One Suitcase...really?

I'm reading all about this traveling light and wondering if everyone is on board with one suitcase thing and if yes, is it a carry-on? Or would you do one checked bag and a carry-on bag? We are traveling to London for 6 nights and Paris for 7 next month & just wanted to get some input on how everyone manages their bags. TIA.

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
6030 posts

I have traveled for up to a month with a carry on sized suitcase and a personal item. My personal item usually consists of some sort of tote bag. I put my cross-body purse in it while on the plane.

The trick is to pack smartly, with clothing that can be mixed and matched. I bring clothes that I can handwash. I also try to rent apartments with a washer (and a dryer if I'm lucky) when in one place for more than a few days. Remember that no one besides you will know you are wearing the same clothes multiple times.

Posted by gone
2081 posts


I do it all the time now. I do bring a "briefcase" size bag to go under the seat with my books, snacks, cameras and paper/pen.

but for everything else, its in my bag/backpack.

you can do it, but you will have to figure whats important to you and whats not. I even do it when i bring my riding clothes (breeches, helmet, shoes, half chaps) along. I just leave out a days worth of clothes. So far, i bring 4 or 5 days changes of undies including a spare pair of comfy shoes to swap with what i wear. Shirts/pants i will bring 2 or 3 days and wear them 2~3x depending on the undies. i also bring a medium weight waterproof jacket with hood (that is worn on the plane) and i wear the more bulky shoes on the plane too.

theres nothing like experience.

happy trails.

Posted by Karen
508 posts

I travel for 2 weeks with everything in just one backpack. I also bring a purse, but the purse can also fit into the backpack when needed. I just limit my wardrobe and do a lot of sink washing. I only bring along one pair of extra shoes and they are small sandals or a pair of flats. I limit my makeup and personal care products to the necessities and don't bring a curling iron or hairdryer. I really only bring what I will absolutely need. I am pretty tired of my small selection of outfits after 2 weeks, but it is worth it to only have one bag to lug around.

Posted by Gretchen
Seattle, WA, US
100 posts

I am the type of person that takes 2 bags for a long weekend at a friends house so packing light does not come easy to me but I watched a RS video by Joanna (?) on how to pack and have put together the clothes to fit into one carry one with even a little extra room for trinkets. The trick is to get some washable unders and a lot of mix and match stuff. Her mantra was "if you can't wear it in 3 combinations don't bring it" so the black top that goes with the black skirt, khaki pants and black shirt makes the cut. You can get through 2 weeks with four bottoms and four tops if they all can work with each other.

Posted by Donna
Cleveland, OH
754 posts

Hi Diana, I check a 21" rolling bag and take a carry-on (RS euro shoulder tote) on the plane. Packing light takes practice but it's worth the effort. I like the RS packing cubes and also use zip lock bags. On the flight home I take out my packing list and note what I didn't wear (there's always something) and what I wish I would have taken. It's a good starting point for the next trip. Good luck!

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7340 posts

Yes, I do it for 89-day trips every year. One rolling carryon and a Civita daybag plus a cross-body bag that goes inside the carryon until I get to Europe. The security agent in Amsterdam who opened my carryon said it was extremely well-packed - years of practice.

If you don't think you can do it but want to try, consider buying some items while you travel and take a foldup extra bag (RS had one that's the size of a wallet when folded), in case you need to check your bag on the way back.

Posted by Diana
Michigan, United States
359 posts

Thanks for the suggestions. I guess I am mostly concerned about not having enough space to bring back souvenirs for the family not so much with my clothes. So I like the idea of packing an empty bag just in case its needed. My husband will NOT be on board with this idea at all but I'll try & work on him. :

Posted by Karen
508 posts

Another suggestion is to mail the things you buy back home. I usually do that so I can still have only one bag on the way home. Usually I will send one package home near the end of the trip.

Posted by Nicole P
Truro, NS, Canada
1751 posts

We've gone over to Europe for anywhere from 18-23 days. We use a carry on and our 'personal' size bag that you are generally allowed. It really does help to cut back on souvenir buying! That being said, we always visit with my sister in the UK before coming home and always end up with her smallest suitcase to spread out any purchases we made (we put our dirty clothes and stuff in the bag that we check). When my mom goes to visit her, she always takes the bag back (it's a well travelled piece of luggage :) ). That being said, I am so glad every time that we only have one bag to hoof around - watching people waiting at the airport for bags, dragging them on and off trains/buses/subway, or having to opt for a more expensive taxi because of excessive baggage. Sure, you have to make some cuts in what you will take and probably have to do laundry, but who cares if you wear the same shirt 3-4 times? No one will care, other then you.

That being said, whenever we drive somewhere on vacation, we end up with our SUV with lots of stuff thrown in, and when we flew to California last year, we took an extra bag and checked it, as we were renting a car and wouldn't have to drag our bags everywhere. In my heart, I'd love to take an extra bag and not leave stuff home when packing, but my brain knows from experience it is NOT fun having that extra stuff to drag around.

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
2650 posts

The key to packing light is to pack on paper first. I read that statement when I first started coming to this forum and wish I could credit who said it! (It might have been one of the guys from Colorado??) You definitely need to figure out your capsule wardrobe first so you can manage with fewer clothes than you think you can. It also requires having clothing that doesn't wrinkle and washes easily. I did 3.5 weeks last fall with my RS carry-on and will do about 7 weeks this fall with the same bag.

I don't buy souvenirs much so that isn't a problem for me. For gifts, scarves are inexpensive, light and easy to pack.

For some neat capsule wardrobe ideas, look at She has lots of posts on great packing. I took her advice before a couple of big trips last year and got Lands End cotton/modal Tee shirts which layer really well as well as being fairly quick drying.

