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Should You Use a Wheeled Suitcase or a Backpack in Europe?

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Traveling to Europe is something that everyone should cross off their bucket list at some point. There’s just something charming about all the narrow cobblestone streets in most European capitals. But unfortunately, Europe isn’t very forgiving for wheeled suitcases, so a lot of people wonder what’s better for Europe – wheeled luggage or a backpack? In this article, we’ll compare the pros and cons of both.

Traveling in Europe With a Suitcase

a man using a carry-on suitcase in southern europe

Personally, ninety percent of the time when I’m traveling across Europe, I use a suitcase as my carry-on and a small backpack as my personal item . Nowadays, Europe is pretty welcoming to suitcases, which means the streets are paved pretty well and a lot of stairs have been replaced with escalators. And fortunately, I don’t have any back problems, so I can easily carry my suitcase by the handle if needed.

Pros of Using a Suitcase in Europe

  • Better for people with back problems.  If you’re suffering from back pain, then using a suitcase should be a better option for some European cities, where there aren’t too many stairs or cobblestone streets.
  • Easier to move around in modern cities. The larger cities in Germany, Scandinavia, UK, and Ireland (and most EU capital cities) are usually very friendly for suitcases because they don’t have too many stairs and the sidewalks are usually pretty smooth.
  • Less likely to be stolen. If you remember to always keep your suitcase in your eyesight, it’s basically impossible for someone to steal something from it, unless they openly threaten you.
  • Clothes get fewer wrinkles.  If you’re traveling for business and you need a wrinkle-free suit for meetings or trade shows, a backpack probably isn’t a smart idea. Instead, you should use a suitcase with non-flexible walls and preferably a dedicated suiter compartment .
  • Carry-on restrictions are used up more efficiently.  Carry-ons are usually made to be just below the most common carry-on size restriction 22 x 14 x 9 inches, so you can pack more stuff inside.
  • Easy to organize everything in packing cubes.  Suitcases are very easy to pack and unpack, especially if you’re using packing cubes . I mean, I get frustrated just imagining finding something packed at the bottom of my backpack.
  • Good for hotels.  If you’re staying in hotels, and aren’t switching between them every other day, then a suitcase is a perfect choice because most hotels have elevators and they’re located at easily accessible locations.

Cons of Using a Suitcase in Europe

  • Can get stolen if left unattended.  The only instances when suitcases get stolen are when they’re left unattended, for instance in a cafe, train, bus, forgotten in your taxi, or stolen from the back seat of your rental car. So make sure to keep an eye on your suitcase at all times and you should be good.
  • Bad for stairs and upper compartments. If you want to make the job of lifting your suitcase up to the upper storage compartments in trains, planes, and buses, make sure to get a suitcase with a side handle, as it’s much easier to use.
  • Hard to move around in older or less-advanced European cities.  If you’re traveling to older European cities with very narrow cobblestone streets (France, Spain, Italy, Greece,) or to less-advanced European cities with less-than-ideal sidewalks (most of Eastern Europe,) a backpack might be a better choice. That said, nowadays, the situation isn’t that bad anymore, so a backpack isn’t really a necessity.
  • Harder to follow the carry-on size restrictions. Some cheaper European airlines have very strict carry-on restrictions , which is a bad thing if your suitcase ends up being one inch above the limit.
  • Difficult to use if moving between different hotels.  If you’ll be constantly moving from one location to another, a suitcase isn’t really ideal.
  • If a wheel or a handle breaks, you’re in a bad situation. Wheels and handles break very commonly on suitcases, especially if it’s a cheaper one and if you’re using it on rough roads.
  • Adds a lot of weight. If your luggage is constantly above the weight limits for airlines, then maybe try using a backpack instead, as they’re about two or three times lighter.
  • Harder to store in lockers. Most suitcases are slightly oversized to store in hostel lockers or publicly available ones, and it’s not like you can just squeeze them inside. If it’s too large, you’re out of luck.
  • Bad for crowded locations. In crowded European cities, especially in the rush hour, getting to your hotel with your luggage on public transport can sometimes be very difficult.

Traveling in Europe With a Backpack

A girl using a large red backpack in southern Europe

Sometimes, traveling in Europe with a large, checked backpack , and a smaller daypack as your personal item makes more sense. Of course, carrying two backpacks isn’t ideal, so you should be able to pack everything inside the larger checked bag, and just use the daypack within the airport for carrying valuables. There’s just way more flexibility in that, and you aren’t limited only to “civilized” attractions and hotels.

Pros of Using a Backpack in Europe

  • Perfect for people who switch between a lot of hotels.  If you’re constantly switching between different hotels, this means that you’ll have to walk up all kinds of different stairs, and commute between different hotels, so having a backpack instead of a suitcase is a great advantage.
  • Easier to stick to the carry-on size restrictions .  If you get a smaller backpack and avoid overpacking it, the airline staff won’t make you check in your backpack.
  • Less likely to experience any durability problems.  There’s just so much that can break on a suitcase – wheels, handles, the frame itself, e.t.c. Backpacks are usually less likely to break, thus making them a more reliable option.
  • Great for older or less-advanced European cities.  Smaller cities in Spain, France, Greece, Italy, or in Eastern Europe usually don’t provide that good infrastructure for a wheeled suitcase .
  • Great if you’re traveling for hiking.  If you’re traveling for a long hiking trip, just get a large checked backpack and a smaller foldable daypack for your valuables that fits within your backpack.
  • Lightweight.  A lightweight backpack can weigh about 2 lbs, while a similarly-sized lightweight suitcase will weigh about 5 lbs.
  • Easy to store in lockers.  Unlike suitcases, backpacks are flexible, which means they’ll fit inside most paid public lockers and the lockers in most hostels.

Cons of Using a Backpack in Europe

  • Commonly targeted by pocket thieves.  With a backpack, you have to be very careful, because anyone can snatch something from the back pockets when you’re distracted. Also, they’re commonly stolen in restaurants and public transport if left unattended, even if it’s just for a few seconds. Always keep an eye on your backpack.
  • Clothes get more wrinkles.  Backpacks are ideal for people who don’t care about having a few wrinkles on their clothes.
  • Harder to pack and unpack. Compared to suitcases, it’s much harder to pack and unpack a backpack. To make it slightly easier, you can use two or three packing cubes for storing your clothing.
  • Not always practical if used as a carry-on.  I’d use a backpack as a carry-on, only if I could fit all of my stuff inside and wouldn’t have a personal item. You could use a small duffle or tote as your personal item, but I think it defeats the purpose of using a backpack because then it becomes hard to carry both of them at the same time. I’d rather get a carry-on suitcase and a smaller backpack as a personal item.
  • Carry-on size restrictions aren’t used up efficiently. There are some backpacks that are made in the ideal size to max out the most common 22 x 14 x 9-inch carry-on size restriction, but most of them aren’t in the perfect shape – they’re slightly slimmer. That’s because if they make the backpack too wide, it will become uncomfortable because it will be placed too far off from your back.
  • Bad for people with back problems. If you’re getting a backpack for traveling, definitely consider investing in a very comfortable one, like the ones from Osprey , or else you risk your vacation being ruined by back pain.

Best of Both Worlds – Using a Wheeled Backpack

What if I’d tell you that you don’t need to choose between a backpack and a suitcase? You can choose both. At the same time.

Wheeled backpacks are becoming pretty common, and that’s because it’s a genius idea. For instance, you could get the eBags Mother Lode wheeled backpack carry-on . Of course, it won’t be a full replacement for a backpack because it won’t be as comfortable.

However, if you’ll be, for instance, arriving at your destination early in the morning, and you’ll want to stroll through the old town while you wait for the hotel check-in to be available, this is a perfect option. If you’d have a suitcase, you’d be pretty limited, and you’d probably just spend that time in a restaurant. But with a backpack, you’re more flexible to move around and explore. Personally, I think that a wheeled backpack is a perfect option for a carry-on.

So Which One Is Better for Europe – a Backpack or a Suitcase?

An open carry-on suitcase next to a backpack in airport

Sometimes a backpack is better in Europe, and sometimes a suitcase just makes more sense. But in the end, the best option depends on three factors – how minimalist of a packer you are, the destination, and how many times you’ll be switching between different hotels.

Personally, I find that for me the best option is a suitcase carry-on used in combination with a small backpack (personal item.) But it really depends on these three factors, and sometimes I might use something else, so down below I’ll go over a few scenarios and list my favorite options for them.

Using a Single Carry-On

If you’re a minimalist, and you’re able to pack everything inside a single carry-on, I’d probably choose a carry-on sized regular backpack or a wheeled backpack . This will give you the ultimate flexibility to move around. Honestly, I think that this is a no-brainer unless you’re traveling for business and you need to have some wrinkle-free formal clothing.

Using a Carry-on and a Personal Item

If you can’t fit everything inside a single carry-on, you should probably use a suitcase as your carry-on, and a small backpack as your personal item. I personally use this combo ninety percent of the time, as this still gives you enough flexibility to move around, but at the same time is pretty spacious. You can always stow your backpack on top of your suitcase on smooth surfaces, and if needed, lift the carry-on suitcase by the handle, as it isn’t too heavy anyway.

Using a Single Checked Bag

For a single checked bag, I’d probably go with a large 60-80 liter backpack and carry a small foldable daypack or tote inside to use a personal item, just for carrying your valuables and electronics with you on the airplane. This option is great, because it provides a lot of flexibility, and it’s the most common choice for younger backpackers. Frankly, if you’re cautious about what you’re bringing, having just a large, checked backpack will be enough for even several-month-long trips.

Using a Checked Bag and a Carry-On

If you aren’t a minimalist, and you’ll be traveling for a long time, you should probably get a checked suitcase and a carry-on-sized backpack. This will provide a lot of space, but it won’t be easy to move around, so I wouldn’t really recommend this unless you’re traveling to modern European capital cities, and you won’t be switching between different hotels a lot. In simple words, if it’s just home-airport-taxi-hotel, then there’s nothing wrong with this choice.

This post is also available in: English

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One response to “Should You Use a Wheeled Suitcase or a Backpack in Europe?”

Oscar, your post took me back to when I first experimented with analog photography. A truly beautiful chaos! Can you share how temperature fluctuations actually affect the chemical process? Additionally, comparing analog to digital photography will add a fresh perspective for readers considering both platforms.

Analog does incorporate the element of surprise that the digital realm often lacks. Can we inject a bit more of that unpredictability into our digital work, do you think?

By the way, I once mistakenly developed my film in a room that was too hot and ended up with a uniquely distorted image. Happy accidents indeed! Thanks for reigniting my love for the unpredictable nature of analog. Keep shooting! 📸🎞️

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I created this step-by-step travel guide to prove that planning budget travel doesn’t have to be daunting — whether you’re backpacking through Europe or just a budget-minded independent traveler.

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PHASE ONE: Initial Trip Planning

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These are the first steps to take when planning your trip to backpack Europe. Here you’ll start planning what cities and countries to visit, create a travel itinerary, estimate your travel costs, book your flight, and a range of other things.

You’ll probably spend a large amount of time on this phase  — especially the itinerary planning.

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How To Create a Europe Travel Itinerary that fits your travel style, travel goals, and budget.

I’ve also put together some sample itineraries to help give some ideas of places you might want to visit:

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  • Gateway to Eastern Europe Travel Itinerary (Travel Time: 2-4 Weeks)
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The Savvy Backpacker’s City Travel Guides

Discover practical travel information, must-see sights, where to eat, how much to budget, public transportation tips, where to stay, and more about more than 20 of Europe’s Most Iconic Cities :

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Related:  The Best Party Cities in Europe

Finding Cheap Airfare to Europe

Your plane ticket to Europe is one of your greatest expenses. Here’s our Guide To Finding Cheap Flights To Europe .

Best Travel Guidebooks and Online Resources

From Lonely Planet and Rick Steves’ guidebooks to Wikitravel and TripAdvisor, there is a wealth of information to help you choose what to do and see. I review My Favorite Online Travel Resources .

Choosing Travel Seasons

The summer might be the busiest travel season but Europe is a great place to visit year-round. We’ve listed the positives and negatives of traveling during each season .

Pre-Departure Travel Advice

Before you head off to Europe be sure to check out this Pre-Departure Travel Checklist  so you don’t overlook any small, but important, details.

Get an Affordable High-Speed Mobile Data Plan For Your Phone

Having fast and reliable mobile data for your smartphone is a requirement these days. Check out my guide on  how to use your phone in Europe  and our guide to  the best SIM Cards and Data Plans for Europe .

If you have a newer phone, check out our guide to the best Prepaid eSIM Data Plans for Europe .

Frequently Asked Travel Questions

I get sent a lot of questions about traveling in Europe that don’t warrant their own article — so I made a Mega-List Of Random Travel Questions .

Phase Two: Budgeting and Money

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Let’s dive into the million-dollar question… how much does it cost to travel through Europe? Below are some helpful articles to help you estimate how much money you’ll need to backpack Europe on a budget.

I also cover various topics like using ATMs and credit cards, exchanging currency, and other money-related issues.

Estimating Your Travel Costs

Here’s a high-level guide to estimating How Much It Costs To Backpack Europe on a budget. I break down the average cost of food, alcohol, accommodation, sightseeing, transportation, pre-trip travel expenses, and other common expenses.

City Price Guides

I’ve created In-Depth City Price Guides that cover travel costs for 30+ cities in Europe. Each city guide includes average prices for food, accommodation, sightseeing, and more.

Using Your Money in Europe

Everything you need to know about exchange rates, using ATMs, using debit/credit cards, avoiding/minimizing foreign transaction fees, and more. Check out our Guide To Using Money While Traveling In Europe and our Guide To Using Credit Cards and Debit Cards in Europe .

Daily Money-Saving Strategies

Here are some Simple Money-Saving Europe Travel Tips you can do every day to save money while traveling. Here’s our  Guide To Eating On A Budget While Traveling Europe for more money-saving tips.

Phase Three: Packing Advice & Travel Gear

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Packing for travel in Europe can be confusing and frustrating — especially if you’re backpacking across Europe or just trying to pack light. These guides will help you choose what clothes and travel accessories to pack and have advice on packing light.

Europe Travel Packing Lists

I’ve written numerous packing lists for multiple travel styles. Each article covers functional and fashionable clothes for traveling through Europe, helpful travel accessories, toiletries, electronics, and what items you should leave behind.  Check them out!

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  • Ultralight Travel Packing List  (taking traveling light to the next level)
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The Best Travel Backpacks

I love travel backpacks and we’ve personally tested well over a dozen of the most popular backpacks. Here’s a list of the Best Travel Backpacks (Updated For 2022). Be sure to check out our Best Travel Backpacks for Women as well.

I’ve also compiled a list of the Best Carry-On Backpacks if you’re traveling light (which is highly recommended).

Related Article: Things to look for when buying a travel backpack & best travel backpacks for Europe (slightly old but still solid information).

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Winter Travel Packing Tips

Winter travel is great but you need to know how to dress properly for the cold. Check out our Guide To Dressing For Winter In Europe for tips on dressing in layers to keep you warm and dry without wearing a lot of bulky clothes. Also, see our Winter Europe Packing List  for some of our favorite winter gear.

Phase Four: Hostels, Hotels, Rental Apartments & Other Accommodation

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Accommodation is one of your biggest expenses. In this section, I’ll focus on hostels, rental apartments, and Couchsurfing.

Guide to European Hostels

Curious about staying in hostels while traveling in Europe? Check out our Guide To Hostels In Europe — it covers everything you’ve ever wanted to know about staying in hostels and how to pick the perfect hostel for your travel style.

Also, check out this handy Guide To Hostel Etiquette .

Europe’s Best Hostels

Europe has a ton of amazing hostels. We’ve listed a few of the best hostels in Europe’s most popular cities.

  • Amsterdam’s Best Hostels
  • Barcelona’s Best Hostels
  • Berlin’s Best Hostels
  • Budapest’s Best Hostels
  • Dublin’s Best Hostels
  • Edinburgh’s Best Hostels
  • Florence’s Best Hostels
  • London’s Best Hostels
  • Madrid’s Best Hostels
  • Milan’s Best Hostels
  • Paris’ Best Hostels
  • Prague’s Best Hostels
  • Rome’s Best Hostels

See The Full List Of Europe’s Best Hostels By City

Couchsurfing in Europe

Couchsurfing is a super popular way to experience Europe, save money on accommodation, and meet friendly locals. Here’s our Guide to Couchsurfing in Europe .

Short-Term Apartment Rentals & Airbnb

Short-term apartment rentals — especially Airbnb — have exploded in Europe and it’s one of my favorite ways to experience Europe’s cities. But picking the perfect apartment can be a little tricky. Here’s my Guide To Renting Airbnb & Vacation Apartments In Europe .

Related: Airbnb Review: Why It’s Our Top Choice for Rental Apartments

Phase Five: Trains, Flights, and Other Transportation in Europe

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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles!

Europe has a great transportation network, making it incredibly easy to zip from city to city and country to country. The hardest part is choosing which method is right for your travel style and budget.

In this section, I cover each major transportation option system and give tips on finding the best deals.

Complete Guide to Train Travel in Europe

Traveling by train is the best way to get around Europe. Check out my Guide To Train Travel in Europe  to learn the ins and outs of European rail travel.

We’ve also written in-depth guides about country-specific train travel and how to score the cheapest tickets:

  • Belgium  Train Guide
  • England  Train Guide
  • France  Train Guide
  • Germany  Train Guide
  • Italy  Train Guide
  • Netherlands  Train Guide
  • Portugal  Train Guide
  • Spain  Train Guide
  • Switzerland  Train Guide

How To Purchase Train Tickets

There are a number of ways to purchase train tickets — from at the station to online. Read our Guide to Buying European Train Tickets to learn about the different kinds of train tickets and ways to get the best price.

Eurail Pass Explained

Many travelers purchase a Eurail Pass to explore Europe. However, with so many different passes available it can be tough to decide which, if any, rail pass is worth the price. Read my Guide To Eurail Passes to see if a rail pass is right for you.

Budget Air Travel in Europe

Europe is home to multiple budget airlines so it’s not uncommon to find flights within Europe for less than $50. My Guide To Budget Air Travel In Europe will cover how to find the cheapest tickets and help you decide if air travel is right for your trip.

Related: Our Ryanair Survival Guide will help you navigate one of Europe’s most notorious ultra-low-budget air carriers.

Traveling Europe by Car

Exploring Europe by car is a great way to discover smaller towns and villages, but it is a nightmare if you plan on only visiting large cities. My Guide To Traveling Europe By Car  will cover what to look for when renting a car and tips for navigating Europe’s roads.

What’s Cheaper? Comparing Train vs Plane vs Car

I did a little comparison to find the cheapest way to travel around Europe — check out my findings . By the way, this isn’t a perfect comparison but it’s a good overview.

Bus/Coach Travel in Europe

One of the cheapest methods of travel is via long-distance coach service but it’s also the slowest. Check out our Guide To Long-Distance Coach Travel In Europe to learn more about this option for cash-strapped travelers.

Phase Six: Travel Service Reviews

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There are many amazing travel products and services that will make traveling more enjoyable and less stressful — but the choices can be overwhelming. In this section read our reviews on everything from our favorite socks and underwear to backpacks and other travel services.

Airbnb Rental Strategies

Want to live like a local? Try Airbnb. Read our Airbnb Review to see why Airbnb is one of our top choices for finding great places to stay and see our top tips for finding the perfect rental.

Contiki Tour Review

Contiki tours are a popular travel option that thousands of people take each year. Read my Contiki Tour Review to see the good and bad of Contiki Tours and determine if this is a good option for you.

Hostelworld Review

See why Hostelworld is my top choice for finding and booking hostels in Europe. Read my Hostelworld Review and learn the strategies I use to find the best hostels.

Phase Seven: More Helpful Advice For Traveling Europe On A Budget

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This section features general travel tips for everything from spotting tourist scams and fashion advice to solo travel pointers and group travel tips.

Avoiding Tourist Scams and Pickpockets

Don’t be one of the many tourists who get ripped off while traveling through Europe. Read our Guide To Pickpockets in Europe and our Guide to Avoiding Common Tourist Scams .

How To Use Data Plans and Smartphones in Europe

Using your smartphone and data plan in Europe can be costly. Read our Guide To Using Smartphones and Data Plans in Europe , How To Buy A SIM Card in Europe , and Guide to the Best eSIMs for Europe to make sure you don’t rack up a huge phone bill.

Solo and Group Travel in Europe

How are you going to travel around Europe — with friends, with your significant other, or maybe you want to travel solo? Check out these articles to help you make the most of your travels.

  • How To Travel Solo in Europe
  • Advice for Solo Female Travel
  • How To Travel Europe with Friends (And Survive)

Using Electronics Abroad

Worried about using your electronics in Europe? Read our Guide To Using Your Electronics in Europe to see what kinds of electronics you can (and can’t) use in Europe.

Travel Styles and Sightseeing Strategies

Here are a few helpful articles to help you get the most out of your day-to-day travels.

  • Day-To-Day Sightseeing Strategies
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  • Avoiding Common Travel Mistakes That Are Super Easy To Make
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The Best Backpack For Backpacking Europe in 2024

Last Updated on November 29, 2023

by Maggie Turansky

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. That means if you click a link and make a purchase, we may make a small commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, see our privacy policy.

Finding the best backpack for backpacking Europe is one of the most essential things you can do before you set out on your adventure. There are countless different options to choose from that it can seem overwhelming and impossible to choose the right one for you!

What size do you get? Should you purchase a top-loader or a front-loader? Should you get one with wheels as well? In general, it really depends on what kind of trip you’re after to figure out which kind of backpack will suit your needs best.

If you’re searching for a backpack for your trip, these are some great options to have you packing your bags in no time!

Want a quick answer? My overall choice for the best travel backpack for Europe is the  Osprey Farpoint 55 for men (also available on REI and direct from Osprey ) or the  Fairview 55 for women (also available on REI and direct from Osprey ).

Table of Contents

Travel Backpacks for Europe Comparison

Why travel with a backpack.

There are numerous benefits to travelling through Europe with a backpack. Namely, it just ends up being a hell of a lot easier and more convenient than a typical wheely suitcase or a duffel bag.

Wheeled suitcases can be an extreme nuisance when travelling throughout Europe, especially when it comes to manoeuvring them onto trains and busses, through busy city streets, up and downstairs and escalators, and over the inevitable bumpy cobblestones.

Duffel bags can be equally inconvenient from a pure comfort level. After about ten minutes of walking with a 10+ kilo duffel bag slung over your shoulder, your body will begin to ache and scream in more ways than you can imagine.

The truth of the matter is, that you’re most likely going to be doing a fair bit of walking with your luggage while travelling, especially if you’re sticking to a tight Europe budget for your backpacking trip.

Travelling with a backpack makes this so much easier and there are many backpack sizes to choose from so you can find your ideal backpack for travelling Europe!

The Osprey Farpoint 55 & 70L Versions

How to Choose the Best Backpack

If you’ve done any research at all, you have surely found the seemingly endless options for Europe backpacks. It can be really hard to determine which will be the best for you.

Generally speaking, bags for backpacking Europe tend to fall into two categories: traditional, top-loading backpacks and newer travel backpacks.

Both bags have their own set of pros and cons and it really depends on your own personal preference and travel style to figure out which works best for you.

Top-Loading Backpacks

For years and years, top-loading hiking backpacks were the only option out there. While this is certainly not the case today, they still are a popular option for travellers.

Some of the benefits of top-loading backpacks are that they are designed to be worn for long periods of time, so, therefore, can be very comfortable even if you’re carrying upwards of 15 kilos of weight.

They have advanced suspension systems so you can easily adjust them to your body type and you can ensure that the weight is evenly distributed across your back.

They’re also built to be very durable, as they’re typically designed for hikers and not European urban adventurers. This means that they’ll hold up for years on end. They also generally come with a lot of pockets and straps where you can easily stash a number of smaller items without them getting lost.

Want a quick answer? My choice for the best top-loading backpack for Europe is the  Osprey Kestrel 48 for men  or the  Osprey Kyte 46 for women.

Another benefit to hiking backpacks is that if you’re intending to spend a portion of your Euro trip hiking or camping, these bags make it a lot easier to transition between urban and rural travel.

However, especially if you don’t really plan to stray away from cities or towns, top-loaders do come with some setbacks. The first setback is the fact that they’re, well, top-loading.

If you’re using this kind of backpack for its original intended use, the top-loading function is really more of an advantage, however, for backpacking through Europe, it can be a drawback.

It can be very difficult to find your belongings in a top-loader and you almost always need to empty the entire contents of the bag to find the thing you need.

They also have a ton of straps hanging off of them and the suspensions system can’t zip away which makes checking them on a plane can be a bit of a pain. When we’ve with a top-loader it almost always ends up in the “oversized luggage” area and is consistently the last bag that comes out on the conveyor belt.

The other inconvenience about hiking backpacks for travel in Europe is that they’re not overly secure. You’re normally only able to close them with a drawstring which makes it nearly impossible to effectively lock it, which can be a setback if your hostel locker is too small to hold your entire backpack.

Travel Backpacks

In the past few years, a few backpack companies have bridged the gap between the traditional backpack for hikers and wheeled suitcases used by most urban travellers. Enter: the travel backpack.

While many travel backpacks do have some shortcomings (nothing is perfect, unfortunately), and there are not many backpacks on the market that can easily transition between urban travelling and long-term hiking/backpacking — the Osprey Farpoint Trek being one of the exceptions.

So what is a travel backpack and what makes it a good option for a backpack for travel around Europe?

The most distinguishing feature of a travel backpack is the fact that they open like a suitcase instead of loading from the top. This function makes moving from place to place a lot easier and allows you to organise your items more effectively while travelling.

The second good feature of travel backpacks is that you can zip away the straps, making checking baggage a lot easier.

It also is a good function if you maybe want to stay in a nicer hotel and feel awkward walking in with a massive pack on your back. With the harness zipped away, travel backpacks tend to look more like duffel bags.

The addition of the main zipped compartment having a zipper also means that you can put a lock on your bag to keep your items secure. This is a really great function, especially if you’re staying in hostels or want to deter thieves while walking through train stations and busy city centres.

There are also some drawbacks to travel packs, however. For one, many don’t have as advanced a suspension system as top-loading backpacks have which means they can be a bit more uncomfortable to wear for a longer period of time.

Prefer Wheeled Backpacks? Check out our guide to the best wheeled backpacks for Europe!

Also, due to their design, it can be a bit more difficult to effectively distribute the weight in a travel backpack than in a top-loader. This, again, can take away from the all over long-term comfort of the bag.

Because of these shortcomings, travel backpacks aren’t great to take with you if you intend on doing a lot of hiking and camping.

On the whole, however, I would recommend opting for a travel pack when backpacking Europe rather than a top-loader. They are absolutely ideal for urban travelling and some will do well for a couple of days of hiking if you take the time to pack it correctly.

man backpacking in Europe

The Best Backpack For Backpacking Europe

If you’re stuck trying to sort through the endless options for backpacks, look no further. These are some of the best backpacks for travel in Europe.

Osprey Farpoint 55 / Osprey Fairview 55

The Osprey Farpoint (also available on REI and direct from Osprey ) is probably the most popular travel backpack for Europe. While it was originally created as a unisex backpack, it is now marketed exclusively as a travel backpack for men.

The Osprey Fairview is the women’s version (also available on REI and direct from Osprey ) and both are one of the best travel backpacks for a trip around Europe. They are perfect for both shorter, two-week trips and months-long backpacking tours.

The Farpoint comes in four different sizes: 40 litre, 55 litre, 70 litre, and 80 litre . For most backpacking trips, I would recommend the 55-litre option. The main pack itself includes one single compartment with a 40-litre capacity.

There are also compression straps to keep your items smashed down and secure. The great benefit of the Farpoint 55 is the detachable 15-litre daypack. 

The daypack zips onto the back of the pack, however, I have never actually used this function while travelling. It is much easier to wear the daypack in from of you like a kangaroo.

The pack, like all Osprey products, is incredibly durable and comes with a lifetime warranty. I’ve used my pack quite extensive for more than two years, and besides some marks and blemishes. it looks and functions as if it’s brand new and I don’t see that changing any time in the future.

The main frame, hip belt and harness are also quite comfortable and fully adjustable, and the suspension is about as good as you’ll get in a travel backpack.

If adjusted properly and if it’s not too heavy, you can comfortably wear the pack for a few hours without getting a sore back or shoulders. It also fully zips away to make airline check-in a breeze.

Both the 55-litre and the 70-litre option come with the 15-litre daypack, but the 40 and 80-litre options do not.

Osprey advertises that the Farpoint 40L backpack is suitable as a carry-on backpack in the EU, however, if filled to capacity, the dimensions are slightly larger than those set by Ryanair.

Therefore, it may not be the best bag to take if you’re planning on travelling carry-on only. The frame is also not flexible at all, so it’s not possible to smash down the size of the bag even if it’s not packed to the brim.

The only other main drawback of the Farpoint is the fact that there is only one main compartment, so it can be tricky to organise your items.

This isn’t really a problem for me, as I travel with these packing cubes , which have proved to be an invaluable space-saving and organisation addition to my packing habits.

Osprey Farpoint 55L Men's Travel Backpack, 10003321, Black

Osprey Kestrel 48 / Osprey Kyte 46

If you’re set on travelling with a traditional backpack then you can’t go wrong with the Osprey Kestrel for men (also available on REI or direct from Osprey ) or the Osprey Kyte for women (also available on REI or direct from Osprey ).

I would really only recommend travelling with a top loader if you plan to hike and camp either as much or more than you plan on travelling in cities, but these two packs are great options.

Both bags have incredibly advanced suspension systems and, if you distribute your weight well, they can be worn comfortably for hours on end. They are also only as wide as your torso, making navigating both winding staircases and European mountainsides a breeze.

They have a lot of extra pouches and compartments aside from the main one for you to stash some belongings and also some straps to attach items to the outside of the pack.

Because of their length, they don’t meet any carry-on size requirements, so you will have to check the bag in on flights. There also is no daypack attached and no option to zip away the harness or any straps. It is also closed with a drawstring, so it is a lot less secure as there is no way to lock it.

Discontinued Osprey Kestrel 48 Men's Backpacking Backpack Black, Small/Medium

Osprey Transporter 40

If you want to easily transition between a duffel bag and a backpack and only want a carry on bag , then the Osprey Transporter (also available on REI here or direct from Osprey here ) is for you!

This 40-litre bag has no main frame, so it can pack down very small. It also has a backpack harness, complete with a chest strap, that can be easily zipped away and also a shoulder strap if you’d like to treat it more like a duffel bag.

This probably isn’t the best bag to take if you’re planning on hiking a lot or if you’re travelling with a lot of gear, but it is a fantastic option if you’re packing light or only going on a short trip.

Like all Osprey items, it is extremely durable and comes with a lifetime warranty. For a minimalist person who is looking to travel light, the Osprey Transporter might be the best bag for you!

Osprey Transporter 40L Travel Duffel Bag, Black

Pacsafe Venturesafe 45L Anti-Theft Backpack

The Pacsafe Venturesafe 45L backpack (also available direct from Pacsafe ) is another very popular choice when it comes to travelling in Europe. This backpack is ideal if you’re looking for more peace of mind when it comes to security as it is built with anti-theft in mind.

The material of the backpack is designed to ensure it can’t be easily cut through and the zippers are lockable. It has a laptop compartment as well as side pockets that you can use for a water bottle.

The Pacsafe Venturesafe 45L also comes in a 65L version and is the ideal backpack to travel in Europe if you’re bringing valuables or just want to ensure you are as safe as possible.

Unlike the Farpoint, this backpack doesn’t come with a detachable daypack, however, it does have 3 attachment points on the bag so you could potentially attach a separate daypack to that.

Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45 Anti-Theft Carry-On Travel Backpack, Black

Peak Design Travel Line 45L Backpack

If you’re looking to combine both style and practicality, then the Peak Design Travel Backpack (also available direct from Peak Design ) might be the option for you.

This bag is on the higher end of budgets, but it offers a stylish and practical design that many other backpacks do not offer. This is a 45-litre pack at its maximum size and has all of the main features of the previous travel backpacks covered, but it doesn’t come with a detachable daypack.

It does however compress down to 30L or 35L making it ideal if you’re looking for a travel backpack that is carry-on compliant, as it meets even the most stringent of airline requirements. It is also water-resistant, which is a great feature to have in any travel bag.

The main bag opens in the front like a suitcase, has a divided section inside and also has a laptop sleeve within the main bag, which is a big selling point for many people.

The Peak Design Travel Line Backpack is probably the best-looking bag on this list and you won’t stick out like a sore thumb while walking through European cities.

Peak Design BTR-45-BK-1 travel backpack Nylon Black Unisex 45 L

Finding the perfect backpack for European travel can be extremely difficult. It’s always a good idea to weigh the options available, evaluate your travel style, and figure out how much space you’ll need. 

Are you looking for a backpack to take on your trip to Europe? Have any questions? Let us know in the comments!

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About Maggie Turansky

Maggie is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Originally from the US, she has lived in five different countries and has travelled to dozens more, both solo and with her partner, Michael. She particularly loves exploring Spain and spending time in the Caucasus and the Baltics. Read more about Maggie

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The Backpacker Network

Europe Backpacker

The Best Backpacks for Europe – Top Picks for Travellers!

Man wears backpack in Greece over looking the sea and islands

Choosing the best travel backpack for Europe isn’t as simple as going to the supermarket and picking up the first bag you see. The continent’s ancient cities with cobbled walkways and tight, winding streets offer a unique challenge. And that’s without considering how you’ll travel between them!

Planes in Europe have different hand luggage allowances to those elsewhere and trains and buses tend to have storage compartments for big bags away from the seats. Cycling is also a popular way to travel locally.

We’ve regretted carrying travel bags on long-distance hikes, hated ourselves while trying to drag suitcases along tight cobbled streets and realised that comfortable trekking backpacks aren’t always ideal for city breaks in Europe! 

Through our mistakes, we’ve learnt what makes a good backpack for Europe and after testing a bunch of different setups, we’ve got plenty of wisdom to share.

Related : (links open in a new tab)

  • How Much Does Backpacking Europe Cost?
  • Season-by-Season Guide to Europe
  • Europe Backpacking Routes (4 Epic Itineraries)

Disclosure: Some links on this page are affiliate links. We always write our articles before checking if affiliate links are available.

The Best Backpacks for Europe – Quick Answers!

Osprey Farpoint 40

  • Available in male (Farpoint) and female (Fairview) models
  • Carry on compliant
  • Comes with Osprey's All Mighty Guarantee

TropicFeel Shell

  • Made from recycled materials
  • Suitcase style opening

Backpacks for Europe – Top Picks!

Osprey farpoint 40.

