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I’ve covered the basics in my bag when I’m packing for Europe. There are probably a few things that you may identify as missing. That’s fine, not everyone will bring exactly the same things, everyone has different needs. There are a few things you really don’t need, though, and you may disagree with me here. Many of the things you don’t need come from travel stores and I’ve already bought them and tried them.  Remember, I’ve been doing this for ages. Learn from my mistakes.

“Travel” Clothes- Many companies are making big bucks off of this “Travel Clothing” thing. Ex Officio, Travelsmith, Eddie Bauer all have lines of clothing with special fabrics meant only for travel. This is snake oil. I don’t know who designs this stuff but I’d like to have a talk with them someday. First of all, the styles…vests with many pockets, zip-off leg pants, cargo pants, Safari hats….these items of clothing may be perfect for a jaunt to Namibia or the Amazon, but not for a night out in Paris. They are usually baggy and unflattering in any case. Second, the fabrics. The fabrics are usually synthetics which don’t breathe well and get stinky. Many of those same fabrics are heavy, such as Ponte Knit. Sure, it’s true that it doesn’t wrinkle, but it weighs so much that it’s impossible to pack. You don’t need anything from these catalogs. The clothes you already own probably fit you better and cost you nothing.

Travel Pillows- You know those funny u-shaped pillows meant for the airplane? You don’t need that. It takes up so much space and the amount of time you’ll use it will pale in comparison to the amount of time you’ll be schlepping it around. Get a nice big scarf. Make a pocket by folding it in half. Stuff it with some soft clothes. Voila! Travel pillow.

Excessive Toiletries- This is a place people seem to get hung up. Try hard to trim your beauty supplies down. Simplify your make up and hair products as much as you can bear to. You may feel inclined to bring full sized bottles of things like shampoo because you are afraid of running out. It’s ok. They sell shampoo here too. You may even find something you like better.

Curling Iron- Them’s fightin’ words, I know. Don’t hate me for saying it. Ever thought about trying a new hairstyle? Maybe now would be a good time to try that. Simplify. Seriously. It will improve your trip.

Sleep sack and Travel Towels- If you are staying only in hotels, no hostels, you don’t need to bring your own sheets or a travel towel. Sleep sacks are a must for hostelers but all hotels provide sheets. It is true that Euro towels were pretty skimpy in the past, but that hasn’t been the case for a while. The hotel towels are just as nice and big as yours at home.

US Dollars- This may seem obvious to you, but I still meet people occasionally that think dollars are accepted in Europe. They are not. I met a couple just yesterday that asked me to help them with an ATM, they were unsure if it gave out Euros or USD. Euros only over here in Italy. I never bring US currency anymore. If you do, you’ll have to change it at a bank which costs a lot to do. Bring $100 as an emergency back up if you really want to.

Gadgets, Gizmos and Whatchamacallits- You know what I’m talking about. All of those cool trinkets from the travel store that you just could maybe possibly need. That plastic spork/knife thingie. That headlamp. That metal doodad that opens bottles and filets a fish. Nope.

Hairdryer- As long as you plan to stay in a hotel rather than a hostel, you do not need to bring a hair dryer. Every hotel I’ve stayed at in the past year had one, except for in Switzerland. In that case, I borrowed one from the concierge. The hotel ones are not that powerful and all behave differently, but I’ve got a mass of very long, slow drying hair and even I can get my hair dry every day. Often when people bring a hairdryer from home, I’ll know it pretty quickly because the power in the hotel will short out- wrong current. Just forget about it. Use the one at the hotel.

Current Converter- Back in the oldy-moldy days of my youth, most people brought current converters. I’m not talking about the round prong adapters which you DO need, but something bigger. Here in Europe the electricity has a different power than what we use in the States. If you plug in something strictly for US use, it will either blow a fuse or self destruct. Current converters are gizmos that you plug into the wall, then plug in your electronic item and swaps the current. I can’t guarantee this 100%, but I can tell you that ALL of my computers/electronics have dual voltage already in them. I’m talking iPad, iPhone, laptop and so on. I plug those into the wall with only a prong adapter. Small appliances don’t necessarily have current conversion so you may need to buy a dual voltage model. Case in point-travel hair dryers come with a switch to choose the current. But you’re not bringing one of those, are you?

Got some leave-behinds or travel fails to share? Post in comments!

AWS Staff

This post was published by the Adventures with Sarah team. Click here to find out more about the people that make everything at AWS happen.


  • Kathleen Hart says:

    I haven’t brought towels, but I do like to have along a couple of travel washcloths. They are very thin, light and dry quickly.I have brought a robe, but didn’t really need it, and probably wouldn’t bring it again.

    • The washcloth point is an interesting one. I’ve heard people grumble about missing washcloths when we don’t have them, wishing they’d brought one. I don’t use one even at home, so I’m out of the loop on this one.

  • Helen Brown says:

    Your suggestions are spot on!Helen

  • Sarah says:

    I understand that you sew. Do you ever make travel clothing and what type of style/ pattern. Thank you and enjoy your honest take on things.

    • I do sew some of my clothes for travel. Just haven’t been able to find exactly what I want so I’ve made many things. I’ll try and get a post up about this when I get home- I have to look through my pattern file to get you numbers.