My brother got me in to light packing, so it is possible to convince someone else but don't lose sleep or a relationship over it.

Laughed at Nicole's statement about the SUV. I am headed over to Yellowstone tomorrow for opening day and will be gone just a few nights. I've already got more clothing/boots/outerwear on my packing list than I took for my trips to Europe. My CRV will be full when I leave. Oh well. The light-pack police do not hang out at the Entrance Gates to National Parks.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
2084 posts

Traveling with one carry-on sized bag and a personal bag is certainly doable for most tourist traveling about and enjoying the sights trips. However the need for a checked bag is driven by the reason for travel and the nature of the activities.

As a for example of gear driving the need to check luggage, treking poles (and ski poles) are not permitted in the cabin. And obviously skis would not be a carry-on item.

Some on the ground activities have mandatory luggage limits. Guided or self guided bike and walking tours with luggage service commonly have a one bag per person and maximum weigh limit for the inn to inn transfer service. What you don't carry for the day needs to fit in your one bag.

And if your travel is self contained such as a hut to hut ski tour or a self contained bike tour or climb, you will need to find a luggage storage accommodation for your excess stuff.

Posted by selkie
300 posts

I'm married to a guy who teaches college photography. Not only does his big DSL bag take up all his carry on space, I'm also expected to stash his travel tripod in my carry on. So checking a suitcase for each of us, it is.

Posted by Grier
Carmel, IN
1185 posts

I have traveled heavy and I have traveled light, and traveling light is much preferred especially if going to more than one destination. It's a great feeling walking into a train station and on the train with a 21" rolling bag and a cross body purse. You'll have a great sense of freedom and won't regret it.

Posted by Laura B
San Francisco
1345 posts

"souvenir" from the French "to remember" -- that's why we carry cameras and buy postcards. Otherwise "souvenir" is often American for "stuff I bought in Europe that I will put in a box when I get home." (That said, yes I DO have scarves from Florence, Venice, Paris that get worn at home -- but no presents for family and friends bigger than a keychain.)
I check one bag, carry on a small bag with meds, documents, snacks, extra sweater, change of underwear, spare glasses -- stuff I will need on the plane or if my checked bag goes to Patagonia. And yet -- every time I wish I had packed less.

Posted by Kristen
620 posts

I check half the time and carry on half the time. My checked bag is still a reasonable size that is easy for me to get on and off trains. The deciding factors are:

-Will I easily have access to laundry facilities, such as in an apartment or conveniently located laundromat? (I hate doing clothes in the sink) If yes-carry on.

-Do I have a non-stop flight? Or do I have layovers, a situation where my bag is more likely to get lost?- Non-stop, more likely to check.

-Am I travelling to multiple different climates or participating in some kind of sport that requires me to bring more stuff than usual? If yes-more likely to check.

I used to check all of time. My limiting factor was liquid toiletries. But I have figures this out. I use solids when it is an option (deodorant, bar soap, there is even solid shampoo/conditioner available, lipstick). And I have figured out I need way less than 3 oz of a lot of things such as face soap, moisturizer. So I use very small containers to maximize the space in my quart bag.

Good luck!

Posted by christa
alameda, ca, usa
585 posts

I prefer to check a rolling bag that's medium size and bring a carry-on that goes over my shoulder (and fits under the seat) but can be bungeed on top of the checked bag for transport to and from airport. My trips are usually 1 to 2 weeks and I do wash a few things but don't want to spend my whole trip fiddling with laundry needs, nor do I need the stress of wondering if there'll be room for my bag in the over-head bin once I get on the plane and what if it ends up being checked, anyway? There are things I need to bring that must be checked, and I like a clean top every day. As for souvenirs, my traveling pals and I agree to not expect anything from each other but good stories. If I do buy for others they are small things. My checked bag always has some free room in it and on the return trip I shift stuff around, since what was an essential heading to Europe no longer is if I'm going home.

Posted by Sarah
St. Louis, MO USA
1834 posts

Ever since the airline lost my checked bag during a 2-week trip 7 years ago, I always carry on. I take a 22" suitcase, a school-type backpack, and a crossbody purse which I put in the backpack before I check in at the airport. I wash underwear and socks in the sink in my hotel room. I've learned I can get by with only the clothes I'm wearing, money, and a passport (by buying clothes and toiletries) but I don't care to repeat that experience.

Rick Steves' packing list for women on this site helped me pack light. I modify it for my own needs (i.e. I don't wear skirts or dresses while traveling and bring more undergarments than he suggests) but it's a great starting tool.

Posted by Terry kathryn
Ann Arbor, Mi
3553 posts

My dream would be to just travel with my toothbrush and one camera:)))
Since I probably won't do that one, I do travel as light as possible. One carry on bag and my personal bag...that's it. Clothes that mix and match... one basic color and pieces that still look good after a few days of being in suitcase. I wear the only shoes I am taking... and I really do have plenty of clothes to look good every day... I really do care what I wear...I just don't want to lug around my closet. I am a professional photographer so I take two cameras and a computer.... If I buy things in Europe it is generally something to wear. I don't want a bunch of dust collectors sitting around. I also buy fewer things for others (unless it is the perfect gift)... after all, it is my trip, not theirs... show them photos...However, this is after about 30 trips to Europe... first few trips I brought home tons of stuff and I always had to buy an additional bag/suitcase to haul home my treasures. When I did that I carried on my gifts and checked my clothes.

Diana...just noticed...are you from Birch Run Mi.? If so, if we ever have a RS get together near A2 I will let you know. I have gone to Toledo and met with Zoe a few times and another woman from Ohio...but it's their turn to come to Mi. I know Zoe is a light packer and she goes for the whole summer...we could show you what we do.

