How to Pack for 4 Months in Europe from Summer to Winter (Carry-On Only!)

Packing for multiple climates is one of the biggest challenges when travelling with just carry-on luggage. It’s easy to throw a few pairs of shorts and t-shirts into a bag when you’re heading to the beach, and we even found it simple to pack carry-on only for chilly Finland. When you are visiting both warm and cold places packing is trickier, but it can be done!

We just finished a four-month trip in Europe from August to December that included a heatwave in Paris, chilling on the beach on the Italian Riviera, and some of the coldest weather we’ve experienced in seven years in the mountains of Spain and England. As usual, we travelled with just one carry-on-sized backpack each. Here’s how we did it:

Pack for a Week

As always, we only packed enough clothes for about a week and then did laundry. On our Interrail train trip from London to Spain via France, Switzerland and Italy we often rented Airbnb apartments. These were not only cheaper than hotels, especially in big cities like Paris, Turin and Madrid, but we had access to a washing machine so laundry was easy.

Even if you don’t rent apartments there are laundrettes everywhere in Europe or your hostel may have washing machines. Or do your laundry in the hotel sink. We’d occasionally did this with underwear to keep us going until a big wash.

Pack Layers

Simon and Erin snowboarding at Ruka, Finland

Our ultralight down jackets kept us warm even in Finland (on a previous trip).

When your trip starts in August when most of Europe is steaming hot, there’s no point packing a heavy winter jacket for four months later. Instead, pack lightweight items that can be layered with each other when the weather drops. My t-shirts from August became my base layer in December and were topped with some or all of my extra layers: long sleeve t-shirt, cardigan, light sweater, fleece, and down jacket.

If you wear leggings (I don’t), these are useful for multi-climate travel as you can layer them under a summer skirt to stay warm. I didn’t wear my skirt or dresses from October onwards, which is a bit of a waste. 

Puffy insulated jackets made from down or synthetic down are brilliant for multi-climate travel. They are very light and compress into a small package, so it’s easy to pack them in your luggage until you need them. They are amazingly warm for the size. We didn’t need our jackets until November, but as they didn’t take up much space it wasn’t a problem carrying them around.

Buy Extras When Needed

The weather was hot throughout August and September so there was no point travelling with too many warm layers. When we got to Madrid at the end of September, I picked up a couple of long-sleeve t-shirts at Primark for ridiculously cheap prices. Along with my original clothes, this was enough to keep me warm during our housesit in the Spanish mountains in October and November when temperatures dropped to 6ºC at night.

England in December was even colder (down to 0ºC), so I bought more warm gear (again Primark is cheap or try local markets).

It wasn’t difficult to fit the extras in my backpack because I wore the bulkiest items on travel days and packing cubes help squeeze things in.

Squeeze Clothes Into Packing Cubes

Packing cubes not only keep your things organised and easy to find in your luggage, but they also help you fit more into your bag. I use the ultralight Eagle Creek Spectre compression cubes and Simon has one large regular Eagle Creek compression cube for all his clothes and underwear. They are especially helpful when you are packing extra clothes for multi-climate travel.

Read more about why packing cubes are the secret of carry-on only travel.

Erin’s Clothes Packing List for Four Months in Europe

Packing list for four months in Europe from summer to winter

All my clothes including the long-sleeve t-shirts I bought in Spain. Not pictured: the tank top, Ably t-shirt, jeans, fleece and down jacket I was wearing.

Packing list for Europe: packing cubes are essential

All my clothes (not including workout gear) in my large packing cube.

Using packing cubes for packing for Europe

All my clothes in two packing cubes. Main clothes on left and workout gear on right. I also have a small cube for underwear.

Original

These were the clothes I started with when we left England in mid-August and travelled with for all four months.

Bottoms

  • 2 jeans – One dark blue, one black. Both are lightweight summer jeans.
  • Skirt

Tops and Dresses

  • 2 dresses
  • 4 short-sleeve tops – Including an odour and stain resistant Ably-t-shirt
  • Clever Travel Companion tank top – It has two zipped pockets to hide valuables. I wore it under a t-shirt on travel days to keep my passport and cards/cash safe. It’s much more comfortable than a money belt. I also used it for yoga.

Outerwear

  • 2 cardigans
  • Jumper – A lightweight merino wool/cashmere blend. 
  • Fleece (The North Face) – Lightweight with pockets and a hood.
  • Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody Jacket – Warm but light and packable.

Workout Gear

Underwear and Swimwear

  • Tankini swimsuit (PrAna Lahari)
  • 7 underwear – 1 pair are ExOfficio, which are very light and quick drying.
  • 2 bras
  • 4 socks – Including one thick pair of odour-resistant Smartwool medium hiking socks which kept my feet cosy and warm when it got cold. 

