With the cost of a flight to Europe as well as the ease of hopping from country to country by rail or budget European airlines, it makes sense to pack light and spend 2 weeks to a month traveling around the continent. Here are some lifesaver items for either backpacking Europe or simply hopping around from country to country.
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A Hiking Backpack
Dragging a rolling suitcase up train platform stairs and across cobblestone streets is a nightmare! Instead, opt for a light hiking backpack. This is mainly to only carry your clothes and toiletries, so don’t go for the biggest backpack available. Make sure it fits the dimensions of the budget airlines you will use throughout your trip like Ryanair and EasyJet. Look for one with a waist belt so that as you walk, the weight of the pack rests on your hips instead of your back.
If you plan to to visit more urban cities and use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees that is recognized often such as MasterCard or Visa, a money belt is not exactly necessary. However, if you plan to deal in cash and use your bank card to withdraw from ATMs, a money belt is not only wise to prevent pickpocketing, but it also helps you keep your money and card safe during the hustle and bustle of relocating every few days.
If you must look cute for photos, pack that one pair of heels or sandals, but be practical and only pack 1-3 pairs of shoes total. Your main pair of shoes should be comfortable to walk in all day long. Keep colors neutral so that you can pair them with all your outfits, and make sure to break them in before the trip! To put things into perspective for how much you will walk on a European trip, think Disney World times ten!
Neutral Mix and Match Pieces
If you are traveling between the warmer months of May to September, pack around 3 pairs of pants/midi skirts, 3-4 neutral tops, and a sweater for mix and matching different outfits throughout your trip. It is best to avoid shorts and sleeveless tops as you cannot enter some cathedrals without proper covering.
Crossbody Purse or Camera Backpack
In your day-to-day siteseeing activities, you will need a smaller bag for storing a small water bottle, chapstick, sunglasses, hand sanitizer, and whatever else you may need throughout the day. If you plan to simply use your phone for photos, choose a small crossbody purse. If you have a larger dslr camera, choose a compact bag that will serve as both your purse and camera bag.
I hope this helps you pack for your next European adventure! If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below!
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On our tour of Western Europe, my friends and I spent three days in Paris, exploring as much of the city as we could. Surprisingly, we got several highlights of this magical city done in a small amount of time- I’ll explain how in this blog. The best part about Paris is the Metro, which will get you anywhere in no time at all. We didn’t get a metro pass for this short trip, but chose to just buy about twenty tickets at a time and split the cost. Our days in Paris were May 16-May 18, 2017. This was still pre-tourist season, but it was getting busier as summer was quickly approaching.
Here is a recap of our Paris adventure, followed by suggestions and total costs of each day:
Monmarte, Sacre Ceour, Café Le Consulat, Eiffle Tower, & Arc de Triomphe
Our starting point to Paris was in Mons, Belgium, where my friend’s family lives. We picked up our friend from the Brussels airport on May 14th and headed to the Mons train station at 7:20 am on May 16th. We bought our train tickets about 2 months before our trip to Paris because prices were quickly rising. We took the high-speed Thalys train, made a few connections, and arrived in the Paris-Nord train station around lunch-time.
The train station is about 10-15 minutes from Monmarte, a very scenic area, famous for its beautiful Sacre Ceour church and artists. We locked our belongings in a giant locker at the train station and took a bus to Monmarte. This was the only time we would be close to Monmarte as it is further away from the heart of Paris. The bus dropped us off at the bottom of the lengthy stairs, which led to the incredible Sacre Ceour church. At the top, we could see the entire city as well as the beautiful inside of this enormous church. Surrounding this church are multiple artists who paint their favorite views of their beloved city. Paintings ranged from 20 euro to hundreds, and they were well worth every penny. I just did not have it in my budget to buy one though I really did want to take them all home with me. Next, we had lunch at the famous café, Le Consulat, which is the most photographed and posted café in all of Paris. We had omelets and tap water. Thankfully, Paris will serve you tap water for free, unlike any other place that we visited in Germany or the Netherlands. After lunch, we took a bus back to the station, retrieved our belongings from the lockers, and took the metro to our Airbnb apartment.
