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Packing Light Question

Hello, new to this forum, thanks in advance for any feedback to this topic.

We've been traveling to the UK for the last 15 years, each trip I've eliminated more and more surplus clothing, shoes, etc. It still ends up that I don't wear at least one thing I packed. But the quest is ongoing.

We do however bring one large, one medium bag plus carry-on each. Going over they are almost empty, returning to the US they are packed to the gunnels with things we have bought.

In particular we love browsing bookshops and bringing back UK editions of books.

My question for "pack everything in a carry-on" travellers is, where do you put things you want to take home with you?

Thanks!

Posted by
699 posts

I'm glad you asked this because I was wondering the same thing myself.

Posted by
1212 posts

When going over, I take a carry-on rollaboard suitcase that has an expandable (yet not yet expanded) gusset. In that suitcase is a large, yet very lightweight, stuffed-in-its-own-pouch nylon duffle bag. When I return, "packed to the gunnels," (often with Italian ceramics wrapped in bubble-wrap) I expand and check the suitcase with everything non-breakable, and carry on the duffle bag, with all of my new lovelies safely by my side. Or, I check the duffle bag and carry on the rollaboard (unexpanded). So, my philosophy usually is: carry on everything going over, but be prepared to check a bag, coming home.

Posted by
518 posts

When going there I bring a collapse-able nylon duffel bag that I stuff in my back pack (takes up about as much room as two t-shirts). On the way back, I put all the shopping, souvenirs, etc., in my main backpack and all my dirty clothes, etc., in the duffel. The duffel can be checked, thrown, lost, etc., with little to lose, but the precious things I do want to bring back are now safe with me in my carry-on.

Posted by
8248 posts

I'm sorry, but I'm not willing to carry any more than is absolutely necessary for my 2 week trips, and my 22" roller bag and a small back pack is enough--22 lbs. And I'm thinking about carrying less in the future.
When in Europe, we seldom bring back much more than a pound or two of items for the grandkids.

I watched my poor father lug around my mother's big suitcases on their world trips into their late 70s, and I never knew how he could handle it. I swore to never get into that position, and I'm now mid 60's.

Posted by
980 posts

Luckily my memories don't take up much room at all. If I do start to run out of room then I try and forget things like my brother's birthday and use that space for new memories.

All joking aside, the few times I picked up stuff that would put me over the edge for carry on I end up shipping it home. Much easier than lugging it around.

DJ

Posted by
12 posts

We're in our mid 60s now too.

My husband says our suitcases are really shopping bags!

But he contributes as much as I do, if not more.

Thanks for the information re duffle bags, not sure I'd feel confident putting our valuables in duffle bags for the trip back to the US.

Perhaps shopping isn't as big a past time for some travellers as it is for others. But over the years we've brought back shoes, slippers, wellies (almost impossible to get in the US), gloves, scarves, umbrellas, chocolates, jackets, skirts, tops, etc. Still wearing all if them and they make wonderful souvenirs.

Posted by
12 posts

DJ, we tried shipping once with books, sadly only two of the three boxes made it.

And of course the one that went missing had two or three of the books we really wanted. It also took three months for the boxes that did arrive to get here.

Shipping trans-Atlantic is also fairly expensive.

Posted by
8664 posts

jill, we do exactly what you do. Except we put our dirty clothes and replaceable things in the checked bag, and important things in our carryon. Not worried about delayed luggage on return home.

Posted by
23473 posts

Sounds like you are at the extreme edge of shopping as to the amount of "stuff" that you return with. That is not the style of most travelers on this site. We do the same as most of the other light travelers we do. We have a light weight folding backpack style of bag. It folds within itself to about the size of a thick book. We will return with a couple of items, maybe a piece of pottery, bottle of wine, etc. Except for the wine, everything is packed in our normal carryon bags. The excess clothing that has been displaced goes into the folding bag and is checked. And a couple of times we have had good luck having the vendor ship it back for us.

Posted by
11613 posts

I usually ship a box home halfway through an 89-day trip, if my major shopping happens near the midpoint of my trips (wine, books, etc.). Otherwise I take a smaller fold-up bag as carryon and check the suitcase.

