Packing Light When Traveling to Europe with Kids

packing light europe, family travel, backpack Europe, Europe kids

Do you really want to lug heavy suitcases around Europe on a family vacation? On and off trains? Up cobblestone streets? Or would you rather travel light with backpacks? Think of the freedom! Packing light is a choice you must consider making for Europe. Packing light with kids might feel tricky because you feel the pressure of “what if.” What if it’s cold? What if they spill? What if they grow? I need back-ups! What countries are we visiting? Italy? Germany? France? Czech Republic? I made the choice to let the “what ifs” go, in exchange for traveling light and you can too! What’s the worst thing that can happen if one of your “what ifs” comes true? You may have to buy a new shirt? Great! You’ll want to shop anyway. The best thing that will happen if you pack light is your hands will be free to do the important stuff… like hold those little hands.


So, before you can pack, you need to decide what you’re packing in.

  1. Choose a bag

Afamily travel, backpack, backpack Europe, osprey backpack family travel, osprey backpackfter reading lots of reviews and multiple visits to REI and Backwoods stores, we choose Osprey convertible back packs. They have wheels and a handle like a suitcase, but back pack straps for lots of stairs or uneven roads. These bags are too heavy to be worn out sight-seeing every day, but totally manageable on travel days in between locations. They also come with a convenient detachable daypack. The one thing to consider with convertible luggage is you do loose some interior space due to the room used for the pull out handles and backpack straps, The trade off, however, is convenience and a “one size fits all” style piece of travel luggage.

We also chose to use packing cubes. Each of our two full sized Osprey backpacks were used to pack for two people, one adult and one kid. Packing cubes made organization easy. It was also convenient in each new location to just hand the kids their two packing cubes.


  1. Make a packing list

Now the biggest decisions came into deciding what to put in those two precious packing cubes. We were traveling in May and June, so we didn’t need winter wear, but mornings and evenings were cool. About half of the apartments we rented on Airbnb were equipped with a washer. There are no dryers at all, just racks for hanging clothes to dry. So I planned on washing every 3 or 4 days. This turned out to be easy. At the end of a day I threw in one load of laundry and laid it on the clothes rack before going to sleep. One 3rd floor apartment in Germany actually had clothes lines outside the kitchen window. It felt a bit risky hanging our socks and underwear out the window three floors up. But all the neighbors were doing it and the kids thought it was hilarious, so I went for it.

Quick dry clothes were the key! No jeans please. They can take more than a day to dry and then are hard and crunchy. My son’s Under Armor shorts and shirts turned out to be the best for quick dry. His clothes dried faster than my husband’s special button down Kuhl shirts. But everything was still dry within a day. This was so important because often we woke up early to pack and catch the train. Damp clothes would have thrown a mildew wrench in the plans.


Here are the 5 major things to consider when choosing what clothes go on your list.

  1. Weather – What season will it be?
  2. Is it quick dry?
  3. Everything you bring should mix and match. No single outfits!
  4. Formal Wear? Athletic Wear? Beach Wear?
  5. Leave room in your bag for shopping!

I’ve already shared my answers for #1 and #2.   For #3 I went with a black, white, beige color scheme that could all mix and match and be accessorized with a scarf and some jewelry. My daughter and I each brought a scarf, so we had two choices. Scarfs also double as a light blanket for plane or train. We opted for no formal wear because late night fancy dinners were not on the family travel agenda, but I did bring running attire.  Lastly #5, I wish I had left more room.

Do not leave for your trip with a full bag. You will regret it! Click To Tweet

Check out The Problem of Overpacking. Even though we packed light, there were still unnecessary things I passionately wished I had left behind. We all had one pair of shoes too many. I left those off the actual packing list below because I will never make that mistake again. Think about the space 4 pairs of extra shoes takes up. I would have gladly filled those spots with souvenirs from Germany or France! #5 is oh so important.


Here is my actual packing list:

Europe Packing List, Family travel, family backpack, backpack

Europe family travel, packing light Europe, family travel, Europe with kids, backpack Europe,

Everything On Girl’s Packing List


Do not leave for your trip with a full bag. You will regret it! To ensure you don’t over pack, you’ll have to decide that nothing goes in the bag that is not on your packing list. My lists include 10-12 items per person, plus underwear, socks shoes, hat, coat. No last minute additions! Remember, if you get where you’re going and you’re desperate for another shirt, you can probably buy one. Take time to thoughtfully make your list, and then stick to it.


*Note*Smaller carry on back packs are not included here. Those contain a water bottle, book, journal, iPad, deck of cards, small teddy bear, whatever. But everyone has to carry their own. Also, you should be able to wear clothes from your list on the plane, so that lightens the load even more.


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