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Packing tale of woe

I have really got to do something about my packing/luggage/etc. There was a four-year gap between my last trip to England the one I took this May/June. Maybe I got incredibly weak over the past four years (after all, I'll be 60 next year, ha ha). But I had a helluva time with my luggage this year.
I have a 21" Travelpro spinner bag that has been very good to me. I always check this bag. Previously, I used an LL Bean Carryall Tote (I think that's its name) as my carryon, and an LL Bean Stowaway backpack. For some reason, last year I decided I needed a new carryon and backpack, so I bought the 26L Pakt Anywhere Duffel, and Tom Bihn Synapse 19 backpack.
Well, I know I packed too much. My husband kept sticking "just in case" tech items in my carryon. The Pakt was actually SMALLER than my Carryall, and very awkward to carry (shoulder strap, banging off my hip). Because it was smaller, I had to put some of the items I usually put in the Carryall in the backpack, making that very heavy indeed. Now when I say heavy, I mean 20 lbs. I don't know if that's good or bad, but when I got to my B&B in London, the owner's wife remarked that my bags were very light!
It was hell getting them on and off the train going from London to Lewes, and that's where I drew the line. I read somewhere on here that Rick said sometimes you need to buy yourself out of a situation. And that's what I did. I took a cab from Lewes to Gatwick, and then the National Express bus to Heathrow. I'm not going to say what it cost but I don't want to pay that again, or ever have a disadvantage due to luggage.
One suggestion my husband made is to get a larger spinner. Not really big, like 29", more like 25". And of course, I am not going to take "extra" tech things. After all, I am not going to a remote jungle!
He also said that it must be a rare person who can pack a small bag, or go carryon completely. Because, look at all the people in the airports with enormous bags! One can hope, however, that there really are actual people who go carryon only.

Your thoughts?

Posted by
14263 posts

I'd start with writing out your complete packing list from this trip including the extra tech stuff your husband stuck in. Take a critical look and see what you used and what you didn't. Weigh everything including your bags and packing cubes if you use them. To me a 25' suitcase would be awful to get on and off a train!

"*He also said that it must be a rare person who can pack a small bag, or go carryon completely. *"

He obviously does not read this forum! While each person can choose how they want to travel there are many on here who go carry on completely. I've been able to pack in a carry on size bag since I started back to international travel in 2013 but I've checked it for the last 5-6 years however.....

My story: Last Fall I was going to Italy with a transit thru Paris. My Paris to Milan flight was on Air France which has a size and weight restriction on carry on but last summer was when there were so many airport meltdowns that I felt like I HAD to carry on to insure I had my bag. I had a Travel Pro 22" which was too big for the Air France measurements and a RS rollaboard that was small enough but weighed 6 pounds. I wound up spending way too much money for an Osprey Ozone which only weighed 4.5#. I wound up with that weighing 16.1 pounds when I left the house but I was going to Italy so my clothing was light. My personal item was a Baggallini Tote that weighs 1.5# empty and I did not weigh it but probably 6# or so with all my tech stuff in there.

This spring I did 5+ weeks in Netherlands, France and England. My suitcase weighed 19# when I walked out of the house and that was OK weightwise for me to handle - lifting into the overhead bins, on and off 4 train segments in those countries. I'm leaving again in August and I am going to try and get it a bit lower. I won't be gone as long so maybe I can go with fewer clothing items. I will also only be in one area so don't need to cover cold and hot. For my personal item I took the Le Pliage large Tote which only weighs about 10 ounces. I loved the lightness of it but decided I really need something I can wear cross body. As an old person my shoulders slope too much to manage with just shoulder handles.

BTW, I found packing after returning to travel post-pandemic was hard. I'd lost my skills! Every time I pack I change things up a bit trying to get everything covered yet be light.

Posted by
7463 posts

Wow, Sandra, I feel for you trying to have 20 pounds on your back! I’m on the last week of a month trip, and I brought shy of 13 pounds on my back and another 3-4 in my personal item bag. I’ve been able to get around very easy. This morning I was far enough from the Split, Croatia harbor to probably need an Uber, but I decided to just walk because it was a nice day.

