Keep Calm. Carry-On.

Can it already be the middle of May?

This past year has truly flown by! And it’s crazy to remember the chaos that consumed me a year ago: packing up and moving out of our little apartment; buying a house and renovating it; mentally and emotionally preparing for retirement. So so much.

But the one thing that kept me somewhat sane amid all the change was planning for my summer travel adventure.

In preparing for this five-week European trip I faced a few conundrums:

  1. How to spend less on transportation (it’s all about budget airlines baby!)
  2. How to trek through European train stations, airports & cities on my own, baggage in tow.
  3. How to make tight flight connections & make the most of my time in each location.

The answer: keep calm and carry-on.


As in bag-size. And preferably one that doesn’t roll behind me – while they can be a bit easier on the body, they tend to be a huge nuisance in crowded busses, metros and trains, not to mention rolling them over uneven cobblestones or gravely roads.

What I’m not talking about are those monstrous backpacks that kids in their early twenties cart around, their water bottles and dusty sandals dangling from carabiners… No. The key is carry-on (which on budget airlines in Europe tend to be a bit smaller and can differ slightly between airlines so be sure to check your carrier’s specifications).

The Bag

The Patagonia Black Hole Duffle – 60L.


This bag is awesome! Not only am I able to pack like I would in a normal bag (I find true backpacks aren’t the friendliest to things like heels, dresses and snorkel fins), but the backpack straps enable me to carry it with the bag’s opening against my back, making it a pickpockets nightmare. The fabric is waterproof and super durable, and for almost every airline it complies as a carry-on. YAY!

I will say ergonomically this is still a duffle bag – the removable backpack straps can get a bit uncomfortable if you’re toting it full and for a long time. Just keep that in mind.

Carry-On Packing

So I’ve sold you on carry-on travel. Great!

But how exactly do you pack for that? Especially if you’re a woman, you like fashion and you’ll be traveling for weeks on end?

It just takes some forethought…

My Momma has always been into the matchy-matchy thing – everything has to coordinate. And while I’ve often rolled my eyes at this seemingly stuffy and put-together style, when it comes to carry-on packing, mother knows best.

Color Coordination

Come up with a color scheme. If you love color and patterns, pick a favorite piece and build your palate off that, making sure everything merchandises well together. Same principle goes for you monochromatic dressers – the key is in pairing multiple pieces together. That way you don’t need to take seven t-shirts, you could probably manage with three.

Make sure your neutrals match. Try to choose either navy or black, white or cream, unless you’re going for a neutral-only look where white and cream work well together.

The concept is similar to the Wardrobe Capsule, just on a micro scale. A good intro to that  minimalist style can be found here.


Where & Weather

Obviously where you’re traveling has the biggest impact on what you’ll pack. Will you be  sunbathing on a beach or exploring a city? Attending a ballet or hiking up a mountain? Maybe all of the above.

Packing pieces that are versatile is key! That amazingly comfortable black maxi dress, perfect for travel-days and beach strolls, can easily pass on an evening out accessorized with an up-do, some red lipstick and confidence of course!

And heels are so not necessary! Delicate leather sandals look just as great with a little red dress as they do with shorts or leggings and a tunic.

Traversing multiple climates can make packing a tad tricky. The solution? Layers! 

Even if you’re going to a really hot climate, evenings can get chilly and you never know when a summer shower might rain down. You can never go wrong packing a short raincoat like this, a pair of leggings like these, and basic cardigan that’ll keep the chill off in the evenings.

And when it comes to beach time, turkish bath towels are a carry-on traveler’s dream! Not only are they the cutest, but they dry quickly and pack down perfectly!

A Week’s Worth

For me, the final step in packing is laying it all out on my bed, like a giant Pinterest Board.

I try to come up with seven different outfits (reusing pieces) that will suit all sorts of activities. The rest is returned to the closet or dresser.

Asking yourself questions like, “do I really need four pairs of shorts?” or “will I actually go running while I’m on vacation?” are helpful in narrowing down the final packing list.  Every trip I’ve come home with something I never wore, so don’t be afraid to be ruthless here. Worst case scenario you don’t have enough clothes so you have to go shopping… Bummer.

I’d give you a formula, but every person’s style is different… Some ladies prefer sundresses while others never leave the comfort of their jeans no matter how hot it gets. Regardless, if you have a week’s-worth of outfits you should be golden!


Misc Tips

Take the cream, forget the suds

Don’t waste your clear quart-sized liquids bag on shampoo or body wash. Most places provide it or it can easily be purchased at your destination. Conditioner, I’ve found, is another matter – they’re not all created equal, especially abroad. So definitely double up on that travel-sized conditioner!


Travel-sized Woolite packs of detergent (you can buy them here) are essential! Whether you’re staying at an Airbnb with laundry facilities or washing out your undies in the hotel sink they come in really handy! Just don’t forget to pack them in your liquids bag. Another alternative is bringing Dr. Bronner’s which can double as detergent and body wash. A little goes a long way with this stuff! You can buy it here, or find it at pretty much any Whole Foods, PCC, REI etc.

Wherever your travels take you this summer, I hope you enjoy them to the fullest. Seeing new places, experiencing different cultures & cuisines, and beholding the beauty of this incredibly diverse world our Papa God created is a true privilege and one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

Hope this guide to carry-on packing helps you to travel light and enjoy the journey. It’s really an amazing one!




2 thoughts on “Keep Calm. Carry-On.

  1. catherineltully says:

    I always take an older pair of gym shoes so at the end of the trip I can toss them and have a little more room in my bag for a purchase I’ve made on the way. 🙂 Love these tips – will use many for sure!

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