There are two questions I commonly get asked when people learn about the 8-month trip Mr. Valise and I took last year:
- How did you plan for and afford to travel that long?and
- How did you fit everything in a single backpack?
I’m working on answering the first question now in an ebook, but the second question is much easier.
My Philosophy of Packing and Minimalism
I’ve previously shared what I called an Extreme Light Packing List for Ladies. That post featured a weekend’s worth of clothing you could fit in a purse, and readers have found it helpful ever since.
Ask anyone who’s traveled long term: the less you pack, the less you have to carry.
It sounds cheesy, but reducing your belongings to travel is actually liberating. The Minimalism movement suggests that while we think our belongings make us happy, reducing them removes a lot of stress. Long-term travel forces you to accept this, or risk throwing your back out every time you have to hop a train or plane somewhere new.
This brings us back to my point: when Mr. V and I set out for our eight-month trip, we packed too much. By the end of our time in New York, I offloaded about 20% of the items I had brought. By the end of our U.S. tour in Des Moines, I reduced another 10%. In the end, I fit everything for our four-month journey through Europe in a 33L Lowe Alpine backpack.
Need more tips on picking a great backpack? My blogger friend Danny’s guide to the best backpacks for European travel will set you up nicely.
How was this possible? Here’s what I packed for our long-term European travels.
Admittedly, this wasn’t all that I packed, but let’s start with the clothes.
If you’re traveling long-term through Europe, there are several considerations to keep in mind:
- You’re going to be changing seasons. You need to plan ahead and choose items that can work in at least three seasons. In our case, we had to pack for Summer (in sweltering Greece), Autumn (in France and Germany), and Winter (in bitterly cold Austria). Here’s another helpful packing list for multi-season travel, if you want a second perspective from a fellow blogger.
- The cheapest way to travel is by a low-cost air carrier. Airlines like Ryanair, Easy Jet, Norwegian Air, Blue Air… these airlines are significantly cheaper than ‘flag carriers’ like British Airways or AirFrance. But they can actually cost more if you try to check a bag. If you want to travel cheap, you need to be willing to have only carry-on luggage.
- Black is the new black. Say what you will, life is simple when 80% of your wardrobe is all black. Personally, I added a few accent color pieces but kept my base color black so that everything could mix and match. I hardly ever wore the one pair of pants I had that wasn’t black or gray because it didn’t match enough other pieces.
What Clothes to Pack for Long-Term European Travel
Here’s the exact list of clothes I packed for our four-month European trip:
- 4 Tank Tops – I always recommend layering tanks in neutral colors, because they can reduce your laundry frequency, and go well with everything.
- 2 Shirts in Low-Wrinkle Material – You need comfortable, low-wrinkle clothes you can wear in a variety of settings and layer up if the weather gets cold. Go for one with shorter sleeves, and one with longer sleeves.
- 2 Pains of Legging ‘Jeans’ – I love my legging jeans normally, but they were the only type of pants I brought with me. One pair on me and one pair folded in my bag; no bulky denim or trousers that wrinkle!
- 1 Multi-Function/Versatile Item – I have a whole section on ‘multi-functional travel clothing’ below because this is the secret to my success. I highly recommend the Encircled Chrysalis Cardi as it can be worn a variety of different ways, including as a scarf or dress.
- 1 Pair of Tights – Tights aren’t used often, but they serve two purposes: they dress up your look when you need to be fancy, and they can be worn as another layer when the weather gets cold. Trust me – when it’s winter in Vienna, you’ll take whatever you can get!
- 1 Sweater – I love the cowl neck sweater I picked up in Freiburg, Germany. It was a much-needed additional layer as the seasons changed. If you’re trying to save space, consider buying a sweater on the road, and plan to wear it on travel days.
- 1 Hoodie & Jacket – I always travel in a hoodie and jacket; it’s a staple of my wardrobe and perfect for layering. I also like wearing it for workouts or first thing in the morning while I prepped coffee in a new Airbnb.
- 1 Pair of Flats – You already know my suggestion here. Tieks! Trust me, they’re worth it, and they pack up small on travel days. (Read my Tieks review here.)
- 1 Pair of Boots – Black calf-length leather boots are always in, in Europe. They’ll go with everything too!
- 1 Pair of Running Shoes – Keeping a workout routine is crucial to my mental health, so I spent the space to bring my favorite pair of running shoes (Mizuno Wave Inspire 12).
- 1 Pair of Workout Shorts – Your shorts can double as workout clothes and pajamas. You can also wear them in the summer during the day, so opt for a neutral color.
- 1 Swimsuit – Whether it’s swimming in the Med in August or enjoying a Finnish Sauna in January, a cute swimsuit is required for travel.
- Undergarments – Personally, I packed 3 pairs of socks, 10 pairs of underwear, plus 1 sports bra, 1 regular padded bra, and 1 travel bra (I recommend Somi Apparel). Ladies, trust me you don’t need more pairs of underwear or bras than this!
- Accessories – I’d also recommend having sunglasses, and a winter hat and gloves (or buying them once you’re there).
Additional Items to Pack
Obviously, that doesn’t cover everything you need to pack. Here are other things you should remember to put in your bag in the nooks and crannies between clothes:
- Toiletries – You can buy some things on the road, depending on how long you stay in one place or how you travel (train vs. plane). Don’t bring extra things from home (like the extra toothbrush I carried for three months!); you can buy them wherever you are!
- A Travel First Aid Kit – I like to bring a small container with some familiar meds and treatments from home. Be sure to include a dose of cold and flu medicine, as well as some ibuprofen. You want to stock this kit with just enough that you could get through the night until the clinic or pharmacy opens.
- Camera Gear – I purposely downsized from a big camera to my iPhone before my trip. You can read more about the iPhoneography gear I travel with.
- Your Computer – If you plan to work and travel, get adept at sliding your computer in and out of your fully packed bag. Because airport security sucks! (Read tips about being better at Airport Security.)
- Your Wallet, Passport, and Travel Documents – Duh. But also, put these in an outside pocket with a zipper, so you can access them easily.
- Personal Effects – A small stuffed animal, travel journal, or jewelry you love. I don’t remember exactly what I bought that fit in this category… but my bag was always full!
That should just about fill up your bag completely! Was there anything I missed?
Oh! One last thing…
What About Multi-Function or Versatile Travel Clothing?
If you know me IRL, you know I’m a huge fan of versatile travel clothing. I love the nifty way a single garment can change shape and function with a few snaps or strings.
There are three main versatile travel clothing options I highly recommend:
The Chrysalis Cardigan – As mentioned above, I am a big fan of my Chrysalis Cardi by Encircled. This single clothing item can be worn 8+ ways, including as a scarf, a dress, a top, and a cardigan. From $138 CAD.
The Unique Travel Set – I just found out about the Unique Travel Set through their Kickstarter, and I’m totally in love with the set they sent me. The 7-item set includes a dress, pants, leggings, and a cap, and can be combined up to 30 ways. From $242 on their Kickstarter page.
Versalette – The Versalette by Seamly is the only item on this list that I don’t own, but I’m planning to buy when they go on sale next month. This item can be worn up to 30 ways, including as a dress, top, and skirt. From $110, not currently on sale.
What I love about all three of these versatile travel clothes items is that they make it easy to be prepared for any situation: if you need to dress up or dress down, they can adjust as your travel plans and lifestyle do. This sounds like a cheesy line again, but seriously, I’m such a nerdy fan of these kinds of items.
If you decide to invest in these, you can significantly reduce the number of items you need to pack!