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Packing for Europe in the shoulder season can be challenging. Should you pack for cold or warm weather? Start by reading this packing guide for trips with different weather and find out how to avoid overpacking with these tips downsizing one reader’s travel wardrobe!
Packing for Europe: Downsizing Your List
Travel Fashion help! Reader asks:
I’m traveling to Amsterdam, Germany, Hungary, and London the first 3 weeks of May. Do you suggest a pair of Capri pants and trench coat? I’m thinking about bringing a pair of jeans, black straight leg pants, a maxi skirt, and tops to match everything.
I will be gone for 24 days (my longest trip yet). I’ve checked the weather and it looks like a range between 50°F-70°F. Any helpful suggestions on packing for Europe would be appreciated.
(Below you will find the traveler’s full packing list along with my suggestions on what to keep and remove.)
For Amsterdam, Germany, Hungary, and London the first 3 weeks of May, you’ll most likely encounter colder weather than warmer weather.
Remember, the trick to traveling for long periods of time is to re-wear clothing and to do laundry once a week or as needed. On my first trip to Europe in March 2007, I packed a large suitcase plus carryon and almost all the clothing I packed went unworn.
Here are some general principles to keep in mind when packing for cold weather:
- If it’s cold, no one will see what you’re wearing underneath your sweater or coat, so you can rewear items.
- If you’re in a new city every few days, no one will notice you wore a similar outfit a few days prior.
- You can make 21 days worth of outfits with just 10 pieces of clothing: 3 bottoms multiplied by 7 tops equals 21 unique outfits. This is Travel Fashion Math.
- People have the tendency to gravitate towards the same few pieces of clothing, the ones they would normally wear at home and feel most comfortable with. I can almost guarantee you would only wear half of the clothing listed on your trip.
Follow these guidelines when packing for Europe in May (or during a trip with different weather):
You currently have 12 tops listed in your packing list:
- 3 colored sleeveless tops in coral, mint green, and black/white.
- 3 short sleeve tees (white, black and grey stripe)
- chambray long sleeve blouse
- white long sleeve blouse
- long sleeve black/teal blouse
- white long sleeve v-neck knit top
- black long sleeve v-neck knit top
- teal blue and grey long sleeve crew neck knit top
It would be great if you could pare your list down to seven pieces. Since you don’t have any dresses, plan to pack enough tops so you have one for every day of the week. You have six long sleeve tops and six short sleeve/sleeveless tops.
Because of the weather, I would pack less sleeveless and short sleeve tops when packing for Europe.
- For the 3 colored sleeveless tops, I suggest removing 1-2 and choose the one that’s most versatile.
- I suggest removing the white tee and possibly the striped tee from the 3 short sleeve tees. Take only 1-2 tees. If you only choose one, go with black, because it’s classic, looks dressier yet comfortable, and will mask stains easier than the white tee.
- For the long sleeve tops, in total take no more than 4-5 blouses. If it’s cold, your outerwear (below) will be showing the majority of the time, not what you’re wearing underneath. If you only remove one, make it the white blouse; if you remove two, I recommend the knit top.
In total, you currently have six bottoms listed.
- One dark denim ankle jeans (can be rolled up to be capris)
- one medium color denim skinny jeans
- black ankle pants
- black legging type pants
- khaki colored ankle pant/capris
- a maxi skirt in either black or black/cream
When packing for Europe, remember that pants, jeans, and trousers are easily reworn without being washed. They’re also least likely to show up in pictures since they’re on the lower half of your body, which people tend to notice less than the top half. Pack 3-4 total bottoms and focus on cold weather versus warm weather.
- Dark denim is a great choice for Europe! But, take only one pair of jeans and go with the darkest pair.
- Choose either the black ankle pants or leggings, not both.
- For the khaki colored ankle pant/capris, either choose these or the black ankle pants but, not both. They serve the same purpose.
- For the maxi skirt in either black or black/cream: because you have so many longer bottoms, perhaps a shorter skirt or dress would be better? If you don’t like to show your legs, a maxi would be great on warmer days.
Tip: You can layer the legging style pants under a shorter skirt or dress and wear this in the cold in addition to warm weather.
In total, you currently have seven pieces of outerwear listed.
- 3 sweaters (orange and white stripe, black and white stripe and one black merino wool)
- black/winter white cardigan
- oatmeal colored cardigan that ties in the front
- minty green knit vest
- black side zip knit jacket
- army green jacket
- black North Face trench coat with a hood
Outerwear includes some of the most re-wearable clothing items as they don’t sit next to your skin and won’t get as dirty as other pieces. When packing for Europe, this is the best place to save space and find pieces that you can layer together as needed (so these must mix and match) or be worn alone based on the weather.
- For the sweaters, are these closed or open? if they’re closed, then take no more than two. If they’re open, take no more than one since you also are taking a cardigan.
- Take only one cardigan that can be worn over all tops, especially if you’re packing more than one sweater.
- Remove the minty green knit vest as it’s not an essential item (or keep and remove one more top or sweater).
- Can you remove the black side-zip knit jacket? Do you need the knit if you take sweaters and cardigans?
- Could the army green jacket replace the North Face trench coat or vice versa?
All great choices!
- black tennis (walking) shoes
- black flats (black is always classic or you can also try one of these versatile colors for shoes)
- black ankle booties (considering choosing tan instead of black – it goes with everything. see this post!)
All great choices!
- 2 printed scarves
- black belt
- small black cross body purse
Here are a few articles on how to layer your clothing so you don’t have to take as many pieces:
The absolute best way to avoid packing more than two sweaters and/or cardigans is by using thermals underneath. Merino wool, in particular, is the best choice because you can rewear it for days (even weeks if needed) and it won’t absorb scents.
Read this article on the best thermal underwear for women to find out how they work.
Travel Fashion Tip: Even though you’re not traveling in the middle of winter, this sample cold weather capsule wardrobe shows you how to pack with a total of fifteen clothing pieces!
Do you have anything to add to these tips on packing for Europe? Please comment below!
For more Europe packing lists, please read:
- 10 Step Packing Guide for Europe
- 10 Step Packing Guide for Italy
- 10 Step Packing Guide for Paris
- What to Wear in Europe: Packing Lists for Every Destination!