Posted by
3995 posts

We too do what several posters here have suggested, especially if we anticipate some shopping like we did last summer when we bought new German 80x80cm down pillows. The summer before we'd purchased 2 down 135x200 comforters in Austria. We each pack our 21" with our clothes and travel "stuff". We take one nylon duffle bag that I've had for 34 years, it was a gift from a knowing friend for our first trip to Europe. I put my regular cross body purse in my larger Baggalini, my personal item.

While in Europe if we buy anything that can be shipped we'll sometimes do that as the shipping is usually free--the stores somehow work that out with the VAT for items more than a certain amount. We've mostly done this at housewares stores and a few department stores.

But the last 2 summers the stores weren't able to ship so this is how we carried. The precious items (bedding, pottery, little things I can't replace) go into the duffle bag and my larger Baggalini. We check our dirty clothes through in our 21" suitcase. My purse is now my personal item and big Baggalini is now my carry on. My husband carries on the duffle bag and has his small iPad crossbody bag as his personal item.

If we don't buy much we don't break out the duffle bag.

Posted by
856 posts

To answer your question, we are a family of 4 and don't buy much, so carry on works fine on the way back. As long as you don't mind carrying what you buy as you accumulate, I think what you do now works for you. If you buy a lot, you either use suitcases or ship things.

Posted by
3995 posts

Oh I forgot, we've also done this. We've packed a 20" loaded backpack within a 20" empty backpack. We've packed a 20" loaded roll aboard inside of a 24" suitcase, checking it in on the way over. We only do this if we plan to make some bulky purchases like the year we gave those big down pillows as Christmas gifts!

Many years we don't anticipate shopping for much and don't go to these extremes. This is where the nylon duffle bag comes in handy.

Posted by
12 posts

This has been very enlightening, seems everyone knows about duffle bags but us!

Somehow it didn't occur to me that travellers wouldn't buy many things, but it makes total sense.

Probably we're the odd-balls as we go back to the same cottage in the country every time (owners have become friends). We usually go off on a side jaunt, leaving our stuff at the cottage. Things can accumulate that way!

Plus a long weekend in London. We leave most of our bags in Left Luggage at LHR and just take one into town.

Have wondered for a while about this question, appreciate the insight into the travel ways of other seasoned travellers.

Posted by
12 posts

Mona, that's a great suggestion, packing a bag within a bag.

Hmm, got me thinking!

Posted by
7473 posts

My husband & I each bring a carry-on suitcase. We pack an empty backpack inside one of the suitcases. Over time, we've added a 2nd small backpack, carrying the items we would like to access on the plane. Since most of those items are food, etc. we essentially have two backpacks to bring home something, if needed.

We do pack our suitcases 2/3 full, so we have room to bring something home. But, as others have mentioned, my favorite souvenirs are photos to create photo books....and those two beautiful ceramic pitchers from in the kitchen....and the table runner from Venice in the dining room....and the Monet book in the living room. : )

Posted by
518 posts

Yes, I've heard of the "full pack/case inside of an empty pack/case", it's quite clever. It also depends on your trip style and purpose. For our trips to Europe we've usually done backpacking style, but for an upcoming trip to Hong Kong we're only going to stay in one hotel the entire week and have arranged pickup/transport to/from hotel airport and are bringing fully loaded full-sized suit cases, the polar extreme of any style we've done before.

Posted by
2788 posts

I have gone to Europe for 13 of the last 14 years. We now check our 21" RS roller bags going over (no fee) and inside that 21" we each have a collapsible duffel bag. If we purchase any breakable souvenirs we pack them into our duffel bags surrounded by clothes and carry that bag onto the plane coming home and again check our 21" roller bags. We rarely purchase much in Europe and usually only get "cocktail table books" of the places we visit. Our one big purchase was a rug from Turkey that folded up into a remarkable small package and it easily fit into our duffel bag. We have never mail anything home from Europe.

Posted by
12 posts

Happy shopping, KC!

I've seriously, well sort of seriously, thought about taking only the clothes on my back, packing only unmentionables in my luggage and picking up things I'd probably get anyway as needed while in UK.

Never had the nerve to actually do it though.

Think of all the things I could bring back in empty suit cases!

