9 Essentials for a European Family Vacation

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I recently took a 3 week trip to Italy with my husband and two girls (ages 11 and 7).  It was a first overseas trip for all of us except for my husband.  We traveled from the Amalfi Coast all the way north to Lake Como and Venice.  There was a lot of ground to cover so we only spent a few nights at each location.  Packing lightly was a necessity so I researched  “the essentials for a European family vacation” for many hours before we left and I am sharing my favorites with you!  


1.  STAY ORGANIZED Packing cubes are my new best friend and now I use them all of the time. Initially I thought we needed the super lightweight, suction type cubes from REI but my husband talked me into the less expensive Amazon version and they did the job. We squeezed 4 dresses, 2 nightgowns, socks, and essentials into a small cube for my 7 year old. My husband and I each used a large and small cube in our backpacks.

2.  SLEEP SOUNDLY My biggest fear for our trip wasn’t being in a foreign country where we don’t speak the language…nor was it flying over the ocean all night, nor the safety alerts for some of the areas we were visiting.  My biggest fear was that no one would sleep well – especially the 7 year old!  If you are a parent, you can relate. Some of our vacation rentals were above restaurants and on busy city streets so ocean sounds directed at our ears from 5 inches away did the trick. This noise machine is chargeable with a USB and lasts for a few nights without needing a re-charge. You can change the volume, there are 3 different sound settings and it is tiny!  

3. COMFORT AND STYLE I am not the most stylish person around… I rely on Stitch Fix for a lot of help.  In fact my husband deserves the credit for picking these shoes out.  They were perfect for travelling – they looked great with most of my outfits and were super comfortable.  I walked miles each day in these shoes and felt great…no blisters, or foot pain.  These are also available for kids and men!

best backpacks for European family vacation

4. CARRY YOUR OWN STUFF! We spent 2 to 3 nights in each location which meant a lot of train travel and city walking. We didn’t want to be stuck lugging suitcases through crowds and on the train so we opted for backpacks. Bonus: the backpacks qualified as carry-ons for Norwegian Air and Air France so we didn’t have to deal with nor pay for checked luggage!

REI Backpack for little kids Technically the REI Co-op Flash 18 is a daypack for adults but it is uber lightweight and was perfect for our 7 year old to carry all of her clothes and toys. This also doubled as our daypack for shorter outings.

Backpack for teen/tween  The Deuter Fox 30 backpack was the winner out of all of our bag for handy pockets.  It was also fully adjustable for a comfortable fit for our 11 year old to carry all of her clothes, toiletries and a few toys. 

Backpack for adults: Men and Women What we loved most about the Osprey Fairvew 40 for women and the Osprey Farpoint 40 for men: the outer water bottle pocket, the easy access zipper area for retrieving essentials on train travel days. The large zipper section that opens like a suitcase for organizing your packing cubes. There is also an inner mesh pocket for dirty clothes storage.

5. WASH YOUR HANDS I packed wipes for cleaning hands before and after gelato.  What I didn’t know was that these would be a lifesaver when my daughter threw up on the Florence bus and we were surrounded by people that didn’t speak English.  From that point forward I kept wipes and grocery bags on hand at all times.

6. REDUCE, REUSE! There is finally a use for those drawstring bags that we all have laying around the house that we gather from running races, kids camps, expos, etc. I can’t take credit for this genius idea.  My cousin who is a seasoned world traveler brought them and we used them regularly for transporting groceries.  Just be sure to keep them upright when you store your luggage in the overhead bins on the train; because your balsamic vinegar might leak on the grandma sitting across from you as well as the body builder sitting next to her during a long train ride…hypothetically speaking of course.

7. KEEP IT CLOSE A small but stylish crossbody purse is a great way to keep money and passports close. Also consider an RFID blocking wallet to keep information safe.

8. STAY HYDRATED – Reusable thermal water bottles are perfect for saving money on water at the airport and around town. Make sure to buy locking lids so you don’t end up with a wet backpack!

9. CHARGE UP Don’t forget to buy the appropriate adapters for the country you are visiting!

Comment below and tell me your favorite travel essentials!

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