How to pack for a wintry month in Europe

How to pack for a wintry month in Europe with just a carry on

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Last updated February 23, 2024.

Are you traveling to your favorite destinations during the European cold but don’t know how to pack for a wintry month in Europe? Whether this is your first time packing for a longer trip or you’re a seasoned pro looking for some new tips, this packing guide will help you master the art of packing light without sacrificing comfort or style, and make sure you don’t miss a thing before your adventure.

When I first visited England in the summer of 2023, I explored different parts of the country plus Malta, Sicily, and Paris. It was the middle of a heatwave so I wore lightweight clothes like dresses paired with sandals. I quickly learned that not only did I overpack (I didn’t wear everything I packed), but the luggage I brought was big and cumbersome for galavanting through Western Europe. Maybe those backpack-and-carry-on-only people aren’t crazy after all.

This time around, I’ll be playing explorer in the middle of winter, so my packing list will feature bulkier items, but I’m still traveling lightly to avoid stress, extra luggage fees, and fatigued limbs from carrying a large, heavy suitcase everywhere.

Make sure your itinerary is set

First things first—make sure the bulk of your trip is scheduled and ready to go. Even if you like to plan things as they come and be sporadic with your trip, it’s good to have some of the big dates in mind, particularly the first 1-2 weeks of your stay.

I’ll be in Europe for a total of 28 days. It’s the middle of winter (January and February), so the weather is pretty cold with highs for the day often at or near freezing temperature with some freezing rain or snow. That’s very much on the cold side for this California girl and not something I’m used to. However, dressing appropriately can make all the difference for your trip. So, be sure to pack wisely.

Here’s what my journey looks like:

January 17 – 18*: Overnight flight to London
January 18 – 22: London
January 22 – 26: Paris
January 26 – 28: Amsterdam
January 28 – February 4: Manchester
February 4 – 8: Berlin
February 8 – 11: Basel
February 11 – 15: London
February 15*: Fly home to San Francisco

*Layover in Copenhagen

Plan on doing laundry

I’m packing about 7 days’ worth of clothes so that I can travel with a light load. This means I’ll have to wash my clothes at least a few times during my trip. When you’re packing for your journey, pack with the thought of doing laundry at some point so you’re not overpacking.

If you book an Airbnb, hopefully you can find one that has a washer and dryer in the unit or main building. If not, or maybe you’re in a hostel or hotel, ask if they have a laundry room, or look for a laundromat nearby. They’re pretty easy to find in most cases.

You can buy some travel-sized laundry packs or pack some from home into travel safe containers and bags before you travel. I like to stop at a market during the first week or two of my trip and grab a small size of powdered laundry detergent to use.

Type of luggage to bring

My favorite combo to pack for trips like these are a backpack plus a carry-on. It only took me one trip to learn that lighter is better when you’re constantly on the go in Europe.

When you’re planning on doing lots of trips within your travels—that is, hopping from city to city via train or bus—it’s much easier if you pack light and small. Depending on where you go, some streets in Europe are narrow, cobbly, steep, and can only be explored on foot. This was my experience in parts of Italy. You don’t want to be hauling excessive luggage up and down those roads unless you need a leg workout and don’t mind starting your trip drenched in sweat.

Another reason to consider this lightweight combo is it saves you plenty of time and money with the airlines, trains, and buses. It’s easy to hop in and out of public transportation with just these two, plus you’ll save money as you don’t have to check in either of them.

Matein travel backpack. I’ve had this backpack for 4 years now and it’s very much a lifesaver. Since I work remotely, tech is always top of mind so I need to make sure whichever bag I’m traveling with can hold my laptop, Kindle, portable keyboard and mouse, and everything else I’m bringing. Believe me when I say this bag does the trick. The strap at the back lets you slip this on top of your rolling luggage, so your back doesn’t have to suffer if things get too heavy. I’m tempted to get another one because they have it in pink now.

Away Bigger Carry-On suitcase. Did you know that the sizing box airlines use to measure your luggage is bigger than the typically sized carry-on? Away’s Bigger Carry-On has entered the chat. It’s great if you want to pack small while maximizing every inch of space you’re allowed for travel. This is another bag that I’ve used for years, and I’ve never had issues bringing it on the plane as it definitely fits. It has a hard shell, making it super durable, and I love the compartments it has. There’s a zip section and bag for dirty clothes, and it has its own rechargeable battery so you can charge your electronics.

