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Ninja Packing Tips: Packing list for Europe with just a 30L backpack

Editor’s Note (2016): This post is from 2013. For a recent packing post check out: The Ultimate Travel Packing List: A Year in a Carry On Backpack

Why Pack Light?

When I traveled to Nicaragua in April of 2013, I was so proud of myself that I was able to bring just a 30L backpack and my over-the-shoulder purse for the 8-day trip. It seemed easy enough; I have my go-to clothing for hot weather and I know what I like to wear when I travel. Not to mention that summer clothes just aren’t very big, so I could easily stuff everything I needed into that backpack. No checked bag fees, no waiting around at baggage claim, no dragging a suitcase down cobblestone streets (if you haven’t done this before, it’s quite comical- for everyone watching).

When I began to pack for my recent trip to Europe, I was confronted with a challenge. Our two-week itinerary included two separate flights on Ryanair. Ryanair is Europe’s cheap, Dublin-based airline, and they are cheap for a reason. They can get you in baggage fees, among many other things. There is an art to flying Ryanair, which warrants an entire blog post in itself. On Ryanair you are only allowed ONE carry-on bag; not one bag plus a purse or personal item, just ONE single carry-on, and it can only be 10kg. If you check a bag, it can be 15kg and it will cost you 20 euros as long as you pay when you check in online (otherwise it’ll cost you 40-60 euros at the gate- yes, seriously). The point of flying Ryanair is to save money and not fall victim to the hidden costs. They are avoidable if you plan ahead by packing smartly rather than paying the checked bag fees. Which, by the way, between my husband and I we would have had to pay twice, each. So we accepted the challenge of attempting to fit everything we would bring to Europe in small enough backpacks that they would fit Ryanair’s strict baggage requirements.

Editor’s Note (2015): Ryanair Baggage Restrictions Have Eased Up For 2015

packing list for europe
My two choices of backpacks: 30L or 50L

30L backpack
My choice for this trip: REI Traverse 30

Pictured above on the left are my two traveling backpacks. Instead of using my Gregory Jade 50, the red one which would be my normal go-to for a two week or longer trip, I would try to fit everything into my REI Traverse 30, the blue one. That means that I would be using the two bags on the right, which are the exact same ones I brought to Nicaragua. Eight days in hot, beachy Nicaragua is completely, 100% different from seventeen days in Europe in the fall. But, I do love a challenge…

Related: How to Choose the Perfect Travel Backpack (Video)

Editor’s Note (2016): Check out my review for the pack I am using now – the Osprey Farpoint 55


How to pack light for Europe in the fall

Packing Non-Clothing Items (what I like to call “gadgets”)

packing for carry on

Related: Canon EOS M Review: A Digital SLR That Fits In Your Pocket!


  • Small packable purse (so I don’t have to lug the big one around everywhere and pain my shoulders for days on end)
  • My cosmetics bag
  • Money belt where I stash my yellow International Vaccine Card, extra credit cards, and emergency cash (not to be worn, just stashed safely in my backpack)
  • Wet wipes (great for being on the road)
  • My favorite walking shoes – Seriously, I swear by these Skechers. Notice the plastic bag- to wrap the shoes in and keep them from getting their “shoeness” all over everything else
  • Flip flops (for the showers), these will stuff easily – Havaiianas are my fave
  • Hand/Arm warmers for the cold days ahead
  • A spiral notebook, to keep track of reservation info, hotel costs, who paid what, etc.
  • My travel wallet
  • USB key, in case I have to download my photos to free up my card, or save reservations for printing, or save someone else’s photos, or really any number of things having to do with computers and saving or transferring data
  • Camera, case, and charger
  • Glasses x 2
  • Toiletries in a TSA approved case for airport security (extra tiny, I spent about $4 in order to save space)

carry on travel toiletries


Related: A Complete Guide to Using Your iPhone Abroad, for Dummies

*Ninja Packing Tips: You can carry nail clippers on flights, and these can double as scissors (which you can’t bring) for anything on a small scale. Also be sure to bring safety pins, attach them in a place where you can always locate them quickly. Why, you ask? Safety pins are the number one tool for backpackers: fix clothes, glasses, bags, lock your zippers shut, and more. One more thing- you know those tiny sampler vials of perfume? They’re great for traveling light!