Since you just returned, write down a list of every single item that you brought. Then add some comments to the side - whether you used it, whether you think you really needed it, etc. Then get out a kitchen scale and weigh each item and write the amount next to them. That will be very valuable for your next trip when you’re deciding what to take and also not to take.

I highly recommended you make your own Packing List from the above. When you pack, check off each item. If it’s not on the list, it absolutely does not go in your bag. Good luck!

Edit: the only tech stuff I bring is my iPhone & iPad, and their chargers & European adapters. And I’m a retired engineer. For me, it’s a vacation, so I try to reduce the extra stuff I might use at home.

Posted by
4303 posts

For our last 3 trips to Europe we've been carry-on only and my wife is proud of it. It makes my life easier since I'm in charge of all lifting. Not long ago, I read that 45% of people don't check a bag. I suspect that overnight business travel inflates that number, but on our most recent flight to Rome, it appeared that more than half didn't check bag and that creates its own challenges as people take advantage of the airline staff's lackadaisical attitude to enforcing carry-on rules. Coming and going there were battles for overhead space. I'm at the point of encouraging people to check their bags again-but not me, I just don't want to fight anymore my share of an overhead bin.

Posted by
9873 posts

I like how your husband kept adding tech stuff to your bag ! What did he add to his, dare i ask ??

Also, your husband might do well to consider that people with large bags in the airport may be moving abroad or going abroad at least for a few months, e.g. study abroad, or they might be people like me, who live in Europe but like to bring my American creature comforts back with me when returning to Europe (and take gifts for family when headed to the U.S.). Anyway the point is that not everyone in the airport is going on a two-week vacation.

Posted by
4342 posts

All I can say is that I agree that sometimes you just do what you have to do - if you have a problem you can’t solve another way, throw money at it. And then avoid that problem the next time - or write in the extra cost to make your life easier into the cost of your trip. Either way works.

Pam and Jean are great at packing light and have given you a great strategy.

I travel with the 21” Maxlite TravelPro spinner and love it. But even so, sometimes distances and circumstances are such that I just take a taxi. And forgive myself. 🤣

Posted by
692 posts

I'm a little ahead of the game, in that in every travel journal I keep, I make a list at the end of what did and didn't work. Looking over the packing lists here on the site, I don't think I went overboard on clothing. I did take a pair of sneakers in addition to the ones I wore, and I thought they took up too much space in my bag.
The kitchen scale idea is a good one. I do use packing cubes from Eagle Creek--they are pretty lightweight.

Oh, my next question is: how the heck do people bring home any purchases they have? I rely on a vacuum bag for dirty clothes, which leaves a fair amount of room in the back. I don't usually do "souvenirs," but I have purchased a couple of books and clothing items on vacation.

I adore Tom Bihn's products--but I didn't find the S19 very comfortable. I know they upgraded the shoulder straps, but mine isn't the upgraded version.

Posted by
4303 posts

I think other factors can influence if carry-on is best as well. If my bag was lost, it would be inconvenient, but I could walk into any store and buy a new wardrobe off the rack. But my wife is 5' tall with big boobs and size 5 feet and she has to hem or adjust most clothing that she buys. Losing her bag would be a significant hassle.

Posted by
692 posts

@Kim--Ha ha! My husband does not travel with me. He's never flown, actually, and I have had to explain to him that places like Heathrow are MILES long and you have to walk and walk and walk with your bags.

Posted by
842 posts

Sounds like problems to be solved.
Husband does not travel. Yet he packs extra just in case stuff for you. Did you use it? How much tech stuff are we talking about?
20#. Unable to handle. Not much to say on that. 20# not outrageous. Get rid of the tech items. Go back to your comfortable bag weight before husband intervened.
Start going to the gym.
Pack yourself.
Tell hubby to back off.

Posted by
3623 posts

I am most vociferously not one of what I think of as the pack light carry on only fanatics who abound on this forum ( more so in the past than recently). However, I never take more than a 20” bag and a small carry-on that slips over its handle for a 3 week trip. In these, I am able to fit a week’s worth of underwear, sleep wear, a 2nd (possibly 3rd) pair of shoes, 5 tops, 3 bottoms, a cardigan, meds, toiletries, tech, and miscellaneous small items. Along with the clothes on me, I can be clean and look nice for a week, at which point we do laundry. NO sink washing for me! Btw, the advent of tech has been a boon for travelers. I used to carry a couple of books as well. Now I just read ebooks. I can’t imagine why I would need more or larger luggage.

