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Stay Warm, Look Good: Packing for Winter Travel in Europe

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Between RyanAir flights, hotels with no elevators, and effortlessly chic-looking locals, packing for winter travel in Europe is practically an art form. You want to pack light, and keep warm, but still look good.

When traveling to Europe this past winter, I was faced with the challenge of putting together a warm and fashionable travel wardrobe into one carry on — not so simple for a California transplant who has forgotten what real cold feels like! The Outbreaker is the perfect backpack for European travel, not only chic looking with a well designed packing space, but carry on sized as well. Making packing all of the extras for winter easier by using packing cubes. Two full sets fit inside the Outbreaker 45. The duffle is a great add in to your bag to bring home those European souvenirs that you just couldn’t resist purchasing

In the end, I used this fail proof list of what to bring while packing for my winter trip to Europe. It helped me pack everything in one carry on, keep warm once I was in Europe, and look good doing it!

The Basics

No matter when and where you’re traveling, your basic carry on packing list shouldn’t change much. Winter or summer, you’re still going to need to pack underwear, right? Start by packing your basics.

The Add Ins

Patagonia Thermal Lightweight V-neck

Do you know the secret trick to pulling off skinny jeans and boots in below freezing temperatures? Wearing an invisible layer of long underwear underneath!

Plan to bring one pair of thermal leggings, and one long-sleeved thermal top on your winter trip to Europe.

Patagonia and Icebreaker have the best quality options (though they are more expensive than other options).

For more economical options, try Under Armour Cold Gear or Uniqlo’s HeatTech line — which, though budget-friendly and fashionable, isn’t as warm as the other brands listed.

Added bonus: Long underwear can double as PJs (especially in Southern European countries that don’t have great indoor heating) or leggings under a skirt.

What to Swap Out

Sweaters, though cozy and chic, unfortunately take up more space in your bag than other tops. So swap out three (or even four!) tops you normally would have packed for two sweaters or sweatshirts.

Personally, I’ll wear one bulkier sweater with jeans or leggings while traveling, and have one or two lightweight cardigans, or sweaters, that I can wear over a thermal top packed away in my bag.

Ultimately the rule here is: don’t add in sweaters, but replace other tops with them.

Basic Black

Black PantsA quick confession: I love black clothes. Black clothes are chic, easy to match, and never look as dirty as they really are.

When preparing for a trip to Europe, I always pack one pair of black pants. They’re easy to pair with a t-shirt for a casual outfit, or dress up with a nice silk top or sweater when going out for a nice dinner.

My boyfriend does the same. He wears his black pants with a t-shirt for a casual, yet put together look, or with a button down shirt when going out.

Pack Boots, not Shoes

I’m a big believer in the one-pair-of-shoes rule. For winter European travel, go for a comfortable pair of slip on boots.

Why boots?

  • Slip on boots are easy to take on and off at the airport (travel-friendly — check)
  • They match virtually everything (fashion — check)
  • You can walk for hours in them (comfortable — check)
  • They keep your feet warm and dry better than sneakers or flats (warmth — check)

If you do have to bring a second pair of shoes, like a pair of sneakers for hiking, plan on wearing your boots while traveling since they’d take up too much space in your carry on, otherwise.

Pack Warm, Lightweight Socks

Boots alone won’t keep your feet warm. It’s important to pack warm socks when packing for cold weather trips anywhere.

Bulky winter socks also take up more space than thin socks in your carry on. So pack 3 or 4 pairs of lightweight Smartwool socks (or another comparable brand) and plan on washing them as you go.

Pro Tip: Wash your socks and undies when you take your morning shower (yes, you can use the same bar of soap you shower with to wash your clothes!)

Warm Accessories

Grey infinity scarf

As Lauren wisely suggests in our Girls Guide to Packing Light, accessories are an easy way to change up outfits while traveling and are generally small and easy to fit in your bag. They’re also a great way to add color to an otherwise neutrals-heavy travel wardrobe.

