Europe 2010, Or, How I packed everything for a monthlong international journey in a carry-on

May 26, 2010

Using tips from veteran flight attendant blogger Heather Poole (@heather_poole) as outlined in The New York Times, along with a few tricks I kind of made up as I went along, I pulled off what I think is a significant coup: I am going to travel around Europe, for nearly a month, through several countries, with nothing but a carry-on and a shoulder bag.

Accomplishing this meant curing myself of a weight (and size) problem. My background is road travel. To wit, I was hobbled by a phenomenal fear of flying until just about a year ago. Cross-country travel in a vehicle imposes few restrictions on baggage, and it made me sloppy. Over the past twelve months (and 17 flights), I’ve kept an eye on what was working and what wasn’t, and have emerged an enlightened being, in more ways than one.

I don’t know if my REI “Tech Beast” rolling luggage is critically acclaimed, but I love the thing. Handles everywhere, rugged, rolls like a dream on nearly any surface. And carry-on friendly.

This is everything I'm taking to Europe for a month.

Here’s what’s in the bags:

  • 5 fitted layering T-shirts
  • 1 Lacoste Polo
  • 1 pair Puma Fast Cats (sneakers)
  • 1 pair of what my sister would call “Spiffy-cas[ual]” flats (they’re Børn, if you must know; I got them at REI)
  • 2 sweaters
  • 1 cropped cardigan sweater
  • 1 full-on, zip-up fleece
  • 3 sleeveless shirts (mostly for going out/the hotness)
  • 3 layering, long-sleeved shirts
  • 2 skirts (one ruched silk designer-y one; one casual melon-colored number)
  • 1 pair leggings
  • 2 pairs jeans
  • 1 pair light cotton “travel pants” (think cargo pants light; lots of pockets but not so bulky)
  • 1 pair black capris
  • 1 pair Marc Jacobs tasty black pants
  • 1 pair pajama bottoms
  • 1 hat
  • 1 North Face down jacket (in a compression sack)
  • 1 swim suit (one-piece; keeping it classy)
  • An undisclosed number of dainties
  • 6 pairs socks
  • 1 pair gloves
  • 1 15″ MacBook Pro laptop
  • 1 iPad
  • 1 Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera body
  • 1 50mm lens
  • 1 17-40mm lens
  • 1 100-300mm lens
  • 1 kick-ass compact (but full-height!) travel tripod (Sunpak!)
  • Sundry filters (including my new 9-stop neutral density miracle; more on that, I hope, in another post), tripod mount plates, accessories
  • 1 Luma Loop
  • 1 pair Audio Technica (good but bulky) noise-canceling headphones
  • 2 (two!) small Coach purses
  • AC adapter for my laptop, camera charger
  • Cables galore
  • An entire pharmacy. I have Crohn’s Disease, and as such am traveling with seven (7) prescriptions, including one that comes in, like, a pint-sized bottle. All are in their original bottles (grr) for customs. Yeah, I have a doctor’s note.
  • Full complement of toiletries

Most of this was accomplished by using the “rolling” technique explained by Poole in the New York Times.


My photography inclination was the place where I splurged here, as well as succumbing to the (business-driven) need to bring my laptop and not just my iPad. Side note: I tend to shy away from evangelizing Apple hardware, but the iPad is the single best travel device I have ever had. Reality forces me to travel with a lot of drugs, so I had to work around that.

Left Behind

I have this black Galliano dress I’m quite fond of, but it’s heavy and bulky. Ditched. I also lost sleep about whether I should bring hiking boots. Iceland. Moist. Outdoors. Yes. Us: adventurers, yes. But still. I couldn’t fathom wearing my monumental boots on a plane across the Atlantic. Ditched. There is this fantastically Nordic sweater that Aileen gave me that is warm enough to wear as outerwear. But it is also the size of a Corgi when it is folded.

I’ll be wearing a third pair of shoes, a third pair of jeans, a sweater and a light jacket onto the plane. By the way: first class, bitches!*

* Well, Saga class on an Icelandair flight SEA -> REK.


  1. GiGi says:

    Very impressive!!!

  2. Emma says:

    nice work! i haven’t checked a bag for any trip i’ve been on in several years; it seems hard at first but is totally worth it.

    unfortunately iceland air will actually make you check that size bag (their size restriction for carry-on is tiny, something like 10kg), but it’s still well worth it to have the smaller bag. for any other flights, a good tip is to put the suitcase in the overhead bin facing wheels out, they often fit easier than way than the typical direction.

    have a great trip!

  3. Todd says:

    Impressive. Curious to see if David can pull off the same feat. Men’s clothes just aren’t as small or compressible, I have found.

    I do have to ask about the iPad and the laptop. If the laptop is necessary, what does the iPad provide?

  4. Z says:

    Nice work. I have the same question as Todd -if laptop, why ipad? David need a device too? I will be opting for my Incredible on my europe trip.

  5. Brett says:

    Nice! I’m going to single-bag it on my trip to Spain too. This is good inspiration. Be careful with the weight though – most European airlines have a max of 12 kilos for your carry on – and charge you by the kilo you’re over.

  6. scott says:

    Thanks for this very useful post. I purchased this REI bag (after a few weeks of research) for a month trip in September to Central/Eastern Europe. Now I’m trying to find the perfect camera bag….what did you use? How did you carry the tripod and was access to your computer/ipad difficult on the flights or trains?

    • Lyza Gardner says:

      Hi Scott! That’s a great question. At first I thought I wanted a dedicated camera bag, and thought I’d try to take it as the “personal sized” bag they let you take on airplanes along with a carry-on. This turned out not to work for me–I ordered a bag from B&H photo but it was much larger than I had envisioned and I realized that this would be dedicating too much space to my camera equipment. What I ended up doing was selecting core elements of my camera kit (body, two lenses, shutter release, a couple of filters, cleaning kit, batteries, charger) and packing it in well-padded areas of my personal-sized carry-on bag (the lavender one in my photo). This might not work for everyone! But what I would definitely recommend is the Sunpak DigiPro Compact B Tripod. My regular tripods are heavy/huge monstrosities–the Sunpak travel tripod is both light and tiny. I think it weighs just a few pounds, and it folds down so small that it, too, fit right in my bag! It’s certainly not as robust as a full-sized tripod, but it absolutely got the job done. Basically anything I wanted immediate access to while traveling went in my smaller lavender bag. That’s where I kept my iPad. My laptop went in a padded sleeve inside my main bag. I usually did not need to access it immediately. Good luck and bon voyage!

      • Scott says:

        Thank you! Ok, now I need to order the Sunpack because it’s actually 10” taller and folds 2” shorter than the Sprint Mini II tripod I just purchased. Sigh….but I appreciate the recommendation! So, I don’t think that I would look very good carrying that lavender bag around Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and Northern Italy : ) I know that I’ll never find the “perfect” camera bag but I want something that doesn’t draw attention and I also like to carry the tripod inside of my bag. Nothing screams “tourist” or “steal me” than a tripod (even one that is 14”) attached to a backpack or secured to the water bottle holder. I’ve recently started an interest in HDR photography so the tripod in a necessity. I’m thinking of the Lowepro Versapack but I haven’t tested the tripod inside of the bag. I hope that will work or I’ll be carrying my small Crumpler inside a larger backpack with the laptop and tripod. So much work and planning but the pictures are always worth it. All the best – Scott

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