European Travel Skills: Packing Light

European Travel Skills: Packing Light

Packing light is essential for happy travel. Think about it: Have you ever met anybody who, after five trips, brags, “Every year I pack heavier”? Learn now, or you’ll learn later, the importance of being mobile with your luggage. Pack light. While large, unwieldy suitcases are bad for this kind of travel, smaller, carry-on sized wheelie bags are popular and can work well. If you don’t mind slinging your suitcase over your shoulder, a bag like this works great. This is a convertible suitcase/backpack. It’s designed to be as big as you can carry onto most airplanes. I use it as a backpack but if you zip away these padded shoulder straps, it converts into a soft-sided suitcase. You’ll see all kinds of travelers and bags on the road. Remember, you’ll be walking a lot with your bags—especially if traveling by train. Before your trip, try this test. Load everything up, and go downtown. Window shop for an hour with all your gear. If you can’t do that comfortably, go home, spread everything out on the living room floor, and reconsider. Pick up each item one at a time and look at it. Ask yourself, “Will I use this swimming mask enough to justify carrying it around?” Not “Will I use it?” It’d be great fun here on the Riviera. But will I use it enough to feel good about carrying it through the Swiss Alps? Frugal as I may be, I’d rather buy it here than pack it all around Europe. Don’t pack for the worst scenario. Pack for the best scenario and if you need something more, buy it over here. If you run out of toothpaste, that’s no problem. Then you’ve got a great excuse to shop around over here and pick up something you think might be toothpaste. You can get virtually everything in Europe. If you can’t get one of your essentials here, perhaps you should ask yourself how 400-million Europeans can live without it. Whether traveling for two weeks or three months, I pack exactly the same. Everything I need fits in this bag. For travelers, Europe is casual. For warmth, layer it. In the summertime, a light sweater and a light jacket. That works great. In the winter, of course, you’ll want to check the climate charts and pack for rain and cold. For pants I like to wear these jeans. And, in the Mediterranean where it’s so hot and muggy, I bring a light pair of long pants, as well. A pair of shorts doubles as a swimsuit. For shirts: I have a T-shirt, I have two or three short-sleeved shirts, and I like to bring a couple of long-sleeved shirts. The thing that determines when I need to do my laundry is when I run out of socks and underwear. How many you take is up to you. As far as shoes go, this is really important: bring one pair of well broken-in, sturdy walking shoes. If you bring a second pair of shoes make it a light one. For travel information, this is really important, but don’t go too heavy on this: I bring a notebook, the maps I need, couple of chapters ripped out of various guidebooks, and my favorite guidebooks covering the places I’ll be traveling. I also have a toiletries kit: very small, just the basics—you’re on vacation. And a miscellaneous stuff bag full of odds and ends—you know…the ten essentials that you’ll never need. I didn’t pack an umbrella. But it rained so I bought one. They’re cheap over here. And when I’m out and about, I have my day bag. For women, of course, there are differences and lots of clever tips. But it’s just as important to be mobile, and these same basic principles of packing light apply. Now, let me talk about electronics. These days, there’ s WiFi just about everywhere. I bring a laptop—because I’m working; a little point and shoot camera works fine for me; I buy a simple cell phone over here —it’s handy for calling within Europe; and I bring my smart phone from home. These days, this is an increasingly valuable tool for those on the road. All of these are dual voltage—they work just fine in Europe. Your only concern is physically plugging it into the wall. Your American plug won’t work so you need one of two European adapters: in Britain you use the adapter with the three rectangular prongs, and anywhere on the Continent, the adaptor with the two little round prongs works just great.

95 thoughts on “European Travel Skills: Packing Light”

  • Rick your advice on packing light inspired me over the years to preach your word to others. I created a website that has a younger spin on your ideology.

  • stevemccollum2011 says:

    Instead of buying a cell phone wouldn't to just as easy to buy a sim card? How much do prepaid cell phone service cost?

  • Switching out SIM cards only works on phones that are purchased unlocked or have been unlocked by their carrier. If you are still in contract with your cellphone provider, switching SIMs over seas will not work.v

  • Rick Steves' Europe says:

    You can find "Rick Steves' Europe" on public television. Check your local listings — try our "airtimes finder" at our website (listed in the description), under the TV tab, to find out where to tune in.

  • I'm excited that you'll be visiting Indiana University at Bloomington! Just wish tickets were affordable for a student like me.

  • Santiago Kunzite says:

    the sad thing is… i love travelling just like rick: doing 5 countries in a month, the thing is that i love shopping and i love taking pictures of me in clothes in different scenearios in countries and it gets SO deppressing to carry all that luggage from one country to another D:

  • With travel backpacks such as the ones you mentioned, what are some tips you could give for making them safe from pickpockets? I had always been warned to not travel with a backpack in Europe…

  • Yurrah Al-Hadi says:

    I dont think it really matters. In the us the plug goes either way. Its not like ppl r going to stuff the plug in the same way he held it up, even if its not fitting.