  • Price Range: $
  • Best Feature: Clamshell opening and carry-on compliant
  • Feature To Improve: Not the most versatile Osprey backpack
  • Read: Reviews of the Farpoint and Fairview (old models)
  • New Model — Osprey released the new Farpoint and Fairview backpacks in 2022. They took an already great travel bag and used customer feedback to make it even better. The new models feature an improved AirScape back panel, as well as foam wings similar to the Osprey Porter . These offer more protection and better compression than the previous straps and wings. As well as this, Osprey corrected the biggest problem with the Farpoint and Fairview – the laptop sleeve placement. It now rests against your back as you carry the bag!
  • Farpoint vs Fairview — As with most Osprey backpacks, this bag is available in male and female models. The Farpoint is built for men, while the Fairview is for women. In real terms, this means the Fairview straps are cut differently and the suspension system is made for a smaller frame.
  • Comfort — The Osprey Farpoint and Fairview have always been comfortable backpacks. The padded shoulder straps, AirScape back panel, hip belt and LightWire Frame distribute the weight of your gear across your body, reducing the strain on your back and shoulders.
  • Sizes — We always recommend the 40-litre version of these bags. They’re carry-on complaint, lightweight and don’t feel unwieldy when full. Plus, they hold plenty of gear for an extended backpacking trip. If you want a bit more space, the 55-litre models are an excellent choice. With the daypack removed, they usually fit into carry-on specs but you’ll need to double-check with your airline to be sure. Osprey also produce 70-litre versions of both the Farpoint and Fairview . These giant bags are too big for most travellers but the detachable daypack and extra space will be appealing for some.
  • Clamshell opening
  • Carry-on compliant
  • Osprey's All Mighty Guarantee
  • Not the most versatile Osprey backpack

TropicFeel Shell

  • Price Range: $$
  • Best Feature: Versatile and easy to pack
  • Feature To Improve: Getting the right fit is challenging
  • Read: Tropicfeel Shell review
  • Travel Brand — Tropicfeel are an all-inclusive travel brand. They produce everything from travel shoes and apparel to backpacks and accessories. They know what they’re doing when it comes to producing excellent travel gear !
  • Expandable — The Shell from Tropicfeel is 40 litres in its largest guise. However, if you don’t need that much space, the bag can be compressed down to 30 and even 22 litres! This versatility means the same bag can be used as your main travel backpack as well as a daypack! To achieve this, Tropicfeel rely on a series of straps, pouches and attachments.
  • Conscious — The Shell is made from 100% recycled nylon and 60% recycled polyester. Tropicfeel work with Bluesign to ensure their materials come from ethical suppliers who treat their staff and the environment with respect. They’re also Climate Neutral Certified and provide transparent information about their entire supply chain thanks to Retraced .
  • Accessories — Tropicfeel make a big song and dance about the accessories that work in conjunction with The Shell. The Tech Pouch and Toiletry Pouch both attach to the outside of the pack using the FidLock Mounting system (those little plastic nipple-looking things). You can only attach one at a time, so if you choose to use both, the other will need to be stored in the pack. The Camera Cube is an excellent piece of kit that fits perfectly into the bag but the Wardrobe system is overrated. It’s hard to use and the bag performs better without it. There’s also a padded laptop sleeve and a couple of hidden pockets for keeping valuables secure.
  • Torso length is hard to get right
  • Accessories are oversold

Pacsafe Venturesafe EXP45

  • Best Feature: Anti-theft features
  • Feature To Improve: Security features make the bag very heavy
  • ECONYL — The Venturesafe by Pacsafe is made from ECONYL. Created from discarded fishing nets and other waste plastics, this regenerated nylon removes the need for virgin plastics and reduces the environmental impact of the bag!
  • Anti-Theft Technology — As with all Pacsafe bags, the Venturesafe keeps your gear safe. Using a combination of zip locking systems, eXomesh slashguard layers, a useful locking cable and puncture-resistant zips, you can rest assured your stuff is as protected as it can be while you travel around Europe!
  • Ethics — Pacsafe have clear environmental and ethical policies . They donate 1% of website sales to grassroots projects through the Pacsafe Turtle Fund and arrange beach cleans across the world.
  • Easy To Pack — As well as keeping your gear safe and helping to make the world a better place, the Venturesafe is a great backpack! The suitcase-style opening and huge main compartment make packing and organising your gear a breeze. The padded laptop sleeve can accommodate a 15-inch computer and there are a few smaller pockets dotted about the bag, so there’s always somewhere to store loose items!
  • Comfort — Let’s not beat around the bush, Pacsafe’s Venturesafe is a heavy bag. Yet, it’s comfortable to carry. The internal frame distributes the weight well and the shoulder straps are padded enough to avoid them cutting in as you carry the bag. The waist strap directs a good portion of the bag’s weight to your legs, reducing strain on your back and shoulders.
  • Anti-theft features
  • Made with recycled materials
  • Right on the limit for carry-on

Tortuga Travel Backpack

Tortuga Travel Backpack

  • Price Range: $$$
  • Best Feature: Maximised space for carry-on
  • Feature To Improve: Too much webbing on the hip belt (especially if you're slim)
  • Carry-On Spec — Available in two sizes (30-litre and 40-litre), the Tortuga Travel Backpack is perfect for carry-on-only travellers. The 30-litre version is essentially guaranteed to be carry-on size for any airline. The 40-litre version can be touch and go for some international airlines but is well within US carry-on limits.
  • Shape — While the bag’s square shape isn’t the most visually appealing, it maximises all the usable space within the bag – there are no awkward corners or parts of the bag that can only fit a pair of socks! It makes packing and organising your gear super simple. Plus, the bag opens like a suitcase so once unzipped, you have full, unfettered access to everything!
  • Suspension System — The Travel Backpack is fully adjustable. The straps, back panel and hip belt can all be sized to fit you exactly. The straps are well padded, comfortable and spread the weight of your gear across your whole body. Load lifters ensure the bag doesn’t feel unwieldy when full and the moisture-wicking back panel keeps you cool and comfortable!
  • Materials — The Tortuga Travel Backpacker is made from high-quality fabric and hardware. The bulk of the pack is created from durable Sailcloth. This material, first created for boat sails, is lightweight, uber-tough and waterproof. The buckles are rugged and the zips are waterproof and hardwearing.
  • Makes the most of carry-on space
  • Ultra-comfy
  • Fully adjustable
  • Not the best-looking bag

Osprey Farpoint Trek

Osprey Farpoint Trek

  • Best Feature: The hybrid nature of the bag
  • Feature To Improve: A laptop sleeve would be a welcome addition
  • Read: Osprey Farpoint Trek review
  • Sizes — The Osprey Farpoint Trek is available in 55 and 75-litre models. The female version of the bag, the Fairview Trek, is available in 50 and 70-litre variants. We recommend the 50/55-litre models for travelling in Europe. They’re big enough to hold a ton of gear while being small enough to carry with relative ease. However, neither model is carry-on size, so you’ll need to check the bag on planes!
  • Hybrid — Taking inspiration from Osprey’s extensive range of hiking and travel backpacks, the Farpoint/Fairview Trek is suitable for long-term travel and hardcore hiking trips. It features a clamshell design which offers easy access to your travel gear. Compression straps keep the bag as streamlined as possible and the amazing suspension system is super comfy, even after a long day of hiking!
  • Comfort — The AirSpeed trampoline suspension keeps the pack off your back. This increases airflow and prevents bulky items pummelling your spine. It distributes the weight of your gear across your body and down to your hips. The hip belt features thick padding and can hold up to 80% of the bag’s weight, saving you from sore shoulders!
  • Organisation — The Trek has one huge main compartment and a myriad of smaller pockets for arranging and organising your stuff. The main compartment can be sectioned off, so you can store a sleeping bag in the bottom part if required. You can also access this area through an extra zipper on the bottom section, so you don’t need to empty everything to get at your sleeping bag!
  • Super comfy suspension system
  • Separate entry points
  • Rain cover is quite fiddly
  • No laptop compartment
  • Not carry-on size

Cotopaxi Allpa Del Dia

Cotopaxi Allpa Del Dia

  • Best Feature: Large internal compartments and suitcase-style opening
  • Feature To Improve: Not the most comfortable back panel
  • Del Dia — The Cotopaxi Allpa is available in a regular and Del Dia version. We recommend the Del Dia model because it’s made with (Re)Purpose fabrics. These offcuts from other backpack manufacturers mean Cotopaxi reduce waste and limit the environmental impact of their bags. Each Del Dia bag is unique with different coloured panels and stitching! You can choose from a range of Del Dia designs or use the ‘surprise me’ function to get a random colour combo!
  • Size — The Allpa is available in 28, 35 and 42-litre models. The 35-litre model is the best for travelling in Europe because it’s carry-on compliant and can still hold plenty of gear. The 28-litre model makes an excellent daypack but only true minimalist travellers will be able to use it as their main pack. The 42-litre model is a little too large to always be carry-on compliant, although some airlines may allow you to take it as hand luggage.
  • Suitcase Opening — The Allpa opens up like a suitcase. Once opened, it has one large main compartment and a series of smaller ones. Each has its own zipper and they’re all separated by lightweight mesh to ensure your gear remains organised. There’s a laptop sleeve in the back of the bag. This is accessed through an external zip. All the external zips have webbing tabs which you can pull the zipper through. These help prevent opportunistic thieves from getting into your bag.
  • Carry — The Allpa carries well but the back panel lacks some padding compared to other backpacks on this list. The straps are less padded too which saves weight but means they’re not as comfortable as they could be. The straps can be hidden away when checking the bag for flights.
  • Rain cover included
  • Hard wearing
  • No exterior pockets
  • Anti-theft zips are more annoying than effective

Peak Design Travel Backpack

Peak Design Travel Backpack

  • Best Feature: Versatility 
  • Feature To Improve: The weight and price
  • Built for Photographers – As with all Peak Design products, the Travel Backpack is built for photographers. Thick foam padding around the bag means the gear inside the well protected and the bag holds its shape no matter how full or empty it is. There are a bunch of access points on the front, sides and back of the back, so you can easily get to exactly what you need. The bag integrates into the Peak Design ecosystem meaning their camera cubes, tech pouches and packing cubes all fit seamlessly into the backpack. 
  • Expandable – Going from 30 litres up to 45, the Peak Design Travel Backpack is a true one-bag travel option. Fill it to the brim when on the move, then compress it down to use as a sturdy daypack when you leave the bulk of your gear at your accommodation. When used in 30 or 35-litre modes, this bag is within carry-on specs for most airlines but in the 45-litre iteration, it’s too big.
  • Comfort – At a smidge over 2kg, the Travel Backpack is one of the heavier bags on our list. But even so, it remains one of the most comfortable. The thick foam padding which acts as protection also means the pack holds its shape well against your body, distributing the weight of your gear evenly across your shoulders, back and hips. The shoulder straps attach to the bag using a unique axial mounting system, which offers more adjustability than with a standard backpack, ensuring full comfort and versatility for a range of body types!
  • Manoeuvrable – Almost every surface on the Travel Backpack has some kind of handle. This makes it easy to get the bag in and out of lockers, overhead compartments and other hidey holes. The shoulder straps and hip belt are stowable, allowing you to streamline this bag if you need to check it on a flight or just store it away.
  • Expandable 
  • Protects your gear
  • Overkill for most travellers

Osprey Atmos/Aura

Osprey Atmos/Aura

  • Best Feature: Anti-Gravity suspension system 
  • Feature To Improve: The weight
  • Atmos vs Aura – As with many Osprey packs, this bag comes in specific gendered models. The Atmos is made for men, while the Aura is built for women. However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. Some women may find the Atmos more comfortable just as some men may prefer the Aura. Try both in-store to see which offers the best fit for you!
  • Hiking Bag – The Atmos/Aura backpacks are true hiking bags. They offer a range of features to make your trail days easier: huge water bottle pockets that can be accessed while wearing the bag, a fantastic Anti-Gravity suspension system that is one of the most comfortable we’ve ever tested, a front shove-it pocket for gear you’ll need in a hurry and excellent hip belt pockets are just some of the top-rated features within his bag! 
  • Robust – The Atmos/Aura bags handle heavy loads well and can be used as real gear haulers if you’re tackling a long trail. At the same time, they work well enough as travel bags thanks to the vast storage space and rugged exterior. They lack some of the organisation of more dedicated travel bags but that’s to be expected!
  • Adjustability – To ensure you get the best fit possible when choosing your backpack, consult the Osprey size guide. When your bag arrives, you may need to adjust the torso length, which is quick and easy to do. The fit on the fly hip strap also offers maximum adjustability so you can fine-tune the bag to you!
  • Comfortable
  • Carries weight well
  • Loads of usable storage space
  • Not always within carry-on size
  • Heavy for a hiking bag

Osprey Farpoint Wheels

Osprey Farpoint Wheels

  • Best Feature: The wheels 
  • Feature To Improve: Backpack carry comfort
  • Sizes – The Farpoint Wheels comes in two sizes: a 36-litre model and a 65-litre version. The smaller model is well within hand luggage sizes, even on budget European airlines. It’s very similar in size to most rolling hand luggage bags. The 65-litre bag will always be checked luggage as it’s much too large to take in the cabin. 
  • Wheels – Unlike most wheeled luggage, the oversized 90mm casters on the Farpoint Wheels can handle relatively uneven terrain – you won’t get stuck between paving slabs or while walking along cracked old sidewalks. The single-stem handle reduces the overall weight of the bag but means it’s less manoeuvrable than it would be with a twin-stem handle. 
  • Backpack Mode – When you inevitably hit some ancient European streets with uneven cobblestones or kerbs you need a stepladder to summit, the Farpoint Wheels has a trick up its sleeve. Un-stowing the shoulder straps and activating backpack mode only takes a minute, allowing you to swing the bag onto your back and walk free without needing to drag it behind you! When in backpack mode, the Farpoint Wheels is relatively comfortable compared to other wheeled backpacks thanks to the brilliant AirSpeed mesh back panel. However, it’s still nowhere near as comfortable as a regular Osprey backpack!
  • Storage Space – Both the 36 and 65-litre models offer an astounding amount of usable space. They open like a suitcase and are essentially just a huge compartment for your stuff. There are very few organisational options within them, giving you ultimate freedom in how to pack your gear. Although this does mean packing cubes are important!
  • Part of the Farpoint family
  • Osprey’s All Mighty Guarantee
  • Heavy when carried
  • Not the most comfortable backpack
  • Single stem handle can make the bag hard to manoeuvre

What to Consider When Choosing a Backpack for Europe

Type of trip = type of backpack .

The kind of trip you’re on will directly affect the type of backpack you need. There’s no point taking a rugged hiking bag for a short city break and a standard travel backpack just doesn’t have the features you’ll need on a multi-day trek. Make sure the bag you choose matches your holiday! 

Travel Backpacks 

Unsurprisingly, travel backpacks are built for travel. They should be comfortable to carry for reasonable distances but certainly aren’t designed for all-day comfort. They may have lots of organisational compartments, or may just be a big open pocket, depending on what you desire. The weight of these bags varies but most have frames to help spread the load. Hip belts aren’t mandatory on travel backpacks but they’re relatively common. 

Hiking Backpacks 

If you’re heading off on a hiking trip to Europe, don’t put yourself through the pain of carrying anything that’s not a specific hiking bag. Trust me when I say, it’s not worth the suffering! 

Unless you’re going ultra-light, you can expect hiking-specific backpacks to have plush shoulder straps and a good solid hip belt. The back panel should be breathable and not rub or chafe – remember this is a bag that you should be able to wear all day! More technical hiking packs are likely to have extra features such as gear loops, external attachment points and easily accessible exterior pockets or storage compartments! 

Backpack in jungle

Backpacks With Wheels

As the name suggests, these are backpacks with wheels, although they’re often used more as suitcases with backpack straps. If the majority of your trip will be short hops from airports to hotels, especially if you don’t have to stray too far from smooth roads and pavements, a wheeled backpack is a good choice! Just don’t expect them to be as light or as comfortable as a dedicated backpack! 

Hybrid Backpacks 

Much like backpacks with wheels, hybrid backpacks straddle two worlds. Our favourite hybrid backpack for Europe is the Osprey Farpoint Trek. It has great features for both travel and hiking and is surprisingly comfortable to carry for long distances! 

Other hybrid backpacks may include duffel bags with backpack straps or expandable travel bags that can act as a main bag and daypack depending on your needs!

When choosing a backpack for Europe, one of the most important things to consider is how much stuff you’re going to take. You don’t want to realise that you’ve not got enough room for all your gear the night before you travel. Likewise, dragging a massive bag around unnecessarily is a chore and you’ll end up carrying way more than you need– not great for your back!

If you travel light(ish), a 40-litre backpack should be enough. However, if you want a few more home comforts, you’ll need to opt for a larger bag. For most travellers, a 60-litre bag will be the most you’ll need.

Having a backpack that’s the right size for your stuff is all good and well but if it’s not comfortable, it’s a waste of time. Look out for bags with quality back support, padded straps, a good hip belt and a sturdy sternum strap. These features all make a backpack much more comfortable to carry.

travel backpack europe reddit

Most travel backpacks today feature an internal frame that helps balance the bag, distribute the weight of your gear and help the bag keep its shape. Whether you need a framed bag often doesn’t matter, you’re likely to end up with one anyway! 

Backpacks that are badly built, or made from shoddy materials, will fall apart and need to be replaced. It’s bad for your wallet and the planet. A long-lasting backpack costs a little more initially but will last for years of travel!

👉 Check out this post if you’re looking for the most sustainable backpack choices ! 

Remember, you’ve got to carry it! A backpack that weighs too much will be uncomfortable and in rare cases, cause injury. It can also take your luggage over the weight limit for airlines which means paying more!

Organisational Features

Do you like a bag to be full of pockets and hidey holes, or do you prefer a bag with one big main pocket that you can stuff all your belongings into? It all comes down to personal preference.

Backpacks with a lot of pockets make it much easier to organise and find your gear. However, the extra features impact the bag’s usable space and add to the overall weight. Bags with just one large compartment can store slightly more (if packed correctly) but you’ll probably find yourself digging through all your gear to find small items that inevitably fall to the bottom.

If you opt for a backpack with few organisational options, packing cubes can help keep your stuff in order!

travel backpack europe reddit

Security Features

Europe is home to some of the safest countries in the world. But as with everywhere, there are common scams and crimes to be aware of. Pickpocketing is rife in some of the continent’s popular tourist destinations. To protect yourself from thieves, consider a bag with added security features. 

Lockable zips and hidden pockets are the bare minimum and are common in most travel bags . Other features to look out for in anti-theft backpacks are slash-proof materials and uncuttable straps.

Weather Resistance 

Wouldn’t you know, it sometimes rains in Europe – even if you visit in the height of summer! Having a bag that can protect your belongings in case of a downpour means you have one less thing to worry about! 

Packing List for Europe

Getting your bag for Europe sorted is one thing but now it’s time to fill it! What you’ll need to pack for Europe depends on where you’re going and what activities you plan to do but this European packing list has all the essentials you need for a great visit! 

Packing Tips for Europe

Before packing for Europe consider:

  • The time of year you’ll be visiting
  • Where you’re going
  • What activities you’ll be doing
  • How many days of clothes you need (laundrettes are common in Europe)
  • Whether your clothes have multiple uses

The Best Backpacks for Europe FAQs

What’s the best size backpack for travelling europe.

There’s no one right-size backpack for travelling in Europe. Light packers are unlikely to need a backpack more than 40-50 litres. Bags on the smaller end of this range can usually be taken as carry-on for international airlines too, so you won’t need to check a bag! For travellers wanting a few more luxuries, a 60-65-litre bag should be enough. Any bigger and the bag starts to become unwieldy – especially when navigating tight city streets or public transport!

Is it safe to travel with a backpack in Europe?

Yes, it’s safe to travel with a backpack in Europe. However, some cities in Europe have a bad reputation for pickpocketing. Keep your wits about you and don’t leave your bag unattended. When on public transport, store your bag at your feet rather than on your back – especially if you’re travelling at rush hour. Travelling with a backpack in Europe is just as safe, if not safer, than travelling with a suitcase.

Backpack vs suitcase for travelling in Europe?

Europe is full of ancient cities, narrow streets, cobblestones and extensive public transport systems. A backpack is much more suited to this environment than a suitcase. Having all your gear on your back means you can zip over uneven ground, down into metro systems and through crowds without having to drag everything behind you.

Is a 40-litre backpack enough for travelling in Europe?

For most travellers, a 40-litre backpack is enough for travelling in Europe. While some might want a bit more space from their bag, the pros of travelling with a smaller bag far outweigh the cons. Being able to fly carry-on only and keep all your stuff with you on planes and trains more than makes up for having to leave an outfit or two at home. Plus, a smaller bag is easier to carry when you’re exploring or moving between cities!

Can I bring a backpack full of clothes on a plane?

Yes, you can bring a backpack full of clothes on a plane. As long as there is nothing in there that you’re not allowed, and your bag fits within the airline’s limits, you can take what you like on a plane. Plenty of carry-on-only travellers take everything they need for months as hand luggage!  

Round Up of the Best Backpacks for Travelling in Europe

When choosing a backpack for Europe, size, comfort and durability are the most important factors to consider. Our favourite bag for travelling on the continent is the Osprey Farpoint / Fairview . These excellent all-rounders are the perfect travel companion for almost any trip.

We also love the Cotopaxi Allpa 35 . It’s an excellent backpack but the environmental and charitable work done by Cotopaxi makes it stand out as the eco-friendly choice. This is also true of the Tropicfeel Shell which has fewer organisational features but is still an environmentally friendly option. The best anti-theft backpack for travelling in Europe is the Pacsafe Venturesafe.

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Tim Ashdown | Writer and Gear Specialist

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since then, he has travelled Southeast Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and backpacked South America. His first book,  From Paralysis to Santiago,  chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident and will be released later this year.

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Home » Travel Gear » The Best Travel Backpacks for Europe: A Comprehensive Buying Guide

The Best Travel Backpacks for Europe: A Comprehensive Buying Guide

Links in this article may earn us a little money if you book/ order stuff. More here .

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Your Guide to Finding The Best Travel Backpack for Europe!

So you’ve finally done it! You’re travelling to Europe for the first time – hooray! You’ve done the research, you’ve booked the flights, and now you’re all ready to tackle your next adventure.  Then one thing hits you – what bag are you going to take with you? What is the best travel backpack for Europe?

Buying your backpack is an important purchase. It’s something that will carry more than your clothes around – it’ll carry your life around for a short amount of time.

Speaking from experience, Lisa has taken her Osprey on over a dozen flights, and Eric’s MEC backpack has been around for over a decade!

Trust us, these things are built to last. When deciding on which backpack to buy, there are a variety of things you’ll want to consider to make the right decision for you. To help you on your journey to finding the perfect backpack, we’ll dive in below!

If you’re looking for a Europe packing list and want to find out what all we fit into an Osprey Farpoint 40, read our What to Pack for a Europe Trip post.

Table of Contents

How to Choose Your Travel Backpack for Europe

This section is going to help get you thinking. Let’s talk about your trip to Europe and your likes and dislikes to determine your backpack capacity and your backpack fit.

Trip Purpose

Ask yourself: What are you travelling to Europe for? What will you be doing? What  kind of trip are you planning on having? That will dictate what kind of backpack you should buy.

If you’re hiking around Norway and are in need of camping gear, you’ll likely need a more robust backpack for keeping more gear and a few goodies for when things go wild out in the wild.

If you’re city hopping via planes and trains for the odd weekend trip, then a smaller backpack might be for you. Keep in mind, the length of your adventure will also determine the capacity of the backpack.

Length of Stay/Trip

It seems obvious to mention that your trip length will dictate what you bring, and thus the size of the backpack you take around Europe. That said, it’s important to carefully consider your trip length.

Here’s an example: If you’re backpacking Europe for three months, there’s a good chance you’ll be taking a larger bag with you.

However, if you don’t plan on doing any camping, you won’t need to consider a backpack that can hold a sleeping bag or a roll-up foam mattress.

Best Daypack for Travel

We actually travel with three backpacks. Lisa has her Osprey Farpoint 40, Eric has a MEC backpack which is a 50 litre, and then Eric also has a smaller orange MEC backpack.

This bag has seen it all. It’s been taken on a plane having been filled to the brim and it has been shrunk down to make it onto a flight as a personal item.

Either way, this bag usually becomes our “daypack” when we travel Europe and head our for a day in the city.

It easily holds water bottles, two cameras, and a bunch of other smaller things (snacks, external batteries, extra sweater, etc). We know a thing or two about daypacks and travelling light.

If you’re looking for the perfect daypack for you, then head on over to our huge post on the best daypacks for travel !

Carry-on Baggage versus Checked Baggage

Personally, we try to travel with only carry-on luggage. Once, we travelled for weeks on end in central and eastern Europe in January winter with only carry-on baggage.

Eric actually had too many clothes, if you can believe it. We will dive into how we pack for trips in another post.

We have traveled so frequently that we know what we need and what we don’t need. You’ll start to learn about your travel habits with experience, too!

Only having carry-on luggage saves us money when we fly on cheaper airlines that make you pay extra for a checked bag , and it allows us to be MUCH faster leaving an airport not having to wait for baggage on the carousel.

That said, sometimes we do check bags – but only when we are moving continents – which Lisa and I do more frequently than we’d like to admit.

That said, it can always be a challenge to dictate what a different airline will do or say about the size of your bag.

For example, Eric’s bag can be packed to  look smaller than it actually is . As a result, it holds a lot as a 50 litre, but always makes it on in the carry-on container. Except for one time – he had to squeeze it into WOWair’s “baggage checker” at the gate and it was a tight squeeze.

After spending a minute or two playing Tetris with it, it fit into the metal box and the woman just smiled, shook her head, and onto the plane they went! If you’re a dude looking for carry-on luggage, we got you covered with this post on men’s carry-on bags .

Lisa’s Osprey Farpoint 40 is a VERY popular bag for many reasons. It’s small, but also deceptively big. It’s never given her an issue taking it as carry-on baggage – and that’s across no less than 10 airlines in Europe, from WOWair to Lufthansa to Air Berlin. Rest in Peace, Air Berlin!

How to Size and Fit Your Travel Backpack

Having a backpack that fits you properly is vital to both your physical health, as well as the backpack’s longevity. 

Backpack fitting rule of thumb:  the pack’s straps and suspension system (shoulder straps, chest strap, waist straps) should be based on your torso length, not your overall height.

It’s also important to note that around 80% of the overall pack weight  should be sitting on your hips using the waist straps – NOT on your shoulders.

Shoulder straps provide stability and support, waist straps bear the load of the weight. Got it? Awesome!

To measure your torso height, you’ll generally want to start at the base of your neck/top of your shoulders. For those of you who know anatomy, aim for your C7 vertebrae.

Shoulder straps should sit snug against your chest and the top of the straps (not the top of the backpack overall) should sit at the base of your neck, as described.

The bottom of your torso is roughly measured by the top of your hip bone. The hip straps, which are usually padded and adjustable, should sit snugly around the waist and be comfortable enough to walk in if you were looking for your Airbnb or hotel.

While there will be sized backpacks that cannot be changed because of their internal frame size or their profile – backpacks are becoming more and more accommodating with adjustable shoulder and waist straps to fit multiple body types and torso lengths.

Features to Consider When Buying Travel Backpacks

Once you’ve got the size determined for your travel needs, you can begin to think about the features of a backpack and what you would personally enjoy to have on a backpack. Everyone has varying preferences.

Unless you’ve travelled with a backpack before, you might have a harder time determining which styles and accessories will work best for you. We’ve given a few things to think about below when purchasing a backpack for a trip to Europe.

Style of Backpack Opening

Here’s the great backpack debate: Top Loading or 3/4 Zipper Opening? This one is more of a personal preference but it’s definitely dependent on  what you pack  and  how you pack it . 

Often, you’re going to find backpacks that are top loading meaning that the only entry into the main bag is through the top.

This top can be closed up and hidden underneath another cover or flap – typically acting as even more storage.

This is the kind of backpack Eric has. He’s fine with stuffing things he doesn’t need strategically into the bottom while keeping the more frequently used items on the top.

What To Read Next – Why You Need a Travel Cord Organizer for Your Next Trip

Lisa’s Osprey Farpoint 40 is a 3/4 Zipper where the whole bag opens like a clam shell and folds flat on the floor. This allows you to see everything in the bag and pack according to your preference for clothes, toiletries, etc.

In short, you can take out what you need without having to root around in EVERYTHING. You must choose your fate, backpack buyer: top-loading or 3/4? Let us know!

Backpack Straps

Extra straps on a backpack can be a great thing or a terrible thing, depending on who you ask and their purpose of the trip. Often, hikers and campers will use external straps for securing foam sleeping mats, ski poles, or other accessories.

For day or city trippers around Europe, these straps, when not tucked away properly, can cause a headache at airports and on buses. Straps can get caught in the weirdest places and this can lead to backpack damage.

Occasionally, if Eric checks his MEC backpack, he has to place it into a plastic bin and take it to another area where the airlines check the “awkward and over-sized” baggage.

A small detail in the grand scheme of a trip. Eric always makes sure that his MEC backpack is giving itself a hug. He clasps together the waist straps around the front of the bag. This way, there are no extra straps to get caught on conveyor belts and airplane doors.

Exterior Pockets on a Backpack

You’ll need to consider what you bring along on your travels and where it will go in the backpack. Think about your habits.

Do you need quick access to your water bottle? Do you frequently require quick access to a map? Do you need a quick but secure pocket for a smartphone, wallet, or keys?

Often, backpacks have exterior pockets everywhere from the top, to the sides, to the padded waist straps that are right at your front.

These are the kinds of things you’ll want to trial with a new backpack. Don’t be afraid to test out the pockets with real items you will bring on your trip.

Backpack Ventilation

The non-glamorous side of backpacking. You will, at times, have a sweaty back. There’s nothing more embarrassing (and equally prideful?) than showing up to a hostel for check-in, throwing off your backpack, and exposing your back sweat stains for all to see.

Wear them proudly, it means you’re travelling… or you’re carrying too much stuff, in which case, see the section on “backpack capacity” again!

Luckily, lots of backpacks today have sophisticated ventilation systems built into the straps and the back padding, allowing for air flow to minimize these effects.

Know your body – do you run hot or cold? Eric is naturally a very warm person (even in the winter) so a decent ventilation system was something he looked for over other features.

Top Pack/Flap for Backpacks

Lots of traditional hiking backpacks have a lid compartment. This serves many functions: as top cover to repel water, as a pocket for storage, and as a means to secure and store things (like a foam sleeping pad) in-between the main backpack and the lid.

Do you need a backpack with one? Does your backpack have enough outside pocket storage to not need this top flat? These are the questions you should be asking yourself.

Sometimes, personal preference comes into play. Eric likes the lid on his backpack to cover and secure the entry into the main compartment of the bag.

However, sometimes he overfills the top lid pocket and it makes the overall length of the bag a little too long. This is only because Eric keeps city maps and  will not throw them away.  Souvenirs, right? To each their own.

List of the Top Backpacks for Travelling Europe

travel backpack europe reddit

From the small and sleek to the large and rugged adventure packs, here’s hoping you can find what you need for that big trip to Europe!

Incase EO Travel Collection Backpack

The Incase is a “jack of all trades” if you need a smaller piece of luggage for your trip. The side clips undo to reveal expandable storage space that increases the entire volume of the bag which is a plus if you gain gear/clothing while you’re travelling.

Inside, you’ll find separate vented mesh dividers that keep everything neat and tidy.

Carry it like luggage with the handle or toss it on your back – the choice is yours. Electronics are stored away neatly into the low profile this bag offers.

This is a good looking bag, so  check out more photos and the reviews of the Incase.

Osprey Stratos 36 Backpack

travel backpack europe reddit

With a name like Osprey, you know this has to be a good backpack. The Stratos 36 for men (and the Sirrus for women) are both great bags for their size, features, and versatility.

36 litres isn’t overly large that your bag becomes a burden when you’re hopping on planes or catching buses, but it’s large enough that you have plenty of gear to sustain you for a few weeks or months in Europe.

The Osprey comes with a large main compartment that can be accessed after unsnapping the top lid – which features zippered storage on the top and underneath.

You can also get into the main with side access zippers. This is a handy feature!

There’s compression straps to keep the bags profile small, and the padded shoulder and waist straps make the adjustable Stratos a very comfortable bag for any torso.

Most buyers comment on the breathability of the straps and overall ventilation system on their back.

If you weren’t already impressed – the Stratos comes with zippered hip pad pockets, a rain slip cover, hydration integration, sleeping bag compartment, and front panel zippered pocket for those quick grab items.

Ospreys are the real deal – their brand speaks for itself. Have a look at the Osprey Stratos and never look back .

Osprey Farpoint 40 Backpack

travel backpack europe reddit

The original. The legend. The undisputed carry-on backpack winner champion (in our opinion, at least). The Farpoint 40 fits as carry-on size luggage for every airline Lisa has ever travelled on.

The side zipper allows the bag to be opened up completely, meaning you can see all the contents at a glance.

The lack of bulky straps makes this bag the perfect companion for a weekend trip, a few weeks away, or an extended itinerary of city hopping.

But don’t worry, the Farpoint has a very sturdy waist strap for added support and comfort. This strap can also be neatly zipped away. Click here to  check out the prices and reviews for the Osprey Farpoint 40.

Kelty Redwing 44 Backpack

The Redwing is a backpack known to be a reliable daypack for the trail and a valuable asset for nights abroad in Europe. 

It’s top-loading, but the top lid can also detach and become a pack to sling around your shoulder for an even smaller “day sling” pack.

Unique to this backpack are the larger side pockets. They have zippered access and allow for quite a bit of extra storage.

The front pouch is stretchy – perfect for that map grabbing. As for the straps and suspension system, the back panel, the straps, and the waist belt are “Hex Mesh”.

The ventilated back panel allows for breath-ability and the load lifter straps help keep the weight on your torso. Read the reviews of the Kelty Redwing 44 !

Black Diamond Elixir 45 Outdoor Backpack

travel backpack europe reddit

The Black Diamond Elixir is rated as an “outdoor” backpack but don’t let that stop you from making it your Europe trip companion. The “ ReACTIV” suspension system features padded and breathable shoulder straps with an open air back panel for extra coolness.

The classic lid can be used to store those quick-grab items, and the main compartment seems large for a 45 litre.

On the outside, there’s a zippered front pocket with mesh and elastic internal pockets. The hip straps also have zippered pockets.

For those hiking trekkers looking to take along a sleeping pad, there’s retractable loops for external storage.  See more photos and all the features here .

Osprey Men’s Atmos 50 AG Backpack

travel backpack europe reddit

Osprey bags are always full of interesting features. Even though this backpack has a traditional lid and top access, this bag allows for entry into the bag from either the top OR the bottom.

Just undo the bottom front zipper. The padded waist strap is essential to the bag’s overall function with the “anti-gravity” suspension system of adjustable straps at the shoulders.

The side pockets are huge and allow for a water bottle to sit in two orientations, and the ventilation system is definitely a selling feature on this backpack!    Check out how awesome the Atmos 50 AG is .

The North Face Terra 50 Backpack

travel backpack europe reddit

This slimmer and well-ventilated backpack provides travellers with a pack that is perfect for long-term travel around Europe but small enough so that you don’t end up bringing too much.

The Terra 50 has an updated shoulder harness but is still known to fit as a carry-on on airplanes. The pockets on the hip pads are perfect for train tickets and there’s a handy handle on the top of the pack.

The deep side pockets are great for tripods or water bottles. The classic lid design opens to reveal a large 50 L compartment and has a designated laptop/e-reader.

There’s even a front bottom pocket where you can store things that you don’t want touching your clothes in the main pack – a wet jacket, sandals, dirty laundry, etc. There’s not a lot of straps and buckles, minimizing the profile of the bag.  Check out the Terra 50 and why others love it.

Deuter ACT Lite 50+10 Hiking Backpack

travel backpack europe reddit

The Deuter ACT 50 is a great pack for a week long trip, or a super scaled down hiking trip. Its suspension system is easy to adjust for various torso lengths. The AirContact ventilation system means that you stay cool and dry even with a tight and secure fit to your back.

The frame is a light aluminum that’s flexible and stable. This allows an even greater transfer of the weight into the hips for a proper fit and to keep your back free from pain.

With separate bottom, side, and top lid pockets, this backpack makes a great adventure buddy. Don’t delay – check here to see all the features and the price.

Mountaintop 60L Hiking Backpack w/ Rain Cover

travel backpack europe reddit

If you need the space, the Mountaintop 60 L has it all. Where do we even begin on a bag that has so much going on?

Let’s start at the main compartment – which offers a bottom zipper for quick access as opposed to just having top-loading access. The top lid features a zippered pocket on the top and underneath for extra storage.

This Mountaintop has a separate bottom pocket for a sleeping bag and comes with an elastic rain cover that can be grabbed or stored away into its compartment in seconds.

The suspension system is fully adjustable for torso lengths and the bag has padded waist straps with zippered pockets for items like your phone.

It’s compatible with a hydration system, has compression straps and loops for extra gear, and even a shallow front panel for your jacket, guidebook, whatever you need!

