How to Pack Carry-On Only For European Winter Getaway
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Packing winter clothes in a carry-on only can be hard. Colder weather means bunky sweaters, heavy shoes and looking like penguin 80% if you’re prone to cold like I am.
I did my fair share of travelling hand luggage only in winter around Europe. Now, I’m talking really cold-weather destinations in Europe such as Oslo, Copenhagen, Berlin, Riga, Tallinn, Vilnius and London. Now I feel like I have gathered enough experience to really know how to pack for a winter city break in a carry-on and I am ready to share the art of winter packing in hand luggage only by sharing my packing list with you, along with my best winter packing tips.
Winter is the BEST time to visit Europe (except Christmas and New Years period) if you want to save some money and avoid crowds. It’s generally an off-season which means the prices are very low compared to on-season and there are fewer people around. But there is nothing worse than finding super duper cheap flights for a winter city break and realising that you might not be able to fit everything into your carry-on and you’ll need to pay extra for checked-in luggage.
So, that’s why I want to share with you my winter packing list for Europe that you can easily adapt to your future European winter city breaks whenever you come across a good flight deal.
So, let’s dive in, shall we?
How cold is Europe in winter?
Not even going to lay, winter in Europe can be harsh. But it all depends on the region you’re going to. If you plan on visiting Scandinavian cities, be prepared for very cold weather and lots of snow. The temperature can be between 4⸰C (39 F) to -20⸰C (-4 F) or even colder.
The same goes for more Eastern European countries such as Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and a part of Poland. Although, due to climate change, the weather is starting to be less cold and warmer in these regions, unfortunately.
Of course, if you travel to more south and west of Europe, you can expect warmer winters. In those regions, the temperature rarely goes below zero, so the weather is mild and snow isn’t a usual occurrence. But you can expect a lot of rain instead.
January is typically the coldest month everywhere.
Don’t forget to check the weather forecast for the place you’re visiting and adjust the packing list according to the weather. In some places, the weather can be very unpredictable. My home country, Lithuania, used to get around -15 ⸰C (5 F) to -20 ⸰C (-4 F) in January but this year it didn’t even go below -5 ⸰C (23 F) and we barely had any snow. If that’s not a good enough example of climate change, I don’t know what is…
Always check the forecast and ask locals in you’re unsure about weather conditions. Tripadvisor is a good place to find answers. Also, Facebook groups for travellers.
Best winter packing list for Europe
Best clothes to pack for winter
2 x Sweaters
Thick and warm sweaters are what you’ll want to pack if you want to stay warm. You can travel in one of them and pack the other. I usually take wool or merino wool ones. You can find great ones on H&M, ASOS or your local thrift store.
1 x t-shirt or vest top
Perfect for those layers. You can put in under your sweater for that extra warmth.
2 x pairs of jeans/pants
While jeans are the most popular option, they can be a bit unpractical. Jean material usually absorbs cold more quickly than other material and that means that you’re more likely to feel cold when wearing jeans. However, if you’re travelling to a more mild climate (Western and South Europe), jeans are perfect. Just like with sweaters, wear one pair on the plane and pack the other one. I usually wear jeans (they can be quite heavy) and pack one pair of black pants as well.
1x thermal shirt
You need a good thermal shirt if you’re travelling to cold destinations such as Scandinavia or Eastern Europe, trust me. I like this one from Thermowave.
1 x leggings or thermal pants
Another holy grail of mine. I always take a pair of warm leggings or thermal pants to layer them with a pair of jeans/pants when going for longer explorations in the city. Plus, you can use them as loungewear in a hotel or hostel.
2-3 x pairs of underwear
Obvious one. The number will depend on the length of your trip.
1 x pajama set
Nothing worse when finding out that you forgot to pack your pj’s. I prefer long sleeve ones for the wintertime.
2 x thick socks
Forget your short, ankle-length socks and pack a few pairs of thick, thermal socks. No one wants to experience the horrible pain of frozen toes. It’s not fun, I know from experience.
1 – 2 x pairs of shoes
A good pair of winter boots or walking shoes are essential. The best combination is merino wool inside and waterproof outside. I have the ones by Australian brand EMU. Warmest and the most stylish winter shoes I’ve ever had. Also, if you’re staying in a hostel, don’t forget to pack a pair of flipflops for those communal areas.
