If packing makes you want to set your hair on fire, this article’s for you because today I’m sharing all my best tips for packing to make sure you have the most stress-free experience possible, especially if you’ll be travelling to Europe.
As someone who has been travelling and living in Europe for the past five years, I’ve learned a thing or two about what packing hacks actually work and what weirdo ones are a total waste of time.
Trust me, by the end of this article, you’ll be an absolute packing master.
Be sure to stay til the end too for a special section all about some genius packing HACKS that are just the stuff of true Pinterest dreams.
So, let’s get started – here are some packing life hacks that you 100% need to know for your next trip.
1. Always start with a packing list
I know, this is such a ‘mom’ tip, but there’s a reason why moms are always right. Especially in the stressful few days before a trip, it’s all too easy to forget items you need. That’s why I always make a packing list to keep myself organized!
If that sounds daunting though, as your fairy travelmother I’ve already created some printable checklists which you can download in my VIP Zone here.
Now beyond just having a list, what’s important is you should also be reviewing this list right before you leave so you don’t leave anything out. I actually always write a “HARDCORE ESSENTIALS” note on my phone that I review the morning of my flight, including things like passport, money, hair straightener (sorry, I’m vain), and sunglasses (the #1 thing I manage to always forget). This way I know I have everything I absolutely need before I go.
A very underutilized tip is to also just reference this packing list on the way home too to make sure you haven’t left anything behind.
2. Know your airline’s baggage fee policy
This seems like a very basic tip but a LOT of new travellers to Europe fall into a trap where they don’t check their airline or transport’s baggage fee policy beforehand since they’re not used to the randomness European airlines. This is a huge mistake because they can be frighteningly inconsistent, especially the budget ones like RyanAir or Wizz Air.
SO, avoid surprises at the airport by knowing what you’re working with right from the start. A quick Google before you pack can help save you loads of stress (and potential overweight fees!)
You can also invest in a cheap handheld luggage scale like this one for less than 10 bucks off Amazon which you can use for years and it’s great for ease of mind.
3. Bring the right bag
The topic of “best bag for traveling” is highly subjective of course, but I really can’t stress enough how important it is for you to choose the right bag for your travel style and destination. Bringing the right bag is the difference between breezing through your travel days without crying vs. sobbing in a frustrated puddle on your hotel floor. Okay – that’s dramatic, but having the right bag is important.
For me personally, I’ve outgrown the backpacking stage of my life and tend to do a lot of city breaks, stay in mid-range hotels, and travel light because I’m so often on the go. That’s why I travel with a very compact carry-on hard shell suitcase (almost identical to this one). I think one of these is perfect for European travel because they’re quite handy, easy to carry, fit nicely on trains and overhead bins and still look pretty smart so you don’t feel terribly out of place in fashionable cities like Paris or Milan.
Of course, if you’re travelling with a family, you’ll need bigger bags, or if you’re backpacking, you’ll need a good backpack. What’s important regardless of the type of bag you choose is you pick something that A) you LOVE, because you’ll have it ALL the time, B) something that you’ve tested before and C) something that you can easily carry because Europe has so many stairs, cobblestones, etc.
4. Use packing cubes
I am obsessed with packing cubes. The amount I own is honestly frightening. They not only help you stay organized, but also save loads of space in your suitcase/backpack. These are my #1 travel game changers, and if you buy a good quality set, they’ll last a super long time.
I personally use my packing cubes to organize tops, bottoms ,etc. but I’ve also heard of people getting small cubes and separating them into different outfits for each day.
5. Roll your clothes
This is a Game. Changer.
One of my best suitcase packing tips is for you to simply roll your clothes! Seriously, if you’re not currently rolling your clothes instead of folding them, do it! The jury is still out on whether it actually saves space or actually minimizes wrinkles but I love it because it makes it way easier to see at a glance what you’ve packed and what items you can choose from.
