Carry on size luggage only: How to travel lightly for 3 weeks in Europe

I thought with all of my trips to South East Asia that I was a reasonably ok packer.  In fact, the last trip I did to Bali in 2015 I only took carry on size luggage in an attempt to save money on the cost of my flights. And I did ok. Granted a trip to Bali generally means I do some much-needed suitcase filling bargain shopping, yet I STILL managed to get home with only carry on. 

So where did it go wrong from Bali in 2015 to my last overseas and overpacked trip to Queenstown in 2018? 

I don’t know.  

Well I kind of do, some of those trips have been to much colder climates than South East Asia, like above the arctic circle cold! Some trips I have just been a total dick about what I have packed, mostly it is due to poor planning or thinking I really could need this skirt/top/cardi/hoodie/hairdryer etc etc, when in fact I clearly did not. 

I mean the amount of times I have come home from a trip with a sore back from lugging around a packed to the hilt backpack only to unpack clothes I NEVER WORE!!!! 

This happens to me ALL the time! 

Clearly forgetting the packing for Bali rule, which is: 

  1. Pack
  2. Unpack
  3. Refill your case with half of what you initially packed
  4. Unpack again
  5. Repack with a third less

Me, no I just pack everything but the kitchen sink. I mean I have contact lenses that had actually expired because I don’t wear them at home but here I am packing them and a full bottle of saline on my last trip to Queenstown because you never know, I may just be inclined to use them. 

They were never used, in fact I threw them out so I could bring home a few purchases. 

My first trip to France, a local helped me out of a train station by offering to carry my ‘backpack’ up the stairs and onto the street. Here I was worried he was going to run off with my luggage, in hindsight there is no way he’d have gotten 50 meters up the road with all I had thrown into that bag. I know my travel companion Kerryn was probably (and rightfully so) unimpressed with my massive loot on numerous occasions with me holding her up trying to lug this shitbag full of crap, but full credit to her for not giving me the ribbing I most definitely deserved. 

A few years later and back in Paris and super keen to impress my gorgeous Parisian man friend (oooh la la) who happens to be a very experienced traveler (being a travel journo and all) lead to an epic fail when trying to scale the steps of a rail overpass at 5.30am to meet a train. Him needing to head off to an assignment and all. How embarrassing when he turns to me all deliciously French and goes “Your luggage is just too much, I cannot wait for you, I have to go” and off he drifts with his teeny tiny little overnight bag into the rising sun meanwhile I’m mid flight of stairs trying to lug this ridiculous bag of shit all the while looking like an unruly mess of sweat and regret.  

Damn you bag. Damn you overpacking queen!!   

Carry on size
45 litres on the left as opposed to who knows how many litres on the right. YES!! I dragged that bag around Europe on TWO trips. Weirdo!!

A serial over packer I MAY have been in the past, but its time as a 42 year old who has enough travel experience to know better, I am challenging myself to do better with this packing thing.

My next trip which is in a few days time will be CARRY ON ONLY !

Yep that’s right, carry on sized luggage only for 3 weeks in Europe. 3 weeks in Europe with varying degrees of weather. 

Am I crazy? I don’t think so but numerous friends and family who have seen the size of my 45 litre High Sierra Convertible Carry On Backpack think it hilarious that I am even embarking on this challenge. There are more than a few that doubt that I can do this.

High Sierra AT8 Convertible Carry-On in the color Black Zest. Clicking on any of the links within the product gallery will enlarge the image. Detailshttps://shop.highsierra.com/backpacks/high-sierra-at8-convertible-carry-on/67939XXXX.html Item 67939XXXX HIGH SIERRA AT8 CONVERTIBLE CARRY-ON

Always up for a challenge and to prove people wrong, I’ll show them how easy this can be. 

I am a few days out from my trip and there are certain measures I’ve had to take to ensure that this will be a success. I have to be very calculated with what I am packing and there are a number of things I have put in place for determining what will and won’t work for me. But even before I’ve started thinking about what to pack the decision to try carry on only has impacted on where I have chosen to stay however, mode of transport has become undoubtedly easier to plan. 

So, after landing in Rome I will be heading directly to Munich on an internal flight so naturally, I have selected carry on only luggage which cut the cost of flights considerably. A win for the Aussie dollar competing with the high flying Euro!  On this trip I am cutting down on the amount of clothing considerably. Who cares if I am wearing the same clothes in my photos! The first week of my trip I am in hotels so will either need to spend time at a laundromat washing clothes or use the old bar of soap, water, and hanging dirty clothes over chairs and tables trick in an attempt to wash and dry my clothes.

