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Can I do carry on only in December?

Given the chaos in air travel globally now, it seems like it's finally time to get serious about carry-on only. But we are going in winter, and jeans and coats and a spare pair of boots take up a lot more space than shorts and sundresses.

Inspire me please! How can I keep bulk down for a 9 day trip to German Christmas markets? If you've been in December (or equivalent!), a couple of specific questions:

-I have some good waterproof sneakers--would they be a decent boot alternative? I don't usually wear heavy socks under them, but I could give that a go.

-What about a waterproof lined jacket with layers instead of a proper winter coat? I have plenty of good coats, but they are bulky. I have a good Columbia jacket with a light cloth lining that is big enough to fit over a warm fleece. It also has a great hood that will stay put. With a shirt and maybe a silk undershirt?

-If I'm wearing my silk long johns daily, will they dry overnight in a hotel room? I could look at synthetics I guess, but I love the warmth and lightness of silk.

-Long johns + jeans enough for a day out? Or do I need to look at "storm pants"/waterproof/windproof gear? (Because, ugh. that sounds sweaty. I hate snowpants.)

I've looked at weather data, and it looks like it could be between 4C and 0C while we're there. (That's--maybe 40F? I'm Canadian, metric makes sense to me! ) But maybe that's overstating it? Or understating it? I will definitely take a toque and a couple pairs of gloves (because I lose gloves often).

Can I do this? Have you done it? Or did the trip (successfully or unsuccessfully) with more?

Posted by
2524 posts

I didn't do carry on, but for a Chrismas Market tour in Dec., I wore my warm coat, didn't pack it, and wore the hiking shoes I wear for travel year round. I wore regular pants, which were warm enough for me. At most I would do leggings under nylon hiking pants, which could be used separately, too That's a start, at least.

Posted by
255 posts

Thanks Liz. "warm enough" sounds good to me. Did you find it wet underfoot?

Posted by
2501 posts

I wore my warm wool dress coat, a sweater and good walking shoes on the plane so that saved room in my luggage. I removed my coat for the flight. I did not bring boots. It was mild weather when we were there. We had a brief light rainy day in Munich and Strasbourg so we bought a couple of cheap umbrellas there. I wore jeans. I did not bring thermal layers. I brought ear muffs and warm knit gloves and then bought a cute hat with a pompom in Salzburg at the market. I still have the hat and it was a good souvenir. You are only going to be there 9 days so 5 or 6 long sleeve shirts, a couple more pairs of pants, an extra sweater and warm socks should be enough. Bring the thermals if you think you need them. They don’t weigh much or take up much space in your luggage.

Posted by
5137 posts

Carry on is certainly possible in cold weather. Leave the snow pants and heavy parka at home. I've lived in NS, and I've also lived in Bavaria. I'll take the weather in Germany any day. In all my time there I never needed my heavy Canadian weather gear. A touque , scarf, and gloves would be recommended. A lined outer jacket with a fleece or sweater under it, and a thin undershirt should be sufficient. The only time I wore long underwear was on all day outings in the mountains. Regular slacks or jeans should suffice. Waterproof shoes ( roomy enough for thick socks) would be a good alternative to lightweight boots. Wear your heaviest, bulkiest items on the plane. But if you are doing the Christmas markets, give some forethought as to getting your purchases back home. You may need to check a bag on your return.

Posted by
4689 posts

It's good to be prepared to change from carry-on to checked and vice versa at any time of year, but I would not worry too much about December. Things are bound to be more normal by then.

Posted by
6113 posts

I had a week in Berlin in early December for the Christmas markets. It snowed one day and was cold when out in the evenings, so I wore thermals at these times. They weren’t necessary during most days. We didn’t have much rain.

I wore trousers, not jeans and had a thick heavy duty fleece with a waterproof on top plus gloves, hat and a scarf. I wore lightweight, waterproof hiking boots most days plus a pair of Timberland waterproof shoes for smarter occasions, although we didn’t eat at any top end restaurants. We had an apartment with a washing machine, although we didn’t need it.

Wear the thicker, heavier clothes on the plane to keep your luggage lighter.