travel tools


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Packing Clothes

clothes to pack for a trip


  • Pea coat (October in Europe is cold)
  • Three light sweaters and one fleece zip-up hoodie
  • Beanie
  • Shorts and T-shirt to sleep in
  • One pair of warm tights, one pair of skinny jeans
  • Three tank tops
  • Three T-shirts
  • Three long-sleeved shirts
  • The green REI pouch is full of socks and underwear


*Ninja packing tip: Use a pouch like this or a stuff sack for your socks and underwear so A) they don’t get lost all over your bag, B) they always take up the same amount of space, and C) you can find them easily.

Related Post: Macchu Picchu and Peru Packing List

Things to Note:

  • Even if you can’t tell in the photo, all of these clothes are neutral-colored. This way I can mix and match most anything, making the most out of my options of outfits.
  • I did not bring a scarf, which is very unlike me. However, I knew I would buy at least one in Europe, so I opted to plan ahead and save the space.
  • The boots I brought (brown- another neutral color) are not pictured. I wore them on my flights so they wouldn’t take up extra space in my backpack.
  • Don’t bring anything that you don’t normally wear at home. Make sure your choices are items you are comfortable in and will want to wear day in and day out.



How to make it all fit

The key to making it all fit is simple: don’t pack too much. Only bring what you need, not what you think you might need.


Don’t pack what you will wear while you are in transit (flying)

It seems like this should go without saying, but there are some people who forget to pull out something to wear on the plane before they pack it all up. I’m sure you noticed that I decided to bring a pea coat, and perhaps you thought of the fact that pea coats are not ideal for packing. You are right; they take up a lot of space. However, that wasn’t a problem for me because I wasn’t about to pack it. I mentioned we were heading to Europe in October, which is during the fall. It’s not necessarily warm, and I planned to either wear my coat if it was cold enough or carry it in my arm if it wasn’t. I also didn’t picture my boots, because I wasn’t about to pack them either. I planned to simply wear my boots in transit because they are bigger, heavier shoes that couldn’t possibly fit with everything else in my pack.

The “Carry-On” or the purse/personal item

packing a carry on

Pictured above are all the items I packed in my “carry-on.” I put quotes around that because technically I carried everything on, but I can’t seem to shake that label for my purse, and if I were checking a bag, I would still pack all this in my carry-on. I carry with me all the things I might need for transportation (confirmations and reservation information), as well as anything I could possibly use to entertain myself while on the plane.

I also put my fleece hoodie in my purse to save the space in my backpack and use it on cold flights.

Related: BMT 34 : Ninja Packing Tips: Pack Light and Carry On

Related: BMT 62: Pack Light and Carry On for Males! Featuring Jason Moore, Travis Sherry, and Nathaniel Boyle


Packing Your Backpack

waste of space

Make sure there is nothing taking up space in your backpack that you won’t need. For example, I even took out the waterproof cover that comes with my backpack. I had an umbrella and simply knew I would not have use for the waterproof cover on this trip. That’s the size of a shirt! Veto.

Make good use of all the pockets that your pack offers. Mine has a pocket just about the perfect size for my toiletries case, on the outside, which is very convenient for easy access in a security line at the airport. There are other pockets that are long, perfect for my umbrella and flip flops, and everything else I will stuff, neatly folded, in the main pocket. Some people use ziploc bags to suck out extra air, some roll their clothes. I’ve never gotten into either of these habits, but to each their own. Just remember that your pack won’t always be neatly arranged. It will get messy, and if the only way your clothes all fit is by sucking out the extra air, you’ll have to do that every time you pack up or you’ll have a problem.

backpack packed full

Success! Now I’m sure some of you are wondering how I will possibly fit in a scarf or other “souvenirs” (I pretty much just buy clothes or accessories) that I’m almost sure to buy on my trip. That is a very good point, and I knew that would happen, especially since we specifically planned to buy lederhosen and a dirndl in Munich for Oktoberfest. With this in mind, we agreed that we would pay to check ONE bag, ONE time, and only on the way BACK (the 2nd of our two Ryanair flights). This way we could fit any new items purchased into our luggage and get away with only paying 20 euros between three of us (my brother was with us, too, and it was his bag we checked because it was expandable and could fit everything).