  • Tom Merrell says:

    Extension cords. We travel with 2, usually 6′ ones. Being old we both sleep with CPAPs. By international agreement since the late ’90s? all power supplies for our gadgets should be duel voltage (including our CPAPs). They will say 100-240v (volts) 50/60Hz (cycles). Check yours stuff. We both have a phone and a pad, 3 things to connect to each 3 outlet cord. However, there may be only one plug and its across the room (need to have the CPAPs near our pillows). Plug the cords in series and charge 2 gadgets at half way point. Be careful during your night trips to the WC. We only need one plug adapter per cord since your gadgets work in your US cord. If your counting, we only have 5 outlets for this long run. so I also bring a small 3 outlet extension. Test it before you leave to be sure everything fits around the cord’s outlets. Happy travel, we leave in 2 weeks.

  • Robyn says:

    Thanks Sarah,,,super tips,,we are heading to cotswolds next week,,so excited..i buy those cheap lite weight washcloths at Target ,,they work fine on the road..your advise is so refreshing,,,thanks for sharing

  • Cami says:

    Forget the blow dryer…always fun finding a salon. Best one, $9 for a wash and blow dry in Budapest!

  • DeVon says:

    I recently found your blog. We are leaving for Germany for Christmas Markets next month. Your packing comments have given me food for thought. Since you sew, do you know if any fabric stores in Germany? I plan to collect tshirts as we go and make them into a quilt. I would love to find a piece of fabric for a backing. We will arrive in Berlin and circle north then west ending in Munich.Many thanks.

  • Dee says:

    I just returned from a 12 day trip and I am so glad that I brought my very small, but very powerful hairdryer. As it happened, one of the hotels did not have a dryer and in another, the dryer was non-functional. For almost the same reason, I was happy that I brought a small amount of my own shampoo. Yep, needed that washcloth as well. And that travel pillow was a mistake. Ditched it half-way through the trip. I enjoy your many packing tips.

  • CMN says:

    I’m laughing at your curling iron recommendation… Yep! Learned that one many years ago during a meeting three week trip to Australia… In spite of having both the current converter and the adapter, the curing iron literally MELTED when I plugged it in at my hotel in Darwin. YIKES! That was the last time I traveled with any hair-related appliances. As you say: not worth the space or the weight! 🙂

  • Thank you for writing such a fun and informative travel blog. I have enjoyed it so very much. I’m an experienced traveler who has never checked luggage and travel with whatever the latest overhead bin suitcase specs are, so my newest 20 inch suitcase accompanied me for four weeks in Europe this last spring. I had enough of everything, but it weighed 25 lbs. which is almost too heavy at my advanced age to hoist up into the bin. At first I honestly thought you had gone too far with your scale and weighing clothes, but now I find myself estimating in my mind how much various clothing items weigh. I think I might even get a kitchen scale. My goal is no more than 20 lbs in my 20 inch overhead bag. So again my thanks to you. This is a great service you are providing us travelers.

  • Leslie says:

    I disagree about the “travel clothes”. Granted, they may not be great for Paris but I find them to be perfect for more rural areas and adventure travel. I have some lightweight pants that don’t wrinkle and could be worn almost every day without looking dirty or out of shape. I also like having an all-purpose blouse that I know I can wear multiple times and have it nice looking after washing out the night before. They are also great for sun protection over swimsuits in and out of the water. A scarf will even make them look snazzy!

  • […] Source: Packing for European Travel: You Don’t Need That […]

  • Nancy says:

    I find it always useful to bring some large zip-lock plastic bags.for following uses : laundry that didn’t quite dry and you must move on,Shoes that are too dirty to pack w/ just tissue paper, dirty clothes, and for any food you may acquire along the way that ants would love. Thanks for the tips from other travelers !

  • Marcey says:

    I hadn’t heard about turning a scarf into a travel pillow. I need a travel pillow both on a plane and to augment the hotel pillows. I have oodles of scarves that I enjoy wearing and now I have an excuse to carry more in my travels. Yeah!!

  • Linda Shore says:

    For those who still receive a daily newspaper; those plastic bags make great shoe bags.

  • Ian MacDonell says:

    Hi. Bandanas are very useful; as washcloths, napkins, hand towels etc. I take a medium tall size in shirts and jackets so I don’t count on getting them where ever I travel. I won’t bore you with my quest for socks that fit me in Bangkok. I don’t like scented soap or shampoo- it seems hard to find unscented toiletries in Europe [or perhaps I just can’t translate the labels]. “Lush” make a variety of solid shampoos, slightly scented, which solves the potential problem of your bottle of shampoo leaking while packed in your luggage- it also gets past the TSA. I carry also one of those goofy looking headbands with a front light attached. It allows me to read in bed when the lighting is inconvenient, and doubles as a flashlight when I can’t remember the layout, in the dark, of my latest room [“If it’s Tuesday…” where the hell is the light switch?]. Even hostels these days don’t allow you to use your own bedding [sleeping sheets, sleeping bags]- bed bags are on the rise, even in the nicest hotels. A Swiss Army Knife is a favorite; I always get one with a scissors and corkscrew. If you are going somewhere where there are coconuts, the one with the saw is useful.

    • says:

      Thanks for your thoughts, I like your ideas. I also suffer from disorientation in the middle of the night, a headlamp is a fun idea.

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