Posted by
3994 posts

In addition to what others are describing what they wear and how they pack, you asked if will silk dry overnight after sink washing. In many hotels you’ll find radiator type heating units under the windows and perhaps a wall heated rack in the bathroom. We’ve used those devises to dry some sink washed things on several winter trips. Squeeze the water out well then towel compress it too before putting on the heated units. Ideally with a two night stay you sink wash on the first night, especially anything that’s not silk or synthetic.

EDIT: For winter trips I’ve always worn my outer layer(s) and heaviest shoes on the plane. Many years at LAX in the winter (sunny and 70+) I looked a bit overdressed until I got to the gate and found other similarly overdressed southern Californians.

Posted by
1243 posts

I did Christmas markets in 2017 and 2019. I wore a knee-length down coat with a hood and took as a spare a 32-Below down jacket that crushes up into nothing. I do not wear jeans. My typical pants year-round are Eileen Fisher crepe, black. In winter, I wear silk long-johns with them. They do dry overnight. Take two pair and wear one as pjs while you let the other dry. I also wear silk long underwear t-shirts (LL Bean). By doing this, I actually minimize the number of tops I have to take and wash out. The sweaters or fleeces stay clean and dry while I launder just the silk long undies.

I usually wear (at home and travelling) Merrell Jungle Mocs - black. They do have waterproof versions. Years ago, I invested in a leather and waterproof pair of Arche booties. Pricey but perfect for this kind of travel. They look dressy and are comfy and lightweight. Socks and gloves: lightweight smartwool.

Sundries like scarves - of course I always have a scarf (like the hitchhiker's guide to the universe towel), but I love to augment my collection when I travel. Same for leg warmers, gloves, etc. Just off the main Munich market, inside the Rathaus entrance courtyard, are vendors who sell locally made goods. I look for this kind of vendor whenever possible. I have several pair of fingerless mittens, made from their own sheeps' wool, care of them, and can't wait for my next trip. I also tend to buy wool slippers - so much less pricey in Europe.

So actually, I find I need a bit less when travelling in winter. Now bringing gifts back, helpful hint: if you purchase a snowglobe and take it carry on, make sure it fits in your bag of liquids.

Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
5153 posts

We did carry-on for our Xmas markets trip. I found a long down coat with hood on sale at Mary's in July- it was perfect! When I say long, I mean to my ankles. I brought two pair of booties, and wore one all the time. I used waterproof spray beforehand, as these are my most comfortable ankle boots. I had a cashmere scarf and leather gloves with cashmere lining, and earmuffs. Also had a packable poncho for rain, but only used it once. Rain was predicted daily, but only rained once during the day, mostly rained at night. We brought a package of hand warmers, and did use them in our gloves. A few sunny days topped out with a high of 35 degrees, but most days were ten degrees warmer. I brought four wool or cashmere tops, and two base layers to wear underneath, which washed and dried quickly. I also brought my golf rain pants, which added warmth. For bottoms, brought one pair of jeans, but mostly wore my heavy thermal yoga-type tights, by themselves, as my outer-wear coat was so long. Socks were wool or cashmere.
I was happy with my clothes, and had the appropriate items. Used the extra pair of ankle boots for packing ornaments and misc gifts. I don't think sneakers would have been warm enough, and I don't think layers would have been sufficient for me- I needed a full- length down coat. On all my other trips I do layers, but not in the winter.
The only " hardship" was using port-a potties at the markets- they were very clean but tiny, and maneuvering with a long, heavy coat and a backpack was daunting, as they had no hooks or any room for the backpack. I had never been in such "skinny" portable johns.
Have a great time planning for a truly remarkable adventure!

Posted by
12172 posts

I always do carry on and I always use layers based on the weather. In winter, my outer layers are typically non-bulky versions of the following:
1. unlined waterproof rainshell. v
2. packable down puffer jacket. I have one with a hood and another without a hood. I'd take the hooded jacket in winter. I'd add a second warm layer in winter. Something non-bulky that can be layered with everything or worn as an outerwear choice (e.g. Merino wool sweater).
3. ski cap
4. gloves - runners gloves will likely be good if you are mostly keeping your hands in your pockets.
5. scarf/neck warmer/buff - here a tightly knit wool works rather than something bulky.
6. socks - this is where I'd go from some comfortable crew or no-show socks to a decent wool sock.
With this outerwear, I'm good to freezing temperatures. After that it's pretty much my normal pack list. Shirts, pants, underwear and toiletries.