The Mountaintop will take care of you – check out the colours and get yourself a great Mountaintop backpack .

That’s it! We hope this post is helpful for you as you adventure out to buy your first backpack for that big trip to Europe! Just remember – these are a few ideas and styles. Do your homework, think about what you like and dislike – you’ll be just fine with whichever one you choose.

If you aren’t, then you’ll quickly learn for next time and be an even better traveller, now won’t you. We all learned somehow! If you have any questions or suggestions, please comment below – we’d love to talk backpacks with you!

  • Compare flights on Skyscanner
  • Check for Hotel Deals or Book A Hostel
  • Get A Rental Car (depending on the destination)
  • Research plug types and possibly get a travel adapter
  • Go over our packing list

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The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

Whether weekend road-tripping or jet-setting around the world, you’re going to need a pack to toss over your shoulder. Here are the best travel backpacks for every adventure.

travel backpack europe reddit

There are a lot of great travel backpacks out there, but not all of them are created equal. A travel pack needs to be comfortable to carry, easy to organize, and durable enough to withstand being toted from place to place.

From hitting the road for the weekend to spending months traveling abroad, we’ve put nearly 30 different travel backpacks through the wringer. We tallied our airline miles, punched our tickets, and put our tray tables in the upright and locked position for close to half a decade now, taking domestic and international flights to as far as Iceland and as close as 30-minute island hops. And while there isn’t a single pack that suits every traveler, we’ve highlighted a variety of designs and price points to help you find the perfect travel backpack.

Choosing a travel backpack can be a dizzying experience, and we’ve shaken down the best to sort through the static. Each pack has seen its time on the baggage carousel, hostel luggage cart, and we’ve even had a few go missing for the full experience. We fully pack and live out of these bags to test them, and in the end, we’re confident that the 15 packs collected here are the best travel backpacks available today. Check in and check them out.

For all your travel pack questions, consult our buyer’s guide , where we’ve laid bare all the essentials. Compare each of the packs using our handy comparison chart , and if you’ve still got questions, check out our FAQ section.

Editor’s Note: We updated our travel backpack guide on March 20, 2024 to add the Evergoods Civic Panel Loader 24L — a supremely nice commuter-style travel pack, as well as the Thule Aion 40L and Osprey Archeon 30L .

  • Best Overall Travel Backpack: Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L
  • Best Budget Travel Backpack: Dakine Campus 33L Backpack
  • Best Carrying Travel Backpack: Osprey Farpoint & Fairview 40 Travel Packs
  • Best Organization in a Travel Backpack: Matador SEG45 Travel Pack
  • Best Shoulder Bag: Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L
  • Best Commuter-Style Travel Backpack: Evergoods Civic Panel Loader 24L
  • Best Personal Item Travel Pack: TimBuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack

Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L

  • Capacity 45 L (collapses to 35 L)
  • Weight 4 lbs., 8 oz.
  • Dimensions 22" x 13" x 9.5" standard, 22" x 13" x 11" expanded
  • Compartment access Back panel clamshell design with #10 zipper
  • Material Weatherproof, 100% recycled 400-denier nylon canvas shell; 900-denier waterproof bottom

Product Badge

  • Compresses down to maximum airline carry-on size, and then expands once you’ve hit your destination
  • Burly construction
  • No details are overlooked in the design
  • Side-carry handles are offset in an awkward position

Perfect is a dirty word in product design, but we’re about stumped when it comes to drumming up a quibble about the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45 L ($300). This redeye-ready clamshell design is made to the highest of standards.

It’s made of quality materials, utilizing aluminum hardware and a burly 400-denier nylon canvas — and it easily ticks all our boxes for the best overall travel backpack. The interior of the bag is split into two compartments: a larger main area for storing the majority of your kit and a secondary sleeve at the front of the bag with five zippered pockets. The main pocket also sports a foam-padded laptop sleeve and three more pockets.

One of the more impressive aspects we discovered along the bag’s inaugural leg from Seattle to Anchorage was how easily the straps of the Travel Backpack stow away into the bag. Two foam panels on the back of the bag flip away to secure them and then close with a magnetic closure — very slick. This was our favorite strap-stowage system, with the zippered panels of the Matador GlobeRider45 coming in a close second. We find the Peak Design bag compresses smaller.

Then there are the little details. An ID-size sleeve on the back panel provides all the information should your bag get separated from you. Zipper pulls thread through one another to keep what’s yours safe. And a collapsible system adjusts the bag from a full 45 to 35 liters.

In our review, there’s little about the Peak Design pack that misses the mark. The company leans heavily toward the camera-toting travelers among us, but the 45 L Travel Backpack makes no compromises and works just as well for any user group. The high price is undeniable, but for the scope of the travel pack, it’s a buy-once-cry-once purchase we would make again.

Also available in a 30L size , the range of Travel Backpacks from Peak Design is so well-thought-out that you can practically see the cogs turning in their creators’ heads. We think they make the best travel backpacks on the market.

Dakine Campus 33L Backpack

  • Capacity 33 L
  • Weight 1 lb., 10.6 oz.
  • Dimensions 20.5" x 13" x 8"
  • Compartment access Zippered top access
  • Material Depending on print type, can be 600-denier recycled polyester, 420-denier recycled nylon, 630-denier recycled nylon, or 1,200-denier recycled polyester

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Cheap price
  • Available in many different fabric prints
  • Unique insulated cooler pocket
  • Not many travel-specific features
  • Straps don’t pack away

Even at the regular price, the Dakine Campus 33L Backpack ($75) is a great deal. And considering you can grab one on sale for $45, it’s a must-have budget travel backpack.

It has everything you need to keep your travels organized, without getting too big or complicated. This design has a padded laptop sleeve and a fleece-lined top pocket to keep your sunglasses safe. There’s an organizer pocket that’s perfect for pens, a phone, and easy-access essentials. We love pockets, and this backpack has plenty.

And if that weren’t enough, it also has an insulated cooler pocket to keep your snacks fresh on the go, plus double side pockets keep drinks handy. We found the straps comfortable during long travel days. Be sure to use the sternum strap when carrying a heavy load for the best fit.

While this bag does excellent at travel, it isn’t quite what the bag was designed for, thus it’s missing a few travel niceties like a compression system or the ability to pack away the straps. We didn’t find that we missed them desperately, but they would have been nice for a few instances. For similar-sized backpacks with more of a travel bend to them, look to the sleek Timbuk2 Never Check, or the uber-customizable Tom Bihn Synapse 25. But prepare to shell out some more for them.

If you’re looking for a sub-$100 backpack (under $60 during sales!) that does the basics, then the Dakine Campus Backpack is for you. It comes in a variety of colors and is also available in a 25L capacity .

Osprey Farpoint & Fairview 40 Travel Packs

  • Capacity 40 L
  • Weight 3 lbs., 7.6 oz.
  • Dimensions 22" x 14" x 9"
  • Compartment access Zippered back panel clamshell design
  • Material Bluesign-approved 450-denier recycled polyester

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Supreme suspension system offers the best carry of any pack we tried
  • External compression straps limit the volume well
  • Comfortably padded grab handles
  • Not much internal organization

No stranger to producing supremely comfortable suspension systems, Osprey injected a good bit of its tech into the Farpoint and Fairview packs ($185), which both sport LightWire frames, load lifters, and breathable framesheet and suspension straps. Our Farpoint pack was easily the best load carrier of any we tested and a close contender for the best travel backpack overall.

Far beyond what any of the other travel packs offer, the pack even allows you to adjust the torso length — unheard of in the typical travel pack. Newly updated, these packs have been tweaked to ride the line between traditional backpacks and functional luggage, a claim we can substantiate.

The 40-liter capacity is just about the sweet spot for domestic carry-on luggage limits, and these packs make good use of the space. We could easily pack away a long weekend’s worth of travel essentials into the bag with a little space to spare.

Whereas many other travel packs stash straps away into the body of the pack, the Farpoint and Fairview move in the opposite direction with a deployable strap cover that neatly seals in the suspension for safekeeping when checked. This produces a clean profile that’s ready to be slung around, but it’s not quite as easy and quick as the magnetic panels of the Peak Design Travel Backpacks, as you need to unclip straps to tuck them away.

The interior of the pack is rather spartan, incorporating only one zippered pocket, a laptop sleeve, and two internal compression straps. We would have rather seen a bit more organizational features involved like those that the Matador GlobeRider and Topo Designs Global Travel bags incorporate, but for those who stuff more than pack, the Farpoint and  Fairview may very well punch the ticket.

With one foot on the platform and one on the trail, these packs from Osprey will get you where you’re going and carry a trip’s worth of kit with ease.

Matador SEG45 Travel Pack

  • Capacity 45 L
  • Weight 2 lbs., 8 oz.
  • Dimensions 22" x 13.4" x 10.2"
  • Compartment access Full clamshell interior, additional front zippered access
  • Material 420-denier nylon exterior, 100-denier Robic Dynatec interior

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Excellent storage organization options
  • High-quality, strong, and lightweight construction
  • No frame to speak of
  • Shoulder straps don’t pack away

Aiming to do more with less, the Matador SEG45 Segmented Backpack ($200) proposes a future free of packing cubes and splits up the bag for you, making the organization of your travel pack a breeze.

The full 45 liters of volume is shared among the five segments (6, 9, 15, 9, and 6 L) and trades volume between the full clamshell compartment and the segments. Each of these segments is accessible via its own water-resistant zippers and can be collapsed as your needs change.

We found organizing by clothing type made the most sense in our own packing, but you could even pack based on the day of the week or the use. The clamshell-accessed main compartment was ideal for holding larger items like spare shoes or quarantining spent outfits.

Known for its overbuilt but lightweight bags, Matador didn’t spare the SEG45, utilizing 420D UHMWPE-reinforced nylon in the pack body, as well as 100D Robic Dynatec weave on the interior. It should be noted that this travel backpack doesn’t have any kind of frame and will rely on being packed well to carry correctly. Because of this, this pack won’t carry as well as bags like the Osprey Farpoint/Fairview, so consider packing mostly clothing in the SEG45.

Our testers felt this bag excelled as a travel bag you might deploy once you’ve hit your destination, as it packs away into larger bags so well. Unfortunately, however, the shoulder straps don’t pack away into the bag itself, so you’ll have to wrangle them into place to keep things tidy.

No matter what you’re up to, everything has got a spot to live in the SEG45 . Need a bit less space? Matador offers the SEG28 ($250) for that.

Read Review: Dresser in a Backpack: Matador SEG42 Review

Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L

  • Weight 3 lbs., 10.3 oz.
  • Dimensions 22.8" x 8.6" x 14.5"
  • Compartment access Back panel zippered clamshell design
  • Material 900-denier recycled polyester ripstop with a TPU laminate

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Multiple ways to carry the pack
  • Many different storage and internal organization options
  • Burly external fabric
  • Doesn’t carry the best as a backpack

Looking to squeeze out every last liter of allowed space? Patagonia named this pack in honor of the cause: the Patagonia Black Hole Maximum Legal Carry-On 45 L ($239). This bag can be carried in a number of different ways, but we found it shined during travel as a shoulder bag.

Borrowing fabric from Patagonia’s line of burly Black Hole Duffels , the MLC 45 is made for the long haul. The 900-denier polyester ripstop is coated in a TPU laminate and feels ready to take on the surliest baggage carrier. We certainly felt no remorse in tossing the bag around.

At 45 L, the MLC is certainly right at the cusp of the maximum allowed size, but thankfully that space is well divided up inside the pack. Inside the main clamshell-accessed compartment is a blizzard of zippers and mesh pockets and dividers. Anything we tossed inside was well-stabilized.

Because there isn’t much of a frame to speak of, the Black Hole MLC doesn’t carry the best when slung over both shoulders and can sag when not entirely full. But over a shoulder with the included shoulder strap, this pack feels great and can be easily accessed on the go. This is one of the only packs in our testing to feature a shoulder strap (the other being the Topo Designs Global Travel Bag).

On top of all this, we greatly appreciate that the Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45 L is made with 100% recycled body fabric, lining, and webbing. Perfect for grabbing and going, this pack is ready to move.

Read Review: Patagonia Black Hole MLC Bag Review: An Organized, Carry-On-Size Wonder

Evergoods Civic Panel Loader 24L

  • Capacity 24 L
  • Weight 3 lbs., 1.6 oz.
  • Dimensions 18" x 7: x 11.5"
  • Compartment access Zippered clamshell
  • Material 840D ballistic nylon 6, 420D HT nylon

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Functions as both a laptop backpack and suitcase
  • Well-structured and protected
  • Full panel loading access
  • Limited colorways

With an understated look that betrays the truly impressive fit and functionality inside, the Evergoods Civic Panel Loader 24L ($279) doesn’t need to brag — it knows it’ll tote your kit through the worst of your travel or everyday commutes without missing a beat. This bag is our newly anointed best commuter-style travel backpack.

From a fabrics and materials standpoint, it’s clear that someone at Evergoods truly nerded out when they brewed up this bindle. The 840D ballistic nylon 6 that makes up the exterior of the pack is burly (errantly spilled coffee wipes right off), and compliments the thick #10 zippers and spacer-mesh back panel. Even the Evergoods logo is low-key: a simple 2×2” patch on the front of the bag with a slash. That’s it — and we dig it.

Bar none, the Civic Panel Loader has the best laptop sleeve we’ve ever encountered in a backpack, and that’s saying something. The side-accessed zippered aperture can hold a 17” Macbook Pro, and nestles into a fully padded space at the rear of the pack. This sleeve is suspended from the bottom of the bag, as we’ve seen in many forward-thinking bags, but goes a step further and protects the laptop from the side with an aluminum stay — the primary functionality of which is to support the side handle on the bag. Genius.

The high-polish finish on the CPL24 feels reminiscent of the attention to detail we loved about the Tom Bihn Synapse 25, but we ended up enjoying this pack even more for a simple reason: side carry. The broad handle on the side of the pack is reinforced by that aluminum stay, and it creates a perfectly supported carry for jostling through crowded terminals.

On the interior of the pack, two large pockets are subdivided with a few smaller sleeves and pockets, which are oriented to be accessed with the bag on its side. We carried this pack for a month straight of remote work, lugging it to coffee shops and co-working spaces, and it supplanted all other packs we’ve used previously. “It’s hard not to love a pack that makes your life easier,” says Senior Editor Nick Belcaster. “This pack does that. Laptop, headphones, notebooks — a whole lot goes into the pack without a care.”

Up there with Nomatic, GORUCK, and Tom Bihn, Evergoods is certainly among the pack-makers that put intelligent design and smart material choice above all else. The Evergoods Civic Panel Loader 24L is the final word when it comes to a travel pack you can carry every day. We certainly do.

Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack

  • Capacity 27.5 L
  • Weight 2 lbs., 9 oz.
  • Dimensions 18.9" x 11.4" x 5.9"
  • Material 420x2000D Cordura nylon, 135D polyester

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Dang good looking
  • High-quality trim and details, including anodized G hooks and supple webbing
  • Supper cushioned back panel
  • Exterior expandable water bottle pocket is a bit slim
  • Pack straps don't stow away.

Pulling off a good expandable backpack can be a tough task, with fabric accordion folds often taking up valuable real estate on the interior when collapsed in lesser bags. Not so with the TimBuk2 Never Check ($209), which takes a simple backpack shape and elevates it with premium materials and design to create one of our favorite travel backpacks for tucking under an airliner seat.

Unlike a lot of the pure-function rectangular bags in our lineup, the Never Check is a real looker — easily one of the best styled in our testing so far, and we’d have no qualms about bringing it along as a business bag. Small details like rubber-covered zipper pulls, anodized G hooks, and supple webbing keep it looking sharp. The 27.5-liter size is just about dead-on for most airline ‘personal item’ size requirements, and this bag easily slides under a seat.

The main compartment is accessed through a clamshell zipper on the front of the bag, which is gusseted to hang open while you’re loading it up. During the few national and international flights our Senior Editor Nick Belcaster deployed the bag on, this was easily enough space for everything you might want during a plane ride. And for everything else, a front pocket is lined with multiple drop and zip pockets for organizing small gadgets like chargers or keys.

The back panel of the Never Check is a plush ½ inch of comfortable foam, and combined with the equally padded shoulder straps made for a very nice carrying bag. The straps unfortunately do not stow away, but on a lower volume pack such as this, it’s a much less useable feature in our opinions.  And finally, one of our favorite features: the wide laptop sleeve. This 15” opening is generous enough to accommodate the larger laptops of today, and is suspended from the bottom of the backpack to ensure bumps don’t turn into bruises.

Just like the name suggests, the Never Check Expandable Backpack provides a svelte solution to bringing a bag with you during airline travel — or even just to the office. Its clean profile and attention to detail impressed us, and it would make an excellent work-to-weekend bag.

Matador GlobeRider45 Travel Pack

  • Dimensions 22" x 12.8" x 11"
  • Compartment access Zippered clamshell design
  • Material 420D UHMWPE-reinforced ripstop nylon, 100D Robic nylon mini-ripstop

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Incredible density of pockets and sleeves
  • Tough UHMWPE outer fabric can be tossed around
  • Shoulder straps tuck away in a novel and smart manner
  • Laptop sleeve opening is a bit tight
  • Price is up there

With a pocket or sleeve for pretty much everything, the new Matador GlobeRider 45 ($350) gives the Peak Design Travel Pack a run for its money when it comes to the best overall travel pack. 

Our Managing Editor raved about the GlobeRider after serious testing where she pretty much lived out of it for 3 months: “If you travel often and look for crucial components like internal and external pockets, laptop storage, and backpack and hip straps, consider the Matador GlobeRider 45. It’s a unique design in that the [pack] seems to have it all — every feature I’ve needed so far, both living out of it and in my travels — in a pretty packable size.”

What impressed us most was the way the GlobeRider was able to balance both an eye-watering amount of organization and versatility, and burly durability that ensures that this pack won’t shy away from tough travel conditions. In total (and we double-counted) there are 19 individual pockets on the pack, in all types of stretch mesh, zippered, and collapsible configurations. When good organization is key, the GlobeRider reigns. 

On the back panel of the GlobeRider, one of the more novel stowage systems we’ve seen packs away the shoulder straps and hip belt for when you want to slim down the pack. Two zippered panels — similar to the structure of the Peak Design packs, save for the closure — envelop the straps when not in use, and provide a lump-free panel for toting around. 

When it comes to downsides, the GlobeRider doesn’t miss much. The laptop sleeve aperture is a bit small at 9.5”, which in today’s age of mondo-screened computers may be limiting to some with larger devices. There also is no ability to convert the pack to a shoulder bag like the Patagonia MLC does, which can be handy when moving quickly through the airport.

Dang-near the top of the list, the Matador GlobeRider 45 would be an excellent choice for anyone who practices one-bag travel, or desires to have a place for everything in their journeys. The price does sting a bit, but based on the long-term testing we’ve completed so far, we’ve seen no indications that this pack will fade away anytime soon.

Read Review: I Lived Out of This Backpack for 3-Plus Months: Matador Globerider45 Review

Thule Aion 40L

  • Weight 3 lbs., 3 oz.
  • Dimensions 13" x 9.1" x 20.5"
  • Material Waxed P600 polyester canvas

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Maxes out on carry-on-compliant space
  • Internal roll-top TPU bag separates the clean from the to-do laundry
  • Waxed canvas exterior has a classy look
  • Centered side handle carries well
  • Well-cushioned back panel
  • No shoulder strap stowage option
  • No hipbelt on a 40L is pushing it

Better known for their roof boxes and racks, it’s fair to say that Thule knows travel, and the addition of smart, organized, and comfortable travel packs like the Thule Aion 40L ($200) makes all the sense in the world to us. This pack is a finely-honed bag for international and local travel alike, and is decked out in some high-class materials.

Like the Patagonia Black Hole MLC pack, the Aion 40L aims to go for the maximum allowed capacity, and at our measurements (21.5” x 15” x 8”) the pack slides in just half an inch less than the normal 45 linear inches typically allowed. That’s efficient. The space is split up into two main compartments and a laptop sleeve, with the larger opening with a full clamshell zip.

This inner compartment hosts a few zippered pockets and internal compression straps, but the star of the show here is the integrated TPU rolltop bag. This sack can be used to cordon off your liquids (and easily presented for inspection), as well as separate your pile of ‘to-do’ laundry. This reminds us of the ActiveShield compartment in the Gregory Border Traveler pack, but we enjoy the removable aspect here even more. 

Round the back of the pack, the spacer-mesh swaddled laptop sleeve rivals the Evergoods Civic Panel Loader , and has an additional sleeve for items like tablets, notebooks, or chargers. The back panel itself is impressively cushioned (one of the more luxe in our testing) and that extends to the shoulder straps. 

Unfortunately, there’s no shoulder strap-stowage system here, so you’ll have to wrangle those yourself, and while we typically enjoy the lack of a hip belt in smaller travel packs, the absence in a 40-liter pack is a little puzzling. Fully loaded, the Aion could certainly benefit from one, and while a separate sling bag can be added to function as one, you’ll need to fork over $50 for it.

Ranking high up there with your Peak Designs and your Ospreys, the Thule Aion 40L nails the style and material departments, and with a full 40 liters of space on board, has all the room to pack for your week-long trips — no roof box required.

Osprey Archeon 30L

  • Capacity 30 L
  • Weight 3 lbs.
  • Dimensions 20.5" x 13" x 11.4"
  • Compartment access Zippered top-access
  • Material 840D ballistic polyester with carbonate coating

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Extra-tough exterior fabric with carbonate coating
  • High-polish details such as seatbelt webbing straps
  • Mini-wing hipbelt tucks away easily when not needed
  • Smart internal storage pockets that lay flat when not needed
  • Laptop sleeve opening is a bit too snug
  • Compression straps lay over the main zipper

First off, one word: Rugged. The Osprey Archeon 30L ($250) is a high-end build that spares little in the material department, and looks dang good while it’s at it. The 30-liter size makes this bag weekend travel-ready, and we greatly appreciated the fit and finish.

The overall design of the Archeon reminds us a good bit of the Peak Design Travel Bag (certainly the all-waterproof exterior zippers and curved side-entry pockets), but it’s the exterior fabric that really impressed. The 840D ballistic polyester is coated with a carbonate polyurethane coating, a bolstered recipe that increases durability by a magnitude over traditional PU coatings. In testing, we wore out before putting a dent in it.

The pack itself breaks down into two main compartments, with the main pocket opening behind a curved clamshell zip (we did have a little trouble with the zipper passing behind the exterior straps. Removing them fixed that). Inside, three expandable tech pockets tuck away all of your small kit, and do a good job of keeping things tidy on the interior.

On the exterior, Osprey doesn’t disappoint when it comes to suspension straps, which are comfortable, adjustable, and stashable. The mini wing-style hip belt earns special praise on packed flights, where we find traditional hip belts to be a hassle to store, and combined with the slick shoulder-strap stash pocket, the Archeon converts to minimal mode in under a minute.

Something the Archeon certainly could use, however, is a slightly larger aperture into the laptop/tech compartment. As-is, the zipper doesn’t quite extend down far enough to truly open up the pocket, and as such it can feel a bit like rummaging around in the dark looking for cords and chargers in the bottom of the pack. Extending these zippers down to the middle of the pack would seem to fix the issue, and we hope a later iteration might address this.

Nonetheless, we were still impressed by the Osprey Archeon 30L . There’s also a 40-liter version if you’re looking for a max-capacity carry-on, and even a smaller 24-liter for kicking around coffee shops day-to-day.

Read Review: Hack Carry-On Rules: Osprey Archeon Kit Gives Power Back to Passengers

Arc’teryx Granville 25 Backpack

  • Capacity 25 L
  • Weight 1 lb., 14.5 oz.
  • Dimensions 22" x 12" x 9"
  • Compartment access Drawstring top-entry
  • Material N400r-AC² nylon ripstop

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Tough and waterproof exterior fabric
  • White interior for easy viewing
  • Floating laptop sleeve
  • Not very much interior organization
  • Simple webbing waistbelt

Made for moving through the city over the concourse, the commute-ready Arc’teryx Granville 25 ($220) takes travel backpacks to the streets in a sleek and tough design that we couldn’t keep from grabbing every day.

Crafted from the same N400r-AC² nylon ripstop as Arc’teryx’s high-end climbing packs, the mountain DNA is strong in the Granville, with fully taped seams that make the pack highly weather-resistant. In our impromptu “rain” test, a garden hose fired directly at the pack wasn’t able to get a drop past the tough exterior.

On the front of the pack, a single water-resistant zippered pocket was practically made for your keys, and could accommodate a few other essentials for when you’re on the go. Tossing back the shaped lid, a single drawstring entry leads to the interior space, which is mainly one large pocket, with a few zippered and drop pockets to separate smaller items. If you’re looking for the same style pack, but with a bit more organization built-in, the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 divides up its space well.

The padded interior laptop sleeve will accommodate up to a 16” laptop, and is suspended within the main compartment in a way that leaves us feeling confident in slinging our computer across a shoulder. Compared to other more airline-focused travel packs, the Granville 25 has its feet more firmly planted on the ground, and excels at bus, bike, or foot travel.

Whether your commute is just across town or across the country, the Arc’teryx Granville 25 makes for a good-looking carry-all that’s bound to be around for a while.

Topo Designs Global Travel Bag 40L

  • Weight 3 lbs., 10.4 oz.
  • Dimensions 22.5" x 14" x 7.5"
  • Material 1000D recycled nylon, 400D recycled nylon, 210D recycled nylon, 1680D recycled ballistic nylon

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Overbuilt design with tough materials and chunky zippers
  • Plenty of organizational pockets
  • Bright interior
  • Not the cleanest strap stowage

Chunky zippers, an overhead-savvy profile, and multiple ways to sling it over your shoulder: The Topo Designs Global Travel Pack ($229) has honed in on much of what we love in a travel backpack.

During a recent trip from Seattle to Southern California we were heavily saddled with the maximum the airline would allow. But this pack made use of every inch of space and reached the allowance of what we could check as our carry-on. The 40 liters of internal capacity is broken down into a series of dividers and pockets, which made condoning off things like electronics from the rest of our kit easy. And the interior of this pack is a cheery canary yellow, which helps with ease and visibility.

On the exterior of this pack, three separate carry styles are available to get you through the concourse in whatever way you choose. We found the full-featured backpack straps to be our go-to, which even sport load-lifters for a comfy carry. This suspension system does tuck away for when you might want to check the bag, though we found the hipbelt to be a bit tricky to fully retract.

Rounding out this travel-ready backpack is a tough build that makes use of 1000D recycled nylon and heavy-duty zippers, and we had no qualms with tossing this bag around during our trip. Perfect for anyone who subscribes to the one-bag travel ethos, the Global Travel Pack from Topo Designs makes the grade for those who want the most out of their carry-on.

And if you’re only going to be away for a short trip, the Global Travel pack is also available in a 30L capacity .

Cotopaxi Allpa 28L Travel Pack

  • Capacity 28 L
  • Weight 3 lbs., 4 oz.
  • Dimensions 19" x 12" x 9"
  • Material TPU-coated 1,000-denier polyester, 840-denier nylon paneling

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Burly exterior material holds up for the long run
  • Plenty of zippered mesh storage pockets
  • On the heavier side
  • TPU-coated nylon can feel grabby

The Allpa 28L Travel Pack ($170) will change the way you travel. It’s sleek, durable, and able to fit an incredible amount of stuff in a small space. The zippered mesh pockets keep clothes organized. And the compression straps maximize what you can pack.

The tough polyester and nylon construction can take a beating without any signs of wear. And we appreciate that the externally accessed, padded laptop sleeve makes pulling out your electronics at security checkpoints a breeze. There’s also a small outer compartment to keep essentials at hand.

You can completely tuck away the backpack straps and carry the pack like a briefcase, or wear it comfortably as a backpack. We’ve stuffed this pack to the gills countless times and have never had a problem with the zippers. Light rain showers or spills roll right off the TPU-coated exterior, but for legit rainstorms, just pull out the included rain cover.

The Allpa also comes in 35L, 42L, 50L, and 70L capacities. As our editor noted in the 42L review , “Building on its fun and functional ethos, Cotopaxi beefs up its bestselling product. The Allpa Travel Pack earns big points for clever design, clean aesthetic, and a surprising number of handy — and hidden — features.”

Yes, the Cotopaxi Allpa packs are an investment, but anyone who travels regularly will find it a worthy one. These powerhouse travel backpacks are sturdy, versatile, and built to last.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25

  • Weight 1 lb., 13 oz.
  • Dimensions 13.4" x 20" x 9.1"
  • Material 400-denier Halcyon, 420-denier nylon ripstop

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • Many different fabrics and color schemes are available
  • Built to last design and materials
  • Removable webbing hip belt
  • Suspension doesn’t pack away
  • Side wing pockets are a little awkward to access

Refined and clean-looking, the Tom Bihn Synapse 25 ($243) is a high-end travel backpack we just can’t stop staring at. It just looks that good. Made of burly textiles and zippers, this pack was built to stand the test of tough travel and come out shining on the other side.

The Synapse 25 is the larger version of Tom Bihn’s Synapse 19 , a popular backpack made for daily carry. The bump in volume is appreciated in this travel-oriented version and is doled out in one large compartment as well as a set of pockets on the front of the pack.

We found all the pockets easily accessible, save for the side wing pockets. While these were excellent for the organization of smaller bits and bobs, the openings were a bit awkward to jump into.

Topped off by a cushioned suspension (the foam is a half-inch of supple EV50), this travel backpack didn’t weigh us down on long days of travel when fully packed. And when we wanted to go light, even the webbing hip belt was removable. In terms of the ability to bop around town as a daily driver, this pack is up there with the TimBuk2 Never Check and Arc’teryx Granville packs (we liked the back panel on this pack the most).

Along with being carry-on compliant, the Synapse is also one of the few bags on our list that are compact enough to fit under most airline seats without hogging too much precious legroom.

Osprey Nebula 32 Daypack

  • Capacity 32 L
  • Weight 2 lbs., 1.7 oz.
  • Dimensions 19.2" x 12.2" x 11.4"
  • Material 420-denier recycled nylon

The Best Travel Backpacks of 2024

  • TSA-compliant laptop sleeve
  • Many options for organization
  • Water bottle pockets fit 32 oz. bottles
  • Need to release two buckles in order to unzip the main pocket all the way

When it comes to backpacks, Osprey has put in the time — and it shows. The Nebula 32 ($140) feels like it’s all the brand’s most popular packs morphed into one. Most of all, we love how it seamlessly goes from city streets to trails.

This backpack can do it all, whether you’re hauling your laptop and books around town; water, food, and layers on an easy hike; or all of the above and then some for a weekend away.

The internal storage pockets are great for organizing all of your things for easy access. And while the Nebula 32 is top-loading, the main pocket opens up wide enough so you won’t have to unload everything to get to the one thing you want at the bottom. The sternum strap and hip belt are comfortable as well, especially when carrying a heavy load.

On smaller volume packs like this, sometimes design concessions need to be made to accommodate all the functionality, and on the Nebula it’s in the side compression straps. Like on the Osprey Farpoint/Fairview, the compression system of the pack overlays across the main compartment zipper, meaning you’ll need to undo some straps before rifling around in the storage area. Not a deal breaker, but a little annoying when the TSA line starts to back up behind you.

Overall, the Nebula 32 won’t disappoint if you make it your go-to smaller-volume travel backpack.

Travel Backpack Comparison Chart

travel backpack europe reddit

How We Tested Travel Backpacks

The staff of GearJunkie is a hot-footed bunch, restlessly plodding across the country or around the globe in search of adventure and whatever else comes our way. And we have a lot of stuff, which necessitates having a travel bag or four in the stable.

Surely any old bindle will do in carrying your kit around, but having a travel backpack that is dialed into the needs of travel can turn a stressful situation into a manageable one. We’ve been testing travel backpacks since 2019 and have put the market slice through the wringer on thousands of miles of travel to weed out the best of the best.

Senior Editor Nick Belcaster has a zeal for international travel, and he leads up our current travel pack testing, logging almost 10,000 flying miles in the last year alone. From Iceland to Utah, Belcaster has carried these packs and lived out of them for weeks, relying on them to support back-to-back travel excursions. In testing, we looked for a number of features in our travel backpacks, including overall capacity, carry style, durability, and aesthetics. It’s important to think about how you’ll use your travel pack, and as such, every pack on our list is carry-on compliant for the worst-case scenario.

We know no trip will be like the next, so we took a broad swath of the travel backpacks on the market in order to create a list that will suit many different travelers. Packs in hand, over our shoulders, or on our backs, we hit the four corners and tested the best travel backpacks of 2024.

Curious about what we pack in our travel backpacks? We’ve penned up a list for both domestic and international trips .

Peak Design Travel Pack 45L at SEATAC

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Travel Backpack

Travel backpack user profiles.

The International Jet-Setter: The term ‘One Bag Travel’ is no stranger to you, and you’ve just about got your life distilled down into 45 liters of space. If international travel is your bag, then a backpack that’s up to the task will be essential to see you through to further time zones. Efficiency will be the name of the game here, and going with a pack that is dang-near the carry-on maximums for international flights will mean you can make it through without checking a bag. Look for near to 45-liter packs with plenty of organization baked in, as well as a comfortable (and stashable) carry system.

For international travel, the bag we reach for most often had to be the Peak Design Travel Backpack , with a razor-thin second place going to the Matador GlobeRider45 Travel Pack . For an emphasis on organization, the Matador SEG45 splits up the volume well, and if you’ll be schlepping bags around a long way, the Osprey Farpoint & Fairview Packs have all the Osprey suspension we love.

Osprey Farpoint Travel Pack in Iceland

The Weekend-Warrior: Maybe it’s a work trip, and maybe it’s just for fun, but it’s only going to take 2-3 days total, and you’ll need a bag that can pack it in. For weekend excursions, we find packs in the 25-35 liter range work well for the minimalists among us, and the 30-40 liter range for those who like a bit more options.

The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 is easily one of the most stylish packs in our review, only slightly edged out by the Timbuk2 Never Check , and both make the grade for a single overnighter in a foreign locale. For a bit more space, you can’t go wrong with the Topo Designs Global Travel Bag 40L , a fun pack that is a lot tougher than the multi-colored exterior would let on.

Peak Design Travel Backpack on the Back of a Traveller in Seattle International Airport Looking out on the Tarmac.

The Commuter: No flight involved! Duty calls, and sometimes you’ll need to lug around a bit more kit than the old briefcase can allow for. Commuting with a travel backpack is a great way to stay comfortable on longer rides, as shoulder and handbags are cumbersome over the long run. Focus on a bag with a more traditional backpack shape that puts an emphasis on ease-of-access, and is in the 20-30 liter range.

For bumping around town, we’ve come to love the Evergoods Civic Panel Loader 24 , which not only lugs our remote office around with ease, but also looks pretty slick doing it. The drawstring opening here is a huge boon for quickly stashing a jacket, and the tough exterior fears no weather forecast. For a budget just-get-it-done choice, the Dakine Campus 33L will make it happen for less.

travel backpack europe reddit

The right size pack for you depends on a few things. First, where are you going? And, how long do you plan to stay? Winter travel often comes with more gear, so you’ll need to pack extra layers. Longer trips often require larger bags.

That said, your personal packing style will be the most important factor. We know minimalists who happily travel for months with only a single backpack in tow and others who want the largest travel backpack possible in addition to a totally stuffed duffel bag . One method isn’t better than the other, but knowing your style is helpful when choosing a bag.

In general, we’ve found that something in the 28-45 liter range is ideal for comfort and packability. Many packs will also offer a compression system to allow you to limit the overall volume of the backpack. We’ve seen many different ways to accomplish this, but the most effective by far were the button snaps and expanding zipper of the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L . Packs toward the 40-45 liter range will be your carry-on bags of choice, and the 45-liter Peak Design, Patagonia MLC , and Matador GlobeRider are perfect for maxing out your allowed space. The 40-liter Osprey Farpoint/Fairview packs give up a little internal room for the luxe suspension system they’re carried with.

