Packing for a Long Trip

Our flight to London leaves in just three days (!!!!) which means it’s time for me to finish packing. I am a planner in pretty much all aspects of my life, and packing for a trip is no different. Procrastination stresses me out beyond belief, so I try to pack as far in advance as possible.

About a month before the trip, I started reviewing my wardrobe in my head, thinking about what I might bring and whether I needed to purchase anything for the upcoming trip. Last week, I nailed down my packing list, and this week, I’ve done laundry and started to lay everything out. Today, I’ll pack as much as possible, so that the day we leave, I only need to add in last minute items, like toiletries and makeup.

Spreading out the process of packing over the course of a few weeks helps keep the whole thing relaxed and stress-free, lets me debate whether I really need that extra sweater, and helps me remember one-off items that I might forget if I were packing last minute. I’ve been documenting my packing process on my Instagram stories, so check it out if you’re interested (@erinplansforeurope)! I use my home office as a “staging area”, where everything goes from being a complete disaster of clothes in a chaotic pile to a neatly organized suitcase.


As I’ve mentioned on Instagram, this trip will be three weeks long. We’re flying into London and spending a week there before we move on to York and the Ribble Valley. My husband and I are taking our 15-month old son on his first trip abroad, so even though my husband and I have been to London several times, this will be our first trip with a toddler. So much will be new and exciting, not the least of which is the packing.

Do you know how much stuff tiny humans need? I certainly didn’t before I became a mom. There are the clothes, of course, which are fortunately very small, but there are also blankets, stuffed animals, toys, bibs, bottles, sippy cups, snacks, and more. My packing checklist for the baby feels like it’s a mile long. You know how adamant I am that packing in a carry on suitcase is the way to go, so even with all the added baby items, that’s what we’re doing.

Yep, you heard me. My son and I are sharing a carry on suitcase for a three-week trip around England. We’ll be staying in apartments, so we will be able to do laundry (a true lifesaver and a “must have” for me when looking for places to stay), but there’s still an awful lot of stuff I need to cram into a small suitcase. With all the added baby items we’re having to bring, I am going with a very minimalist packing list.

Here’s my packing list for our three week trip around England:

  • 2 pairs of shoes (wear one on the plane, pack one)
  • 3 pairs of pants (wear one on the plane, pack two)
  • 4 long sleeve shirts
  • 1 short sleeve shirt (wear on the plane)
  • 2 lightweight sweaters (wear one on the plane, pack one)
  • 1 lightweight jacket with hood (wear on the plane)
  • 1 blanket scarf (wear on the plane, where it will do double duty as a blanket or pillow)
  • 10 pairs of underwear
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 3 camisoles
  • 1 pair of PJs
  • Toiletries and makeup

When it’s listed out like that, it looks like so much stuff! I may try and whittle it down even further, depending on how much space there is. I’ve picked items that are machine-washable (obviously), layer well, and color coordinate with each other. Everything I’m packing goes with everything else, which will give me a lot more versatility in creating outfits and will make getting dressed in the morning a breeze.

Packing for a long trip in a carry on takes a little more planning and preparation, but if you start thinking about your packing list ahead of time, it’s not a big deal. Once you travel with just a carry on, you’ll realize you didn’t miss all that extra stuff anyway, and you’ll be so thankful you don’t have to lug a huge suitcase around!




How to pack in layers 101

Packing for a European vacation is tricky. You’ll be walking a lot, so you want clothes and shoes that are comfortable. You’ll be taking a lot of pictures, so you want to look cute and well-dressed. You might even be visiting a few countries with different types of weather, so you have to be prepared for a range of temperatures. This is turning into a logistical nightmare! How are you ever going to decide what to bring?

I’m here to show you how. After taking countless trips to Europe, I’ve finally gotten the hang of packing for an overseas adventure, and I can show you how to fit it all in a carry-on suitcase! (I always pack in a carry-on suitcase and here’s why you should too.)

The secret to packing everything you need in one carry-on size suitcase is to pack in layers. This is easy to say, but harder to do. That’s why I’m going to show you exactly what I mean, with examples.

The general idea for packing in layers is that every item of clothing you bring should coordinate with everything else, and you should be able to add or subtract items so you can be warmer or cooler, depending on the weather. Put succinctly, everything should do double duty.

Let’s illustrate this with an example. Take five key pieces: a dress, leggings, lightweight long-sleeve shirt, denim jacket, and a lightweight overcoat with a hood. Add in a scarf for some color and a pair of shoes that is both cute and comfortable. Notice that the color palette is made up of mostly neutrals and everything coordinates.

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If the weather is warm, you can wear the dress on its own. As temperatures drop, just add layers. A little chilly? Throw on the jean jacket and scarf. Getting cooler? Layer the leggings under the dress. Downright cold? Wear all the things – leggings, turtleneck, dress, scarf, denim jacket, and the overcoat. With just these five pieces, you can create several outfits for a variety of temperatures. For example, you could also wear the dress, scarf, and overcoat. Or the leggings, turtleneck, and jean jacket. Or….well, you get the idea.

Yes, packing like this requires some extra planning and effort, but the payoff is worth it, I promise. Just remember these two questions:

  1. Does this piece go with everything else I’m bringing?
  2. Can this piece be layered over/under something else?

And you’ll be set!




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.

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?