  • Yurrah Al-Hadi says:

    I agree. I love to travel and cant wait til i can starr. I remember watchinf his shows and globe trekker. I cant remember if he was in that show, but yh.

  • Excellent advice especially "pack for the BEST scenario" also stressing that you pack the same amount/items for a two week trip as you would for a 3 month trip AND that you only take 1 pair of shoes. I wish more people had the same philosophy. Thank you for your videos. Also love your products and hope to take one of your tours real soon.

  • Inspiring Women Who Travel says:

    Hi Rick, This is great and is almost exactly what I take when I travel myself. I can't bear to see so many people struggling with enormous suitcases and too many packages. One on my back and one around my waist or across my body is all I've ever taken, even for up to 12 months.
    Excellent video thanks. Nicely put together with very clear information.
    ryandvy1 see the range of super anti-theft packs and luggage at Pacsafe.

  • Philip Meske says:

    I read a lot of packing advice prior to traveling to Europe last summer (16 days). Instead of one bag, I used a 18" wheelie upright & a slim back-pack. I was able to pack at least 1 week's worth of clothing & 1 pair of light wt. loafers in the wheelie. I used expedition type clothing for daily excursions. Only did laundry 1 time. I convinced my wife and 2 daughters to do the same & we had an easy time of it. A travel back-pack would have worked better in at least 3 of the cities we visited.

  • AgingIsABitch says:

    I walk around with a video camera and a platinum card in my iphone wallet, and only buy food and water…sometimes a bag to carry home some rare books :-p wryyyy.

  • rick we enjoy all of your videos, books and tips…i always wonder why when you taste some type of food you only put the tip of it in your mouth as if you're being careful of really getting a taste for the item.

  • It always makes me smile when I see people from outside Europe, trying to board a Ryanair flight with a huge carry on bag and then they are surprised at getting charged, packing light for Europe or anywhere for that matter makes life so much easier.

  • Marina Pizarro says:

    Hi Rick I loved the tips you gave, because they are important details that often forgotten, like the adapters. When I visited Buenos Aires, I just remembered the adapter when I was at the Hotel, and my cellphone with low battery.
    Thanks for your tips, they are very important for us.

  • It is very important to pack light not only for easy travel but to keep away thieves. You not only want to protect yourself, but enjoy yourself. 

  • BriannasPlanet says:

    When I went to Europe, I packed everything in a small school backpack and that's it. And I went for three weeks. TRUST ME, you don't need to pack everything. You will be so happy packing lights and you won't struggle carrying everything along. Once you get to your hotel, just hand wash your clothes and dry them. It works great and this is coming from a woman! Only bring the bare necessities!!!!

  • ImaginaryJeremy says:

    I'm traveling through Europe currently and filming it all for my channel and had such a hard time packing light.

    I'm sure I'll be learning the hard way along my trip now! Definitely good advice.

  • Traveling and packing light is a great skill to have, especially if hotels, porters and private transportation are out of the question. Why go through the hassle of checking in and possibly losing your baggage during your travels?

  • quick tip for girls!! I read that you need a converter and adapter for heat appliances like straighteners ect. But then I read that sometimes converters dont work, so I think its a safe bet to get dual voltage straighteners, maybe get a mini one since their less expensive and you'd probably only need it for the trip your taking

  • This video gave us great info for our first trip to Europe.  We followed it and had an easy time getting around for three weeks.  One pointer if visiting Switzerland, the two prong Euro Plugs shown in this vid didn't fit the Swiss outlets. There's a specific version required for that country, it has smaller round prongs on it.

  • Beverly FitzGerald says:

    A few days ago, I returned my new, 2 piece soft-side luggage to the store & bought Rick Steves' rolling carry-on and super-lightweight shoulder bag. The carryon only weighs 6.5 lbs. My goal is to keep the packed weight to less than 20 lbs. After all these years, no more heavy bags 🙂

  • I am studying abroad in Italy for about 5 months, but I expect to travel a lot while I am there and after my program ends. I have loved researching different videos on how to pack light 🙂

  • Very good tips. These rules apply almost everywhere, in general. We, Indians, tend to travel heavy, so lot's of good lessons here. Thanks.

  • Robert Rosenberg says:

    I love the bit where you have to persuade your (presumably American) audience that Europeans use toothpaste.  It reminds me of a time when I was working in New York and a guy I worked with who was about to go travelling in Europe asked me "Do they have pizza in Europe?"

