How to Pack For a Month in Europe in a Carry-On

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I know this may sound harsh, but I always feel sorry for people who go to Europe with a massive suitcase (unless they’re studying abroad). I mean, do you really think that’s practical for a trip where you’re going to be bouncing around every few days in another continent? Trust me, no amount of outfits is worth lugging a huge suitcase on trains, around cities, to your accommodations, or to and from airports.

With that being said, I’ll be honest. This was my first time packing in a carry-on for a Europe trip, and even I was a little skeptical about whether or not I could do it. I typically pack in a carry-on for trips under two weeks long, so packing for a month was definitely a stretch. However, it’s so much easier to have a small bag– especially in places with hills like Cinque Terre! So, I committed to fitting everything into my cabin-sized bag. Here’s how I made it work:

First, lay out everything you want to bring.

Think about where you’re going. What’s the climate going to be like? Will you have access to a washing machine? I knew I was going to be gone for 25 days, and that some of my B&Bs would have washing machines. I also knew it was going to be hot in all of my destinations besides Budapest, so I would only need a small amount of warm clothing. I also tried to be strategic with what I packed. For example, I brought three white tops that matched all of my bottoms, and two kimonos I knew would look great over my black romper to make different outfits.

Obviously, your packing list is going to vary depending on where and when you’re traveling, and what you plan on doing while you’re there. The key is to be minimalistic, and to only bring what you know you’re going to need. After narrowing down my selection, I ultimately decided on bringing the items pictured below. My only regret is not packing an extra bathing suit, because I was in the water a lot during my trip.

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Packing cubes are your best friends.

These little babies have completely changed the way I pack. Not only do they keep my bag completely organized, but they save a ton of space. Another added bonus of using packing cubes is they basically act as drawers when you get to your destination.

The clean/dirty cube (the large black one pictured below) is one of my favorites because it’s double sided to separate clean and dirty clothes. I also have a black [non-compression] half cube, which is the perfect size for my bras, underwear and bathing suits. Prior to packing for this trip, I also purchased two white and lime green Eagle Creek compression cubes (one full-sized and one half-sized).

To use the packing cubes, I roll everything to the size of the cubes, and fill them up. Believe it or not, I could’ve fit more in them than I did. Don’t be afraid to cram them full if necessary! Lastly, I lay out what I’m going to wear on the plane. (Side note: I actually purchased these Birkenstock sandals after I took this photo, so I opted to wear them on the plane and leave my espadrilles at home).

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The Eagle Creek compression cubes can zip down to almost half of their height. I decided not to use this feature because I had enough space in my bag and didn’t want my clothes to wrinkle from the compression. However, if you want to pack even more clothing in less space, these will do the trick!

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packing cube image

After filling the packing cubes, it’s time to break out the suitcase! I use a Delsey Helium Sky 21″ carry-on. If you’re in need of a new carry-on, this one is more than 50% off right now. Take advantage! I always throw in a few dryer sheets to keep my clothes smelling fresh throughout my trip. Another tip is to use a bag with two wheels instead of four. I know the four-wheelers are easier to roll, but they don’t store as much.

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The two full-sized cubes fit side by side on the bottom of the suitcase, followed by the two half-sized cubes on top. This leaves the perfect amount of space for the rest of your loose items.

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On top of the other cube, I fit my wet brush, curling wand (which I barely used), an umbrella, and two bags. In the black and white patterned pouch is my Rebecca Minkoff Mini Mac crossbody purse, which I take pretty much everywhere with me. I also brought my ultra-light longchamp backpack for hiking in Cinque Terre and Plitvice Lakes. On the other side are my white ralph lauren sneakers (I kicked my converse to the curb because they gave me blisters) and my Nike running shoes.

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On the outside pocket, I fit my shower toiletry items along with my Sam Edelman sandals.

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The rest of my items go into my Lo & Sons OG Bag, AKA the most incredible carry-on bag in the world. I’m not exaggerating when I say this bag has a place for everything. There are so many little compartments for your laptop, tablet, pens, chapsticks, keys… Heck, there’s even a hidden compartment for an extra pair of shoes! Definitely check it out to see why it’s such a great investment.

Anyway, inside it, I store everything I wouldn’t want to lose should I have to check my bag, like my electronics, chargers, jewelry pouch, sunglasses, toiletries, and of course my wallet. Click here to read what exactly I fit into my toiletry bag.

I also add items I know I’ll want easy access to like my neck pillow, eye maskear plugsWell-kept wipes, and Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment. Tissues are another must, as many restrooms abroad aren’t stocked with toilet paper. Not pictured: Nivea chapstick, pen, travel jewelry pouch, Nikon5300 (used to take these photos), and my wallet.

