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From comfy white sneakers to a pickpocket-proof crossbody, these are my go-tos.
As a travel journalist, I’m on the road the most in summer, both for vacation and for work when I cover seasonal hotel openings in the Mediterranean. After a decade living between the South of France and Paris, and traveling everywhere from Scandinavia to Sicily in summer, I’ve finally mastered my packing list with wardrobe staples that can easily transition from cobblestoned cities to the coast (and boats to boutique hotels).
I’ve found that a few stand-out pieces can go a long way, so I pack light with pieces that I can layer or wear for multiple occasions — and easily wash in a hotel sink. When I’m cruising around Croatia island hopping, a shawl becomes a skirt, dress, or blanket on the beach. In Copenhagen or Amsterdam, a flowy dress and crossbody bag are my “uniform” as I cycle around town and stroll along canals. And at home in Paris, when the weather gets balmy and we linger on café terrasses from late afternoon well past sunset (which is close to 10 p.m.), I’m in the same maxi dress and sandal slides that I’ve run around town all day in — and which transition perfectly for night.
You don’t need to spend a fortune to curate a look you won’t get tired of, even if you wear the same dress multiple days in a row. From a vintage-inspired pair of sunnies that are only $24 to the most comfortable (and versatile) white sneakers I own to a seriously useful lightweight scarf that will cover your shoulders in churches, I’ve rounded up a list of 15 items to pack for a summer trip to Europe that will be just as stylish (and practical) in cities like Berlin and London as they are in jet-set locales like Saint-Tropez or Ibiza. Best of all, they’re all $50 and under.
Keds Canvas White Sneakers
Almost anywhere you’re traveling in Europe, you’ll be walking on cobblestones or up hills or strolling through parks or along rivers, and while some sandals can be comfortable enough for a day of walking, I always pack a pair of lightweight white sneakers. These round-toed Keds are similar in style to more expensive looks from brands like Superga — and just as fashionable. The Softerra footbed guarantees comfort even when you’re sightseeing for hours, and since there’s high tracton, you won’t slip on slick, marble staircases like the Spanish Steps in Rome. As one shopper raved, the sneakers are “great for summer, washable, and break in.”
What I love about these shoes is that the slight platform gives them a more fashionable look, so they can pair with anything from a maxi dress to a fitted romper, jeans, or shorts. They’re also a good footwear option for a long-haul flight, since they’re comfortable enough to run through an airport (and won’t buzz when going through security, if you have TSA PreCheck) and slip off easily on the plane.
To buy: zappos.com, $49
Caslon Linen Pants
Whether you’re in a city or by the coast, linen is one of the best solutions for tackling a European summer. The unofficial wardrobe of the French Riviera and Greek islands, linen sets are easy and effortless yet still look put together. This blend from Caslon is machine washable, so it travels well (and dries quickly in warmer, humid climates like the Mediterranean) and pairs beautifully with a variety of other fabrics, from linen shirts and cotton tees to silk crop tops.
The draw string and mid-rise, relaxed fit suits body types like mine that are on the shorter, curvier side. As shoppers have said, they’re “soft, fluid, and cool” and “fit true to size.” I’ll often wear these to dinner in Santorini or Sicily with a fitted, textured halter or one-shoulder top with a pop of color and pair of sandal heels to elevate the ensemble.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $40 (originally $59)
Zara Printed Mini Dress
A breezy mini dress is one of my favorite summer staples because I can wear it day to night and dress it up or down depending on the occasion. A bohemian print like this in a subtle jade shade adds enough vibrancy without being too distracting, while the lace detailing and flounced hem give the dress a layer of femininity and elegance. The V-neck front and loose, elasticized cuffs mean you won’t have to worry about cotton sticking to your skin on a sweltering summer afternoon, and if you want it to feel even more airy, wear a white lace bralet or bandeau underneath and leave some of the buttons undone.
When I’m traveling in the Greek islands, I’ll often wear a dress like this with a denim jacket or white shawl on cooler days or in the evening. For dinner, step the look up a notch with statement earrings, a woven clutch, and wedges.
To buy: zara.com, $49
Steve Madden Slide Sandals
In the summer, I rarely bring a pair of heels while I’m traveling. They take up too much room and aren’t practical on cobblestone streets or strolling along the sand. Since the sun sets so late, most of my days blend into nights and I don’t have time to go to my hotel or Airbnb in between sightseeing and dinner. A comfortable pair of slide sandals like these from Steve Madden have a flexible, padded footbed, so your feet won’t get too sore while sightseeing around a city like Paris or London all day, yet they still look put together enough for anything from a gallery visit to a nice dinner.