Here's what I learned in Air Force survival school:
60 percent of your heat loss is from your head/neck area so keeping your head covered is the number one thing you can do to stay warm. Second most heat loss is around your waist.
It's easier to retain heat than to get warm once you're cold. Bundle up first, then go outside.
Be careful with pulling your gloves off too often. If you're going to pull a glove off, have everything you need to do in mind, do it and get your glove back on - rather than pulling it off repeatedly to accomplish several tasks. Your palm is a good heat generator. If your hands are cold, pull your fingers out of your glove's fingers and make a fist inside the main part of your glove.

I have packed silk long pants in the past. I stopped bringing them because I'm never cold enough - they make me too warm, especially when spending time indoors after being outside.

Posted by
1259 posts

You can relax! Carryon-only is no more difficult for cold weather than for moderate, just takes a bit more planning, maybe some risk-taking, and possibly acquiring a piece or two of specialized clothing you may not have ever needed before. You've received excellent advice already, keep looking. Don't forget you can buy a sweater, hat, and extra gloves on the other end if you need them. Start practice packing a few months out.

You may wish to visit and search the site for cold weather/winter suggestions and experiences.

Iceland packing list female travelers
Christmas Markets female list

Posted by
8066 posts

We travel over there during most Xmas breaks and always carry on; you can also. It is colder where I live than over there and I never need long johns where I live, or snow pants or heavy socks. I wouldn't bring a two pairs of gloves; that's unnecessary you would still have the option to buy a pair over there if you happen to lose both pairs. We do laundry as needed in the morning also while over there, that allows you to pack lighter just 3 shirts flannel and a couple of long sleeve undershirts or turtle neck to go under as needed 3 pairs of slacks. We usually have one pair of lightweight hiking shoes Gortex that go with everything.

Posted by
85 posts

When I traveled to Paris in May we were told flights were full and advised to check our carryon bags for free. There was very limited overhead space. I suspect flights in December will also be full and you may not have the option last minute of a carryon, other than one that fits under seat. Plan accordingly.

Posted by
335 posts

Most certainly a carry on case is doable. Being from NS you should feel comfortable. For our Christmas Market trip we each took a pair of waterproof hiking shoes, 2pair flannel lined jeans, warm ski/walking socks, long johns, hat, gloves, and winter coats. My coat was a 3 in 1, my wife’s a 3/4 length down. We were gone for 10 nights. I run warm and my wife runs cold. We were both comfortable as we visited Heidelberg, Strasbourg, Rothenburg, Nurnberg, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. I hate to admit it, but, we can do carry on suitcase for fall/winter trips to Europe and need a large suitcase plus a carry on for trips to Hawaii. You will be fine. Enjoy!

Posted by
2744 posts

Wet jeans also take forever to dry. I would suggest not taking jeans, but everything else you are planning will work well.

For my Christmas markets trip, I took the same things I normally take for a fall or spring trip. I substituted a hat, gloves and lightweight long underwear for short sleeve t-shirts. I go with layers — a light down jacket or parka, a heavy fleece, and a sweater or lightweight fleece. I wore all the outerwear on the plane so everything fit in my carryon. I wore warm boots in the plane and packed a pair of athletic shoes.

Packing for cold weather is much easier than people realize. You generally don’t sweat so you can get away with less shirts. And wear the warmer stuff instead of packing it.

Posted by
1484 posts
  1. Beware of long underwear --- you'll be boiling if you eat in a restaurant and some museums are hot, too. Better to have a removable long coat to keep your legs warm. Likewise, you might regret wearing a warm pullover turtleneck sweater as your base layer (that you can't take off) once you're in a heated indoor space.

  2. Avoid cotton next to your skin --- it gets damp and stays damp, making you colder.

  3. Have a large unstructured super-lightweight (nylon?) bag that most of your bulky outerwear fits into. At the last minute before boarding the plane, put it all on, go to your seat, take it all off and put it back in the bag. Use the bag as a pillow or, after everyone has put their carry-on bags into the overhead compartment, stuff this bag in. I don't feel too bad about doing this little cheat as long as I'm not stealing someone else's compartment space.