Our Airbnb in Paris was not as great as all the other ones we stayed in throughout this trip. We made it to the entrance of the apartment, but it was locked with a key pad. We checked the rule book on our Airbnb booking online and could not find the code so we were locked out. When we called the host she said, “The code is online,” and hung up! Luckily, another apartment resident arrived and let us in. I looked just now, and this apartment is no longer available on Airbnb, so that’s good. This was the only bad experience we had out of our 6 Airbnb stays during our Europe travels. I still think Airbnb is the best way to travel affordably, just read all the reviews before booking. Once we retrieved the passcode, we got our key, dropped our stuff off, and headed to the Eiffel Tower.
Just a few left turns took us to the Metro, which got us to the most famous street in the world in just a few minutes. Packed with locals and tourist alike, Avenue des Champs-Élysées runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle and is home to the famous Arch de Triomphe. Guards and rails blocked underneath this massive structure as a ceremony was being conducted at the time. However, there were plenty of available spots for great pictures. We continued down the street, seeing the beautiful architecture of uniform buildings with iron terraces. The famous bridge, covered in gold statues and carvings was incredibly busy. We decided to enjoy it from afar and make our way to the Eiffel Tower. This large structure that is the epitome of Paris beauty is far bigger than I ever imagined and is just as romantic as I pictured it to be. Vendors selling roses stopped couples nearby, convincing men to buy the love of their life a red flower to express their feelings. The Chainsmoker’s recent single, Paris, was literally playing everywhere, and cheap key chains and souvenirs were laid out, begging for tourists to pick them up. We splurged this evening and ate at a nice restaurant as nothing is cheap around the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, I got sick off of seared tuna steak and we had to turn in before night-time approached and the tower lights lit up the sky.
Total Cost of Day 1:
Train to Paris- $60, Metro 5 euro, Dinner 20 euro, Post Card .20 euro, Apartment Stay: 50 euro. Total: 135.20 euro = $161.69
Louvre, Lunch in La Marais, Galeries Lafayette, Laduree Macarons, Rue Montorgueil Market Street, & Train Railroad Park (Promenade Plantee) Picnic
I felt much better the next day, which was good because we had no time to spare. After eating a quick breakfast of boiled eggs and yogurt, which we grabbed the day before in a grocery store, we headed off for more adventures in Paris. This day was filled with admiring famous paintings, window shopping, and lots of eating! We left about 8 am to beat the crowd to the Louvre. Only waiting about 30 minutes in line, we spent about 2 hours in a museum that could take weeks to completely accomplish. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa resides inside this massive structure, but don’t have high hopes. I found all the other paintings much more beautiful. Why she is so famous is still beside me.
After exiting the museum, we enjoyed the view as we strolled the sidewalk that was lining the Seine River. Unfortunately, the bridge that was once famous for its love locks had been stripped of the massive amount of metal that had been weighing it down. A few locks remained on the light posts, but the bridge was mostly bare. My favorite part of this walk was the green boxes atop the river guard walls, which looked like nothing early in the morning while they were closed. However, when their owners came to open them, the boxes proved to be filled with old French novels, souvenirs, and paintings of the city. For lunch, we headed to Le Marais, which is located in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris, consisting of lovely cafés and secret passages that open up into gorgeous boutiques. We went inside Galerie Vivienne.
Next we headed to the part of Paris that was way out of our league, but we didn’t care. The first stop was at Galeries Lafayette- the very first department store ever built. Filled with Gucci, Prada, and 300 euro sundresses, we breezed through each level admiring the exquisiteness of it all. The real reason we came to this store was for the view. Galeries Lafayette has a terrace at the very top that displayed the most spectacular view of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Palais Garnier.
The department store was surrounded by other high end shops so we window shopped until we reached the famous Laduree macarons. Some visitors bought dozens of flavors, but we each just bought one each as we were still full from lunch. Heads up, the salted caramel macaroon is a great choice! We got some chuckles from the employees as we took several pictures in the adorable shop, but hey, it was our first time in Paris!