Packs in the smaller end of the range, from around 25-30 liters, make better personal items, and the TimBuk2 Never Check , Tom Bihn Synapse , and Patagonia Black Hole backpacks all fit snuggly underneath an airliner seat. These small bags move through a city gracefully and look more like everyday carry backpacks than traditional luggage.

Peak Design Travel Backpack Clamshell Access

What good would a bag be if you couldn’t get into it? From a simple drawstring to a thicket of Velcro and zippers, there are plenty of ways to keep your bag closed while you’re on the go, but not every one will be amenable to travel.

Zippered Clamshells: Most travel backpacks will use a clamshell-style design that opens up the backpack like a suitcase, allowing you to pack intentionally as opposed to stuffing things in. Oftentimes, an internal strap system will help keep your items contained while you’re on the move.

Packs with this clamshell design may also opt to add internal dividers to the main storage area, and make these dividers removable — should you need the entire storage area uninhibited. For packs without internal dividers or straps, consider adding a few packing cubes to keep your items organized.

In addition to the rear entry, some backpacks will offer additional entry points through the top or front of the pack. This can be helpful when you need to quickly retrieve something like a passport from your bag, without the need to totally spill the contents. The majority of packs in our review close in this clamshell manner, and a few of our favorites are the Peak Design Travel Backpack , Osprey Farpoint & Fairview 40 Travel Packs , and Matador GlobeRider45 Travel Pack .

Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack

Zippered Top-Access: Much like many traditional backpacks, zippered top-access packs load and unload from the topside, and generally only offer one point of entry/egress into the pack. For this reason, packs of this flavor are generally left packed during travel, as digging around for something at the bottom can be a hassle.

Bags of this stripe, including the uber-nice Tom Bihn Synapse 25 and expandable Timbuk2 Never Check , most often make better personal items over carry-ons, as their smaller volumes make for easier searching within.

Drawstring Top-Entry: While not quite as common as a zippered clamshell or top-access pack, drawstring top-entry packs can make for very quick and easy access to your kit if you’re on the move. These packs will integrate an extended fabric collar to the top of the storage area, which can be compressed when needed, or overstuffed with bulky items like jackets.

Commuters will find drawstring entry bags the most appealing, and the Arc’teryx Granville 25 has become one of our dedicated laptop toters for everything from remote work stints at the coffee shop to jumping on a ferry for work.

Carrying Options

Patagonia MCL 45L Travel Backpack Carry Options

There are plenty of ways to lug your kit to your boarding gate, but not all of them will be comfortable for everything. Over-shoulder backpack straps can support a good bit of weight but typically will need some type of frame to truly be supportive. The Osprey Farpoint/Fairview packs were the best-carrying packs in our testing, owed largely to the wire frame and Airscape mesh back panels, but we also enjoyed the carry of the aluminum frame stays on the Matador GlobeRider.

A shoulder strap travel backpack, like the Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L , can be slung across your body and provide a great amount of accessibility on the go. Don’t expect to carry too much weight this way, however.

And then there’s the classic suitcase style, easily towed anywhere. It’s good to note many travel backpacks will have stowable straps to better streamline the pack for a trip through an X-ray machine or stowed under a seat. The strap storage design of the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L impressed us most of all, utilizing magnetic closure flaps to pack away the shoulder and hip straps neatly.

Pockets & Organization

Matador SEG30 Travel Backpack Storage Options

There’s an organizational saying: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” And we couldn’t agree more. Keeping track of everything while you travel is key for organization. And while more pockets always seem better, there is a threshold where having too many simply becomes more places to misplace things. Instead, we recommend packs with three to six pockets.

The Cotopaxi Allpa and Topo Designs Global Travel Bags both have ingenious inner organization systems complete with large zipping “pockets.” It has just enough space to find room for everything but not so many compartments that you’ll be hunting all day for your misplaced passport. For even more organization, the Matador SEG45 splits into five different segments that are accessible from the exterior of the pack.

Bringing along a laptop is a necessary evil for some travelers, and having an incorporated laptop sleeve in your travel backpack can keep it safe during travel. Most laptop sleeves will be padded with some type of foam and nestle in close to the back for maximum protection. In order to be TSA-compliant, a laptop sleeve will need to fold entirely flat away from the pack to be scanned.

Because flying with liquids over 3.4 ounces is prohibited in the U.S., carrying all of these items in a separate toiletry bag can make your foray into the screening line a breeze. Many of the packs on our list incorporate many external pockets where such a bag could be stashed and produced when needed.

Tom Bihn Synapse 25 Travel Backpack

Travel luggage takes a beating, so durability is a top concern. Luckily, gear manufacturers realize this and are making increasingly burly yet portable packs. The fan-favorite Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L pack is made with a 900-denier ripstop nylon outer with a TPU laminate for extra durability. It’s nearly indestructible, water-resistant, and versatile.

If you’re traveling somewhere with inclement weather or if your pack needs to double as a climbing bag or hiking pack, durability is extra important. And it’s worth paying more for a backpack that is water-resistant.

Space Efficiency & Carry-On Compliance

Peak Design Travel Pack at SEATAC

Astute observers will note many of the packs in our review sport a rectangular shape, which is certainly due to designers aspiring to create a more space-efficient pack. This isn’t to say that more shapely packs won’t make it happen, but when you’re struggling to make every liter of space count, maximizing dimensions matters.

Carry-on luggage is any bag that you plan on bringing into an airplane and storing in the overhead bins. Because space is limited, airlines dictate the maximum size that any carry-on can be. In the U.S., the most common size is 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches, or 45 linear inches (length + width + height). However, this is just a rough guideline; some airlines differ from these dimensions, and you should refer to their information directly.

In general, these dimensions provide a travel backpack with around 40-45 liters of internal volume, so buying a pack that’s as close to that as possible will provide the most space allowed. Many of the packs on our list have the ability to compress to a smaller size, such as the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L .

Be mindful as well, that any protrusions from your travel pack such as shoulder straps or handles will also need to fall within the maximum allowed size. Many travel backpacks today incorporate some type of strap-stowing ability, such as the magnetic panels of the Peak Design packs, the zippered cover of the Osprey Farpoint/Fairview, and the hybrid zipper/panel of the Matador GlobeRider 45. All of these provide a more streamlined profile that should both hit the mark, and fit better into overhead bins.

travel backpack europe reddit

Travel backpacks run the gamut of prices — from affordable to downright pricey. There are a number of factors that play into what you get for the money.

Budget-Minded Travel Packs

Travel backpacks, as a category, are generally a bit pricer than your average luggage, as they incorporate tough materials that can put up with extensive wear over the lifespan. Travel is tough on bags, so it’s unsurprising that even budget travel backpacks will cost you around $100-150. These packs often will incorporate more traditional architectures such as a zippered top access, as opposed to the more complicated (and spendy) full-zip clamshell designs. For example, the Dakine Campus ($75) is pretty much your average school bag.

Volumes, too, will be a bit limited in this price range — added material adds cost. The 32-liter Osprey Nebula ($140) is about the best price-to-volume ratio you can get.

Mid-Range Travel Packs

Mid-range packs make up the bread and butter of travel packs, and can be had for around $150 to $200. These designs are often more of the full carry-on variety, and aim to capitalize on permitted volume as much as possible. The 45-liter Matador SEG45 ($200), Patagonia Black Hole MLC ($239), 40-liter Osprey Farpoint/Fairview ($185), and Topo Designs Global Travel Bag ($229) all shoehorn in just about as much space as a friendly gate agent will let you get away with.

For the price, you also get a good variety of functionality that makes travel easier, such as stowable pack straps, interior segmented pockets and sleeves (done excellently on the $170 Cotopaxi Allpa ), and an external compression system that limits the space your bag takes up. Some packs, like the TimBuk2 Never Check ($209), don’t exactly hit these parameters, but instead make up for it in high-quality design and materials.

travel backpack europe reddit

Premium Travel Packs

Above $250, you’re likely paying for premium materials or a to-the-hilt design that leaves absolutely nothing on the cutting room floor. The Peak Design Travel Backpack ($300) is a great example, and utilizes super high-quality nylon canvas, custom aluminum hardware, and supple seatbelt material webbing in its build, as well as fitting in just about every conceivable feature you could want in a travel pack. The same can be said of the Matador GlobeRider 45 ($350), which uses high-tech UHMPWE-reinforced materials and sports a total of 19 pockets.

The Tom Bihn Synapse 25 ($243) is a bit of an outlier, as it commands a high dollar amount not for the extreme amount of space it offers or amount of features, but for being a hyper-customizable, hand-made bag that uses the nicest textiles available, as well as the best zippers, webbing, and foam in its design. If you’re a fan of the finest materials, this is your daily driver pack.

What Is One Bag Travel?

The ‘One Bag Travel’ ethos and travel backpacks go hand-in-hand. Simply put, to travel in one-bag style is to be minimalist in your luggage choices, and only take what you can carry onto the plane/train/pack animal. Not only does this do away with the fuss of deciding what exactly to bring along with you, but it also allows for breezing through airports — skipping the need to check baggage, wait at baggage claim, or fear for lost luggage.

In order to most effectively travel with one bag, be sure to read up on exactly the baggage size allowances provided by your transportation. This can affect both overall size and weight, and having an expandable pack is a large benefit here. In this way, you can carry just enough to skirt through under the limit, and then expand the bag when you’ve hit your destination for more breathing room. If you aim for a 35-40 liter backpack, you’ll be right on the money for one-bag travel.

Finally, remember that this bag is going to be the only item of luggage you’ve got, so ensure it’ll be comfortable enough for the long haul. Look for padded back panels and hip belts that’ll transfer the load correctly, and if they stash away — all the better.

Our team unanimously agrees that the best travel backpack is the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L . It’s extremely durable, and it offers plenty of organizational pockets to stash your kit away in. The clamshell opening makes packing a breeze, and we really appreciated the unique shoulder strap storage options available to turn the pack into a stripped-down bag that would slide into any overhead compartment.

Peak Design Travel Pack in Denver

The best size bag for traveling depends largely on your travel itinerary and mode of transport. The Cotopaxi Allpa packs range from 28 to 42 liters.

The 28-liter option makes for a compact and comfortable backpack that easily fits in overhead airplane compartments. The 42-liter option is a bit more like carrying a duffel bag on your back, but it still manages to fit in overhead compartments. It’s a great option for maximizing carry-on capacity in backpack form.

While both have their place in travel, a backpack can offer some advantages over a suitcase. Since they’re much more portable, backpacks can be brought to many more places where a suitcase won’t work. Suitcases can be your large load carriers, but a good travel backpack gives you the freedom to strike out on daily adventures.

Travel backpacks absolutely can be carry-on luggage, given they meet the size requirements. In the U.S., the most common maximum size is 22 inches x 14 inches x 9 inches, or 45 linear inches (length + width + height). But this is only a common size, and different airlines will have different specifics. Consult with your airline specifically to determine what they allow.

While different body types will find different travel packs comfortable, we can all agree that a good support system and ample foam make for a comfortable carry. In our own testing, we found the Osprey Farpoint 40 and Fairview 40 Travel Packs were by far the most comfortable due to their plush suspension systems.

Because many different airlines operate a slate of different planes, there isn’t a standard under-seat luggage size, although there is an average: 16 inches x 12 inches x 6 inches. Some airlines allow personal items larger than this, but you should consult with their customer service for specifics. Our favorite personal item-sized travel pack was the Timbuk2 Never Check Expandable Backpack , which at 24 liters compressed easily slides under a seat.

The Best Laptop Backpacks of 2024

The Best Laptop Backpacks of 2024

Whether you’re headed to the office, class, or even the trailhead, here’s our top picks for the best laptop backpacks of 2024.

The Best Daypacks of 2024

The Best Daypacks of 2024

We tested the best daypacks of 2024 with options for every budget. Top picks include Osprey, Cotopaxi, and more.

travel backpack europe reddit

Hailing from the hemlocks and hanging mosses of Washington State, Senior Editor Nick Belcaster is an adventure journalist following threads of stories across the West. Cruelly stolen from the alpine swales of rural Wisconsin at a young age, Nick made do ascending the snows and granite of the North Cascades while completing a journalism degree. A long stint on the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 codified a life bent on sleeping on minor slopes and picking devil’s club out of his shoes.

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Home » Europe » Backpacking Travel Guide

The COMPLETE Backpacking Europe Travel Guide | 2024

Where in the world can you comfortably pass 3 countries and 3 different languages in a day? That’s the wonder that travelling Europe offers you. This continent has cultural variety, wild parties, mind-boggling history, world-class hostels, and new friends in spades. 

I was born in Europe, so my travels here go back as far as my memories do. I’ve basked on the glorious Spanish beaches, skied in the Italian Alps, and dived into the depth of Roman history. 

And yet, my crazy adventures in Europe are still only just beginning. I’m ALWAYS craving more. 

Whether you’re thinking of a quick beginners’ trip or a full-blown, life-changing interrailing affair, you’re bound to fall in love. Maybe it’ll be a place, or a person or two. 😉 

Although, if you don’t already know, backpacking Europe is no cheap thrill. Especially in the likes of Paris, Barcelona, and Amsterdam, even a hostel dorm can set you back and send you home with your tail between your legs if you’re not careful. I’ve heard one too many backpackers calling home asking mummy to pay their return ticket. 

But you don’t need to be like them. Because you’ve got this backpacking Europe travel guide!

I’m here to dish it all. I’ll give you the low down on costs, the best travel itineraries, and all the tips and tricks you’ll ever need. 

It’s so beautiful I’m going to cry.

A person looking out over the coast stood on top of some cliffs

Why Go Backpacking in Europe?

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Backpacking Europe has no equal. There is no region on earth with such a diverse range of landscapes, cultures and languages contained within such a small(ish) space. Everywhere else is frankly boring when pitted against the technicoloured dream coat of Europe.

From alcoholic Bavarian breakfasts, ancient ruins and train rides so pretty they could briefly render a local politician speechless, the breadth and scope of Europe is enormous. Not forgetting we can make a mess in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia too, you’re basically screwed unless you have about a year.

The Arc De Triomphe in Paris, France

For many people, backpacking Europe is about ticking off a list of the famous and well-known cities . Let me tell you now. GET THIS SILLY IDEA OUT OF YOUR HEAD. You’re not hitchhiking with the Jehovah’s Witnesses or conquering Triglav, Olympus or Korab from a Starbucks/Costa/Pret a Manger are ya?!?

Find the balance. Visit some awesome cities, but make time to head out into the sticks and see the side of Europe you didn’t expect. There is an impeccable backpacking vibe in Europe, and you are bound to take some truly questionable stories home with you…

…If only you knew where to look… 😉

How to Tackle Europe Like a Pro

Right children, as a native European with more travel experience than Leonardo di Caprio’s wandering eyes, I have some juicy advice for you. First things first: Europe is expensive. Learn how to mooch through Europe on a budget !

Staying at a hostel in a well-known city (e.g. London, Rome, Paris, Barcelona) can set you back around $70. If you’re trying to make your trip last, it is worth knowing which are the cheap countries , and how to get some sleep in the ones that aren’t.

Tower bridge in London

It’s also worth remembering which countries aren’t in the Schengen zone. Not only might you need to make additional travel adjustments, but it is worth knowing if you want to extend your stay in Europe . Basically, this is just the UK, a large swathe of Eastern Europe, and Turkey. Good for long stays!

You may want to grab an interrailing ticket if you’re travelling far and wide. These can work out much cheaper than paying for each individual train, which is another great boost for the budget. Taking a tent can also save you some serious bank whilst backpacking Europe.

Europe is fucking huge and it packs a punch too. This means that even on a (hypothetical) lifetime Europe backpacking trip, just accept it: you’re never going to see it all.

Backpacking Europe is best when you can travel it slowly . But don’t stress it because there’s plenty of ground you can cover even on a shorter trip to Western Europe.

If you only have a week or so, I recommend that you focus your Europe trip on either A) just one country or B) a few close-together cities. Luckily, the travel infrastructure is really good: train travel is a dream and buses are frequent. Plus, thanks to the European Union and its open borders, once you’re in one country, you can basically keep crossing borders as often as you’d like.

Here are a few ideas for an awesome backpacking trip to Europe.

2-Week Travel Itinerary for Europe – The Big Bois of Backpacking Europe

Capitals of Western Europe

Start your travels from Berlin . Germany’s capital is like its own little islet – nothing like the rest of the country. Explore its history and party at world-famous clubs before heading out to Hamburg – you know, to get a taste of “normal Germany”. I highly recommend staying in St. Pauli which is the coolest area in Hamburg!

From Germany, cross over to Holland’s boozy, breezy, fun capital Amsterdam . From there, it’s easy to take a train or a bus to Brussels, in Belgium. (You could also stay in Ghent which is much prettier. Do take a day trip to Bruges, though!)

The next stop is dazzling Paris , undoubtedly the capital of romance in Europe. From Paris, take the Eurostar train to visit London .

This is the last stop in your itinerary. Wherever you’re headed next, London is one of the biggest transportation hubs in Europe.

1-Month Travel Itinerary for Europe: Southern Europe Gems

Southern Europe

One month is the ideal Europe backpacking trip for first-timers. You’ll have time to explore a few countries and stay an extra few days in the places you fall in love with. In this itinerary, we’re diving into Southern Europe.

Start your trip in Lisbon , Portugal’s capital and one of the liveliest cities in Europe. Take trips to Sintra and Porto . Sintra can be done as a day trip whereas visiting Porto warrants at least a night’s stay.

Next, cross the border to Spain to explore Madrid . From the Spanish capital, finding onwards transportation to Barcelona is super easy. (Barcelona is also a long-time backpacker favourite!)

From Barcelona, cross over to France and spend a couple of days on the French Riviera. You could also do a lil’ side trip to Monaco to gawk at the rich&richer. But just a warning – this area is expensive as hell!

Next up, we head to Italy where you’ll spend the rest of your trip. First, explore Milan ; the fashion capital.

Then head to the floating city Venice, then the ultra-beautiful Florence . Lastly, end your trip in a highlight with a stay in Rome .

3-Month Travel Itinerary for Europe: Holy Shit, It’s the Grand Tour of Europe

Ultimate Europe

Having 3 months or more for backpacking through Europe is an awesome experience. Make the most of the 90-day Schengen Zone liberty (plus the UK). You can move at your own pace and take the time to enjoy the places you love.

Still – need I remind you? – Europe is fucking massive. 3 months is a great trip but you’ll still struggle to cover everything possible. Sometimes it might even be the best option’s better to take a cheap plane ride between destinations rather than waste a day on a bus.

Stop first in Greece . Staying in Athens is really epic and it is a great gateway to the famous Greek Islands. ( Mamma Mia , anyone?) 

Next up – Italy . Explore Naples for the origins of that pizza in Naples. See the remnants of a super-influential ancient culture in Rome, and hike along the coast in Cinque Terre.

From Italy, visit Switzerland , AKA ‘the pit of doom’ when it comes to backpacking Europe on a budget. However, the Swiss Alps are some of the most beautiful parts of Europe so it’s worth a splurge.

Continue on to Vienna, Austria . It may look fancy but it has a punk rock heart and there are some great places to stay in Vienna too.

Then, we move on to Germany . Munich is your gateway to experiences in Southern Germany and it has great connections to other awesome cities in Germany: Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Dresden, and eventually, Berlin.

Travel through the Netherlands and Belgium to Paris, France . From there, you can easily get to London and further explore the UK . I highly recommend making a stop in Edinburgh to get a taste of Scottish life.

From the UK, you can fly down to Barcelona and conclude your trip by adventuring around Spain and Portugal .

If you are going to be spending a whole month in Europe bouncing between different countries, then we recommend downloading the HolaFly Europe eSim package before your trip begins. Packages start at just $1.20 per day and can offer data access and internet connectivity all over Europe for the entire duration of your trip.

Wherever you decide to go on your Euro backpacking trip, the magic will surely blow your mind. Each country in Europe is unique, full of surprises, and requires its own individual approach and strategy with regard to your travel budget in Europe.

Uh, just one thing: Europe, as a whole, has dozens of countries. (44 or 51, depending on what kind of geographical allowances we’re making…)

As I’m writing a blog and not a book, this Europe travel guide is focused on Western and Southern Europe . Meaning I’m only covering 11 countries and a bit today. Boo.

But don’t despair! There’s plenty more to explore in Europe.

  • Backpacking Scandinavia travel guide
  • Backpacking Turkey travel guide
  • Backpacking the Balkans
  • Backpacking the Caucasus

Backpacking Italy

Italy has been a popular vacation destination for a looooonggg time. Tourists have been coming here for years to see the likes of the Colosseum, drink wine in Tuscany , tour the canals of Venice – all that touristy stuff.

Consequently, few people stray far from the main backpacking route in Italy and, unsurprisingly, many say that tourism here has become a bit calcified. Some might say that Italy can offer nothing else besides the same postcard views and disgruntled baristas.

But there’s a lot more to see in Italy besides the usual attractions because, let’s be honest, everything in Italy is beautiful . Pound for pound, Italy might be one of the most beautiful countries in the world and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single ugly stone here.

A person stands on a walk way over a main canal in Venice, Italy

The beaches of Puglia and Sardinia are among the most brilliant in Europe (they don’t compare the former to “The Maldives” for no reason). The Dolomites are truly one of a kind and few other mountains can really compete.

Rome … Rome is amazing . Where else can you find masterpieces from almost every era of western civilization?

Italian food, which has received a similar treatment, should be explored with equal enthusiasm. Sicily with its miles of coastline produces some of the finest seafood in the country, not to mention amazing desserts. The tagliere (deli meats) of Toscana are the best you’ll find.

So give Italy a chance! Don’t let the jaded, bitter tourists tell you there’s nothing new to see or do here; you just need to get off the beaten path a bit. Visit Florence , see the Almafi Coast but set aside some time for exploring the lesser-visited regions, like Marche, Umbria, Calabria, and so on.

But also – what’s wrong with seeing the same stuff as everyone else? There’s a reason Rome is popular. A gorgeous reason…

Backpacking Europe can never be completed without dipping a toe into Italy.

What to Know Before Visiting Italy

The Italian dolomites section of the alps in the spring

  • Don’t miss out on … staying in Bologna . It evades most people’s radar even though it’s arguably the coolest city in Italy. Amazing food, beautiful architecture, and a nightlife that doesn’t quit.
  • You know what’s overrated… the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Soooo many horrible selfies and awkward poses. Take a moment to actually appreciate the nearby duomo and baptistry guys.
  • The coolest hostel is… The RomeHello Hostel . Offering some top-tier communal spaces, many activities for the guests, comfy beds, a great location, and good vibes atmosphere.
  • The best food is found… everywhere! Really – you’re in Italy – you can’t go wrong here. Genoa, Bologna, Naples, and Sicily all take top honors.

Backpacking France

France might just be one of the most diverse countries you’ll set your foot in whilst backpacking through Europe. In addition to two coasts and two mountain ranges, France has a wide variety of cultures, landscapes, and food packed into one country.

Paris is amazing and seriously one of the most exciting cities in the world. It’s a city of romance, famous art, morbid history, and grand architecture. But don’t stop your exploration at the capital!

The Mediterranean coast, so-called French Riviera , is something straight out of your dreams. Trekking or skiing in the Alps is an unforgettable experience.

Bordeaux is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited, and staying in Lyon and Marseille are just as pretty. Let alone all the tiny little towns that are straight out of a postcard…

looking over the pastel coloured buildings of Menton, South of France

There are so many places to stay in France . Wherever you turn, you will find different kinds of wine, cheese, and even variations of the French language. If you love food, culture, and outdoor playgrounds, a stopover in France is an obvious choice for backpacking Europe.

Forget about the old stereotypes about the French being rude and uptight. The French can be like soft-boiled eggs: they have a shell on the outside but with it removed they are softies at heart. France is full of lovely soft-boiled eggs, uhm I mean humans…

Since France is quite a large country in European terms, there are so many hidden gems that I have lost track. From stunning medieval castles to picturesque villages and cities, backpacking in France is truly an unforgettable experience.

What to Know Before Visiting France

The blue waters of the south coast of France

  • Don’t miss out on… Staying a night at a mountain refuge in the Alps. Le Refuge de la Charpoua is particularly epic.
  • You know what’s overrated… paying to go up the Eiffel Tower. Paris is expensive . Save money and see it from below.
  • The coolest hostel is… The People – Paris Nation . Excellent location. It has beds with curtains (I love privacy), a cozy cafe/bar where to chill and work, and a great terrace to see the sunset.
  • The best food is found in… Can’t go wrong with a bit of Brie and a bottle of Bourdeaux. But that’s just the beginning; as they say there, is a different wine and cheese to try every day of the year…

Backpacking Portugal

Portugal is a grand paradise of sorts. The pace is slower than other European countries (and compared to other offenders on this list, cheaper, too).

The country is packed with friendly locals, charming villages, fun parties, and one of the most chill vibes you will come across anywhere on earth.

Backpacking in Portugal is very easy and Portugal is my favourite country to solo travel in Europe too. Ultimately it’s a great place to begin your international adventure, solo or not.

Spot the famous blue tiles in Porto. Feel like a royal at the castles in Sintra.

Eat seafood in Lisbon. Drink ice-cold beer and smile like a fool whilst taking in an epic sunset over the ocean in Algarve.

Most backpackers start their trip in Lisbon as it appeals to just about everyone. There’s amazing food, good weather, great parties in Bairo Alto, and lots of places to see nearby. Definitely don’t skip Sintra ; the epic village full of fairytale castles is one the top places to see in Portugal.

trams crossing paths on a steep street in Lisbon, Portugal

The south of Portugal, also known as the Algarve , is the more Mediterranean part of the country. It resembles more southern Spain not only in the scenery but in vibes.

Expect a lot of tourists and more than a few drunken, wandering Aussies. But hey – the coastline is gorgeous and stays warm all year round. You can also find some of the best surf in the Northern Hemisphere off Portugal’s many beaches .

In Northern Portugal, Porto is a popular student city. It’s also bustling, busy, fun, and beautiful. Some backpackers even prefer it to Lisbon!

Portugal also has two semi-autonomous island regions: the Azores and Madeira. Both are very different from the mainland and absolutely magical.

Hiking in Madeira is uniquely epic! But visiting Azores is like backpacking a mini-New Zealand.

What to Know Before Visiting Portugal

Looking over the river and bridge in Porto, Portugal at sunset

  • Don’t miss out on… Porto. Backpackers love Lisbon , but its northern neighbour is just as cool. Keep an eye out for its famous blue tiles.
  • Keep an eye out for… drunken backpackers in Lagos. It’s not widely advertised but this place is a SHITSHOW at night. If you’d like to be one of them, stay in one of the party hostels.
  • The coolest hostel is… Home Lisbon Hostel – The people’s favourite: mama’s cooked dinner, free walking tours, and a super homey feeling. You feel so welcome here.
  • The best food is found in… the Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon. This is the Mecca of all food markets, the cream of the crop.

Backpacking Spain

Many backpackers claim Spain as their favourite country. Are they right?

I think so. You do not have to look too far to see why this country, in addition to producing some lovely human beings, is a magical land for backpackers.

Like to sleep? You came to the wrong country. The Spanish have breakfast at 10, lunch at 4, and dinner at midnight.

Spain is a country that truly never sleeps. It’s in the culture to practice sleep deprivation in style. Maybe all those midday siestas help?

Spain just has a certain charm to it. Small plates of delicious tapas , cool, cold wine served with sweet orange and melon…

Is it those fine beaches? Old olive groves running through tiny villages? Or the church in Barcelona that is a perpetual construction project?

The wonderful Plaza de Espana in Seville, Spain

My suspicion is that my love of Spain is deeply rooted in all of the little nuances you experience daily whilst travelling here. Many backpackers just roll through Barcelona and maybe go visit Madrid . Whilst those cities are not to be missed, backpacking through Spain without exploring its other regions is a mistake.

In the north, you can hike majestic mountains in Asturias and eat awesome seafood in San Sebastian . Track down the origins of paella when staying in Valencia .

Explore Andalucia in the south with its Islamic architecture, free tapas, and the cheapest prices in Spain. (Seriously – Granada, Seville, and Cordoba are AWESOME.) Go to a football game. Find some flamenco.

Doesn’t that sound like fun? This is Spain.

What to Know Before Visiting Spain

The sun setting behind Alhambra in Granada, Spain

  • Don’t miss out on… the Basque region. It’s like a completely different country, with epic landscapes and an extremely fascinating history. San Sebastian is the best place to stay.
  • You know what’s overrated … bull fights. The Spanish hardly go to them – it’s cruelty set up for tourists’s entertainment. Opt for a flamenco show or tapas tour instead.
  • The coolest hostel is… The Central House Madrid Lavapiés . Everything a hostel should have. Relaxation, work and social areas. A pool, a bar, a terrace, lockers, and curtains on comfortable beds.
  • The best food is found in… Granada. Andalucia has some of the only totally free tapas in Spain, and Granada has the best tapas restos. Asian fusion or Moroccan tapas? You’ll find it here.

Backpacking Switzerland

If you are planning on spending time in the Alps, a hiking trip to Switzerland is an obvious choice. Switzerland is a land full of the Alps, quaint villages, and hip cities.

Heard of the Matterhorn mountain? (That’s the Toblerone mountain.) It lives in Switzerland.

In addition to its powdery peaks, Switzerland is also home to gorgeous alpine lakes. Take in some of the ancient castle fortifications lakeside by day and sip the legendary Swiss hot chocolate by night.

Zurich may be the financial heart of Europe but it’s still surprisingly cool. Lausanne is small but gorgeous, and the capital Bern is equally so. Don’t skip Luzerne since it just might be the most beautiful city in Switzerland. But these are just a few ideas of where to stay in Switzerland – numerous hidden gems await.

Looking out from the Schilthorn over to the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau of the Swiss Alps, Interlaken, Switzerland.

You do have to pay for the pleasure in Switzerland . For better or worse, the Swiss people have this whole thriving economy thing down to a T.

As a country long resistant to changing over to the Euro, the Swiss Franc is as strong as ever before. For backpackers, this translates into a scenario of high cost, high reward.

That said, Switzerland will certainly do anything but disappoint. It’s worth the splurge even if you are backpacking Europe on a budget.

What to Know Before Visiting Switzerland

A person looking out over Lauterbrunnen valley in Switzerland.

  • Don’t miss out on… the Bernese Oberland. This region features probably the most famous and stunning hikes in Switzerland . Check out the trails around Eiger and the Lauterbrunnen Valley.
  • Keep an eye out for… the prices; the pure, unadulterated, merciless, eye-gouging, seemingly unreal prices. You’ll need to employ every trick in the book to keep costs down.
  • The coolest hostel is… Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof Interlaken. It offers a ton of freebies!
  • The best food is found in… the grocery stores. Swiss food is just ok; certainly not worth the prices at the restaurants!

Backpacking Germany

After gaining a (justified) terrible reputation on the world stage in the first half of the 20th century, Germany has emerged over the last 50 years as an economic powerhouse and centre of culture in Europe. Modern-day Germany is an awesome place to go backpacking through Europe – and a fan favourite among many gap year kids and older travellers alike. You won’t be hard-pressed to find a great hostel in Germany .

As a lover of cool cities and good beer, I am totally enamored with Germany. While famous for its fast cars and pretzels, there is so much more to see whilst backpacking Germany: historic towns, medieval monasteries and fantastical castles , culture-filled cities, fairy-tale forests, and majestic mountains.

To top it off, Germany has one of the strongest economies in the EU, yet traveling here is surprisingly affordable in comparison to the rest of Western Europe. (Pro tip: Eastern Germany is even cheaper than Western Germany.) Backpacking Germany is a great addition to any European travel itinerary!

red brick warehouses on the canals of Hamburg taken from an iron bridge with a bike leaning against it.

Most backpackers gravitate towards Berlin , and for good reason: its nightlife is unbeatable and there is a wealth of culture to keep people interested. But the capital is its own thing – it doesn’t resemble the rest of Germany at all. For European backpackers, there are tons more awesome spots to uncover.

Dresden , beaten to shit during WWII, has been wonderfully restored. Hamburg is one of the coolest cities in the country, at least if you’re staying in the St Pauli neighbourhood.

Bavaria in the South is known for the Black Forest area (one of Germany’s National Parks ), an unintelligible dialect of German, and beautiful scenery. Finally, Regensburg may be the prettiest town in the country. But there are SO MANY others – some completely micro-sized.

What to Know Before Visiting Germany

A piece of the Berlin Wall in Potsdamer Platz, Berlin, Germany

  • Don’t miss out on… visiting a beer hall. No one can drink like the Germans and by that, I mean with such control and enjoyment at the same time.
  • You know what’s overrated… Munich. The city itself, whilst pretty, doesn’t offer a lot in the way of attractions. The locals can be pretty arrogant too.
  • The coolest hostel is… Hostel die Wohngemeinschaft . A cozy social vibe. A bohemian retro-style hostel with a cafe that becomes a bar at night. And a common area open 24 hours with free coffee and tea.
  • The best food is found in… Berlin. The gastronomic scene is incredibly diverse, unlike many other German cities where food tends to be homogenous. Vegetarianism is alive and thriving here!

Backpacking The Netherlands

Coffee. Canals. Cannabis. Windmills. Those are some of the things that come to mind when thinking about The Netherlands.

Visiting Amsterdam has long been a favourite backpacker haunt and is well worthy of exploration. It is THE place in Europe to (legally) rock into a coffeeshop, order a joint, and sit down to smoke it.

If you like riding bicycles long-distance, The Netherlands is a perfect country in which to feed that urge: The Netherlands is almost entirely flat. If you have had long challenging days trekking or biking in the Alps, the flatness here will be a welcomed change.

Looking over a bridge down a canal in Amsterdam

You will find that Dutch people often speak perfect English which is impressive as Dutch sounds nor looks anything like English. Because the country is relatively small, you can travel around here with ease whilst taking in a majority of it.

Most backpackers make a stop in Amsterdam and leave the rest of the country be. Don’t get stuck in the capital city – at least take a day trip from Amsterdam .

What to Know Before Visiting The Netherlands

Looking down the canal on a sunny day in Amsterdam

  • Don’t miss out on … partaking in some magic mushrooms while visiting Amsterdam. Seriously, those Van Gogh paintings are mental when you’re frying.
  • You know what’s overrated… staying in the HEART of Amsterdam – it’s overly expensive and crowded. One could stay outside the city, save a bundle, and then take the train in. I suggest finding a hostel in Utrecht instead.
  • The coolest hostel is… Stayokay Hostel Amsterdam Vondelpark . All the services that you need as a backpacker. Nice areas to chill, work, and hang out. Great atmosphere to meet other travellers. Probably the best location in Amsterdam. The park and Museumplein right next to you.
  • The best food is found … while staying in Amsterdam , only because of the stroopwafels! These are one of the greatest treats ever.

Backpacking Belgium

Let’s be honest: Belgium doesn’t offer much in way of stand-out attractions. There is no Colosseum, no Montmartre, no legalized drugs, or raging Berghains. Just a lot of charming houses, calories, and dreary weather.

And for these reasons, I LOVE Belgium. How amazing is it that Belgium places beer in such high and hallowed regard? Bless the Belgians who seem to have no problem smothering their fried potatoes in aioli and mussels with heavy cream. I love that you can go backpacking in Belgium with zero expectations and still be impressed.

It’s almost as if Belgium is a guilty pleasure of sorts. The whole country is just one big bar where you can eat and drink to your heart’s content and no one gives a shit.

detailed buildings in a square in Brugges, Belgium.

If you’re traveling between France and the Netherlands, it is absolutely worth stopping over in Belgium for a little while. Antwerp would be the best place to base yourself although Ghent and Bruges are worth seeing . Bruges gets absolutely zombified with tourists, though – prepare yourself.

And you shouldn’t skip the nation’s capital Brussels . It’s also the capital of the European Union but in addition to stiff people in suits, there are also many cool things to see in Brussels .