TRIPPED packing cubes. I used packing cubes for the first time when I spent a month in Costa Rica in 2021. Once you use them and experience the magic for yourself, it’s hard to go back. I like how they keep everything organized as it comes with cubes for shirts, bottoms, socks, underwear, plus a drawstring bag for dirty clothes. Packing cubes help me keep everything packed on one side of my bag, leaving the other side free for shoes, toiletries, and any gifts and souvenirs I might have room for. Others suggest rolling your clothes and placing them in the bag that way, but I’ve found that simply folding and laying things on top also does the trick.

How to pack for a wintry month in Europe in a carry on

Now that we know how our trip looks and what we’re going to use to pack, it’s time to figure out what to actually bring. Since we’re packing for a winter trip, it’s important to remember to pack to wear layers to stay warm, and plan on wearing our bulkiest clothes during travel days to maximize space in our luggage.

Clothes

Layers are what makes dressing in the winter so much fun. You can mix-and-match and re-use items for entirely different outfits every day of your trip. If you can, try to stick to the same theme of colors to make outfit creation easy. For instance, I know I’m wearing my brown boots and a matching brown leather bag on this trip. So, I’m making sure my layers include solids in blacks, blues, and pinks as they pair well with brown.

Tops

  • Sweaters (3). All the sweaters I’m packing are turtlenecks because brrrr, baby it’s cold outside. I’m bringing a cream sweater, turquoise sweater, and white striped sweater for a total of 3.
  • Long-sleeve tee shirts (2). I like to layer these under my sweaters for extra warmth. I brought a white one and a thin black turtleneck one..

Bottoms

I normally don’t wear denim, so you won’t find any suggested here, but feel free to bring a pair if that’s your style and you can wear them with different tops to make multiple outfits. I prefer the ease and comfort of leggings since I like to wander and explore quite a bit. They’re great during the day and easy to dress up at night. I have a more athletic pair as well as one lined with fleece for those really cold days and nights.

  • 2 pairs of leggings. 1 normal pair and 1 lined with fleece; they’re all black.
  • 1 black skirt
  • Fleece-lined tights. I can only wear a skirt if I have fleece-lined tights packed, too. These ones from Swiftmay were perfecting for combatting freezing temps—I was warm and comfortable throughout my trip.

Dresses and bodysuits

I’m a complete sucker for Instagram ads. Both of these recommendations were from ads I saw while scrolling, but these have been some amazing purchases. Both of them are comfortable and help bring out your shape. Best part? They can both be worn with boots or sneakers.

  • 1 hoodie dress. This dress from KIN Apparel features a satin-lined hoodie to protect natural hair, so it’s perfect for cold and rainy days. The inside is soft and keeps you warm, too. If you’re curvy or have a high butt, this dress is calling your name.
  • 1 long-sleeve jumpsuit. I saw this Popilush bodysuit on Facebook and Instagram and got one for both summer and winter. I like that it can be worn casually or dressed up for a night out. It’s incredibly versatile and makes you look yummy because it’s shapewear. My long one is black.

Coats and outerwear

  • 1 heavy coat. Bring a thick coat or puffer jacket to stay warm and protected against the cold elements. Make sure you can wear this on the plane or train as it’ll take up too much space in your suitcase or backpack.
  • 1 puffer vest. I like this one from North Face. It’s an extra barrier against the cold and wears well under a bigger coat.

Underwear

If you’re looking for a guide that suggests 3 underwear for a month-long vacation, this isn’t the one. If there’s anywhere that I’m going to overpack, it’s these right here. I’d rather be prepared and have everything I need than hand wash clothes and underwear every 3 days.

  • 10-14 pairs of underwear
  • 4-6 pairs of period underwear. These are helpful for long days away from restrooms or at night because they’re an extra security measure.
  • 3-5 bras

Pajamas

It’s winter time, so opt for long pajamas here. I’m never too sure how warm or cold a place will be, and I tend to be cold anyway. You’re free to pack a pair of shorter pajamas in case you want to have that option, too.

  • 1-2 pairs of long flannel or silk pajamas, top and bottom
  • 1 short pajamas

Shoes and socks

  • 1 pair of compression socks. Getting a blood clot from long flights is a fear of mine, so you won’t find me traveling without a pair of these. Along with aiding blood circulation, it minimizes leg swelling, too.
  • 3-5 pairs of socks. I like to pack more socks than necessary because they keep me warm. Even better if you can include a fuzzy pair or two.
  • 1 pair of boots
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • 1 pair of sandals or flip-flops. I don’t like walking barefoot or with socks on the floors where I’m lodging, so I keep some slip-on footwear close.

