Europe travel bags travel budget trip reports

Winter travel in Europe packing light

a group of people walking on a stone path with a statue in the background

Winter in Europe was appealing travel for me when I flew San Francisco to Copenhagen, then visited Malmo, Sweden; Prague, Czech Republic; Wroclaw and Krakow, Poland; Stockholm, Sweden in January 2017.

Sure, the weather can be bitterly cold, but some days can also be brilliantly clear skies for wonderful photo opportunities. The crowds might be less than 10% of what you experience in summer months. Airfare and hotels might be 50% to 75% lower than average summer prices, depending on where you go.

$712 for 7 nights, 9 days. 

In January 2017, I conducted an experimental trip to see how feasible it is for me to travel around Scandinavia and Central Europe on low cost carrier airlines without paying any bag or seat fees to keep the ultra-low ticket prices truly at bargain prices.

$265 airline tickets.

  • $69.00 San Francisco to Copenhagen, Denmark on WOW Air
  • $61.76 Copenhagen to Prague Czech Airlines
  • 17.70 EUR ($19) Krakow, Poland KRK – Stockholm Arlanda ARN Norwegian Airlines
  • $115.44 Stockholm, Sweden to Oakland, California on Norwegian Airlines

$77 ground transportation

  • $26 train Copenhagen Airport CPH to Malmo, Sweden round trip
  • $3 bus/metro Prague Airport to Prague, round trip
  • $15 Polskibus Prague -Wroclaw, Poland
  • $7.50 taxi Wroclaw
  • $3.75 Polskibus Wroclaw – Krakow, Poland
  • $23 Stockholm Arlanda Flygbussarna airport to city round trip.

$100 daily expenses for food, beer. Average meal price in Prague and Poland was around $5 for a hamburger in a pub or Chinese/Turkish food and less than $2 per pint for most of the beers I drank.

$270 hotels + 18,000 Choice Privileges points.

  • 8,000 Choice Privileges points, Clarion Collection Hotel Temperance, Malmo, Sweden – 1 night
  • 2,185 CZK ($87.13) Park Inn Prague (Club Carlson 2-for-1 weekend rate) – 2 nights
  • 330 PLN ($81.32) Radisson Blu Wroclaw, Poland (Club Carlson 2-for-1 weekend rate) – 2 nights
  • 415 PLN ($102.27) Holiday Inn Krakow, Poland (1,000 bonus points rate) – 1 night
  • 10,000 Choice Privileges points, Clarion Hotel Sign, Stockholm, Sweden – 1 night

January 2017

Copenhagen, Malmo, Prague, Wroclaw, Krakow, Stockholm.

In January 2017, I flew San Francisco to Copenhagen for $69.00 one way on WOW Air flying with only two small free carry-on bags. My total ticket price was truly $69.00. The plane had so few people that some passengers laid out on three seats. I took two by the window in the back for my flight to Iceland with eyeshade and ear plugs to aid rest for the overnight.

Ice in Iceland is no surprise in January.

The rules have since changed on WOW Air allowing only one personal carry-on bag, but that is a restriction I still find manageable for travel.

Winter bags
My backpack and a waterproof bag for my winter boots on the plane and my computer when walking around on the ground.

Intra-Europe travel from Copenhagen to Prague to Poland and Sweden was only $100 for flights and bus travel.

My itinerary in January 2017 consisted of $61.76 for Czech Airlines Copenhagen to Prague; about $15.00 for a 4.5 hour bus ride from Prague to Wroclaw, Poland; $3.75 for a 3 hour bus ride from Wroclaw to Krakow, Poland; Krakow KRK to Stockholm ARN on Norwegian Airlines 17.70 EUR ($19 USD).

These intra-Europe transportation prices are fairly normal year-round. The real deal with winter travel are ultra-low cost flights between California and Scandinavia on Norwegian and WOW Airlines.

Even major airlines have steadily dropped their fares over the past three years. Sub-$300 round trip airfare, and notably not mistake fares, between California and Europe with major alliance airlines like Lufthansa for winter 2018 travel is something we are seeing for the first time in more than a decade.

Malmo, Sweden

Diedenska huset from 1620, Malmo, Sweden.