When packing for winter travel in Europe, focus on those accessories that’ll keep you warm as well:

  • Hats
  • Gloves
  • Scarves
  • Long socks (for ladies)

Especially in Europe, scarves are my favorite way to add class to a basic jeans-and-t-shirt outfit. (I usually pack Forever 21’s cotton infinity scarf — it’s easier to wash than a knit scarf and I’ve gotten very creative wrapping it around me on cold flights…)

A Coat for Layering

While in Lisbon over the New Year, I packed the same coat I wear every day in the mild Northern California winter: a long, lightweight parka from H&M.

On sunny, 60-degree days, I wore it over a t-shirt. Once temperatures dropped below 40, I added a sweater for an extra layer. In the Mediterranean, it was perfect.

When I traveled to Switzerland in January, I chose to pack a cozy, full-length down jacket that kept me warm and dry even after jumping into piles of alpine snow — like Lululemon’s 1xA Lady for women or Patagonia’s Hawke’s Bay Jacket for men (pictured).

Europe may be small, but weather varies greatly from Barcelona to Belarus. Which coat you pack (or rather, wear onto the plane) depends largely on where in Europe you’re spending most of your time.

Some tips for choosing a coat:

  • Patagonia CoatPack your coat according to the coldest destination on your trip.
  • Pick a waterproof coat and don’t waste space on an extra rain jacket.
  • Go for a longer, slightly oversized coat that you can easily wear lots of layers underneath.
  • If you’re spending most of your time in a seriously cold place (Swiss Alps, Helsinki, Moscow…) go for a long down-filled coat that’ll keep you extra cozy and warm!

Don’t Forget!

When I travel outside of California to somewhere cold, I always, always, always forget how dry my skin gets in wintery weather.

After your clothes are chosen and packed away, don’t forget to toss in chapstick and a travel sized bottle of lotion before zipping up and taking off!

TL;DR

When preparing your Europe packing list, don’t let low temperatures or snow keep you from packing light and looking good. In addition to your basic packing list:

  • Pack thermals/long underwear
  • Replace 3-4 tops with 2 sweaters
  • Make one of your bottoms a basic pair of black pants
  • Choose boots as your one shoe
  • Pack warm, lightweight socks
  • Accessorize with hats, gloves, and scarves
  • Choose your coat wisely
  • Don’t forget chapstick and lotion

Bon voyage, mon ami! And remember, even if you forget something, there will always be a cozy pub or glass of vin chaud to help warm you back up.

Image: thecomicproject (Flickr)

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

LauraLopuch February 19, 2015 at 11:39 am

Hey Jessie, great tips! Love the idea to bring black pants. I’ve been wanting to get a good pair of boots for traveling. Any suggestions on brands? Or which boots you always turn to for trips?

Reply

Jessie Beck February 23, 2015 at 7:39 pm

Hmmm, I feel like I always have a new favorite each season. A couple years ago, I had a pair of Aldo boots that I literally wore across the continent of Europe when I was there one winter / fall. This year, I went for a pair of black, waterproofed, ankle-high suede boots (maybe a little too much black on black though?) from Nordstrom. But yeah, Aldo’s my comfy-stylish-boot go to (especially if you can catch them on sale like now!)

Reply

Emary Venter May 20, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Hi Laura,

I would recommend a pair of Timberlands. They have great grip for icy walkways, completely waterproof. They can take a good beating too. And don’t forget they are super stylish and a massive trend. Pair them with a pair of thickish socks (nothing too drastic) and you’ll be warm for the entire trip. I also wear them in summer so they are very versatile.

Reply

LadyLightTravel February 19, 2015 at 10:01 pm

I’d go one step further on the boots – make sure they are waterproof. There is slush everywhere. Getting wet is a big deal in the winter, and you don’t want the consequences. At a minimum your feet will get cold, and you could even get frostbite.
I personally prefer a raincoat / puff jacket combination. If it is unseasonably warm I can wear a rain coat with sweater. If sleet I can wear a raincoat over puff jacket and if very cold then puff jacket only. The rain coat is light enough that I can participate in athletic activities like cross country skiing.

Reply

Jessie Beck February 23, 2015 at 7:35 pm

True — good points all around! I actually did the rain coat / puff jacket combo on another trip but wound up never using the rain jacket. I guess it was just too cold :X

Reply

Shawn Forno February 24, 2015 at 3:39 pm

You can never go wrong with black jeans and chapstick.

Reply

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