I wanted to write a post about what I normally bring when I go flouncing around Europe. I've had a number of friends and fellow travellers ask me over the years about how much to bring, what not to bring, what the absolute essentials are, etc. So, while I absolutely cannot claim to be an Expert, and I'm sure many people are better at packing than I am, I DO know a thing or two about downsizing your entire life and squeezing it all into a delightful backpack that hopefully will not get lost by airport personelle as you sit, happily oblivious, on the tarmac.
Backpacking. It's a tough business. You need to be READY. You need to be ALERT. You need to be PREPARED*. Get ready to learn more than you ever wanted to know, travel nerds.
*Please note: my interpretation of the word "prepared" may or may not be slightly different than most people's. The following list is literally as prepared as I get while travelling, so enjoy.
What to Bring.
The pack itself: my bag is a Black Diamond Mercury 55 Pack, from Mountain Equipment Co-Op. I'm fairly certain it's the 55, not the 65; regardless, it's around 60 litres, which is more than enough space for a month or more, as long as you're not planning on doing serious camping and want pots and pans and all that in there. Out of all the following things I'll list here, this is the most important thing that you don't want to skimp on. Get one that's water resistant, with lots of adjustable straps for maximum comfiness.
(Ladies- I normally hate the idea of gendered products (my hiking shoes, for example, are bright pink on the bottom because GOD FORBID I FORGET I'M FEMALE for ONE GD SECOND), but there are some amazing packs made specifically for women out there, and this is one of them. It has a delightful swivelly thing on the bottom that moves with your hips and is specifically designed to have most of the weight on your hips area, as opposed to your upper back, like a lot of backpacks designed for men. Note: "delightful swivelly thing" is, in fact, the correct technical term for it, and not something I made up because I couldn't remember what it's called. Ask for it specifically at MEC, they'll totally understand what you're talking about.)
A ground pad. Mine is the Therm-a-rest Evolite, again from MEC, which is super small and comfy and great if you're sleeping in small spaces. It's not necessary to bring unless you're camping, but if you are, it's awesome and won't take up a lot of room.
A sleeping bag. Again, this isn't absolutely necessary, but I always bring mine because in my experience, you will, at some point, sleep in an airport because you've had to book a flight at some ungodly hour of the morning. Might I recommend wedging yourself under a convenient bench for some privacy, or right by the check-in area so you can be first in line when your gate opens? A sleeping bag will shield you from the outside world and help you forget that literally everyone is staring at you as they walk by, pitying who they assume is a sad, homeless waif who cannot afford a bed.
Clothing: In my pack, for 6 weeks, I bring the following clothes:
- 1 pair of lightweight hiking pants.
- 1 pair of light leggings.
- 1 zip-up hoodie.
- 1 t-shirt.
- 1 fun dress.
- 7 pairs of both socks and underwear.
That's it; and frankly, that's really all you need as long as you're travelling in summer. This trip I brought TWO flouncy dress-like things, because I am a rebel who defies my own very subjective rules. It's super easy to want to bring your entire wardrobe- but trust me, you'll be thankful you didn't. I mean, after all, you have to save room for that beautiful dress hanging in the window of that quirky Parisian boutique!*
*Do not do this. Do not buy anything in Paris unless you are living in some fantasy world where you are obscenely rich, in which case congrats on slumming it in hostels, you down-to-earth bourgeousie scum. I'm so proud of you for lowering yourself to our level. God I low-key hate you.
Do your best to bring clothes that A) you don't care if you lose; B) are easily packable; and C) are lightweight and quick-drying, so you can dry them in the bathroom of that Irish pub, desperately holding them under a really shitty hand dryer because your bus is coming and you just spilled ketchup on your shirt like the disgusting tourist you are.
Laundry bags. I find it super useful to bring two drawstring bags for my clothes- one for clean, and one for dirty. Super simple. Cloth bags, though- not plastic bags, for reasons I will cover in just a few minutes. Holy heck, I hope you're as excited for that as I am. Quelle suspense!
Shoes! I generally bring one pair or waterproof hiking shoes, and one pair of cute walking shoes. I try my best to pick shoes that won't make me look too much like a tourist in the countries I'm going to. The result of this is always me getting to said countries, realizing I have failed horribly in this mission, promptly giving up and going barefoot the rest of the time in shame.
