Hi Frugalistas! I’m planning a trip to Europe this summer. It’s an unusual time of the year for me to be going, so I’m giving some thought to what should be on my packing list. If you are planning a trip, here is an idea of what will be on my packing list for summer in Europe. And of course, it is guaranteed to fit in just one carry on bag.
Basics for a packing list for summer in Europe
Of course, summer means warm weather and for most of us, that means Tshirts. I do prefer Tshirts over blouses or shirts because they do pack better and don’t require ironing most of the time. But don’t just pack any old Tshirt. That round necked tee with the witty logo on the front may be cute for the supermarket or a walk around the park at home, but when you are planning a packing list for a trip, you do need to think of Tshirts that multitask. That means a slightly dressier Tshirt that you can wear out and about during the day, or dressed up for an evening function. Remember too that in some countries (particularly in Italy and Spain) you cannot enter churches or other religious sites with bare shoulders, so leave the spaghetti straps and sleeveless tees at home. I recommend four Tshirts in a variety of colours and styles that will go with all your bottoms.
Now, what bottoms should you pack? Most of you will immediately rush to your shorts. But consider this. In many European countries shorts are not city wear – they are strictly reserved for the beach or other resort style location.
Before you rush to pack every pair of shorts you own, think about your itinerary. If you are focussing on city stays, leave the shorts at home.
Obviously if you are hiking, or visiting more resort or beach type areas a pair of shorts is very handy, so do pack one or two pairs if that is what you are doing. But if like me, you often spend more time in big cities you need options. I do like a light skirt that I can dress up or down. Rather than capris I also prefer a pair of light casual slim pants or breezy linen – mainly because I think they are a little more stylish and are therefore far more versatile. In addition to the “no shoulders rule” the “no knee” rule also applied in some places, so make sure you have at least one bottom that will cover your knees. Regardless of your personal preferences, you need three bottoms that match with every single one of your Tshirts, and that can be dressed up and down.
Because the weather (and air conditioning) can be quite variable do take at least one cotton or light wool cardigan or sweater. If you are travelling to the UK or Northern Europe a light jacket or coat is also necessary. Choose colours and styles carefully so you can layer your Tshirt, cardigan and light jacket if need be. For the UK or Northern Europe one thing you may not have thought of is to take a thermal top. Yes, a thermal top. Just like you would in winter. If the weather turns really cold, pop it under your cardigan with your jacket and you have plenty of extra warmth.
A dress is also an option if you want to go out to a lot of fancy restaurants, or just like dressing up. Make it a simple style in a cool and light fabric. Just make sure your cardigan and jacket will go with it!
Shoes for a packing list for summer in Europe
The obvious thing to pack for your feet is a pair of sandals. But they do need to be a particular sandal. Forget hard soled fashion sandals. You need a walking sandal with a thick rubber sole that will be forgiving of cobblestones and feet that may swell a bit in the heat. I particularly like Merrell and Ecco for their range and style options.
Personally, I don’t pack a pair of sandals for summer in Europe. My go to shoe for hot weather, regardless of my destination is a pair of flat, thick soled espadrilles. I find them great for walking all day, and because they don’t have lots of straps across the foot they don’t rub if my feet get hot and swollen. I do also wear mine for casual dining.
For your second pair of shoes I am suggesting a ballet flat. I look for ballet flats with a thicker rubber sole that are soft in the uppers. They will work well with most skirts, long pants and dresses. Because I don’t take shorts or capris a pair of espadrilles and a pair of ballet flats will mean both my shoes will go with all my other clothes.
Your other option is a chic white sneaker. If you are looking for a more European brand go for Superga:
Toiletries for a summer packing list for Europe
In addition to your usual toiletries you do need sunscreen. While you can certainly buy sunscreen easily once you arrive I have sometimes found it difficult to buy high SPF sunscreen (such as 15 or 30) in Europe. While they are available, they can also be very expensive. If you have fair skin you definitely need a sunscreen with a high SPF (yes, I have been sunburnt in London). Depending on how long you will be away, pop one or two 100ml (3.3oz) containers of sunscreen into your ziplock bag to either give you plenty of time to find what you need, or save time having to shop.
The other particular toiletry I like to pack is a tinted moisturiser with SPF. It does triple duty in one little bottle or tube. My favorite is Laura Mercier, although there are plenty of cheaper options available.
Sundry items to pack for a trip to Europe
If water is part of your itinerary, you will definitely want a swimsuit. If you are swimming in public beaches or lakes, you will need a towel. My suggestion is to either buy a cheap towel from a chain store when you arrive, or take a microfiber towel with you.
