How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in Europe

How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in Europe

I should add that the backpack is empty in this photo! See below for the full pack.

Let’s set the stage for this post.

In high school I went away for the weekend and packed a full-size suitcase. Yes, I managed to shove my sleeping bag in there as well, but that moment vividly stands out as the moment I recognized my true, suitcase-jamming-self. My name is Kat, and I am a chronic over-packer.

I’m starting off here, because I want to say, if I can manage to pack for 2 weeks in Europe in only a backpack, so can you.

How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in Europe

Our recent trip to Italy was my second foray into backpacking, my first being our trip through England and Scotland. I can’t tell you how many fellow travelers we met on our trip (including many Americans) that saw us with our backpacks and told us of their luggage envy.

If you are taking a vacation to a resort, where you take a shuttle from the airport to your hotel and back – take the suitcase. Go nuts. But if you’re taking a vacation that includes buses, trains, walking, old hotels with no elevators, old cities with cobblestone streets, and constant go-go-go plans – definitely consider backpacking.

I’ve never received more requests for posting on a topic than this one – so here it is!

How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in EuropeProof! I did it! and P.S. isn’t this work truck hilariously small?

Get the Right Pack

I bought a 50 liter camping pack from EMS (similar to this). As I come in at only 62 inches tall, I wear a size XS (they are sized by your height). I found this pack size to be manageable for carrying and will easily fit enough for a 2-week vacation. Be sure to get sized properly, it will make a big difference on your comfort level. While I certainly wouldn’t want to carry this all day, I was just fine whenever we had to walk 1-2 miles to a hotel or station.

Getting Type-A

The biggest misconception of backpacking is that you “can’t bring a lot of clothes” (according to one of the aforementioned luggage envy Americans we met). That’s not true! It just means packing smart and planning ahead.

[Enter OCD tendencies] Before I packed, I made a spreadsheet outlining what I would wear each day, ensuring that each item I was packing would be worn at least 2-3 times.

Below I’ll detail exactly what I packed, as well as random tips that come to mind if you’re looking to backpack for your next trip.

For my 2 week trip, I packed:

How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in Europe


  • 3 pairs of pants (two jeans, one stretchy)
  • 4 short-sleeve shirts and 1 sleeveless top
  • 3 thin sweaters
  • 3 long-sleeve shirts
  • 1 dress
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 raincoat
  • 1 thin jacket
  • 3 pairs of shoes (sneakers, sandals and flats)
  • 2 leggings
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 1 set pajamas
  • Socks (about five pair)
  • Underthings (I did a lot of research on packing tips from other people – some people re-use their undergarments. Not this girl.)

How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in Europe

A few tips on packing clothes:

  1. Rolling your clothes takes up less space, and will prevent wrinkles
  2. Pack things inside your shoes!
  3. Pack on a color scheme – everything should match with everything else
  4. Choose thin fabrics – jersey, stretchy or silky fabrics. These types of clothes take up less space
  5. Stay away from 100% cotton – it’s bulkier, will stay damp if it rains, and gets wrinkled more easily
  6. Shoes take up the most amount of space – choose wisely
  7. Wear your bulkiest clothes on the plane (blue jeans, sneakers, jacket, etc.)


Figure out what you can do without. For me this meant no hairdryer, no hair products, no extra purses, no clunky books. Buy the travel size items for the must-have products you need. Yes, you can bring a full-size deodorant. But you have to think about the fact that you can bring a pair of socks with the extra 3″ of space a travel-size one will save you.

How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in Europe

All this reduces to just one airport-regulated quart-size Ziploc bag and one toiletry bag.

How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in Europe

I packed:

  • 1 travel umbrella
  • Hat and gloves (just in case!)
  • 1 scarf and 1 pashmina
  • Sunglasses
  • 1 travel size hairbrush, hairbands and barettes
  • Tweezers and Razor
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
  • Sunscreen
  • Solid perfume
  • Cough drops (for the plane), Kleenex, BandAids
  • Contacts case. solution, glasses
  • Shower gel, Shampoo, Conditioner, Soap, Facewash
  • Eye Makeup Removal Wipes
  • Blush, Eye shadow, Coverup, Eyeliner, Mascara, Lipstick, Chapstick
  • 2 necklaces and 4 pairs of earrings (don’t bring anything chunky)
  • Ear plugs (for the plane)
  • Excedrin Migraine and Zzzquil
  • Extra gallon-sized ziploc bags
  • 1 small re-useable grocery bag (to keep laundry in)


How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in EuropeThis part will probably change from person to person. We’re a bit techy. Between the two of us we were bringing two camera, two Kindles, an iPod, iPhone and all the accompanying cords. I hesitated to pack the bulky Italy book, but it was definitely worth bringing.