Posted by
4475 posts

I don't think YOU have a packing problem-it's your husband who does. And although I have at times lived dangerously by not taking any shoes but the ones on my feet(and I got away with it), I think that's a foolish risky idea and don't do it anymore. You can take a foldable checkable bag to use for souvenirs on the trip home.

Posted by
14263 posts

Alan's point is good as well. I'm a plus sized woman. I would struggle to find clothing in Europe, I think. Shoes would be nearly impossible. Size 11, need foot-shaped shoes. It could be done but would take some time.

So...you just had 2 pr of shoes - one on your feet and one in the suitcase? I struggle with whether to have a back up pair or not. On the Italy trip I took a pair of ballet flats but they were only comfortable for very short distances out to dinner and could never have managed sightseeing with them.

May I ask how many pr of bottoms you had? How many tops? ONLY answer if you want us to pick apart your choices! Everyone has different needs!

And meant to say before...good for you for just getting a taxi. Honestly, sometimes that is the best choice for your stress level.

Posted by
191 posts

I’ve been traveling with carryon only for decades and my bags are similar to yours. I’ve used an old Travelpro 2-wheeled 22” bag for decades and it’s still going strong. It’s not light but it is durable. I love my Tom Bihn Synapse 19 backpack but it probably is packed lighter than yours. I also use the Eagle Creek silnylon packing cubes for organization. Fortunately my feet are fairly small because I always take running shoes with me; unfortunately I’m rather short (5’2”) so I struggle to reach the luggage bins. At my age (I’m in my 70’s) the wheeled bag is a must for walking long distances. It sounds like curating your clothing and tech items will help you to do carryon and navigate trains. Weighing your items is a great suggestion.

Posted by
692 posts

For the record, I am a size 10 in shoes.

OK, here goes a partial list: I packed 2 pairs of pants (one silk, one Tencel) and wore 1 (llightweight knit from J Jill), 1 cardigan and wore 1, very lightweight (cotton and linen blends, quite thin), 3 tops (1 was silk and the others were cotton, pretty lightweight) and wore 1. I don't have a laptop, just a phone and tablet. I should have left my Bluetooth charger and the thing itself at home, I admit I was responsible for packing those. As far as extra tech stuff that I did not use: one or two extra USB cables, the cable charger for my camera, an extra wall charger. Extra memory card for camera, battery charger for camera batteries (didn't use as much as I have on other trips). Adapter for UK sockets. am trying to recall what else because I'm not at home where I have my notes.

I brought journaling stuff (scissors, pens, 1 roll of washi tape, stickers for journal, not many) plus my handmade journal. Not a lot of toiletries but I do bring my own shampoo and conditioner in small bottles. Meds, (I bought those small ziplock baggies, the type that can fit earrings), SBX coffee packets which are small. Should not have brought watercolor kit and sketchbook as I haven't used them (good intentions and all that).
I also wash underwear and socks. And I have lightweight PJs.

Posted by
8641 posts

The only rule I have about packing/travel is that I need to be able to manage my own bags and my travel companions need to be able to do this as well. I don't have a carryon only rule, but I do think carefully through my plans and what managing luggage will involve. The "test" for me isn't the scale, it is can I carry my bags up and down two flights of stairs. If I can, I'm good. My last overseas trip started with the escalator at the light rail station out of order here at home. I carried everything up 4 flights of stairs. I passed the test, but I did stop for a rest on the way.......

One way I deal with weight is to do two "smaller bags." One would be a backpack that I do carryon the plane that has medicines, travel docs, electronics and 1 change of emergency clothing. The other is a small wheeled bag that I usually check unless something has made me nervous about the luggage handling situation. It has worked for me.

One challenge of carryon only is the scrum for overhead space on the plane. I find this very stressful and prefer not to be a participant unless it is the wisest option for a particular situation.

Posted by
465 posts

My husband and I would be able to just do carry-ons most of the time, except that we often include outdoor activities on our bigger trips so we almost always end up having a bag that we check that has outdoor clothes, water bottles, trekking poles, sometimes boots, daypacks, etc in it. If we are just doing a city trip we can usually get away with carry-ons.