You will need a folding travel umbrella. And if you are heading to UK or other parts of Northern Europe you may find a light trench coat useful.
A light silk scarf is helpful for chilly evenings, and is essential to cover your head to visit mosques in Turkey and the Balkans.
If you are in southern Europe make sure you pack a hat – seek out soft types that pack easily, or buy something on arrival.
Plenty of cords and adaptors for your various devices. To avoid being hacked using public wifi or slow hotel options I recommend a portable wifi such as Solis. The Solis is great for business travellers or families because it can accommodate up to 10 devices. Use my code ROAMFRUGAL for your 10% discount. You can check out Solis options here.
My preferred footwear for getting around is definitely leather lace-up sneakers with good arch support. Geox (Italian, they’re made with tiny holes in the soles that allow your feet to breathe). If wearing mostty black pants or dark jeans I wear the black sneakers on the plane. Or if wearing white or pale pants will take white leather. More comfortable than almost any other form of footwear – and give good arch support and great over cobbles. Less likely to fall. I usually also take a pair of attractive comfortable flat or low/heeled sandals with good arch and ankle support. Never ballerina flats or thin strappy sandals with heels. If attending more formal dinners, opera etc might also take a pair of smarter shoes.
Usually take several tank tops in solid colours – black, white, pink, orange, navy, depending on colour of pants, shirts. Then wear good quality long sleeved cotton or linen mix shirts open over the top, left unbuttoned. The sleeves give sun protection and are more modest in churches and mosques. Can ring the changes with good cotton or silk scarves and a necklace or bangles or both. Preferably at least a couple of scarves that are designer (Hermes or Chanel etc) if going to good restaurants for meals. More casual fine cotton long scarves that can be looped and tied in different ways for more casual outings. The Pompidou shop usually has some interesting ones that can give a slightly French look to what you’re wearing.
Then over the top a good cross body bag, not too large. Best wishes, Pamela
PS I always do take a pair of rubber flip flops for in the shower/bathroom. You never know for sure that the person who had the room before you didn’t have some horrible fungal foot disease that might still linger. Pamela
I would not take ballet flats now as most of them don’t wear well for hours of walking. I find that they don’t stay on the foot well and I end up with cramps in my toes. Must be an age thing as it didn’t happen when I was 21 and wearing white leather ballerinas in Copenhagen!! Something with laces like my Seibel leather sneakers and something with a strap or a more substantial slip-on is better for my feet for dressier needs. I have some nicer loafers from Naturalizer and some Ahnus that work better for my feet. I do like those espadrilles, so may have to look into those for a change. I like the little footie socks to prevent blisters too.
As for shorts…never! European cities demand, for me, a little more polish even for my casual outfits. Maybe in Greece, but I’d probably go with a floaty fun skirt instead. Layering pieces and a jacket are definitely must-take items as you can never be sure what kind of turn the weather will take in some countries. Skirts are good for warmer locations like Italy or Turkey if long trousers seem like too much.
I don’t do hats, since they make me feel like my grandmother when she went fishing and make my head sweat. Good sunscreen, reapplied as needed, and sunglasses are enough and it leaves me feeling a bit more stylish than crushing my hair under a hat, which tend to be worn mostly by tourists.
As you’ve said, mix and match separates and layers really are the way to go. More tops than bottoms, everything goes together by keeping to a neutral color scheme with some accent pieces works for me and lets me pack in a single bag for nearly any trip.
Great post, thanks for sharing your thoughts about your upcoming trip. I’ll be shopping for espadrilles like the ones you mentioned. They look smart. Always enjoy your posts, Jo.
Thanks so much Lynne. I always love to hear from you. My espadrilles are quite old now, and I’ve never seen any exactly the same since I bought mine (so pleased I bought two pairs!), but I did find some in my affiliate link that are similar. Enjoy your travels this summer.
Your shoe choices sound perfect Paula. Naturaliser have some great options that have a sturdier sole, but if you choose wisely still look stylish.
I love your option of a floaty skirt. You can easily dress them up with a smart top and some accessories.
Smart leather sneakers are a good option if you are doing lots of walking on uneven surfaces, but I do find them a bit hard to dress up to wear in the evenings as well. Open shirts over light tops are an easy way to layer – just choose a fabric that doesn’t need ironing.
As always Pamela, your choices are spot on, and you must look just so chic on your travels!