Posted by
8664 posts

Sometimes we've just bought cheap duffles over there. We always buy jam, wine, olive oil, or other things that need to be checked on return anyway.

Posted by
12 posts

Hi Stan, we bring back lots of consumables too.

I'm a bit of an amateur foodie, love Great British food/traditional recipes and do a fair amount of cooking while there.

Must admit to budgeting grocery shopping as entertainment. Before we leave the US I check with Customs & Border Protection (CBP) to see what is banned or allowed back in country.

Been through Ag Customs at IAD many times, those ladies see me coming! Never had anything confiscated as I obey the rules and declare every food item.

Luggage as grocery bags!

Posted by
10371 posts

We're not shoppers, neither here nor over there. In fact we dislike shopping. Only a couple exceptions: a sweater if it's too cold, a hat against the sun, and we do have nineteen full-size bookcases of books in our house, many from overseas that are used for work. We've shipped most of them home. Have never lost a box. I've found that at a certain age, the house is full and we don't need more. That's how we toodle around with a carry on and a day pack.

Posted by
39 posts

This was a wonderful thread to read. It brought back many happy memories of when I traveled to teach at conferences and then spent some holiday time in Europe. I always mailed back the suits and dirty clothes to date, thus freeing up room for holiday purchases. For some reason the old clothes always made it back safely in record time. These days, I pack a duffle bag to fill if needed. The only time I actually really needed it was bringing back rugs from Morocco.

Posted by
3521 posts

I am one of those carry on only types. Every trip I have made so far I go with less and less stuff. Actually just got back from 3 weeks in Italy and my bag was lighter on the return than on the way over.

I'm not a shopper or a collector. Most of my friends are happier looking at my pictures and listening to my travel stories than they ever were getting the trinkets I would bring for them. A souvenir Eiffel tower just doesn't mean much if it wasn't you who went there.

I just don't find that much value in the things I could buy in Europe over what I can get here at home. Yes, there are wines, olive oils, and other food stuffs that are unique and only available there that I enjoy immensely. But I would rather enjoy those items there than go through the hassle of making my way through the entire customs process the US puts in your way to bring one or two bottles back. And not bringing these things back gives me an additional excuse to plan a future trip back to Europe. :-)

Posted by
4175 posts

With 5 families of kids and a total of 14 grand-kids, there's no way we would or could possibly get something for everyone. We're not shoppers or collectors, either here or there, so we don't get stuff for ourselves...usually. In fact right this minute my husband is loading up the truck with more stuff to put in a friend's garage sale. We need to get rid of more, not add to what we already have.

Having said that, I will admit to getting a pair of earrings or some kind of jewelry on each trip. It's small and it doesn't take up much room. And I have to confess that my husband (much more of an acquisitive type than I am) insisted on buying a rug in Istanbul. They shipped it to us with no problems. Likewise, he got me a special replica of the the Charioteer of Delphi and had it shipped home. That was a surprise and I'm enjoying both, but I've always been more of an experience person than a thing one, so without him paying for them, we wouldn't have them.

Even before RS, I packed light, lighter than I do now. For the past few years, I've been using a 22" spinner and one tote with my cross-body purse inside, carry-on only. I'm going to try to take an even smaller bag next trip -- a 20.5" carry-on. Those measurements include wheels and handles. The smaller bag does have a 2.5" expansion option, but I hope not to use it. We'll see if I stick to that on the way home when I might check it.

I was amazed to see how many people buy books. I'm one of those librarians (now retired) who never had a lot of books. We will be getting rid of most of those we do have in the next purge, I'm sure. I do read a lot, but I'm almost a 100% digital reader these days.

To finally answer your question, I bring practically nothing home except what I took over. But there's always plenty of room for another pair of earrings.

Posted by
12 posts

Always looking to pare down the clothes I take, the next trip will be the lightest yet.

But mainly to bring goodies back!

For lots of travelling and change of location, one small case makes a lot of sense.

Posted by
2635 posts

My suitcase choice depends on the type of trip I'm on--if it involves train or bus then it's my 22" and if I'm flying only then I might bring one that's a few inches bigger. I always check my suitcase and have a carry-on for essentials, which is then used to bring home goodies that I wouldn't want to check--I'm a big fan of antique shops and flea markets, and as others mentioned, somehow always end up with books to bring home. Haven't tried shipping anything home yet but it's certainly a possibility.

