Why you should pack in a carry-on for your European vacation

Here’s a confession: I used to be an extreme over-packer. While it pains me to admit it, it’s true. My most egregious offence happened in 2008, when my mom, grandmother, and I took a trip to Paris, Switzerland, and Italy. Our plan was to fly into Pairs, spend a week there, and then take the train from Paris to Switzerland, and then from Switzerland to Florence, where I was about to start my study abroad program. Since I was going to live in Florence for six months, I was convinced I needed to take my entire wardrobe with me.

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Don’t pack this much stuff. You won’t need it, I promise. (Photo via Google Images.)

So I packed two giant suitcases and conned my poor mother into packing her giant suitcase half full with even more of my clothes. My grandmother, never known for packing light, also had a large suitcase of her own.

When I think back on my mother and I (my grandmother was in pretty good shape but couldn’t carry her own suitcase), both fairly petite women, lugging four enormous suitcases through train stations, onto trains , off of trains, up stairs, down stairs, over cobblestone streets, I cringe. It was absolutely exhausting to haul that much stuff around, and we must have looked like such tourists. I’m honestly surprised we weren’t targeted for pickpocketing or bag snatching. With so much luggage, if someone had wanted to grab one of our bags, there wouldn’t have been anything we could have done about it.

And you know what? Once I was in Italy, I wore the same ten or so outfits over and over again. Or I bought new clothes, or borrowed from my roommates. Half of the clothes I hauled across the Atlantic, despite being there for six months, never even got worn.

That trip was really my “come to Jesus” moment when it came to packing. I realized that if I could get by on the same ten or so outfits for six months (and two seasons), then I should always, always be able to pack in a carry-on size suitcase for vacation. Since then, I’ve limited myself to packing in a carry-on suitcase for all my trips, and I have never once regretted it.

There are so many benefits of being a carry-on-only passenger:

  • Avoid the risk of lost luggage. There aren’t too many things I can think of that have the actual potential to ruin my vacation, but having the airline lose my luggage is one of them. Can you imagine having to deal with the airline’s Lost Luggage department in a foreign country on little-to-no sleep after an excruciatingly long flight? Eeeek, no thank you.
  • Get out of the airport faster. You know how after a 12+ hour transcontinental flight, all you want to do is get the hell out of the airport? Carry-on lets you do that. When everyone else is staring forlornly at the baggage carousel, you can beat them all to the customs line and be on your way.
  • It makes you less of a target for pick-pocketing. I have never been robbed in Europe, but it is more of a risk there than it is in America. Thieves in Europe see Americans as dumb, naive, and rich, and they take advantage of that. If you’re struggling with a large suitcase, you’re less likely to be paying attention to whose hand is sneaking in your pocket or purse. Packing in a smaller, manageable suitcase makes you far less conspicuous.
  • You can store your suitcase in the overhead racks on trains. If you plan on taking a train ride between destinations, packing in a carry-on suitcase can be especially important. Generally, there’s not much luggage space on train cars, and it fills up quickly. I’ve seen people have to haul suitcases several train car lengths from their assigned seat to find space for their luggage. Not only is this inconvenient, but it means your unattended luggage can easily be stolen.
  • Fewer choices make getting dressed in the morning easier. I’m not one of those people who can just “visualize my closet” and assemble the perfect outfit. At home, when faced with my entire wardrobe, I’ll stand in front of my closet forever, trying to decide what to wear. Who wants to waste time like that when traveling? There’s too much to do! Having a limited selection of outfits makes it easy to get dressed, get out the door, and get sightseeing.

The way to pack in a carry-on suitcase is to bring only the essentials and pack in layers. You actually need much less than you think you do. Don’t pack something just because you might use it – pack what you know you’ll need and buy yourself out of any jams. Spend time packing, and constantly ask yourself whether you really need an item. Bring travel size toiletries and visit a local drugstore for replacements when you run out. It’s an exciting cultural experience, and you might end up with a new favorite shampoo!

Packing in a carry-on suitcase takes practice, and a little extra effort, but once you’re on vacation, you will be so glad you packed in a carry-on suitcase! Are you a packing pro, or do you struggle to fit everything into your suitcase? What are your best packing tips?

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