1 x winter coat
Don’t sleep on a good winter coat. Seriously. Make sure it’s very warm and waterproof for that extra safety. I use the one by Esprit.
1 x warm scarf
Don’t forget a warm scarf that will go with all of your outfits. You definitely can wear it on the plane and use it as a pillow or a blanket! A little travel hack for you there.
1 x warm wool hat
The amount of people who travel to cold destinations with a hat is seriously alarming. Pack a wool (or any other warm material) hat and save your ears from freezing. Plus, they are kind of cute.
1 x pair of gloves
The secret to exploring the city, not getting lost and not freezing your fingers off is packing a nice pair of touchscreen gloves. This way you can use your phone for navigation without taking your gloves off. Win-win.
You might not need an umbrella everywhere but if you’re going to mild weather destinations, chances are that you’ll catch a bit of rain. So pack a mini, travel-sized umbrella for extra safety.
Reusable water bottle
Europe is the best place to travel with a water bottle because there are free public taps pretty much everywhere. Save money and planet at the same time.
Even though it’s winter, don’t underestimate the power of the sun. If there is snow and ice outside, sun will be harsher on your skin because of reflections. Take a small bottle of face cream with at least SPF 30 for a good measure and use it every day.
Small handbag or backpack
To carry all your necessities while exploring. I use a small backpack as I find them easiest to carry around. But you can also use a tote bag or a shoulder bag if you prefer.
The most annoying part of winter travel for me is how quickly batteries can die in cold weather. I don’t know the science behind it but it’s a fact. So bring a power bank that you can use to charge your phone or camera battery during the day.
My 5 best packing tips for carry-on only in Europe
Layers, layers, layers. I can’t stress enough how important it is to dress in layers when you’re travelling to Europe in the winter time. It can get super cold outside if you walk around for longer periods of time and it can be very warm inside if you pop into a cute cafe or an interesting museum while exploring the city. So pack clothes that you can easily layer on top of each other. Think cardigans, long sleeve shirts and sweaters.
Pack clothes that can be mixed and matched. It can be tempting to pack that one shirt or a sweater which looks incredible but only goes with one pair of jeans or vice versa. It is very important to think whenever the clothes you picked go along with your other clothes. The best way to do so is to pick a colour scheme which suits you the best. I usually opt for neutral (grey, nude, black) and bold tones like burgundy, mustard or navy. You can never go wrong with this colour palette.
Wear your heaviest clothing items to the airport. This is my number one packing tip and it saved me so many times from having to buy additional luggage. Don’t pack your heaviest shoes to your luggage, wear them instead. The same goes with bulky, warm sweaters, big scarfs and other big or bulky items. Trust me, this will save you some space in the luggage for goodies from abroad. Plus, it can get real chilly on the plane, train or bus during the wintertime, so you won’t be regretting wearing warmer clothes and layers.
Roll your clothes when packing. I found out about this method a few years ago and it’s seriously such a lifesaver. I don’t even know how I managed to pack before discovering the art of rolling clothes. Just take a piece of clothing and roll it up tightly instead of laying it as you would normally do. This way you can fit more items and I find it easier to find what I’m looking for while travelling because you see all your pieces laid out in front of your eyes. If you’re worried about your clothes getting creased (I know I did once I learned about this method!), I can assure you that they won’t get creased. Seriously, start rolling your clothes, it’s a game-changer.
Use packing cubes. I feel like everyone and their grandma know about packing cubes these days but there are people out there who still don’t use them. Why you need packing cubes? Because they save space, pack up clothes more efficiently, make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for because everything is in categories and they look much nicer than a messy pile of clothing buried in your luggage. You can find some affordable packing cubes on Amazon.
Final thoughts on packing in a carry-on for winter travel
Packing for wintertime can be tough for sure. It’s one of the reasons why I used to be a terrible packer when it came to winter city breaks. Well, and the fact that I’m the world’s biggest overpacker…
But travelling around Europe in winter is an incredible experience, especially if there’s snow. It would be terrible if you’d miss on an incredible opportunity simply because you couldn’t fit your things into a carry-on. So, that’s why I wanted to share my best winter packing tips with you and even give you my own packing list which I use for European city breaks in winter.
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