I prefer staying in Copenhagen to Malmo, Sweden, a 22 minute train ride from Copenhagen Airport CPH across the Oresund Strait in the opposite direction from Copenhagen. The $13 train ticket each way is twice the cost of going to Copenhagen city center, but the Clarion Collection Hotel Temperance in Malmo is only 8,000 Choice Privileges points compared to the high price of staying in Copenhagen. Clarion Collection brand in Nordic Choice Hotels provide a complimentary dinner buffet in addition to complimentary breakfast, common for most Scandinavian hotels.

Global warming indicator signs were evident in places like Malmo, Sweden with no snow in late January. I read an article there about how 2016-17 weather set records for late arrival of freezing winter temperatures in that region of Sweden.

Malmo fruit
Fresh winter fruit at outdoor stalls on Malmo, Sweden city square.

Outdoor fruit and vegetable vendors offered excellent produce on Malmo, Sweden city squares, even in January.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Old Town Square
Prague Old Town Square and statue of Jan Hus

Prague was mostly snow-free too in January 2017 with the temperature around –1C/30F during the day and brilliantly clear skies.

Prague Charles Bridge and view of Prague Castle.

It had been ten years since 2007 when I spent a week in Prague. I fell in love with Prague again.

There is a world of places to visit, but I don’t mind repeating trips to places I find enjoyable. Prague fits my travel style of urban walks taking photographs and numerous cool pubs selling high quality beer for $1.50 to $2.00 per pint.

U Vorare piano
U Vorare pub near Park Inn Prague.
U Vorare Pink
U Vorare Prague Pink Floyd basement mural

Cheap Winter Hotel Stays with Bonus Points Promotions

Winter hotel promotions often combine low room rates with some of the best bonus points offers of the year.

My hotel stay at Park Inn Prague cost $87 for 2 nights using Club Carlson’s now discontinued 2-for-1 weekend rates for Thu-Fri stay. I followed that stay with 2 nights at Radisson Blu Wroclaw Sat-Sun for $81. These 4 nights were followed with 4 nights at Park Plaza Amsterdam Vondelpark in February for $300.

8 nights in Europe for $470 earned 50,000 bonus points during Club Carlson’s winter promotion and 70,000 total points for the stays. I redeemed 81,000 points for 4 hotel nights in April for hotels in Lithuania and June in Gdansk, Poland.

Wroclaw, Poland

Wroclaw was cold, but cool too.

Tumski Bridge
Tumski Bridge Wroclaw leading to Cathedral Island
Wroclaw oder-1
Oder River Wroclaw

A free walking tour of Wroclaw, gnome sightings and laid back pubs with good tunes made a pleasant two days. While Saturday night provided an amazing party atmosphere, Sunday night meant no problem finding an empty table in a pub in this university city.

Wroclaw pub
Wroclaw pub

I learned the essential piece of clothing for winter travel is a beanie cap after spending two weeks in December 2016 in Vienna; Bratislava, Slovakia and Krakow, Poland. Freezing weather becomes miserable when your ears go numb.

Wroclaw Rynek Glowny
Wroclaw Rynek Glowny/Main Square


Krakow, Poland

I’d read about Krakow’s horrible air pollution from the prevalent use of coal as a fuel source, but did not notice bad air quality in December 2016 when I stayed five nights in the city during a wet and snowy week.

January 2017 was a different experience with cold clear days and nights for a week. Early January had seen the worst air pollution recorded in a decade for a region trying to improve its reputation as one of cities with the most polluted air in Europe.

Krakow dusk
Krakow, Poland afternoon on a ground smog winter day

Bad air quality outside made a good excuse for hanging out inside pubs.

Krakow Rynek Glowny/Main Square is one of the largest city squares in Europe. I’d attended the Tour of Poland cycling race in July 2016 on the square and the Christmas Market in December. I had never seen the square empty before.

Krakow Rynek Glowny
Krakow Rynek Glowny/Main Square

The lack of crowds allowed me to notice the Krakow Free Walking Tour when a dozen tourists passed me on the street. I joined the tour for the second half of the dark, torturous history of medieval Krakow.

Krakow Free Walking tour
Free Walking Tour Krakow

Stockholm, Sweden

Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, aka volume 1 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, occupied my early weeks of January before this trip. With one evening to get out and about in Stockholm, I ventured out from Clarion Hotel Sign across Gamla Stan/ Old Town to walk the streets of Södermalm, a key location of the Millennium stories.