The Results


Perhaps you thought this already long post would be over by now, but for those of you reading all the way to the end, I didn’t think it would be complete without adding a section about how all of this actually worked out for me.

Did you have your doubts about how little I packed? Well, to tell you the truth, I packed too much. There was one thing I didn’t use at all, my black  t-shirt, and one thing I only used a couple of times, my jeans. My jeans were the big failure here, because they take up a lot of space. What I should have done was packed a couple more pairs of warm tights, which pack much smaller than jeans, because that’s what I ended up wearing every day.

On that note, there is not a single thing I needed that I didn’t have with me. Yes, I could have used an extra pair or two of tights, but I made do with what I had. My packing list may have been minimal, but it was complete.

Could you do it? Could take a 17 day trip with just a 30L backpack? Here’s a good start to your packing list, is there anything you would change or add?

Did this packing list help you? There is more…

Ninja Packing Tips: Tropical Destination

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  • Ninja PackingTips: How to Pack for 2 Weeks in a Tropical Destination in Just a 30L Backpack
  • The PDF version of this very packing list for Europe, AND
  • A Complete Guide to Using Your iPhone Abroad, for Dummies

  • GinaGould

    Hey Jackie, I wanted to thank you once again for all of your tips and advice, especially on packing. I first discovered your website about 10 months ago, and since then have been a huge fan! This was the first post I read on here, and it totally got me hooked! Thank you!

    • This is awesome, thank you so much for saying that! You are most welcome, so glad you are finding the content helpful :)

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  • Shay

    Hey there! Going to Europe in 50 days and counting! We plan on backpacking…but where to store backpack when sightseeing? Like you mentioned..we don’t want back pain!

    • How exciting! You can almost always store your luggage at your hostel or hotel, even if you’ve already checked out. Also, most train stations have lockers as well, which makes hopping off the train for the day to see a city really easy.

  • That’s amazing. I still can’t believe that everything’s fit the average sized bag :)
    And yeah, Kindle/iPod are really irreplaceable in the long journeys.

  • I have a Packtowl on my current trip and I’m so glad I brought it, only for those times when towels aren’t available. Most hostels don’t include towels, but many have them available for rent. I tend to stay in budget hotels and they always have towels.

  • SarahSchwaby

    This is a very helpful read! My husband and I are heading to Europe for a 2 week honeymoon, planning on taking trains from place to place. We just got a 40L pack (on clearance woohoo Christmas sales!) and are planning on packing just that and a smaller backpack. We have already fit our clothes into two small backpacks as a test, so I know we will have more than enough room (thinking of those scarves and gifts in Europe :) )
    Does anyone have input on weather in Western Europe around Christmas time? We will be going from Amsterdam, Heidelberg, Vienna, Venice, Torgon (where we have cold-weather clothes waiting for us), Paris, and finally back to Amsterdam. Kind of making a big loop, but I have no idea what to expect for temps, I know where I am living, Southern Michigan, the weather here has been unseasonably warm…

    • Make sure to have nice walking boots for cold weather, and with jeans, sweaters, and a coat and scarf you should be just fine. Maybe consider a light pair of cotton gloves. This is what I have, and I’ll be in similar places, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, for the next two weeks. Expect 30s and 40s and possibly snow. And, congratulations and have a WONDERFUL time!! :)

  • Rosemary David

    Do not forget to bring dictionaries with you if you are traveling in a country with different language for you to at least communicate to the people even in their basic language.

  • Kathleen

    Kat, this was great information! I am the worst packer ever and am planning a trip to Africa to see my daughter. I think the weather is pretty mild all year long so what kind of shoes do you recommend?

