Packing for a Trip to Spain: What to Bring and What to Leave at Home

The moment I’d announced I’d bought a house in Spain, the requests for the proverbial ‘roof-over-my-head’ while traveling through came pouring in.

Come on! It’s not like I lived in a box under the Triana bridge for seven years!

I hosted my first international visitor not six weeks after moving house, and even as a heavy traveler who works for a travel planning company, the frantic whatsapps came in about last -minute packing (never mind the time difference between us!).

packing light

As someone who can pack for a week in Eastern Europe in the same pack as an overnight trip to Granada in the middle of a cold spell, I find getting together a suitcase for a Spain trip to be a bit of a challenge. I think back to my move to Spain in 2007: I loaded my bag with extra American goodies in lieu of a winter jacket and – surprise! – it gets chilly in Southern Spain. And then there was the 7 kilo pack job for the Camino de Santiago, a feat I’m still proud of!

It you’re packing for a short trip to Spain, consider how you’re traveling (trains with virtually no baggage weight limits? Budget airline with strict rules about dimensions?) as well as where and when. Then, think about where you’ll be staying, as Spain offers a dozen different types of accommodation options and it’s a country with as much surf as turf.

What to Pack for Spain

There are of course the necessties, like clothes, underwear and your toiletries.  But no matter what, consider taking out that extra pair of sandals to make room for these essentials that you may not have thought of:

Tissue Packets

I am still puzzled as to why ladies bathrooms in Spain see no need to stock up on toilet paper. Throw a couple of extras in your purse for when the need arises (most likely in the airport or train station upon arrival).

Sun Protection

I once proclaimed to be thankful for sunglasses because, man, is it bright in Spain! And as someone with fair skin, I even put on sun cream to hang my laundry out to dry on the terrace, and once tried using tears to convince an Italian airport security agent to let me through with “prescription” sunblock. No matter what, sun care should trump a party dress or box of candy while you’re on the road, be it an extra hat, SPF lip balm and make up, or bottles of SPF 45 (plus, sunscreen is crazy expensive in Spain!).

A Light Jacket or Sweater

Don’t let the hot sun fool you – Spain has a Mediterranean climate, which means winters can be damp and chilly. A light sweater or jacket is an absolute must for any time of year, and canvas or nylon are good choices for durability. Cotton cardigans work nicely in warmer months and can be dressed up or down.

A voltage converter

While most electronics nowadays come with adapors, older models may burn out if you bring them on your trip. The reason is simple: American voltage works at 110 volts, and European at 220. This means that your appliance will work twice as hard, so invest in a quality converter (or, hey!, you can toss the fried straightener and lighten your load!). Remember that European plugs have two round prongs.

Extra copies of your passport and travel plans

passport U.S.

Any traveler swears by this – you should have at least one extra copy of your passport picture page and your travel plans in case of theft or destruction, and these things should be kept in a separate place than the actual documents. While you’re at it, send scans to yourself and a trusted friend back home just in case. It’s also wise to write down nearby consulates in case you do need replacements.

Small packets of laundry detergent

Laundromats are hard to come by in Spain, and they’re often expensive. If you can manage it, wash your clothes in the sink and hang them to dry using small packets of powdered detergent. They’ll not only pass through airport security, but also won’t weigh you down. Plus, they’re easy to replace at perfumerias.

Your credit card and some extra euros on hand

The Euro is falling, so maximize your tourist dollars by using your credit card (but call your bank before leaving home!). You can get extra points if you have a rewards card or earn towards goodies. Coming with 20-40 will also cut down on ATM or currency exchange fees when you need to hail a cab upon arrival, so pre-order from your bank at home for better rates.

Leave it at home:

Uncomfortable shoes (especially high heels)

Streets in Spain are often uneven and you’ll do a lot of walking, so bring sturdy, comfortable shoes. Even after seven years here, I can barely walk in Chucks without tripping, so save space (and face) by skipping the heels.

Your favorite outfit

Thankfully, all of my lost bags have been returned to me, but I’m usually careful to pack half of my favorite outfits in one bag, and the other half in the other. So what if you’re wearing the same outfit in pictures by wearing neutrals? You’re not Kim Kardashian, so the only person who probably cares is you.

cat on dubrovnik city walls

Instead, pack one bright or bold piece. I packed for a week in Dubrovnik and Montenegro in one carry on, and having a bright pink blazer served to dress up jeans and a T-shirt and helped me stand out in photos while traveling in two beautiful destinations (um, and so did that black eye…).

Expensive jewelry

Petty theft is an unfortunate reality in Spain, so you can leave expensive accessories at home. If you can’t bear it, consider taking out insurance just in case, and know how to fill out a police report just in case.