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Don’t forget to add a name tag in the rare case that you’ll have to check your bag!

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My last piece of advice is not to get discouraged. The more you travel, the easier packing light will be. I promise!

Have you packed for a month-long trip to Europe or another continent in a carry-on? I want to hear your packing advice in the comments! Happy travels.

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37 Comments

  1. Susanna August 10, 2015 / 1:28 pm

    Hooray! I have always prided myself in packing light and compact. I was able to pack in a carry-on for my month long trip to the UK this past March, but I was nowhere near as organized as you. I’m going to be taking serious notes on this post when it comes to packing my life away to move to Wales next month.

    • Danielle C🐎😀 March 6, 2016 / 10:01 pm

      I love this post! This year I’m going to work at our friends ranch and they have very small cabins so I was a little nervous about what to bring and what to put stuff in but this definitely helped!

      -Danielle C 🐎

      • Jenna Jenna March 17, 2016 / 11:06 pm

        So glad this helped :)

  2. Michelle August 13, 2015 / 9:34 pm

    Great advice! I will definitely need this for summer 2016 :) (not that I’m counting down or anything) !

  3. Rachael August 14, 2015 / 1:14 pm

    To bad I had to go straight from working to Europe or I would have attempted this! Not looking forward to lugging my suitcase around. Great article Jen! Miss you and hope the trip was as amazing as it looked! :)

  4. Vanessa Lippman August 18, 2015 / 9:01 pm

    This is AMAZING Jen! I need to buy those compression cubes for when I travel next. :)

    • Jenna Jenna August 24, 2015 / 3:07 pm

      Thank you, Vanessa! Love ya! They’re life changing haha. No more digging through your suitcase. And now I can pack even more in my little carry on for NYC visits. :)

  5. Alina September 10, 2015 / 4:18 am

    Loved reading this. Planning a trip to Italy and Switzerland next fall. Any other carry on suitcase recs? I see that the Delsium Helium Sky that you mention above is hard to come by and is sold out at Macy’s.

  6. Carmen February 7, 2016 / 5:39 am

    Great tips! I’ll be going to Europe for 16 days this summer & this will come in handy! Are there things you wish you would have brought or things you didn’t end up needing?

    • Jenna Jenna February 18, 2016 / 4:08 am

      Believe it or not, I was set with this list! You will definitely be able to get away with this much stuff for 16 days. :)

  7. Jessica March 17, 2016 / 3:46 pm

    Hello!

    I am going to Europe for 22 days in June and I need a travel converter/adapter that includes the three prong Italy adapter. Yours looks like it may have it in the picture. Can you put a link to where you got the white one in the picture? Also, were you able to plug in a hair dryer and curling iron into it without a problem?

    Thanks!

      • Christine July 2, 2016 / 11:17 am

        One thing I. Want to mention here. My daughter brought her curling wand to Europe and we had a good converter (all in one approximately 3 in by 1 1./2 converter for the 5 differemt European plug types). It worked well for charging many items including a powerful portable charger. However when she put her hair around the hot wand and removed it her hair came off with it. It was fried! So I wouldn’t even bring a curling iron- it might malfunction!

        • Jenna Jenna July 5, 2016 / 9:40 pm

          Wow! I’m so sorry to hear that… I completely agree, curling wands/irons are tough! I typically plug mine in, then unplug it when it heats up, then plug it back in after a few minutes to avoid overheating. Definitely going to be more careful after reading this!

  8. Tori Woodcock May 20, 2016 / 6:58 pm

    Loved this article! I’m going to be staying in Verona, Italy for 3 weeks and go straight to Salzburg, Austria for 4 weeks. I was planning on bringing a huge suitcase but I think I’ll try to pack in a carry on before I try the big suitcase.

    Any tips on packing long, formal dresses in a carry on? I need to bring two for my trip.

    Thanks!

  9. Amanda May 26, 2016 / 12:38 am

    Hey Jenna! So happy I came across this article! I am currently packing (literally right now) for 30 days for a trip to Europe! This is perfect! Also, I live in CA and will be stopping by New York for two days before we leave the states. If you know any MUST see’s or places to eat I would love to know!

    Best,
    Amanda

  10. Em May 30, 2016 / 4:14 am

    Do you have an actual list of the items you packed (the ones in the first photo, I’m guessing)? Like how many shirts, dresses, shoes, etc. It would be super helpful!