If you wanted a really enjoyable backpacking Europe experience, consider sleeping at a brewery for a few days! Most have guesthouses attached. In particular, Het Anker is great. Otherwise, Brussels’ hostels are the best place to stay on a budget.

What to Know Before Visiting Belgium

An ornate building in a square in Brussels, Belgium.

  • Don’t miss out on… staying in Ghent , the prettiest medieval town in Belgium. It’s mostly known for its canal houses and local mustard. Gruut, a precursor to today’s beer, is also made in Ghent.
  • Keep an eye out… when you’re in Brussels. Whilst certainly “edgier” than most European cities, Brussels can be a little too rough at times.
  • The coolest hostel is… Hostel Uppelink Ghent . Though the building may be a bit old, the location is unbeatable. It’s literally next to the city’s famous Sint-Michielsbrug bridge.
  • The best food is found in… the “brown bars”, where they serve the fried potatoes and mussels in excess.

Backpacking the UK

The UK is just one of those places that I have fallen in love with over the years. If you are in the mood for a wonderful campervan and trekking adventure, backpacking in the UK is the journey you have been waiting for.

Note to my geographically challenged friends – the UK is a country comprised of 4 countries: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. And the Brits WILL get mad at you if you refer to the whole area as “England” ( Ed: Sounds about right).

England and Wales have large sections of coast that are far off the beaten path and offer up excellent hiking/camping possibilities. The Highlands in Scotland have some of the last true wilderness areas in Western Europe. The Scottish Islands look like something out of a fairytale book.

Along with stunning natural landscapes, the UK is home to major centres of culture in Europe. In England, the ineffable London is an icon for obvious reasons. I also highly suggest chasing down ghosts in Canterbury , getting smart in Oxford , and basking on the beach in Brighton . And the Lake District in Northern England is incredible!

A person on Striding edge on Helvellyn in the Lake District in England.

Scotland is a world of its own. The Scottish capital city of Edinburgh is full of awesome things to do. This region has landscapes so green that the hills seem to have been spray-painted in every sense of the word.

It has remote islands dotted with whiskey distilleries, lochs, and cascades. One could easily spend all their time backpacking in Scotland and could totally forget about “the south”.

The hiking trails and huts in the Highlands offer up an endless supply of hiking opportunities in a breathtaking environment. Throw in the vast cultural richness of the big cities and small villages and you have yourself one great place to go traveling.

Backpackers don’t go to Wales as often but for no good reason. It also offers awesome hiking opportunities, and Cardiff is a small-ish but cool, cultural city.

What to Know Before Visiting the UK

A little village in England

  • Don’t miss out on… going off the beaten path in the Scottish Highlands. If you really want a unique experience, try island hopping in the Hebrides.
  • You know what’s overrated… Buckingham Palace. Just skip it.
  • The coolest hostel is… Onefam Notting Hill . This award-winning hostel is one of the best locations in the capital. It’s perfect for solo travellers to make friends for life.
  • The best food is found in… The Indian food in the North (Manchester and Yorkshire). For that matter, the vegan scene nationwide is thriving and varied.

Backpacking Ireland

The lush, green, enchanted, and enchanting island of Ireland perches serenely at the furthest boundary of Europe. Beyond it, there is nothing but the Atlantic until it reaches the New World.

Somehow, Ireland’s location and geography are encapsulated in its culture. It is European but only just; civilized, yet it’s wild and rugged. It rains a lot but remains perpetually pleasant and inviting.

ha penny bridge over the liffey in Dublin, ireland

Sometimes crudely dismissed as the UK’s little cousin, backpacking Ireland offers visitors the chance to explore the most plucky nation in the world and get a glimpse of a simpler world that has sadly vanished forever elsewhere. That is not to patronize though, Dublin is every bit the cosmopolitan ( and expensive ) EU capital, and the once-troubled Belfast wears its gritty history with pride.

But head out to the Burren , or the lanes of Cork , and you will find warm taverns ringing with the sound of the fiddle and a way of life where time still takes its own time.

The headline draw in Ireland is the capital Dublin where you can visit Kilmainham Gaol and pull a pint at the Guinness brewery. But not to be missed are the Cliffs of Moher, the ancient streets of Galway , and the colored houses of Cork in the capital of “authentic Ireland”.

For the edgier side of the Emerald Isle, cross the (porous & invisible) border to the North and check out the murals of Belfast. From here you can easily visit Game of Thrones locations or check out the geologically wondrous Giants Causeway .

What to Know Before Visiting Ireland

the sky reflecting in a lake in the mountains of Ireland

  • Don’t miss out on… Watching an Irish sport (hurling or Gaelic football) game in a pub.
  • You know what’s overrated… kissing the Blarney Stone. You’ll wait sometimes hours in line just to share spit with other people over a hole in the wall. Yes, it’s as unnecessary as it sounds.
  • The coolest hostel is… Jacobs Inn . Offering a super cool bar area and rooftop terrace, the pod sleepers will make sure your ready for a top day tomorrow.
  • The best food is found… at the Galway Seafood Festival. If you happen to be staying in Galway in September and October, don’t miss out on this.

Backpacking Greece

Getting to know Greece is one of the most rewarding backpacking trips to be had in Europe. Those blue and white houses and perfect Mediterranean landscapes you have seen on postcards live up to their hype in real life.

Greece is a charming, laid-back country. Backpacking the Greek Islands has been one of my favourite travel experiences. This is due not just to the beautiful views, but to the food, beaches, wonderful people, and plethora of history.

Island hop the Cyclades. Pop over to Crete . Experience life with no cars on Hydra. Whatever you get up to in the Greek islands, a Europe backpacking trip that makes it here is hell of a good time.

Acropolis of Athens

But wait! Greece may be best known for its islands but there is a whole mainland of INCREDIBLE stuff to explore, too! (Also, it’s way cheaper than the tourist-crowded islands.)

Visit Athens , the capital full of ancient history and cool graffiti. I know the city gets a bad rap but it’s actually pretty cool. For one thing, the nightlife here is fantastic – rebellious, wild, and absolute fun. Another draw is the Acropolis.

Close to Athens, you’ll find Delphi , an adorable little town with the ruins of a once-famed oracle’s home. Meteora is known for its unique monasteries built on top of stone pillars. Thessaloniki , Greece’s second city, is full of good vibes and great food.

If you’re a history and/or mythology geek, backpacking Greece is gonna get your socks spinning out of excitement.

What to Know Before Visiting Greece

Roadtrip Crete Greece

  • Don’t miss out on… the Ionian Islands. This part of Greek islands receives a fraction of tourists yet hosts some of the most beautiful places in the country. Zakynthos has good places to stay .
  • You know what’s overrated … Santorini. It’s overcrowded, expensive, and on the verge of being spoiled.
  • The coolest hostel is… Athens Quinta . Travelling is all about finding those magic places that make you feel at home. This hostel takes that idea and runs with it. Including, free breakfast!
  • The best food is found in… Crete. It’s well-known for its culinary culture. It’s far enough away from the mainland that the food is quite different as well.

Off the Beaten Path Adventures in Europe

Europe gets BUSY. Hundreds of millions of people, both from Europe and elsewhere, travel around it every year.

And you know what? 80% of those people do one of two things. Either they just visit a few cities or they go on cookie-cutter tours where they are shuffled around from one famous attraction to another, plowing through a sea of baguettes, gelato, and, tapas along the way.

(Actually – that doesn’t sound half bad…)

It’s easy to get off the beaten path by visiting Europe’s hidden gems . In the Netherlands, go anywhere that’s not Amsterdam; in the UK, anywhere that’s not London ( Ed: not quite sure about that, but close).

But there are also a few countries that have not been included in this guide yet, and I’d like to give them a little shout-out. They are not traditionally on the backpacker trail but they are awesome, plus they’re right on your route so it’s very easy to visit them!

For starters, Vienna in Austria is easily amongst the most beautiful cities in Europe. While visiting Vienna , everywhere you look there is some regal remnant of the Hapsburgs: a palace here, a monument there, and plenty of museums to go along with them.

A panoramic view over Luxembourg with a river and cathedral below

Checking out Luxembourg can also be nice since it’s easy to get to and fro from the Netherlands or Germany. It’s expensive as fuck and the eponymous city doesn’t offer much to see but there are some awesome Luxembourg Airbnbs including enchanting countryside castles.

Check out some of the micro-nations, too. Vatican City is super easy to include since it’s literally smack-bang in the middle of Rome – the world’s smallest country measures less than a square kilometre. Visiting Monaco is an easy day trip from the French Riviera, and San Marino from Bologna, Italy.

Staying in Andorra , on the border between Spain and France, is a great idea. It’s particularly gorgeous in the autumn. Liechtenstein is one of the weirdest places in Europe. Full of cool stuff, most tourists visit the town Vaduz for a day but the Liechtensteinian Alps are worth a couple of days of hiking!

Other than that, explore small villages. Go on multi-day treks. Climb the mountains that aren’t the Alps (though they are stunning). You could also just fuck off to Georgia for a bit to extend your stay (who cares if it is actually in Europe or not).

Couchsurf with locals. Spend a few extra days getting to know a popular city. Do things that aren’t on the “must-see sights” in backpacking Europe travel blogs.

Aether Backpack

We’ve tested countless backpacks over the years, but there’s one that has always been the best and remains the best buy for adventurers: the broke backpacker-approved Osprey Aether and Ariel series.

Want more deetz on why these packs are so  damn perfect? Then read our comprehensive review for the inside scoop!

Well, with dozens of countries and countless cities in Europe to visit , it’s a bit hard to pinpoint the BEST things to do in Europe.

But you gotta start from somewhere. So here are some of the top things to do whilst backpacking Europe on a budget.

1. Go to a one-of-a-kind festival

Europe loves to celebrate every little occasion they can, be it the death of a saint, a harvest, or even just a long weekend. Between the cultural holidays – of which there are MANY – the seasonal festivals, and the more modern musical festivals, you’ll have many opportunities to just let loose. And let loose is what you should do.

You could check out the Carnival at Venice, get wasted in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day, and get tomatoe’d at La Tomatina in Valencia. Let alone some of the world’s best music festivals like Boom Festival (psytrance), Glastonbury (pop-adjacent), and Roskilde (also pop-adjacent).

people walking around Temple Bar in fancy dress on St Patrick's Day in Dublin.

2. Go island hopping in Greece

Greece is composed of over 227 islands – which means there are over 227 places to go on an adventure. Live out your mythical fantasies on the islands of Ithaca or Crete, escape the hecticness of life on Sikinos, or join the hordes of partiers on Ios and Mykonos. Your choice.

2. Eat all the tapas in Spain

In Spain, tapas are not just a plate of food; they’re a way of life. They require time, attention, company, and most of all, love, to truly appreciate.

When visiting Spain, it is absolutely mandatory to sit down to a tapas meal with friends and to converse over them, preferably for an entire night. The best tapas are found in Andalucia, especially in Granada .

A table full of tapas in Spain

3. Hike in the Alps

Of all the great mountain chains in the world, the Alps are probably the most accessible. Over the years, it has been tamed and crisscrossed with so many trails that just about anyone can visit here. Tours around the 3 highest mountains in the range, Mont Blanc, Monte Rosa, and the Grand Combin, as well as the otherworldly Dolomites, are all exhilarating experiences and among the best hikes in the world .

Looking out from the Schilthorn over to the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau of the Swiss Alps, Interlaken, Switzerland.

5. Get cultured in Italy

The most historically significant and consequently most popular cities to visit in Italy are Rome, Venice, and Florence. These “museum cities” deemed culturally significant by the government are preserved as best as possible.

They are like interactive history lessons that you can walk amongst or even get lost in for days at a time. I highly recommend you make time for the Colosseum, the work of Di Vinci, and the Vatican museums.

A person looks out over the colosseum in Rome

6. Dance like no one’s watching

The party cities in Europe are on a different scale than the rest of the world. I’m talking about Berlin, Amsterdam, and Manchester. The stories from the clubs are the stuff of legends.

The level of freedom and debauchery is enough to make even the most open-minded do a double-take. Even if you aren’t able to get into the infamous Berghain, you can take your nights (or days) whichever way you please.

7. Change your plans

It’s always good to have an idea of itineraries while you’re backpacking Europe. But there’s nothing more heartbreaking than falling in love with a place (or person? ) and having to leave for your next destination. So leave a bit of wiggle room in your route for surprises.

Extend your stay at the cheap hostel with the cute bartender. Buy the last-minute plane ticket to meet that travel buddy again. Let the universe take control a bit too.

The rocky coastline of the far west of Europe

8. Take the scenic route

Europe has one of the most developed train travel networks in the world. You can get just about everywhere by rail, which is fantastic news when Backpacking through Europe!

These insane views and comfy carriages make some of the best train journeys in the world . It’s a classic; characters in The Murder on the Orient Express and Dracula have traversed the same rails. It’s damn romantic too, so settle down.

Granted, it’s more expensive than the bus so it’s not the best way to save money. But with high-speed trains, you can really make the most of your time on a Euro backpacking trip. So sometimes it’s worth the extra Euro.

9. Get High in Amsterdam

Would this really be The Broke Backpacker if I didn’t encourage you to sample some grade-A Dutch weed? The Dutch are very progressive when it comes to mind-altering substances so if you’re looking for a place to do some drugs safely and legally, Amsterdam might be to your tastes!

Just be respectful about it – residents of Amsterdam are not big fans of the hordes of drug tourists wandering the streets of the city.

Looking over the canal to a row of traditional houses in Amsterdam

10. Deep dive into London

London is one of those amazing cities that you could spend a lifetime exploring. It has a reputation for being expensive – and there’s good reason for that.

But there are so many museums and attractions to visit – many of which are absolutely free! With cheap flights, free walking tours, and a London Pass , it can actually be a surprisingly budget-friendly destination. The British Museum, Buckingham Palace, and the London Eye are all worth putting on your Europe itinerary.

An underground sign with Big Ben in the background in London

Wanna know how to pack like a pro? Well for a start you need the right gear….

These are packing cubes for the globetrotters and compression sacks for the  real adventurers – these babies are a traveller’s best kept secret. They organise yo’ packing and minimise volume too so you can pack MORE.

Or, y’know… you can stick to just chucking it all in your backpack…

Hostels are the most affordable accommodation option for backpacking Europe on a budget. Well, aside from dreamy mountain huts, your awesome tent, and a stranger’s couch. Lucky for you, Europe is THE place for living da hostel life in all its glory.

This continent might hide some of the best hostels in the world – but arguably also the worst…

These incredible hostels in Europe come in all shapes and sizes. But remember, a cheap hostel isn’t necessarily a perfect hostel. In fact, it rarely is (but, yes, you can occasionally hit the jackpot).

A person chilling out on a hammock at a hostel

But not all of them are dedicated to parties. You’ll also find loads of boutique hostels for flashbackers, quiet rooms for families, and even some female-only hostels for solo female travellers .

Well, back to the good stuff. When you’re backpacking Europe, you find accommodation is generally very safe, clean, and fun. Pub crawls and get-togethers are a staple in almost any hostel.

But if you’re wanting to plan a trip to Europe on a budget… well, you’ll have to make do with sharing the bigger dorms. Even hostels can sometimes be a bit pricey in Europe, especially in France or Switzerland. Still, they’re way cheaper than Airbnbs or hotels.

Airbnb is a great option if you want some space away from travellers and a more authentic experience. Though they’re not always the cheapest way. If you’re in a group, the prices can be more reasonable.

  • Where to Stay in Spain
  • Where to Stay in Portugal
  • Where to Stay in France
  • Where to Stay in Italy
  • Where to Stay in Scotland
  • Where to Stay in Ireland
  • Where to Stay in Switzerland
  • Where to stay in Greece

Backpacking Europe does not have a reputation as a budget-friendly place for travellers . The prices in the popular tourist destinations have sky-rocketed in recent years, and it doesn’t look like they’re slowing down any time soon. 

It’s pretty cunning actually. The cheap flights entice you in and BOOM: you’re stuck paying the price for it – literally. 

For most travellers, booking hostels is your cheapest option. Cheap hostels range from around $25 – $50+ a night for a bed. If you’re in a group, Airbnbs can (but not always) be cheaper. 

Though, where there’s a will, there’s a way. There is, and always have been, savvy travellers making their way around Europe with clever tricks to save money. 

I recommend both of these options over hotels mainly because you usually get a kitchen to prepare your own food. Doing this can bring your food bill down to around $10 – $15 a day. You could easily spend more than this on one meal of you eat out. You can find street food for around $6 but it’s not always the best quality. 

travel backpack europe reddit

Booking flights, trains, and buses in advance is the best way to save money. That way, flights go for as little as $20 and buses $10. The same goes for accommodation: the sooner you book, the better deal you will get. 

If you want to let loose a bit, drinks in bars are generally quite expensive which can be up to around $10 in some places! So most people in Europe pre-drink (buy cheap drinks from the supermarket to drink a home before they go out) . Hostel bars usually have the most reasonable prices.

One budget-saving tip for first-time backpackers is to sort out your travel banking . Currency conversions and ATM fees stack up.

Get a travel card like Wise (formerly Transferwise) . With this, you can easily combat extra charges. Especially if you’re backpacking trip through Europe has many countries, this will make things much cheaper.

A Daily Budget For Europe

I have broken down the average daily travel costs in Europe you can expect in order to help you get to grips with your own Europe backpacking budget.

Travel Tips – Europe on a Budget

Okay, so now that you got an idea of the average costs for backpacking in Europe… What if I told you that you could save even MORE? Here are some of the best money saving tips for travelling Europe on a shoestring budget.

  • Camp : With plenty of awesome beaches, forests, stunning countryside, and far-flung mountains, camping whilst backpacking Europe on a budget is a great option. Grabbing a solid backpacking tent is never a bad idea! Just be aware that wild camping is illegal in most of Western Europe. So if you want to do it, you gotta be a little sneaky about it.
  • Cook your own food:  Travel with a  portable backpacking stove  and cook your own food to save some serious cash whilst backpacking across Europe. If you are on a tight budget, cooking grocery store food is your best option to save. With a stove in tow, you can do this even without a kitchen.
  • Hitchhike : Hitchhiking is a 100% free and adventurous way to get around. In Europe, it’s pretty safe and easy although some countries are tougher than others.
  • Couchsurf:  The Portuguese, Greeks, Spanish, Germans — they are all awesome folks. Get to know some! Check out Couchsurfing  to make some real friendships and see a country from the perspective of locals.
  • Dive some dumpsters: Dumpster diving helps if you’re a little broke for a store-bought meal, too. There’s an art to it but you can soon get the hang of it.

Why Should You Travel to Europe with a Water Bottle?

Plastic washes up on even the most pristine beaches… So do your part and keep the Big Blue beautiful!

You aren’t going to save the world overnight, but you might as well be part of the solution and not the problem. I hope you become more inspired to continue being a responsible traveller .

Plus, now you won’t be buying overpriced bottles of water from the supermarkets either! Travel with a filtered water bottle instead and never waste a cent nor a turtle’s life again.

grayl geopress filter bottle

Drink water from ANYWHERE. The Grayl Geopress is the worlds leading filtered water bottle protecting you from all manner of waterborne nasties.

Single-use plastic bottles are a MASSIVE threat to marine life. Be a part of the solution and travel with a filter water bottle. Save money and the environment!

We’ve tested the Geopress  rigorously  from the icy heights of Pakistan to the tropical jungles of Bali, and can confirm: it’s the best water bottle you’ll ever buy!

So precisely when is the best time to visit Europe on a budget?!

Western Europe is a total madhouse in the summer; millions upon millions of tourists descend on the continent. Cruise ships fill the harbours, tour buses clog the road, and flight prices increase.

Whilst the middle of the summer can be a very beautiful time to visit, the summertime is the most crowded season and it is also the hottest. Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, and Greece can be so hot in July and August that all you want to do is switch places with that white wine bottle sitting in the bucket of ice.

Europe is also very prone to seasonal pricing. Prices rise with the temperatures in the summer.

A bridge over a stream in a forest in autumn

Point being, come in the summer if you must, but I don’t recommend it. The spring and the fall seasons are the best time to visit Europe on a budget. The temperatures are mild, and a majority of the people who were here on summer holiday have now sulked back to their offices and suburban hells.

Springtime in Paris and other European cities is as romantic as it sounds. Flowers are blooming and the birds are out. You can go in a t-shirt during the day without having the sun cook you alive.

You will find the lowest prices in most regions in the winter. Southern Europe – Algarve in Portugal, Andalucia in Spain, and Greek islands – is still pretty warm in the wintertime.

If you love winter sports, a winter visit is an obvious choice to explore the French, Swiss, or Italian Alps. Just note that pricing in ski destinations goes heads-up in the winter. The snow season is hugely more expensive than the summer.

Also, note on common European holidays: Europeans get around on their own continent a LOT during peak school holidays. This doesn’t necessarily mean higher prices but it DOES mean impenetrable crowds. Times to avoid outside of the peak summer season are usually mid-September, mid-February, Easter, and New years/Christmas.

What to Pack for Europe

When you’re backpacking Europe, depending on where you’re going and WHEN you’re going will change your packing list. Spain in the summer looks very different from Germany in the winter. But on every adventure, there are some things that are an excellent addition to your backpacking packing list that will really help your Europe backpacking trip.

On every adventure, there are 6 things that are an excellent addition to your backpacking packing list. They will greatly enhance your Europe backpacking trip too.


Snoring dorm-mates can ruin your nights rest and seriously damage the hostel experience. This is why I always travel with a pack of decent ear plugs.


Hanging Laundry Bag

Trust us, this is an absolute game changer. Super compact, a hanging mesh laundry bag stops your dirty clothes from stinking, you don’t know how much you need one of these… so just get it, thank us later.

sea to summit towel

Sea To Summit Micro Towel

Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight, and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.

Monopoly Card Game

Monopoly Deal

Forget about Poker! Monopoly Deal is the single best travel card game that we have ever played. Works with 2-5 players and guarantees happy days.

Grayl GeoPress Water Filter and Purifier Bottle

Grayl Geopress Water Bottle

Always travel with a water bottle! They save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl Geopress acts as a purifier AND temperature regulator. Boom!

In order to get the most of your backpacking trip around Europe, you want to ensure that you get your phone plugged in and connected to a local network as soon as possible. That way you can use map apps to save yourself hours of being lost in city streets, get on Tinder to find yourself some company, and order in food on those days when you just can’t be bothered to go outside.

Note that if already have an EU SIM then it will work seamlessly in all over EU member states. However it will stop working when you leave the EU (such as when you cross from Eire to Northern Ireland or Montenegro to Serbia) . Likewise if you are visiting Europe from the US or Australia, you may find yourself having to change sims multiple times during your trip…unless…

travel backpack europe reddit

Our recommendation is to get yourself the HolaFly e-SIM Europe package . It works in 32 different European countries and offers unlimited data. There are a number of different packages available and the 30-day one costs $64 USD. What we particularly love about e-Sim is that you don’t need to remove your native sim, and can download your e-Sim package before you even leave home!

We have previously written a full HolaFly eSIM review which you can check out or else you can just hit the button below and check out the European Packages.

So how safe is Europe ? Very, very safe, actually.

There’s very little violent crime in Europe, traffic is mostly organised, and there are few natural disasters… The possibility of something bad happening to you on your journey backpacking Europe is slim, to say the least.

Your biggest concern is probably pickpockets and thieves. They particularly target crowded markets and train stations. Always be alert when moving about in big cities especially if you have all of your gear with you.

And those operating in big European cities are true pros – it’s not always enough to just keep your wallet in a purse instead of a back pocket. Keep a keen eye out, especially in Paris, Barcelona, and Rome.

The most popular European tourist sites are also teeming with scammers. With a little research on the most common tourist scams in Europe, it’s not hard to avoid them at all.

It is never a good idea to be out shit-faced drunk, alone, and loaded with cash – especially not at 3 am. Be smart, make good choices and it shouldn’t be too difficult to guard yourself and your belongings.

A person hanging out on some steps in Barcelona surrounded by graffiti

A few years back, Europe faced a string of terrorist attacks. Nothing new has arisen in the past few years so travellers shouldn’t feel worried about terrorism… And besides, unfortunately, we now know that these kinds of attacks are not only happening in Europe.

These events were rare but they did receive a lot of attention and negative press. That led to a lot of pro-nationalist anti-Muslim rhetoric across Europe even though plenty of other groups were also committing acts of violence.

And as diverse as a lot of cities in Europe are, Europeans, in general, are pretty damn white, and everyday racism is still well and alive. This doesn’t necessarily make Europe unsafe, it just means that it’s not impossible that ethnically diverse travellers might hear some snide commentary.

However, there are some happy news for other possibly-vulnerable backpackers: solo female travellers and LGBTQ+ travellers can thrive in Europe since Western Europe is generally safe for them.

  • Is Amsterdam Safe?
  • Is London Safe?
  • Is Barcelona Safe?
  • Is Naples Safe?
  • Is Berlin Safe?
  • Is Paris Safe?

Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll in Europe

Europe likes to party, a lot .

And not just one kind of partying, but all kinds of European Backpacking trip debauchery. There are your squats in Paris, beach clubs in Ibiza , warehouse raves in Berlin, music festivals in the Netherlands, all of that, and then some. You can’t beat chilling on some church steps at 3 am sipping negronis with friends either.

When it comes to partying, each culture has its own way of doing things. The Italians like the slow burn, starting with a spritz at aperitivo, then a nice dinner with wine, a cocktail at a local bar, before finally moving on to shots at the bar.

The Spanish are similar except they start all of this at 9 pm and go until 4 am. The Dutch appear to be hydrating all the time, but don’t be so sure; they’re big fans of the molly water.

You get the gist though. If you’re going to tour the party cities in Europe , you need to choose your parties well .

There are a couple of parties that shouldn’t be missed:

  • Staying at one of the legendary party hostels .
  • Going to a nightclub in Berlin. (Berghain is overrated – there are multiple that stay open 24/7!)
  • Drinking in the piazzas of Rome.
  • Dipping into a baggy in Amsterdam.
  • A night in the Delirium Brewery in Brussels.

Also, be aware that not all European cultures take kindly to drunkenness. The Mediterranean cultures tend to frown upon people who can’t handle their shit. The further north you go, the less people care about your state of mind.

Getting Insured BEFORE Visiting Europe

Europe is a safe place to travel but that doesn’t mean you’re completely invulnerable. Sometimes you fall down the stairs in a club in Athens… or get your iPhone nicked on the Paris metro…

Going anywhere without travel insurance is too risky – so do consider getting good backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure. The best kind of travel insurance will cover both your material stuff as well as your physical self. Backpacking Europe can be a dangerous occupation.

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing .

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

travel backpack europe reddit

SafetyWing is cheap, easy, and admin-free: just sign up lickety-split so you can get back to it!

Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

sagrada familia in Barcelona

Of course, there is no one answer to this question. Where do you want to go backpacking?!

Once you dial in where you plan to go, it is only natural to start your backpacking Europe trip in the country first on your list. Easy!

Whilst looking for cheap airfare to your destination, I advise that you look at multiple cities and find cheap flights – even if that city isn’t in your targeted country. You can easily fly between capitals in Europe on the cheap, or take a super-cheap bus.

For example, if you want to begin your backpacking Europe adventure in Spain but the tickets to Paris are going for $200 less, odds are you can score a budget flight to Madrid or Barcelona from Paris for less than you would have paid flying directly to Spain.

Be wary that the Schengen zone is threatening to introduce a nice new piece of red tape for anyone outside of the EU for 2024. Keep up to date on the ETIAS website , where the EU are concocting new ways of making it hard to travel.

Insider tip : Those budget-friendly flights often charge an arm and a leg for baggage. If you just travel with hand lugagge, you’ll save money and spend less time in the airports. That means more time to actually visit Europe.

Entry Requirements For Europe

If you want to travel long-term in Europe , then you may need a Visa. Entry and Visa requirements vary between different European countries although many of them do follow broadly similar criteria.

For travel in EU countries, a Schengen Visa is required (unless you are from another EU country in which case all you need is your passport/ID). Note that some EU countries are not part of the Schengen agreements and separate visas are required for visiting. Thanks to almost borderlessness of the EU though, travelling between EU/Schengen countries is usually super easy.

The ETIAS system will begin working in 2024, so make sure you stay prepared for that!

Out of the countries covered in this guide, countries that are not part of the EU are the UK, Ireland, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.

europe travel zone

Citizens of the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore can usually obtain visas for most European countries on arrival. It can be significantly harder for everybody else. Overstaying visas is not recommended.

It is very wise to work out which countries you wish to visit and check their individual entry requirements before you set off. Regarding overland travel, note that even if you are only passing through a country en route to another, entry requirements will still apply.

There are many great ways to get around Europe – and it’s super easy! Western Europe has excellent transportation networks and usually booking tickets online is hassle-free.

The cost of travelling around Europe CAN lighten your wallet though, especially if you travel a lot. To be able to travel Europe cheaply, you have to know the tricks to do it.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the best ways to travel Europe.

Trains pulling into a station

Long-distance buses are probably the cheapest option, though they tend to be the most time consuming as well. A 9-hour journey with a company like Flixbus is likely to cost you between 25-50 Euros depending on when you book.

I like Flixbus because, if plans change, you can cancel for a small fee and re-book when you’re ready. You can score long-distance buses for as little as 10 Euros if you’re really on it.

Many Western European countries might also have their own national budget bus lines.

Train travel is an awesome way to backpack Europe. Many backpackers specifically build their backpacking Europe itineraries around travelling on a train – this is called interrailing.

They’re really easy to use and there are all different kinds. Smaller domestic trains connect all corners of the countries.

High-speed trains and sleeper trains connect countries. The central train stations are usually right in the middle of the major European cities, often making it more convenient than flights.

If you plan on hitting up multiple countries in Europe, the Eurorail Pass  is a great option. You can buy a rail pass for one country or for all of Europe. Buying train tickets individually adds up fast, so buying a pass is a great trick to travel Europe on a budget.

Renting a car is surprisingly affordable in Europe and will give you unrestricted freedom to go and do what you want. And finding a car rental is no trouble at all.

Booking in advance is the best way to ensure you score the lowest price and your choice of vehicle. Often, you can find the best car rental prices when you pick up the rental from the airport. You can easily rent a car from any major city in Europe.

Driving in Europe is also pretty easy with lots of well-maintained highways and clear signage ahead!

You don’t feel like driving yourself? BlaBlaCar is a great website for connecting drivers with people interested in carpooling. You do have to pay for the ride. However, it’s usually cheaper than a train, faster than a bus, and more fun than travelling alone!

Travelling by campervan is the most classic, most awesome option. You have unparalleled freedom and access to places you would not otherwise have. You also eliminate the need to pay for accommodation every night.

If you’re travelling long term, it can be a great way to travel Europe on a budget if you buy your own campervan. For shorter term travellers, renting a campervan is easy to do all across Europe. Then you get complete freedom within the contient.

Those long, long highways of Europe are just begging for someone to get on them on two wheels… Europe is an excellent destination for long-distance motorbikers and bicyclists.

For motorbiking, France and Germany are particularly popular. For bikepackers , the Netherlands is pleasantly flat to cycle around.

Europe is one of the best places in the world to hitchhike, even long distances. I recommend studying a map before sticking your thumb out there.

Try to get an idea of which roads you need to take to get to your destination. Europe is full of tiny, winding backroads that splinter off in all directions.

It goes without saying that you should not try hitchhiking in major cities. While hitchhiking in Europe is safe generally, it is important to be on your guard and use good judgement when accepting rides.

From personal experience, hitching rides in Western Europe can be tricky. Finding rides along major highways – that Western Europe is full of – can be hard as there aren’t good places for cars to stop (looking at you, Germany and Northern Greece).

In other places, like Spain, I struggled to find rides because lots of people (falsely) seemed to think that hitchhiking was illegal. Plus, Western Europeans’s got places to be and might not be receptive to picking up a stranger.

The best hitching luck I had was in Switzerland, Austria, and France. I highly recommend trying it everywhere though!

Onwards Travel from Europe

Europe is home to many major global travel hubs and international airports. This means you can get anywhere in the world – often with a direct flight – depending on where you’re going. If you are on a grand European or world tour, heading to Eastern Europe and making your way into Turkey and beyond is a straightforward affair.

In fact, you can fly from London or Paris to Istanbul for as little as 20 Euros with some forethought (although rare). Plus, you’ll find lots of train options going to Istanbul from all over Europe.

The arches and minarets of The Blue Mosque in Instanbul

Keep in mind as well that countries in North Africa are sometimes just an hour or two flight away. Backpacking Morocco and Tunisia are great options after travelling Europe on a budget. There are also daily boats from Southern Spain to Morocco for about $40 USD – not too pricey at all!

Boats run to North Africa from Sicily too, so if you fancy marauding in Tunisia , you can easily hop over from Italy. I would strongly advocate for this, because backpacking Europe is not complete without a little Africa.

Want to spend more time in Europe? No problemo!

While the cost of living in most Western European countries is quite high and work visas can be tricky to navigate, there are lots of options available for industrious backpackers. (Though you DO need a work visa pretty much everywhere.)

The UK and Ireland are especially popular for native English speakers; there are tons of Aussies living in London.

EU nationals don’t usually need visas to work in other EU countries so things are easier for them.

And you didn’t hear this from me… but there might be a chance for backpackers to do a bit of work under the table as well. Get chatting with locals, stay open, and keep your ears perked. There are lots of backpackers earning a bit of extra cash from helping out in bars, farms, and festivals, especially in the summer travel season.

Looking out over the Swiss Alps in Interlaken, Switzerland.

A new country, a new contract, a new piece of plastic – booooring. Instead, buy an eSIM!

An eSIM works just like an app: you buy it, you download it, and BOOM! You’re connected the minute you land. It’s that easy.

Is your phone eSIM ready? Read about how e-Sims work or click below to see one of the top eSIM providers on the market and  ditch the plastic .

The Digital Nomad Scene in Europe

Despite certain weather challenges, Europe is HUGE for digital nomads. Sure, most countries in Western Europe are real expensive to live in. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t attract digital nomads.

London, Berlin and Amsterdam all have massive digital nomad communities. However, these nomads may not stay in the city all year. They are also usually more high-earning nomads.

Those just starting to learn how to be a nomad prefer to head to eastern Europe – Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, and Hungary are all top destinations for broke nomads.

Portugal is hands down the best country for digital nomads in Europe. It’s one of the more affordable countries (although getting more and more expensive), extremely nomad-friendly both in terms of community and locals’s attitudes towards nomads, and super fun. The weather also isn’t half bad! In the Algarve, you can get +30 Celsius temperatures even in the winter.

Layers of houses and building on the banks of Porto in Portugal

If Lisbon and Porto are not your speed, definitely consider staying in Madeira . The Portuguese island is rapidly becoming one of the top destinations in the world for digital nomads.

Other cool places for nomads are Greece (especially Athens) and the Canary Islands in Spain. Both are affordable on Western European standards. 

Internet is pretty much a non-issue in Europe . Most of the major cities have high-speed fiberoptic cables lain and the more remote villages have decent coverage. Whilst hiking the Dolomites, I even got 4G using my local SIM card. I could’ve worked in a local rifugio for a few days!

Is this the best digital nomad-friendly hostel in the world?

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Come visit  Tribal Bali  – Bali’s first specially designed, custom-built co-living hostel… 

Bali’s most special backpacker hostel is finally open…. Tribal Bali is a  custom-designed, purpose-built co-living hostel  – a place to work, rest, play and stay. A place to find your tribe and hands down the best place in Bali to hustle hard and make new friends…

Volunteer in Europe

Volunteering abroad is an amazing way to experience a culture whilst helping your host community. There are plenty of different volunteer projects in Europe including teaching, construction, agriculture, and pretty much anything.

The list of volunteering opportunities in Europe is pretty much endless. Will you run pub crawls at a hostel in Spain? Help herd sheep in the French Alps? Give hand to a music festival in the UK? The sky’s the limit.

Short-term volunteers usually won’t need a permit, but anyone from outside the EU will need a Schengen Visa to volunteer in Europe for over 90 days. 

