Choosing what to pack for a trip to a stylish destination — like Europe — can be stressful, especially if you’re trying to pack light. That’s because you want to be comfortable for days of walking — whether you’re on a hike or just hoofing around town — and you want to look stylish when visiting museums, galleries, theaters, or nice restaurants.
I’ve got my packing list of travel clothes for Europe down to what I consider the essentials, and I’ve done it for as long as three weeks with just what you see below. Of course, your mileage may vary based on how long you’re traveling and what activities you’re planning for, but this is where I start.
These are the scenarios I’m trying to cover:
- General touring - Including walking around cities, climbing the stairs of old castles, etc. My goal is to stay comfortable in all temperatures and also dressed well enough to not feel out of place wherever I go.
- Going out - Ready to enjoy a nice meal or a fine museum, on the spot - even right after a hike.
- Exercise - It’s a must for me, so I have to pack for it.
- Occasional cold weather - This part can add to your load. This list is for what to wear in Europe for summer, but bigger adventures typically require more gear. But because our clothing is designed to work on the trail, I have a lot of success layering the same pieces I wear to a museum as I do in cold weather at higher altitudes.
Of course this list is Bluffworks heavy, but this is why I built these clothes: to meet my needs while traveling, and be some of the best travel clothes for Europe (and beyond).
I only pack one pair of pants and one pair of casual shorts. Obviously I like Bluffworks because they work for every situation, don’t wrinkle or stain, and can easily be washed and dried on the go. I created them to be the best travel pants for Europe and similar destinations. Our Originals are the best hot weather pants; and Chinos are our best hiking pants for more active trips. In addition, I bring a pair of workout shorts or often a swimsuit that I use to work out in. (I’m trying to build up the courage to tell you the bathing suit story from Lyon. Maybe, another time…)
- 1-2 pair of pants. (For me, one is all I need.)
- 1 casual pair of shorts
- 1 additional pair of shorts / bathing suit for workout or swim
When I think about what to wear in Europe, my goal is to carry things that allow me to be active while still looking great. As shirts absorb more odor than pants, you have to be crafty. Our dress shirt (coming soon) is a staple for me, as with its anti-microbial properties I can wear it for days. Then at the end, to really hammer it, I wear the shirt to exercise in right before a wash. What I have yet to find is a performance workout shirt that doesn’t look too synthetic and can be worn multiple times. Some people enjoy wool, but I find them too warm.
- 1-2 button down shirts (good for 2-3 days of wear, each)
- 1 casual shirt
- 2 workout t-shirts
Favorites: Bluffworks Dress Shirt (coming soon!), a casual short sleeve button down or polo, your favorite workout shirts.
I’m often cold and frequently end up on a mountain when I travel. When going someplace chilly, I wear our blazer as an extra layer (whether it's a frigid airplane or an alpine hike), and I love adding a down vest on top of it. When I put everything on this list together, there’s no need to pack a bulky, heavy coat, and I have a solution for the right level of insulation in lots of different settings.
- 1 blazer
- 1 wool zip pullover
- 1 down vest
- 1 rain shell
Favorites: Bluffworks Gramercy Blazer, Merino Pullover from Smartwool, Mont Bell Down Vest, Mont Bell Rain Shell (Mont Bell is serious about their tech fabrics. But as a Japanese brand, be sure to buy products that are in Western, not Asian sizing.)
I usually bring 5-6 pairs of underwear, and 4-5 pairs of wool socks that I can wear a couple of times each. You can carry fewer if you sink wash them.
- 4-5 pairs of socks
- 5-6 pairs of underwear
Favorites: Darn Tough Socks. I haven’t found the perfect travel underwear yet, and currently wear athletic underwear that isn’t too expensive.
Belts and sunglasses are very personal. My favorite belt is from Satchel and Paige, because they are of beautiful, high quality without breaking the bank; and will last forever. I find it hard to find a stylish travel hat. I always have a baseball cap for activity, but they don't always work in urban settings. If you’ve got a suggestion for a travel hat, please let me know. Other additions to accessories are a wool cap and light gloves, because they enable me to be comfortable on hikes in cold weather at higher altitude.
- 1 belt
- 1 sun hat
- 1 pair of sunglasses
- 1 warm hat and light gloves
Favorites: Satchel & Paige Belt.
I recently wrote a whole post about how I choose my shoes for Europe. It isn’t easy to find the perfect pair of shoes for every situation, but I’ve figured out how to cover all my needs with just two pairs.
- 1 walking / city shoes
- 1 workout / water shoes
This packing list for Europe operates based on a few assumptions:
The first is that you’ll do laundry while traveling. If you assume that, it enables you to go forever and yet still pack light. The shirts on this list will go for 2-3 days without washing, and pants more. How many you bring is a factor of how often you plan to do laundry. Once a week is a good target.
I like to find a local laundry service over hand washing in the sink, or paying high hotel fees. Everyone needs laundry done all over the world, and if you take two seconds to look, you’ll likely find a reasonable deal.
Another assumption is how much you carry must align with your bag. I don’t like roller bags, as I find twisting to drag them less comfortable than carrying a load. I’m a both-hands-free, ready for action kind of guy, so backpacks are my way to go.
I like the Tortuga Outbreaker backpack. At 45L it’s the right size for most overseas travel — as long as I’m not carrying wetsuits, climbing gear, etc. It’s water resistant and has pockets galore for organization.
What does it take to pack light?
You may have read a packing list like this before, but then struggled to stick to it. The question is, why?
It’s probably because you’re concerned about not having something you need. One view is that wasting precious vacation time to shop, or ending up in a lurch without something is a bummer. But, that’s not necessarily going to happen.
I prefer to:
- Be excited about buying what I need abroad. Last summer before going on a high alpine hike at the incredible all inclusive Colonie de Vacances I stayed at, I bought a pair of mid weight gloves. And I now think of my trip to France every time I use them. The scarf you buy in Paris, sandals in Senegal, sweater in Tokyo will become mementos that may join you on a future trip, and are much more useful than careless souvenirs.
- Consider the worst that could happen. Backpacking trip to Southern Utah? I’m extraordinarily prepared. Touring Montreal, it’s going to be OK.
- Wherever I’m going, I embrace the local solution. I remind myself that people survive there, and probably have a fix for whatever I need. When I lived in Vietnam, while riding my motorbike I would see pumps and water bins sitting by the side of the road. This was the sign for “flats fixed here.” Now, when I travel, I enjoy trusting the culture I’m headed to explore, and believe the world will provide.
- Lastly, I have come home from a trip after packing too much so many more times than I have been stuck without something. So, I challenge myself to go the other way, to narrow down the sweet spot of what I need.
I once read that any resource you have should never be fully invested. Leave home with less than you need, and a bag that has room to absorb the unexpected joys of things from a foreign land.
When I solve problems abroad using local solutions, it makes me feel more immersed in the culture.
After all, that's the whole thrill, right?