How to pack for two weeks in Europe using only carry-on luggage. Hubby and I packed for 17 days in Europe using only a carry-on bag each. This is how we packed for our 17-day trip, and how you can easily do carry-on only luggage to Europe too! We went to Italy, which was very warm (80° – 85°F), and France, which was very cool (42° – 60°F).
How to Pack for Two Weeks in Europe Using Only a Carry On Bag
When Hubby and I first started planning this trip in early April, Hubby suggested we go with carry-on only luggage as he felt it would give us maximum flexibility in case of plane snafus, and prevent any lost luggage issues. It would also make it easier for us to walk from a train station to our hotel.
Well, I nearly fell down I was laughing so hard at the very idea! “Me!? Using only a carry-on!? Surely you jest.”
And then I got to thinking about it and how much easier it would make our trip since we planned on stops in four cities.
After due consideration, and making no firm promises, I decided to give it a go. If I couldn’t fit everything I wanted to take in a carry-on, I reserved the right to bail on the idea.
The first thing we did was research the airline carry-on luggage restrictions. We had a Delta flight out of the United States, and an Air France flight out of France (they are partners). The size restrictions for each airline were very different. As of this writing, Air France has more restrictive carry-on luggage sizes and Delta’s international carry-on requirements are pretty liberal. However, Hubby did a little more research and discovered the plane metal (who actually owned the aircraft and had their logo on it) on all legs was Delta.
We ordered a number of suitcases as I had nothing that would work, and Hubby only has one that was “close”, but if something happened and the metal changed, there was no way he could carry on. I think Hubby returned them all. After a lot of research and finding the one I ultimately chose and only ordered the suitcase, I took on the trip. Hubby ordered at least four suitcases.
We flew business class, so for us, weight was not an issue. If our stuff fit in our bag, no one cared what it weighed. (When we got rebooked due to a flight snafu, we flew Alitalia. When we got our carry-on tags from Alitalia, they actually weighed the carry-on bag. We both exceeded the Alitalia carry-on weight limits, me by quite a bit. The clerk looked at us and said, “It is ok in business class you have leeway.” YMMV of course, but it may have to do with the class of our ticket.) In coach, the weight could be an issue (people in the Alitalia non-priority lines were taking things out of carry-on luggage that was flying coach) so it is best to check the guidelines for your carrier, and pack accordingly.
We ended up with these two suitcases:
● Delsey Luggage Helium Aero International Carry On Expandable Spinner Trolley (in blue)
● Dimensions: 19″ x 13″ x 9.5″
● Weight: 8 lbs, 3 oz
● This has an expansion zipper that could open it another inch up if necessary.
● I placed my ipad in the front which has a zipper opening so I could access it easily (I loaded a lot of ebooks on it before leaving so I’d have plenty to read while traveling).
● Delsey Luggage Helium Hyperlite Carry-On Expandable 2 Wheel Trolley
Product Dimensions: 9 x 20.5 x 14 inches
● Weight: 7 pounds
● This has a 2″ expansion zipper
● Hubby ended up placing his laptop in the front to take the weight off his shoulder laptop bag when we traveled by train.
I purchased the hard case. My bag is a bit smaller than the one Hubby chose, but the hard shell should make it a bit more durable. I went with the spinner wheels, and Hubby worried they might be a challenge on the cobblestone streets in Europe. They actually were not, and on a smooth surface, they were a lot better than two wheels.
Hubby chose the soft-sided suitcase. It is a bit larger than the one I took and has two wheels. He slipped his laptop bag sleeve over the luggage handle and had no issues whatsoever on the cobblestone streets or on smooth streets.
We looked at a LOT of luggage, and actually decided independently of one another which bag to buy. It is pure coincidence that they were both the Delsey brand. We are in the habit of buying Briggs & Riley as their durability and warranty are unmatched, but they didn’t have anything small enough that would work for us.
Now as I had said, I made no promises to Hubby about the one carry-on bag. I knew I also got a personal bag (like a laptop bag, camera bag, or purse), so I felt that if I fit all my clothing in the carry-on, I had a chance to make it with the personal bag.
This was my personal bag:
● Pacsafe Citysafe LS400
● Product Dimensions: 18.8 x 12.5 x 4.9 inches
● Weight: 1.8 pounds
I needed something for my camera. I ended up using this as my camera bag/purse. I wanted something secure, and this bag is anti-theft. There is a cable that goes through the cross-body strap. It is cut-resistant. It has hooks on the zipper. Inside it has more pockets than you have ever seen in your life!! Some may feel I went overboard on the anti-theft, but the size was right, and once I pulled out the padding from my camera bag and wrapped my camera and lens to go into this bag, the camera fits well. I was able to put in my 3-1-1 baggie, my make-up, and my personal papers too. This bag was loaded with room, safety features, and pockets. Not to pat myself on the back, but this was an excellent choice for my requirements!
In my suitcase, I packed:
8 pair of socks
1 straightener (travel size that could handle to 220V of Europe with an adapter)
1 compact umbrella
Some personal items like deodorant, a small sewing kit, and a few other random bobs and bits
1 shawl (OMG I was so glad I had this in Paris!)
Also, all of my clothes were interchangeable (including what I wore to travel). By that, I mean every shirt I brought could be worn with every pair of pants I brought. I had 3 pairs of black slacks (1 summer weight, 2 medium weight) and 1 pair of jeans. This included what I wore on the plane (medium weight, nonrestrictive).
