Build a Travel Wardrobe: The Best Travel Clothes For Europe
So you’re planning a vacation to indulge in the attractions of old-world Europe.
Goed! Bene! Bueno! (Good!), as the locals might say.
But there are a few things you need to sort out first.
Travel insurance, a budget and a few nifty travel apps spring to mind.
But what about your attire?
Europeans are arguably among the most fashion conscious folks on Earth. Consequently, you’ll have to look your best to blend in with the locals.
But you don’t want to carry around a crazy amount of clothing. After all, you’ll have to drag your luggage up an endless array of steep cobble-stoned streets.
So which should you choose? Fashion or functionality?
With a little forethought, you might just succeed in pulling off both.
How much should I pack?
It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming you’ll need three months’ worth of clothes for a three-month trip.
Laundromats are everywhere in Europe, from backpacker hostels to upscale hotels and those ubiquitous coin-operated services.
Most travelers aim to do a full wash every ten days or so. As a result, your entire baggage, including all your non-clothing items, shouldn’t be more than 22-30 pounds (12-14 kg). Any more than that and moving between destinations will transform into an intolerable chore.
Some even take this concept to the extreme by opting for a tiny carry-on backpack instead.
Of course, everyone is different. The fashionistas and trendsetters among us may well choose to prioritize a solid selection of cute outfits over convenience and mobility.
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What style of clothing should I bring?
It all comes down to the type of traveler—or the type of person—you are.
Excited about hitting up Europe’s hottest clubs? Then focus on smart, casual threads. More interested in hiking amid lush pine forests and glacial lakes? Then lightweight and breathable material should govern your ensemble.
Above all else, however, it’s wise to focus on versatility. Can you wear that top in a museum, bar and overnight train? Then pack it.
A few golden rules about travel clothes for Europe
You don’t have access to the same facilities on the road as you do at home. Keep the following pro tips in mind to look dapper and feel fresh while gallivanting around Europe:
- Choose dark clothes over light. Dark colored clothing is better at hiding that gelato you spilled all over yourself a few days back in Rome.
- Keep it simple. Take it from me, that grumpy Croatian laundry lady doesn’t care if your delicate sweater will shrink in the drier.
- Know that everything will crease. Unless you’re a luxury traveler hopping between five-star digs, there’s no way that dress shirt will remain wrinkle-free.
Build a Travel Wardrobe: The Best Travel Clothes For Europe
Five to seven pairs of socks
In an ideal world, you’d change your socks every day. But traveling is nowhere near ideal as far as comfort is concerned.
Carrying five to seven pairs will see you cycling through your socks no more than twice before doing a wash.
Sound kind of icky? Then perhaps you need a few pairs of socks made specifically for travel. Yes, travel socks are a thing!
These marvelous high-tech contraptions are specially designed for those on the road, featuring quick-dry materials that absorb sweat to keep you dry and emit a minimal amount of odor.
SmartWool is a reputable brand with a reasonable retail price. They come in a variety of styles.
On a budget? No need to purchase seven new pairs. One or two will go a long way in keeping your feet feeling fresh and clean.
Five to seven pairs of underwear
Unless you can find the time to do laundry more than once a week, you’ll have to reuse your undergarments, as well.
In these situations, travel underwear is a godsend in helping you remain fresh down below during those sweltering European summers.
ExOfficio is a leading brand that sells several styles of both men’s and women’s underwear made from ultra-breathable nylon fabric. Advantages include seams specifically designed to reduce chaffing and antimicrobial treatment to diminish odor.
Again, even just a few pairs will go a long way.
One pair of shoes
“Just one?” I hear you ask in abject horror.
Yep. Shoes are heavy and take up a lot of space.
And because you only have one pair, you’ll need to make it count. Aim for a funky pair of casual shoes that are comfy enough to walk around in all day and stylish enough to rock the bars at night.
Ladies could squeeze in a trendy pair of sandals or flats for nights out seeing as they’re moderately compact. But for the guys, give those snazzy leather dress shoes a miss.
Hardcore hikers will want a solid pair of boots, such as these from Keen, to savor all the outdoor splendor Europe has to offer. In that case, a second pair of casual kicks is warranted for those who enjoy a bit of nightlife, as well.
Okay, there is a second pair of shoes everyone should consider. Flip flops, such as the ever-popular Havaianas, are an essential bit of kit. You’ll safeguard your toes from contracting fungus in those foul hostel showers and have the perfect piece of beach footwear to boot.
(But do shower flip flops even count as real shoes?)
Four to six tops
One or two pairs of button-up tops or blouses are great for both sightseeing and hitting the bars at night.
T-shirts largely depend on your destination and the season. If you’re expecting to spend a lot of time having fun in the sun, then four t-shirts will suffice.
Ladies: For the perfect Instagram pic, polka dot sundresses are all the rage these days. Substitute a shirt for a dress. Rock one as you peer longingly over a Venetian canal to garner the maximum possible number of likes.
Three to five bottoms
Again, what you wear on your bottom half comes down to the weather you expect to encounter.
Summer forays typically only require two pairs of trousers, be they a dark pair of jeans or chinos. Fill out the rest of your quota with dress shorts, skirts or dresses.
Those hitting up Europe in winter will want to focus solely on full-length pants. Furthermore, consider carrying a pair of thermal underwear if tackling sub-zero temperatures.
Layers are superior to jackets
Winter jackets are huge, heavy and not strictly necessary. Unless you’re visiting the colder sections of Europe during the frigid winter months, it’s better to opt for layers instead.
A great way to stay warm without a jacket is via the tried-and-tested fleece and vest combo.
Fleeces are inexpensive, even for the better brands. This Columbia option for women and this model by The North Face for men won’t break the bank.
A quality down vest, such as this women’s number from Patagonia, is admittedly on the pricey side. Nevertheless, it’ll keep you toasty warm and should last a decade or longer. Budget options, such as this compact vest from Wantdo, will do in a pinch for those without the inclination to splurge.
One rain jacket (if the season permits)
Winter (December to February), as well as autumn and spring (September to November and March to May), see the most rainfall in Europe. Rather than carrying a heavy and cumbersome winter coat, many travelers prefer to take a raincoat—which also acts as a windbreaker—and slip on some snug layers underneath.
Modern raincoats are versatile enough to be worn in a number of situations. Two contemporary examples include this women’s jacket from Eddie Bauer and this men’s jacket from Columbia.
For a little guidance, check out our ultimate guide to choosing a travel rain jacket.
Travelers who don’t expect to get soaked could opt for a compact umbrella instead.
Except for a few sunkissed Mediterranean destinations, Europe becomes bone-chillingly cold during the winter. Therefore, you’ll want to wear a beanie, gloves and a scarf at all times to stave off the onset of frostbite.
Regardless of the season, a hat and sunglasses are two must-have accessories.
There you have it! From undies to pants and sunglasses, a complete list of the clothes you need to pack for a trip to Europe.
Remember, you only need clothes for a week or two, as you’ll find ample opportunity to do laundry along the way.
Keep these suggestions in mind, and you’ll be cruising the continent in style without having to lug around a backbreaking load.
Harry is a South American-based freelance writer who covers travel, the arts and culture, among many other things.
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