Two Months, Twelve Countries, One Bag: How We Backpacked Light in Europe

Two Months, Twelve Countries, One Bag: How We Backpacked Light in Europe

Ian and I just returned from an amazing 2-month trip to Europe. We visited 12 countries in our “road less traveled” style, planning a flexible route on a reasonable schedule and budget, staying mostly at Airbnbs with some hotel stays mixed in between. And we packed only one medium-sized backpack each, weighing in at just 17 pounds (8 kg).

Whether you’re headed abroad for two weeks, months or years, if you want to pack light for an easy backpacking trip, steal our packing strategies and lists here!

Backpacking Light in Europe: How we packed in just one backpack each for our two-month Europe trip

our packed bags and airplane attire

Our Europe Trip

Never having been on a Europe backpacking trip before, our destinations included several classics and a few off the beaten path. We started in Paris and then traveled to Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Salzburg, Lake Hallstatt, Munich, Malaga, Tenerife, Budapest, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Rome, and Cinque Terre, ending our trip in Reykjavik. (See our full itinerary here, and check out photos from our trip on Instagram!)

We traveled between cities mostly by bus, train, or plane, only renting a car for small portions of our trip. Once at our destinations, we walked and took public transportation to get around.

Don’t miss our post “How to Get Around Europe for Cheap.”

Through Airbnb we booked some fantastic local apartments (get a discount off your first stay with our link), and occasionally we stayed at a well-rated budget-friendly hotel booked through hotels.com (get $50 a $300 booking).

How We Packed: Sample Packing Lists and Recommended Gear

Our Europe Packing List

At first, we thought twelve countries in two months may be too ambitious for us — it involved a decent amount of transit time between destinations and it’s considerably faster than we typically move — but it proved to be a lovely, relaxing trip thanks to light packing.

Our detailed bag contents are shown and listed below. Hers on the left, his on the right.

Backpacking Light in Europe: How we packed for two months in Europe in just one backpack

Diana’s stuff is the ABC’s and Ian’s is the 123’s.

Her Bag His Bag
(A) JanSport Watchtower Backpack (1) Timbuk2 Phoenix Cycling Backpack
Clothes

(B) Packing Cube

  • 4 camisoles
  • 2 sheer short sleeve blouses
  • 2 racerback tank tops
  • v-neck t-shirt
  • lightweight 3/4 sleeve shirt
  • athletic shorts
  • 2 sports bras

(C) Socks & Undies

  • 5 pairs socks
  • 10 pairs underwear

(D) Thermoball Jacket

(E) Rain Pants

(F) Rain Jacket

(G) Swim Suit

(H) Additional Clothing Items

  • casual blazer-style jacket
  • long lightweight knit cardigan
  • durable black leggings
  • scarf
  • knit hat

(I) Flip Flops

Items Worn in Flight (not pictured)

  • jeans
  • long sleeve shirt
  • running shoes
  • fedora
  • pair stud earrings + 2 bracelets
  • sunglasses

Gadgets

(J) 13″ Macbook Pro

(K) Macbook charger

(L) Kindle

(M) Sony RX100 III camera with strap

(N) External Hard Drive

(O) USB Charging Cable + Adapter

(P) 1 Europe Power Adapter

Not pictured: cell phone

Toiletries

(Q) “Dry” Items

  • toothbrush
  • contact lens case
  • empty 2 oz bottle
  • travel pack of Q-tips
  • medication
  • basic makeup
  • travel pack of hand wipes
  • comb

(R) Liquids

  • travel toothpaste
  • travel-size contact solution
  • extra contacts
  • deodorant
  • 1 oz body lotion
  • 1 oz face cream
  • triple antibiotic ointment
  • 1 oz sunscreen
  • small nail polish
  • 2 nail polish remover wipes

(S) Plastic Soap Container

(T) Misc.

  • Invisalign trays
  • medications
  • travel health insurance docs

Miscellaneous

(U) Packable Daypack

(V) Inflatable Neck Pillow

(W) Passports

Clothes

(2) Packing Cube

  • 4 t-shirts
  • 2 quick-dry t-shirts
  • 1 easy-wash short sleeve button down shirt
  • 1 athletic shorts/swim trunks
  • 1 easy-wash khaki shorts
  • 8 pairs socks
  • 6 pairs underwear

(3) Jacket

(4) Rain Jacket

(5) Flip Flops

Items Worn in Flight (not pictured)

  • jeans
  • belt
  • short sleeve button down easy-wash shirt
  • baseball cap
  • sunglasses
  • running shoes