Posted by gone
2081 posts


" Thanks for the suggestions. *I guess I am mostly concerned about not having enough space to bring back souvenirs for the family not so much with my clothes. So I like the idea of packing an empty bag just in case its needed. My husband will NOT be on board with this idea at all but I'll try & work on him. : "*

bringing an extra back or buying a bag there isnt a big deal. Depending on how many flights in between to/from there, you can rack up some luggage fees. If youre traveling by train, no big deal but you will have to lug the extra stuff around every time.

what i do is to accumulate enough to send the stuff back home. Depending on where you go the shipping maybe worth it instead of lugging it around europe with you.

happy trails.

Posted by Lo
1682 posts

The key in your question and in most of the responses is "how everyone manages their bags," because unless you are traveling very high on the hog, there will be no one to help you schlep them anywhere you need to go with them.

We travel for a month taking the same stuff we would wear for a week. I plan for "a week plus a day," that 8th day being what I wear on the plane. For me that means 8 tops and 3-4 bottoms, largely because I sweat. I wear the bulkiest and heaviest of what I have for the flight.

Using the advice from the Vivienne Files already mentioned (here's an easy link to her posts on packing:, everything I take is well-coordinated. Using the advice from the RS packing video for women, I take nothing that I will wear less than 3 times.

Last year I realized that I could have taken less because the weather in April in the Netherlands and Belgium was very consistent (not much sweating) and the things I took for layering (not counted as part of the 8) along with some scarves changed the look of my basics so much that I didn't really need 8 tops and could have done well with only 2 bottoms.

In addition to a tote, I travel with a 22" spinner. In addition to a messenger bag, my husband uses his RS convertible backpack. We do only carry-on from the US to Europe and back. My husband is the over-packer in our family. Every year he packs the same way. Every year he takes stuff he never wears. Every year he says he didn't need to take so much and will pack less next time.

Going for about 2 weeks, you are in a mid-zone where it is tempting to want to avoid doing laundry or having it done. Our experience with packing light is that we do laundry (or have it done) once a week. If we rent an apartment with a washer, we do it more frequently. I don't ever wash anything in the sink. We have used laundromats in Paris but not in London, however I'm sure that Londoners have to wash their clothes sometimes, too.

In general, we don't buy souvenirs for ourselves or anyone else. With 5 kids, their spouses and a total of 14 grand kids, it ain't gonna happen. We have bought jewelry and scarves that we can pack in our carry-ons or wear home. Those purchases are great because every time we wear them, it reminds us of where we got them.

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7340 posts

And Terry Kathryn has outed me again...actually I had done it myself in an earlier post. Our third person in the group is Diana from Ohio.

About gifts and souvenirs: I am very much into experience over stuff, and even the things that I want to bring back are consumable. I discovered last winter that you can use your entire duty-free allowance on chocolate!

I bring back gifts for people every trip, but they are usually small items (amber from Poland, scarves from Venice, occasionally jewelry) but they are easy to pack. Of course, there was the time I brought back $200 worth of mustard from Paris (that went into the checked bag, only the second time I've checked a bag in the last 20 years). And that chocolate...

Posted by Jean
922 posts


10 years ago we went on our first Rick Steves tour to Germany, Switzerland, & Austria. Traveling light was a HUGE benefit we learned. Since that time I have never checked a suitcase for 2-week European trips nor for business trips. It's a lot more fun to spend your time in Paris than to be watching the suitcases circling the carousel at CDG airport! Also, it's much harder for a pickpocket to target a person with one manageable suitcase & one hand free. (Use your moneybelt!)

It's easy to plan your clothes. And limit your shoes. - pack one, wear one. Also, plan your electronics, so they don't eat up all of your extra space. I try to leave at least 25% of my suitcase empty, so I have some flex to bring something home, if I want.

Enjoy your trip! i was in Paris last month - beautiful in Spring!

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
2313 posts

We have gone to Europe 11 of the last 12 years (going again next month) for a month and do exactly as Donna posted. We also include in our 22" roller-bag(s) a folded up duffel bag that we use to pack any souvenirs padded by all of our dirty laundry that we did not wash the last time before leaving Europe for home. RS claims to be able to do three months with a bag this size but then again he has had LOTS of practice. aloha

Posted by Sharon
Solana Beach, CA, USA
73 posts

Hi Diana,
I understand your wanting to bring "treasures" home with you. I love picking up local artist pieces during my travels - for myself, 5 grandchildren (and their parents). What I have done in the past is put a carry-on in side a larger suitcase - check the one bag on the way, and on the way home, check the larger bag and carry on the smaller one. This was very helpful when going to Turkey this last year and bringing a rug home. I have only used this for airline and this strategy has worked well.

My 3 /12 trip to Italy in May, however, is going to involve train travel. As I am over 70, traveling alone, I don't want to lug a larger suitcase around and on and off trains. Eagle Creek has just come out with a "carry-on" bag that can become two bags - it's called the Morphus. I bought that and their specter packing cubes. Potentially, both pieces of the Morphus can be carry-ons. Depending, on my way home, I will either take them both on the plane (one has a lap top pocket) and use that one as my "purse" or check one with clothes, and carry on the one with the "treasures".

I will be basing myself in Florence, Siena, Cinque Terre and Rome. With regard to clothing, I will take
3 pair capris, 1 pr walking shorts (Royal Robbins - wash and dry overnight)
4 short sleeve shirts, 2 long sleeve shirts (Ojai and Prana),
2 dresses (Prana)
few pieces of lingerie
1 pull-over sweater that goes with all above
1 pr Mephisto sandals
Patagonia raincoat/windbreaker

Will wear on the plane
jeans, long sleeve shirt, cardigan sweater, Keen's Clearwater CRX shoes

Check out the Eagle Creek Morphus - I was a little concerned with the price - $395, but Shoe Buy has 20% off - sometimes 25%, (free shipping and returns) and that brought the price down considerably. With some items, they charge more than other sites, but the Eagle Creek items are priced as on other sites.

