Backpacking Europe is an increasingly popular thing to do right after graduating from college. This is because it puts off the inevitable (graduate school or worse – a job) for a few weeks or months, and because there is so much to see and so many different cultures to experience, all within a relatively small geographic area. But try not to pack too heavy. After all, if you’re backpacking, you’ll only have what you can carry yourself. Remember that you will have places to wash your clothes and that youth hostels rent clean sheets. That way you will have more room for souvenirs. And, of course, you have to have good hiking boots.
Here are some essential items for an extended backpacking trip through Europe (at least three weeks).
•Clothing that can be layered. You will have warm days and cold days. One heavy sweater, two or three long-sleeved shirts, and two or three short-sleeved shirts are recommended. A light jacket is good to have. A warm, heavy coat should be brought only if you expect to encounter very cold and snowy weather. A pair of long underwear (in a separate top and bottom configuration is a good idea).
•Pants should be versatile. Bring two or three pairs. Khakis are great because they wear well. Choose the kind that have the zippered sections. The bottoms come off and instantly transform the pants into shorts. Make sure you have one nice pair that you can wear to nightclubs or to church. An extra pair of lightweight shorts and some swimwear is a good idea.
•You only need a few pairs of socks: one or two heavy wool pair (they also wick moisture away from the skin) and two to four pair of socks suitable for milder weather. Make sure the socks are long enough to protect your legs from the rubbing of your boots. And bring flip-flops for days at the beach or protection from public showers.
•The underwear rule is about five pair for a three week trip and eight to ten pair for more than that, depending on the length of the trip.
•Basic toiletries should not be forgotten. Most of these things, from toothbrushes to shampoo, come in small travel size containers. Note that youth hostels do not provide complementary soaps and razors, and that you should have your own washcloth and hand towel. Doesn’t hurt to have a big towel either. Use a beach towel, and it can do double duty.
•Try to avoid gadgets that require you to plug in. This only adds more bulk, and you will have to buy adapters for plugs and for currents (these vary from country to country – they are not uniform across Europe).
•Extra batteries to keep things working. But, really, you really only need them for a flashlight or a small food/drink warmer.
•A small plastic poncho will keep the rain off, and those blankets that reflect body heat back to you are good ideas. Both items are small and can fit easily into odd corners of your backpack. Take along three or four gallon freezer bags to store wet things until they can be dried out.
•Laundry kits with environment-friendly soap, and sewing kits will help you keep things clean and mended.
•Have a money belt. I recommend the kind that hangs around your neck and can be worn under your shirt. You can keep passports, money, credit cards, and local currency in it, and it is hard for thieves to get to. Credit cards are best, as they come with protections against theft and fraud.
•A cheap camera for taking pictures and extra film. Expensive cameras only make you a target, and they are likely to break. Carry film in a film protector to keep it safe from sun and moisture.
•Have a refillable water bottle and take purification tablets, just in case. Also remember a mini-kitchen kit. These come with fork, knife, spoon, plate, and cup. Have a cork screw, bottle cap remover, hand can opener, and multi-function knife on hand as well.
•Some nice things to have to pass the time are a journal and pencil with portable pencil sharpener (to keep updates), a paperback novel (for reading while waiting in stations and airports), and a small photo album as a conversation starter and guard against loneliness.
•A country guide to help you figure out what to see.
•If you have a Blackberry or some other PDA or mobile phone it will keep you connected. Most major cities have wireless hotspots that you can tap into.