Pack This

At some point in your life you’ve had to pack. Whether it was overnight or for a week, you’ve experienced the amazing time of figuring out what to pack and how much. You came to realize that packing sucks. I used to make a list and pack early now I pack a day before travel. Both have the same result of me packing too much, thinking I forgot something, and generally hating the experience. When we were invited to visit a friend in Europe, I dreaded the idea of having to pack.

The entire trip is for eleven days and instead of trying to figure out the packing myself, I took to Google. We weren’t the first people to travel abroad for nearly two weeks so I knew there’d be plenty of advice floating around the Internet. This USA Today article was a major inspiration. It left me feeling motivated that I could pack for this trip with carry-on’s only. My husband did not believe we could. Challenge excepted.

Get Real

Our last flight we took was for the holidays. We took one, large suitcase and packed for the week we’d be there. Originally the damn thing weighed 50 lbs, the limit before it’s overweight. On our return flight, with newly added Christmas presents, it was 61 lbs. You know what’s fun? Pulling stuff out of your suitcase in the middle of an airport. So. Much. Fun. We eventually took enough out to avoid paying the $100 overweight fee but the entire scene could have been avoided.

My husband and I have gotten lazy with our packing. We simply choose the big suitcase and pack for everyday of the trip, plus one. I bring every step of my skin care and a barely slimmed down makeup routine. My husband brings nearly full size bottles of his shampoo and conditioner and extra clothes for days. On one hand I’m thankful we have the luxury  to do this. On another, I knew we couldn’t do this for our European trip. No way. No how.

Every article I read said not to pack for worst-case scenarios or what-if situations. I had to change the way we thought about packing if we were to do this and I’d be lying if I said it was easy. We’d gotten so used to bringing anything we wanted so how do you go against what’s become your “packing instinct”?

Perks of Carrying On

To help my brain out of our usual packing habit, I made a list. Then the more I thought about doing this trip with carry-on’s, the more liberated I felt. In fact, it took some of the stress away. Did I mention this is my first international trip? Yeah, I think I have enough to think about without worrying about our luggage.

  • No loss. We have several connecting flights so by doing carry-on’s we’re reducing the risk of our luggage getting lost. I’d prefer not to be clothes-less.
  • Less heft. I don’t really feel like dragging around a 50 lb suitcase in an unfamiliar airport or city. Doing so domestically was enough.
  • Save money. Checking a bag costs money. An overweight bags costs more.
  • Motivation. I really liked the idea of challenging ourselves to pack light and for me to stripe down my routine. Plus, when someone doesn’t think I can do something, it motivates me to prove them wrong.

Mission Accomplished

The first thing I did was buy a backpack and a travel laundry kit. The later would be the key to packing as we would not be following the “pack for everyday, plus one” mantra we had in the past. I also thought of everything in terms of category; clothes, toiletries, and entertainment. It helped to do this break down to make sure excessive packing was in check.


By far the easiest of the three categories. I knew we wouldn’t be needing anything for the flight over as we planned to be sleeping. It was the returning flight that we would need to stay awake to help with jet lag. I’m assuming the airline will have on board entertainment but I plan on bringing something to read. Originally I thought a book would be fine but I’m leaning toward bringing a Kindle. It’s slimmer than a book and can hold more than one, so it’s literally like bringing a library.


Originally I decided on one comfy bottom (for the flights), two jeans, four tops, four undershirts, four undies, four socks, and two pair of shoes for both of us. It all fit with room to spare! However, my husband was not 100% happy. I asked him what would make him feel comfortable with the carry-on situation. It was merely adding one more sweater, undershirt, underwear, and pair of socks. All do-able because of the extra room and it made him comfortable with the packing which made me happy.


Our travel sizes of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash were already done. We’ve been traveling with those for years and just keep refilling them so all I needed to do was top them off and remind my husband that he doesn’t have to wash his hair everyday. My makeup was surprisingly easy. I used our trip home for Christmas as a dry run for a simpler routine and it worked great. A SPF primer, CC cream, and setting powder is all I’ll be taking. No eyeliner. No mascara. I don’t think I’ll need them hiking in the Black Forest or exploring a German castle.

Hair was easy too. I put some hairspray in an empty 2 oz spray bottle and set about to find a travel size mousse. Over the years I’ve discovered that my scalp is sensitive to certain ingredients so even though hair gel is cheaper and easier to travel with, there’s something in it that irritates the fuck out of my head. Thus the specific need for mousse.Sadly, the brand I typically use doesn’t come in travel size so I get to have fun and try to find a product that I don’t hate.

It was my skin routine that was the tricky part. I’ve spent years refining my face care regimen and finding products that work best for my skin. Trying to pick only the necessities made me think of that scene from Spaceballs when Princess Vespa can’t live without her blow dryer. That movie is the shit. You should watch it.

I won’t go into my entire routine but I boiled down my selection to one lotion that’s good for both body and face (bonus: it’s great for colder weather so I won’t look like a snake) and one face wash (bonus: it’s already in a travel friendly size so I don’t have to put it in a different bottle). I’ll be leaving my under eye treatment at home because it’s not doing shit anyway and my dark circle refuse to go away.

Pack On , Pack Off

Overall, I feel super confident about our packing and it’s made me over-the-moon excited for this trip. It’s one less thing we have to worry about and I feel good knowing that our belongings will be with us at all time. It also feels great to break out of our “packing instinct”. We’re not going to another planet, just another country so we can always buy what we need. Despite this, I know I’ll still feel like I’m forgetting something.


I said “fuck you” to bringing my entire wardrobe and managed to pack for a nearly two week European vacation with only a carry-on. My husband said I couldn’t do. Mission. Fucking. Accomplished.

Kara wants to go with us.

One thought on “Pack This

  1. Damn. Love this post! So glad the packing trial run was successful and I think you will really love the flexibility of carry-ons. Don’t forget a hat, scarf, and gloves!


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