Shoes

  • Running shoes (Asics Cumulus 17) – For running and as my main shoes when it got cold until I picked up my boots.
  • Sports sandals (Merrell Enoki) – Practical for hikes but nice enough to wear in cities.
  • Ballet flats (Silverlake vegan Tieks) – I love these! Stylish, comfortable, and they fold up small.

Accessories

  • Sunglasses and travel case

Extras

These were the extra clothes I picked up when it got cold.

In Spain

  • 2 long-sleeve t-shirts – I used one for running. 

In England

  • Icebreaker merino wool long-sleeve top – Merino wool is warm, odour-resistant, and non-itchy.
  • Two jumpers – These replaced the summer cardigans.
  • Winter boots – Cheap fake Uggs. They are fleece-lined and keep my feet warm but aren’t waterproof. 
  • Woolly hat
  • Gloves
  • Scarf
  • 5 extra pairs of socks
Packing list for Europe

Everything in my backpack

Carry-on backpack packed for four months in Europe

My fully packed Osprey Farpoint 40 backpack.

Simon’s Clothes Packing List for Four Months in Europe

Male packing list for Europe

All Simon’s clothes! Not pictured: the jeans, Ably t-shirt, fleece and down jacket he was wearing. Also the short-sleeve shirt he got rid of.

Packing cube for Europe

Simon’s packed packing cube including all his clothes and underwear.

Simon's packed and compressed cube.

Simon’s packed and compressed cube.

Original

These were the clothes Simon started with when we left England in mid-August and travelled with for all four months.

Bottoms

  • Jeans (Levis 511)
  • Bluffs trousers – Smarter than normal travel trousers but still lightweight, quick drying and with hidden zippered pockets for security. He wore them on hikes and to fancy restaurants. Read our detailed Bluffworks review.
  • Shorts (Craghoppers Kiwi) – Simon always looks for lightweight fabrics and hidden zippered pockets.

Tops

  • 3 t-shirts including one odour-resistant Ably t-shirt and one Icebreaker Tech Lite.
  • Short-sleeve shirt – He hardly wore this so got rid of it in Spain. 
  • Long-sleeve shirt

Outerwear

Underwear and Swimwear

Shoes

  • Hiking shoes (Scarpa Margarita GTX) – The best travel shoes Simon has found. They are attractive enough to wear to dinner but rugged enough for hikes.
  • Sandals (Teva Terra Fi Lite) – Very comfortable and durable.

Accessories

  • Sunglasses and travel case

Extras in England

These were the extra clothes Simon picked up when it got really cold.

Other Items

For the other items we packed like electronics and toiletries, you can see our usual carry-on packing list. Everything is the same except we left our sarong and travel towel behind. On the Italian Riviera we could have used them for the beach, but we managed with towels from our Airbnb instead.

More Carry-On Packing Resources

If you’d like to learn more about how to travel carry-on only, see my book, The Carry-On Traveller: The Ultimate Guide to Packing Light, which is now available in paperback or Kindle formats on Amazon US, Amazon UK or your local Amazon store.

You can also see our other posts about packing light:

Packing light is possible for any trip even if you are visiting multiple climates. I hope you give it a try and save yourself the time, money and stress of checking in luggage.

If you enjoyed this post, pin it!

It is possible to pack carry-on only for multi-climate travel. We spent four months in Europe from summer to winter with just one backpack each. Click through to see our packing list and find out how we did it.

Are you planning a trip in 2017? See our Gear and Resources page for our favourite tools to help you plan the perfect trip. 

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8 thoughts on How to Pack for 4 Months in Europe from Summer to Winter (Carry-On Only!)

  1. I’m totally impressed with how little it is possible to travel for 4 months or even 7 years. You both are an inspiration. I hope I can manage to do our next Europe trip with carry-on only.

    Currently, we’re on a road trip around Australia and we recently sorted out our clothes. I thought we have not a lot of clothes with us, but after reading your post I just realised that we have way too many.

    Thanks for the tips. It’s a very helpful post.

    Cheers, Reni

  2. The Specter compressible bags ar the best. I haev the same blue color as you and my wife has the white (orange trim). The white are better because you can see what is inside. I have had to add luggage tags to my blue bags to help tell “identical” bags apart.
    I also highly recommend the Quick Trip bag. I use one for toiletry (it’s intended use), one for electronics, and one for those items that must be packed thru (items that TSA does not like cork puller, leatherman, etc.). This red bag goes into the back thru. If we are packing thru we like the Eagle Creek 25″. The 28″ are just too large. Because the bag is red it is easy to make sure that it is not inadvertently stuffed into a bag that is carried on.

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