There are many ways to find volunteer opportunities but the best way is to start online. Check out some of the best work exchange websites to get started.

The team at The Broke Backpacker have used and can personally recommend Worldpackers . I feel like Workaway is the biggest platform but that doesn’t make it the best.

A heap of the European cultural identity is built on its history. Italy and Greece are home to some of the most brilliant ancient cultures; France is considered the origin of enlightenment; Portugal has a strong (although complicated) history in seafaring and exploration.

It’s no coincidence that Europe has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other continent. When it comes to art, heritage, sports, and music, Europe is considered by many to be the heart and origin of Western culture.

The first and absolutely most important thing that you need to know about culture in Europe is that people are not “just European”. In fact, using “European” as a blanket term for everyone who lives on the continent is pretty ridiculous since it doesn’t really begin to describe anything.

According to Britannica , there are over 160 distinct cultures in Europe, though if we’re being honest this number could be higher. Within each of these cultures are sub-sections and divisions with their own national, religious, and historical identities.

There are over 160 distinct cultures in Europe , though if we’re being honest this number could be higher. Within each of these cultures are sub-sections and divisions with their own national, religious, and historical identities.

A street band in Portugal

What this means is that many people are very proud of their cultural identities and can be mildly offended if you try to paint everyone in the same colour. For example, the Scots are very proudly Scottish, and you definitely shouldn’t try to call them English. 

At best, culture in Europe shows in celebration. At worst, rising tensions related to immigration have given wind to some ultra-right nationalist ideals. (Yikes.)

Europe is also, overall, very modern. Expecting “traditional” stereotypes is a bit silly. People mostly don’t dress in national costumes; at Oktoberfest, the people wearing the fake lederhosen and dirndl are tourists. Not everyone knows flamenco in Spain – in fact, it’s a dance that originated from the Romani community especially in Southern Spain. 

Football fans are crazy everywhere though, that much is true.

What to Eat in Europe

The food in Europe is so varied that my mind reels just trying to think about it. Where do I even begin?

First off, people are extremely proud of their culture’s cooking. Italians sing praise about the quality of ingredients and the simplicity of their style. The French boast about their prowess in the kitchen and complex techniques. The Spanish of course love to talk about their tapas culture.

Secondly, though European culinary traditions have very long histories, most changed completely in the last few centuries. The introduction of new ingredients from the new world was nothing short of revolutionary. The Italians received the all-important tomatoes, the English imported curry, and the Germans got the Turkish kebab.

Paella in Spain

Most European culinary traditions have very multicultural pasts. North African traders and immigrants have had a profound effect on the Mediterranean diets and cultures as distant as China have purportedly influenced the creation of pasta.

All I can say is that a backpacking trip through Europe will be like a tour of heaven for your stomach. There are so many different kinds of food to try and a staggering amount of diversity. My best advice: try the usual suspects but be sure to experiment a bit.

Must-Try Dishes in Europe

Here are some of the best foods you have to try while backpacking in Europe:

  • Pasta (Italy) – A VERY general term: pasta can mean a lot of things. Be sure to have more than just spaghetti.
  • Coq Au Vin (France) – A simple, yet delicious stew made from chicken, wine, mushrooms, and garlic.
  • Pies (UK) – A staple of just about every pub and inn in the UK. Simple and satisfying.
  • Haggis (Scotland) – A slightly spicy mixture of internal organs cooked in a lamb’s stomach is actually really delicious.
  • Pastel de Nata (Portugal) – A small, custard-filled egg tart that originates in Lisbon.
  • Paella (Spain) –  Rice prepared in a special pan and often prepared with seafood.
  • Moules Frites (Belgium) – Mussels prepared in different kinds of sauces and served with fried potatoes.
  • Souvlaki (Greece) – What most people imagine to be “gyros” when gyros is just a general term for shaved meat.
  • Schnitzel (Germany) – Meat flattened, breaded, and fried.
  • Sachertorte (Austria) – A delicacy of Vienna and perhaps one of the best cakes in Europe.
  • Stroopwafel (Netherlands) – The best sweet treat ever.

Europe’s super-varied landscape and wealth of cultures mean that there are heaps of cool new experiences to have. Go beyond your regular pub crawls and walking tours and check out some unique experiences you can only have in Europe.

packable travel medical kit

Things go wrong on the road ALL THE TIME. Be prepared for what life throws at you.

Buy an AMK Travel Medical Kit before you head out on your next adventure – don’t be daft!

Hiking in Europe

Europe is a land blessed of incredible hiking opportunities with trails both for expert trekkers and beginner hikers . Each country has a wide range of day hikes and multi-day treks on offer. Trekking is a great way to get to know any country by experiencing its wild side.

In addition to well-maintained trail systems, many regions in Europe have a network of mountain huts. For a fee, you can enjoy these super comfortable and unique fixtures of the European mountains.

Hiking in Transylvania in Romania

Here are a few of the best hikes in Europe to get you psyched for an outdoor adventure of your own.

  • Mt. Etna Trek, Sicily, Italy : Climbing an active Volcano in Sicily is as much fun as it sounds.
  • Walkers Haute Route, France-Switzerland (Chamonix to Zermatt):  A famous high route from Chamonix to Zermatt. The trek features absolutely classic alpine scenery, snowy peaks, glaciers, high meadows and deep valleys, and close-up views of such icons as Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn.
  • Tour Du Mont Blanc, France:  The unforgettable circuit around the Mont Blanc massif. Outstanding views up to Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest at 4,810m, and out across the dramatic peaks, glaciers, and deep green valleys of the high Alps. If you have the time, this might just be the most scenic (and most trafficked) hike in Western Europe.
  • El Camino de Santiago, France – Spain:  Perhaps the most popular long-distance trek in the world , El Camino is an important trek in the hearts of religious pilgrims and outdoor enthusiasts alike. The Camino is actually multiple trails leading to Santiago de Compostela and eventually Finisterre, “the end of the world”.
  • Mount Olympus, Greece: The fabled mountain where the ancient Greek Gods were supposed to have lived is very climbable in just one day.

Surfing in Europe

Many backpackers are unaware that there is some killer surf to be found all across Europe. Portugal is certainly famous for having massive waves and the associated surf competitions.

That said, if you are keen on surfing at some point as you’re backpacking through Europe, you do have some options. Below I have provided a shortlist of surfing hotspots in Europe.

A person surfing

  • Biarritz, France : One of the oldest known surf meccas of Europe. The surfing here is great for beginners as well as seasoned rippers.
  • Newgale, Wales : Surfing on this beautiful stretch of coast facing out towards the Irish Sea; the waves here are powerful and the views are epic.
  • Belhaven Bay, Scotland : This surf spot is only an hours drive from Edinburgh! Make sure you have a good wetsuit. Not the warmest water in the world, but the waves are good at times.
  • San Sebastian, Spain : When not eating and drinking, it is easy to hit the beach and catch a few waves before resuming the former.
  • Lagos, Portugal : Probably the unofficial capital of surfing in Portugal. There are many surf schools across Lagos that will help you tune up your surfing game in no time.

Museums in Europe

Europe is the world’s best continent to tour museums, both art and history adjacent. (That might have something to do with plundering other countries’ national treasures and refusing to return them… But uh, let’s not focus on that.)

Europe’s best museum city is London. Most of London’s museums are free to visit, and they have some of the best collections of art and historical relics from everywhere in the world. (Again, for certain reasons…) My favourite museums in London are The National Gallery, The Natural History Museum, The British Museum, and Victoria and Albert Museum.

A person sat by the fountains at The Louvre with the pyramid in the background in Paris, France

Paris is strong in the museum game too. Definitely visit the Louvre and its most iconic resident Mona Lisa. Don’t grumble about it being small, it’s still awesome. For more morbid explorers, the Paris Catacombs offer a cool glimpse into the city’s history.

More honourable mentions to go Reina Sofia in Madrid, Rijksmuseum and Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, and Dachau concentration camp in Germany (it counts).

Bring your ID – some places, like the Louvre, have free admission to students and people under 25.

Got questions about backpacking Western Europe? I’ve got the answers!

Where should I start backpacking through Europe?

Backpacking through Europe is a momentous task, but starting in Britain or Portugal will stop you having to make tedious back and forth journeys. You don’t want to be doubling back on yourself when distances are so large! That said, you can really start anywhere, just make sure you’ve got enough cash to fly home 😉

How long is the average backpacking Europe trip?

On average, backpackers make a 2-3 week route travelling around Europe. If you want to visit Europe properly, you can easily spend 6 months or more pedalling around. Try going for 2-3 months if you want to get a much fuller picture of what it is like.

What is the Cost of Backpacking Through Europe?

As with anywhere, the cost of backpacking Europe will be down to you, where you go, and how you spend. Western Europe is more expensive and will most likely require $50-$90/day, whilst heading east can put your budget lower, at around $30-$60/day. On top of transport and flights, Europe can seriously add up…

Where are the hottest people in Europe?

I’d say Finland. Source: I’m Finnish. Apparently Nordic people are, statistically, very sexually liberated on a global scale. But I would personally like to guide your attention towards Southern Europe… Greek Tinder is something else, hey.

Who feeds the Loch Ness monster in Scotland?

The park rangers feed the sea snake with tourists that behave badly and/or ask stupid questions. There’s also a bloke who has been on the lookout for years and never seen it. Take from that what you will.

Congratulations! You made it to the end of my Europe travel guide!

I hope the information I have provided will help you navigate the exciting European journey you have decided to embark on. Backpacking in Europe will be one of the most fun experiences of your life, I have no doubts about that.

Europe can be one hell of a place to let loose and have a good time. Between the party-hearty music festivals, discotheques, rave scenes, pub crawls, and other venues of hedonistic tendency, there is ample opportunity for backpackers to get down.

Have fun on your Europe backpacking journey – but like my mum would say, not too much fun! Partying every day is one of the most common backpacker traps that travellers fall into.

When visiting historic sights or religious monuments, be respectful. Certainly do not climb on old ruins or touch priceless paintings. Europe is full of historical treasures. Don’t be that dickhead that contributes to their demise and destruction.

When you can, make an effort to learn at least a few words of the local language of the country you are backpacking in. It’s a challenge as every country has a different language, but a little effort goes a long way. The world need not revolve around us native English speakers!

Do your best to support local artisans, organic farmers, and craftspeople while travelling around Europe. Keep your dollars local, especially in small villages or towns. 

Never take it for granted that you are healthy and financially able to go travelling. Show the world around you some gratitude and help to make a positive impact on it.

Most of all, have the time of your life and spread the love!

The view over the Pont luis Bridge in Porto, Portugal.

Updated May 2023 by Abe Lea

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And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links . That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!

Nic Hilditch-Short

Nic Hilditch-Short

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I am dreaming of backpacking Spain. The only thing I found out of the league in this country is the timing of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Anyway, given the fact that Spain never sleeps, it can be understood.

Great post! I can’t wait to start planning my European backpacking trip.

My big dream is to visit Oia, Santorini. This place is just magical.

I would suggest you to put Slovenia in this list. In this small country you can find beautiful places for low price and save society

We can’t wait to get there! Once we do, we will add it to the list! cheers.

the most honest and helpful backpacking guide yet. thankyou!!!!!

I really enjoyed reading this post. Especially as a European.

Some insider tips of my own. UK: * Trains are expensive, budget airlines and coaches are great though. Maybe even cycle, we have some amazing National Cycle routes that really open up the countryside (borrow a Boris bike in London-great cheap way to discover the city) *The coastline in the UK is so varied, some of my favourite beaches in the world are on the West cost of Scotland (check out the isle of Skye and the fairy pools). Or try surfing in Cornwall. *Accommodation, Hotels are pricey but try the Youth Hostel Association (YHA) it’s a charity that run hostels up and down the country, usually near iconic landmarks and hiking trails. You can wild camp in Scotland but not the rest of the UK so you’ll have to find a proper campsite in England and Wales.

As for what season to go to Europe: My general rule of thumb is Mountains in the Summer, beaches in the Autumn. Ski resorts are much cheaper in the summer and offer amazing hiking opportunities (think the Dolomites of Ital or Soca Valley in Slovenia). It is simply too hot to be in Greece in August 100 degrees quite frequently. Places like Greece and Croatia are amazing but a lot less hot, and less crowded at the end of September/early October. Netherlands is great in the spring- think colourful fields of tulips. Also consider that the sun doesn’t really set in the summer in places like Iceland and northern Scandinavia.

For almost all parts of Europe wear layers and pack a light weight, windproof waterproof jacket. The temperature and weather conditions can vary so much in just a couple of hours. Leave high heels at home. Trainers are perfectly acceptable almost everywhere…A lot of streets across a lot of Europe are cobbled you don’t want a twisted ankle.

Some awesome tips there, thanks Kayleigh!

Wonderful post.Very helpful and awesome info.really informative post!Nice post.Amazing article.

Thanks for sharing ideas, really informative post! I’m thinking about to do The Kings Trail in Sweden. Is it possible to do only in summer or spring should be fine as well. I’m traveler with tents, so would like to sleep outside as much as possible. Cheers, Rob

You can do the King’s Trail hike in the spring, but you must be aware that there will be few other hikers (maybe that’s a good thing for you), it will be really cold still, and there will be lots of snow to walk through. You would need to be outfitted with the right gear for it to be possible/enjoyable for you. The later in the spring your start (Late April/Early May) the warmer it will be and the less snow you will find on the trail. The best weather for sleeping outside is obviously in the summer. You won’t need to carry as much cold weather gear then either. Hope that helps! Good luck on your hike 🙂

Very helpful and awesome info. Very entertainingly written as well!

Nice post. I’d have to recommend checking out Poland though if you haven’t already (it isn’t mentioned). It is great for backpacking through.

Amazing article. Each and every information shared here is very useful. I went to Europe on a short trip. Visited Switzerland and fell in love with its beauty. A must visit.

Wonderful post. Europe is super backpack friendly – I did Eastern Europe and it is full of hidden gems.

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The Best Carry-On Travel Backpacks

A person standing outside in a light blue short sleeve shirt wears the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L backpack, in black with a gray llama-head logo and aqua accents.

By Kit Dillon

Kit Dillon is a writer focused on bags and travel gear. He has worked for Wirecutter for a decade and lost count of the number of bags he has tested.

When you open up your favorite carry-on travel backpack, it should feel like you’re opening the door to a well-organized closet or sitting down at a clean desk, with everything in the right place and easy to reach.

This is your moment to center yourself, no matter how chaotic the journey.

What we considered

A 45-liter bag maximizes overhead space but can get heavy when fully packed; 35-liter bags tend to be more manageable.

A bag with a clamshell design opens like a book and is the easiest to pack, but a bag that opens traditionally tends to have more structure.

Ideally, a travel backpack has handles on all sides—especially the bottom—so you can pull it out of overhead bins or from under seats.

Some internal pockets are useful, but major organizing is better managed with packing cubes.

The Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack and the larger Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L offer the best combination of features, quality, and durability. Both bags are exemplary carry-on travel backpacks that are designed for comfort, durability, and organization. Though these backpacks are great as companion bags for any trip, they’re designed to ultimately replace all of your other luggage and become your exclusive bag as you travel.

This style of packing is not for everyone, but once some people try it, they’re forever hooked. Finding the right bag is a personal choice, though, and no single bag will appeal to everyone. That’s why we also have picks that are great for people who travel for work , others that are designed to be carried over long distances , and a bag that’s basically luggage on your back .

The research

Why you should trust us, who this is for, best small carry-on bag for most situations: cotopaxi allpa 35l travel pack, best large bag for most situations: peak design travel backpack 45l, best mobile office: patagonia black hole mlc 45l, best bag for long journeys on foot: osprey farpoint 40 and fairview 40, best bag if you need a large suitcase on your back: tortuga travel backpack pro 40l, other good carry-on travel backpacks, how we picked and tested, the competition.

I’ve been covering aspects of luggage and travel bag design for Wirecutter for nearly a decade, and I have personally researched, tested, and compared hundreds of bags in that time. I personally try to do most of my travel with a single backpack, whenever possible. I spent nine months roaming around Hawaii with not much more than that, and I spent another six months nomadically couch-surfing in New York City.

I reached out to writers who specialize in traveling the world carrying everything they need in a single bag: Eytan Levy, the owner and operator of the Snarky Nomad travel website; James Feess, founder of The Savvy Backpacker ; and Sharon Gourlay, of the Where’s Sharon? travel website. I also spoke with moderators of Reddit’s r/onebag and r/heronebag forums, as well as with Chase Reeves, bag fanatic, reviewer, and owner of Matterful .

We researched and tested bags designed for those who want to travel light and stay flexible while flying, without the burden of checking luggage. For some people, the challenge of cutting down a packing list is intimidating. But if you can get past that initial hurdle, traveling with a single bag is a revelation. With fewer items, you have more time to concentrate on and appreciate the journey.

  • When you’re not loaded down by heavy luggage, it’s easy to remain more mobile. And it’s easier to adjust your plans mid-trip. If you’re willing to do laundry on the road, then one bag is all you need to travel indefinitely. At its heart, one-bag travel allows you to discover more—not just about the places you’re going but also about yourself and what you really need day to day.
  • Size and weight still matter. If you desire more creature comforts or more gear, or if you plan to be away for a long time across multiple climates, you’ll want a bigger travel backpack . These larger bags tend not to be carry-on-friendly, however, especially in Europe, so be prepared to check them.
  • No single backpack is perfect for everyone. Before you make any purchase, consider some basic points. How much can you carry? And where do you usually visit: the city or outback? Travel gear should feel like a welcome companion—there to support you when you need it but unobtrusive when you don’t.

45-liter bag vs. 35-liter bag

A graphic comparing the difference in capacity between a 45-liter and a 35-liter backpack.

Cotopaxi Allpa 35L

A versatile small pack for a week or a weekend.

This durable bag’s clamshell design makes it easy to organize your stuff. And due to its strap design, this bag can be worn on your back or carried in your hand while you’re on the move.

Buying Options

The Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack is an easy-to-organize, comfortable-to-carry bag for getaways lasting just a few days or a whole week.

It’s one bag that can do it all. This is a great all-around bag for any traveler who’s dedicated to packing light, or for a smaller person who wants less to carry. There are handles on all four sides of this bag, so it’s easy to grab no matter where you’ve stowed it. It’s also protected by a full lifetime warranty, and it has the build quality to back that up. After more than four years of testing, this single backpack (plus a personal item ) has replaced nearly every travel bag or piece of luggage I use.

It comes in various sizes, but we think the middle-of-the-road version is the best. Cotopaxi also makes the Allpa in 28-liter and 42-liter sizes. But for us, the 35-liter bag is the best option. At 42 liters, this bag becomes heavy for most people to carry when it is fully packed, and we’d prefer that it had a more-robust hip belt. At 28 liters, the bag becomes a touch small for most people, and its internal organization feels fussy for shorter trips, such as an overnight. Cotopaxi also makes a hip pack , which is designed to fit snugly into the Allpa bag’s front top compartment. It’s a neat little addition to the bag, and it is worth getting if you like wearing fanny packs while you travel.

It’s organized, easy to pack, and easy to carry. The Allpa bag has a clamshell design, so it opens like a hard-sided suitcase—a large YKK zipper runs around three sides of the bag, allowing it to fall open into two halves when unzipped. On the right side is a deep compartment, spacious enough for two large packing cubes or half a suitcase’s worth of clothing (which you access through a mesh zippered flap). On the left, there’s space for one more medium-size packing cube behind a zippered flap. Above that there are two smaller pockets with high-visibility backing—useful when you’re looking for hard-to-differentiate personal items.

The packed Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack, shown fully open so that the contents are accessible.

It’s secure but still accessible. The Allpa pack has two side-access zippers—great for on-the-go access, especially when the bag is hanging from your shoulder. One of these reveals a flat computer pocket with a padded false bottom; so if you drop the bag, it won’t land on the corner of your computer. The other reveals a “secret” pocket with a hidden zipper and access to the main compartment. All of the main compartment zippers are protected by security loops, which you thread the zipper through at the end of its run. This prevents anyone from subtly or quickly grabbing a zipper and opening your bag when you aren’t paying attention.

It’s comfortable to carry. The Allpa bag’s hip belt—which can be removed while the bag is on your back—is substantial enough that it’s comfortable to wear when you need it. With or without the hip belt, the Allpa bag is comfortable to carry over long distances. However, folks who have longer torsos (over 19 inches) may find that the waist belt sits a little high off the hips, unless you fully extend the shoulder straps. Speaking of shoulder straps, unlike the ones on our other picks, the Allpa bag’s straps are contoured to fit people who have large or small chests. It’s not a specifically gendered design, but our female tester noticed the improvement right away.

The Allpa pack is made with 1680-denier ballistic nylon, similar to the Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 . (Denier is a measure of a fabric’s fiber thickness.) It feels similar to a strong canvas, but it has a more prominent weave. This is the type of bag that’s as easy to toss into an overhead compartment as it is into the back of a rusty pickup truck. And it also includes a rainfly, which is unique in this category.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

  • Though this pack is well organized for packing, it’s less ideal as a mobile office. The Allpa pack has a minimal amount of administrative organization—places to keep pens and papers, spaces to hold tickets, and so forth. This is where a good personal item comes in handy. However, if you want to travel with just this one bag, there are a few nooks you can hide things in. The front organizer is deep enough that you can also fit several small organizing pouches, if you want, or the aforementioned fanny pack.
  • We prefer the model without the TPU front. Cotopaxi does enjoy playing around with fabrics and colors. Sometimes the company has released the Allpa pack without the TPU-lined front panel. The TPU panel improves water resistance, but after many years of traveling with our bag, we’ve found that the TPU layering can begin to flake in spots.

Capacity: 35 liters Weight: 3 pounds 5 ounces Main compartment access: clamshell opening Style: adventurous Colors: assorted

A person stands by a wooden fence outdoors while wearing the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L, our larger pick for the best carry-on travel backpack.

Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L

An easily customizable large bag for long trips and expensive gear.

This bag was built with photographers in mind. Yet most travelers will appreciate its easy accessibility, clever tuck-away straps, and the elegant way the bag expands and contracts. The accessory cubes cost extra, though.

The Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L is a good choice for those carrying more expensive gear—especially camera gear. It’s also great for those who prefer a large, backpack-based packing system.

One bag provides many configurations. Some bags in this category are built to do one thing extremely well—be carried on your back. But the Peak Design Travel Backpack 45L is built to adapt. It’s the Swiss Army knife of backpacks: adjustable, customizable, and (if you spring for the extra cubes and organizers) an almost perfect system for a photographer or gearhead on the move. Most bags’ expanding mechanisms aren’t worth the extra zipper they’re built on, and they look about as attractive as a boiled ham splitting out of its plastic packaging. That’s not the case with the Peak Design: This bag looks just as good fully packed at 45 liters as it does compressed to a 30-liter daypack.

It’s expandable, with clever folds and zippers. You can access the bag through a back panel (which doubles as a computer and tablet pouch) as well as a front one (if you unzip the pass-through divider). You can also get into the main compartment via two wing-like trapezoidal flaps, which run along each side of the pack. In its natural shape, the Travel Backpack holds 35 liters, but an expansion zipper lets the bag swell to 45 liters. If you want to use the bag as a daypack, you fold in the top corners and snap them down, reducing the bag’s volume to a slim 30 liters. In this configuration, it will still feel larger than a normal daypack, but we think that’s a small compromise for being able to use one backpack as both your travel bag and your daily explorer. The bag itself consists of 400-denier nylon and polyester fabrics. It feels tough but not as tough as some other bags we’ve tested, such as the Cotopaxi Allpa.

It has fold-away straps, for easier storage. The Peak Design lets you tuck its shoulder and hip straps away when you’re not using them. But unlike any other bag we’ve ever tested, this pack has magnetic flaps on the back panel that open and close with an almost magical snap. Once you’ve played with them, you’ll wonder why every backpack doesn’t have something similar. A small, childish part of me still gets excited about tucking away the straps when I put the Peak Design into an overhead bin. Although the straps are thin, they’re still comfortable. The hip belt isn’t quite as plush as the one on the Tortuga pack; still, even when the Peak Design is fully loaded, the belt doesn’t pinch or dig into the body.

It’s great for carrying expensive gear. If you travel with a camera, you don’t have to use Peak Design’s camera cubes , but they do make carrying that gear a whole lot easier. The cubes come in five sizes. And if they’re situated properly in the bag with the provided clips, they line up with the Travel Backpack’s side-access flaps for quick access. Caleigh Waldman (a photographer for this piece and, full disclosure, my spouse) took this bag across the country for a wedding shoot. “I want this backpack,” she said after three weeks of travel. “I want to travel with it everywhere. With my cameras. Without my cameras. It doesn’t matter. I want to travel with it.”

  • It’s expensive—especially if you commit to the entire system of packing and camera cubes.
  • More complexity means more things that can break. The adjustable design and multiple zippers do add complexity, and complexity adds potential weaknesses. Peak Design covers all of its bags with a lifetime warranty , which should alleviate most people’s concerns. But if you’re particularly hard on your gear and still need to carry as much as possible, you might consider the Tortuga bag instead.

Capacity: 45 liters Weight: 4½ pounds Main compartment access: back-panel loader Style: minimalist and unobtrusive Color: black, sage

The Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L, our also-great pick for the best carry-on travel backpack, is held in midair by a person wearing a plaid shirt.

Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L

Combines more organization with a simple interior.

This bag’s split interior makes organizing easy. Those who travel for work will appreciate this bag’s dedicated panels for organizing tech, books, papers, and assorted miscellaneous items.

If you travel often for business and prefer a bag that’s much easier to work out of than most of our other picks, you may like the Patagonia Black Hole MLC 45L . This bag has a front panel and assorted pockets that make it feel like a small traveling office.

It’s built like luggage but organized like your office. Of all the bags we recommend, the MLC (short for Maximum Legal Carry) comes closest to being a suitcase on your back, due to its large size, simple interior, and minimal external features. The MLC is also one of the simplest bags we tested, divided into two leaves (imagine a book with only one page), with a main compartment for packing and a second compartment for document organization and tech storage. The MLC has a built-in laptop compartment that fits 17-inch laptops and is situated close to your back; this protects the computer and keeps its weight closer to your body.

Despite its size, it’s comfortable enough to carry. Most carry-on backpacks of this size, without frames, become somewhat unwieldy when fully packed. Thankfully, the Black Hole MLC bag, like the Cotopaxi Allpa, is a welcome exception to this rule. The MLC has two shoulder straps, a hip belt, and an optional shoulder strap, for easy carrying. When they're not in use, or when you’re checking your bag, all of the straps can be stowed away easily. When fully loaded, the bag was pleasant to carry—not as comfortable as the Peak Design or the Osprey, but decent enough. I wouldn’t want to carry it all day across a city, but I wouldn’t mind carrying it through an airport to a car and to a hotel.

It’s built from high-quality materials, with durability in mind. This pack is made from recycled polyester, and the fabric is woven in a cross-weave that’s very similar to what Patagonia uses in its long-lasting Black Hole series of duffle bags . This is a material I’ve come across a bunch with Patagonia gear, and I’ve tested it thoroughly; it’s very tough. The front of the bag is coated in a weather-resistant TPU, for extra protection from the elements. The bag has large YKK zippers (the industry leader) and smaller YKK zippers throughout. Unlike the Cotopaxi Allpa pack, the Black Hole MLC bag has no security loops.

It comes with one of the best repair programs and a lifetime warranty. Similar to our other picks, the MLC is backed by an excellent lifetime warranty , and we’ve always found that Patagonia’s repair program goes above and beyond other comparable companies.

  • We wish the Maximum Legal Carry (despite the name) came in a few more sizes. The 45-liter capacity may be intimidating for some people, and there is no alternative.

Capacity: 45 liters Weight: 3 pounds 10 ounces Main compartment access: clamshell Style: retro Colors: tan, black, olive, green

The Osprey Farpoint/ Fairview 40 Travel Pack, one of our also-great picks for the best carry-on travel backpack, shown in black.

Osprey Farpoint 40

For long distances on foot.

A great starter option for one-bag travel, this bag is easy to pack, adaptable to most situations, and sturdy enough to take with you as you travel the world.

travel backpack europe reddit

Osprey Fairview 40

For long distances and smaller torsos.

A scaled-down version of the Farpoint, this bag has shoulder straps that are slightly lower, to keep the bag’s bulk more aligned with smaller torsos.

Updated in 2023, the Osprey Farpoint 40 and Fairview 40 packs are both built around a hiking backpack frame that’s easy to carry over long distances.

It’s built for travel but designed for hiking. The Farpoint 40 bag is well made, easy to pack, and comfortable to carry over most mid-length distances—such as walking across a city for an afternoon. (For simplicity’s sake, everything we say here about the Farpoint bag also applies to the Fairview bag.) Osprey makes excellent backpacks for hauling around, and its lifetime warranty is renowned within the industry . The Farpoint pack also has an optional messenger bag–style strap, which offers some flexibility when you’re maneuvering tight spaces like subways or crowded city centers.

View of the straps on the reverse of the Osprey travel backpack.

It’s simple to pack, but not as spacious as it seems. Opening the bag reveals a clamshell design; it’s deep enough to accommodate most large items, yet you won’t have to fumble awkwardly with zippers once it’s time to close up the bag. The feeling you get is not unlike when you’re packing a bit of sturdy luggage, and that’s something we love about bags like this one—especially when you use packing cubes . Osprey says this bag, when fully packed, can carry 40 liters. But after using the Farpoint bag for a few years, we’ve decided that its rounded shape seems to cut into that theoretical packable space more than other bags do. In practice, the Farpoint pack’s available space is closer to—but still less than—that of the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L .

It’s the easiest bag to carry among our picks. Like all Osprey bags, the Farpoint 40 has very comfortable shoulder straps. The years of design and consideration Osprey has put into its hiking backpacks are quite evident in the Farpoint 40. After more than seven years of long-term testing this bag, we’re still surprised by how great it feels to wear when fully packed. Crucially, the straps of the Farpoint 40 stow away neatly behind a zippered panel. However, when you’re using the shoulder straps, the design forces you to also use the hip straps. Though this isn’t a huge issue, if you prefer a sleeker look or would rather have the option of using shoulder straps without hip straps, the Cotopaxi Allpa pack is more flexible, and it lets you hide the waist straps while the bag is on your back.

The Fairview 40 has the same features, in a scaled-down size. The Farpoint 40 and the Fairview 40 packs basically have the same design, but the Fairview pack is made for someone with a more-diminutive torso. It’s also slightly lighter. However, it has the features and durability of the Farpoint bag. It also has the same hip belt and adjustability. On both, the chest-strap clip is also equipped with a small security whistle that’s surprisingly loud. It’s a handy feature for anyone traveling in unfamiliar environments.

  • For a smaller carry-on travel backpack, this one has little to not like. However, we do wish Osprey would trade some of the sleeker contours for a little more interior space.

Capacity: 35 liters Weight (Farpoint): 3 pounds 3 ounces Weight (Fairview): 3 pounds 2 ounces Main compartment access: front-panel loader Style: active Colors (Farpoint): green (Gopher), gray (Tunnel Vision), blue (Muted Space), black Colors (Fairview): blue (Winter Night), red (Zircon), blue (Night Jungle), black

The Tortuga Travel Backpack 40L, our also-great pick for the best carry-on travel backpack.

Tortuga Travel Backpack Pro 40L

A suitcase to carry on your back.

For dedicated single-bag travelers, this water-resistant, durable bag is easy to pack and to travel with. And it’s comfortable to wear over endless miles—as long as you don’t mind the heavier weight.

The Tortuga Travel Backpack Pro 40L maximizes packing space in a bag that’s durable, water-resistant, and customizable to fit most torso lengths (there’s also a 30L version ), with plenty of organizational features to suit any digital nomad.

It’s like a suitcase, with backpack straps. The Tortuga Travel Backpack Pro 40L is built to occupy the maximum carry-on space available. It’s a nearly perfect blend of backpack and luggage. On the outside, its tear-resistant sailcloth and sealed zippers provide ample protection from sharp objects and the elements. Opening the main clamshell zipper reveals a cavernous interior and a few organizational features that make the bag a cinch to pack. The front panel is a particular standout, great for keeping track of electronics and chargers. Of all the bags we tested, the Tortuga strikes the closest balance between the carrying comfort of a hiking backpack and the space and organization of a piece of luggage.

The Tortuga Backpack Pro shown with the front clamshell lid in the open position.

It’s as easy to pack as luggage. When it comes to packing, the Tortuga pack has a soothingly minimal interior, as any good suitcase should. In addition to the bag’s cavernous main pocket, its interior lid has a large vented panel. The panel is too narrow to hold additional packing cubes, but it’s great for holding light jackets or doubling as a dirty-laundry bag (if you’re really committed to one-bag travel). The Tortuga is available as a 40-liter pack (the maximum space for a carry-on bag), which we tested; there is also a 30-liter version, which is compliant with some intra-European flights. The more-diminutive version is a decent choice for weekend travel or for minimalist travelers—but for those uses, we prefer the space-saving profile and extra internal organization of the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L bag.

It’s very customizable. The Tortuga pack is the most adjustable model we tested, thanks to its adjustable torso length, shoulder straps, and waist-belt system. The adjustable strap system lets you manipulate the location of the shoulder straps (video) to fit a wider variety of body sizes, in both the 30- and 40-liter versions. Of the packs we’ve tested, this one (with its included load-adjuster straps at the top, to prevent the bag’s weight from sagging toward your lumbar region) is the best at distributing its weight (4½ pounds when empty—roughly 1½ pounds more than most of our other picks, except the Peak Design ). The hip straps are removable if you need, but the shoulder straps are not stowable.

  • Its straps don’t stow away. Some people, especially those who are hard on their gear, may consider not being able to remove or stow the shoulder straps (as they can with our other picks, like the Cotopaxi Allpa ) a disqualifying factor. But after years of testing, traveling with, and occasionally checking our bag, we haven’t had an issue. However, if these mysteries beneath the airport also make you nervous, you might prefer our picks with easy-to-stow straps, such as the Peak Design.
  • It's heavy. We’ve fielded complaints from some testers who said that older models of this bag were too heavy for them to carry, even with the padded hip belt and adjustable straps. The additional padding does add weight. At 4½ pounds, this latest Tortuga bag is more than half a pound lighter than it used to be (the difference is noticeable), and it weighs the same as the equally large Peak Design pack. We are currently testing a new, lighter, and less-expensive version of this pack—aptly named the Travel Backpack Lite 40L —and will report back soon.  In the meantime, if you think you would struggle carrying the Tortuga, we strenuously encourage you to consider one of our more-manageable picks, like the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L.

Capacity: 40 liters Weight: 4½ pounds Main compartment access: clamshell opening Style: minimal, with a rigid construction Color: black

If you want to travel like a backpacker but also fit in at a board meeting (and you have the budget for it): Consider the Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 . This bag’s reputation for durability, adaptability, and a low-key aesthetic make it a favorite among many dedicated one-bag travelers. And after testing it, we think it’s a great bag too. That said, for the bag to really stand out against other backpacks—and to take full advantage of its carrying adaptability—you need to buy the internal frame , the hip belt , and (if you’re traveling with a suit or jacket) the shoulder strap . On a bag that already costs $330, all of this adds up. Everything about the Tom Bihn bag (the fabric, the zippers, the quality of construction) feels like an upgrade from other bags, but it’s simply too pricey, and its design is too rarified and specific for most people. The biggest flaw, from our perspective—apart from the price—is that the Tom Bihn bag lacks a dedicated laptop pocket. In its place, the company sells laptop sleeves (a fine version if you don’t have one) that clip into the bag’s central compartment. Not everyone needs a dedicated laptop pocket, but we prefer the more secure feeling of bags that do.