Stockholm Gamla Stan
Stockholm Gamla Stan/Old Town

Why is Stockholm’s Södermalm so cool?

is a local’s perspective article on that came up when I searched for the ‘two dots’ spelling on the web.

Soder Tiffany's
Tiffany’s Pub Södermalm Stockholm

Tip: is a good website for getting simple format English news from eight different European countries, each with its own website Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain, Switzerland.

Swedish Parliament view to Stockholm Town Hall tower

Norwegian Airlines Stockholm ARN to Oakland, California OAK

I flew Norwegian Airlines Stockholm to Oakland, California for $115.44 one way to get back to California. Norwegian Air has a more generous free carry-on bags policy allowing a normal size carry-on for overhead bin at no charge, plus an additional under seat bag. I prefer Norwegian to WOW Air for USA-Europe flights.


All photos in this piece were taken with an old 2013 iPhone 5 camera since I traveled light without my Nikon DSLR for this 9 day trip to Europe in January 2017.

Pack essentials

Boots, a winter coat, gloves, sweater, beanie are essentials for cold winter travel in Europe.

My main bag is an Eddie Bauer backpack 17 inches tall, 12 inches wide and 10 inches deep when stuffed. Actually 14 inches wide when my water bottle is in outside pocket as shown.

My 9 day winter pack list for Scandinavia and Central Europe included:

  • 5 pair underwear,
  • 5 pairs small socks and
  • 4 pairs heavy socks,
  • 3 short sleeve t-shirts,
  • 3 long sleeve shirts,
  • two sweaters,
  • one pair black jeans,
  • one pair Levi Dockers,
  • two pair leggings,
  • exercise shorts,
  • waterproof boots,
  • Merrill walking shoes,
  • wool cap,
  • winter parka,
  • leather gloves,
  • winter headband,
  • toiletries and
  • laptop computer and cord
  • two shopping bags.

My packing light travel plan is carry four days worth of clothing and plan to hand wash clothing at least once every four days. Winter towel heater racks in many European hotels make drying clothes overnight a possibility.

clothes on a rack
Quick dry hand laundry on bathroom heated towel rack.

Europe was my plan, but Key West is Jan 2018 impulse trip

I worked on plans for another solo and light packing trip for late January 2018 to Europe, then changed it up last week when I booked a $56 Frontier Airlines round trip flight Las Vegas to Miami in January on impulse. Best Western 10,000 points reward nights in North America seemed like an opportunity to good to pass up. Best Western has a couple of Key West hotels with normally 36,000 points reward nights in January peak season.

Still have to travel in USA with only a free carry-on under seat bag, but at least I won’t be wearing boots and carrying around a winter parka when I am hanging out in Key West winter weather. Sandals and an assortment of shorts don’t take up much space. I’ll have room to pack a better camera.

You can see my packing list for a week in Europe in winter in the first article below on WOW Air my best low fare deal to Europe ever.

January 2017

Copenhagen, Denmark – Malmo, Sweden – Prague, Czechia – Wroclaw, Poland – Krakow, Poland – Stockholm, Sweden

  1. WOW Air SFO to Copenhagen $69 my best low fare deal to Europe ever
  2. Quick takes on Prague
  3. Ten mile walking tour around Prague (part one)
  4. Ten Mile Walking Tour around Prague (Part Two)
  5. Ten Mile Walking Tour around Prague (part 3 Old Town)
  6. Park Inn Prague Hotel Review
  7. Hotel U Medvídků Brewery Prague
  8. Hospůdka U Voraře, my Prague local pub
  9. Cat’s Meow – Wroclaw predatory Polish cutie on a Saturday night
  10. Wroclaw Poland walking tour
  11. Radisson Blu Wroclaw hotel review
  12. Holiday Inn Krakow $100 night earned 23,500 points + $75 rebate
  13. My $75 IHG Priceless Experiences MasterCard turned into 20,000 points 
  14. My European winter itinerary $259 SFO-CPH-PRG/KRK-ARN-OAK
  15. This week’s airline and hotel changes make last week’s Europe trip 26% more expensive

Looks like I need to add some more pieces on Sweden to these articles.



  • ghostrider5408 November 18, 2017

    I am having a hard time was this all about your trip ? Slim on ” packing light”

  • helpfulhint November 18, 2017

    There was only one line about packing essentials for winter travel in Europe. Might wanna edit the article name for clarity.

  • Ric Garrido November 19, 2017

    Pack list added.

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