Smart Travel

What I Packed In My 40L Travel Backpack

You don’t need nearly as much as you think you need

When my husband and I began planning our 35 day European excursion, one thing was clear, we needed to pack light. Not only does a light pack help when getting on and off the public transportation systems, it’s required for traveling on RyanAir or other budget airline flights.

So how did I, a girly girl who is known for having a “mowing the lawn outfit” and a “getting the mail outfit” fit everything she needed for 35 days into a 22 lb backpack? Let me tell you, it was not nearly as hard as it sounds and I am never going back to rolling luggage.

Choosing a backpack

If you’re planning on traveling abroad and need to pack in what I’ll refer to as a “budget airlines approved” bag, you’ll need to focus on the dimensions. For most budget airlines, your main piece of luggage must not weigh more than 10kg and cannot exceed baggage allowance size of 55 x 40 x 20 cm. My husband and I both went with Osprey’s 40L backpacks that measure 21 x 14 x 9 inches.

Our bags may seem small, but our bags typically weighed 8-9 kg, and we would juggle items between bags to stay under the weight limit. Now, here’s something that others won’t tell you about budget airline travel — the airlines seldom check your dimensions and weight if you are carrying a 40L backpack. For 4/5 flights we boarded without being stopped, while passengers who had rolling luggage were asked to check their bags.

I LOVED my backpack by the end of the trip and was so happy with the decision we made.

Issues when backpacking

Packing smart

One of the best decisions we made was packing our clothes in vacuum seal bags. I recommend these ones. The name is deceiving, you just fill up the bag, sit on it and zip it up. We became such pros at packing these things and they saved us tons of space.

Originally, I had purchased a toiletry bag that I thought would save me room and keep my makeup organized. BIG MISTAKE. My advice: If it weighs more than a zip lock bag and provides the same function, ditch it. I switched to a gallon zip lock three days in and left my toiletry bag behind at an AirBnb.

For everything else in my bag, I organized them into gallon zip locks: Electronics, documents and things I needed on hand during flights/train rides. I packed my bag according to what I would need the soonest, with toiletries at the top for easy access in security lines.

europe for one month packing

In my bag

Below is a list of everything I packed, the things I didn’t need are in red while the things that were lifesavers are in green.

What I didn’t need


First and foremost, I would avoid bringing jeans to Europe in the summer at all costs. My husband and I regretted it everyday. A pair of leggings did the trick for me on the very few cooler days. Jeans will be your heaviest item and you so seldom need them.

Cable locks 

We stayed in very few hostels so we never used our cable locks. Well, I take that back, we left our luggage in one hotel lobby and my husband locked up the pocket where he kept the tablet. I guess if you’re a paranoid traveler, having one cable lock will do the trick.

Baby wipes

“Keep them handy!” they said. “You’ll use them all the time!” they said. I was literally never in a situation where my hands got sticky and a sink wasn’t in walking distance. I’m sure baby wipes can be used in a myriad of other ways, but you catch my drift, we didn’t use them.

Sleep mask

If you don’t use one at home, you won’t use one while traveling. It’s that simple.

Electronics converter 

WARNING: READ THIS PART CAREFULLY. Yes, you will need an electronics converter while in Europe. We brought two from the United States and NEITHER of them worked (one was from REI). We bought one in Italy for 6 Euro and it worked perfectly. Wait to buy your converter!


Unless you plan on going completely off the grid electronically, you do not need to bring travel maps to Europe. We opened ours once and quickly realized the scale was far too big for our needs. Do yourself a favor, download Google Maps offline and skip the print maps.

What I did need

To clarify: everything that isn’t in red I used frequently, but the items in green were heavy hitters that saved our lives on more than one occasion.

Collapsible daypack

This Matador collapsible backpack was the MVP of our Europe trip. My husband wore this thing every single day and it carried our water bottles, jackets, wallets, sunglasses, cameras, etc. On our big travel days, it folded up into a pocket sized bundle and added virtually no weight to our luggage. This thing is strong and incredibly comfortable to wear all day long.

Matador daypack for Europe

Laundry detergent

This was hit or miss. Most laundromats required liquid detergent which we did not have, so we were charged extra. However, the powder detergent came in handy when we needed to do a couple of items in the sink on the go. At the end of our trip, my husband knew I would be tossing the detergent bag and jokingly labeled it “Bag O’ Cocaine.” Admittedly, the bag of powder looks suspicious to those who wouldn’t know it’s detergent.

Stain remover

If you spill gelato on your pants, a Tide To Go stick will save you a trip to the laundry. This will keep you from crying in an Amsterdam airport…I’ve heard.

External hard drive 

You will take too many photos for your tablet to handle. Bring extra storage and load your pictures onto it during long flights.

Driver’s License 

Nope, not your United States license. (Although, you should keep that with you while you travel, too.) If you plan on driving a rental car abroad, you’ll need an international driver’s permit. Stop and grab another passport photo and head to your nearest AAA store for a $20 driver’s permit. Most countries would not let us rent a car without one.

When it comes to packing for a month abroad, you need to remember that each item you bring is one less souvenir that you get to bring home. We packed our bags to the brim and couldn’t bring home more than a handful of postcards.

Only bring the necessities. You’d be shocked how quickly a 40L backpack fills up!

Thanks for reading,


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