Stepping out of our campervan into the cool morning air, I hugged my sweater around me and walked, coffee in hand, towards the beach just outside of San Sebastian. It was the middle of July and, though early, hikers traversing El Camino de Santiago were already awake, quietly walking alongside the road above us.
Hours later, though, we’d be inland, hiding in the shade as we cooked lunch in 90 degree heat — my sweater long since tossed into the back of the van. It was a reminder that even though we could cross the whole country in less than a day, the terrain and weather could change dramatically.
So, whether you’re headed towards fresh ocean breezes in the northern Basque country, exploring Barcelona in the spring, or soaking up heat and sun in Mallorca, here’s what to pack for Spain.
Choosing Luggage for Spain
First, make sure you choose the right bag for your trip to Spain. Although plenty of people travel with roller bags in Spain, it’s not generally the best choice because:
- Many hotels and (Airbnb) apartments don’t have elevators — whatever you bring, you’ll have to be able to carry up a few flights of stairs
- Cobblestone roads — not only do they destroy your wheels, but it’s kind of annoying to drag a piece of luggage that creates a thunderous “DUT DUT DUT DUT DUT” for 20 minutes straight
Clothing: What to Wear in Spain
In general, you’ll be fine wearing in Spain what you would at home — though there are a few small differences to consider. As far as weather is concerned, be prepared for hot days and cool nights in the summer (especially if you’re around Barcelona or San Sebastian) and mild but windy days in the winter. A few other tips when deciding what clothing to pack for Spain:
For Fashion Choose Bright
Even though it’s easier to mix and match outfits with neutral colored clothing while traveling, fashion in Spain is generally bright and colorful. If you want to be a la mode, bring one bright piece — a yellow skirt, a statement jacket — that still goes with everything else.
Both the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Spain have wonderful beaches. If you travel there between May and September, don’t forget your bathing suit.
Shorts are fine to wear in Spain, but are mostly reserved for outdoor activities and the beach. If you wear them around town, it’s not a problem — just a little touristy. Instead, embrace the ease of cool summer trousers, dresses, and rompers and pack 2-3 of those to keep cool.
Plan for Outdoor Adventure
Spain has some of the best rock climbing in the world (hola, Mallorca!), famous hiking trails, biking routes, rafting, kayaking, as well as snow and water sports. So if you’re a climber, cyclist, hiker, or whatever, bring the essential gear you’ll need to enjoy an outdoor adventure in Spain. That said, think twice about hiking boots. Unless you’re doing some serious trekking, a pair of trainers or trail runners will be fine.
For me, that meant making room for my bike shoes and an old pair of shorts (which I later tossed) so I could do a “quick” spin in the Pyrenees.
Shoes: Ankle Boots or Sandals
For your main pair of shoes, opt for ankle boots or sandals — depending on the season. In addition, pack either a pair of sneakers for outdoor adventures, or a pair of nicer shoes for nights on the town.
For religious sites, both men and women will be required to dress conservatively. Generally, a t-shirt and a pair of slacks/skirt that goes below the knees will do the trick.
Sweater & Rain Jacket
It can rain any time of year, and gets cool in some spots (and at night) — even in the summer — so be sure to have at least one warm layer. The best combination is a sweater or sweatshirt and a light to medium-weight jacket or windbreaker (depending on the season). In the winter time, Spain can be quite windy and cold, and in the summer you’ll want to ward off rain.
One Nice Outfit
You don’t have to bring anything super fancy, but do bring at least one nice-ish outfit for dancing or going out to dinner. Throughout Spain, you’ll find both a lively nightlife and food scene. Go, take a siesta and stay out until 2am enjoying it all.
Toiletries: Stick to the Basics
Whether you’re in Spain for one week or one month, stick to the basics for toiletries and keep them under 3oz. If you run out of anything, you’ll be able to pick it up easily. For those of you who prefer to pick up bug spray and sunscreen in country, both are affordable and easy to find in Spanish grocery stores and pharmacies.
Electronics: Phone, Chargers, & Adaptor
For electronics, try to limit yourself to 1-2 devices and chargers (unless you’re a digital nomad who has to work, of course) to keep your bag light. For my last trip to Spain, I opted for my smartphone and camera.
If you use T-Mobile, their One plan works in Spain, which is great. If not, there are other options, or you can get a SIM card and affordable data plan so you can make calls and look up directions on your phone. With Vodafone, I was able to choose between:
- Super Yuser plan: 4GB of data, valid for 30 days, 15 Euros
- Mega Yuser plan: 7GB of data, valid for 30 days, 20 Euros
Further, my SIM card worked across the EU (I can affirm that it worked in Germany, France, and Portugal!) — in case you plan to explore other parts of Europe after Spain.
For Spain, bring a Type F adaptor. C and E plugs will work in Spanish outlets as well. It’s the same converter you’ll need across most of mainland Europe.
Copy Your Passport
To travel to Spain, you’ll have to have a passport that is valid for three months after your departure date (I know, it’s weird and annoying — so double check your expiration date).
Once you’re good to go, take a photo of your passport and keep it digitally stored somewhere. If anything happens to it, it’ll be much easier for you to get a replacement passport with the copy than without.
Hostel Stays: What to Pack
Hostels and albergues are a popular, affordable, and great accommodation option in Spain. If you choose to stay in one — or a few — throughout your stay, be sure to pack:
- Quick-dry towel: Most hostels require you to rent one otherwise
- Lock: Keep your stuff safe!
- Earplugs: Because, you know, people snore
- Flip-flops: For the showers
Do I Need a Money Belt?
If it makes you comfortable, go for it, but it’s not absolutely necessary. I’ve never brought a money belt and (knock on wood) never been pickpocketed in Europe. Instead, just know what to look for and what to do to keep your stuff safe. For example:
- Never leave your bag hanging off the back of your chair in a public cafe or restaurant; the safest space is always in your lap
- Be alert in crowded spaces, transportation, and tourist attractions
- Separate your valuables. For example, I always keep my driver’s license and passport in different places; likewise for each of my two credit cards
When trying to figure out what things to take on a trip to Spain, remember to keep your packing list short, simple, and ready for adventure.
- Clothing: Pack one colorful item if you want to be fashionable, warm layers (even in the summer), and at least one nice outfit for going out
- Shoes: Opt for low ankle boots or sandals, depending on the season, and a pair of shoes for your favorite outdoor adventure
- Toiletries: Stick to the basics, and pick up sunscreen or bug spray once you’ve landed
- Electronics: Bring 1-2 items and definitely make sure you have an unlocked phone on you so you can grab a SIM card in country
- Staying in a hostel? Don’t forget your towel, lock, earplugs, and flip-flops
- Money belts aren’t necessary, but fine if you’re nervous. Instead, learn what to do to avoid pickpocketing
¡Buen viaje! And don’t forget to eat some churros and tortillas for me. You’re about to have a blast exploring one of the most welcoming, food-forward, and geographically dynamic countries in Europe.