How To Pack For Winter In Europe Without Bringing Your Whole Closet
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First of all, that headline is pretty vague, because even though Europe is one of the smallest continents, it is still a very diverse place, and climate can vary widely depending on where you are visiting. Since we spent all last winter throughout Europe, we thought we would share our thoughts on what to bring. Keep reading for ten tips on how to pack for Europe in winter.
In Western Europe in the winter is usually rainy and chilly but doesn't get much snow or extreme cold. Southern Europe tends to have reasonably mild temperatures, but it can still get rainy at times. Central and Eastern Europe can get very cold and wet, and it is much more likely to snow. Northern Europe as you would expect will generally be cold and snowy.
So first things first, before you start packing your bags for your winter Europe trip, you need to assess your itinerary and check the weather reports. Always pack for the coldest place you will visit.
1. Decide whether you are going carry-on only or checking a bag
In the summer months, it is much easier to get away with packing just a carry-on for your Europe trip, however, the need for warm clothing makes it a bit trickier. The best way to avoid baggage fees and the hassle of waiting at baggage claim is to go with just a carry-on, however, for those of us that have trouble fitting everything in a tiny bag, it might be best to save the heartache and check a bag.
Since we travel as a couple, we can usually get away with sharing a suitcase, which helps save on baggage fees.
These days it is important to keep your stuff secure, especially if you are travelling with electronics. This backpack is perfect for keeping your things safe. Check out this article on the best backpack to travel Europe with.
2. Pack your basics - they won't change much no matter where/when you go
I've seen some bloggers recommend special travel underwear, and if that's your thing, then go for it. As for me, I like to wear the underwear I am comfortable wearing on a daily basis - you're already travelling in new places and situations, and you want to throw unfamiliar, potentially uncomfortable underwear into the mix? I don't think so!
Pack your basics like underwear first since you will be taking them no matter what, then see what kind of room you have to work with for your seasonal and location-dependent attire.
3. The key to staying warm while packing light - layers!
Layering thermals and long-sleeve t-shirts and will keep you just as warm and take up much less space. Plus, you can mix and match your outfits around more so your wardrobe is more diverse. I find fleece-lined legging super helpful in the winter. You can wear them on their own under a tunic or dress, or if it is really cold, wear them under your jeans or other pants as a comfy but discrete layer of warmth.
Merino wool socks are best at keeping your feet warm and dry and aren't too bulky. Both of us also like to use our fleece jacket as an extra layer if it's really cold or windy. We like our fleece jackets by The North Face, but wear whatever is going to comfy and warm for you.
4. Boots are best - just make sure they are comfortable!
No matter where in Europe you are headed this winter, boots are guaranteed to be the best footwear in terms of warmth and comfort. Just make sure they are at least semi-waterproof and have a comfortable enough sole for walking around on cobblestones.
Since boots take up a lot of space in luggage, opt to wear your boots on the plane. This frees up a lot of room for everything else you'll need.
No matter what shoes you choose to bring, remember you will be doing a lot of walking in Europe, so NEVER bring brand new shoes. Make sure you break them in and take them for a test drive on a long walk before your Europe trip.
5. Your coat will be in almost all of your photos
If you're considering taking a lot of cute tops to be fashionable on your winter Europe trip, think about what you'll actually be doing. If you're going to be doing a lot of sightseeing, you'll most likely be outside 80% of the time, which is also where the majority of your photos will be taken.
This means that in the winter in Europe, you will be wearing your coat in the majority of your photos. So not only should your coat be a good one to keep you warm and dry, make sure you like the way it looks if you care about what you look like in your photos.
Remember, choose your coat based on the coldest place you are visiting!
Here are a few good coats to consider for your winter trip to Europe:
6. Accessories will be your friend
Since you will probably be spending a lot of time outdoors during your time in Europe, you will want to take warm accessories such as a hat, scarf and gloves. For the fashion-conscious, not only can these things help keep you warm, but they can add interest to your outfits as well. I like to take at least two different scarves to change up my look since my coat most likely won't change from day-to-day.