If you’re feeling especially crafty you can master the art of something called the Ranger Roll which apparently is used a lot in the military – it basically rolls your garments into fun little burritos. This helps compress things but I’m a bit lazy so I just roll like normal and it’s fine.
6. Invest in protective covers /wraps
Now, this tip is more geared towards people like me travelling with any kind of fragile gear like cameras, gimbals, etc. But really if you travel with anything mildly fragile like perfume bottles or intend to buy anything fragile like mugs… (I love a good a mug) then it’s really handy to have some of these protective wraps with you.
I have two, this one from Domke which is a great brand, but also an Amazon brand one that does the exact same thing for way cheaper. They’re basically these padded Velcro wraps that you can use to protect anything. I use them for my camera and gimbal, so I effectively turn any bag of mine into a camera bag and can just wrap any item up really easily and toss it in my backpack.
Of course, you can also use a fluffy scarf or something for the same purpose, but I just think the wraps are a little bit smarter and easier to handle, plus they’re not very expensive so they’re a good purchase if you travel often.
7. Plan your outfits
One thing I would 100% advise against is bringing anything just in case, or anything that doesn’t really match a lot of different items, because you’ll probably not end up using it enough to justify bringing it.
Planning your outfits in advance can really help you streamline your vacation wardrobe, and also ensure that you look good during your trip. Click here to check out my minimalist travel packing lists for both Summer and Europe travel.
8. DIY your own travel size toiletries
I still see a lot of people buying mini size toiletries from shops that cost like 1-2 bucks per bottle, but I don’t think this is really practical. Those mini bottles are a huge waste of plastic and also you’re bound to those specific products, which isn’t great if you use very specific shampoos or cleansers like I do, so I really recommend buying reusable travel bottles like these affordable silicon ones, which I love.
These are SO handy and SO cheap. With them, you can pack lighter, bring your favourite products with you and it’s a little bit better for the environment. Here is a guide to my favourites.
8. Keep your liquids in a reusable bag and separate them from your other goods
Many of you probably know this already, but just as a reminder, if you’re bringing any liquids in your carry-on bag, you’ll need to present them separately at airport security so they can be scanned.
Since I almost always fly carry-on only, I’ve invested in this awesome reusable clear toiletries bag that’s TSA approved so I can easily store all my toiletries in it and just pop it out during security checks. This is just way more durable and I don’t need to use those dinky plastic bags they provide.
NOTE: 95% of the time, I’ve had no trouble with this, the only exceptions being random airports here and there mostly in Paris and London I think, but yes if you travel often, a bag like this is a total lifesaver.
9. Use plastic to avoid leaks
If you’re packing any liquids, sometimes you might find that they can leak in your bag, which is… obviously not great!
To prevent this from happening, I recommend covering the bottles with something before you cap them.
Now often this tip is given with the assumption that you’ll be using plastic wrap, but this effect can also be achieved if you have a million plastic shopping bags in your cupboard. Just cut those up and use some little squares to cover instead.
10. Always pack your absolute essentials and one outfit change in your carry on
As much as we all like to think we’re invincible, even the best of us will have our luggage get lost, go missing or uh, accidentally taken by someone else (true story). Having your essentials and extra clothes on you will bring precious peace of mind, so you’re never that angsty person waiting in fetal position at baggage claim.
11. Keep some extra clothes in your travel buddy’s suitcase
Another little contingency plan in case your suitcase goes missing is to (if you’re travelling with someone else) make sure to pack some extra outfits in your travel buddy’s bag and vice versa. This way, if either of you loses your bag, you’ll at least have some backup items. In the crazy off chance that BOTH your bags go missing, well my friends, I’m sorry!
12. Bring a few extra bags (e.g. totes, ziplocks, etc.)
So one thing I’ve learned while travelling is you can never have enough bags, so imagine little bags like small totes, little ziplocks, etc… bring them. BRING THEM ALL!
Why? Honestly, you never know when you’ll need them, especially for things like dirty clothes, wet swimsuits, shopping at markets, etc. They weigh nothing and come in SO handy, so don’t forget to stow a few in your bag for your trip.
