Updated March 2023
WHAT TO PACK…I have to admit, even I’m surprised I was able to travel with just a carry-on bag (an oyster style suitcase works best) for a week to Europe, especially needing warm clothing, lots of layers and rain gear. But, I did it last week and it worked out fine. The key is being extremely practical and making sure each piece has the versatility to be worn at least a couple of different ways.
There’s actually plenty here to work with, and mixing the various layers for day or nighttime activity is easy. One caveat…this was a casual trip to Switzerland, visiting my son who is studying in Lugano. I didn’t need anything too dressy. The days were spent exploring the city and trekking in the hills. Comfort, warmth and waterproof are elements that had top priority. When I wanted to feel a bit more dressed for dinner, I pulled an all black look together or black pants with a pretty blouse. Here’s my thought process on what I packed:
Outerwear: I know it might look extreme to have this many options, but like I said, comfort is key. A long puffer coat is necessary with temps dipping into the 30s and 40s at night. This is the bulkiest item, so I carried it on the plane with me. The other three pieces – a vest, lightweight shell and short puffer – were compressed and tucked into the corners of my suitcase. Ultimately, I didn’t need the shell because it was too cold, but the short puffer was good for hiking.
Shoes: I like to have a few options to rotate in case my feet get tired from one pair. Sturdy boots and sneakers for all day touring are a must particularly with cobblestone streets. A loafer of some sort is a nice switch for dinner. Additionally, I like to tuck a pair of soft, slipper type shoes in my bag for quick trips within the hotel to the lobby or breakfast. I wear my bulkiest shoes on the flight to allow for plenty of space in the suitcase. For this trip, a pair of Rag & Bone boots with a thick sole (no longer available) did the job of keeping me comfortable and warm. The below are very similar.
Essentials: I love cashmere beanies for traveling. They fit in a pocket or my crossbody bag taking up no space at all. I rotated through three in one week for variety. Cashmere scarves are another must and an assortment of colors instantly changed the look of my outfits. I’ve collected several over the years and am so happy to have a selection when I take cold weather trips. I packed wool socks in various weights and colors and found that laying them flat in the interior zippered part of my suitcase was most efficient and less bulky then folding them. Tee-shirts and turtlenecks were useful as layering pieces or on their own.
The tote: This might be the most important key to successful carry-on travel. All toiletries, chargers, electronics, an umbrella, and gloves go in the tote. I keep them separate from my packed clothing. It helps me stay organized knowing exactly where everything is. I have a permanent, clear toiletry bag that comes in handy for flights. It’s strong and easy to find. I brought one cross-body handbag on this trip with the requirement of being lightweight, waterproof and nondescript. I wore it under my jacket to board the flight so it doesn’t look like I’m carrying too much. I’ve had a couple of instances where airlines count my crossbody bag as a 3rd bag, so I always make sure I leave enough room in my tote to place it inside if needed. A large cashmere scarf travels with me wherever I go, even warm climates. Planes and hotels are often too chilly for me.
I know it seems like a daunting task if you have not packed like this before, but once it’s broken down to a formula, it’s actually a very easy and efficient way to travel.