A simple, lightweight scarf will do the trick, and you won’t be bummed if you leave it in a hostel or quirky café.

The true test: Can you cart around your suitcase and personal items without the help of others? Imagine, if you will, doing it up stairs and down cobblestone roads. If you can’t do it, it’s time to repack!

Packing 101


Need some packing inspiration? My friend and Seville expat Karen McCann is a suitcase superhero – she did months of rail travel in Eastern Europe with just one carry-on! – has just written a fun and quick read of an ebook on her packing trips, honed after years of traipsing around the world and visiting 50 countries. Pack Light is all you need to read to prepare for your trip (or at least the monumental task of deciding what to take).

When she sent me a copy, I could almost imagine every compartment in her rolling suitcase – which measures 21 x 13 x 7.5! – and I found myself laughing just as I did when reading Enjoy Living Abroad, a chronicle of expat life in Seville and one of her three published books. It’s easily digested and practical, and because it’s digital, it won’t take up space or weight. A woman who heeds her own advice!

PackLightCoverArt low res

If you’re looking for packing tips for long-term travel to Spain or a stint abroad, pick up a copy of COMO Consulting’s eBook “Moving to Spain” for individual packing lists and suggestions.

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Hi Cat! Flew to Canary Islands in November with our 4 month old and stupidly I packed all my and her stuff in one check in bag. It got lost and didn’t arrive until the next day. Only daddy had his things. Baby and I slept in our travel clothes – yuck. Luckily I had a few items in the carry on diaper bag for Lana (diapers, etc). Next time I’m splitting my and her stuff across both check in suitcases just in case!

    • Ugh, my dad had a similar problem – he has sleep apnea, and rather than my mom packing his machine into a carry on, she filled it with toilet paper rolls for a trip to China. Their bags were lost for three days (though mom could wear my clothes). Poor guy didn’t sleep!

  2. Great tips! When I told my southern bell friends “no heels” they didn’t listen to me. They brought them anyway and didn’t touch them! Once they realized all the walking we do in Europe, they realized their mistakes.

    I brought a voltage converter with me to New Zealand for my straightener. The thing was expensive, heavy and all the conversion blew up my Chi straightener anyway. I say either invest in dual voltage hair tools (I have one from that has lasted for years on multiple continents) or just leave them at home.
    Kelsey of Route Words recently posted..Valentine Puns for the Traveler in Your LifeMy Profile

  3. Remember to pack your favorite granola/ energy bars, because sketchy airplane food and the time change will not always match your appetite.

    • Great advice, Jorelyn! I am privy to giant bocadillos these days, but always have something for the long trips. My kindle comes everywhere, too!

  4. These tips are spot-on. Being a little on the short side, I’m a fan of high heels, but they’re the biggest waste of space when traveling. Studying abroad in Sevilla taught me that going out with heels only caused pain and suffering. I still don’t know how Spanish girls do it!
    Paige recently posted..FOMO and Life AbroadMy Profile

  5. Joe Pinzone says:

    My name is Joe Pinzone and I’m casting an international travel show about expats moving abroad. We’d love to film in Spain and wanted to know if you could help us find expats who have moved there within the last 1-2 years. The show documents their move to a new country and will place the country in fabulous light. I wanted to know if you could help spread the word to expats living there or are close to moving. If you’d like more information, please give me a call at 212-231-7716 or skype me at joefromnyc. You can also email me at Looking forward to hearing from you.

    Joe Pinzone
    Casting Producer
    P: 212-231-7716
    Skype: Joefromnyc

  6. The best option is to buy an extra piece of luggage and take as much as you can :) or send something by post. After a couple of weeks it will arrive in Spain :)

    • I definitely will be doing this over the summer – worth the extra money, though the shipping always makes me nervous with customs!

  7. My biggest packing faux pas was when I went to Sydney for my semester abroad and packed waaaay too much — like, $400 overweight luggage fees too much. WOW did that teach me how to pack light! Since then I’ve become a pretty pro packer — even when I go away with the guy friends I always have the smallest bag. It helps to have ridiculously curly hair that requires no dryer or straightener and only needs washing once a week!

    • I actually wanted to perm my hair before Spain so I wouldn’t have to deal with it! I would love to have curly hair and just let it go wild!