13. Bring a bag for dirty laundry
On that note, even if you don’t bring a bunch of totes or extra bags, make sure at the very least to bring a closable bag for dirty laundry because you definitely want to keep that stuff separated.
… And a bag that zips up or seals is ideal because….. well, I’m sure you’ve smelled dirty laundry before.
14. Make sure you have a unique luggage tag or mark your suitcase in a unique way
Honestly, you’d be shocked at how often people take the wrong stuff at baggage claim.
It happened to me once a few years back. I was travelling with a grey hard top suitcase topped with a cutesy pink tag. I thought that was already unique, but sure enough, someone took it by accident thinking it was theirs! I only realized when I stood there like a doofus for an hour watching all the bags get taken and the last one left looked suspiciously like mine. Don’t worry – I eventually got mine after shedding my body weight in tears and whimpering repeatedly.
SO, to avoid this ever happening to you, I suggest you make your suitcase obnoxiously unique… that way it’d be really difficult for someone to think it’s theirs. Might I suggest this hilarious sloth cover urging you to follow your dreams?
15. Pack the heaviest items on the bottom of your bag
This is a VERY underrated tip that a lot of people forget about, but when packing your suitcase, make sure to place your heaviest items at the bottom where the wheels are to avoid the suitcase randomly toppling over during your trip.
… The last thing you want is for your suitcase to be imbalanced!
16. Pack to layer for warmth
Travelling in winter? First, check out my Europe winter packing list here.
Second – know that the climates in Europe are terrifyingly diverse and that weather can be straight-up wack. It can be bright and sunny one second then all of a sudden, a torrential downpour will come and drench you, along with all your hopes and dreams… plus, it just gets cold at night too, so your best defence, especially if you want to pack light is to bring a lot of items that you can layer. That way you have multiple items that are more versatile rather than bringing one giant bulky sweater that’s only good for one use.
If you’re interested in packing light without sacrificing a sense of style, click here to read my guide.
17. Bring a reusable water bottle
Most major European cities will have fountains all over where you can get delicious tap water for free and most major airlines are happy to serve you water in your own bottle as well, so that’s why it’s a great idea to take advantage of a reusable water bottle on your travels.
Sure, it may not be the most space-efficient thing to bring but it’s really handy to have, and better for the environment too : )
If you’re worried about bringing a water bottle that’s too bulky, there are a lot of great collapsible water bottles out there with amazing reviews like this one.
18. Don’t forget to leave a little extra space
If you’re the type of person that makes use of every possible little nook and cranny in their suitcase, listen up: you’re human… You will inevitably buy something. It’s just science!
Trust me, the worst travel feeling is falling in love with an item abroad and having zero space in your suitcase to bring it home. Okay, I lied, I think the worst travel feeling is probably diarrhea…. but not having space is up there.
SO, if you have a generous baggage allowance, consider bringing an additional duffel or tote that folds up small so you have more space to carry stuff on the way home, or a classic trick used by my parents, consider NESTING your carry-on into a larger suitcase so that you have two suitcases on the way home.
—— Now let’s move onto some cool travel HACKS, AKA ingenious little tricks that you can use to make packing a little easier and more fun ——
19. Pack a pillow case
We’ll start with a weird one – pack a pillow case on your next trip!
Why? Well, they weigh nothing and are really multipurpose. You can, for example, stuff one with clothes or a puffy jacket for a DIY travel pillow, or if you’re staying in a hostel it might be nice for hygiene reasons. Honestly if you have no other use for it, consider it a dirty clothes bag.
20. Pack a clothespin or a money clip
Even if you don’t plan to do laundry or um… clip money on your trip, these are great for making a DIY toothbrush stand so you can make sure your toothbrush doesn’t touch the counter or anything gross. All you need to do is clip it onto the middle of the toothbrush to create a nice little perch for your toothbrush.
21. Use a Tic Tac case to store your bobby pins
Bobby pins… you buy them in the hundreds and yet somehow lose them all.
