When I first found out about our trip to Europe (it was a gift from our daughter!), the first thought that came to mind was that I wanted to travel with just carry-on luggage because I wanted to go to as many places in Ireland and England as I could and I didn't want to be lugging around a huge suitcase. The second thought was that, "Oh crap! I will NEVER manage that!"
But I did! And so did my husband! So here's how we did it! And we're in our 50s, so don't think it's only the young kids that can get around Europe with just carry-ons! If we can do it, you can do it!
Here's my hubby with every single thing we took with us!
1. USE PACKING CUBES
We started off with packing cubes and I now swear by them! We really like these packing cube sets from Target. They're very basic, easy to clean, and unisex!
I bought us each different colors, too, which worked out great because we often had to put stuff in each other's suitcases and that helped us know whose stuff was whose!
For me, the best way to organize my suitcase was to organize by function. So jeans and pants in one cube, tops and sweaters in another, undies and bras in one, etc.. I also used one for dirty clothes and one just for hiking clothes because we had a few days that were planned for all-day hikes.
It made it so easy to get ready each day and also pack up to go to the next stop!
2. MAKE A CAPSULE WARDROBE
The next step was two-fold. First, make sure we had access to washing machines at all of our stops (much more to come on where we stayed in a later blog post!) and then, second, make a capsule wardrobe.
To start, we planned to wear casual clothes the entire time. So we had to make that work with dinners out and every place we stopped and the weather. We traveled the first two weeks of September so had to plan for chilly and rainy weather as well as some warmer days, as well as hiking, city tours, and nice dinners.
Here's what I wore on the plane and why I chose these pieces!
My favorite soft and stretchy joggers, one of my Perfect Tank Tops, my favorite stretchy denim jacket, and white walking shoes! I was comfy, warm, and I could take off a layer if I needed to! Plus, the joggers have pockets, the denim jacket has spandex and pockets so it's super-comfy, and the walking shoes are my favorite! They're comfy, supportive, and I knew I would want them with me. I ended up taking a different crossbody bag - I'll link to it below in my packing list.
Here's the other clothes I chose to take with me:
- three pairs of Judy Blue jeans - two casual non-distressed pair and one dressier pair - keep in mind that darker jeans are dressier and non-distressed boot cut, flare, and straight leg jeans are the most versatile when you want to dress them up, especially in Europe where we didn't see many distressed jeans
- a soft versatile v-neck sweater
- a thicker cardigan in a neutral color
- a second cardigan in navy that went with all my tops
- classic white v-neck shirt - this one is NOT SEE-THROUGH!
- gray shirt that I could dress up or down - love this so much!!!
- a peasant blouse - they're light and airy if it gets warm and easy to dress up, plus they layer beautifully under cardigans (the exact one I took is sold out but it's just like those in the link)
- raincoat - no link because it was a FAIL (more in a later post)
- a thin scarf for windy and cold days (also worked to help dress up my outfits)
- bras - I swear by these, especially if you're large-busted!
- two pairs of hiking pants, two hiking shirts, hiking boots, and hiking gloves (more info on those in a later blog post)
- two pairs of walking shoes (more info on those in a later blog post)
- one pair of jammies (remember we had washing machines lol)
3. Consider taking these necessities:
Besides clothes, I also took:
- laptop with charger
- phone with charger
- portable charger - HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS ONE! It lasts forever
- lightning to USB cable adapter (so handy for the portable charger and a lifesaver in our rental cars!!!
- Apple Airtags with silicone cases (lots more to come on these but you NEED THEM - the AirTags helped sooo much when we had to lock our luggage up in our rental car and the colored silicone cases helped us know whose suitcase was whose!)
- electric converter/adapter set for the UK and Ireland
- I also downloaded several books and movies onto my phone for the long plain trips
Toiletries & Travel-Specific Items:
- travel-size bottle sets (highly recommend this set - the clear pouch meets TSA requirements and you can bring your own toiletries without worrying about them being too large for a carry-on. England and Ireland were very, very strict about liquids in our carry-ons!)
- collapsible water bottle (saved so much money and so much room!)
- travel neck pillow (we really liked this one because it has a snap closure and the cover can come off for washing and you can stash headphones, chapstick, etc.... in it!!)
- a small packable stowaway backpack (loved this one - it is so small when you pack it all up!
- travel-size or compact umbrella (we wished we had gotten these - ours were too big and took up too much room)\
- small crossbody purse with detachable and adjustable strap - I chose this because the strap detaches and you can use as a clutch for a night out or attach the wristlet strap. And it has multiple card slots and zippered sections. I actually own three of these in different colors. LOL!
4. Invest in good luggage
I researched luggage a lot because #1, our old luggage was falling apart, and #2, I knew I wanted hardside luggage simply for the durability factor. Just on this trip alone, we had 5 flights, 2 rental cars, and 6 different places we were staying. That's a lot of time spent carrying and packing luggage, plus I wanted something that would last for years, if not decades.
We ended up buying two suitcases each - a carry-on bag and an under-seat bag.
The Underseat Carry-On Suitcase was a lifesaver! It's small enough to count as a personal item (instead of a purse or backpack) and holds so, so much!
I put my laptop, all my chargers, converter/adapter, water bottle, small crossbody purse, umbrella, raincoat, two pairs of shoes, and the travel backpack in mine. Plus it has a clear zipper pouch where I put all my toiletries. And it's easily accessible when you need to grab the clear pouch of toiletries for TSA checks!
The outside front pocket has tons of smaller pockets in it, too, for snacks, your phone, portable charger, and passport.
And even better, it has wheels and a collapsible metal handle so it wheels on its own or it also has a back strap to go over the handle on your regular carry-on! It was a total game changer!
For our regular carry-ons, we chose the Kenneth Cole Reaction Hardside 20" Expandable Carry-On. It has tons of different pockets which really helped us stay organized, plus the mesh and elastic pockets helped us keep dirty laundry totally separate from the clean clothes.
The exterior is really durable, plus it has 4 wheels for super-easy maneuverability, a collapsible metal handle, and corner guards to protect it from getting dented and scratched.
And best of all - it's expandable! We didn't use it for first legs of the trip but I sure used it on the way home to carry the gifts we bought for our kids and the keepsakes we bought for ourselves!!!
So there you have it! That's everything I took to Europe for two weeks as a 50-something who only used carry-ons! It made the trip so much more enjoyable, so much easier to get around, and so much faster to get in and out of airports.
This is part 2 in Tom & Steph's Grand Adventure. Keep an eye out for more blog posts!
If you're interested in more info, check out these:
Part 1 - Tom & Steph's Grand Adventure
European Car Rentals - so helpful!
Hilton Honors Program - I highly recommend this and you can use the points all over the world!
Viator.com - this was sooo helpful in figuring out things to do in every city and the best way to navigate around the city! Plus, they're tours are fantastic! Just put in your city and start looking. For example, if you want to see the Tower of London in London like we did, click on all the different Tower of London tours! HIGHLY RECOMMEND!!!
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