For gloves, make sure to bring ones that are touchscreen compatible so you can document your trip and brag about it on Instagram without having to constantly take your gloves off and freeze your fingers!
Oh, and I've had many people ask me about my bag - it's from this shop on Etsy and I love it!
7. Save room for electronics and toiletries - they take up more room than you think!
Of course, this will vary depending on the person, but for us, our electronics, their accessories and our toiletries take up the majority of the space in our bags. If you are just taking a carry-on, then you will have to stick with the 3-1-1 rule for your toiletries, which will help. Even if you are checking a bag, try to keep things travel-sized to save space by using these reusable tubes.
In regards to electronics, consider what you actually need to bring. If you are not planning on getting any work done during your winter Europe trip, consider leaving the laptop at home and just taking a tablet or phone. One electronic device I always recommend to readers is a Kindle. I know some people still prefer real books, but if you read as much as I do, a Kindle will be a lifesaver when it comes to your luggage. I've been reading electronically for about 10 years now and have not gone back. No more figuring out what to do with the mountains of used books, and no more trying to figure out how to fit 5-10 books in my bag for a trip!
8. Flat packing vs rolling vs packing cubes - the never-ending debate...
For years I used to be adamant about rolling all my clothes whenever I would go on a trip, convinced it would save space and prevent wrinkles. It was not until we came back from our most recent trip that I switched to flat-packing my clothes, and I found that I could fit everything in the suitcase much easier. My experience was then validated by this article by Conde Nast Traveler.
We also used to use these space saver bags to try to condense everything, but for regular clothing, we learned that it doesn't really help much and we could fit a lot more in the suitcase by just flat-packing. We also hear really good things about packing cubes, which we really want to try but haven't taken the plunge yet. Maybe for our next Europe trip. While a lot of reports say these don't really minimise space, they do seem to keep your clothes much more organised, which is ideal when you are constantly on the move and just want to take out one outfit.
9. Don't forget you need something to sleep in!
For some reason, this is something I forget about until the last minute when I am packing, but definitely not something you want to leave behind, especially in the winter. You want to make sure you have something comfortable and warm to wear to bed, because who knows what the temperature is going to be like in your hotel room.
10. Avoid packing more than you need by staying in an Airbnb
If you've read our article about the pros and cons of using Airbnb, you'd know already that booking a vacation rental versus a hotel can save you from having to pack more clothing than you need as long as your rental has laundry facilities. We always make sure to book a place with a washer so we can do laundry on our trip to cut back on how much we pack. Although not very common in Europe, if you can find a place that also has a dryer, consider yourself lucky, as clothes can take a while to dry in the winter.
Carry-On Only Packing List For Winter in Europe
Scroll down just a little bit further for the much more beautiful printable version!
- 7 Pairs of underwear (your choice!)
- 5 Pairs of socks (Merino wool is best)
- 1 Hat (make sure it covers your ears)
- 1 Pair of gloves (touchscreen compatible!)
- 1-2 Scarves
- 1 Winter coat (wear on the plane)
- 1 Pair of boots (wear on the plane and make sure to break them in!)
- 1 set pyjamas (your choice)
- 5 Long-sleeve t-shirts
- 2 Thermal underwear/fleece-lined leggings
- 1 Sweater
- 2 Pairs of pants (your choice - black or dark colours are best)
- 1 Pair of flats or sneakers to change into (optional)
- 1 Fleece or light jacket for layering
- Sunglasses (it can still be sunny at times!)
Toiletries and Accessories
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Body wash
- Lip balm (cold and windy winters mean chapped lips!)
- Makeup if needed
- Razor if needed
- Hand sanitizer (read our post on why this is one of the most important things to pack!)
- Wet wipes
- First aid kit (read our post about what to put in your travel first aid kit)
- Electronics and chargers
- Water bottle
- Universal adaptor (perfect for making sure you can charge your stuff anywhere)
What are your must-have items are when travelling to Europe in the winter? Let us know in the comments!
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