The raffia gives these sandals a beach club feel, but the gold hardware adds a layer of elegance, so they can easily be worn somewhere chic like Le Club 55 in Saint-Tropez or on a boat cruising around Greece or Croatia. The slight heel gives it a more sophisticated look, so these sandals are great for night when paired with a black silk maxi dress or two-piece linen ensemble.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $48 (originally $80)
Anrabess Tiered Sundress
In the summer, even when I travel for two or more weeks, I hardly ever need more than a carry-on, since most of the items I pack are lightweight and can be worn day-to-night. A maxi dress is one of my staples, and once I find my go-to, I end up wearing it most days. This smocked, tiered sundress from British brand Asos Design is a great addition to a summer wardrobe since the style is flattering and won’t wrinkle or take up too much space in a suitcase.
The dress is so popular that it’s quickly going out of stock, so I suggest grabbing this similar highly rated sundress at Amazon for even less. During the day, I wear maxi dresses with strappy sandals or sneakers, and in the evenings, you can dress the look up with chunky gold hoops, bangles, and a patent leather clutch. Simply handwash it in the sink while you’re traveling and continue to rewear it.
To buy: amazon.com, $40 (originally $51)
Iristide Summer Scarf
Whether I’m traveling by boat, train, or plane, a light scarf is a must-have any time of the year — especially in summer. This oversized shawl on Amazon is easy to throw in a straw beach basket and use as a sarong at the beach or wrap around your shoulders at night when dining or having drinks outdoors. Pro tip: It’ll also come in handy for visiting European churches that require you to cover your shoulders.
You can wear it in a variety of ways, doubled around your neck and shoulders like an infinity scarf or even twisted and knotted into a dress if you’re on an island. Lightweight and breathable, this cotton shawl is easy to handwash while traveling and also helps protect against sun exposure — an added bonus. As one shopper commented, this is “perfect for when even a necklace feels like it adds heat to one's body.” And if you opt for white, you can tie-dye it for an entirely new look.
To buy: amazon.com, $15
Aire Rectangular Sunglasses
Retro shades are always stylish, but, depending on the style, the look might appear too costumey. What I like about these rectangular sunnies from Aire is that the subtle, rounded edges give the ’50s-style shades a 21st century touch, so they won’t feel dated.
Black or dark tortoise shell sunglasses can sometimes be too harsh for summer, especially if you’re wearing linen and shades of white, but this lighter tort with barley tint pairs perfectly with resortwear. Great for strolling through fashionable cities like Milan or Paris, or lounging on a beach club in Capri, these sunnies will instantly make your ensemble look put together. They’re on sale right now at Nordstrom, so it’s a good time to add them to your summer wardrobe.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $24 (originally $39)
Asos Design Linen-Kissed Dad Shorts
Unless I’m heading to the beach, I often skip denim shorts in Europe in favor of something more tailored, like these khaki-colored Asos Design slouch shorts, which can be dressed up with a blazer of a similar shade or worn more casually with a bikini on a boat. Throw on a thin leather brown or black belt with gold hardware and the ensemble instantly looks more put together.
The loose silhouette gives it a breezy, summery feel, and depending on how you pair the shorts — whether with a Breton striped shirt, crochet crop top, or lingerie-inspired tank and tailored jacket — the look can transition from day to night. Throw on a few chunky bangles and a pair of studded black ankle boots and you’ll add enough edge to (maybe) get into a club in Berlin like Berghain.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $35
Cupshe V-Neck One-piece Swimsuit
Whether you’re lounging on the rocky shores of Nice or the golden sand of the Algarve, you’re going to need a solid swimsuit for your summer trip. This black one-piece earns points for its flattering fit with ruching detail and a stylish halter — you’d never guess it was from Amazon — and it’s so versatile. You can even throw your shorts over it like it’s a halter top and bike or stroll around after you’re done with the beach.
To buy: amazon.com, $34
Lacozy Linen Button-Up Shirt
These are the kind of stripes that no one can argue won’t look good on them. This is neutral enough to pair with a variety of fabrics and bottoms, like denim shorts and white linen pants, or even over a bikini at the beach.
The slouchy silhouette gives it a laid-back look, and you can play with the sleeves by rolling them up, keeping the shirt open over a white cotton tee or tank, or tying the shirt at the waist to turn it into a crop top. This style of shirt becomes my go-to on overcast days while touring around cities like Amsterdam or Athens, and it’s a good piece to wear on a breezy boat day. For a short sleeve version, try this lightweight linen button-up from Madewell.
