connecting train that you have 7 minutes to make. Or walking around Rome: an ancient city constructed entirely of cobblestones. And let us not forget that europe is probably 65% stairs. What do you want? Something securely strapped to you back that is sure not to move? Or a rolling suitcase that goes where it wants to, when it wants to?
Also this bag is more than expandable it will morph to all your travel needs. You can tie, strap, and bunji cord anything to these bags to free up your hands. Even a bag of groceries can be attached by the satisfying peel of Velcro.
If you live abroad already or in a city where you can walk a lot make a test-run! Grab your packed bag and walk around with it all day see what it feels like to move around with it. This will also help you adjust all the straps to the perfect level.
When packing your bag though, you must remember to pack it 2/3 if not 1/2 way full. No matter how awesome you are at packing things the moment you pull something out of your rucksack everything expands by 80%. Plus you want to be able to add things as needed like food and bottled water. Be careful though you shopaholic and souvenir buffs. Try to limit your purchases to postcards and small trinkets. Remember you have to carry that with you the rest of the way. A good idea is to buy patches everywhere you go. They are about 3 euros (you really shouldn’t pay any more than that) each and sometimes you have a pretty good hunt looking for the best ones. Plus they can go right on your backpack. If you take trains in Europe they don’t stamp your passport so this is a great way to mark where you have been. Sewing them on can also be a good thing to do on those 10 hour night trains. They also fit really well into photo albums and scrapbooks.
(My patch collection at the end of my trip)
One thing that I picked up from my dad is to always be prepared. Thanks Papo. So I expect the worse and am happy when everything goes smooth. One thing that is very important is that you carry emergency contact information with you. The best place for this is for it to be taped to the inside of your backpack. In my bag I had taped (very obviously) to the inside my insurance card and a credit card along with my dad’s phone number in the states and the number to the local hospital that has my medical records. If this info is in your bag it is more assured that it will be found because purses ect get stolen even when you have just been hit by a bus. Be sure that if you are traveling with someone that they know it is there. There are too many horror stories of backpackers not being prepared for this sort of thing. Be careful and be safe.
Babywipes! Europe is dirty and you will be too once you get on a night train after walking around with your pack on all day. They are an instant shower and make you feel energized even in the middle of the day.
Smartwool socks. Any hiking socks will do but I am a super fan of this brand in particular. Good walking shoes are nothing if you are not wearing a good pair of socks. Wool is the best because it can adjust to your temperature and keep your feet from getting cold when you sweat. Another thing with hiking socks is the support they offer and the fact that you can wear them many days in a row and they don’t stink as bad. However they will take some tome to air dry so be sure to bring enough for your whole trip.
Fast dry undies. What more can I say? If you check into a hostel at 8 pm and checkout is 10 30 am your skivvies will still be moist from when you washed them in the sink the night before and that isn’t something you can walk around just tied to your bag.
Oxyclean: perfect for washing clothes in a sink and will take out stains too. Powder is a must with soap. And plus it won’t give you a rash like soap will if you don’t rinse it out all the way ( depends on skin of course).
Plastic bags of every size. In europe there is no doggy bag so for leftover food bring a ziplock with you and you can save that 1/2 a calzone for later. Eat it within 12 hours ( much shorter in summer) and you will be ok. You will also need plastic bags for wet and stinky clothes. Don’t contaminate your whole bag, separate. Trash bags are REALLY important. They will protect your whole bag and you from rain which will come by surprise and last forever so be ready. Giant shower cap-like covers for rucksack can be purchased and are a good investment. ( don’t forget again to always carry a shopping bag or two with you)
(It rained in Venice and I didn’t follow my own advice. I was soaked for the rest of the trip)
Passport covers big enough for boarding passes. It is important to keep you passport in good condition but also your train tickets. You could have a total of five different train tickets for a day; none of which you can lose. They are about the size of a boarding pass so keep everything together in your money belt. Also when you take a night train often the controller will take both your passport and ticket for the whole night. This way you are assured you get everything back at the same time.
Needle, thread, safety pins. You just never know.
U-shaped neck pillow. This is the only way to sleep on trains. It is a must.
Blanket. You never know what you are going to get as covers in hostels so it is nice to have at least one thing that is familiar. Remember that snuggie your grandma got you for Christmas a few years back? well this is PERFECT for it. Snugggies are great on trains plus Europeans are amazed by them and you can meet new people that way.
Pocket flashlight. No need to stumble blindly into your dorm of 36 people and wake them all up. A little light won’t bother anyone. This will also help you find something in your bag on the train or help you read a map when you are lost in the streets at night. Your cellphone will not be strong enough. Bring the light.
Scarf. You will always need one. They make all the difference when you are cold and you can tie things together with it. In Europe you need one even in summer.
(Me waiting for our VERY LAST train of our whole trip. Handy scarf keeping me warm)