Bon Voyage!


Posted by Karen
Santa Rosa, CA
829 posts

We pack light take a 20" roller bag a large day pack each as carry-on. The backpacks start out with the 2nd pair of shoes, change of clothes (in case we are forced to gate check the roller bags), and a few other essentials such as Kindle, charger, notebook, GPS, etc. The back packs are more empty than full, which allows space for things we might pickup as we go. Then we also take a very lightweight rip-stop nylon duffle bag that rolls up into the size of a tennis ball and weighs nothing. So if we end up accumulating more than fits in the back packs, we put the dirty clothes in the duffle, which then opens up a lot of space in the rollerbags. We then check 1 or both rollerbags flying home.

Posted by Diana
Michigan, United States
359 posts

I'm going to get a duffel bag that folds down & pop it into either one of our carryons or if my husband takes a checked bag, then I'll put it into his. That way we have it available to use when we come home but it won't take up much space. Thanks so much for all the input. I really appreciate all your ideas.

Posted by KevinK
Suburban Indianapolis
64 posts

When my wife and I travel we usually have one large rolling bag apiece loaded nearly to the 50 pound limit. I then carry on my camera bag with the travel paperwork and invaluable RS guidebook(s). I've also tried the travel light approach but enjoy having more clothing choices available. There's no cost to check a bag when flying internationally so why not take a large bag with wheels? And who really wants to wash underwear and socks while on vacation?

Posted by Tara
148 posts

Yes, my husband and I have done this many times with carry on backpacks as our suitcases and a tote for my laptop or his camera. Our crowning achievement, though, was packing for a 4 week trip to Europe going from northern Scotland to southern Italy. Lots of layering, and the last 12 days was a cruise with 2 formal nights! We just followed the Rick Steves packing list. Plus, I work online as a university instructor so I have to be on my laptop daily. Therefore, I must pack technology, too. We made it work, and had lots of flexibility because we weren't burdened by luggage.

Souvenirs were always light and flat. Lace from Venice, cool maps in Dubrovnik, Harris Tweed in the out islands of Scotland. In Paris, I just took pictures...tons of photos.

Practice helps. Lay out everything you want to take, ask if you can wear it at least 3 or more times, and then figure out the best way to get it in your bag. I've tried all the methods - rolling, vacuum sealing, and more - and have found that rolling the clothes and putting them in packing cubes in our backpack suitcase worked great for me. My husband just liked to do regular folding. No fancy tricks for him! :-)

Have fun on your trip!

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
8186 posts

I started out carrying way too much. I learned it from my mom (who had to have shoulder surgery after one trip because she packed so heavy). The first time I packed really light was on the back end of a military exchange with the German Air Force. I had to pack a full set of uniforms, which didn't allow much space for civilian clothes. After my deployment was over, I dropped my military stuff at left luggage and toured for a week with a change and a half of clothes (one extra pant, two extra shirts, two extra pairs of socks and underwear) in a large school type day pack. I've never been happier, it was so easy and convenient to get around on public transit without ever feeling overly burdened or weighed down.

Now I travel with just a convertible carry-on and generally don't fill it up (I stay within the Lufthansa/SAS limit of 18 lbs.) - even going a month or more at a time. I really could go lighter - as in just a day pack - but I haven't quite talked myself into it yet.

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA
103 posts

With some practice and experience I am getting lighter each travel. It is a huge transformation from packing a large suitcase & over time you'll get the hang of it. I find it adds comfort and convenience when I am moving about the airports and boarding trains and buses. I don't use my over the shoulder day purse until I'm squared away at the hotel. The Boarding tote is to store my airplane comfort items & my shoulder purse. It took my husband longer to get in sync with this concept but now he's all smiles not lifting or carrying his heavy bag! It's worth trying for one trip. Good luck!

Packing List:

3 pants (or) 2 pants with a skirt or a dress

6 tops

2 lightweight second layer items

5 underwear

5 socks

Light weight Silk under layer bottoms

2 Bras



Neck Scarf

Bathing suit

2 pair shoes, 1 pr padded flip flops


Light weight gloves and hat

TSA 3-1-1 bag: (I place mine inside a gallon ziplock after TSA i case something spills out).

Medical in Zip Lock: 2 prescriptions, fiber, Collapsible cup, Combo travel spoon/serrated edged fork,

Toiletry Bag: Minimal makeup, Minimal jewelry.

Electronics in Mesh Bag

Laundry Kit in Zip Lock Bag

Basics in Mesh Kit: OTCs, sew kit, shoelaces, duct tape, travel alarm, mini flash light, microfiber cloth size of face cloth, healthy snacks, assorted Ziplock tab baggies, Pens, Mechanical Pencil, Slim Highlighter, a Magnifier reading glass, spare TSA lock; foot care.

RS fold away tote bag: multi purpose bag for laundry, shopping, carrying gifts & souvenoirs. Some trips it comes home empty and other times I've shopped for Christmas & gifts and it was full.

Small Market/shopping tote goes in shoulder day bag

Guide Book Binder

Mini Language Guide book

Accordion file holder(sightseeing handouts & souvenoirs, receipts, Address labels, Note Cards)

Airplane: Head phones, eye shades, neck rest, thermos, snacks, magazine.

Money Belt

Boarding tote with shoulder day bag inside: (Smaller size than last year).

