10 Days in Europe, 1 Carry-On: Packing Simply

Last year, my son Aidan and I signed up to go on a ten day European Tour with a group of students and staff from the school district where I teach.


As our departure approached, I started researching what to bring on the trip.

Several weeks before our departure, I traveled to Florida for my Dad’s triple bypass surgery. I traveled with only a carry-on bag.  My trip lasted longer than anticipated, but I found I had more than enough clothes and self-care supplies.  It made me wonder if we could make the ten day excursion to Europe with only carry-on bags.

Aidan was super psyched to attempt the “carry-on challenge”.

First, we needed a bag that met the requirements of both British Airlines and Iberia, the two airlines we’d be traveling on for the trip. We landed on a 19 inch carry-on for Aidan and a 21 inch bag for me.  Thankfully, my sister-in-law was willing to let us borrow luggage, which saved us from having to buy two bags.

I then created my own Carry-On List and started to compile the things we would need for the trip.

Packing was an adventure. I was excited to try to pack all of our goodies. I packed and repacked several times to try different methods.  I finally landed on the rolling method, casting aside packing cubes, which took up too much space, and compression bags, which seemed difficult to navigate and repack as we had to stay in three different hotels.

How did it all fit?!

On the flight to Europe, we wore our heaviest clothes. I wore jeans, a tank top, tunic, cardigan, scarf, sneakers, trench coat, and sunglasses.  Aidan went with wind pants, long sleeve shirt, undershirt, and hoodie jacket with sneakers. In our pockets, we carried gloves, skull cap, and tissues, which we were glad to have on the cold London nights.

It all fit!

Our luggage was going to be transported to the hotel when we arrived in London, while we started the tour.  I was concerned about our valuables being unattended in a van.  We decided to carry any valuables with us on the first day of the tour.

We had two backpacks, which were provided by the tour group.  One bag contained things that would travel with us on the first day.  The other bag would go back to the hotel.  The bag I carried held: stow away Gore-Tex raincoats, umbrellas, empty water bottles, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, snacks, tissues, pen, a couple sheets of paper, kindle with charger, phone charger, iPods/earbuds, camera, extra battery, and a charging stick.  Aidan’s backpack had the items that could go back to the hotel.  This included two quart size bags of self-care supplies, two blow up pillows, ear plugs, eye mask for the plane, and my cross body purse.

In our passport bags, we carried our passport, driver’s license, money (dollars, pounds and euros), credit card, iPhone, Band-Aids, and some Lifesavers, because you never know when you need a mint. On my iPhone I loaded: contact information for the tour director and chaperones, the hotel addresses and phone numbers, contact information for the credit card company and my bank, and addresses for postcards.

Ok, so now the fun stuff, the suitcases!

Before we packed, we laid everything out and planned different outfits.  We kept our colors fairly neutral.

Aidan took: two pairs of light weight hiking/cargo pants, four pairs of wind pants, a pair of black skinny jeans, seven short sleeve graphic tee shirts, two wicking athletic tee shirts, two plain undershirts, six long sleeve shirts, one pair of cargo shorts, cotton pj pants and a sleep tee shirt, and an extra pair of running sneakers.  He also had enough underwear and socks for the trip.

Ready to pack.


Base layer of lighter pants and shirts. The shoes are stuffed with socks.
The heavier shirts and pants formed the next layer.

In my suitcase I packed: two pairs of leggings, heavy tights to wear under the leggings, three pairs of pants, nine long sleeve shirts, one cardigan, one light weight sweater, four tank tops, black Skechers walking shoes, cotton pj bottoms and a sleep tee shirt, and enough bras, underwear, and socks for the trip.

Black Skechers were stuffed with socks and put in a bag. Tanks and leggings formed the first layer.
Pants, PJs, converter, adapter, and wash cloths were tucked in the nooks and crannies.
Shirts and sweaters were added next.  See the empty slot? Makeup and snacks nestled right in there.


My suitcase also held snacks. I brought four packets of instant organic oatmeal, which I did end up using in Paris, snack size packs of raisins, almonds, and crackers, two Hersey chocolate bars, a KitKat, and a pack of gum (all the essentials). In anticipation of caffeine withdrawal, I also threw in four bags of green tea which I could steep in my water bottle.

We each packed a journal and pen so we could record our journey.  The adapter and converter went in my luggage.  I also packed Ziploc bags, just in case.  I had four sandwich bags, four quart size bags, and a gallon size bag, as well as two large compression bags for dirty laundry.

The TSA has strict guidelines regarding liquids in a carry-on. Aidan and I each brought a quart size Ziploc bag full of self-care supplies.  We each carried our own bag through security, then they both went into Aidan’s backpack so they could travel to the hotel.

Aidan’s quart size bag contained: shampoo, body wash, cleaner for his glasses,  snack size containers of peanut butter, and travel toothpaste.

All the boy essentials.

Ok, yes, Aidan’s liquid bag held peanut butter packages.  Guess who ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the six hour train ride from Paris to Barcelona?  Super yummy on fresh bread, with strawberry jam, and we didn’t have to worry about refrigeration. Bam!

My bag contained: body wash, shampoo, conditioner, face lotion, facial cleanser, body lotion, sunscreen, chapstick, mascara, toothpaste, and hairspray.

Powdered blush and eyeshadow went in a sandwich bag along with floss, a disposable razor, Q-tips, nail file, nail clippers, hair tie, and Colgate wisps.  We each had a comb, toothbrush, and deodorant.

In another sandwich bag, I carried allergy pills, Advil, a sleep aide, Dramamine, and pepto, as well as an albuterol inhaler, which was in its original prescription box. We used none of these items, except for two Advil, but it was good to have them, just in case.

I had read that washcloths are not often provided in European hotels, so I bought three dollar store washcloths, cut them into quarters, rolled them, and bagged them in a sandwich bag. I used one every night to wash my face before bed and I was glad to have them with me, as no washcloths were available in any of our hotels.

I did not bring a hairdryer. A hairdryer was provided in the hotel in London, but not in Paris, or Barcelona, so I just let my hair air dry.

After eating sticky crepes on the streets of Paris, I wished I had brought baby wipes, but, thankfully, I was able to borrow one from a friend.

So, the return trip.  Did it all fit back in the carry-on?  Why, yes, yes it did.

We ate all of our snacks and used most of our self-care supplies, which freed up space in our suitcase for souvenirs. We brought back a shirt from Stonehenge, tea, two scarves from Paris, two hats, and four figurines of the cityscape from each major city we visited.

For the return trip, I packed as much of our clothing into the two compression bags and then loaded up the cases with rolled items. We had no problem fitting everything into our bags.

Using just the carry-on worked well for us. With smaller bags, it was easy to transport our luggage to and from hotels, and on trains and buses.  And, we didn’t have to worry about losing our luggage.  We easily found space in the overhead bins for each of our three flights.

Our trip was an amazing journey. Aidan and I were able to bond as we visited the iconic sights in London, Paris, and Barcelona.  It’s an adventure we will always remember.

Me and my favorite 15 year old on the train to Spain. Making memories.








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