Backpacking for Beginners: What to Pack for Backpacking in Europe

We’ve all had a “what if?” moment while packing for a big trip: What if my sunglasses snap? What if I need an extra pair of boots because the weather gets cold and wet? What if I can’t fit everything into my backpack?

Let’s take a deep breath—the reality is that even if you left with nothing but your passport, travel insurance and bank card, you’d probably be able to get most of the other essentials wherever you’re going.

But since you’ve got a nice backpack to take, we have a few tips on how to fill it. It all comes down to one main question: If you’re running for a train in Istanbul, hiking up a hill to your hostel in Perugia or walking onto a flight with a carry-on limit, what do you want to have strapped to your back?

The short answer is, of course, only the necessities. This should be less than 10 kilos, including your bag.  Here’s how that breaks down…


We’ve talked about bags before in our first backpacking for beginners post, and we stand by our recommendations. A light bag means a happy traveller, but there isn’t one pack that’s best for everyone. It’s really important to make sure that your pack fits to your frame and doesn’t rub, pinch, or unevenly distribute weight. An ill-filling bag will slowly beat you up for your troubles, sometimes leaving bruises and aches.

Make sure your pack fits your torso size, has an appropriately-sized belt that sits above your waist and doesn’t slide below, and allows you to carry most of the weight on your waist and not on your shoulders.

The only way you’ll know what works best for you is to try on lots of backpacks, so don’t be shy when shopping around!

Clothes and shoes

Clothes will likely be the thing that gives you the biggest backache. Pare down your clothing as much as you can. A simple tip is to make sure to bring layers and clothes that more or less match each other so you can mix it up while you’re on the road. Depending on your trip type, you may want to pack a few pieces that you can spruce up so that you don’t stick out like a sore thumb if you want to indulge a bit and go to a nice restaurant or pub.

Make sure you pack for the weather as well, even if this goes against forecasts. Does it often rain where you’re going, but the forecast calls for clear skies? Bring the raincoat. This is less of a “what if” and more of a “when”.

As for shoes, make sure you’ve got a few pairs that can pull double duty. Depending on where you’re going, you might want to consider lighter and fast-drying hiking shoes vs. boots, and comfortable trainers to walk around in over flats with no support for city trips.

Whether you plan to travel for 4 weeks or 4 months, you shouldn’t bring much more than what you’d need for a week or two—be prepared to do laundry and bring clothes that dry quickly. If you’re still curious, we talk more about what to pack in our other backpacking checklist post.

Electronics and extras

For most, backpacking is about more than just the clothes on your back—it’s about the photos you take, the lessons you learn and the memories you bring back home. Consider packing these into the nooks and crannies of your bag:

  • A headlamp or a keychain flashlight- Handy for night time adventures or misadventures.
  • A small notebook- Bonus points for ones that can fit in your pockets for easy access. Perfect for names, directions, memories, and anything you want to remember along the way.
  • A camera- Obviously you may have to make some tough decisions about what lenses to bring and how much space you’ll have. Make sure you play it smart security-wise with cameras and other electronics while you’re travelling.
  • A book, kindle, or iPad mini- With physical books you can’t bring your whole library, but you can pick up second hand English books in most cities around Europe. Only take one to minimise weight and space and pick more up along the way.  Many hostels will have take-one-leave-one books as well. For the tech-savvy: you can also double your library if you swap kindles/iPads with your travel partner—more to read, more to talk about on the road.
  • Laptops and cell phones- Depending on the type of traveller you are, these may be in your bag, especially if you’re blogging or keeping up with friends and family from home. Check the cell phone plan you’re on to see if your phone will work abroad, but worst case scenario, there’s always the possibility of wifi if you’re city-bound.

Handy items that make your life easier

  • Quick-drying travel towels- Smaller, easier, and handier than their cotton cousins, most travel towels will dry in a few hours and save your bag from funky smells.
  • Battery extensions- You can charge these in advance and plug your electronics into them to charge up your battery without being tied to a wall plug.
  • Money belts - love them or hate them, they’re worth a shot if you’ve never carried one. If you’re not into money belts, carry a lightweight wallet in a front pocket (never your back!)
  • Sealable plastic bags- great for anything dirty or wet.
  • Eye masks, earplugs, or a good pair of headphones- Even if you’re a heavy sleeper, you can’t underestimate the snores of your fellow hostel sleepers.

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, this should give you a good start. At the end of the day, you’re the one who will have to carry your bag—make sure every ounce is worth it!


Read More: 7 Travel Tips For Using Public Transport


Worrying about having enough pairs of socks is fine, worrying about how to pay your medical bills while away from home is not. Pack away your worries with AIG’s extensive backpacker travel insurance.


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