I packed:

  • travel book
  • Kindle and Kandle (reading light)
  • Travel pack locks
  • Powershot, SD card and battery charger
  • Itinerary print-outs
  • Flexible tri-pod (L.L. Bean – it’s great!)
  • iPod and earbuds
  • Noise-cancelling headphones (for the plane)
  • Small changepurse (for all cash, U.S. Driver’s Licenses, U.S. credit cards, etc.)
  • Passports
  • Journal and lens
  • Deck of cards
  • SLR Camera, SD card, battery charger (not shown)

How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in Europe

I printed out a full itinerary – complete with hotel addresses and phone numbers, daily agendas and even walking directions. This is how I plan all my trips. And, frankly, I could write a whole separate post on how I put together my travel agendas. Once I have it all planned, I printed out two copies. One went in my purse, the other was an emergency back-up that Moose stuffed in the bottom of his pack. Also, I email our itinerary to family members so they know where we were are in case of an emergency.

Choosing a travel-friendly purse:

I looked at purses for ages trying to find the right (aka SAFE) one for this vacation. I wanted to make sure I chose something that I could use in everyday life, but also that would not be pick-pocket friendly.

I chose this blue, leather cross-body bag. I liked it because it was JUST big enough to fit my SLR camera, but not too big and clunky. The way the bag closes was the clincher for me – Not only did it have a zipper, but also a magnetic snap to shut the bag. Definitely not easy to sneak open on a crowded public bus.

How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in Europe

As I said, it’s a cross body bag, which is certainly one of the safest styles you can wear. I also like that the long strap can be removed and the bag can be carried by the handles.

I got this bag at Marshall’s but consider looking for a purse with similar characteristics if you are looking for a travel purse. I was extra cautious because this purse held all of our valuable items for the entire duration of the trip – passports, money, itinerary. As long as we had this purse, we were okay.
I’m certainly no pro, but I hope that helps those of you who A) are fellow over-packers and B) are looking to backpack for your next vacation!

Are you an over-packer like me? Have you considered backpacking for your next trip?

Any packing tips you can share with me?


28 thoughts on “How to: Backpack for a Two Week Vacation in Europe

  1. I knew you had done this but when you see all the things that you took spread out, I’m in awe!!
    And yes, I remember those full size suitcases for retreats or FCWC. You’ve come a long way, baby!

  2. Nicely done!!! When I did my two weeks through Britain, I had a carry-on size roller bag and a medium size purse. I really didn’t think that would be enough, but it’s all we were allowed – I ended up packing somewhat like you did, and it was just fine. πŸ™‚ As much as I love having all my options and paraphernalia, I loved only having two small bags even more – especially when we were on various buses, trains and the tube. πŸ™‚

  3. Great post Kat! Thanks for the tips. Here’s a tip: Put shoes in a plastic shower cap to keep shoe dirt and general ick off your clothes. I collect them from hotels as I need them. Free and easy.

    Also, I send all itinerary info to You can share specific trips with your family or friends and can access all details anywhere with an Internet connection. I am TERRIBLE about details of trips. I can never remember where I’m staying or which rental agency I have a reservation with. I often show up to the wrong hotel. TripIt at least gives me a CHANCE to get it right! πŸ™‚ (Your OCD might still dictate paper copies. I ditched paper itineraries awhile back, partly for security purposes. If you forget a copy at a restaurant or something, any creep knows which hotel to hang out at. Slightly paranoid, but an old employer prohibited paper copies for this reason. If I’m going somewhere with questionable Internet access, I just save a copy of the TripIt details to a note in my iPhone, iPad, etc.)

  4. I’ve been searching for the right sandal to bring on my month long trip and I really like the ones you have! Where did you get them? And what brand?

