If you had told me a few years ago that I would be ok with travelling for 6 weeks with only carry-on luggage, you better be that I would have fell down laughing. Well, maybe not quite so dramatic, but I definitely wouldn’t have believed you! However, this is exactly what I did in the late (European) summer of last year.
I had a lot of questions about how and what I packed at the time, so I thought I’d share my experiences.
When Matt and I finally admitted to ourselves that there was no possible way to stay in the UK after our visa expired in August, we decided to save up as much as possible so that we could go travelling before returning to New Zealand. Our adventures were split into two sections – the first 6 weeks were purely for holidays, to really target some of the places we wanted to tick off our list. Then the second 6 weeks were still places where we had time to explore, but I also was teaching workshops.
Because the first block had no work commitments, I didn’t need to worry about carrying around all my workshop equipment. We were lucky enough to be able to use my Mum’s place in Dublin as base to store some of our things, and then go off with just carry-on.
Why choose to travel with carry-on only?
For one, it’s a lot cheaper! Most European airlines will charge you extra for a suitcase, usually anywhere between £20-£50 per piece in my experience. And since we planned on going to 8 different cities in 6 weeks, that would have really added up with the two of us.
Secondly, convenience! When you are having to unpack and repack every 3-5 days, the less you have the easier it makes it. Plus, we wanted to be efficient and cost conscious as possible when it came to getting to and from the airports, and having to lug a big suitcase on public transport and down cobbled roads to find our AirBnB is not fun – often I end up getting fed up and finding a taxi which begins to add up too.
So how did I choose what to take?
While I knew I wasn’t going to worry about being ‘full vintage’ most of the time, I still wanted to feel like myself and pack some of my favourite dresses. I managed to fit in 4 dresses, choosing them for comfort and how well they packed (i.e not get too wrinkly!)
I chose this Navy Miss Candyfloss Dress as it is a great dress for daytime and also being able to wear out at night.
This Stop Staring one has been a go-to for me ever since I got it, so it was tried and tested to always make me feel good.
My custom made Hearts and Found Gingham Dress was one I received only a few weeks before we left, but I instantly knew it would be a great one to take away. It was cool and floaty, had deep pockets (which is definitely a perk when travelling) and I could go braless, which was a godsend on super hot days.
Finally, this Trashy Diva Dress was a slightly less practical choice as it took up a bit more room and wasn’t particularly wrinkle resistant, but I just loved getting to wear it in beautiful locations.
Since we were travelling from mid-August to end of September, to mostly very warm places (our destinations were Budapest, Krakow, Venice, Sicily, Santorini, Naxos, Vienna and Dubovnik), I didn’t worry about packing anything too heavy, just one of my lighter Emmy Designs cardigans in case the nights got cooler.
Next, I packed myself some activewear! I knew I’d want to have days of just being super casual, especially if we were doing big walks in the heat like our 10km trek from Fira to Oia on Santorini! And of course to be able to hit the gym! I managed to fit in 3 pairs of leggings, 3 tanks, 1 long sleeve and 2 bras.
For shoes, I took three pairs: my sneakers, a pair of jandals (or flip-flops depending on where you live) and some black ballet flats. I also took two belts, sunglasses and 2 pairs of earrings.
I packed a 7 pairs of underwear, 3 pairs of socks, one regular bra (as well as the 2 sports ones mentioned earlier), a light night shirt that I specifically bought as it rolled up small, and 2 bikinis.
So that’s the clothing side of things, now for toiletries!
This is a little harder with carry-on as everything has to be under 100ml for the security screening, but we managed ok!
I went to LUSH to try to get as much as I could in solid form so that these rules weren’t a problem- we managed to have our facewash, bodywash, toothpaste and night serum all in solid bar or tabs. The body wash and toothy tabs ran out around the 3-4 week mark, but were replaced easily. Then I made sure to transfer my favourite shampoo and conditioner into 100ml bottles.
I took a minimal amount of makeup – just foundation, powder, mascara, eyeliner (which I only used once or twice I think!), a small eyeshadow palette that had colours I could also use for my brows and cheeks, and 3 of my favourite lipsticks.
For hair, I had a travel sized hairspray, and the mini Denman brushes along with my favourite combs. I didn’t want to have to pack rollers as they are bulky and I didn’t see myself using them much, so I just took my GHD iron as I could use that to curl and also to tame if my hair went a bit frizzy!
All of this, along with my small laptop, some collapsible food containers and coffee cup, a drink bottle, small black shoulder bag (so I didn’t have to always use my backpack on outings) and even a selection of herbs and spices for cooking, managed to fit into a carry-on suitcase and small-ish backpack.
The trick to making everything fit easier and lessen the weight slightly in case the airline staff wanted to weight it, was to always wear activewear on flights as my sneakers were the most bulky item.
I also recommend a soft case suitcase over hard, as it has a bit more give (which I definitely needed since I did buy a few things along the way like a new bikini and pink sarong) and to roll your clothing over folding.
I must say, it was incredibly freeing to only have a minimum amount of stuff for those 6 weeks and really drove home the moral that you don’t need ‘things’ to make you happy. I’m not saying I now feel guilty for the things I do own, more just that I am not emotionally tied to owning them and relying on them to bring happiness. It’s how I’ve been feeling for some time, but this trip really helped solidify it.
I would definitely not hesitate to do a trip with just carry-on luggage again!
If you’d like to see what we got up to, click here to view my Instagram story highlights from the 6 weeks and of course if you are really keen, you can scroll back to August/September on my feed!