  • Great advice,most travel is by rail and believe me you have to get on trains quickly and stow your luggage in an overhead bin.So less is more.

  • Great tips – thanks!
    I just wanted to say that in some countries you can use shorts as a swimming costume, but in France you are not allowed in the pool unless you have the tight, body-hugging type trunks. We found this out the hard way when my parents came to visit and my dad was only allowed in as a spectator because his trunks were not the right kind.

  • Zach Weinberger says:

    packing 4 t shirts 2 shirts 3 pairs of pants 4 pairs of socks 4 pairs of underwear and the other stuff. very light

  • Carlos Saraiva says:

    This is great advise even for somebody who is traveling within europe as well.
    I'm very new to the travel abroad thing myself. I visited Stockholm for 8 days last summer and to this day i'm not sure if a packed too much or not. Some of the things that felt were too much in the end helped me, because the weather was worse that i expected (it was a freak weather happening that took even the swedes by surprise).
    But it can be a hassle to travel with a big baggage. Mine has four wheels so it's far more practical and still, hardly the ideal way to be a mobile tourist. I guess you can pack a bit more heavily if you have longer stays in each location and as a single man, you want to dress a bit smarter when going for the nightlife.

  • this is such great advice. ive learned all this the hard way on my current trip. i took a towel, forgetting i can buy one for a few pounds or euros if i need to. i brought several books i haven't read or written in. i needed cough drops and they were easy to find and i think even cheaper than America. I'll definitely pack better next time!

  • Some helpful ideas, but I would not bring paper books. I have an iPad mini and download ebooks. It's been a few years since I took a paper book to read when I travel. You can download guidebooks as well as novels…….

  • Global Adventurer says:

    Before my first ever extended European trip some years ago, I read just about every book Rick Steves made. I still use his advice even today.

    Thank you Mr. Steves!

  • Rick is right to pack light when traveling to Europe. The only heavy things that Rick & his film crew bring to Europe, are the camera & sound equipment to make an episode of Rick's tv show.

  • Hehehe yes & no… First there r 2 kinds of tourists the ones who wants to check all in a week & ones who wants to enjoy where they r. Remember Rick is on assignment that his job u on vacation make it memorable enjoy try to stay in fewer places possible but enjoy ur stay. Than pack ur suitcase with more & enjoy days & evenings out specially when u travel with companion. Im like Rick checking all in few hours or days than coming home have memories of none only pics thats the reason I do things like that. So if u not on assignment job pls stay in one place & enjoy its ur vacation not a job. Most people leaving in this places for whole their lives don't even know all, don't think u can in few days.. Hehehe take ur time vacation is to enjoy not hassle to find a store with tooth paste or towels… & btw in downtown big cities in Europe is not that easy.. Hehehe I like Rick but he is American on shoe string

  • Hi,
    For a 30 days Europe trip, staying at hostels and visiting more than 3 European countries.

    Packing the essentials in a medium 4 wheeled luggage means packing light ? . I think.. i need extra space for things I’ll buy.

    It’s allowed to bring epilator, scissor & nail clipper in a carry-on? .


  • I'm going for 7 weeks. Whatever I pack into my bag for leaving my home country is what I'll have for that whole time. I only really intend on taking camera equipment, 2 sets of clothes, toiletries and an emergency set of clothes.

  • Selmer Reference54 says:

    "Pack for the best scenario" is the best advice. Americans also use too many stuff, this makes traveling light becomes very difficult.

  • Emily Froelich says:

    Snarky Rick is my favorite. "If you can't find it here, perhaps you should ask yourself how 4 million Europeans get by without it" 😂😂

  • Robert Rosenberg : Why would you say something so ignorant ?
    Everyone in America uses toothpaste and everyone I've associated with in Europe also uses toothpaste or tooth powder

  • it's you're talking about Europe like it's one country. And most of the stuff you need for travel you can buy anywhere. When I travel I bring old cloths that's gives me an good excuse to buy new stuff. Now I see that this video is from 2013 a lot has changed in 5 years.

  • Offensive Username says:

    Rick Steves is a sociopath who loves to expose other people's mistake on video. He just films them without asking for permission, despite being forbidden by law in most European countries.

  • Don't i need transformer besides adapter in Europe? years ago, in Swizterland when I plugged my hair blow dryer into the outlet using only adapter, blew off my hair dryer with smoke .

  • Another tip to share: When I came over to Italy I was not able to use the 2-prong adapter in many locations. I found out that Italy has a 3-prong plug in many (newer) locations. My wall socket has some "cut outs" to allow the older plug to work, but in my home I was out of luck. My 2-prong would not work without an additional adapter…easily found in local hardware stores.

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