Next on the list was to buy some food for a picnic that evening. We took the Metro to Rue Montorgueil Market Street, where bakeries, cheese and wine shops, and rotisseries line the streets and fill it with mouth-watering aromas. We each grabbed the dinner of our choice and took the Metro again to Promenade Plantee, an old railroad bridge that has been transformed into a park. I had never seen anything like this. We climbed up the stairs and entered into a narrow pathway surrounded by trees and flowers with benches for stopping to enjoy the nature.
Our last stop for the day was the famous Rue Cremenieux. Each house on this street is painted a different, pastel color. No one knows why, but the residents have maintained this tradition, making this neighborhood a fun little walk to enjoy when sightseeing nearby.
La Chappelle, Notre Dame, Museum D’Orsay, Latin Quarter
We left at 9:15 on our last day and walked to Saint Chappelle, the famous church. The stained glass windows were very ornate, but other than that it was not really worth 11 euro. The Sacre Ceour and all the other churches in Germany and the Netherlands were way more impressive and free. I don’t regret seeing it as it was beautiful, I just wouldn’t go again. However, I could have marveled at the Notre Dame all day long, and it was free. The detail in every inch of its architecture explains vividly why the Notre Dame took 200 years to complete. A story unfolds in the carvings that completely cover the solid stone walls of this church. On the inside, a herd of people uniformly circled around the outside of the pews, reading the history behind such a masterpiece as a choir was beautifully singing American hymns.
For lunch, we walked to the lively Latin Quarter, which is filled with cheap, delicious food and souvenirs. Crêperie Chez Suzette on Rue de Huchette caught our attention as it served savory crepes that were perfect for lunch or dinner, and were only 5 euro if ordered to-go at the window. I got one filled with Mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, onions, and red bell pepper… best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, no lie. We crossed the street and got the cutest gelato dessert at Amorino. The server sculpted my frozen treat into a rose on top of a small cone.
Down the street was the famous, Museum D’Orsay, where we got through the line fairly quickly and received a student discount of 2 euro off our ticket. Though the Louvre displayed all types of art, this museum contained mostly paintings, but they were amazing. At the top of this museum was a giant clock that was perfect for silhouette pictures so be sure not to miss it.
That evening, we headed back to the Latin Quarter to eat a cheap dinner and grab souvenirs. I’m a coffee addict so, of course, I NEEDED a Paris mug and my friend got her sister a book from a small bookstore that would be every bookworm’s dream come true. Shakespeare & Co. is a small store with books that reach up to the ceiling. Outside, there was a guitarist playing and singing for visitor’s enjoyment, and tips.
Our last day in Paris ended with a light rain just as we finished walking back to our apartment. We opened the window, brewed some coffee, and relaxed to the pitter-patter of the rain as we prepared for a train ride to Germany the next morning.
Just before the rush of tourist season, Europe’s crisp spring breeze begs for an afternoon espresso while touring its finest sights. Here are some places that stood out as my favorite stays this past May when travelling across Europe. In my opinion, all of these cities are bucket list quality, each having their own unique look and activities.
This quaint little town, situated along the Rhine River, is filled with rich history. An old, large post office hides tucked away in the back near the church, now serving delicious cuisine to its outdoor guests seated underneath cozy overhead heat lamps. Half-timbered houses adorn the sides of the cobblestone streets, some serving their local wines while others still housing families. After school, children flood the restaurants enjoying soda and snacks after a long day of learning. The nicest elderly lady ever known opens up her centrally-located home to weary travelers of all kinds as she runs an incomparable Bed n’ Breakfast. At the top of this fairy tale sits medieval castle ruins that have been recreated into a youth hostel with an envious view.
Things to do (recommend 1-2 days):
Altes Hausfor delicious white wine and apple strudel// Stahleck Castle Hostel// Wernerkapelle Church ruins built in 1287// 200 year old post office (posthof)// Well-preserved town wall and tower (best seen at castle)// KD Rhine Day Cruise//Haus Irmgard Orth(BnB we stayed in).
