Carry-On Only to Europe

We leave for Italy in less than 2 weeks ~ happy dance! ~ which means it’s time to get organized.  We’re carry-on only travelers these days; it saves so much agony with luggage fees, bag check, waiting at baggage claim, hauling a big suitcase around a foreign country, and the worst case scenario of lost luggage.

We’ve traveled with only carry-on luggage for most of our trips, including one that spanned two vastly different climates, and taking 3 kids on a 2 week European vacation, (we’re crazy like that), so I feel like I know what the heck I’m doing by now.

Packed for a 10 day trip that would include cold & snow, and sun & sand… all in the same carry-on!

Carry-On Rules & Regs

What about all my beauty products?!

I know, right?  You will need to pare down your liquids, (including gels, creams, and pastes), to what will fit in a 1 quart see-through bag, and no item in the bag can be more than 3.4 oz.  It’s totally doable though, I promise, and I am a beauty product junkie.

I use this bag for my liquids.  It’s sturdier than a Ziploc bag, with gussets at the bottom to make cramming it full easier.

In it, I can fit the following:

The following items are usually liquids, but when I travel I use the solid versions:

Carry-On Luggage

Choose the Right Carry-On Suitcase

Before you spend any money on luggage, check the size and weight requirements of all the modes of transportation you will be taking, (especially regional/budget airlines). We ended up sizing down not only for the regional carriers, but for the limited storage space on the trains we would be taking within Europe.

Also think about portability.  Are there handles in the right places to help you lift the bag into or out of overhead compartments?  How long does the handle telescope?  (This is an issue for my very tall husband.)   Are the wheels sturdy enough to last for long distances and on uneven surfaces?  How heavy is the bag empty?

Packing Cubes, You Want Them

It might not seem like packing your clothes inside another container before putting them in your suitcase would make sense, but it does.  Just get some.  Trust me.

Selecting Your “Personal Item”

In addition to your carry-on suitcase, you probably also have a personal item allowance.  This is an item that will fit under the seat in front of you, such as a large tote or a small backpack.  (Some budget carriers only allow one carry-on bag and no personal item so check before you go.)

Get the largest personal item you can (read all the dimension allowances on your carriers of choice first).  I have a large tote that practically functions as a second piece of luggage.  In your personal item should be anything you want easy access to during your flight, as well as any valuable items (identification, financial, medication).

Here’s what I pack in my tote:

  • Passport
  • TSA liquids bag
  • Small wallet to hold credit cards, cash, etc.
  • Glasses
  • Prescription & over the counter medications
  • Electronics
  • Neck pillow
  • Earplugs & eye mask
  • Slippers So you don’t have to keep your shoes on, and to protect you from icky bathroom floors.
  • Compression socks  I put these on when I get on the plane.  They’re not sexy, but they keep the circulation moving in your legs to help prevent DVT and eliminate swelling, both of which are concerns on a long-haul flight.
  • Mints and gum
  • Healthy snacks  Because too much airplane food will make you feel fat like a tick.
  • Hand sanitizer wipes  Use these to wipe down your seat & tray table on the plane.
  • Small hair brush and one of those old-school silky scrunchies.  Put your hair up in a lose, high pony for the flight and it won’t be a total disaster when you land (plus you’ll look super cool!)

Image result for 80s hair high ponytail

  • Fragrance-free facial wipes to take off makeup before the flight, and freshen up once you land
  • Makeup bag  Because I’m not getting off the plane with no makeup on; I wouldn’t want to frighten the locals
  • Pantyliners  (it’s a long flight, you want to be fresh, enough said)

Here is a post on the carry on suitcase and tote that I use.

What About a Purse?

I don’t use my tote as a purse; it’s too big to lug around all day.  Instead, I bring a small cross-body purse that gets packed in my suitcase until we arrive at our destination.  I like a cross-body purse that is slim profile, but just big enough to hold my phone, some mints, a compact & lip gloss, and maybe a scarf.  (Trust me, you want the smallest purse you can manage or you WILL become your family’s personal Sherpa.)  My travel purses have credit card slots in a separate compartment, (I don’t use my wallet with it), and the tops zip shut for security.

On most trips I use a baggallini Everyday Bag.  For fancy grown-up trips, or destinations where I want to look a little more polished, I bring this Juicy Couture cross-body purse.

 Create Your Clothing Packing List

If your trip is more than a few days, you will likely need to re-wear items more than once.  For jeans, pants, skirts and sweaters plan for 2-3 wears.  Tops, socks & undies can only be worn once before they need to be laundered.  I bring packets of Woolite to wash quick-drying items like tops, socks or lingerie in the sink.

Before I start my packing list I pick a neutral that will be my base, (such as black or navy), and match my shoes and purse to that, then choose colors that coordinate to wear with the neutral.  Every top should be able to be worn with every pair of pants.

For shoes I limit myself to 3 pairs max, and they have to be comfortable for ALL DAY WALKING.  For most trips I bring a pair of Supergas.  They’re Italian sneakers that kind of look like Converse, but are more polished and comfortable.  I also pack one pair of dressy shoes that are easy to walk in, (like a wedge sandal), and maybe a more casual pair of sandals (that I would wear on the plane).  I like Born or Clark’s.

Here’s an example from our 2 week trip to Europe with the kids:

Carry-on only for 2 weeks in Europe/Cruise in Mediterranean:  5 T-shirts; 2 Cardigans; 2 Long sleeve tops; 3 Tank style tops; 1 Maxi skirt; 2 Black dresses (one not in photo is tank style); 2 Scarves; 2 Sandals; 1 Sneakers; 1 Skinny jeans; 1 Black leggings.:

8 tops, 3 cardigans, 2 pair reversible black leggings, 1 pair skinny jeans, 1 maxi skirt, 1 dress, 2 scarves, 2 pair sandals and 1 pair sneakers.

Miscellaneous Items & Tips:

  • I bring a travel curling iron and a mini travel blow dryer on every trip.  This is controversial in the carry-on only world.  The people who advocate against it, “Just be natural!”, “No one will notice your hair!”, are not my people.
  • Pack a full-sized, NEW deodorant.  I have made the mistake of bringing a travel sized deodorant before and it broke & crumbled into uselessness part-way through my trip.  You know what’s surprisingly hard to find in any other country?  Good old, chemical-filled, keeps you fresh all day, American deodorant.  The European stuff is probably better for you, but not for anyone who has to be close enough to smell you.
  • Pack a power converter for whatever country you are going to.  I like this one that can be used for any country.  In fact, bring more than one or you will be fighting over it.
  • My husband loves this to keep his personal item (a backpack) organized.


If you use all of the tips above, there is no reason why you can’t be a carry-on only traveler, too. It takes some planning, but it’s totally worth it.

Happy Travels!


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