Accessories

  • Neck scarf. I have a black scarf I bring with me for an extra layer of warmth.
  • Hair scarves. These keep my locs moisturized and protected at night and make styling in the morning a breeze because my hair stays in place.
  • Simple jewelry. I usually just travel with a pair of stud earrings and hoop earrings, and a necklace or two.

Beauty and toiletries

  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Ibuprofen
  • Hair ties
  • Bar of soap
  • Towel. A good hostel, hotel, or Airbnb will have towels available for use and for free, but on the off chance that there aren’t any, or a hostel is charging, I like to have my own.
  • Razor. Use a safety razor or razors with cartridges so you can dismantle them before travel.
  • Body scrub. I was born and raised on the African sponge. Highly recommended for glowing, exfoliated skin both home and away.
  • Body lotion. This is optional as most hotels and top-rated Airbnbs provide this, but I like to have my preferred cream available just in case there isn’t any or I don’t like what’s offered.
  • Body oil. This is good to keep handy if you have sensitive skin or get dry easily, especially during the winter. I apply it after using body lotion.
  • Sunscreen. Sunscreen on your face is still a good practice even in the winter. I like both Black Girl Sunscreen and Fenty’s face moisturizer that has 30 SPF.
  • Makeup. Just the basics.
  • Period cup. For a month of travel, this will definitely come in use. It’s discreet, is a one-time investment, and comes in a tiny pouch, taking up no space at all.
  • Covid test. Even with Covid restrictions reduced compared to the early days, I think it’s good to carry a test with you. I went to Nigeria and came back with what I thought was the flu, and it ended up being Covid.

You may have noticed that shampoo, conditioner, and a few others might be missing from this list and I promise you that’s intentional for two reasons:

  1. Shampoo, conditioner, and lotion are complimentary in most hotels and top-rated Airbnbs, so we can skip these since space is already of the essence and they’ll likely be provided. If you find that’s not the case or you need something extra, you can always head to a nearby market or pharmacy and get travel-sized bottles of these so it won’t hamper the rest of your trip.
  2. London’s Heathrow Airport is notoriously difficult when it comes to getting cosmetics, toiletries, and liquids through security. You’re better off keeping everything at a minimum since you can only take small amounts and it all has to fit into the tiniest of bags they give you. So, I only take what I need so I can breeze through security and get on with my trip in peace.

Tech

My work tends to travel with me. If you’ll be working remotely, here’s a handy checklist of all the tech equipment you’ll need to stay productive and comfortable abroad.

  • Laptop or tablet. I bring my Macbook almost everywhere I go, but a tablet can be just as useful, especially if you plan on bringing the next two items.
  • Wireless keyboard and mouse. Even if you don’t plan on using these all the time, I highly recommend bringing them so you have the option. I find myself more productive with this setup because it mimics my iMac setup at home.
  • Laptop stand. If you’re working on a laptop, it’s easy to develop back and neck pain from bad posture (too much hunching). This laptop stand from Roost elevates your laptop to eye level for a more ergonomic workstation.
  • Electronics organizer. Hauling a bunch of tech for your trip? That means you likely have a bunch of cables, too. Keep everything organized and safe in this small travel bag just for your charger cables and mouse.
  • Keyboard pouch. Roost used to have an amazing keyboard pouch that was super snug. They don’t make it anymore, but this one’s a good alternative that I use as well.
  • Headphones. I carry two types of headphones for different types of use. If I’m in a noisy area or want some quiet time on the plane, I like these noise canceling headphones from Bose. It comes with a cable that connects to the headphone ports on planes. If I’m working from an Airbnb or cafe, Apple’s Airpods do just fine.
  • Portable charger. In case your luggage doesn’t come with a rechargeable battery like the Away Bigger Carry-On, it’s good to keep one of your own handy. You never know when and where you’ll need a charge, so it’s best to have your own charging device to keep low-battery-anxiety at a minimum.
  • International travel adaptor. There’s nothing worse than getting to your hostel/hotel or Airbnb and discovering that your cell phone charging cables aren’t compatible in your new location and there isn’t a port anywhere for you to use. You can ask your Airbnb host or someone at reception, but it’s not guaranteed that they’ll have one, so best bring your own. I absolutely love this one I found on Amazon. It’s pink and works in the UK, EU, as well as African countries. It also has more USB ports than I’ve seen on others, so it’s definitely worth it.

Packing checklist to help you pack for a month in Europe

It’s actually pretty easy to pack for a month in Europe once you have a game plan, no matter the season. Make sure to keep this blog post bookmarked so you can check it out again once it’s getting closer to your trip.

How to pack for a wintry month in Europe - pin

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