Posted by
6377 posts

SandraL, Seeing your packing list, I'm having trouble figuring out how you got to 20 lbs. I think Pam and Jean are right: recreate your packing, and weigh every. single. item, including the bags themselves.

I carry about what you do, and my combined backpack and personal item don't make it to 20lbs, more like 16 or 17 - including unused watercolor kit, drawing pencils, and paper!

Posted by
4001 posts

I sometimes use a 24” suitcase if it’s a place I plan on doing some shopping - like London or Paris. But I can handle a 20-25lb bag on trains and steps. We usually check our bags on direct flights because of the overhead bin scramble. But, we don’t carry on an extra bag - just a large purse with meds and iPads. I clean out my purse before traveling, not taking keys, makeup, appt book, etc. just a credit card case and coin purse. I’ve pared down those extras and just in cases and what ifs.

Posted by
2597 posts

Besides your husband adding items (a big no no in my book), your luggage may be part of the problem. You are trying to carry two items.

I use a 21” inch rolling bag and a very light (no structure) backpack. My rolling bag would weigh 20 pounds but not carrying it on my back which I couldn’t do either. I can carry it up and down steps and lift it up on train.

I would also consider using phone for camera.

Posted by
1695 posts

I WISH fewer people did carryon only. It was rarer when I started doing it a decade ago (inspired by these forums), but it's become far more common since airlines started charging for checked baggage, and now it can be a race for space in the overhead bins.

I travel with carryon only for all my trips except for when I attend certain events where I have to travel with costumes and/or sleeping gear.

My carryon is smaller than the maximum. It is considered an "underseater," although I think it's actually too big for that. I've used it for travel on numerous trips to Europe, as well as trips to South America, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Namibia (and I brought a snorkel mask and tube on some of these).

I usually bring 3 pairs of shoes, one of them being watershoes or sandals.

I don't have a backpack as a personal item. I have a crossbody purse that is large enough to fit an iPad.

I keep a document with my packing list, which I adapt as necessary for each trip. My packing list for my most recent trip to Europe (Croatia and Ireland last May) was as follows:

⁃ passport, Nexus card
⁃ travel cards

⁃ itinerary

⁃ bus tickets, train tickets, ferry tickets
⁃ money credit card, bank card
⁃ shuttle info/tickets
⁃ flight info/tickets accommodation info
⁃ bathing suit towel [I bring a small travel/cooling towel that doubles as a dry off towel in a pinch)
⁃ underwear (6 plus the one I'm wearing)
⁃ bra
⁃ socks (6 plus the one I'm wearing)
⁃ shoes (3)
⁃ tops (6, including the one I'm wearing)
⁃ pants (3, including the one I'm wearing)
⁃ dress or skirt
⁃ jackets (rain and other)
⁃ laundry soap (I use dry sheets that dissolve in water)
⁃ bandaids

⁃ toothbrush, toothpaste (I use tablets for travel), floss, softpicks

⁃ makeup remover, makeup (usually just eyeliner pencil, mascara, a couple of lipsticks, and maybe 1 eyeshadow)
⁃ kleenex
⁃ antiseptic wipes
⁃ sunscreen
⁃ insect repellent wipes
⁃ sunglasses
⁃ hat
⁃ scarf
⁃ charging cords, multi usb plug, plug adaptor

⁃ phone, ipad
⁃ earplugs
⁃ face masks

⁃ pjs (sometimes I'll use a tank top that can double as an extra layer if the weather is cold)
⁃ prescription medications
⁃ melatonin, advil, tylenol

⁃ [camera, case, sd cards, spare batteries, chargers - I bring a travel zoom camera on most trips, but on this trip, I actually skipped this on my last trip, because my newish iPhone takes such great photos. I would still bring it in some cases (for landscape and wildlife) — on the plane, my husband usually carries my camera and gear in his small backpack/personal item]
⁃ umbrella
⁃ laundry bag (I either bring an old pillowcase, or I designate one of my packing cubes for dirty clothes)
⁃ ziplock bags

Posted by
14263 posts

I agree with Jane, your recalled packing list looks good and very minimal. Charger cables are available everywhere, especially in Europe. If you were going to some real out of the way place, maybe a spare. London or Lewes? Probably available within 1/4 mile of your lodging.

