Are you on the fence about trying to pack carry-on only? I’m here to tell you that you can do it! I’m heading to Europe from the US for the seventh time next month, and I’ve made it just fine on every trip with a carry-on bag and a day bag. I believe packing light allows for more time and less distraction once you get to your destination. You can relax, as I am doing in the above photo (just sitting in the garden outside the Louvre!); you can explore more sights; and you can save your back by not lugging so much around.
A few other reasons to forgo checked luggage:
- A bag you keep on the plane with you cannot go astray to another city (or country).
- You can hop on and off trains without wrangling a heavy bag.
- You avoid standing at the luggage carousel when you’ve landed; get out of the airport and start exploring instead!
- One trip with my first carry-on bag (a duffel) showed me that I can pack all I need, so why weigh myself down with more luggage?
My 21″ carry-on is a spinner, has a USB port, and is lightweight. I love it!
The packing list I use is below. It works for me, and I hope it will be helpful for you. But first, here are a few points to think about.
Your Travel Style
Most of the time, when I travel I’m focused on seeing the sights. I rarely go for luxury dinners or to the opera. The photo shows my “normal” type of outfit that allows me to move and bend for photos if needed. Notice that our fine tour guide in Belgium is wearing a Johnny Cash shirt. That is his style — he made a day of touring battlefields fun as well as sobering.
My comfortable travel pants are made by Eddie Bauer. I love the fit and flexibility. My favorite travel shoes are Saucony lightweight running shoes. I have these in both black and gray and wear them often, both on the road and at home.
I’ve found that the most comfortable way to beat the heat is to wear a dress. It was HOT in Vienna, and this dress was perfect. I washed it out and wore it later on the same trip, when we got to Paris and was HOT again.
One packing fail I had was taking this cute dress to visit Washington, DC. I walked miles in 95-degee heat with high humidity. This is a dry clean only dress. One day and it was done. I survived but it didn’t. Take washable clothes! On another trip I packed a dress I had just ordered, new with tags. I didn’t really like it, and I ended up returning it without wearing it when I got back home — after lugging it through Europe. Wear your clothes at home at least once before packing them!
Most packing articles advise ladies to take a pair of flats, and I most often do. These can be worn when you want something more dressy than walking shoes. We went to a concert in Schoenbrunn Palace and I needed to dress up a bit to feel good about sitting in the ballroom where Mozart had performed. However, if you set out for a day when you know you’ll be walking up a lot of stairs, flats are not the best idea. They fall off (at least mine do). Climbing the dome at St. Paul’s in London is a memorable experience, but I was trying not to trip the entire way up the winding stone stairs. Last year we climbed the many steps into the Eiffel Tower — and I was very comfortable in my lace-up shoes.
One more fail — and it concerns adapters / converters. I’m not mechanical or electronic, and the difference still confuses me. I checked all my electronics for dual voltage and thought I was fine with an adapter only. At the last minute, I bought a travel curling iron and didn’t check the voltage. It wouldn’t work without a converter. Check ALL your electronics and take a converter if something lacks dual voltage. It was really funny trying to act out what a converter is at the front desk of our hotel in Budapest when we didn’t speak each other’s language. They did eventually find one someone had left behind and gave it to me. At least my problem got us all laughing.
Once I found these, I never looked back. You can keep your tops in one, your bottoms in another, and your underwear in a third. They help me be organized, which does not come naturally to me. Once I settle in a hotel, my bag looks like it exploded. Packing cubes help me pack up and move on to the next adventure with a minimum of frustration. My husband is so neat, and even he uses packing cubes. Here’s a look at his hotel closet and my suitcase in the same hotel. We are not alike.
I’ve had my packing cubes a long time and I don’t remember where I got them, but here are similar sets.
Now to the packing list. Some of these items won’t be on your list, but this should provide a good start for you. For example, I wear contacts and don’t need solution because they are for daily wear. You may need to throw in a bottle of contact solution. Or maybe your eyes are just fine without contacts or glasses — lucky you! This list works for shoulder seasons (spring and fall). For winter, add a coat (I have a puffer jacket that folds into a pouch, perfect for travel) and boots.
One item I take that’s not on a lot of lists is a washcloth or travel towel. You rarely find a washcloth in European hotels, and I like them.
Some items are linked to for your convenience. You can download this list below, too.
over-the-counter meds (ibuprofen, immodium, vitamin C)
makeup, lip gloss, lipstick
toothbrush / toothpaste / dental floss
shampoo / conditioner
hotel-sized bar of soap
washcloth or travel towel
zip lock bags
coin purse, travel wallet
Passport and copies of passport copies of credit cards
printouts of reservations
list of hotels
medical insurance cards
iPhone / charger / earphones
iPad / charger
camera / charger
SD card holder
adapters / converter
snacks — cashews, crackers, Kind bars, string cheese, fruit
gum / mints
downloaded books, movies, podcasts
black walking shoes
flip flops (for pool, hotels)
socks (3 pair)
underwear (5 pair)
rain jacket / windbreaker
2 pair pants (both black works well) (I like these from Eddie Bauer)
6 to 7 tops, with at least 1 long-sleeved
2 cardigans (or a cardigan and a pullover)
It’s Never Too Late or Too Soon to Start Packing Light
We took our grandson Tyler to San Francisco last year, and I asked that he go carry-on only. He happily brought a backpack (only) with everything he needed. Start them young, right?
Download your free packing list and go exploring!
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