The views, the music, the arts, and the romance combine to make this city as fabulous as everyone claims it to be. Seated below the Monmarte Sacre Ceour are artists of every kind expressing their love for their home with each brush stroke. Tall buildings with ironwork and matching stone make for a uniform, yet dreamy style throughout the entire city. The Eiffel tower is surrounded by lovers, giving a red rose to their significant other in exchange for a kiss under the magnificent structure. The largest museum in the world is at the end of a bridge famous for its “love locks.” Many lock their initials to Pont des Arts Bridge and thrown away the key, symbolizing their love for Paris and for another. Along the streets outside the Louvre are curious green boxes that seem like nothing when closed. However, when their contents are unlocked, the boxes showcase paintings, old French novels, and trinkets that grab the eyes of every passerby. A lively area, the Latin Quarter, is filled with souvenir shops, tourists, and an enormous amount of food. The most divine crepes are sold in this quarter for the small price of 5 euro from the window. Savory and sweet aromas flood the streets and invite people to stop for a taste. On the other side of the street is the famous gelato shop, which makes beautiful flower designs out of a decadent frozen treat. The beautiful architecture throughout this city is incomparable, especially the Notre Dame. With cafes and bakeries at every corner, sitting with a coffee and admiring the view is just as amusing as traipsing through every tourist must-see. Around many of the city’s landmarks, tour guides tell interesting stories that explain the significance behind the building. This city steals the heart of many who choose to replace their goodbyes with, “until next time.”
Things to do (recommend as long as you can stay): Eiffel Tower// Notre Dame// Le Bon Marche (1st Dpt. Store)// The Louvre// Musée d’Orsay// Latin Quarter food// Love Locks// Green Box shopping// Palais Garnier performances// Saint Chapelle// Sacre-Coeur// Grand Palais// Place de l’Hôtel de Ville// Lauduree (macaron specialist)// Find elegant wedding and ball gowns for cheap near Gare Du Nord train station on Blvd. de Rochechouart// We stayed in an Airbnb in a great location
The quiet town of Brugge seems like it came right out of a storybook. Different colored, connected brick houses show off their various eves and architecture. This city is known to be frozen in time as it was built up in the 1500s with wealth from its lace industry and has remained dormant ever since. Though now a popular tourist town, the city still remains quite peaceful, allowing the chimes of the Belfry to be heard from blocks away. The scents of Belgian fries and famous, home-made chocolates fill the streets, inviting pedestrians to stop for a taste. Ivy covered houses hanging on the edge of canals create gorgeous scenes and backdrops for pictures. A steep climb to the top of the Belfry is challenging, but rewards every climber with an incomparable view of the beautiful city below.
Things to do (recommend 1-2 days): Climb the Belfry// St. Salvator’s Cathedral// The Old Chocolate House hot chocolate// Historium Bruges// Provinciaal Hof// Loppem Castle// The Markt (the square)// Church of Our Lady// Basilica of the Holy Blood// Homemade chocolate stores// Famous Belgian fries in front of the Belfry// Groenerei Canal// Several museums that I did not experience (beer, lace, chocolate)// We stayed in an Airbnb
Often described as a “mini-Amsterdam,” Haarlem has the lively activities and architecture of Amsterdam, but is much smaller and easier to get around by foot. The Grote Markt in the center of town is filled with visitors and locals alike who grab a drink, take a seat, and people watch the day away. To the right of the Markt towers a massive cathedral that is impressive both in size and design. The cobblestone road, Grote Houtstraat, makes shoppers’ dreams come true, offering every type of store imaginable with some stores like H & M reappearing two and three times. On Mondays and Saturdays, locals set up a supply of food trucks, tulips, clothes, shoes, and other goodies that fill up the entire square, catching the eyes of visitors and filling their noses with delicious aromas. This market offers what the regular shops offer, but for 5 to 10 euros less. Tucked away, but not forgotten, is the historic house of Corrie ten Boom, where tourists line up to see the Jewish hiding place during World War II. Her life is dignified throughout the tour of her home. Her faith in God is believed to be the very reason she lived the life that she did, helping the poor and protecting the weak.
Things to do (recommend 3-5 days): Shop until you drop// Ten Boom tour (available in English)// Tour by foot (tour map and explanations at visitor’s centers)// St. Bavokerk Church (Mozart played on the organ)// Molen de Adriaan Windmill// Bike the city// Eat and people watch at one of the many restaurants in the Grote Markt// We stayed in an Airbnb.
I hope this helps you while planning your next exploration!