  8. What great suggestions. I don’t even bring my nice watches, it’s always nice to ask locals and try to strike up a conversation in every public venue.
    noel recently posted..Lake Garda at Peschiera – Travel Photo MondayMy Profile

  9. We’re notoriously terrible packers, so this blog post was a lot of help. Thanks so much for sharing. Will use it with a forthcoming Madrid trip in mind.
    Gran Canaria Local recently posted..Diving in Sardina del NorteMy Profile

  10. Great tips – esp about the sunscreen. i am allergic to so many kinds, and so i ALWAYS bring my own. 😉
    Wandering Educators recently posted..Through the Eyes of an Educator: San Diego, CaliforniaMy Profile

  11. I’m going to Spain for the first time in May. Can’t wait!!! No idea what I’m packing so this helps a lot. Are you going to TBEX in Lloret de Mar?
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..Long Term Travel with Kids: How Do We Do It?My Profile

  12. I don’t enjoy always having to be strategic about my packing but I do it anyway. Layering is always a good bit of advice. I’ll be heading to TBEX Spain so this is a good resource for me.
    Tawanna recently posted..[Biz] What Is Video Stir Floating Clips For Websites?My Profile

  13. Woo hoo! I love the “leave your heels at home” tip. Frankly, I support that tip for all destinations! Down with uncomfortable footwear!
    Lillie recently posted..The Burren, Ireland’s Most Famous Ancient Portal StonesMy Profile

  14. Augh, sorry I missed the giveaway. I’m pretty good at packing light, but I have yet to find the perfect pair of comfy travel shoes that are dressy enough to go with any outfit. I’m open to suggestions!
    Mary @ Green Global Travel recently posted..ECO NEWS: World Wildlife Day & #JustOneRhino WinnersMy Profile

  15. Cat Agree with you on all these tips. I confess though that I do take a few favorite pieces with me to Italy because, well when one is in Italy one must look good! :) Spain was a lot more forgiving. I remember one morning waking up early and just throwing on my clothes to take a walk and I had a purple shirt, orange sweater (which I purchased in Spain) and pink scarf, also purchased in Spain. I dressed in the dark basically so as not to wake my roomies. I got hit up for an early morning cafe almost immediately. haha
    Penny Sadler recently posted..Where Would You Go? Creating A Bucket ListMy Profile

  16. Thanks for the info, some of these will be useful in my upcoming trip.

  17. Its really helpful!! from travel plans to packing tips. Thanks for sharing your experience and ideas.
    Hannah White recently posted..Mind-Blowing Destinations for Family Travel 2015My Profile

  18. Trip to Spain seems really great! Thanks for sharing your tips! The are so helpful! Lovely time in Spain! Greets, Man With Van Bermondsey Ltd.

  19. When I’m about to travel I either take too many unnecessary clothes, or I pack my back light and I miss something that I really need. I hope to reach balance for my next trip, using your tips. Thanks :)

  20. A voltage converter is something really important. If you forget it you could find to buy one but it is not really easy. Thank you for sharing your tips! Best regards!

  21. I always carry a travel purse with many pockets for my passport, kindle, credit cards, money granola bars,and anything else I might want on the plane. I tie a pretty scarf on the strap to cover up with and wear on trip.

  22. Thanks for the great tips! I’ll be traveling to Portugal and Spain this fall and the reminders were very helpful, especially the one about sunscreen. I probably would not have brought that!

  23. As a Spanish person I find this article very offensive. So, there’s no toilet paper, washing powder or paved streets. Oh! And no jewellery as we are all thiefs! How rude and ignorant. We are a very civilized country and if that’s how you feel about my country perhaps you should abstain from visiting it and certainly from writing stupid articles like this.

    • Oh, Ana. You have not spent time in the south, then, to see the state of the toilets. Best not to read my post about bathrooms. My husband, who is also Spanish, found the article to not only be humorous, but true.

      As for the thieves, you are reading far into the article. ANY person who has traveled abroad knows that it’s best to leave valuables behind. This is the same for my own country. And I am contributing to the Spanish social security system, have a Spanish baby who may eventually pay your pension, and have every right to state my opinion, just as you have done here, too.

  24. I am loving reading through this thread. I am travelling to Marbella mid October ’17. In all my research I still don’t have an answer to this: Open toe wedge espadrille sandals…..still OK to wear or is it bootie season no matter what the temp is? Also I just can’t /won’t do a running shoe (unless I am hiking or running)..what is another option for a comfortable walking shoe that will also give a short girl some lift? I am looking a the crossover platform but again open toe? Please help..whats a girl to do?

    • Hi Mel, Spaniards tend to dress for the season. I don’t think open toe is a huge deal in a town as touristy as Marbella, but do check the weather before you go. October can be quite rainy. Flats or kitten heels would be perfectly fine (I’m 5’4″ and never feel to short in Spain)!


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