A garbage bag to cover your entire pack in case you get stuck in the rain, which, let's be honest, will happen because it's Europe, and Europe's favourite pasttime is raining on you when it's really inconvenient for you. Europe is a douchebag. You can also buy an actual rainproof cover at any outdoor store if you wanna get fancy, and if you know those exist before wrapping your pack in garbage bags...which I totally did. I totally knew that. I just chose to do things the hard way, because I'm hardcore.
A flashlight. I tried to make this point funny and then gave up. God I'm the worst. Why are you still reading this. Go do something better with your lives that involves funnier people than I.
A Swiss Army Knife, which you totally don't tell the delightful customs officials about. For the record: I do not condone this at all and certainly have never done it. I don't even know what a Swiss Army Knife is. Is it an army? Is it knife? Is it a Swede?! You tell me, you law-breaker.
A lightweight waterproof rain coat. They make ones that have their own travel cases, and they're the BEST. Also consider bringing a travel umbrella for countries that are warm but rainy.
A multi-country power converter. They're generally around $20 and will save you a lot of stress when you get over there. Remember that the UK uses different plugs than pretty much everywhere else in Europe, because you don't already have enough things to worry about.
Travel hair dryer. Because, ladies, let's not pretend we're going au natural on this trip. We want our hair looking fine to attract those wealthy Parisian men with yachts that our mothers always told us about. Someday, they pray, someday we won't be single cat ladies anymore.
A bag for toiletries and make-up. Again, to look fine. For those eligible handsome Spanish bachelors who have spent their lives just waiting for a lost and confused Canadian tourist who hasn't showered in three days and doesn't know their language or what time zone they're in anymore. Awww yeah. That's the shit right there. The line begins with me, gentlemen.
Quick-dry towel. Again, this isn't necessary as hostels will have them for you, but generally you have to pay for them- so save yourselves the 5-or-so Euro per hostel and bring your own!
Lock and key for hostel safe boxes. Every hostel I've ever been in will have a locked storage space you can put your valuables in, but rarely will they have locks for those boxes. Seeing as that's where you'll want your passport to go, I highly recommend using them.
That's it. That's literally everything I bring for up to two months. It all adds up to about 30lbs, which isn't bad as long as you have a decent backpack with good load distribution.
NOW, For what NOT to bring.
1) A fannypack. No. Just no. Good lord. Get a hold of yourself. I'm so ashamed of you. Be better.
2) Plastic bags. Do not bring them. Do not even think about them. They will make you the bane of every hostel roommate you will ever have. A dudebro in the hostel I am staying at right now has what sounds like fifteen, for all his belongings, and I want to kill him. You see, you will inevitably need to get something from them in the middle of the night and they will make a massive amount of crinkly noise, wake everyone up, and you will promptly get murdered by everyone in your room and goddamnit, no judge will convict them because you totally deserved it, you monster.
3) Computers/iPads/other valuable electronics. It's not worth worrying about them getting stolen/lost and frankly, if you find yourself needing to go on Facebook instead of having adventures, your hostel will have computers. Not that I'm judging the Facebook thing. We all need to make sure our lives look hella exciting overseas to make our exes jealous. I get you, girl. Go forth and brag. Make Dave regret ever dumping you, you adventurous vixen. He'll take you back the second he sees you doing that funny and super original pose where you're pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
4) A cell phone. Hear me out on this one. Most of the people I've met bring their phones for the purposes of useful things like GPS, emergency phone access, being social with new friends, etc. But my question to you is: don't you want to live on the wild side? Don't you want to be independent? Don't you want to not be able to contact your new friends? Ditch the tech! Get lost! Enjoy it! Lose yourself! Injure your back severely and have no way of contacting EMS! #livebold #travellife (But seriously, I never bring a phone when I travel. I buy a £20 burner phone that serves essentially as an alarm clock, and that's it. It's really quite freeing being totally cut off from everyone. And prevents you from Instagramming everything like all those rich travellers we all hate.)
5) Lots of books. They'll weigh you down. I always choose one book when I go overseas- something I know I can read again and again on long train rides when I'm not busy thinking of blog posts for you lucky bastards. God, I work so hard for you. You're welcome.
That's all for now. Stay tuned for more exciting updates to come, unless I fall off a cliff and have no phone to call for help! Won't that be fun!
I'm such a great adult.