To buy: amazon.com, $27 (originally $46)
Tassel Crossbody Bag
Crossbody bags are great for traveling in Europe because they can be worn while cycling through cities or touring archaeological sites and monuments (the inside zipper also helps protect against pickpockets that are so prevalent here). They’re an easy day-to-night bag, so you can leave evening purses or clutches at home.
I love tan and brown bags in the summer because they match with my wardrobe of neutral and beach-toned clothing, and the tassel and gold hardware adds a boho-chic flair. You can adjust the strap so it sits right where you want it to on your side, and the flap is a pocket perfect for anything you may need to quickly reach. As one shopper raved, “I'm super picky about how straps sit and feel, and this one exceeds my expectations by a long shot.”
To buy: amazon.com, $26
Free People Woven Packable Hat
One accessory I struggle with is a hat, since it can be a pain to carry through an airport and on a plane — especially on long-haul flights, where the potential of a hat getting crushed is high. But once I land, it’s the first accessory I want to wear. This packable woven hat from Free People is the perfect solution, since you can throw it in your suitcase or beach bag and it’ll unfold and never lose its structure.
The wide brim offers just the right amount of sun protection, and the woven design gives it a cowboy feel that’s great for both the beach and touring around town. Plus, if you don’t have time to do your hair or want to rock beach waves after a day by the sea, this accessory instantly pulls an outfit together without having to try too hard.
To buy: freepeople.com, $48
Toms Rope Espadrille Loafers
There’s a reason espadrilles have been a wardrobe staple in Europe since they were invented in Spain in the 14th century — they’re an affordable, practical style that’s versatile enough to be worn to work or around town. Styles today range from simple to super spruced-up, but this version from Toms is a nice middle ground.
With their rounded toe and breathable fabric lining, they’re comfortable — especially in the height of summer — but they’re also an easy shoe to travel with thanks to the slip-on style. Great for the airport, walking on cobbled streets, and beach days, they’re a stylish, versatile staple. Shoppers say they’re a great fit, true to size, and comfortable all day, even if you’re walking around for hours.
To buy: zappos.com, $48
Free People Reversible Top
If you’re planning to visit a few different destinations in Europe, the best items to pack are ones you can layer and mix-and-match. This white tank from Free People is a great wardrobe staple, since the reversible neckline allows you to wear it in multiple ways. The billowy silhouette is flattering on different body types, and the twisted straps add a subtle detail that makes it stand out from the typical white tank.
Easy to pack and textured enough so you won’t need to worry about spotting wrinkles, you can pair this with anything from harem pants or a flowy maxi skirt to structured, printed shorts. Tuck it in, leave it out, pair with a blazer or cardigan; there are tons of ways you’ll weave this into your wardrobe. One of my favorite ways to style it? Over a bikini top at the beach when I need a break from the sun.
To buy: freepeople.com, $48
Asos Design Oversize Denim Shacket
If you haven’t heard the term “shacket” yet, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The concept is simple: It’s a shirt comdbined with a light jacket, and you’ll want to adopt the trend if you haven’t already. This non-stretch denim jacket from Asos Design has a shirt-inspired silhouette, so it can easily double as both. The faded black also makes it more stylish than traditional blue denim.
The oversized look, button cuffs, and spread collar add edge to a classic ensemble, like a simple white ribbed tank and pants. I wear mine as a jacket with skinny black jeans and mules or slides, but you can pair it with an entirely different texture, like boxy, loose-fit linen pants, a leather mini skirt, or over a sundress. And if you decide to wear it as a jacket and it gets too warm, tie it around your waist for a ’90s look that’s definitely back in fashion in Europe.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $50
Free People Convertible Open Back Sweater Tank
A sweater at the beach? Mais oui! When I went sailing a few summers ago in Sweden, a light knit sweater became my everyday go-to. What I love about this play on a classic knit tank is that the straps are adjustable and convertible, so it’ll look like you’re wearing a new top every time. Criss-cross the straps around your neck and it turns into a halter, tie the straps around your waist, and you have a belt.
The honey tree shade of gold is versatile enough to match with most prints and stripes, so you can go elegant with silk pants, don a daytime look with a flowy maxi skirt, or wear it to the beach with linen or jean shorts. One shopper purchased the top in two colors, saying they “got so many compliments” when they wore it, that they “just purchased the second color for vacation.”
To buy: freepeople.com, $40
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