If you want a budget pick (but only when it’s on sale): The eBags Mother Lode Travel Backpack (our former budget pick) is still your best budget option, if you can catch it on sale for at least half off the list price. It’s not comfortable enough for trekking long distances on foot, but there are plenty of external pockets for organization, a laptop sleeve (which holds the weight of your computer high up on your shoulders), and an easy-to-access main compartment. This pack also has the largest capacity of any bags we tested, expanding to 65 liters—well beyond any airline’s regulated 45-liter limit. However, the bag’s casual-to-basic looks might not be to everyone’s taste. In 2024, eBags raised the price of the Mother Lode to $200. We have seen it on sale for $100, and in our opinion it’s worth getting only at the sale price.

We’ve narrowed our specifications for a great bag to the following list of features, ordered from most relevant to least:

  • Front- or back-panel loader or clamshell opening, for the main compartment: As with any good piece of luggage, with this type of bag, you should be able to open it and see everything you’ve packed. When you have a bag with a panel-loading or clamshell design—rather than a traditional, top-opening design—you can pack and unpack it just as you would a suitcase.

A graphic illustrating a clamshell bag opening

  • Backpack strap comfort and design: You never know when you’ll be walking farther with your bag than you’d intended. The more comfortable and well designed the straps are, the easier traveling will be. “Ideally, you want a bag’s shoulder straps to adjust to the angle of your shoulders,” said Eytan Levy of Snarky Nomad. “Good shoulder straps are the difference between an easy trip and a hard trip.”
  • Hip-belt comfort and design: A hip belt transfers heavy loads from your back and shoulders onto your hips, letting your legs—not your back—bear the brunt of the weight. Just having a waist belt is a plus, but having a padded and sculpted one—especially on bags with over 40 liters of volume—makes a world of difference.
  • Material quality: Durability is critical for any type of luggage, but especially for a backpack that will be your only bag. Most bags worth considering are made of nylon, which resists abrasion more than polyester fabrics of similar density. Spending more, however, can get you exotic, light, and strong materials, such as Dyneema or sailcloth.
  • Weight: Once the bags arrived, we weighed each one ourselves. Most of the bags weighed within a few pounds of one another. But unless you’re very strict with yourself, by the time you’re packed for a two-week journey, all bags are going to feel equally massive, even if one is just 2 pounds heavier than another when empty.
  • Stowable straps: These are nice to have, but they aren’t absolutely necessary. “The more often you need to check a bag, the more often you need to hide away the straps,” Levy said. “But if the straps are tough enough, it doesn’t matter.”
  • Accessory pocket layout and design: Some people will love an accessory pocket that has a specific space for everything; others may find that feature constricting and unadaptable. We prioritized bags with simple designs that guided our packing without constraining us.
  • Style: This is purely subjective. We preferred bags that had a minimalist exterior style, but not all of our picks will please everyone. Most of the people we spoke with, however, preferred not to stick out like a tourist wearing a large, colorful backpack, if they could avoid it.

During testing, we flew across the country with these bags, took weekend trips to nearby cities, lived out of them on extended trips, and tried them locally in our daily routines. We also packed and unpacked each bag, using a standardized set of weeklong travel necessities and accessories, to see how well the internal organizational features (or lack thereof) aided or got in the way of efficient packing.

This is not a comprehensive list of all of the carry-on travel backpacks we have tested. We have removed any models that have been discontinued or that no longer meet our criteria.

The Away Outdoor Convertible Backpack 45L is a rare miss from the Away team. This bag is resoundingly average for the price. Although it’s made from excellent materials, the bag is let down by its overall design, which lacks any kind of structure or attention to comfort. There are better options.

The cheap, no-frills Cabin Max Metz bag is intriguing for the price. Any bag at this price should almost be considered disposable. That said, if you need a simple bag that costs less than a seat upgrade, this might be the way to go—unless you can pick up the eBags Motherlode bag for under $100, which we think is a better deal at that price.

The GeniusPack Travel Backpack is the only model we came across that tried to fit a suit into a travel backpack. Though some people might need that, we think those who have to travel with a suit (or clothes that require pressing) would be better off with a piece of carry-on luggage . GeniusPack now offers a second version of this bag, but our conclusion hasn’t changed.

For certain people, the GoRuck GR3 is almost worth the cost. It’s strong and simple and covered by an iron-clad repair guarantee. The removable hip belt is comfortable to wear, and it’s good at displacing the weight of a 45-liter backpack. This is a decent bag. After testing it, however, we weren’t thrilled with the internal Velcro lining for compatible Velcro packing cubes. Velcro isn’t great: It wears out, it’s difficult to keep clean, and it clings to dirt. That might seem like a small thing, but for the price, this bag should feel perfect.

The Minaal Carry-On 2.0 was designed to be a backpack for business people. But if you’re carrying it for business, you’re probably wearing at least a blazer, so you wouldn’t use a backpack in any case. If you’re a business traveler who falls more on the casual end of the business-casual spectrum, and you’re not on a budget, this is a well-thought-out pack. But we think our picks are more versatile for world travel, and they come at a better price. Minaal has since introduced a 3.0 version of this bag ; our thoughts about it remain the same.

The Osprey Sojourn Porter 46L is a slightly larger sibling of the Farpoint pack. The Sojourn Porter bag is about 2 inches longer, and it pushes right up to most airline limits. If you don’t mind possibly having to check your bag at the last minute, this would be an excellent alternative to the Farpoint pack.

This article was edited by Ria Misra and Christine Ryan.

Chase Reeves, , phone interview , October 10, 2018

Addison Ryan, moderator, r/onebag , email interview , September 8, 2018

Lindsay Lorraine Calderón, moderator, r/heronebag , phone interview , September 28, 2018

Meet your guide

travel backpack europe reddit

Kit Dillon is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter. He was previously an app developer, oil derrick inspector, public-radio archivist, and sandwich shop owner. He has written for Popular Science, The Awl, and the New York Observer, among others. When called on, he can still make a mean sandwich.

Further reading

Four Osprey travel backpacks, two blue, two green, sitting next to each other.

The Best Travel Backpack

by Geoffrey Morrison

For trips ranging from a week to multiple months, the Osprey Farpoint 55 and Fairview 55 carried everything we needed comfortably.

A person in an outdoor environment wearing one of our picks for best buy it for life backpack with a minimalist look, the GoRuck GR1.

The Best Buy It for Life Backpack (Please Don’t Call It Tactical)

by Kit Dillon

A buy-it-for-a-lifetime backpack should last you for years of heavy use. But as with all investments, you need to decide if it makes sense for you.

Three of our favorite backpacks, totes and duffle bags on display

Wirecutter’s Favorite Bags, Totes, Backpacks and Carryalls

by Truth Headlam

Whether you’re going to school, work, the gym, the store, or on vacay, you need a bag. Here’s the Wirecutter-recommended carrying gear we love most.

A person wearing the Cotopaxi Allpa 35L travel backpack.

I Took 5 Trips in 6 Months. My Go-To Weekender Bag Was This Surprisingly Spacious Backpack.

by Elissa Sanci

Struggling to pack for your weekend away? The Cotopaxi Allpa 35L fits so much more than you’d expect.

Where The Road Forks

My First Solo Trip Review: Backpacking Europe

By: Author Zachary Friedman

Posted on Last updated: February 12, 2024

Categories Europe , Solo Travel , Travel Stories

Home » Europe » My First Solo Trip Review: Backpacking Europe

In the Summer of 2011 at 18 years old, I set out on my first solo trip. For three months I backpacked around Europe through 20 countries. I traveled by train, bus, and boat. In this article, I review my first solo trip. I’ll talk about planning, packing, budgeting, my route, experiences, and more. I’ll discuss the mistakes I made and the things I did right. Hopefully, you can learn from my experience to help make your first solo trip a bit smoother and less stressful.

houses in Amsterdam

Why I Decided to Take this Trip

I knew I wanted to travel after high school but I didn’t know where to go or how to go about it. While studying Spain in Spanish class, my teacher taught us about Europe’s extensive rail network. She shared her experience traveling around the continent with a Eurail Pass. After some more research, I concluded that Europe sounded like an easy destination for a first-time solo traveler like myself.

Research and Preparation for My First Solo Trip

Because this was my first trip, I wanted to be as prepared as possible so I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed when I arrived in Europe. I researched every aspect of the trip extensively and planned for every possible scenario. I didn’t want any unexpected surprises. Topics of research included visas, transportation, safety, pricing, accommodation, and more.

At the same time, I wanted to keep my plans as open as possible so I didn’t pre-book much. I didn’t know how fast or far I’d want to travel because everything was new to me. I also wanted to be a bit spontaneous. This turned out to be a good idea as travel in Europe was much faster and easier than I expected.

Building my Itinerary

I started off by studying the world map that I had hanging in my room to familiarize myself with the geography of Europe. I created several potential itineraries that I thought were possible with the time I had. My plan was to fly in and out of the same airport so I created a loop itinerary.

Next, I researched each country in the region. I read travel blogs, articles, travel forums, and borrowed a Western Europe travel book from a family friend. While researching, I made a list of potential activities, museums, monuments, and points of interest that I may want to see.

a canal in Amsterdam

A few top destinations included Stonehenge, the Louvre, the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, the Vatican, and the canals of Amsterdam. I’m also pretty interested in WWII history so I wanted to see Anne Frank’s house, Oskar Schindler’s factory, Anne Frank House, and Auschwitz, and a few more sites.


The next step was researching transportation. I started by shopping for the cheapest flight from Los Angels to Europe. London seemed to be the cheapest city to fly into at the time.

I also researched the Eurail Pass extensively. I looked up the time tables for each leg of my itinerary to check whether or not the Eurail pass covered it and what time I would leave and arrive in each city. When it didn’t, I looked at bus tickets. I found that Europe is so well connected that almost every route is possible.

Before the trip, I applied for my first passport. While I was waiting for it to arrive, I researched visas. I learned that my US passport allowed me to travel pretty much anywhere I wanted without arranging any visas in advance. The only one I would need was for Turkey, which was available at the border on arrival.


I planned to stay in hostels most nights and camp once in a while. I looked for hostels on Hostelworld and in each city that I planned to visit. While researching, I checked prices, the location in the city, whether or not they included breakfast, and how to get there from the train station.

I only booked my first three nights in London but I wrote down the names and prices of some hostels that I might stay in along the way. Because summer is so busy, I knew that I would need to book in advance most of the time so it helped to be prepared.

Next, I started thinking about what kind of clothing and gear I would need for the trip. I needed to buy a new backpack to carry my clothing and gear. I already had most of the clothing I needed. The only other gear I needed to buy was outlet converters, a money belt, and a few small items.

Finally, I needed to make a budget. As I researched, I wrote down the price of everything I could think of including my flight, Eurail pass, reservations, bus tickets, hostels, food, drinks, entry tickets, and more. I then added it up. I’ll talk more in-depth about budgeting later on.

Telling My Family About my Solo Travel Plans

One issue I ran into while planning my first solo trip that I didn’t consider beforehand was how difficult it was going to be to tell my friends and family about my plans. I got some pushback and questioning. Particularly from my grandparents. Some people just don’t get solo travel. My dad got it. My mom was unsure but accepting.

Common questions, comments, and concerns I heard include: ‘Why are you doing that?’ ‘Why don’t you go with a friend?’, ‘Isn’t that dangerous?’ , ‘Why don’t you travel in your own country instead?’, ‘Why don’t you wait until you’re older?’, ‘How are you going to pay for that?’ ‘Why do you want to go there?’, ‘Why don’t you get a job instead?’, ‘you don’t want to do that’, ‘you’ll never make it’, etc.

At times, I began to doubt myself. I wondered if I was biting off more than I could chew. If I was capable and competent enough to complete the trip. Luckily, I was strong enough to push through the criticism and go through with my plans. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have second thoughts though.

I’m not the only solo traveler who has run into this issue. Telling friends and family about solo travel plans is a common concern. It comes up frequently on the subreddit r/solotravel. I’ve read some horror stories there about people’s families forbidding them to travel or even threatening to disown them if they go through with their travel plans. Luckily my family wasn’t that extreme.

If you face this problem when planning your trip, my best advice is to answer their valid questions about safety, transportation, budgeting, accommodation, etc. to put their mind at ease. Try to avoid talking about the trip as much as possible. If you let them dwell on it and bash your plans, you’ll just start to doubt yourself. No good can come of it. You may even feel tempted to cancel your trip.

For some more tips, check out this great guide to dealing with unsupportive friends and family.

Big Ben in London

Money and Budgeting for My First Solo Trip

My first major obstacle in planning my trip was making sure I had enough money. I saved up around $5000 for the trip from working at McDonald’s, 18 years worth of birthday money, and some painting work I did for my friend’s parents. This had to cover all of my expenses including airfare, the Eurail Pass, other transportation, accommodation, food, drinks, entertainment, activities, souvenirs, travel gear, etc. My goal was to make it last 3 months.

I made a rough budget to find out what this whole thing would cost me. I spent a significant amount of time researching the pricing of everything I could think of and adding it all up. To make my budget, I priced out the following:

  • Travel gear- I needed to purchase a backpack, outlet converters, a tent, some clothes, new shoes, travel-sized toiletries, and a few more small items.
  • Plane ticket- I shopped around to find which city was the cheapest to fly into from Los Angeles. It turned out to be London.
  • Eurail pass- I considered which pass I would require based on the duration of my trip and the number of trains I planned to take. I found that the Eurail pass was economical for my particular trip. I went with the 3 month global pass.
  • Hostels- I went on Hostelworld and and researched the price of dorm beds in most of the cities that I planned to visit in order to get a rough idea of the price of hostels. I found an average price for each city, multiplied it by the number of nights I planned to stay, then added up all of the hostel costs to get a rough accommodation budget idea.
  • Entry fees, tours, and activities- I looked into the prices for various things that I wanted to do while traveling including entry to museums, parks, tours, etc. I’m not really into organized activities so this cost was pretty low.
  • Food- I considered the cost of restaurant meals and cooking my own food in hostel kitchens. This one is difficult to estimate. I planned to cook for myself most of the time.
  • Alcohol- This one was tough to price as well. I couldn’t legally drink in my home country at the time but I knew I’d be drinking on my trip.
  • Miscellaneous- I budgeted a bit extra for various unexpected expenses just to be on the safe side. I think I ended up buying a couple of new shirts and a new pair of shorts when mine wore out.
  • Souvenirs- I don’t buy souvenirs but if you plan to, you’ll want to budget for them.
  • Travel Insurance- I did not have travel insurance on this trip but I probably should have.

After adding everything up, my total costs came out above my $5000 budget for my three-month trip. To cut costs, I made some changes to my itinerary. I cut out a few expensive Western European cities and added a few more affordable Eastern European cities. I also eliminated a couple of destinations that my Eurail Pass wouldn’t cover. Eventually, I was able to get my budget to around $5000.

First Solo Travel Tip: Make sure you have some emergency money in case a problem arises. You don’t want to spend every penny you have on your trip. You need some backup in case an emergency arises. That way, you’re covered if your phone gets stolen or if you need to buy a ticket home in an emergency. You also need some money to re-establish yourself when you return home. For example, maybe you need to rent an apartment.

Exactly how much you need depends on your age, budget, financial situation, etc. I like to carry at least $300 in cash plus have a couple thousand extra in my checking account. I didn’t have any emergencies on this trip but it brought me peace of mind knowing I had some extra cash just in case.

For more info on travel budgeting, check out my guides:

  • How to Make an Accurate Budget for Long Term Travel.
  • Guide to Ultra Low Budget Travel on $10 Per Day.

Tickets and Reservations I Booked in Advance

About a month and a half before my trip, I bought the following tickets and made the following reservations:

  • Plane ticket- I bought a round trip ticket between Los Angeles and London with Air Canada. It cost around $1200.
  • Eurail Pass- I bought the 3 month global unlimited pass. It cost around $700.
  • Hostel- I booked 2 nights in a hostel in London. I wasn’t sure how many days I’d want to stay or where exactly I’d go next so I just booked the first two nights.
  • Tour- I booked myself on a tour from London to Stonehenge for the day after I arrived.


First Solo Travel Tip: Book your first few days of accommodation in advance. Having a hotel or hostel bed already reserved brings peace of mind because you know where you’re going when you arrive. It also helps when passing through immigration.

To make things even easier, consider booking your airport transportation in advance as well. Many hotels and hostels offer a shuttle service. If you plan to take public transport from the airport to your accommodation, make sure you know which bus or train lines you need to take. Also, have the hotel’s phone number and address handy in case you need to ask for directions or tell your driver where you need to go.

Gear and Packing for My First Solo Trip

travel backpack

Travel doesn’t really require much specialty gear. Before I left, I bought a few items including:

  •  Travel Backpack- I needed something lightweight and voluminous enough to accommodate all of my clothes and gear. I wanted a backpack that was small enough to carry on an airplane and large enough to accommodate 3 months worth of gear. I bought the Osprey Talon 44. This is a great bag. After 10 years of rough use on 6 continents, it’s still in excellent condition. Read my full review of the backpack here.
  • Outlet converters- For charging my camera. I didn’t pack a laptop or cell phone on this trip.
  • First aid kit- I bought a small first aid kit with bandages, antibiotic ointment, anti-diarrhea medicine, etc.
  • Tent- I bought a cheap one person non-freestanding tent. I wasn’t sure whether or not to travel with a tent. I figured I could at least save some money by camping.
  • Sleeping bag- I bought a lightweight synthetic travel sleeping bag. This turned out to be pretty useful. These days, I always travel with some type of blanket, quilt, or sleeping bag. It comes in handy surprisingly often.
  • Money belt- Instead of using a wallet, I used a money belt to carry my passport, cash, and cards. This helps to protect valuables from muggers and pickpockets. I bought the Eagle Creek Silk Undercover money belt on Amazon. I’m really happy with it. I actually still use the same one to this day. It’s one of the only pieces of original travel gear that I still use. Read my full review of the money belt here.

Pretty much everything else I needed I already had. I packed:

  •  1 pair of shoes
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 1 pair of swim shorts
  • Glasses, contacts, and sunglasses
  • A toiletries kit

The following two sections cover the first week or so of my trip. Things started out a bit rough. There is definitely a learning curve to solo travel. In this section, I’ll outline a couple of mistakes I made and the lessons I learned. I’ll also describe a few unexpected hiccups I experienced along the way. Hopefully, my stories can help you avoid experiencing similar problems.


My First Day of Solo Travel

My dad drove me to LAX and dropped me off. I don’t remember being particularly nervous which is surprising because I’m generally a pretty anxious guy. I felt confident and prepared.

The flight itself went smooth. I checked in and checked my backpack then boarded my flight without any issues. I had a brief stopover in Toronto before catching my first intercontinental flight to London.

After landing in Heathrow, the first problem immediately arose. While standing around the baggage claim, the crowd slowly thinned out until I was the last guy standing next to the belt. My bag didn’t arrive. Air Canada lost my backpack full of all my travel gear that I had so carefully packed. Stupidly, I packed everything in my backpack, including my contact lenses and camera.

I walked over to the baggage counter and told the agent that my bag didn’t show up. The guy was incredibly unsympathetic. He just handed me a form. All I could do was fill it out and hope that Air Canada found my backpack. I was offered no compensation.

Luckily, I did have my debit cards so getting cash wasn’t a problem. After clearing customs and immigration, I navigated the tube into central London.

I had a bit of trouble finding my hostel. I ended up wandering around Borough High Street for around an hour before I managed to find the entrance. Once I found the place, I checked in and went to sleep. This was my first day of solo travel. So far I hated it.

Over the next couple of days, I walked down to the nearest payphone to call Air Canada a couple of times per day. I tried my best to get some type of compensation out of them but they offered nothing. They just expected me to wait in the city for my bag to arrive.

Finally, on the third day, my backpack made it to London. Someone dropped it off at the hostel reception. Now my trip could begin.

A few important lessons I learned on my first day of solo travel:

  •  Only bring a carry-on bag- I overpacked. Probably because this was my first trip and I didn’t know exactly what I would need. Now I know that a carry-on-sized bag is sufficient to accommodate enough gear for almost any trip. These days, I never check a bag unless I’m packing camping gear. Check out my guide to checked vs carry-on luggage for more info.
  • Never fly Air Canada- At this point, I have flown on dozens of airlines and Air Canada has the absolute worst customer service that I have ever experienced. I found this particularly shocking since Canadians are such nice people in general. I will never fly Air Canada again.
  • Always have travel insurance- I probably could have gotten some type of compensation for the trip delay. Luckily my bag was found this time. If it wasn’t I would have been out several hundred dollars. Travel insurance would have come in handy.

A small town in Switzerland

My First Solo Trip Begins

From London, I decided to travel to Amsterdam. The Eurostar cost too much so I decided to take the bus then transfer to a train. I left London without knowing exactly how I was going to get to Amsterdam, where I would sleep, or when I would arrive. This turned out to be a mistake.

I caught an afternoon bus from London to Brussels. There, I activated my Eurail pass and caught my first European train. I ended up on an afternoon train to Antwerp then transferred onto a night train to Amsterdam. Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive until midnight.

This was my mistake. I arrived in an unfamiliar city in the middle of the night without any accommodation booked. I had no way of accessing the internet to look for a hostel because I didn’t have a phone and all of the internet cafes were closed. At this point, my only options were to spend the night in the train station or go out wandering around the city looking for a place to sleep.

I walked out of the train station, not knowing that I couldn’t re-enter until the following morning. Essentially, I ended up spending a long, cold night wandering the streets of Amsterdam with my backpack. I didn’t know where to go so I just walked.

Over the course of the night, I ended up meeting a series of strange and interesting characters including a drunken cyclist, a homeless Welshman, and an odd bald guy. The whole night was just bizarre, like a fever dream. I didn’t sleep at all. Luckily I didn’t get robbed. You can read about my night in Amsterdam here.

The following day, I started my search for a place to sleep for that night. After visiting half a dozen hostels, I realized that everything was fully booked or out of my price range. I never considered that Amsterdam would be fully booked out and I couldn’t afford to pay $50 per night for a dorm bed. This is peak summer season travel in Amsterdam.

Eventually, I found an internet cafe and went online to look at my options. I knew that worst case, I could catch a train to another city. Of course, I really wanted to experience Amsterdam.

Hostelworld had nothing in my price range. I found a campground just outside the city that was accessible by tram. I ended up camping there for the next few nights. This turned out to be cheaper and more pleasant than a hostel anyway. Luckily, I was traveling with a tent.

From this ordeal I learned to:

  • Avoid arriving in an unfamiliar city late at night or early in the morning without confirmed accommodation and transport plans- Everything becomes more difficult at night. For example, public transportation often stops running, hotels and hotels lock their doors for security reasons, and restaurants are all closed. Arriving at night is also slightly more dangerous because most crime happens at night. You don’t want to be out wandering around a foreign city in some random neighborhood at 2 am looking for a hotel with a vacancy. Nothing good can come of it. If you plan to arrive in a new city in the middle of the night, book ahead and arrange your transport in advance. Also, make sure your hotel reception expects you. Better yet, arrive during the day.
  • Book ahead in popular destinations or during peak season- Some touristy cities, like Amsterdam, Barcelona, and Paris for example, fully book out during the busy season. Sometimes you need to book up to a couple of weeks in advance in order to get a bed in a decent hotel, hostel, or Airbnb.
  • Carry a tent- You can almost always find a place to camp. Most campgrounds won’t turn you away, even if they’re packed. There is always a bit of space. If you have a tent, you can also wild camp. If you don’t want to carry a tent, consider packing a hammock. For more info on camping while traveling, check out my guide to traveling with a tent.

the Colosseum

The Rest of the Trip

The trip started out pretty rough but I feel like I learned a few valuable travel lessons early on. From there on out, it was smooth sailing.

A few highlights from my first solo trip included:

  • Stockholm- For whatever reason, I loved this city. I also met a great group of fellow travelers at the hostel.
  • The hostels- I’m probably in the minority here, but I love staying in hostels. This trip gave me my first hostel experience. I’ve stayed in hundreds since.
  • The train rides- On this trip, I learned that I’m a train guy. While traveling, I ride them whenever possible. This trip gave me my first taste of train travel.
  • Prague- This is probably my favorite European city. It’s cheap, beautiful, and the beer is great. I love it.
  • Wandering around on foot- Most European cities are compact and walkable. For the most part, you don’t have to worry about wandering into a dangerous neighborhood. One of my favorite things to do while traveling is walking around. Europe is perfect for this.
  • Krakow- Another historic and beautiful European city. It’s affordable too.
  • The ferry ride from Greece to Italy – I slept on the deck in my sleeping bag. The weather that night was perfect.
  • Istanbul- As an inexperienced traveler at the time, this city felt really exotic.
  • Camping- Many European cities have campgrounds within the city or just outside. They’re usually accessible by public transport. My favorite places I camped were Munich and Amsterdam.


My First Solo Trip Route

I put my Eurail pass to good use and ended up visiting about 20 countries during my first solo trip. On average, I stayed in each city for 3-4 nights. That gave me enough time to see the main sites and go out one night. If I was really enjoying a city, I’d stay 4-5 nights. Travel time between cities was always less than a day.

I visited the following cities during my first solo trip:

London – Amsterdam – Copenhagen – Stockholm – Berlin – Munich – Prague – Krakow – Bratislava, Slovakia – Vienna – Budapest – Bucharest – Sofia – Istanbul – Thessaloniki, Greece – Rome – Zurich – Interlaken, Switzerland – Barcelona – Madrid – Paris – Bruges

My personal favorites were Amsterdam, Stockholm, Prague, Krakow, Istanbul, and Barcelona.


The Eurail pass covered every trip except London-Brussels, Sofia-Istanbul, Istanbul-Thessaloniki, and Bruges-London. I bought these tickets separately at the bus or train station.

Accommodation: A Note about European Hostels

Europe is the birthplace of youth hostels. The first one opened in Germany in 1912. That means that travelers have been hosteling in Europe for over 100 years. My dad backpacked Europe in the 60s and probably had a similar experience to me.

At this point, I have stayed in hostels on 6 continents. In my opinion, Europe offers the best hostels in terms of facilities and cleanliness. There are also a lot of them. Hostels are absolutely everywhere on the continent.

Unfortunately, European hostels are expensive and prices keep increasing. During my first solo trip, the most expensive hostels cost around $30 per night in Stockholm and Amsterdam. Average prices were around $7-$15.

These days, hostel prices are significantly higher. In most Western European capital cities, expect to pay $25-$35 per night for a dorm bed in a centrally located hostel during busy season. In the most expensive cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Zurich, Oslo, and Stockholm, you might pay $40-$50 during peak season. That’s getting a bit too pricey for most backpackers traveling long term.

Luckily, prices are still reasonable in Eastern Europe. For my next European trip, I plan to visit Ukraine, Moldova, the Balkans, and the Caucuses. Hostel prices still seem very reasonable in that part of the continent.

First Solo Trip Tip: Stay in Social Hostels

Solo travel gets lonely. Particularly at night. To help you meet people, stay in a social hostel. Hostels offer a common area, bar, walking tours, group meals, pub crawls, and a variety of other social events. These offer great opportunities to meet fellow travelers to go out with, sightsee with, and even travel with.

One thing to remember when booking is that hostel atmosphere varies greatly. Some are more oriented to partying while others are more chilled out. Some are designed to be social while others are geared pretty much only for sleeping. Be sure to check reviews before booking. Check out my guide to choosing a hostel for some helpful tips.

If you’re not comfortable sleeping in a dorm room with other people, most hostels offer private rooms. This way, you get to take advantage of the social aspects of hostels while still maintaining some privacy. Couchsurfing is another great social accommodation option.

Transportation: European Trains and the Eurail Pass, Budget Airlines, and Buses

Europe has maybe the best transportation infrastructure in the world. Between trains, buses, and budget airlines, you can travel pretty much anywhere on the continent quickly and usually affordably.

The European rail system, in particular, is world-class. Trains are reliable, comfortable, fast, and the system is extensive. You can travel almost anywhere by train. It’s impressive if you come from a place where train travel is less common.

train tracks in Stockholm

I bought the 3 month global unlimited Eurail pass before my trip. At the time, the pass cost around $700. While writing this article, I checked the price on their website and found that the pass costs about the same now. Somehow the price hasn’t increased in 9 years. That’s actually pretty impressive.

I absolutely recommend traveling by train in Europe but I’m still not sure whether to recommend the Eurail pass. On one hand, I used my Eurail pass extensively and definitely feel that I got my money’s worth. The pass even included my fairy fare from Greece to Italy. On the other hand, I think it would be easier, and for some trips cheaper, to just buy tickets as you go.

One thing that annoys me about the Eurail pass is the fact that you have to pay a reservation fee for most longer routes. They generally charge 10-15 euro per trip. Shorter routes often don’t require a reservation. You just hop on. The reservation fees add up quickly. I probably spend a couple of hundred Euro to reserve seats.

If the train is too expensive, I recommend you check bus ticket prices. It’s almost always cheaper to travel by bus. A few budget European bus lines include Flixbus, Megabus, and Eurolines. Bus companies vary by region as well. If you shop around, you can score some great deals. For more info, check out my bus vs train travel guide.

When traveling between cities that are more that a day apart overland, consider flying instead. European budget airlines offer surprisingly low rates. In some cases, it’s cheaper to fly than take the bus. A few popular European budget airlines include Ryanair, Norwegian Air Shuttle, EasyJet, Wizz Air, Pegasus Airlines, AirBaltic, and Eurowings.

First Solo Travel Tip: Travel by night. This benefits you in two ways. First, you’ll save money on a night of accommodation. Second, you’ll save valuable time. Rather than wasting a whole day sitting on the train or bus, you can sleep through the trip and wake up in a new city ready to explore. Of course, your sleep will suffer unless you book a bed in a sleeper car.

Accessing Money on My First Solo Trip

Before my trip, I got my first debit card from my local credit union. I was still 17 while planning the trip so I had to have one of my parents sign for the card. I kept most of my money in my checking account so I could access it through ATMs. At the time, I did not have a credit card. As I traveled, I withdrew cash from ATMs. I never had a problem finding one in Europe.

I also left home with about $500 USD in cash, which I stored in my money belt. This was as a backup just in case my debit card was lost, stolen, or shut off for some reason. Occasionally, I would exchange some cash for the local currency when I found a good exchange rate.

The cash came in handy on one occasion. For whatever reason, my debit card did not work in Romania. Even after calling my bank, they couldn’t figure it out.

I ended up spending a decent chunk of money on currency exchange fees and ATM fees. I learned my lesson after this experience.


These days, I use a travel credit card instead of a debit card or cash whenever possible. I do this for three reasons.

  • There are no exchange fees- Travel credit cards eliminate most fees. This saves you 1-3% on every transaction. Most debit cards charge a fee. You also avoid the conversion fee of exchanging cash.
  • Using a credit card adds security- Credit card companies can do chargebacks. They can refund you if your card gets overcharged or stolen and used by a criminal. This is possible because credit card companies usually don’t pay vendors until the following month. They still have the money so they can give it back to you if you fall victim to fraud or a scam.
  • I can take advantage of the points to travel more- Rewards points add up fast. Most credit card companies offer bonus points when you open a new card as well. For example, I paid for my round trip airfare to Africa with credit card points. That saved me around $1200.

I also carry a debit card with no foreign transaction fees or ATM withdraw fees. This has saved me hundreds of dollars in fees over the years.

Things I Would Have Done Differently on My First Solo Trip

Even thought the trip was a success, it wasn’t perfect. If I were to take this same trip again, I would:

  • Pack lighter- I didn’t want to buy everything new for the trip. I just didn’t have the budget. I ended up packing heavy clothing and gear that I already owned. As a result of this, my pack was pretty heavy. I’ve since upgraded to mostly ultralight gear. A lighter pack makes travel so much easier and less stressful. For help packing, check out my ultralight travel packing list.
  • Pack better shoes- I packed one pair of Converse All-Stars. These are great looking shoes but just aren’t comfortable enough for long walks. Over the course of the trip, I walked several hundred miles in them anyway. My feet hurt. These days, I pack running shoes or trail runners. I can walk all day and experience zero foot pain.
  • Spend more time in the outdoors- Europe offers some beautiful natural scenery. I spent most of my time in cities. On a future trip, I’d like to do some hiking in the Italian Dolomites, Norwegian Fjords, and Mont Blanc.
  • Spend less time in Western Europe – The region is beautiful and historic but too developed and touristy. In fact, the central tourist zones are so clean and well kept that they feel like Disneyland. I found Eastern Europe to be much more interesting. Having said this, I’m glad to have visited the famous western European capitals.
  • Spend more time in smaller towns- I mostly stuck to big capital cities like Berlin, Rome, Paris Amsterdam, London, Stockholm, etc. On a future trip, I would like to explore some second tier cities like Bergen, Norway, and Frankfurt, Germany. I would also like to visit some rural regions.
  • Visit fewer destinations- I was packing up and traveling to a different city every 3-4 days. I ended up visiting about 20 countries in just 3 months. I wanted to see everything, which got exhausting. These days, I travel much slower. I like to take some time to get to know each city and relax a bit. I’m over my country counting phase.

Things I Should Have Left at Home

Most first time travelers end up overpacking. Myself included. Some of the things that I shouldn’t have packed include:

  • DSLR camera- Too bulky and heavy. I don’t even travel with a camera anymore. I just use my phone. Of course, phone cameras were pretty bad at the time of this trip so that wasn’t really an option.
  • Some of my clothes- I packed too many clothes. I could have left a couple a couple t shirts, underwear, and socks at home. These days, I just pack a couple of shirts and pants and buy more when my originals wear out.
  • My heavy tent- The thing weighed like 4 pounds. I still carry a tent. Just an ultralight model. I have the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 1 and love it.
  • Sleep sheet- While researching for the trip, I read online that it’s a good idea to sleep in your own sheet or sleeping bag liner in hostels for hygiene reasons. This is unnecessary. Hostels are clean enough.

Loneliness During My First Solo Trip

During this trip, I quickly learned that solo travel is a lonely experience. I spent hundreds of hours alone in transit. I cooked and ate many meals alone. Much of the time I went sightseeing alone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just something to consider before taking a solo trip.

This wasn’t really a problem for me because I’m a bit of a loner naturally. Having said that spending so much time alone can take its toll. Sometimes I wished I had someone to talk to and enjoy the experience with. Sometimes I wished I had someone to suffer with during the low points.

Of course, most of the time I wasn’t alone. I met fellow travelers as well as locals everywhere I went. At most hostels I met people to sightsee with, eat with, and go out with. On a couple of occasions, I even met people to travel with for short stints.

Luckily, meeting people as a solo traveler is pretty easy. A few ways to meet people include:

  • Stay in a social hostel- Choose a hostel with a large common area and a bar. These features make it easy to meet fellow travelers. If the hostel offers outings or group activities, even better.
  • Go on a free walking tour- These are incredibly common in Europe. You’ll definitely meet fellow travelers.
  • Try to keep a positive attitude and try to look approachable- If you appear friendly, you’ll make friends more easily. People don’t want to talk to you if you look like you don’t want to be bothered.
  • Share food and drinks- Buy some beers or snacks and share them with other guests in the hostel. You’ll make friends quickly.
  • Go to a bar- Hotel and hostel bars are great places to meet people.
  • Stay with a local host or go couchsurfing- This way, you’ll automatically have a friend when you arrive.
  • Chat people up while in transit- You might make a friend and the time passes faster.
  • Take a class- Cooking, yoga, diving, and surfing classes are all great places to meet people. You’ll instantly become frineds with your classmates because you all share a common interest.
  • Volunteer or work- You’ll become quick friends with your host and fellow volunteers while working together.

For more help, check out my guide to meeting people while traveling alone.

First Solo Travel Tip : If you’re thinking about taking your first solo trip, it’s important to recognize that you will be spending a great deal of time alone. Even if you’re a chatty people person, you won’t meet people everywhere you go. Some hostels aren’t that friendly. In some cities you simply don’t meet anyone you connect with. You will be eating alone, sightseeing alone, and sitting alone for hours on the bus or train. If you’re the kind of person who needs constant social interaction, you may not enjoy solo travel. It’s not for everyone, which is fine.

