Travel Style in a Suitcase: How to Pack for Europe in a Carry On

Travel Style in a Suitcase: How to Pack for Europe in a Carry On

Hello friends! Although summer is gone, autumn is still such a great time of year to travel and explore, especially to historic places like Europe. I have always loved the feeling of Paris in fall. And of course, I love traveling light and just bringing one carry-on suitcase!

This post is by special request from a long-time friend who traveled to Europe this fall and asked me for a packing list! It’s such a brilliant idea and I’m so pleased to be creating this guide for you (and her!) since I pride myself on traveling very light and can always fit what I need into a carry on suitcase. I once went to Italy for a week, including a wedding, with just a backpack!

PS, there’s a handy printable packing list for you later in this post!

Some of these tips might also apply to you if you’re thinking about downsizing and trying out a capsule wardrobe for a season. I’m planning to write more about that soon, but this post will focus on packing some chic looks into a carry-on, and specifically on heading to Europe during the autumn season. (Leave a comment below if you want me to cover tips for other cities/areas during other seasons! I’d love to turn this into a series!)

packing style into a carry on suitcase

1: Dotted Tee | 2: Cozy Sweater | 3. Dramatic Blouse | 4. Warm coat | 5. Versatile Dress | 6. Chunky Scarf | 7. Denim Jeans | 8: Midi Skirt | 9. Gucci Crossbody Bag (another option) | 10. Large Tote | 11. Adorable Suitcase | 12. Comfortable Sneaker | 13. Cozy flats | 14. Stylish boot

FIRST: UNDERSTAND YOUR DESTINATION

First off, let’s understand the places you’re visiting, what season you’re going in, and what you’ll be doing. Europe is full of beautiful modern hotels, as well as small charming inns that only have tiny staircases. There are paved streets mixed with cobblestone roads. Sunshine-filled days will be warm, but breezy evenings could be chilly. With so much historical sights to see, you will likely be doing a lot of walking too. All of this will, and should, impact how you pack. This starting point might sound obvious, but don’t fall into the trap of focusing on outfits and trying to force those looks to fit with the realities of your trip. Think through the type of terrain you’ll explore, how much walking you’ll do, and weather patterns of your destination.

SECOND: PICK SHOES

Personally, I like to start with shoes. I start with selecting shoes because no matter how great your outfit looks, if you can’t comfortable walk around and enjoy the surroundings that you’ve put effort to see, then what’s the point? After all the great effort you put into booking airfare, a place to stay, mapping out the museums, shops, historical sights, and unique tidbits, what you’re going to want most is to be able to dive in all and truly embrace the spirit of travel, which is exploration. So, start with shoes.

And here’s the golden rule: You don’t need more than 3 pairs of shoes, maximum. And 2 of the 3 should be flats. 

In fact, I’ve even traveled with just 2 pairs of shoes. Here is recommendation for all you need (going in order from casual to formal):

  • A comfortable, breathable sneaker. I get lots of use out of my light gray Nike Tanjun shoes. These have great support, a thick cushioned base, and a very slight incline since these are walking shoes (not cross trainers, or a sports shoe). The double netting outer body also makes these very lightweight and breathable. They are warm enough for early fall. These are great for the heavy walking days, and definitely when traversing airport terminals with all your gear.
  • An easy slip on flat. Think, ballerina flats, or flat espadrilles. Something you can wear with jeans, shorts, or  a casual dress. This shoe should be comfortable with moderate walking and work with most of your clothing.
  • A low-heel, or flat sandal (for summer) or boot (for fall). Chose something that is a balance between daytime and evening so you can get more use out of them. For colors, stick to neutrals like tan, beige, blush pink, or black. Keeping your colors simple here will help you maximize usage. This type of shoe is for lighter walking days when you don’t need lots of arch support, and would like to look more polished. This is the shoe you’ll use for evening dinners out, with dresses, or more formal clothing. A low-wedge is also a great option here.

THIRD: SELECT YOUR POWERHOUSE PIECES (BASICS!)

This is where the magic happens, this is the bulk and foundation of your wardrobe away. It might seem like a short list but this is surprisingly versatile.

  • Long sleeve tee: I recommend something lightweight and airy so that it works for warmer or cooler temps. Also, you can’t go wrong stripes!
  • One dressy top: Something with ruffles or detail that you love. This will be a top that can work for day but also for evening dinner or going out.
  • One dress: Any color that you love, a flattering shape but not too tight, and a mid-length so that you can, once again, wear this day or night. A romper can also work here if it’s suitable for evenings out. If you’re not sure whether to go more fancy or casual on this piece, err on the side of casual. I think it’s better to be comfortable than confined in a tight fitting dress that’s a bit too formal. Of course this just depends on your destination.
  • One pair of jeans: your favorite style! Go for comfort and your favorite fit.
  • 1 lighter weight pair of pants
  • 1 more bottom – shorts, skirt or another pair of pants depending on your destination’s climate, and your preference.
  • Undergarments and 2 sets of sleepwear! (you can pack more depending on how long your trip is)

OUTERWEAR

  • Medium weight jacket with room for another layer inside
  • Thick sweater or hoodie for the plane and cooler weather
  • Big scarf that can be a wrap

LUGGAGE & BAGS

  • Cute suitcase
  • Small cross body bag that doubles for night: You might have seen my recent post on the Gucci Soho Disco bag. I’m loving this bag for travel because it’s light-weight yet can fit a lot. There are lots of other options in that style as well if you’re looking for a chic tassel bag too.
  • Large tote or backpack for carrying more stuff

ACCENTS & BEAUTY

  • One fun, sparkly necklace, long or short
  • Your favorite ring (if you wear them)
  • 1 bracelet or 1 more necklace
  • Anything you normally wear daily, like a watch etc.
  • Try to keep your makeup and skincare limited to the essentials. If possible, find small containers so you can bring just what you need, or purchase mini travel size versions of your full-size favorites. I don’t use too many skin care items in general so I like to keep it simple. You can learn more about my current skincare routine here.

ADDITIONAL TIPS

  • Stick to an overall color scheme. This will help you stay focused when packing, but also allows for more mixing and matching once you’re on holiday.
  • LEAVE SPACE in your bag! I always leave room for souvenirs and a bit of shopping, so don’t stuff your suitcase too tightly.
  • Bring Backup: For trips where I expect to shop a lot I actually pack a light-weight, nylon duffel bag into my suitcase so that I have extra storage in case I need it.
  • Bring serious backup: One time I actually packed my small carry on suitcase, then put it inside the next size up case, (the medium size suitcase in my set of 3), and checked the bag. On my way back, I had 1 totally empty extra suitcase ready for all my shopping and souvenirs.

Now for the fun part, a free downloadable packing list! Get your suitcase all ready and get excited for your trip! Sign up below to get your packing list right away.

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