Rolling duffle suitcase, weight 18 pounds

Posted by David
Florence, AL, USA
3399 posts

My family travel rules are:

1. Everyone carries their own luggage.

2. One carry on 22" suitcase and one backback/handbag is the maximum.

3. No bag is ever checked.

My wife bought some clothes for the grandkids and some crystal for a wedding present in Prague. This made me have to go back on one of my own rules--and I checked a bag.

Wouldn't you know I forgot to remove my car keys, and they were in the checked bag--which of course got lost. We cooled our heels in an Atlanta Airport hotel for two nights waiting on that suitcase to appear (without any car.)

Lesson: Don't break any family rules. And I didn't even wear 1/2 the clothes in my 21" rolling bag.

Posted by Elizabeth
Lake Oswego, OR, United States
45 posts

I would echo everything written above. Additionally, I would suggest you walk around for about a mile with whatever you think you are going to bring luggage-wise and also climb a few sets of stairs with it as one usually has to walk and climb a lot more while in Europe or abroad in general than you ever have to do at home- and your bags will begin to feel unbelievably heavy after a while!

I am an inveterate shopper when I travel and unlike some of the posters here, I do love to bring back souvenirs. While I try to limit myself to small pieces (I love pottery among other things), I do buy and bring bubble wrap and tape with me from home. I have mailed boxes to myself from Italy, France and Spain using Mailboxes, etc. branches which seem to be the European equivalent to the UPS Store here. Yes it may cost me $80 or so, but I send back guidebooks I no longer need, books we've purchased , clothes I end up not needing and random purchases along the way- well worth not lugging around!

I also always bring an empty tote bag in the bottom of my suitcase that I can carry on board when homeward bound. I carry on when going over and check when coming home (because at that point I don't care of my bag is delayed and because I bring home anything really meaningful with me in my carryon tote). All it takes, IMO, is one trip abroad for one to realize that no one cares if you're wearing your (carefully chosen to mix and match) outfits repeatedly AND that lugging heavy bags around is a real downer.

Posted by Ellen
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
6 posts

I'm headed to Europe for 2 months this summer and I'm packing in 2 carry-on sized bags. One rolling and one RS backpack-style. I'm attending a class, so repeating 3 outfits for 2 months doesn't appeal when I will see the same people every day. I've carefully crafted a color-coordinated wardrobe to streamline laundry and it's made of travel-friendly fabrics and interchangeable pieces to create many outfits. Even if one suitcase gets lost or stolen, I have half my clothes/belongings in the other suitcase. And neither suitcase will be too big or heavy to manage alone, a problem I ran into with stairs in Paris. Near the end my family will be visiting and I will send one bag home with them before I spend the last two weeks traveling on my own via train with one bag.

When I studied abroad in college I took WAAAY too much stuff in one large suitcase and ended up not wearing most of it. But it was my first time out of the country and I had no idea what a nightmare that luggage would become. The shoulder strap on my carry-on duffel broke before I left the US and by the end of the trip, when my return flight was canceled for a WEEK, my hands were so raw and blistered that I can't travel without a wheeled carry-on bag anymore. But that's just my own personal psychological trauma. :)

If you are renting a car you could probably get away with more luggage, but if you are mostly traveling by train/air then definitely cut back as much as possible. One trick is to layer, since undergarments tend to take up less space taking several undershirts can keep body oils away from your outer layers so that they can be worn more than once. Although not always the most comfortable, nylon is by far the easiest thing to wash and dry in the sink since its tends not to get stretched out or wrinkle and doesn't absorb water as much as cotton. It is also usually colorfast so you don't have to worry what laundry it is washed with.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
9473 posts

I have used one 22 inch bag for years.. this year I gave that bag to my son.. and am buying a 20 inch bag. I hate carrying weight.. and if you actually travel from city to city as we do ( as opposed to just flying say to spend a week in Rome etc) they you always end up having to carry a bag up some stairs , lift it over ledges etc.

My trips are usually 3-4 weeks long.

Washing socks is easier then packing 21-28 pairs of socks.. or wasting money on laundry service.

In a 3-4 week trip we do mix of mostly hotels but some apartments.. can usually do a load or two of laundry in apartment,

Can not even imagine taking a large suitcase of 50 lbs... I think thats a different type of visit to Europe then I do.. flying into one city and probably staying there.. maybe one other.. and maybe 2 weeks? A hotel with a bell boy.,.,. a taxi instead of taking the bus or train to commute between airports..

Sounvenirs are small mementos or food items for me.. I don't usually bring people stuff , why should I? They usually end up being stored in someones basement ,, lol When my kids were little I bought them tshirts. Now nothing.. our family is not into stuff like that. thank goodness.

Posted by Diana
Michigan, United States
359 posts

I will definitely be using one suitcase plus a large tote bag. Once I know what I'm packing I plan on posting to see if I'm missing anything important. Thanks for all your suggestions & comments.