Do you use a camera? I know many here are photographers and hats of to them/you. I just use my cell phone for pictures but I'm not going for anything special. Maybe start with weighing your tech stuff when you get home and have time. That may be where your weight is.

I goofed on tech stuff when I went to Yellowstone 3 weeks ago. I go every year so really thought I could pack without a list BUT I wound up with some charger cubes that didnt match the ends on my cables. The big one was my Apple Watch. I had taken a power bank and used that to charge my watch as it had the connector I needed. I've been taking a pulse oximeter since Covid but I think I will start leaving that out.

Posted by
692 posts

I do carry a camera. It's a Panasonic Lumix I got in 2016. It takes excellent photos. I do use my phone sometimes, but its camera isn't very good.

Posted by
1456 posts

SandraL, I agree that your packing list and plan are fine. It's your husband putting his things in your bag that's the issue. You asked how people who do carry on only bring souvenirs home. I bring a 30 liter packable duffle. If I end up buying enough additional stuff to require it's use the duffle becomes my carry on and my 38 liter backpack becomes a checked bag. Since I refuse to fly basic economy I'm usually able to check at least one bag for free.

Posted by
494 posts

Of course the issue isn’t really carry on or check. Because once you land and (hopefully) retrieve your bag if it was checked, you still have to manage it. You have to get through public transportation and up stairs at a hotel possibly etc. If you are in the take a taxi school of thought, it’s probably all fine.

But if you’re like me and way too cheap to do that you need to weed out the extraneous stuff, do practice pre packing and carry it around at home and maybe around the block and see how it goes. Taking your stuff up a flight of stairs isn’t a bad idea either. I know I had to remember how to pack again after Covid. I just did a quick NYC trip and observed people wrestling huge 25” overstuffed bags into the airport and wondered how they do it.

It also helps for me and maybe other carry on only folks that I’m not a shopper so having extra room isn’t anything I think about.

Posted by
692 posts

I admit, I made a big mistake by not practice packing the 26L duffel. It never even occurred to me that it would be awkward and bulky to carry.

Posted by
1695 posts

The only souvenirs we typically buy are very small, either Christmas ornaments or small items like keychains that can be easily converted to Christmas ornaments. It's easy to find a small corner to tuck these into (such as a shoe). Besides, we've usually used up some stuff, like sunscreen, that we aren't hauling home with us.

Posted by
7016 posts

Sandra, I'm so sorry for your packing experience but you did the right thing by coming here! You've gotten some great advice. I will tell you that the little things can really add up. I recently was in Scotland and wrote a packing report when I got back, and found that I only used about 25% of the the stupid toiletries I brought! I was so irritated with myself. I also brought way more chargers and plugs than I needed "just in case."

You really do have to be ruthless but in the long run it will serve you well. I don't know of anyone who ever said, "I wish I had packed heavier." 🤣

Posted by
605 posts

Allan of Calgary. As a woman similar in height and endowment, shall we say, as your wife, thank you for recognizing her/our struggle. I might add that women of our stature sometimes also find backpacks difficult to use because of their length on our shorter torsos.

Posted by
494 posts

You know Sandra, I just now realized that you were trying to cope with a huge crossbody bag and a backpack. I looked up your duffel online. No wonder you had problems! I just did a short trip toNYC with probably 1/2 of the clothing in a tote bag with a crossbody strap and my travel purse and did the subway and bus to get to my hotel and figured out quickly it was very awkward and unbalanced even though my bag only weighed a little over 8 lbs. I’m going back to my small 2 wheeler next time even if I won’t put much in it for short trips. It also made me realize I’m not a backpack person either. Hands free is nice but 15 lbs on my back is not what I want either.

Posted by
692 posts

Thank you, everyone, for your help and suggestions. I may try to get along without a backpack next time. The backpack serves as my day bag once I'm at my destination--I don't think I mentioned that before. I just got a Tom Bihn Side Kick and that might do the trick.

@Mardee, I'm trying to find your trip report but I can't. Can you please let me know where I can find it? Thanks!

Posted by
692 posts

@Mardee, thanks--I just left a comment on your thread. I'm going to check out those shoes!