Posted by
2768 posts

I don't shop much. A few small things - jewelry, scarves, and maybe a couple books from a destination. Like the photo book of the Alhambra. I don't go to England very much and don't read any other languages enough to buy regular books. Just touristy photo things that come in English!

Anyway, I have a tote bag in my carry on. I will use the tote as my carry on, with anything I bought that is valuable or breakable. Everything else can be checked in my regular suitcase. I carry it on while on the way there but don't hesitate to check it on return. Even if I don't buy anything, I still seem to have more on return - I guess I don't pack as tightly at the end of the trip!

Posted by
359 posts

jillramsey104 - what method do you use to check with CBP? Do you just check their website or do you email them or call them?

For the main question - like many others we use the "pack an extra bag" trick. We don't shop a lot, but we are prepared in case we do. E.g. on a recent Scotland trip we brought back a few special bottles of whisky.

Our method is pretty common, I suspect. We generally do this:
- each of us uses a (very small) carry-on size rolling bag that is sturdy enough to check
- on the way there we carry it on the plane, filled lightly with our clothes and other items (we tend to pack very light)
- we include ONE Baggalini duffel bag in case we need an extra bag on the way home
- if we need to check bags on the way home because we have acquired things that need checking we stuff the dirty clothes and carry-on-able items in the duffel bag and carry it on the plane, and we check the rolling bag(s)
- if we don't need to check a bag on the way home we carry on the rolling bag(s)

Posted by
12 posts

CBP has a website and can be emailed, but I call them direct.

Inquiries: 877 227 5511
Monday-Friday 9am-4pm

I note the time of call, date and person's name I spoke to, the info goes into our travel folder, mainly to be used on our reentry at Dulles in case there's a question when I'm sent through AG Customs!

Almost any commercially prepared product from the UK can be brought into the US, except beef of any kind, and the last time "pourable cheese" had been added to the list.

The items can be carried in opened, like jam jars, etc. things don't need to be sealed.

Posted by
368 posts

I am like most of the posters here. I bring a 22 inch suitcase and a backpack. I also bring a duffle bag that folds up in case I get carried away. I check the suitcase and carry on the backpack. I admit though my last trip to France I had way too much to bring back due to lots of chocolate bars and pottery. But I tend to by earrings and a bracelet. Every time I put them on I remember where I was and who I was with. I have also brought back ink drawings. However I am going to Paris this Christmas and taking the 25 inch suitcase. Warmer clothes take up more room. Or at least that is my theory and I am sticking to it.

Posted by
12 posts

Most kind, Motorgirl.

When I call CBP I just ask for UK guidelines, but they have info for every country. France, because of strict EU regulations on food production, would be very similar to UK or any other European country one would think.

Our bags are often heavy with wine and spirits! Brands and libations that aren't available in the US.

Posted by
518 posts

Believe it or not, the only real souvenir I really seek out to buy on every trip (whether domestic or abroad) are the kitschy souvenir magnets for my fridge. In some cases, they really are made in that country, other times, it's not indicated (but you can probably guess :P ). My souvenir of choice used to be something even more kitschy...shot glasses, but those were getting too heavy to carry around.

Posted by
12 posts

Well, I've been puzzled by this for a long time, it never occurred to me that travellers weren't shopping like we do when abroad. It's so much fun to unpack everything when we get home and remember where we were when we saw something to bring back and cherish!

I still have two glasses I bought at a Carrefour in Brussels several years back, sipping iced coffee from one of them right now. Still remember the rainy day I found them in the store and the lady and her little boy I asked which aisle had "verres en verre."

Shot glasses are fun to pick up, my husband has a nice little collection of places we've been. They haven't been too heavy to carry (in his luggage) so far!

