It's happened to all of us. We come back from a vacation, start to unpack our luggage, and wonder why we burdened ourselves with clothing and items we never used.
There is an art to packing smart. As travel journalists and photographers, my husband Tony and I have years of experience exploring destinations around the world, weeks at a time, with nothing but a small backpack and one wheeled carry-on bag in tow.
I’ve been asked many times to write an article outlining my tips for carry-on only travel, especially when encountering a variety of possible weather scenarios. I’ll use a recent 25-day press trip to France, Germany and the Czech Republic (from April 24 to May 18) to outline how I managed to avoid the expense and burden of carrying excess baggage through Europe, while having everything I needed to survive the fluctuating weather conditions we encountered.
CHECK THE LONG TERM WEATHER FORECAST FOR YOUR DESTINATION
This may seem obvious, but it is an important first step in knowing what weather conditions may greet you. Of course, if you are going to Hawaii at any time of the year, you'll only need your bathing suit, sarong and a few Aloha shirts, but if you are heading to Central Europe in spring, you need to be prepared for any weather condition.
Our first destination was Frankfurt, Germany and we learned that snow flurries were in the forecast the first few days of our trip. That meant we needed winter hats, gloves, and warm jackets (the ubiquitous quilted jacket popular around the world is ideal, as it can stuff down to nothing in your carry on, but will keep you nicely protected from the elements when you need it).
We also packed a few silk undergarments, which weigh nothing but, in a pinch, can also protect you from the cold even under a lightweight top. Needless to say, we also packed two travel umbrellas. Lightweight, waterproof rain jackets with hoods are also a great option if you have enough layers packed to keep you warm enough should the temps drop into the 30s, as they did during part of our trip. Just note that they should be “waterproof” and not just “water resistant.” It makes a difference in a real deluge. The same holds true for your walking shoes. They should be cushioned well to protect you from the romantic, but rough, cobblestone streets of Europe and should also be waterproof. There is nothing worse than walking along in rain-soaked shoes, trust me.
We recommend IT LUGGAGE which works well for us as they are very lightweight and pack an amazing amount of wardrobe items for their size. Weight, and size, is important when you have to lift your bag into your plane's overhead bin. Before you travel, do check your airlines' carry-on size and weight restrictions. International flights tend to limit carry-on bags to a smaller size (22"), while domestic bag dimensions are more generous. Our IT bags are not waterproof (we learned this the hard way when we were caught in a torrential rainstorm in Naples and our clothing was soaked through for days), so be sure to bring along rain resistant covers (even 30-gallon trash bags will work in a pinch).
My large cashmere black shawl, as well as a colorful Pashmina wrap, came to my rescue numerous times on this trip. I used the cashmere shawl as a soft blanket on the long flight and as a welcome head and shoulder scarf during the snow storms of our first days in Germany.
The key to getting this bulky clothing transported is to wear it on your flight. You can always store it during the flight in the overhead bin. Don’t forget to pack a light tote in your carry on to transport these heavier items when the weather warms (since they won’t fit in your luggage as you wore them on the plane). You will have to don them again on your return flight, but then again, they can be placed in the bin and stuffed in your tote upon disembarkation.
MIX AND MATCH TO GET THE MOST FROM YOUR WARDROBE
Okay, now you are protected against the elements, but there is again the question of what you should take along to cover all your fashion needs.
In Europe, times have definitely changed. In recent years, Europe became as casual as America and you can't really point out an American from a European anymore (we were once very obvious with our white tennis shoes, printed T-shirts and baseball caps, but no more!) I noticed the Europeans are now wearing these very same clothing items that once screamed "Americans".
I found the best clothing choices for my trip were two pairs of black leggings (lightweight and washable) that I could pair with a variety of washable, quick-dry tunic tops.
The key here is quick-dry. There are a variety of companies that offer such options (including ExOfficio , the king of washable underwear that dries completely overnight). I added a pair of heavier stretch “jeans,” which looked the part but were much quicker to dry than the real thing. I did pack a black pullover, but found that I didn’t really need it, as my silk underwear (and shawl) kept me quite warm even on the coldest days.
I also included a lightweight no-iron black dress and a TravelSmith black pant suit in my luggage, since part of our trip included a river cruise and there were occasions when we wanted to “dress up” a bit on board. In this case, scarfs are your best friend! I packed five scarfs in my carry on: one Pashmina for warmth and color and four feather-light silk scarfs of various designs and colors.
I also packed a lightweight sundress which I actually wore on the four or five days during our trip when the temps soared into the ‘80s. A pair of cushioned black slip on shoes took little room in my bag, but looked nice with my dressier outfits (as my normal hiking shoes would definitely NOT have made a fashion statement).
For some reason, men seem to get by with significantly less clothing than us ladies, which allowed me to stuff a few things of mine in Tony’s bag!
His needs were easily met. He practically lived in a pair of black, quick-dry Columbia Silver Ridge cargo pants. In retrospect, I should have purchased a second pair for him in another color as they seemed to keep him comfortable no matter what the temperature.
