It’s always a daunting prospect beginning to pack, especially if it’s a long trip spanning multiple countries. Only having a vague idea of what to take as a first-time backpacker I did a lot of research and found many blogs with hints, tips and suggestions that really helped. So after getting back from my trip, I thought I would create my own and hopefully pass on my own knowledge.
Backpack or suitcase
The first dilemma you are often faced with is a backpack or suitcase?
We really struggled with this one as a group and there really is no easy answer. In the end, three of us ended up taking backpacks and my friend Harrie took a suitcase and we all struggled at different stages. Here are the quick pros and cons of both approaches to help you decided.
Pro’s and Con’s of Backpacks
Backpacks are the quintessential travel item and as backpacking around Europe had always been a dream of mine, there really was no question that this would be my choice.
However, while most people tend to have a few good suitcases lying around a good backpack can be an expensive investment and mine cost me about £80. Selecting the right backpack size is also critical in terms of what you can carry and airline restrictions I usually follow this rule that if its a month or less I use my ‘festival backpack which is 60L and for anything longer I use my other one which is 70 + 10L. If you’re planning to get quite a lot of use out of your backpack then try websites like gooutdoors.com they tend to be good value for money and have lasted a long time.
Backpacks stop you from overpacking and taking unnecessary items. While it’s a nice concept to only take as much as you can physically carry, the reality is a heavy sweaty mess most of the time. You will have a few moments when your stuck walking around for two miles in a city in scorching temperatures totally lost and carrying a huge backpack, starts to feel like its own special method of torture. The backache is real but on the plus side its one hell of a good workout for all that lovely food you’re going to try.
The pain comes with a great deal of freedom, depending on your itinerary a backpack allows you so much more flexibility if you’re looking to trek up a mountain or find yourself in a remote village. Trust me you do not want a suitcase for that. Besides many cities in Europe are banning suitcases being rolled through the city centre at certain times of day, I know Venice has these restrictions in place. Plus they are so much easier when encountering stairs which happen a lot.
Backpacks are more difficult to organise and there is nothing worse than realising the thing you need is buried at the bottom of your bag. You really will become a pro and speedily unpacking and repacking.
Suitcase Pro’s and Con’s – aka the times Harrie was smug and we were hating life.
Suitcases are bigger this allows you to take more and have the luxury of a more organised bag.
You aren’t putting your back out constantly and can comfortably wheel it around, Most cities in Europe are very equipt for tourists, so while we were struggling to make it ten minutes down the road you could be wheeling off ahead. It also gives you more time to stop and take pictures.
Although when you do encounter places that suitcases can’t go it’s a massive pain, Trying to get up and down underground stairs is a prime example of this as the weight isn’t distributed as evenly as a backpack so trying to drag them up and down whilst running for a train is a nightmare.
In the end, it’s all about personal preference and what you feel most comfortable with. Along with where you are going and what you are wanting to do there. Personally, I think particularly in Europe you could really work with either my own preference however would always be a backpack as much of a pain as it is, I’m a sucker for the authenticity of only being able to take what your body can carry and I think its worth the longer-term investment for the level of freedom it provides.
Let me know your thoughts if anyone has encountered a similar dilemma?
Okay, so you have decided what you are packing into now where do you actually begin with things?
The ultimate interrailing packing list
- Photocopy of passport and spare passport picture – because s**t happens and please don’t keep them next to your passport.
- Interrail ticket
- Basic first aid kit- Better safe than sorry
- Adaptors – different places in Europe use different ones don’t get caught out!
- Hand Luggage bag/bag to use in the day/night out
- Any medication
- Currency – It’s not always the euro, do research sometimes it better value to exchange beforehand and sometimes its better there.
- Travel insurance – I normally have a look online for a cheap but good cover.
- House keys – so easy to forget and really not what you want at the end of a trip
- Shampoo, conditioner and body wash –if you are going away for a long time and travel size won’t be enough try and share bigger bottles out between you.
- Toothpaste – this is one I am terrible at remembering and often rely on someone else to remember which has now multiple times resulted in no toothpaste, be the good person and bring it.
- Perfume & Deodorant
- Female hygiene products
- Suntan lotion & Aftersun – Don’t be a lobster
This massively depends on what time of year you are going and what the weather in different countries. For instance, we knew the weather in Berlin would be vastly different to Budapest. It’s worth doing a bit of research on the typical weather conditions around the time you are going to get a general idea. However, my key tip for this is to always pack layers that can work in both warm and cold weather.
You really don’t want to be taking your whole wardrobe here so try to plan out outfits beforehand this will save you time getting ready and space.
- Waterproof – I don’t care what the weather forecast says you will always find me with at least a very thin waterproof stuffed in my bag.
- Shoes x4 -flipflops, for shower/ beach. Very comfy walking shoes I opted for converse. Trainers for exercise/when converse start to hurt. Sandals for when it’s too hot to wear anything else.
- Swimming costume/ Bikini – because you never know and it can double up as emergency underwear.
- Pj’s -remember you might be living in communal mixed dorms.
The extra bits
- Hairdryers and straighteners – Share out appliances This s a bit of a luxury item and it really is a no brainer to spread the weight out between you all. Sharing is caring
- Portable phone charger – phones run out all the time when taking lots of photos.
- Something to read
- Travel organiser – This one is just personal preference but I had a lot of documents to try and keep track of so I found it easier to just keep them all in one place.
- Carrier bags – they are just useful for everything from dirty washing to shopping, but maybe not in that order.
- Makeup –I tend not to take my expensive makeup in case it melts or gets smashed.
- Pen and paper
- Playing cards – fun and a great way to make friends.
The budget savers
We knew we were travelling on a very tight budget, so we did everything we could to try and cut unnecessary costs. Here are a few things that helped.
- A little bit of food – I brought some gluten-free pasta and nuts. I probably wouldn’t take more than this as most food can be bought fairly cheaply.
- A filtered water bottle – Something that was really important to us was how much money we thought we would waste on buying bottled water. This is definitely something I am very guilty of whilst abroad. So trying to cut as many costs as possible, and after a lot of deep internet research about the quality of water, I decided to invest in a bobble bottle. For those of you who don’t know this is basically a bottle with an inbuilt filter. I wouldn’t advise this for everywhere and especially not any third world countries, but for Europe where the drinking water is basically safe but might give you a slightly dodgy stomach this one made all the difference. I saved so much money doing this and filling it up at the hostel drinking taps and drinking taps around the city and never once felt ill. I really think this was one of my best budget investments.
- Maps – Don’t bother buying these, most hostels will give them for free.
- Tupperware – Okay this sounds random but believe me this was a game-changer if you want to pack some good quality ones from home or buy cheap ones out. We made lunch at the hostel every morning while making breakfast and took it with us for lunch. We must have saved so much money doing this and got to eat in some beautiful locations.
I hope this helps gives a general idea of what is needed. If anyone has been inter-railing and has any additions to my list please comment below.