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Carry On Only


I’m going to Italy in September for 9 days. Normally, for a trip of this length, I would have a suitcase. However, given all the checked baggage horror stories, I’m considering doing carry on only.

My only concern is, I’ve watched some videos and the carry on bag looks stuffed to the brim, with no room to bring anything back that you’ve bought. I like to buy shoes in Italy.

Does anyone else travel carryon only and like to shop? Do you bring another bag to check on the at home, where a delay in getting the luggage wouldn’t matter as much?

Posted by
1288 posts

I bring the Rick Steves Hide away tote. It folds up small enough to get into my carry on bag. Then If I purchase something I use it to get home. Sometimes I will check my bag on the way home and carry it on the plane (If my bag is delayed coming home, it doesn't bother me as much as going) One year, I filled it with dirty clothes and checked it. It came through it great shape, but there is a bit of a risk. This year is so different that I don't know what I will do. It probably will depend on how my flight over goes, how things are in September (I fly over September 11 and return October 12th) etc.

Also, think about not maxing out your carry on luggage. I take a RS backpack and a smaller backpack that fits under the seat. After 2 weeks in Spain, my husband and I got home multiple items no problem. (tile wall hanging, shelf knick knack, metal wall hanging, one glass mug and one large commuter mug) Check to see if your airline allows one additional item that fits under the seat. We had plenty of clothes, shoes (I bring 3 pairs, but I wear a size 6 so they are small) and all our toiletries. No problem. It was also nice because Lufthansa has a strict weight limit, so I could put heavy things in the smaller backpack. (I think it weighed as much as my suitcase)

Posted by
7516 posts

Yes, I always bring a fold-up or soft bag just for the trip home. I usually check the "carry-on" on the way back, and the other bag if nothing breakable is in there, otherwise I carry it on.

Depending on the situation, I have also purchased a cheap bag over there to check on the way back if that seems the logical route.

Posted by
203 posts

I always only use a carry on and still find I pack things I don’t need. And I have a backpack- I leave travel guides and books I finish there, which frees up space to bring home souvenirs. As others have said, you can buy a cheap bag if needed. Depending on what/where you buy your souvenir, they might be able to ship it for you. Samantha Brown the travel gal recently recommended bringing shoes that are near the end of their lifespan and just throwing them away at the end to free up luggage space. Makes sense but not sure how I feel about old shoes while traveling. I always want the most comfortable…

Posted by
1625 posts

My carry on is expandable, so I carry on there and expand the bag on the way home to carry all my purchases and check the bag in on the way home.
If that is still not enough space you can always purchase a cheap duffle bag when in Italy, stuff it with all your dirty clothes to check in and take your newer stuff in your carry on, I have done this before also.

Posted by
931 posts

Ditto to the suggestion above about the Rick Steves HideAway tote - look at the shop and watch the video.

We take it to Europe every time - it also serves as our day bag out and about each day. We take it over empty and bring it home full of goodies. My husband sometimes packs an empty duffle in the bottom of his suitcase too.

We did 3 weeks in Italy in October with CarryOn only. We usually 'check' a bag also, but it was for a RS tour and we wanted to try it.

The RS HideAway tote goes on sale often, so if you sign up for the sale emails - it will be discounted eventually. The electrical converters are only $1 in the store. Also, packing cubes are a game changer.

Posted by
1259 posts

The object you check back to the States does not need to be a bag or any type of luggage at all. You can pack a box, tape it up, label it, put a tag on it. Or you could buy a cheap piece of luggage in country on your last day or two instead of lugging an empty bag around for the whole trip.

Posted by
3101 posts

I think you can easily pack for a 9 day summer trip in a carry on.
I did carry on for my last trip to Italy in 2019 for just over two weeks.
We did have apartments with washing machines, but if you pick your fabrics carefully you can hand wash clothes every 3 nights.
September will be warm, so your clothes should weigh less.
They’ll dry fast, and no one minds a few wrinkles if you can’t get an iron.
I had room to bring back a few things, but kept them small, like earrings, soap, a wallet, etc.
I like to shop too!
I can never find shoes my size in Italy though, and I’m only a 10!
A shoe shop employee in Florence told me once that I was “a high woman with big feet” and I would find nothing!😱
I actually enjoyed the challenge of carry on packing, and spent ages refining my contents to get it right.
I even brought home two items I didn’t wear.
Doing it again in the Fall, out of necessity this time!
Good luck and have fun .

Posted by
6883 posts

I agree with the impulse not to check luggage on the way there (I, myself, refrained from doing so earlier in July even though I had already purchased the luggage allowance...), but even with the current meltdowns, checking low-value luggage seems to be less of an issue on the way back, at least if you live close enough to the arrival airport. Delays far outnumber complete losses. Just make sure not to pack anything remotely valuable or necessary in the checked back, and pack a collapsible duffel or tote back to use as cabin luggage!

Posted by
309 posts

I enjoy shopping too. I am a suitcase person too. I understand where you’re coming from!

However this trip I am using a 40 liter backpack. I had planned on doing this when we booked the tour last year because I didn’t want to roll a bag, and I then turned it into a game. How to stay hands free and pack light.

The strong dollar is like a siren calling us out to shop isn’t it?!

Gameplan: I’m doing Christmas shopping in September in Germany. I will use DHL to ship home or have the stores ship if that is easier and VAT May not get charged as a result. If security lines are long, I’m assuming the VAT lines can be long too. In 2019 I spent an hour in a VAT line and they randomly selected travelers to present their goods- another layer of complexity to be aware of.

Shoes are very cumbersome. I like to keep the boxes for good pairs. I had a fold up duffle ( probably 80 liters) that I’d load up stuff into and check on way home. It was a hassle carrying this huge bag even for a relatively short distance. However, I love the liberation of traveling light with my backpack. So I’m not bringing it. My favorite shoe store in Florence sells online, so another trick I’ll use is if the store has an online presence, they ship to the States, I’ll have them ship.

Based on doing a trial run of my backpack: I will have room for small items. I’m bring a packing cube to organize purchases and keep me within space parameters.

Posted by
257 posts

Thanks everyone! I’ll pack a bag to check if I can’t get everything in my carryon on the way back.

I’ve long ago given up buying tourist tat, but I do love buying shoes in Europe.

Posted by
3101 posts

Mo R. :

Would you share your online Florence shoe shop site with us if that’s ok?
Thank you! 🥿👠

Posted by
2007 posts

MoR--We are headed to Germany and Austria for the Christmas Markets and will be doing carryon only. Last time we were in Germany and Prague, I did a lot of shopping and still managed to return with just my carryon and a messenger bag that I bought there. I folded up my Longchamp tote so that I could use the other bag that was a tad larger. I bought 3 vases in Prague and 3 pairs Birkenstocks. I kept the vases in their boxes, but left the shoe boxes behind. Our daughter is good with carryon only, but our sons gf will be learning a whole new way to pack for this trip;)