    • Hey Kathleen – glad you enjoyed it! As for shoes in Africa, I’d recommend good trail running shoes for walking, hikes, running from lions, etc., and then of course flip flops for showers and lounging, maybe a pair of flats or sandals depending on where you’ll be (if you want a nicer pair to go out in), and then perhaps Toms or a light pair of walking shoes? Those are the shoes I would take!

  • Liz Mazzei

    I just subscribed and still do not have access to the “Ninja PackingTips: How to Pack for 2 Weeks in a Tropical Destination in Just a 30L Backpack”. Please advise.

  • E Kevrekian

    This is really helpful! I know I can trust you because you have long, fabulous hair–so if you can travel without all the special hair care bottles and tools…I guess it really is possible! The legging tip is brilliant and now I have an excuse to buy more leggings. Also, the backpack video was super helpful–I’m 5’5 and 110 lbs and my first hunch might have been to pick a big backpack for a long trip–now I’m inspired to go super minimalist! Thanks:)

  • Kristen

    Hey there.. did you ever do any laundry on this trip? We are planning for 3 weeks in Europe and I definitely can’t wear my tops more than once.. I can wear my jeans/capris for a week just fine, but tops and undies gotta be washed… Any tips?

    • Yes, definitely plan to do laundry. You can usually do laundry for cheap at hostels, or if you aren’t staying at hostels, ask your hotels if they provide laundry services. Nice hotels charge by the item (not cool), but boutique hotels will often do it for a flat rate, perhaps 5-10 euros for wash and dry. If all else fails you can look for a laundromat but that’s a pain and takes a lot of time. Count on your hotels!

  • Freddy

    Great article and super helpful! I’ll be going to Europe for 3 weeks (mid May – early June), I’m going to use a 40L Patagonia pack and was debating whether to take my 23.5L Herschel backpack to have during the day, will I need a backpack while I’m out? Also, if I bring the backpack will Flying discount airlines thoughout Europe charge me for bringing the backpack?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Great question – I think it’s best to bring what will be comfortable for you during the days, and I personally wouldn’t recommend the Herschel backpack, only because it’s a significant size and that will almost double your luggage. You could look into an over the shoulder bag, or, I have a stuffable daypack from REI that I use. It folds up into itself so it packs light but you can get it out when you need it.

      As far as budget airlines go, as long as both of your bags fit the regulations for carry-ons, you shouldn’t be charged. It’s definitely something to consider but I think both of your bags would be within the limits. Hope that is helpful!

  • I think the 44 would probably be a great choice for that, it would definitely challenge you to pack light, but I think you’ll be happier with less! Lucky you to get discounts!

  • Hi Lane! My honest opinion is that a 61 is WAY to big for you. Please don’t put yourself through that! Try for a 50 or smaller, especially if you’re packing light. I’ve never owned a Kelty pack so can’t speak to that. Have you watched my How to Choose the Perfect Travel Backpack video? If not- definitely check it out before you buy:

  • Kathleen

    Hey! So im from Canada and Im headed to the UK ( England, Ireland and scotland) in July for 2 weeks, I know im staying in a hotel in London but unsure yet about Scotland and Ireland; and Im wondering if this bag : will work? Im planning on taking a ferry and ryanair at some point in my trip. Either that or I have a backpack ( Also wondering what kind of clothes to pack-im more casual so jeans and tshirts and cardigans is my style. I plan on buying all my shampoos, soaps and stuff there so I dont need to worry about those.

    Any pointers or suggestions that would be useful?

    Thank you so much!

    • Hi Kathleen- First of all the link to the backpack didn’t work, but I would recommend a backpack over a duffle bag like the one pictured. For two weeks you shouldn’t need more than a 40L pack, and that will fit on Ryanair as a carry on as well. For help with a pack check out my video – How to Choose the Perfect Travel Backpack

      As far as clothes, I would only bring one pair of jeans, perhaps some capris or leggings, and shorts. Bring versatile clothing and shirts that are easy to layer!