A Note About Technology on My First Solo Trip

When I took this trip in 2011, smartphones and Wifi were just becoming common. I didn’t bring any kind of internet-connected device. I didn’t even bring a regular cell phone. During the trip, I only saw a handful of travelers with laptops or phones.

Back then, pretty much every hostel offered computers in the common area. I used these to research and make bookings as I went and to keep in contact with family and friends through email and Facebook. Occasionally, I used payphones to call home. I feel like I got to experience the tail end of the pre-smartphone era of travel.

Travel has changed significantly since 2011. These days, I always bring my phone and laptop when I travel. Every hostel has Wifi. Common computers and payphones are a thing of the past. A few major advantages of technology include:

  • Navigation- GPS makes it so much easier to find hostels, restaurants, points of interest, transit stations, etc. Even when I don’t have internet, I can download maps from Google Maps or and use my phone’s GPS to find where I need to go. One of the most annoying parts of my first solo trip was finding the hostel when I arrived in a new city. Before leaving the previous hostel, I had to handwrite directions to my next hostel. I could usually get to the neighborhood pretty easily but actually finding the hostel was a challenge. In Budapest, I spent almost two hours wandering around until I finally found the hostel’s postage stamp sized sign on the side of a building. Now I could walk right there with my phone.
  • keeping in touch- These days, I can call and text my friends and family back home and around the world whenever I want. There are dozens of free apps available including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, WeChat, etc. Sometimes I buy a local SIM card so I can call local numbers and use mobile data. Calling home was incredibly expensive during my first solo trip.
  • Communication with locals- With Google translate, I can communicate with pretty much anyone in their language. I usually download the offline version if I don’t have a local SIM card with mobile data.
  • Currency conversion- Instead of trying to calculate the prices in my head, I can whip out my phone and quickly convert prices into dollars with the most up to date exchange rate. This helps greatly with budgeting and avoiding scams.

A Few Tips for Your First Solo Trip

  • Choose your destination wisely- Some places are easier to solo travel than others. For your first solo trip, you probably don’t want to go to Nigeria or Afghanistan. Choose an easy destination with established tourist infrastructure. This makes it easy to get around and find decent accommodation. Choose a region that is popular among backpackers. You’ll have an easier time meeting people. Also, consider the language barrier. A few great destinations for first-time solo travelers include Southeast Asia, Western Europe, and Central America. For some more ideas, check out my guide to the best solo travel destinations.
  • Meet people- As mentioned above, traveling alone doesn’t mean you have to be alone all the time. Put some effort into meeting fellow travelers and locals. Looking back, some of my best memories of the trip were created with the people I met along the way.
  • Try to blend in- Tourists are a target for scammers, pickpockets, and muggers. By blending in, you reduce your risk of falling victim to a crime. To blend in, try to dress like a local rather than a tourist and avoid speaking too loudly. I blended in pretty well on my first solo trip. In the hostel in Stockholm, someone recommended I roll up my jeans at the bottom so I would blend in more. I guess that was in style in Northern Europe at the time. About 5 minutes after I walked out of the hostel some guy approached me speaking Swedish. After he learned that I didn’t speak the language, he told me that he thought I was a local because I was dressed like a Swede. It was a funny coincidence.
  • Always have a backup plan- It’s important to have a plan B in case things turn south. Carry some extra cash in case you need to take a taxi back to your hotel. Upload copies of all of your important documents to the cloud in case your passport gets stolen. Make sure you always have the address of your hotel on your person in case you get lost. Try your best to be prepared for every situation.
  • Pack light- Schlepping around a massive 90 liter backpack full of 50 lbs of gear grows old quickly. Try to pack everything you need into a carry-on-sized bag. 40-50 liters is ideal. Try to keep the total weight under 10 kg or 22 lbs if possible. If there is any question about whether or not you’ll need something, just leave it at home. Be sure to weigh your luggage before you leave to make sure it meets the airline weight limits. A light and compact bag allows you to avoid luggage fees. You can also easily walk with it across the city. You don’t need transportation everywhere you go.
  • Don’t plan too much- It’s fine to make a basic itinerary but I recommend you avoid booking anything beyond the first few days. Try to leave some room for spontaneity. Your plans will probably change once you reach your destination anyway. For example, maybe you end up falling in love with a particular city and you decide that you want to extend your stay. Maybe you end up hating a country and want to get out of there. If you already planned everything and booked everything in advance, changing your plans becomes difficult. If you keep your plans open, you can play it by ear.
  • Slow down- Many first-time solo travelers try to cram too many destinations and activities into their itinerary. I made this same mistake. Instead of trying to do everything, pick out a few things to do in each city. Instead of visiting 10 cities in a month, visit 3 or 4. Give yourself time to relax and explore. You’re on vacation after all.
  • Do your own thing- The best part of solo travel is the absolute freedom of it. You can do whatever you want without having to take anyone else’s preferences into consideration. It’s all about you. If you feel like renting a bike and riding across the city, you can. If you feel like going to a water park, you can. You also get to avoid things you don’t like doing. If you hate museums, skip them. If you don’t care for the local cuisine, eat something else. It’s your vacation. There is no right or wrong way to solo travel.

Final Thoughts about My First Solo Trip

I realize this is a cliché, but this trip was life changing. Not in the sense that I ‘found myself’ or that I changed in any way. Rather, that I found what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to travel. By the time I arrived back home, I was already planning my next trip, Asia.

10 years have passed since I took my first solo trip. During that time, I designed my life around travel. So far, I have visited 60 countries on 6 continents with plenty more trips planned for the future. I also started this travel blog and become a digital nomad. In this sense, the trip changed the course of my life.

Are you a solo traveler? Share your story about your first solo trip in the comments below!

More from Where The Road Forks

  • Solo Travel Vs Group Travel: Pros and Cons
  • 35 Types of Tourism
  • 22 Benefits of Traveling
  • Backpack Vs Suitcase: Pros and Cons
  • Am I Too Old for Hostels?

Zachary Friedman

Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and insights based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.

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A Solo Traveller's Guide to the World

What I Wish I Knew Before Backpacking Europe Alone

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Backpacking Europe alone after high school is one of the biggest clichés out there.

I’m proud to say that I avoided that cliché and travelled Europe alone for the first time right after University. 😉

Cliché or not, there is a reason why backpacking Europe alone is one of the most popular things for young people interested in travel to do.

Hell. I travel Europe alone as often and as frequently as I can even though it has been years since my first solo trip to Europe!

Europe is my favourite place on the planet, and the best part is it is super easy for solo travellers to explore Europe.

However, there are a few things I wish I knew before backpacking Europe alone.

These things would have saved me a lot of anxiety, money, and a few tears along the way.

If you’re planning your first backpacking trip through Europe, this is the post for you!

Hopefully you’re a little bit more prepared than I was!

Tips for planning your first solo trip

Table of Contents

You Don’t Have to Stay in Hostels

When I was researching before my first solo trip to Europe, every blog I read said that solo travellers stay in hostels.

The fact that I had to stay in hostels, and there were no other affordable options was beat into my head.

There were other reasons, such as the social aspect, that people were recommending hostels. But those reasons didn’t resonate with me as an extreme introvert.

The biggest thing I wish I knew before backpacking Europe alone is that I didn’t have to stay in hostels.

They’re a great, affordable option.

But they’re not the only option.

I spent months staying in hostels and hating it. They’re just not my jam.

If you’re like me and don’t love hostels, know that there are tons of affordable options out there!

I highly recommend you try to find guest houses to stay in or Airbnbs.

A lot of the time they are less expensive to stay in than a budget hotel and aren’t much more expensive than a hostel.

They’re a great option for people like me who don’t enjoy staying in hostels but also don’t want to spend a ton of money on lodging.

Of course, there are limits to how well this works.

If you’re in an expensive city like London, you’re going to be paying a pretty penny no matter where you stay.

Including hostels.

So, figure out what your budget is and research all your options before automatically searching and booking a hostel.

backpacking Europe alone

Don’t Take Internet Safety Lightly

Not enough people take internet safety seriously when they travel, and that is a mistake.

In fact, being internet safe is one of the most important travel safety tips I can give you!

As a traveller, you connect to public wifi networks on a daily basis, and this puts your devices at risk of being hacked.

And, yes, even hotel and café wifi networks that have a password are considered public wifi networks!

Anybody can access public wifi networks, and you’d be surprised at how easy it is for someone to steal your online data without you even knowing it.

I can’t imagine a worse scenario than backpacking Europe alone and having someone steal my banking information.

The hassle of canceling all your banking cards and then trying to figure out a way to fund the rest of your trip is not the type of thing you want to deal with when you’re on a solo trip.

The only way you can protect your devices when using a public wifi network is by installing a VPN on your devices.

A VPN essentially puts a forcefield around your devices and makes it impossible for prying eyes to access your online information.

It makes using a public wifi network just as safe as using your home wifi where you’re the only person who knows the password.

In my mind, installing a VPN on your devices is a non-negotiable.

It is the responsible thing to do, and there are no excuses for not protecting your online information and data when you travel.

travel backpack europe reddit

My Favourite VPN

I’ve used quite a few different VPNs over my years of travel, and, to be frank, most of them suck.

They slow your phone down to a snail’s pace. It is so frustrating to use most VPNs that you end up turning them off and exposing your online information.

Which totally defeats the purpose of having a VPN!

The only VPN I use and trust now is NordVPN .

I’ve been using them since 2018 and have no plans change provider.

They are the fastest VPN on the market, which is why I recommend them to my fellow travel lovers.

We need our internet to be quick, and if you’re like me, you don’t have the patience to deal with lagging internet.

That is never an issue with NordVPN .

You hardly notice a difference in the speed of your internet. You can use your devices and be safe without sacrificing any internet speed.

Plus a NordVPN subscription is super affordable.

It costs less than a latte per month, and you can install a VPN on up to six devices with on subscription.

There are no excuses not to protect your online information and data when backpacking Europe alone.

My motto is that if you can afford to travel, you can afford to protect your online information and date!

Get Off the Beaten Path

One of the biggest mistakes most people backpacking Europe alone make is not getting off the beaten path and visiting less popular tourist destinations.

This includes what cities you choose to visit and what you choose to see and do in those cities.

Even if you only visit the most popular cities in Europe, there are still less common things you can do to experience a different side of the city.

Now that I’m an experienced traveller, there is nothing I love more than finding lesser known cities and exploring them.

They give you a different taste of what life in that country is like without all the tourists swarming around.

There is nothing wrong with visiting the most popular tourist sights and cities.

They’re popular for a reason!

I just think you should also go out of your way to see a different part of the place you’re travelling.

Taking a day trip to a nearby town or village is one of the easiest ways to get off the beaten path and see more of a country.

I personally like to spend three or four days in three or four different cities when I visit a country, but I know not everybody has time for that.

All I’m asking is that you do at least one thing on your backpacking trip through Europe that can’t be found on the first page of every guide book ever written.

Overrated cities in Europe

solo travel in Europe

Set a Realistic Budget

This is one of the biggest mistakes I made the first time I was backpacking Europe alone.

I read a ton of blogs that said you should only spend $50/day in Europe. That’s all you need.

It created this image in my mind that $50 is what I should spend a day, and if I spent more than $50, I wasn’t a very good traveller.

Now I know that is absolute rubbish, but I didn’t back in 2015 when I went on my first solo trip to Europe.

I also failed to take into consideration the exchange rate. The blogs were referring to $50 USD/day. I was budgeting $50 CAD/day, which came out to about $32 USD/day!

If there is only one tip for backpacking Europe alone on this list you listen to, let it be this one.

Do not blindly listen to anybody on the internet who tells you how much it costs to travel anywhere.

That is their experience. You can use it is a guide, but do not take it as a hard fact.

Instead, think about what your travel style is. How you imagine your backpacking trip to Europe looks and go from there.

You’re travelling alone, so if you underestimate how much money you need, you’re kind of screwed.

There is nobody travelling with you that you can potentially borrow money from, and you need to figure out how to make too little money stretch your entire trip.

It is not a fun place to be!

So, set a realistic budget and have a little extra money saved just in case some things are more expensive than you anticipate.

You don’t want to have to skip meals or stay in terrible accommodation just because you didn’t set a realistic budget!

Digital nomad jobs for beginners

Travel Planning

Backpacking Europe Alone Isn’t Glamorous

Backpacking Europe alone is over glamorized in the media.

Images of meeting an Italian man and falling in love, finding your true self, and becoming an influencer are attached to the idea of travelling Europe aline.

While all those things are possible, I’m here to tell you that they are not the norm.

Backpacking Europe alone is amazing- don’t get me wrong- but it isn’t quite as romantic as you might think it is.

I guarantee that you’ll shed a few tears, your clothes will stink (and you’ll hate doing laundry), you’ll get lost more times than you can count, and I see a number of cheap grocery store meals in your future.

It’s all part of backpacking Europe alone, and it also might be some of the best parts of it!

If you’re going into Europe with your rose coloured glasses on, you’ll be disappointed.

One of the fun parts about backpacking Europe alone is figuring out how to solve the little problems that pop up along the way.

Because trust me no trip goes 100% to plan!

And, in my opinion, the best way to make sure your solo trip to Europe is amazing is to have realistic expectations and know that what you see in the media probably isn’t how your trip is going to go.

But it will undoubtably be an amazing trip though!

Undeniable benefits of travelling alone

Currency Can be a Pain in the Butt

A lot of people think of Europe and see it as one big economic zone where everything is the same.

While a lot of European countries use the Euro, there are many who don’t. And that makes currency a bit of a pain.

Not only do you have to figure out how to get the different currencies you need, you also need to keep the currency conversion straight in your head.

Again, it isn’t much of an issue if you only visit countries that use the Euro , but most people visit countries with different currencies.

When you’re backpacking Europe alone, you need to have a plan on how you’re going to handle all the different currencies you need.

My recommendation is to get convert some of your money into the currency of the first country you’re visiting before you leave.

You’ll have money to pay for whatever transportation you need to take when you land and buy food.

You do not want to deal with converting currency after a long flight when you’re tired and just want to get to your accommodation!

After that, I like to use ATMs to the currency I need for the rest of my trip.

Eating alone

Beware of ATMs in Europe

ATMs can cause a bit of confusion in Europe.

The most important thing you need to remember is to never select the option that does the currency conversion for you and removes money from your bank account in your local currency.

Always select the option to have the money withdrawn in the local currency and let your bank do the conversion.

ATMs in Europe are notorious for giving you a horrible exchange rate, and you’ll waste a lot of money if you remove money in your home currency rather than the local one.

No matter what option you choose, you will receive money in the local currency. I know that section may sound confusing, but it will make sense once you get to Europe.

Another major tip I can give you is don’t take too much money out at one time.

I’ve been in situations where I’ve overestimated how much money I’ll need and then have a bunch of left over currency that isn’t accepted in the next country I’m visiting.

It is a fine line to walk between getting enough money versus getting too much money.

Finally, be sure you have a currency conversion app on your phone. It helps you keep track of what the local currency is doing based on your home currency.

This is a huge help for staying on budget and understanding what you’re paying for things while backpacking Europe alone.

Transportation is a Breeze

I was a bit nervous about getting around Europe on my first backpacking trip. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and didn’t want to spend a ton of money and fly from place to place.

It didn’t take long before I learned that Europe isn’t like other parts of the world (like Asia) where it can be a challenge to get from city to city and country to country.

There are trains and buses that take you pretty much anywhere you need to go.

Even across international borders!

The last time I was in Europe for an extended period of time, I took a total of four flights in three months!

From London to Dublin and back. From London to Finland. And Prague to Paris more due to needing to be in Paris quickly for an event rather than there not being a way to overland between the two cities.

The only thing you need to be aware of is there are some countries where the price of train tickets steeply rise the closer you get to the day of departure.

The biggest culprits of this price hike are the UK and France .

If you’re travelling within or between these two countries, be sure you book your train ticket as early as possible.

Tickets go on sale three months in advance, and you want to buy your tickets as shortly after that as possible.

If you’re not a planner, the bus may be a better option than the train. Bus ticket’s don’t see a price increase the same way train tickets do.

But, transportation is not something that should hold you back from backpacking Europe alone.

It is super easy to use, and even a beginner traveller can breeze their way around Europe without too much sweat.

A solo traveller’s guide to London

A solo traveller’s guide to Paris

Rialto Bridge in Venice, Italy

Don’t Ignore Eastern Europe

Okay. So, this is one thing I did know before backpacking Europe alone, but I feel like not enough people know it!

Eastern Europe is amazing and doesn’t get enough love!

I’m talking the Baltic States, the Balkans, Central Europe, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, everything outside Western Europe really.

Most of my favourite European countries are outside of Western Europe and along the road less travelled.

They are beautiful, full of history, and are home to some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

And as a bonus for people backpacking Europe alone, they are extremely affordable.

I once got a plate of pierogi, a salad, steamed vegetables, a drink, and a piece of cake for about $10 USD in Ukraine! Where else are you going to find such great value in Europe?!

I fully understand the desire to tour Western Europe. It is home to some of the most iconic sights in Europe.

But that doesn’t mean that Eastern Europe deserves to be ignored.

I highly, highly, highly recommend you arrange your itinerary so you spend at least a third of your trip in Eastern or Central Europe.

Not only will your wallet thank you, but I have a feeling it will also result in some of the best memories that come out of your trip.

A solo traveller’s guide to Prague

Prague, Czechia

Take Your Time

I’m seeing a trend here, and it is following bloggers blindly.

Says the person who is now a travel blogger writing this post.

But the blogging content put out in 2014/2015 when I was planning my trip and backpacking alone in Europe is vastly different from what is online now.

Back then, I saw post after post after post saying you should never stay in a city more than 3 days.

Yes. That includes major cities like London and Paris!

The sentiment online at that time was you have to keep moving and see as much as possible as quickly as possible or you’re not travelling properly.

Thankfully the travel blog world has change a bit, and now there is more of a focus on slowing down and getting a more in-depth taste of a city or country.

I spent the first month and a half of my backpacking trip to Europe rushing around. I was exhausted from never settling in anywhere and never having a break to people watch in a café.

Don’t be like me!

Thankfully I figured out that it is worthwhile to slow down and spend more time in each city.

It is much more enjoyable, relaxing, and it gives you a better appreciation for the place you’re visiting.

I mean it is ridiculous to think that you can get a true taste of a major European city in three days or less. That’s nonsense.

I’m not going to tell you how much time to spend in each place.

That’s super personal and changes based on what city you’re visitng.

I am going to tell you to do your research and figure out a reasonable time to stay to see everything you want to do.

I also like to add on an extra day just in case the weather is bad, I’m tired one day, or I discover something else I want to do.

Plus, you can always take a day trip if you don’t need that extra day!

Eating alone

Backpacking Europe Alone is Safe but Know the Local Scams

Before I went on my first solo trip to Europe, I had people in my life telling me it wasn’t safe for solo female travellers.

Or that certain countries (like Ukraine) I planned to visit weren’t safe.

I didn’t listen to them and went on my trip anyways, but I would be lying if I wasn’t a bit nervous at the start of my trip.

Especially when I got to some of the lesser travelled countries in the Balkans.

Now I know that it wasn’t something I ever had to worry about, and you don’t have to either!

Europe is very safe.

Even in less financially rich countries you don’t have anything to worry about.

You can start backpacking alone in Europe and know that you’re safe and don’t have to stress over your personal safety.

The one thing you do need to worry about though is knowing local scams.

Every country and city in the world has local scams.

These can range from something as simple as pick pocketing to something much more elaborate like people not giving you the proper change or giving your counterfeit money.

You need to be aware of what the local scams are wherever you’re going.

This will help you know what to look out for.

As a solo traveller, you are solely responsible for your safety. You don’t have a friend to watch your back, so it is even more important you familiarize yourself with local scams.

But, aside from scams, Europe is super safe. Even for solo female travellers.

Overcome your fear of solo travel

Eiffel Tower Paris France

Best European Countries for Solo Travellers

There you have it. You’re now in the know and are more prepared for your first solo trip to Europe than I was!

Europe is one of the best and easiest places for solo travellers. Even if you’re a complete beginner, you can successfully backpack Europe alone.

If I can do it, you can do it. I was a horrible traveller when I first backpacked Europe alone.

It is so important to understand that not everything is going to be perfect and know that you’ll have to problem solve along the way.

Backpacking Europe alone is one of the best experiences you’ll have in your life.

The continent is so full of life, food, and beauty. And no two countries are the same!

So, book that ticket, strap your backpack on, and have the time of your life!

What I Wish I Knew Before Backpacking Europe Alone

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The Best Backpacks for Europe, According to Travel Writers

By Cameron LeBlanc

Cameron LeBlanc

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Backpacking through Europe might generally be associated with American twenty-somethings on debaucherous odysseys, but it’s actually a pretty great way for anyone (who doesn’t mind walking) to see the sights. And with flight and hotel prices spiking , along with Europe’s popularity as a travel destination, the relatively low cost of backpacking makes it an even more tempting choice. A great backpack is, unsurprisingly, crucial to having a good time backpacking.

What the Experts Say

Sources with ample experience backpacking through Europe agree that the right backpack is absolutely critical. For this story, SPY talked to travel bloggers Art Dobrucki (of The Places Where We Go ) and Shelley Marmor (of Travel Blogging 101 ), plus a host of other experienced travelers, to help sort through the best travel backpacks for Europe available now.

Dobrucki, a veteran of multiple multi-week trips through Europe, says that ensuring the backpack is the right size for the specific trip is crucial. “[The right backpack should] be the Goldilocks size — not too heavy (to prevent it from being difficult to fit on public transportation) but also not restricting the amount of space one needs to carry [belongings] for multiple weeks in Europe.”

Marmor agrees, explaining that the first time she went to Europe, she had a backpack “the size of a small mountain,” which proved quite cumbersome on Rome’s tight, winding streets. “That was when I discovered the real MVP: a backpack around 40 to 45 liters in size,” she says. “[It needs to be] compact enough to sneak past those tricky airline restrictions, yet spacious enough for all your necessities.” Specific itineraries or packing needs might demand a different size, but around 40 liters is the right size for most people.

Regardless, the experts agree that backpacking unlocks a whole new travel experience that’s totally worth it. “Traveling in Europe with just a backpack provides an incredible amount of flexibility,” Dobrucki says. “Not only do we not have to worry about lugging around unnecessary luggage, but we can craft an itinerary that is on-the-go as much as possible.”

Osprey Farpoint Travel Pack

By far the most common recommendation offered by the travel experts we spoke to was the Osprey Farpoint, which comes in 40-, 55-, 70- and 80-liter versions. Hans Mast of Golden Rule Travel says that it’s “an exceptional choice for European travel due to its versatility, durability, and user-friendly design.” That’s a reflection of Osprey’s goal with these packs — the brand incorporates serious technical features like fine torso adjustments and breathable harnesses into backpacks meant for use by people who won’t be relying upon them for long stretches in remote wilderness. One of the coolest features is the detachable daypack, which Mast calls a “game-changer” that “facilitates seamless exploration during city visits.” With so many great cities relatively close to each other in Europe, the daypack is a particularly useful item to have on-hand when backpacking across the continent. (Also, when flying, it can count as a personal item to accompany the carry-on-sized Farpoint, which helps travelers avoid the hassle and risk of checking the only piece of luggage they’re carrying.) Internal compression straps, a sternum strap with safety whistle, and a stowable back panel, harness, and hip belt round out the thoughtful features on this pack, as beloved for its versatility as it is for its robust warranty. The $220 price tag for the 55-liter model is also utterly reasonable.

Aircontact Core 65+10L

Made For: Summer backpacking. As its name suggests, the Deuter Aircontact Core 65+10 is designed to maximize airflow and minimize sweating — a key feature in Europe where summers are hot and air conditioning is scarce. Food and travel writer Sarah-Jane Begonia says that, during a trip to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, its “ventilated back panel kept the sticky, sweaty feeling at bay on those hot Turkish summer days.” Coolest Feature: Airflow is only one aspect of comfort, so this pack also has an ergonomic lumbar pad, moveable shoulder straps, and hip fins that help distribute weight evenly for a more comfortable carry experience.

Gregory Soltoro 100 Pro Pack

Made For: Long-haulers traveling through remote regions. There’s no shortage of natural beauty in Europe that’s best enjoyed over an extended camping stay. The 100-liter version of the Gregory Soltoro is ideal for those types of trips because its expanded capacity doesn’t sacrifice comfort. Travel writer Ethan Williams says that its “ergonomically designed suspension system allowed me to carry heavy loads without feeling the strain” — a feature that’s even more valuable in a bigger bag. ROI: Williams says he’s also a fan of how flexible his Soltoro is. “From hiking in the Swiss Alps to enjoying a romantic dinner in Rome, the backpack’s sleek design and functionality never felt out of place.”

Osprey Sportlite 30

Made For: Light packers. Experienced backpacker Rebecca Nicholson recently took hers on Scotland’s West Highland Way, a 96-mile trek through varied terrain. “It’s a minimalist, lightweight pack that was big enough to carry my clothes and supplies while remaining comfortable on my back, thanks to a suspension system and decent ventilation,” she says. “This pack wouldn’t be big enough if you need to carry camping supplies, like a tent, but it’s perfect for backpacking around with just the essentials.” Hot Take: Two backpacks are better than one. Having a smaller daypack makes it easy to carry the essentials for daily excursions while one’s main pack, a heavier and much more important item, stays safe in a hotel or vacation rental.

Tortuga 40L Travel Backpack

Why It Stands Out: Travel writer Kevin Groh says this backpack is “intelligently designed to optimize space without surpassing carry on-size limitations.” He says what makes the Tortuga stand out is “its front-loading design, which allows access to packed items without the need to search through from the top” — a valuable time-saver. Coolest Feature: Unzip the long middle zipper and the bag falls open like a classic suitcase, exposing all of its contents at once and making it ultra-simple to pack and unpack. There’s even a mesh bag for dirty clothes — a standard feature in rolling suitcases that’s nicely repurposed here.

Pacsafe Venturasafe EXP45

Made For: Safety-first backpackers. The Pacsafe brand is built around, well, safe packs, and the Venturasafe is no exception, with a self-locking zipper, built-in steel mesh to prevent slashing, and a security clip that makes it easy to lock the bag to a secure object. Travel writer Christen Thomas says that, while he was exploring the narrow alleys of Barcelona, the peace of mind this backpack provided was “invaluable.” Coolest Feature: A special pocket contains RFID-blocking technology, so any passports or credit cards aren’t at risk of being scanned as part of an identity theft scheme.

Cotopaxi Allpa 28

Coolest Feature: The inside of this pack is more compartmentalized than competing bags, making it easy to keep myriad items easy to find. Backpacker and rock climber Kevin Le Gall says that each compartment “acts like its own packing cube, so you can separate your clothes from your shoes, climbing gear, or electronics. That organization makes this bag incredibly versatile, and a must-have for lightweight traveling.” Why It Stands Out: In a sea of bags in drab greys, blacks, and natural tones, the Cotopaxi Allpa’s bright and varied colorways (e.g. the one with sienna shell, blue logo, and purple zippers) mean this pack literally stands out.

Frequently Asked Questions About Travel Backpacks

What’s a reasonable amount to pay for a serious backpack.

Most backpacks that will serve travelers well on a European odyssey will cost a few hundred dollars. Buying anything more expensive is likely overkill for the vast majority of folks, and opting for anything less expensive risks the kind of travel calamity (a broken backpack) that’s simply not worth the upfront savings.

How big should a backpack be?

There’s no simple answer to this question, but daypacks generally clock in at the 25- to 30- liter range while “regular” backpacks are anywhere from 40 to 60 liters. There are bigger options, but most European backpackers traveling by plane or train don’t need that much space. Marmor says that picking a backpack is deeply personal: “It depends on your travel style, trip plans, and what comforts you will sacrifice for extra items,” she says. True minimalists can get away with smaller bags , but most backpackers — particularly those with less experience — would do well to opt for something moderately sized.

Will I “find myself” in Europe?

Probably not. That’s a hard thing to do. The good news is that the easier things to do in Europe — eating, drinking, sightseeing, and generally enjoying not being in the US — are also loads of fun.


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Why Backpacking Is The Perfect Way To See Europe (According To Reddit)

You can easily make new friends and have an even deeper and more well-rounded understanding of the town or city where you are.

Backpacking through Europe seems like a totally dreamy thing to do. Since forever, people have been talking about going on backpacking trips, and it once seemed like a challenge that more bohemian travelers would take on. But anyone can do this and Europe is definitely an exciting place to backpack through.

Reddit is a wonderful place when you want advice, especially when it comes to travel. People share their personal stories and want to help each other have the best vacations that they can, and many have posted about what it was like to backpack through Europe. Whether they did this for weeks or months at a time, people have a lot to say on this topic, and they're interested in giving really detailed accounts of what they saw and did.

Read on to find out why backpacking is the perfect way to see Europe , according to  Reddit .

It's More Affordable (If You're Careful)

One reason why backpacking through Europe is a recommended way to see the country? It's more affordable... if you're careful about the money that you're spending. Sure, you could technically backpack through Europe while eating in lavish, fancy restaurants and staying in nice hotels, but that would kind of defeat the purpose as you would be shelling out a lot of cash.

People on  Reddit  recommend staying in Airbnbs and hostels as this is a good way to save money.  One post gives two really helpful suggestions: find a hostel that has breakfast without an extra cost and take buses to get around whichever city you're in. How much do hostels cost? The Walrus Bar and Hostel in London , for example, costs around $35 USD for one night and there is a no-cost breakfast as well. It's easy to see that this would be a huge savings over hotel rooms, and if you book an Airbnb, you'll have a kitchen which saves on restaurants as well.

Someone gave this awesome advice to budget a lot for one day and another, spend a bit of money. As long as you're not spending too much money on where you're staying each night, you can definitely find a nice restaurant or pay for a tour. You still want to have a great experience.

You Can Be A Free Spirit And Explore This Beautiful Place

According to  As We Travel , someone who goes backpacking is basically going on a trip with a backpack instead of any other kind of luggage. While some will hike while backpacking, others won't, but hostels and relying on buses, the subway, and getting around on foot are common themes. It does sound dreamy not to have to lug around tons of bags and too much stuff.

Backpacking is definitely the best way to see Europe as you can be a free spirit and explore this beautiful place.

This  Reddit   post says it all: "Don't stick to your itinerary if you hear about a fantastic place somewhere else. Listen to people. Ask them about stuff."

Because of the nature of backpacking (staying in a hostel, perhaps traveling on your own or with only one other person, being used to talking to strangers), you'll be interested in going with the flow. Another user posted on Reddit and shared their opinion of why being chill while backpacking through Europe is so great. They wrote, "Sometimes our best travel experiences come from recommendations from locals on the road, who may open their home or share an experience with you, all things you won't know about until you arrive. It'd be a shame to miss out on everything because you've pre-scheduled the heck out of your itinerary."

And that will bring on the best times since planning too much could mean missing out on what's right in front of you. It could be as simple as planning to go to a famous restaurant in one European city and then stumbling upon another one that appeals to you more... and then having an incredible meal that you won't forget. Backpacking is unique and special as it basically forces you to let things happen during your trip.

It also seems like backpackers are more interested in talking with people who live in the city that they're visiting, which will be cool. You can make new friends and have an even deeper and more well-rounded understanding of the town or city where you are.

Looking to backpack through Europe? According to  Reddit , this is a really good way to see it as you can save money by staying in hostels and Airbnbs, walk around and take buses, meet some new people, and refrain from planning too much. These things will all result in an incredible backpacking trip.

Sources: , , ,


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  1. My 20 very useful travel tips for backpacking across Europe

    MOD. My 20 very useful travel tips for backpacking across Europe. 1.) When booking flights and hostels, double (and triple) check the dates and months. Also, never book anything if you have been drinking, only book while sober. 2.) On that same note, make up your hostel bed before you go out drinking. 3.)

  2. How To Choose A Backpack For Traveling in Europe

    How to find the perfect fitting travel backpack for exploring Europe. Packing. February 1, 2023 Share Post The first thing you need to backpack through Europe is a backpack—shocking, I know. Choosing the right backpack for Europe can be confusing and time intensive but spending a little time finding the right bag will pay off in the long run. ...

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    Instead, you should use a suitcase with non-flexible walls and preferably a dedicated suiter compartment. Carry-on restrictions are used up more efficiently. Carry-ons are usually made to be just below the most common carry-on size restriction 22 x 14 x 9 inches, so you can pack more stuff inside.

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    Capacity Includes The 15L Removable Daypack. The Osprey Farpoint / Fairview is well constructed with intelligent design features that are perfect for travel; it's easily one of the best travel backpacks for Europe. The Farpoint is the men's model of the bag with a frame better suited for men, while the Fairview is for a woman's frame.

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    Packing for travel in Europe can be confusing and frustrating — especially if you're backpacking across Europe or just trying to pack light. These guides will help you choose what clothes and travel accessories to pack and have advice on packing light. Europe Travel Packing Lists. I've written numerous packing lists for multiple travel ...

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    1 pair of walking shoes (for men's click here) Nice trainers or other comfortable & breathable shoes for traipsing city streets. 1 pair of rubber flip flops. For the beach and grubby hostel showers — no one wants athlete's foot ruining their travels! 1 pair of sturdy walking sandals.

  7. The Best Backpack For Backpacking Europe in 2024

    The Osprey Fairview is the women's version (also available on REI and direct from Osprey) and both are one of the best travel backpacks for a trip around Europe. They are perfect for both shorter, two-week trips and months-long backpacking tours. The Farpoint comes in four different sizes: 40 litre, 55 litre, 70 litre, and 80 litre.

  8. The Best Travel Backpacks for Europe

    Size — The Allpa is available in 28, 35 and 42-litre models. The 35-litre model is the best for travelling in Europe because it's carry-on compliant and can still hold plenty of gear. The 28-litre model makes an excellent daypack but only true minimalist travellers will be able to use it as their main pack.

  9. The Best Travel Backpacks for Europe: A Comprehensive Buying Guide

    The North Face Terra 50 Backpack. This slimmer and well-ventilated backpack provides travellers with a pack that is perfect for long-term travel around Europe but small enough so that you don't end up bringing too much. The Terra 50 has an updated shoulder harness but is still known to fit as a carry-on on airplanes.

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    Best Budget Travel Backpack: Dakine Campus 33L Backpack. Best Carrying Travel Backpack: Osprey Farpoint & Fairview 40 Travel Packs. Best Organization in a Travel Backpack: Matador SEG45 Travel ...

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    Barcelona, Spain, 5. Nice, France, 6. Milan, Italy, 7. Florence, Italy, 8. Venice, Italy, 9. Florence, Italy, 10. Rome, Italy. One month is the ideal Europe backpacking trip for first-timers. You'll have time to explore a few countries and stay an extra few days in the places you fall in love with.

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    In the Summer of 2011 at 18 years old, I set out on my first solo trip. For three months I backpacked around Europe through 20 countries. I traveled by train, bus, and boat. In this article, I review my first solo trip. I'll talk about planning, packing, budgeting, my route, experiences, and more. I'll discuss the mistakes I made and the ...

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    Backpacking Europe alone after high school is one of the biggest clichés out there. I'm proud to say that I avoided that cliché and travelled Europe alone for the first time right after University. 😉 . Cliché or not, there is a reason why backpacking Europe alone is one of the most popular things for young people interested in travel to do.

  15. The Best Backpacks for Europe, According to Travel Bloggers

    What the Experts Say Sources with ample experience backpacking through Europe agree that the right backpack is absolutely critical. For this story, SPY talked to travel bloggers Art Dobrucki (of The Places Where We Go) and Shelley Marmor (of Travel Blogging 101), plus a host of other experienced travelers, to help sort through the best travel backpacks for Europe available now.

  16. Why Backpacking Is The Perfect Way To See Europe (According To Reddit)

    Since forever, people have been talking about going on backpacking trips, and it once seemed like a challenge that more bohemian travelers would take on. But anyone can do this and Europe is definitely an exciting place to backpack through. Reddit is a wonderful place when you want advice, especially when it comes to travel. People share their ...