Does this sound like you?
Honestly, bobby pins things go missing ALL the time so it’s really handy to keep them all in one spot, and a Tic Tac case is the perfect size for this purpose.
22. Use a carabiner for your hair ties
In a similar way, you can use a carabiner to keep tabs on all your hair ties, which means no more digging around in the darkest depths of your bag for one, or keeping one on your wrist at all times. Yay!
23. Store Q-Tips in old pill bottles
If you have any old pill bottles lying around, they’re actually the perfect size for storing Q-Tips, so if you’re big into keeping your ears clean while abroad, be sure to start hoarding those pill bottles ; )
24, String necklaces through a straw to keep them from tangling
This is a really easy thing to do if your necklaces get tangled often – mine personally hold up fine usually so I just keep them in a pouch but if you want an easy way to make sure they don’t get tangled, thread your necklace through a straw and then hook it around. This way, your necklaces stay in one untangled bundle.
25. Use a shower cap to store your shoes
Obviously this is a shower cap you will not be using, but wrapping a shower cap around your shoes is great for keeping your dirty muddy shoes away from the rest of your belongings. Alternatively, those big zipper plastic bags that bedsheets come in are also great for the same purpose.
26. Stuff your shoe with small items to save space
If you’re really looking to maximize space in your suitcase, consider stuffing your shoes with small items like socks and underwear. You’ll be shocked at how much you can actually cram in there.
NOTE: Just be sure, especially with underwear, to put them in a protective bag first because putting them in your shoes as-is sounds like infection city.
27. Invest in a universal adapter
If there’s one travel tool you need in your arsenal (besides my precious packing cubes of course), it’s a universal adapter, especially one with multiple slots for USB chargers too so you can charge multiple devices without a bulky power bar. This one is great!
Why should you get a universal adapter? Well, you can reuse it on every single one of your trips, and even if you’re JUST visiting Europe, there are certain countries that use a different outlet (e.g. the UK, Ireland and Malta), so better safe than sorry. Trust me, the ease of mind is priceless.
28. Bring an oven mitt
If you travel with any heat appliances like I do (e.g. a hair straightener, curler, etc.) then bringing an oven mitt is a genius way to make sure you always have a heatproof surface to rest it on and also a safe place to store it when you need to pack up quickly in the morning.
I have a terrible habit of just tossing my hair straightener on top of my stuff when I travel, which terrifies my boyfriend because… well, nobody likes fires…. but now that I wrap my stuff in an oven mitt, he can breathe a little easier, and we fight a lot less ; )
29. Pack dryer sheets to avoid “weird clothes smell”
If you’ve travelled any time in your life, I’m sure you’re familiar with that “weird clothes smell” that can quickly permeate your suitcase. Well, packing a dryer sheet or two in your bag will keep that stench at bay! Not only are they very light, they’ll keep your luggage smelling freshy fresh.
30. Bring a frozen waterbottle or frozen sponge to keep your snacks cool
Now I’m sure you know you’re not typically allowed any liquids over 100mL on a plane but if you want to bring your own drink on board and avoid the $10 airport waters, or if you just want to keep your snacks nice and cool, consider bringing a frozen water bottle as a DIY ice pack and a refreshing drink after you pass security… or if you just want an ice pack, a frozen sponge will do the trick.
BONUS: DON’T FORGET A PEN
And okay, here’s a final bonus tip for you, not exactly a hack but something that’s SUPER important and most people forget… Make sure you have a pen in EVERY BAG. You never know when you need a pen, especially if you need to fill out any customs paperwork, and honestly the little station they sometimes have is like the Hunger Games of pens. One time I landed at London Stanstead and they didn’t even have ANY pens available, so I had to awkwardly ask a staff person to borrow theirs and it was just… really weird.
So – did I forget any of your favourite packing tips or hacks?
Let me know in the comments! I hope you enjoyed this article filled with different packing tips… safe travels, my friend!