Gadgets

(6) Tablet

(7) Portable Bluetooth Keyboard

(8) Sony a7S camera

(9) Camera Lens

(10) Memory Cards

(11) Camera Batteries and Charger

(12) Tripod

(13) Flashlight

(14) Chargers

(15) External Battery

Not pictured: cell phone

Toiletries

(16) Toiletry Bag

  • toothbrush
  • floss
  • nail clippers
  • travel toothpaste
  • nasal allergy spray
  • 1 oz hydrocortisone cream

Miscellaneous

(17) Waterproof Bag

(18) Canvas Sack

(19) Inflatable Neck Pillow

(20) Writing Materials

  • notebook
  • pencil
  • pen
  • sharpie

Not pictured: travel safe

See how everything packed up in this video:

Highly Recommended Packing and Travel Gear

The following items were especially handy throughout our trip. Together they helped us stay organized and comfortable and kept our valuables safe.

Pacsafe 12L travel safe

great for those traveling with expensive tech gear, especially a laptop or other item too large to fit in a hotel safe. We used this almost everywhere, about 80% of the time.

Eagle Creek packing cubes

perfect for keeping clothes organized inside your bag. We used these the whole time. Ian prefers the larger cubes, and I prefer the smaller ones.

 rei-ditty-sack

REI drawstring ditty sack

a handy, multipurpose sack. I stored either my camera or Macbook charger inside the medium ditty sack in this set.

Sea to Summit ultrasil daypack

a fantastically packable daypack solution. We used this every single day in Europe for everything from grocery shopping to stowing jackets and cameras.

16″ Tenba messenger wrap

a flexible padded wrap with velcro great for cameras and other electronics. Ian stored his Sony a7S in this throughout the trip.

Sierra Designs rain jacket and pants

ultra lightweight, come with their own stuff sacks, and also useful in chilly or windy conditions. They’re super easy to take along in your daypack just in case you need them.

Our Packing Strategies for a Lightweight Europe Trip

Here are 10 guidelines we stick to when we need to pack light for any trip.

  1. Limit yourself to one backpack. Everything you aren’t wearing should fit inside it.
  2. Pack for a 5-day trip, despite the length of your trip, and plan to do small amounts of laundry in the sink throughout.
  3. Pack lightweight, quick-dry clothing items (e.g. synthetics instead of cotton). This will allow you to pack fewer items since doing laundry will be less of a hassle. We really like ExOfficio underwear, and Ian’s a new fan of Uniqlo heattech tees.
  4. Pack versatile clothing items (e.g. neutral colors and items that layer well and give you a variety of outfit options).
  5. Don’t go overboard with “just in case” items.
  6. Don’t pack too many toiletries. Shampoo and soap is provided nearly everywhere, so skip those. Toothbrush and travel toothpaste: yes, of course. It’s also okay to pack a few “emergency” 1-oz toiletries (which will save you loads of space over the 3-oz max size), but stick to things you use every day that a hotel may not provide you (e.g. conditioner). You can always buy toiletries abroad if/when you need them at a supermarket or pharmacy in Europe. Note: I packed an empty 2-oz plastic squeeze bottle (useful for any liquid I may want to hang on to a flight-size portion of) and an empty plastic soap container so I could hang on to my soap once I needed to buy it.
  7. Pack no more than two pairs of shoes. We each packed athletic shoes and flip flops, wearing the athletic shoes whenever in transit.
  8. Fold, don’t wad, your dirty laundry. It doesn’t have to be a pretty folding job, but this will ensure your dirty laundry doesn’t take up more space than it did when it was clean. We each kept most of our clean clothing items in a packing cube, and I got in the habit of folding my dirty clothes and stacking them at the bottom of my bag.
  9. Keep items you need to access easily accessible. I keep my passport, hand wipes, Kindle, and jacket handy at all times. Toiletries on top for airport travel.
  10. Keep your organization consistent. Store things in the same place in your bag each time you pack up to head to a new destination. Designate a pocket in your bag for your passport. This will help you find stuff more easily and make it easier to notice if you’re missing something.

Don’t forget to save space available for a few small souvenirs!

Backpacking Light in Europe: How we packed for two months in Europe in just one backpack

If you found this post helpful, check out our other Europe posts. Good luck packing light for your Europe trip!

About the Author

Diana Southern
In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.

2 Responses

  1. Ariel September 12, 2016 / 10:56 am

    Hello! I’m wondering if the backpacks used are carry-on size?
    P.S. SUPER helpful list! Thank you!!

    • Diana Southern September 12, 2016 / 11:44 am

      Yes! Both backpacks are both carry-on size.

      Sometimes we even put these bags under the seats in front of us as our personal items (although that’s a bit of a stretch).

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