  5. I’m sorry but ‘two’ in ‘our recent trip two Italy’ is just so wrong. I’m sorry but ‘to’ is right so try to learn second grade grammar. Otherwise great post, loved it.

  6. “Try to learn second grade grammar”? That wasn’t very nice. Great article! Lots of really good tips. Hair products must come with me, though. My hair would be one hot, frizzy mess without them! πŸ™‚

  7. Ummm I am LOVING this post! I would love if you did one on your itinerary process, please oh please! Did you use any shoes for shower shoes? How were your feet after a day of exploring in your sandals & flats? Thank you for such a great post!

  8. I saw the bandaids, but don’t forget the rest of your first aid kit! I have a small pouch of bandaids, gauze, alcohol wipes, and Neosporin. I’ve very much needed these a few times; example- cutting off the very tip of my thumb in Paris with a swiss army knife (also handy)…. bled for hours. But would have been worse if I didn’t have my first aid kit!

  9. correction/addition for my post: only bring a swiss army knife if it’s NOT in your carry-ons. Otherwise I would buy one at the location of destination.

  10. Yikes!! That’s a great idea! I’ll definitely remember that for next time!

  11. Great article. I’ve only recently been travelling and trying to figure out how to pack less. Paying $60 to check my carry on because I just didn’t want to manage it anymore was my first realization I may have a problem. Just curious, do you have any articles on how you document or journal your trip?

  12. thanks Karen! I don’t have any posts on how I document my trip. I usually bring a small journal and then force myself to write for a few minutes every night before I go to sleep. I also like to make my husband write too – it’s funny to see what different things stood out to us! If we are on a train, I usually write then too. Generally I write what activities we did, food we ate, and anything interesting I learned that day. Also, Moleskine makes some city-specific travel journals. I had the Rome one for our Italy trip and it was very helpful because inside the journal were maps of Rome – quite useful!

  13. Found you on pinterest and this article is great! We are going on our honeymoon to Munich and Italy at the end of Sept through mid October (18 days) and my fiance wants us to each pack our things in a 25L Pacsafe backpack! That’s like a regular Jansport size! I’m not sure we could do it, and we’ve stayed away from the big camping bags like you used (only because they don’t have the security features of the 25L we’re looking at)…Were you carrying your bags with you all the time, and were you concerned at all with them being targeted by pickpockets? I know you mentioned the purse and being cautious about that, but didn’t see anything about your packs! Great post! Oh and we were thinking of only packing enough clothes each for a week and just doing laundry… thoughts?

  14. Have a great honeymoon! That IS a small backpack. As you can see we packed ours pretty full and that’s 2x the size. To each their own! As much as possible we left our packs in our locked hotel rooms, or in a locked communal storage area in hostels. I kept everything valuable in my purse, so while getting anything stolen from the bag would have been very annoying, it wouldn’t have been anything serious (like passports, tickets, or money). The rest of the time we were just very aware of our surroundings. When we were on buses or trains, or other places where we were packed in close with other people we would watch out for our packs and stand in corners or against the wall if possible. I wasn’t too considered about security with the pack because the camping pack had a drawstring and so many clips that it wouldn’t have been easy for a pickpocketer to get into. (As opposed to a lock, which I am guessing you mean by security?)

    For laundry, we did wash a few things in sinks. Especially for my husband, he packed a lot of those athletic quick-dry shirts, so we knew they would dry overnight. Sometimes it was difficult to do laundry in the sinks because we were moving around so often that we wouldn’t have enough time to dry before it was time to go again. So I’d either plan to pack quick-drying fabrics, or if you are willing to sacrifice an evening to get to a laundromat, that works too. Have a great trip!

  15. Awesome post, thanks! What season were you there during? We are going in two weeks May 3-May 18 to Paris, Barcelona, Cinque Terre, Venice, & Rome. I’m not sure how to pack for the variety of weather- 55-75 degrees.

  16. hello! We went the same time as you will be there, mid-May. It was actually warmer than I anticipated, so I ended up rolling my pants into capris a few days. Glad I packed a skirt and a dress too. : ) Not sure if we just got lucky with the weather or that’s typical. Have fun! Sounds like a great trip!

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