Posted by
630 posts

Throughout the year I will put aside any item of clothing that is ready to throw out or donate (shirts, pants, underwear). Then we bring those clothes when we travel and donate or discard them after we wear them. You would be surprised how much space it frees up when you are ready to pack to go home - just enough space for the newly acquired purchases. :)

Posted by
19171 posts

I've spent years accumulating my travel wardrobe (cotton polyester shirts and underwear that dry reliably overnight). I'm not about to throw them out. And because I wash every night, I don't need a lot of clothes. One carryon bag going over is enough.

And, I don't go to Europe to shop; I could do that at home. Except some literature I pick up that might be helpful for future trips, I bring very little home with me. If I wanted to get something over there, I would ship it home.

Posted by
15686 posts

I'm the opposite. when I go to the U.S. I shop because prices are considerably lower than they are here or in Europe. I leave with a half-empty rolling duffle, which holds mainly gifts for friends and relatives. My first stop after the airport is Target to pick up toiletries since I don't bring any with me except for what I'll need on the plane. I have a canvas GI-issue duffle bag that I bought at an army surplus store in 1968 for $2. It weighs only a few ounces and holds everything. It's great for books, shoes, clothes, you name it. I've even brought back liquids - though only in plastic bottles and well-wrapped. The rolling duffle has a hard bottom and I've often packed a couple bottles of wine or spirits without incident.

Posted by
238 posts

Keep in mind, too, that some items can be shipped by the seller. We bought a couple of bulky sweaters on Inishmore and they shipped them to us free of charge. There was a minimum you had to spend for that service but it wasn't excessive. They asked when we were arriving back home and timed the shipping so the package wouldn't get here before we did. I think it came seven days after we bought them--no delays or shipping issues. I've heard that this also works for fragile items like glassware.

Posted by
12 posts

We tried shipping things back, with bad luck unfortunately. One of the boxes went missing and the other two were bashed and contents damaged. Plus it took weeks and weeks for them to arrive. Unlikely we'll do that again.

The idea of leaving old clothing behind is intriguing, as long as one isn't walking around looking like a scarecrow!

It's most interesting exchanging ideas and tips about how we pack and bring things back (or not in some cases).

Working on packing list for our next trip, light, light, light. Clothes are the least important thing, unless I buy them on a trip!

Posted by
5 posts

My husband and I travel carry-on only, both going and coming home. We don't buy many souvenirs. I occasionally buy gifts, but the are easily packable...things like scarves and jewelry. But for mementoes, we decided to focus on miniatures. It works great. We have two wall cabinets with glass fronts filled with small items representing all of our travels.

Posted by
518 posts

I just thought of another packing tip though I'm not sure if this is how people already do it (and it's not so much a packing light tip as it is just a general packing tip). My wife and I usually pack our own individual cases/packs but for our upcoming trip we are going to split our things between the same two cases, meaning each case will have a both our things. We intend to check our bags this year and so that way if anyone of the cases are lost, stolen, etc., one of us won't be completely bare and the second case would still have both our things (just less of it).

Posted by
133 posts

I wanted to second the idea of packing older items of clothing that are ready to be thrown out/donated anyway and then tossing them during your trip. However, since I still like to look nice in my vacation pictures, I'll typically limit this to things like socks, underwear, camisoles and pajamas that no one but me has to actually look at. I keep a shoebox in my closet that I stuff things like this into throughout the year and pull it out when I'm packing for a trip. My mother would be horrified by all the socks with holes in them I've worn on my overseas adventures. :) You'd be surprised by the room you can create in your suitcase by tossing these things as you go along. (although I'll usually make sure I still have at least 2 pairs of each left on the way home just in case of travel delays.)

I'll also occasionally free up a lot of space at once by throwing out a pair of shoes at the end of my trip. Usually I travel with one pair of nicer shoes (flats or boots, depending on the weather and where I'm going) and one pair of tennis shoes. Since I'm a runner I always have a surplus of broken in/nearly worn out tennis shoes to travel in that I can throw out when I'm done with the trip. And last year on a trip to Scotland I packed a pair of knee boots that I was going to throw out anyway (I'd been wearing them for 3 winters and was replacing them) and threw them out my last day there to make room for all the books I brought home.

All that to say, it's possible to travel carry on only and pack older items of clothing to throw away and make room in your bag without having to dress like a hobo. And as an added bonus I don't have to dig out two week old stinky socks from the bottom of my backpack when I unpack.