I’ll be totally fine with this; I’ve done this throughout all of my travels. 

After a week of hotels its apartments and washing machines all the way! Hoorah!!

Why am I doing this?

There are so many reasons as to why carry on only is such a good option while travelling. From financial benefits of being able to select cheaper flights to skipping queues at airport bag drop off to minimsing the risk of luggage being lost and knowing you have your belongings safe with you. It seems to me a no brainer, something I should have thought of many many flights ago.

What swayed me for this trip is that I will be spending a fair amount of time walking to and from train stations and some of these walks are quite significant. Also, I’ll mostly be travelling by train. Lugging heavy baggage on and off trains is a huge pain in the arse, too much of a struggle that I simply want to avoid. 

So if you want to get on the less is better travel bandwagon by minimising your luggage and switching to carry on only, here’s some important factors to consider:

  1. Choose the right bag!

    It goes without saying that this is THE most important part of ensuring you have the right bag that will fit airline carry on requirements. Keeping in mind that all airlines have different dimension restrictions so it pays to look up what your carrier’s rules are. 

          Generally the standard size is:  56cm x 36cm x 23cm Weight 7kg 

    When choosing the right bag for carry on the whole purpose is to make your travel life simpler. Some other things to consider when choosing the right bag for you are:

  2. Detailed packing list

    The second most crucial part of nailing minimal packing is to have a detailed packing list. Having a list keeps you within your limits and on track with what you are packing. I started mine a while ago and have looked at it many times questioning the things I was intending on packing.

  3. Pack early

    Pack at least a few days before you head off on your trip so that you are not throwing things in last minute.  

  4. Be strict!

    Learn to be hard on yourself and say NO! If you can’t then enlist the help of a trusted friend to help you go through your items and get them to question why you’re packing things.  If you can’t find an answer or its wishy washy then there is simply no reason to pack that item.  Remove those ‘what ifs’, you don’t need them.

  5. Set limits

    Put a limit on toiletries and bottle sizes. All the major pharmacies, supermarkets and travel specific retailers will sell the small empty travel bottles. USE THESE. There is absolutely NO need to pack a full bottle of saline for a 3-week trip. Nor is there a need for taking all of your moisturiser when you can put a small amount into one of these empty containers. Also buy travel sized toiletries.  

    While you’re at it, put a limit on the amount of electronics you’re taking. You’re on holidays, unhook from technology for a while! 

  6. Wear bulky items on the plane

    If it is a matter or trying to get through airport check-in with the minimal amount of weight then do this and once you are through can be repacked into your bag. Also, as a space saver jackets or cardigans can double for a blanket as can a scarf be used as a pillow. 


What else am I doing to minimise my packing for this trip?

  • I’ve ditched the shampoo and conditioner bottles, opting to use an all in one soap bar for my hair from Lush. Let me tell you how gorgeous this smells and how wonderful my hair feels. The one I selected ‘Godiva’ has enough oils in it to condition your hair so you only need the one bar for washing and treating your hair. Such an awesome product I am now using this every time I wash my hair.
  • Compression packing cubes. Packing cubes in general are a must when it comes to travel. I’ve used them for years and cant do without them now. Compression packing cubes help in that they give you a few more cms in space meaning you can add more to your luggage. Just be careful with your bag weight.
  • Rolling clothes instead of folding
  • Choosing clothes that I can get multiple wears out of and can mix and match means you get more out of what you’re packing. Be clever when you’re making your list and work out what goes with what.
  • Only packing 2 pairs of shoes. One pair I will be wearing on the plane, the other will be filled with socks and underwear.
  • As I will be staying in apartments and am able to wash my clothes I have purchased washing tablets to use. But instead of taking the whole packet of 20 tablets I have put 6 tablets (more than enough for 3 weeks of travel washing) into an old vitamin bottle so they are secure and do not take up much space.
  • Ditching tablet boxes and just taking the sleeve of medication. A small thing but those boxes can take up some space that you can fill with other goodies.
  • Wearing my heavier jacket on the plane to double as a blanket
  • Not taking my huge Canon 6D MII, instead I have invested in a Canon Mirrorless that is to be used specifically for travelling. 

So there you have it. Challenge accepted! I WILL do this and continue to travel in this way from now on. 

With under a week to go I have completed my packing list and have attempted a packing trial run. While I had missed a few small items in the trial run, I still had plenty of room left in my case, which means I can do a bit of shopping. YES!!! 

Looking forward to simplifying my travels from here on. 

If you need any more tips or are interested in how this went for me, feel free to drop a comment below. 

If you found this post interesting and helpful check out my recent post about surviving a long haul flight by staying comfortable and entertained.

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