I also packed a pair of Banana Republic black washable wool pants and a black suit jacket for a few occasions on the cruise, but most travelers wouldn’t need this, as casual is king, even in Europe.
I also included two lightweight wool sweaters which he wore over his silk underwear on really cold days, as well as a selection of those quick-dry, moisture wicking tops (both long and short-sleeved) he could wash and wear throughout the trip. He also carried a supply of quick dry undershirts and underwear, and a lightweight pair of slip on black shoes. His black lightweight quilted jacket served him well, keeping him warm and comfortable on the cold days.
Socks are also one of the most important items on such a trip as this, which involved miles of daily walking. We both elected to purchase Thorlo socks with their specialized padding to avoid any foot problems. They worked!
On a cautionary note, but important to add to this article, is the fact that Tony fell prey to a pickpocket on a very crowded bus in Paris. He thought his wallet would be safe in a zippered pocket in his Columbia pants, but that was not the case. Lesson learned.
We were advised that the SCOTTeVEST company offers excellent anti-theft solutions, and we will research some options and report on our findings in an upcoming blog.
THE NOT SO PRETTY PART
If you are going to master the art of traveling with a carry on, you also must accept the fact that you may have to use your bathroom sink to hand wash your underwear (there is always the disposable option, which we don't prefer but some travelers love) and other items. You'll find laundromats in bigger cities, too, and many hotels and cruise ships offer laundry service.
I bring along a supply of Forever New powder soap, which does an excellent job. I also don't travel without collapsible hangers. As you probably have experienced, there are never enough hangers in any hotel closet. These lightweight hangers are invaluable for hanging the drip-dry items you need to wash from time to time, as well as allowing you to hang your wardrobe when the supply of hotel hangers is exhausted.
ZIPLOC® BAGS—A TRAVELER’S BEST FRIEND
You can't have enough Ziploc® bags in your luggage. They take up no space, but they are incredibly useful in a variety of occasions. Stuff them somewhere in your carry on, and you won’t regret it.
I label them prior to travel to organize my cosmetics, medications, and sundry items. I use my trusty label maker to identify each baggie, so I know where to reach when I need a particular item.
This also helps with the few liquids I carry along. Remember, with carry-on baggage, you have to be careful about liquids, sharp objects such as scissors, and other items you could otherwise store in checked baggage but may not be admissible in carry-on luggage.
LABEL EVERYTHING YOU CAN FOR AN EASY FIND
I go even further to help organize and find my items during a trip. I purchase small screw on jars and put a calculated dose of cosmetics and skin creams I need for the time I am traveling. The trick is to label them properly. I use my label maker to make certain I know what every jar contains.
To save luggage space, I use a purse organizer to carry all my cosmetics for the trip in my backpack (which, by the way, is a nice large black quilted bag that looks more elegant than your average hiker backpack, but does the job!). By using the jars, you can pack your entire arsenal of creams, cosmetics, medications and vitamins into this bag, and you will always know where to find it for easy reach.
Our backpacks, by the way, are used almost exclusively to transport our cameras, computers, lenses, batteries, chargers, etc. Most leisure travelers wouldn’t need to devote so much space to equipment, so extra items can be carried in your second carry-on of choice, be it a purse, small duffle or backpack. Again, check with your airlines to see what size restrictions apply to your second carry on item.
TIP: Recharging all our equipment, including our cell phones and camera batteries each evening, was made easy thanks to the purchase of the European iFer charging strip, available at a very reasonable price on Amazon. Do check to make sure that you are charging items that can accommodate voltage inputs from 110 to 220 volts. Most computers, photo accessories, hair dryers and curling irons, etc. have this range, but do be certain yours does as a plug in without the 220 volt capability will fry your appliance.
It’s not easy to stay healthy in an airplane, train or bus where dozens of people are sneezing and coughing, but I do have my tips on keeping healthy en route, which seem to have worked well on my last two international adventures.
Definitely take along a supply of sanitary wipes. When you enter your aircraft, use a wipe to disinfect the tray, seat belt attachments, monitor and even the light switch above. Disinfect everything around you that a previous passenger could have touched.
I can’t say enough about Dr. Bronners lavender hand sanitizing spray. Tony and I used it continuously, not only on the plane, but also during our many bus and walking tours on land. After grabbing handrails, punching elevator buttons, using public toilets without soap, and in so many other situations when we knew we were surrounded by germs, but needed a hand cleanse, this sanitizing spray came to the rescue.
I attribute the fact that we did not get ill on our last two international trips, thanks to the diligent use of this product. The spray is non-GMO, certified organic, smells wonderful, and is definitely our go-to for keeping healthy on our travels.
Thanks for your patience with this relatively long article, but I hope you find this information, gleaned from years of practice traveling with carry on only, of value. Please feel free to add your suggestions to the list, as we look forward to hearing your ideas and implementing them.
Disclaimer: We were not compensated for our recommendations by the companies mentioned in this article, nor were we given any gratis samples, having personally purchased all items highlighted in this report.