And I had plenty of room leftover in that suitcase! When we were in Europe, I ended up buying a large purse and stowed it in the suitcase easily.
To pack, I laid all my shirts flat one on top of the other in a stack and then folded them in thirds. It was nice and compact, but nothing wrinkled!
I did the same for my black slacks and jeans! I ended up having room leftover using this method!
I chose to bring the clothing that I did while knowing that in Paris we had access to a washing machine. I wanted to be able to get to Paris without doing a lick of laundry. Alas, it was so darned hot in Italy, that didn’t happen. In Florence, I sent out my jeans (let NO ONE kid you – jeans are worn all over Italy and France! I wore my jeans 9 out of 17 days!) and two summer-weight shirts to dry cleaning.
Hubby and I took the gamble of only wearing one pair of shoes, and not bringing a second pair. Since we decided to do this, I spent a LOT of time trying to locate the best walking shoes I could possibly find. I ended up ordering the Munro American Women’s Traveler Slip-On. I messed around with three different orders in various lengths and widths, and then ended up finding a pair of Aravon Faith Shoes (by new balance) in the back of my closet!! I kept the Munro American Women’s Traveler Slip-On because they are comfy, but those Aravon Faith Shoes were excellent. They went with jeans, black pants you name it! I did make an effort to break them in before we left as I wanted to be absolutely certain they were comfortable, and would not pinch or hurt my feet. They did not.
Hubby decided to go a different route with his pack job.
2 polo shirts
3 light long sleeve
4 white undershirts
2 colored t-shirts (that could be an undershirt or by itself)
4 pair socks
Clothesline, cloths pins and laundry soap packets
collapsible suitcase (which we never used)
my spare camera lens in a case.
That was what he packed in his carry-on bag. In his personal carry-on, he packed his laptop, toiletry bag, electronics bag (we had cell phones that worked in Europe as well as European electrical adapters), and computer.
Hubby packed only hand-washable wicking clothing. He did laundry every few days and waited for his stuff to dry.
He also wore a security vest the entire trip. This kept all our paperwork together and kept his hands free. Security vests were a VERY popular tourist item. We saw them all over Italy. We did not see them in Paris.
Hubby packed his clothing together for each day in a bundle, having a few shirts leftover.
He then laid his slacks on top of one another, the shirts, put his bundle of clothes in the middle of it and then folded around the middle.
He had tons of room leftover in his suitcase since he took half the clothing I did, but his method only works if you are willing to do your laundry by hand in the hotel room (I was not willing), take the time to find a laundromat (I was not willing), or paid for dry cleaning (which I did in a pinch, but he couldn’t as he had wicking clothing).
Hubby and I were both very pleased with our pack jobs. I wore everything except one pair of slacks and one shirt. I just didn’t need them. The jeans helped though as I re-wore them several times before washing. If I had not brought a pair of jeans I would have had to have dry cleaned more often.
I was skeptical at first whether or not I could get through 17 days in Europe using only a carry-on. If you could see me pack for a cruise (big suitcase, garment bag, purse and computer bag), you would understand my doubts. However, after having done it, I sincerely doubt we will ever go to Europe any other way.
When our plane issues arose, it was simple for Hubby and me to reschedule our flight after we deplaned and to move up a flight instead of incurring a long wait in the airport terminal. We didn’t have checked luggage to worry about, so everything was smoother. We were easily able to walk from the train station to our hotel in Sorrento and in Florence. Our trip from Florence to Paris meant we needed to take a local train, get on a train in Florence to Milan, then we took a train from Milan to Lausanne Switzerland where we caught our connection to Paris. All of this was done with ease since we were not struggling with luggage.
I highly recommend not over-packing and giving a carry-on only suitcase a try on your next trip to Europe, or anywhere really! I am definitely glad we did it.
Edited to add (10/24/19): Hubby and I just got back from SIX weeks in Italy where we only used carry-on luggage. When we told people, most of the male reaction was “smart!” and most of the women were aghast! “HOW can you only use carry-on!?”
Honestly? It was pretty easy. My bag this time was a little different as I packed more bras, more shirts (we were going from hot to cold), and I bought a travel camera (the Canon PowerShot) instead of packing my big camera and lenses.
Since we were gone for six weeks, we of course, needed to do laundry. I purchased some laundry detergent sheets They worked very well, were lightweight, and were fabric softening too. We did find laundry sheets on display in several grocery stores in Italy. I am not sure if I would chance it, but it is possible.
The one thing I am not certain I would do again is not bring a second pair of sturdy footwear for this long a period (six weeks versus two weeks). Folded ballet flats are all well and good for going out, but Hubby had me walking between 5 and 10 MILES per day (average was 7.5 miles), and one pair of sneakers got a tad rough.
I did have enough extra space to purchase several summer weight shirts and a summer weight slacks (the temperatures were running 10-15 degrees above normal in September!).
Where did we go in Italy? Turin, Rapallo, Florence, Sorrento, Sicily (Palermo and Taormina), Rome, Venice, Verona, and Bologna. Some stops were for 5-6 days, some only 3 days. Having carry-on only made train travel easy. It also made life VERY easy in Venice (no cars, no bikes, you are walking and moving your suitcases up and down a million stair bridges).
We next go back to Europe in February and March (Spain this time). Since we are staying in the same place for five weeks, I was thinking about taking a larger suitcase, but we are also taking a side trip to Morroco so once again, I’d like the ease of a small suitcase (I weighed in at under 25#s this time!). It will be carry-on only again for me!
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