How I’m Packing for Summer Abroad in a Carry-On

They say that the first part of solving a problem is admitting you have one. I am a compulsive over-packer. I’ve been over-packing since I was allowed to plan and pack my own wardrobe as a small child. As a youth, this wasn’t too much of a problem—my dad or my brother would have to deal with carrying my stuff, so I was blissfully unaware of how ridiculously heavy my luggage was. When I went to Paris last summer for a month of studying abroad, I was forced to deal with my own luggage. Because of this, my lifestyle decision to bring 7 pairs of shoes, 14 tops, 5 dresses, 5 pairs of jeans and approximately a million accessories finally caught up with me.

When I got to Paris, I decided to take a cab from the airport since I didn’t want to deal with lugging my 60 pounds of equipment up and down the metro stairs. Little did I know that this would end up costing 80 USD whereas the metro would have cost me a cool 10. Upon my return to the US, a series of unfortunate miscommunications with my car service resulted in me taking the metro back to Charles de Gaulle Airport. My boyfriend had to carry my luggage for me, and he was not too pleased to be carrying my now 80 pound baggage.

Needless to say, my decision to pack everything I own was not economically or logistically the most sound choice. I hardly wore most of what I brought, and could barely cram my additions into my suitcase for the return trip. This summer, to avoid the heartache and hassle of large luggage, I am doing the unthinkable; I am packing for 8 weeks in Europe only in my carry-on baggage—and you can too! I’ll show you how.

The Luggage

    The first thing to keep in mind when you’re flying abroad is to check the regulations on luggage size for your airline. Many European lines have smaller size requirements, especially for carry-ons, so you want to make sure your baggage will fit.

    For your wheeled luggage, there are a few key features to look for. First, you want to make sure it is lightweight–you’re going to pack this thing to the gills so it is best to avoid any extra weight due to the luggage itself.  Second, look for spinner wheels. These allow you to push or pull the suitcase beside or in front of you, which makes it a lot easier to move around the airport. Plus you can sit your purse on top of the suitcase without worrying about it falling off. Third, I recommend a butterfly hard shell case. These cases generally open in the middle to reveal two sections that zip. This is good because you can keep your shoes and dirty clothes separate from clean items.

    For your “personal item” I recommend bringing a durable tote, such as a Longchamp Shopper. You may be tempted to carry a designer or luxury bag, but it’s best to bring something that you can clean. Last summer I brought a brand new leather bag and it got destroyed—the metro and the airport are not always as clean as you might think. Also, pickpockets are more likely to steal a more valuable bag.

    If you’re anything like me, you’ll acquire a lot while you’re there, so you might want to stuff a cheap duffel in your bag. You can then check the roller on the way home, so at the very least, it is cheaper than checking in both ways!


What to Bring

Here’s the golden rule to efficient packing: versatility is key. You’re going to be wearing and re-wearing your wardrobe about a million times. Think about how many ways you can wear jeans and a white button down! Bring basic shirts, a few scarves, and a few types of bottoms, and you’ll be set.


Stick to a color scheme. I picked black, white, and denim as my base colors, and then accented with some color via scarves, shoes and bags.  A few pairs of sunglasses are compact and lightweight, but help disguise your garment repeats in your various outdoor instas.

collage3Let’s check out this outfit combo. A classic denim tank, paired with white birks and two different bottoms. It transitions seamlessly from a romantic walk around Le Marais in the afternoon to a wild night in ~da club~ with the swap of jeans for a lather flamenco skirt. #2fashion4words


Shoes can also kill your wardrobe. Heels, although glamorous, are seriously unpractical on cobblestone. I sprained my ankle while on a date the first time I wore mine in Paris. Don’t make the same embarrassing mistake I did, and swap your Louboutins for a practical pair of espadrilles. Still delicate and feminine, yet kinder on your feet.


Another critical tip–you’re better off getting your toiletries when you arrive. Toiletries are really heavy, and you won’t be able to bring enough to last your whole trip anyway.

How to Pack It

I love to subdivide my items. It helps keep everything organized and wrinkle-free. I used to roll my clothes, which is definitely a good way to go, but I have to say that using packing cubes has changed my life. Packing cubes are fabric containers and come in a variety of sizes; they allow you to wrap your folded clothes around to compress them–it sounds weird–but it really does work!

For your purse, I recommend using those unused, freebie makeup bags in order to compartmentalize your items. I use one for my electronics (and their accessories i.e. chargers, adapters, camera memory cards, etc.), one for my makeup, one for toiletries, and one for my legal documents with pens for filling out in the airport. This makes it much easier to access items and much appreciated after the 14 hour plane trip.

I hope these tips make your travel experience as lovely as possible. Bon voyage!

– Julia Sawchak

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