  4. For some reason, the passport area in airports is always really overheated in winter, so I always wear my coolest clothes including socks on the plane.

  5. I really like a cashmere cardigan for one of my warm layers. Also a packable down or down-alternative vest because it gets uncomfortable to have a lot of layers on your arms.

  6. Not a bad idea to buy gloves, hat, and scarf once you are there. Maybe slippers, too.

  7. Make sure to try on all your layers together --- if each one separately fits you perfectly, they may fail to layer (i.e. because they are all the same size). I made this mistake on a cold-weather camping trip 40 years ago and never since.

  8. Extra important in winter to have footwear that does not constrict your toes. Sometimes wearing extra-thick socks inside of your regular shoes actually backfires because your toes can't move.

Posted by
987 posts

We go over every year for the markets - sometimes we go on our own, sometimes we take a Xmas Market River Cruise.

I highly recommend everyone buy the Rick Steves HideAway Tote. It weighs nothing and packs away easy - we use it as our day bag around town for purchases and then as a carry on coming home with all our purchases. You may buy so much that you end up checking your suitcase and taking a carry on and personal item full of Xmas Market goodies home with you. Go to the Rick Steves SHOP ONLINE and see the bag and video - it is the best $20 you'll spend and if you sign up of the emails - it will go on sale often.

I always just wear Keen water proof boots and my husband wears keen waterproof Targhee sneakers.

We have had it in the 50s over there and in the single digits. We have gotten to where we usually check a bag (since its FREE on International flights) -- but carry on is doable. Just be prepared to bring home amazing things and chocolate and gingerbread.

Personally, I would check a bag, we are checking bags when we go this year.

Posted by
255 posts

THANK YOU so much for your generous and helpful answers! I am feeling inspired!

Appreciate the reality check also. Not every day will be cold. Jeans dry slowly--but sink-washed base layers can dry on radiators. I can buy cool stuff there if need be. Footwear is important, and I need to figure that part out ASAP. Layers. Wear bulky stuff on the plane. Plan for a way to get souvenirs home. (Don't mind checking my bag on the way home, a bit of a delay not awful in that direction.) Need to assess my luggage for maximum efficiency. The bag I'm thinking of has a zip-out gusset that will help with souvies... Appreciate the links also bogiesan.

You're a wonderful group of humans. Happy travels!

Posted by
12172 posts

Forgot to add that your bulky/heavy outerwear is worn on the flight. It's not part of your carry-on limit. I'd also trade jeans in your bag for something that dries faster. You can wear a pair of jeans on the plane without affecting your carry-on limit.

Posted by
676 posts

Lived in Europe for 10 years, traveled in winter a lot and almost always did carry-on cuz I was too cheap to pay Ryanair's bag fee. So I was also limited to 10 kilos (22 lbs). I usually wore the same sweater, a gray zip up that went with blue and black jeans. I either wore boots or clog, only took one pair ever (wore them). Just be careful walking when it's rainy. Maybe take a pair of gym shoes just in case, stuff them with socks etc so you aren't wasting room. Took 3-4 shirts to wear under the sweater, usually turtlenecks but usually one lighter, short-sleeved top in case it got warm. Silk longjohns will dry overnight, especially if you wrap in a towel for a few minutes to get that extra moisture out. Wear/carry your jacket on the plane, they won't care. I like a heavier jacket but a thinner one will probably work too if you layer. I would always bring mittens or gloves and something for my head, the head covering on my after I had to buy a scarf in London, which was fine as I got it at the Red Cross charity shop so it was cheap and I contributed to charity. If you're going to markets you'll be able to find something there too if you want to chance that as it'll be more expensive. I could get at least 2 days out of pants before they stretched too much, so the overstretched ones got worn on the trip home. You'll gain weight eating and drinking at the markets anyway, don't forget your glüwein! I've only done laundry once, in Paris, and it was so much fun cuz my friend and I went down the street and got roasted chickens and ate them in the laundromat and laughed like loons! Wine would have helped too. Oh, and yes, the good sneakers will work.