    • PurdyBear1

      Hi I’m in the UK, near London. In July the weather can be changeable, so bring a bit of summer stuff but also a warm cardigan, and a rain coat. Primark is a pretty cheap clothes shop here, so if you forgot anything you could pop in there. Ireland and Scotland can have rain and lower temperatures than London. The BBC have a weather website you could try to see what they say for that month. PS London is on the same line as New York, if that helps.

  • Sarah

    Where’d you find that red bag/purse? I love it.

  • Elle

    what did you wear with the tights though? you didn’t pack a skirt, shorts or a dress?

    • I wear long tank tops (long enough to cover the bootay!) and layer them with long sleeved shirts and scarves with boots.

  • Hello

    Well, she did say she planned to buy one there… scarfs in Europe are cheap and stylish :)

  • Amy Rasmond

    Where did you get that colorful shoulder bag? Thank you so much for the very helpful post btw! :)

    • You’re welcome, Amy! I got that bag in 2007 in Guatemala for $8. You can find them overpriced (way overpriced) in Mexico, but I recommend going to the source ;) I just had to replace the zipper, and I’ve had to patch holes over the years, but I still love it.

  • Hi Alicia – Definitely bring leggings, like I said on this trip – I hardly even used my jeans, but leggings I wore every day! They pack small and are super comfortable and even stylish. Just be sure to bring tops that will work with leggings.

    • Peta Bartlett

      I am also going to New Zealand in a few weeks (so late Winter/early Spring for them) and was curious about the jeans debate. I think I might go for thick legging or even a pair of those jeggings! My intention is to use them as the “good pants” because my other pants will be my normal trekking pants.

  • Judy

    so how do you wash your clothes on a 6 week trip–I didn’t see that you took any laundry soap. TIA

    • Great question, Judy – in the middle of our trip we booked an apartment that had a washer, so we washed our clothes and hung them to dry while we explored Budapest. Most hostels will offer laundry service for cheap, or if you book an apartment like we did, try to get one with a washer. If all else fails, you could bring a travel pack of laundry soap to wash your clothes in the sink.

  • This sounds so awesome. You just cut your luggage in half without even doing much, good for you Lindsey!

  • Anthea

    Great post!

  • Khrissy

    Hey! Very helpful post and website. I’m doing 2 weeks in Eastern Europe in January. I’m mostly doing trains but on my way back to Germany from krakow, I was going to do a cheap Ryanair thing. Now I’m not sure what kind of bag to bring, was going with a basic 60l but I know I can’t bring that to Ryanair. Is a 30 or 35 good enough you think? I’m just worried about going over the limit and being warm enough while backpacking around.

    • Hi Khrissy! Glad you are finding my site helpful. I think you could consider taking a 40 or somewhere around there, because by default, winter clothes are bigger and heavier and you want to make sure you’re warm enough, but you’ll still be able to take probably up to a 45 on Ryanair. And I think they are allowing a pack and a personal item now, which helps tremendously. Whatever you do, DON’T bring your 60. You’ll be exhausted hauling that thing around. You just don’t need that much for 2 weeks. Watch my How to Choose the Perfect Travel Backpack video if you need help with backpacks.
      Go as small as you can. You can do it!

  • You bring up a good point, and my husband and I do share shampoo, etc, but be aware that you can’t bring large bottles if you are not checking a bag. No more than 100ml on most airlines!

  • Julie

    Two questions… how much did your pack weigh in the end? I know you’d mentioned wanting to stay under the 10kg, but I wasn’t sure where you fell on that. And also, can you clarify what your particular “warm tights” were? It might be a regional thing, but to me, “tights” are simply a thicker version of something like pantyhose and not worn as actual pants out in public.


    • Hi Julie! Unfortunately I have no idea how much my pack weighed, I don’t think I ever weighed it, but I will pay attention to that in the future. As for the tights, perhaps you know them as leggings? We call them by both names, they are thick, usually cotton and spandex, the warm ones can be fleece-lined, definitely okay to wear in public! ;) Super comfortable, I wear them almost every day in fall/winter.