  11. Kinsey May 31, 2016 / 9:50 pm

    Do you have a list of everything you packed? It is hard to tell in the picture how many dresses, shirts, shorts, skirts, etc. I leave in a week for a month and a half, and would like to use this post as a guide! Thanks!

    • Adrienn July 5, 2016 / 7:39 am

      This was my question, too. I’ve been just staring at the picture trying to figure out what those items are and how many of each.
      I am leaving to EU the day after tomorrow for a month. For right now it does not look like that I’ll fit into a carry on.
      That suitcase is not available.
      P.s. this article was a great guide for me to pull it together in 3 days. I would’ve missed the razor and the floss :)

  12. Hannah Olson July 1, 2016 / 8:44 pm

    This is such a great post! I’m packing for 2 weeks in Europe, all in 1 backpack and 1 large purse!

    • Jenna Jenna July 5, 2016 / 9:40 pm

      That’s awesome! You go girl :) enjoy your trip!

  13. Alisa July 20, 2016 / 8:59 pm

    Traveling throughout Europe this September for a full month – hitting up Dublin, France, and Venice, Florence, Rome, Naples and Serrento in Italy. This article has really helped me out, thank you so much!

    • Jenna Jenna August 26, 2016 / 7:00 pm

      That sounds like an incredible trip. Hope you have a blast! Glad I could help. :)

  14. Morgan August 3, 2016 / 5:02 pm

    Hey there! I’m studying abroad in the UK for a month this year. Any tips besides the great ones you already gave? Thanks and awesome post!

  15. Esther August 28, 2016 / 2:07 am

    I backpacked through Europe for 2 months out of a carry-on last year. I didn’t use packing cubes, but I feel like I should.

    • Jenna Jenna August 30, 2016 / 3:16 pm

      They’re seriously a game changer!

  16. Danielle December 29, 2016 / 10:08 pm

    Thank you so much for your post! I will be traveling quite a bit over the next two years for internships (three two-month internships + a vacation or two) and I want to be able to pack everything in one carry-on and one personal item, and your post was very helpful! I got the Samantha Brown 21 inch suitcase and doctors bag set and am excited to start packing lighter than I ever have before. Thank you again for your post!

  17. mimi February 14, 2017 / 7:24 am

    What an interesting post, thank you. I have one doubt, will the packed carry on come within the weight limits?

    • Jenna Jenna March 16, 2017 / 4:35 pm

      For US travel, 100%! The only airline I’ve had issues with is RyanAir, but their bag limits are pretty ridiculous. I ended up checking it due to the size, not the weight.

      • Hannah April 22, 2017 / 5:39 am

        This bag you pictured is what gave you trouble with Ryanair? How much was it to check your bag? I am traveling thru Europe for a month before I begin a 4 month program in Spain and I am hoping to pack really light for the first month and then some how have my stuff sent to where I will be staying for the 4 months.

        • Jenna Jenna April 24, 2017 / 3:14 pm

          Yes, that’s the bag I took. I believe it was around $30 to check on Ryanair. I know there are even smaller carry on bags if you’re interested in that. I’d check out Away suitcases — they have one made with international travel in mind that’s slightly smaller than a normal carry on. Only catch is they’re expensive, but I’m sure you could find something similar in size online!

  18. Laurel March 27, 2017 / 4:03 am

    I love this post so much! It is so helpful! I am traveling overseas with my university’s symphony orchestra for a month in the summer and these hints are so great because I do not want to haul a huge suitcase over there. Those packing cubes look amazing!! I will definitely have to check those out. :)

  19. Brittany April 1, 2017 / 6:10 pm

    Hi,
    Is that OG bag you’re showing an “OG” or “OMG”? I’m trying to determine whether or not it’s worth it to buy…. and if so which size. What is your recommendation?
    Thanks!

    • Jenna Jenna April 7, 2017 / 9:44 pm

      This is the OG! Best investment.

  20. Lisa April 23, 2017 / 10:40 pm

    I’m trying to pack for 3 weeks with only carry on. But when I look at airline requirements they usually only allow 1 carry on and max weight is 8kg. How does this work when you have that extra smaller bag? I feel like I will always need a purse/side bag and therefore will not be able to just do carry on but instead will have to check one bag.

    • Jenna Jenna April 24, 2017 / 3:17 pm

      Hmm that’s a great question! I didn’t weigh my bag in this case, but I was fine on all flights except Ryanair. I’d just weigh your bag before you go, and try to wear your heaviest clothes on the plane. I think you could get away with a crossbody bag or a longchamp tote (they fold up really small). Then just shove that smaller second bag into your suitcase if they give you a hard time.

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