Great post. Do you have any suggestions for lightweight summer sleepwear that can multitask as something else?
The days when I used to attend cocktail parties (including ones at the Elysee Palace and the Louvre) and seriously formal diplomatic dinners on my travels are long gone – I always took dressy shoes then (that one could also do a bit of walking in) for those.
But now don’t feel the need – when we go to Michelin star restaurants it’s for lunch instead of dinner and for the opera dress things up with a good scarf, good bag (last year wore a silver mock croc Roberto Cavalli I’d bought a few weeks before in St Tropez boutique – just love that bag!) and jewellery – so people don’t seem to notice too much. They certainly don’t give me the bad eye. Perhaps the fact that I walk with a stick makes people more understanding of my shoes.
I do wear a fabric that needs ironing though as I prefer natural fibres like cotton, linen or mixes. In Paris we spend a month every year in a friend’s apartment so can do all the washing and ironing myself in the evenings. In hotels, when necessary, I put things into the laundry or sometimes just visit a laundromat. But we can do this because we’re not trying to visit three destinations in a week. We take our time and take days out for housekeeping and general relaxing. Important as you get older not to try to do too much in one trip. Have known people cram and cram and try to travel all over Europe in six weeks. Sometimes they come home exhausted and really sick, taking months to recover. Then they need another holiday to recuperate. Best wishes, Pamela
Tshirts and Tshirt dresses can work well. I know some women swear by the sarong. Light, loose summer dresses could also work for you
Difficult to buy high SPF sunscreen in Europe??? I’m from Portugal, and here you can get up to SPF50 on every drugstore or supermarket… Same goes for Spain, Itália, Greece, France, UK…
Hi Rosie, I’m so pleased to read this. I haven’t been to Europe in summer for a while, but when I’ve been there in Spring I’ve noticed a real lack of high SPF. I look forward to being able to buy it in Portugal next month
Jacqueline lynch says
What to pack for camino de santiago in June 5 days walking 3 days in o Grove relaxing one 35lt backpack any suggestions thanks
Hi Jackie, I normally hate adventure or technical wear, but walking the Camino is one time I think they are appropriate. You need two pairs of the pants with the zip off legs. In June it may be quite warm, but I would still suggest two long sleeved shirts you can buy from adventure wear shops that are easily washed – I’m thinking you can wear them over a Tshirt, then take them off when it gets warmer in the day. With the Tshirts, I would go for normal cotton tees that can also be worn during your relaxing days. You need a water proof jacket and a good broad brimmed hat – try and choose a nice one that you could also use on your relaxing days. I would pack a light dress, and a couple of skirts and/or shorts for your relaxing days. You could also wear these at night on the Camino if you wanted to. Then one light cardigan/sweater for the evenings. With the shoes you clearly need proper walking boots and shoes for the Camino, then I would choose an espadrille or sandal with a good solid sole for evenings and your relaxing days. A pair of flip flops would also be helpful. If you choose light fabrics for all your clothes and a light rain jacket it should all fit. Hope this helps.
I never take actual sleepwear as I travel with carry on only. A lightweight synthetic dress easily doubles as a nightgown and dinner attire. I add either a scarf, little loose weave “poncho” (also perfect to cover shoulders for church tours) or cute costume necklace.
Personally not a fan of the zip off pants, the zipper rubs your leg and they are not one bit cute! I wear the “Dry on the Fly” pants from Duluth Trading Company, fit great, stretchy, and roll up to a capri length. Would also advise against cotton t-shirts, they dont wick and can get stinky if you need to wear for more than one day. A merino wool t-shirt (check out Icebreaker) is my preference, they are breathable, don’t get smelly, and if you need to hand wash at night, roll in a towel and stomp on it and they will be dry in the morning. Might also consider a long sleeve merino wool shirt, or a SPF swim shirt (Lands’ End is my go to) which are cute enough to wear when not hiking. Wool socks under your hiking shoes or boots are also great and if you blister pick up some Body Glide. I am leaving in a few days to hike the Dolomites in Italy, so have given this a lot of thought lately!
No, I hate the zip off pants too. Obviously if you are hiking you need different, specific items. I don’t hike, so I’m no expert on the best clothes to wear hiking, but the principles of my list can easily be adapted to suit a hiking trip.
Yes, I know some people do this. I like to take a pair of business class airline pyjamas that I wear on the plane and then for sleepwear in the hotel. If the weather is particularly warm I take a very lightweight silk nightie that takes up no room or weight in my bag.