  • Tara

    RyanAir is literally so frustrating. Last year, I was flying with them from Pisa to Paris. Being a first time RyanAir flyer, and really inexperienced with flying in foreign countries alone (I was 17) I didn’t even bother to look at the acceptable carry ons. I was wearing a backpack, a purse, and had a suitcase with a pillow strapped to the top. Needless to say, it was very difficult to rearrange everything in my suitcase/ backpack. Luckily, I didn’t miss my flight. Next time, I will definitely pack lighter. (Rookie mistake)

    • I can imagine! I think they have since changed their terrible 1-bag rule, so hopefully it will be better in many ways next time!

  • Leah

    “Just remember that your pack won’t always be neatly arranged. It will get messy”
    Nope. Not if you use packing cubes! Packing cubes are the best thing ever for travelling.

    Also, I am in the ‘tights aren’t pants’ club. So I always take jeans when I travel because they are hardy, can be worn with nearly anything, can be worn multiple times without washing, and don’t crease (so don’t need ironing). When I travelled to Europe in Spring a few years ago, I took a 38L backpack (within carry-on size) and took 3 pairs of jeans and had no problems fitting everything in. However I only packed 3 long sleeved shirts and two half-length sleeved shirts. I thought short-sleeved and tank tops would be pointless (the only time I regretted this decision was in Rome, which was hot – in hindsight I would take two short-sleeved tshirts instead of the half-length sleeved shirts). I also packed only one sweater, and one coat.

    My husband and I always share a toiletries bag which saves a bit of space when packing. My husband however travels with a 50L bag which is over carry-on size and needs to be checked, but so far we’ve never been in a scenario in Europe where we’ve needed to fly carry-on-only (we now live in the UK). So we put the toiletries bag in his backpack :) Even if I travelled on my own though, I am confident a one-person-sized toiletries bag would fit in my pack just fine.

    I also include a little first-aid kit when suggesting packing lists to people – typically a sheet of painkiller pills (like paracetamol or ibuprofen), some bandaids, a sheet of antihistamine pills (if you have allergies), sleeping pills and travel sickness pills (if those things are necessary for you), and strapping tape or bandages if you have a pre-existing injury which is prone to flare-ups.

    Did you pack a towel? I didn’t notice one in your post. I always take a microfibre travel towel which packs down really tiny.

    On the other hand, you should have seen the suitcase I brought with me when we MOVED to Europe… holy moly! 32kg!

    • Hi Leah! I did not pack a towel on this trip- I own a tiny travel towel too but I actually hardly ever use it. If I were packing for hostels, I definitely would bring my own towel. However, there were four of us on this trip, which makes it cheaper to split hotel rooms (which come with towels), so there was no need. You can also rent towels at most hostels, so if you don’t want to pack one, you generally won’t need to! When I go to beach destinations I only bring a sarong, and that can double as a towel if I need it to.

      I completely understand the 32kg suitcase when you moved. I have to admit, ten years ago when I first moved to Costa Rica for one year I bought two of the biggest suitcases I could possibly find and stuffed them to the brims. I have come a LONG way… but still, when you’re moving abroad and will stay in one place, packing is very different!

      • Leah

        When we backpacked in Europe there were 3 of us (me, my husband and sister) and we mostly used hotel rooms and B&Bs too (like you said, a hotel room between 3 or 4 people is as cheap as – sometimes cheaper than – a hostel!) and while many places did provide towels we had a few that didn’t (a self-contained apartment in Paris, hostel in Salzburg, permanent campsite in Florence). The worst bit about those microfibre towels though is they provide no warmth – we road tripped around in Scotland in April and Scotland is still cold then… we stayed at camp sites (coz we had a camper van) and while some campsite bathrooms had fantastic heating (I was really impressed with how good some were), some did not… getting out of the shower to use those little microfibre towels was an exercise in self-discipline sometimes!!