Posted by Keith
Carpenter, WA, USA
8 posts


There are plenty of good arguments both ways so you just have to balance what is said with your own priorities. Personnaly, after numerous trips to Europe and Asia over the last 45 years I am definatley in the one bag camp. I have done it with a number of products and have settled on the RS carry-on with hide away backpack straps. On airlines such as Icelandair with very low weight restrictions we us a large handbag for heavy items such as electronics. Once on the ground they go back in the carry-on. The freedom of having both hands free to handel tickets, doors, cash etc. is difficult to overstate. I'm not a fan of rolling bags due to stairs, cobblestones, dog messes and such. As far as doing laundry, there are coin-ops everywhere we have been and they are a good opportunity to take a break and write postcards, read guidebooks and connect with the locals. Here's an unexpected benifit to one bag. Four days before leaving for three weeks in Germany, Austria and Switzerland my wife injured a knee badly enough to need crutches. We went anyway with me carrying one bag on my back and another in one hand leaving me with a free hand for doors, money, tickets and such. While she soone was able to ditch the crutches and use a cane, the trip would have been miserable for both of us with just one more bag.
One thought on packing. If you leave some of your scented personal toilletries at home and buy local products when you arrive you will find that using them after returning home will bring back many great memories. Scent is a very powerful memory stimulant.
However you pack, just don't stress about it. You can buy anything you really need anywhere in the world.
Keith. Manson, WA

Posted by hava212
6 posts

One simple rule for me, written after carrying heavy hand luggage down the LONG arrivals hallway in the Brussels airport (my father says you can observe the curvature of the earth between your gate and passport control). The rule is "Everything must roll and be pulled with one hand". Checked or carry on, if I follow the rule I am a happy traveler.

Posted by pamraitt
13 posts

My husband and I are travelling to Europe in October for 5 weeks. We will be flying into London and taking trains to all the countries we visit starting with the Eurostar to Paris and then trains to Munich for 1 night and Zagreb, Croatia for 1 night and then to Belgrade, Serbia for a week. After that we will spend 2 days in Budapest, 11 days in Prague, 3 days in Berlin, 1 night in Paris and then back to London for another week. This will involve a lot of packing and unpacking and hauling around luggage onto trains. I have been to Europe several times but the longest was 3 weeks and that was on a 12 day cruise and a week in Sweden. We took way too much stuff and brought much more home as I do buy a lot of souvenirs and gifts for people but this time I am not going to buy for others because I have too many kids and grandkids to buy for and it weighs too much and is expensive anyway. I have never been a light packer and even when I took less clothes with each trip, I still took too much and it was a heavy burden and back breaker especially on train platforms and hotels with no lifts!

On my last trip to England I took a large rolling duffle bag and one of the wheels broke walking to Paddington Station to take the Heathrow Express to the airport. It was too heavy to carry and I couldn't pull it without it tipping over. What a nightmare that was and I was in tears! My husband was not with me to help. I was also carrying a heavy large overnighter, purse and shopping bag of souvenirs and when walking thru the airport I ended up tripping over it and ripped 2 hamstrings and was injured pretty badly. After reading all of your replies I am determined to travel light. I will be bringing a hard shell 22" spinner bag to check in and a fabric weekender carry on bag and a cross body travel purse. My husband will bring a 20" spinner bag and a good sized convertable backpack with wheels. I never thought I could get all my clothes in that small of suitcase but I tried it out today and was shocked to see how much I could put in it especially using RS packing cubes which I have never used before but think it will make packing and unpacking very easy and organized.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
4235 posts

Ouch, pamraitt! Once you start using only one carry-on, you'll never go back - not even when you could take more ;-)

Diana, for souvenirs start thinking light, tiny, non-delicate: magnets (some kitschy, some surprisingly nice), scarves, jewelry, small books, figurines (typically more kitschy - like neon green 'Davids', or very elegant marbles) but watch the weight and size, keychains (I've used the pendant-part as a zipper pull on jackets), pins (for hats, scarves, lapels), prints (small or large - pack a mailing tube that will fit inside you bag with some rolled-up bubble wrap inside for protecting posters and large prints), and one of my personal faves is utensils - specialty knives for cheese, etc., jelly spoons, decorative wine bottle stoppers, etc., but you may need to check this bag for the return trip because of any sharp objects.

Posted by Mira
630 posts

I actually pack fairly heavy for driving trips, but give me a plane ticket and I become an expert in light packing ;) It's a family joke that I pack more for a weekend at my sister's (where I bring a 27" suitcase for me and the kids, as well as a purse and random bags) than for 2 weeks in europe (22" backpack and a purse).

My secrets are meticulously planning outfits, making sure everything goes with everything else, and with both pairs of shoes. I might bring a black pair of shoes and a gray one, and a black cardigan. So all my clothes will go with black and gray, and will work under that cardigan (for warmth and for changing the look). Brown/beige would work just as well.

Bringing only 2 pairs of shoes, and wearing the heavier pair on the plane. Folding clothes tightly and putting them in large ziplock bags to squeeze the air out. Paring down toiletries into travel size. Picking out ONE very basic makeup look (so one eyeshadow quad set, not 4. One lipstick, not 10. So it all fits in a sandwich bag). Bring a couple scarves and cheap pieces of jewelry for adding style without taking much room. And having laundry done once per week. I bring enough for a week and then find a laundry service and have it all washed for the next week. You could do it yourself in a laundromat instead, but I find it worth the time savings to have it washed and folded by the laundry. Usually same day, and not too expensive.

Posted by Sarah
Fallbrook, CA, USA
45 posts

The first time my husband and I traveled to Europe–two weeks–it took four suitcases to contain our "stuff". After dragging it all over France and England, and getting extreme shoulder pain and bruised legs from knocking the bags against our shins, we learned our lesson. Now my husband and I take one carry-on each and I have a lightweight Baggallini cross-the-chest purse that contains our airline tickets, hotel confirmations, guide book pages, a notebook and my e-reader. Once we clear TSA I stash that swell little ziplock bag of tiny bottles of liquids in my carry-on. He folds his clothes, I roll mine. We poke underwear and socks into the toes of an extra pair of shoes. We buy hygiene items when we arrive and deal with the interesting results. Like one other traveler said, no-one knows or cares what you are wearing. It's fun to field questions from folks at home too, who ask if you only brought one red tee shirt since you always seems to wear it in the photos. We don't wear shirts printed with goofy slogans nor do I drape myself with lots of jewelry. It seems like a better way to blend in when thieves are seeking a mark. If we run out of clothes, we do a load of laundry somewhere and chat up the people doing the same. Everyone is interested in Americans. By the way, except for their shoes, all travelers look alike! The casual appearance Americanization of Europe is now complete! Pack light! You will be SO happy you did.