        • I completely agree! Also, I have so much hair that those little towels do almost nothing for me. When I do happen to pack a towel, I actually have a medium-sized towel that has been very loved (it’s pretty old) so it actually doesn’t take up all that much space, but if I have to bring a towel I will pack that over a microfiber travel towel. Those also get stinky if you don’t properly care for them. I suppose it’s an individual choice and dependent on your type of trip, but this was definitely a good question so thanks for bringing it up!

      • Leah

        Oh and also, if you haven’t been to Europe recently you may not know: Ryanair has changed their carry-on rules – you can now take two bags! Your main item and a smaller item (like most other airlines allow)! I haven’t flown with them but there were ads all over the tube stations in London when they introduced the new rule.

        • YES! I had heard this but it hadn’t been introduced by last November so I just wasn’t sure. The extra item was a HUGE inconvenience so this is music to my ears. Thanks for sharing!

  • Leah

    I backpacked in Europe in Spring for 6.5 weeks with a 38L backpack. My husband carried our shared toiletries bag but I would have been able to fit a one-person-sized toiletries bag in my backpack if I’d needed to.

  • Annaa

    Hi: Great article!!! I’m traveling to Europe for two weeks, and I will definitely use it as reference! I will be taking two jets, and have the same packing issue. Were you allowed to bring a purse AND that backpack? You do mention the one bad allowance, so I’m confused. Maybe they are lenient?

    Thank you!!!

    • Good question! Please see response to Emma Frankart who asked the same thing. Thanks!

  • Hope I’m not too late to get a response, but I’m a little confused. You said Ryanair only allows one carryon, but you described packing a backpack and a purse. How did you manage to carry on your backback and your purse?

    • Hey Emma! You are not too late and this is a great question. I actually stuffed everything- including my purse- into my blue backpack. I wore my fleece and my coat so I didn’t have to stuff that, but I managed to fit everything else in (it actually didn’t have much in it to begin with). My brother checked his backpack and offered to take some of our stuff if we needed to, so I did put my toiletries case in his pack just to not hassle with the liquids since I had the opportunity, but I would have been able to stuff it in otherwise. I always leave a bit of space in my pack because I expect to buy some souvenirs overseas, so I used this space to fit in my carry-on stuff. I hope that helps!

      • Awesome, thanks so much for explaining! Very helpful post :)

  • It’s not always the storage issue that matters and it’s hard to guess whether your trains and hostels will be packed. On a full train you may have to carry your pack in your lap, at a hostel you can always leave it on your bed (and put your valuables in a locker). I think it depends more on how much you will be carrying and transporting the pack from place to place. If you can get by with less stuff, the smaller one will always be the better choice, for convenience and comfort!

  • Denisse

    Hi! Thank you for all the tips.
    Im going to Europe in october, as you did, so I was wondering if you wore your pea coat? How cold was it?

    • Great question, and yes I definitely wore it a lot! It was cold enough everywhere we went to wear the pea coat, if not during the day then at night for sure. On days when it was warm enough to not wear the pea coat, I often wore my fleece and a scarf, it’s chilly in October!

  • Sue

    where did you get that cool pocketbook?

  • Gem

    Thanks for this post. I love your podcast too!

    I’ve come to love traveling with carry on bags only. I am planning on a 6 week trip around Europe(France, Belgium, Netherlands, Scotland, Norway, Germany, and Austria; plus a couple days in Iceland) in September/October and am trying for carry on backpack only (and my purse for my dslr).

    I’m from a place where jeans and flannel is the typical casul style-scene. Will I stick out like a sore thumb wearing casual clothes like jeans, long sleeve tees and scarves? I am curious if I should pack an LBD for places like Paris. Does it really matter? I travel for food, historical and natural sights and art.

    • Jeans, long-sleeve tees and scarves is my style too, with boots! You won’t stick out at all. Pea-coats fit nicely over that if it’s cool, and boots are made for walkin’ ;) so you’ve got yourself a great setup with that combo, especially since long sleeve shirts and scarves are easily interchangeable to make different outfits. If you have leggings and a comfy, cotton/spandex mini skirt of some sort (cheap at H&M) you can double the comfort and the dressy-ness at the same time. No need for an LBD!

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  • Family of 4 with carry-on luggage only for 3 weeks, I’m impressed! Doesn’t it feel good?

  • Kat

    Great resource! I’m curious about the toiletries/cosmetics that you bring on a trip this length. What’s in your toiletry/cosmetic bag? (Not necessarily the products themselves but the kinds/quantity of products) Do you find that they last for the whole trip? How is this different than packing products for your longer trips? I’m finally getting the hang of packing the right amount of clothes but haven’t gotten there with toiletries/cosmetics yet!

    • Hi Kat! These are good questions. I did include a photo of exactly what was in the toiletry bag above, and I do recommend spending a couple dollars on the travel sized portions at Target or wherever, to save space and fit it all in one convenient bag that you have to take out for airport security. This works for short trips, and yes, I was nearly out of everything after two weeks but these did last me.

      For longer trips (like our recent 6-week trip to Mexico) I have so much hair that I actually bought a medium size shampoo and conditioner and brought them with me (plus my husband and I were sharing so we both needed it). We checked my bag (free on international flights) so we could bring toiletries that would last us the whole time, as we had multiple things of shamp/cond, hair gel, soap, sunscreens, lotion, etc., plus other things like pocket knives that they won’t let you carry on (and I have leftover of nearly all the liquids except sunscreen- which we did have to buy of more when we were there, and of course now I have the leftovers of that). But we also knew we would be staying in one place for most of this trip, I wouldn’t carry all that extra weight if we weren’t. I would bring tiny bottles to start and figure it out on the way if that were the case. This also allowed us to bring back a bottle of Mexican tequila, as we knew we were checking a bag anyway;)

      As for cosmetics, I actually don’t have much. The “cosmetic” bag (I didn’t know what else to call it) is full of a tiny mirror, tweezers, nail clippers, mascara, an eyelash curler, ear plugs!, pain killers, Benadryl and other pills, chapstick, safety pins, a pair of earrings and a couple rings (I don’t do much jewelry), hair things and clips, and maybe other tiny things that are convenient to stuff in one place. That’s one I always carry-on. I hope this helps…

  • Lindsey

    Any advice on a 3 week backpacking trip to Europe for 21 days in late May? I’ll have a 55L pack. I’m going all over the place– Paris, Denmark, Bavaria, Italy… The weather just seems so broad through all of those places!

    • Hey Lindsey! Yes, the weather in all those places won’t really be all that different. You won’t need a whole lot of cold weather clothing. A few pairs of leggings and skinny jeans, and then a versatile sweater or light jacket should be enough for the cold, then pack for warm. Pack for two weeks (not three) and be creative and versatile with your selection of clothes so you can mix and match. Also, 55 is plenty big, try not to pack it more than 2/3 full, leaving you space to buy more clothes and souvenirs abroad ;)

  • Emily

    Thanks so much for your post! I’ll be heading to Europe next month on a 35-40L backpack, and was beginning to wonder whether it might be too little in fact.

    • You can definitely do it, especially in warm weather, and you will be so glad you did!

  • Gina

    What kind of tights did you wear? Were they leggings? I am going to Spain this summer and I’m not sure what type of bottoms to wear while I’m there. Do you have any advice? I know it will be warm!

    • Hey Gina! The tights I brought were thick, warm leggings. For you, heading to hot Spain this summer, I would recommend bringing one pair of light cotton leggings, but I wouldn’t bring any other pants, capris maybe, but it’ll be hot so don’t weigh yourself down with jeans. Leggings can be worn with shorts or skirts if you get chilly, but you shouldn’t need much for warmth in Spain in the summer. If you insist on bringing more pants, pack more leggings before jeans or anything else. After leggings, pack some shorts and skirts, perhaps a long skirt if you need it (those are also great for cathedrals or other places with dress codes), and you should be good to go! I’m going to do a post soon about packing for warm weather, I’ll post a link here when that happens. Hope this helps!

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