Posted by Edgar
Medford, OR, USA
2084 posts

James of San Anselmo raises some interesting points about what seems to be becoming a high energy debate. Packing thin and light vs checking a bag or even two is both one's personal preference and driven by one's travel objectives. Does one want to run far and fast or does one want to linger to smell the flowers?

The New World form of backpacking (i.e. wilderness camping) is a case in point. Ray Jardine popularized ultralight backpacking, walking the Pacific Crest Trail reportedly carrying less than 10 pounds (less than 5 kg). And that includes shelter. That may mean traveling without life's comforts, cutting off your toothbrush handle and carring no extra clothing except for a pair of spare socks. And definitely no coffee press.

During my backpacking days, part of the joy of the wilderness experience was collecting photographic images. I carried 10 pounds of camera bodies, lenses and film (yes, the old days). My photo gear equaled Jardine's total pack weight. And I added fishing gear to the photo gear load.

My point is what you pack and how much is highly dependent on why you travel. I don't care how much the tourists sharing my flight check or don't check, just don't drop your rolling carry-on bag on me while trying to stuff it into the overhead.

Posted by Cindy
Chalfont, PA, USA
50 posts

The last 2 summers I have traveled on my 2 week + European vacations with 1 carry-on size rolling suitcase, plus a personal item (daypack). I bring 5 pairs of undies, socks, 6 tops, black cardigan, white cardigan, a waterproof jacket (windbreaker) plus pants. My problem is my pants. I bring 1 pair long dressier pants and several pairs of casual capris. I am quite happy to hand wash and drip dry the undies, socks, tops...but the pants do get quite gross after repeated wearings when you are traveling and sweaty. They wouldn't wash well in a sink, so I don't wash them. I have made it a point to buy my 'travel tops' of lightweight fabric that will dry quickly, etc for handwashing. I have found it hard to find that in stylish pants for women. Scarves are great for changing up the the looks of outfits. As for souvenirs, I consciously buy small/lightweight things. Be creative--I went into a gourmet grocery in Paris bought some herbs for a friend that loves to cook, scarves, inexpensive costumer jewelry...everytime you where them you will be reminded of your travels :)

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7340 posts

James from San Anselmo, I do pack light and laughed because you are so right, the sweater gets stained either on the plane or on the first day - and the weather will be cool enough that I will need it every day for the first week! By the way, shampoo works better than toothpaste.

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA
103 posts

Just wondering for those ladies who have just have a carry-on bag and their cross body messenger purse:
Do you take airplane comforts (eye shades, neck rest, headphones, magazine, etc) and where do you
keep it handy to get to during the flight? I'm always amazed when I see ladies without a boarding bag & wonder where they keep these types of things.
For now I stow my cross body bag in my tote bag. Once at hotel I take it out & off I go after I dropmy luggage.

Posted by Karen
508 posts

Diane, I take a small purse out of my backpack when I board the plane, and a blow up neck pillow. In the purse I will have my phone, a snack, lotion that has been removed from my liquids bag, my money, cards and passport, and that is about it. If there is anything else I think I will want with me on the plane, I will get it out of my back pack before boarding the plane to keep it with me.

Posted by Diana
Michigan, United States
359 posts

For the plane, I am taking a tote bag & will put my cross body purse in it along with the items I might want for comfort on the plane. I'm also taking a rolling carry on suitcase. My husband is taking a rolling carry on & will check a larger rolling suitcase (in which I am putting my expandable duffle bag for bringing home 'stuff' aka my treasures for myself & others). At least that's the plan at this point. We'll see what happens when we actually pack for our trip.

Posted by Anna
Seattle, WA, United States
761 posts

One suitcase is absolutely doable. Our last trip was about twice the length of your upcoming trip, and I packed everything I needed into one large backpack (North Face Big Shot), in addition to my messenger bag/purse, which was a "personal item". The backpack carry-on size/weight, even by European budget airline standards. The only thing that I had to consider was being able to stuff my messenger bag into the backpack for the budget flights that didn't allow a "personal item." Also, we did laundry twice during the trip, which was not a problem as any place we stayed either had a washer/dryer on site or a laundromat nearby. If neither of these things scares you, don't bother with checking bags.

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
2650 posts

Diana, I was thinking about you yesterday when I did a trial pack for my trip to Ireland in a month. I wanted to see if I could get everything in my brother's smaller Eagle Creek Adventure Weekender bag rather than the Rick Steves Convertible. The Eagle Creek weighs less and is a couple inches smaller all the way around. I was able to fit everything in with a packed weight of 15.5 # which is better than when I went to UK last fall and started at 20#. That was too much as you always add some weight along the way. The bag is packed pretty tight and there will be no room for any extras. Good luck!

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA
103 posts

Pam, well done on the packing. Perhaps you can bring an empty tote bag for "extras" you may
accumulate during the trip.
My cross body bag is smaller the items I want for the plane make it too tight so I've been doing
the boarding tote bag idea, too, and putting my cross body bag inside, too.
I'd loved to find the right bag for my needs that would eliminate the tote bag and still be a light cross body bag for day to to usage.
Have fun and enjoy your travel everyone!

Posted by christa
alameda, ca, usa
585 posts

To minimize the aggravation of trying to get into my carry-on (it fits under the seat but there's so little room to maneuver) I place the stuff I want to use during the flight in a drawstring fabric bag that measures about 12 x 12 and put that in the back of seat pocket. Things like my small knitting project, a book, some crossword puzzles from the newspaper and some chocolate. Etsy is a good place to find fun ones. My purse holds my truly valuable things and that gets wedged against my body if I nap and is never left unattended for restroom visits.

Posted by monteray98
2 posts

My wife and I traveled to Ireland, Scotland, England and France for 24 days in April 2014. We read many Rick Steve's books, looked at several RS DVDs and took many suggestions to heart. We started with two carry-on bags and two personal items. At first it seemed that two carry on bags would be impossible but it worked out well. We did a practice pack and then reduced what we had packed. After a few days in Ireland we concluded that we could have brought less. What we are suggesting is not for everyone. We are 67 years old, in good shape and wanted to handle our own stuff and use public transportation. We realize that not all seniors can do this or want to do this. I handled two 25 - 30 pound carry on bags up and down metro and underground stairs and along Paris and London streets. We did well. But not for everyone. The RS method of packing really light allowed us to mingle with the locals and not rely on taxis and porters. I took two bottoms, wore one, six tops, could have gotten by with four, five underwear, three socks, one fleece jacket, one rain shell, didn't wear it, and that's it. We traveled in April. Temperatures were about 50 degrees F with some rain. It is amazing how little one needs. Rinsing things out most nights worked well. The waist pack for money and passports is a must. My jeans pocket got picked in Dublin but only lost a business card case. Pack light, light, light. If you don't love it or will wear it three times, leave it home. Don't need to bring lots of medicine. The pharmacies or markets carry most of what one might need. Good walking shoes a must. RS has a lot of good information and suggestions. Brought US dollars but did not exchange any. Used ATMs for all currency and paid most things in cash, per RS suggestions. Currency was not an issue. If you are staying in a city for more than three days consider renting an apartment or flat rather than a hotel. Price can be better and more room with a kitchen. Check VRBO, HomeAway, FlipKey and others. Do your homework, make most reservations before you leave home, have a reasonably firm itinerary. A smart phone is very valuable with all of the apps for public transportation and other things. Interfacing with locals can be wonderful and provide some of the most memorable moments of your trip. Just be open to what happens as you travel to restaurants, cafes and pubs. But always be cautious and aware of where you are. Not paranoid but be safe. If you sense that something is not safe, go with your instinct. RS has a lot of good information. Do you due diligence before you leave home and your trip will be so much easier. Regards, A Happy RS Advocate

Posted by Diana
Michigan, United States
359 posts

Thanks to everyone for their replies. They really helped me to pack light for our trip. We leave TODAY. I am beyond excited. London for the first time for us both for 6 nights, Paris for the 2nd time for me and first time for my husband for 7 nights. Weather looks decent. I think we're ready!!! As Kevin McAlister from Home Alone put it "This is it now. Don't be scared." LOL

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
6030 posts

Have fun! I'm looking forward to reading a trip report after you return.

Posted by henriettafoster27
New York State
7 posts

Several people have mentioned putting their cross body messenger bags into a tote bag - when you go through security do you leave the messenger bag in the tote bag and send it through together?

Posted by Diana
Michigan, United States
359 posts

I put mine in my carry on & used my tote bag as my purse for traveling. I took it out once we got to London then used it as my purse when I didn't think I needed the tote bag.

Posted by Trish
Ft. Smith, AR, USA
38 posts

Sorry to butt in-I am going to Paris(6 days), Budapest(3 days), and Vienna(3 days) this December for 2 weeks. I bought a Convertible Backpack from this site and received it yesterday. I packed 4 pairs of dark jeans, a dress with cardigan, 2 sweaters, 2 shirts, a couple of scarves, socks, underwear, bras, 2 sets of pj's, a pair of flats, and a Civita shoulder bag. I used packing cubes and used the tightening straps....and the bag feels HEAVY and seems really BIG. Anyone else have this problem? What to do? Thanks!

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
6030 posts

Two jeans should be plenty. Wear one and pack one. That should take care of some weight. I would add a top or two.

Posted by Trish
Ft. Smith, AR, USA
38 posts

Thanks Andrea! I am a "pack everything" kind of gal and I am DETERMINED to just use the Convertible Carry-on and my personal bag. I don't want to check anything!

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
6030 posts

Trish, I would take one scarf. If you want more, buy one in Paris. A nice and useable souvenir. If you have a bulky jacket carry it on the plane. The one time I used a compression bag was a winter trip to primarily Paris. I used it for sweaters and a fleece jacket.

Posted by Trish
Ft. Smith, AR, USA
38 posts

Ok...this is just a trial run since I have the time. I will pare down some more and I plan on going to the airport tomorrow and making sure that I can fit the suitcase through the measuring cutout thingie. Thanks for your help!

Posted by casullivan
1 posts

I travel with only a carry-on and pack a duffle that I can use to check on the way home. I put my dirty clothes and other items in the duffle and my souvenirs in my carry-on so they won't be lost. Red Oxx has excellent aviator duffles that are durable and reasonably priced: They come in a variety of sizes; I usually pack the small size.

Posted by Sarah
United States
220 posts

Most recently, I went rogue and took plenty. A rough consideration, that took loads of time, was what to do on the cheapo flights between my finer main reservations. I didn't happen to use a train, but the consideration is the same. I don't regret the once in a lifetime use of fancy dress (because I wanted to - no better reason). I donated things I'd not likely use again.

If I'm luck enough to see live performances in the future, if they are formal enough that black won't do (nothing really is, unless the Queen is there, which won't happen), I'm going to buy something cheap and either donate it or something else I brought over in my suitcase so that there would be room.

My travel vest is ugly to some, but beautiful in its function.