No one ever likes to drag around a heavy suitcase, but take one to Europe, and you might feel like Atlas bearing the weight of the heavens on his shoulders. Europe is best explored light on your feet, and its charming cobblestone streets and myriad stairs do not take kindly to that wheeled duffle bag of yours. Trains and elevators also tend to run smaller overseas, and if you’re not careful, not only will you grow tired of handling bulky luggage, you may actually find it tough to fit in (literally!) wherever you go.
With these tried-and-true tips, you can avoid expensive baggage fees and travel Europe—or any continent—for up to a month with only a carry-on bag and your sense of adventure. Here are six simple steps:
1. Invest in the Right Gear
Shop around for a high-quality carry-on bag that contains as many compartments as possible and is specifically designed for traveling or backpacking. Try entering “travel backpack carry-on size” into a search box. You want a bag that is meant to act as a substitute for a suitcase altogether. If you’ll be staying in hostels, you also want to look for one with security features, such as padlocks on zippers. A good place to look for your gear is eBags or, of course, Amazon. Protip: if you’re planning on doing a lot of flying in Europe, make sure the bag is no larger than 21 x 15 x 7.5 inches to comply with airlines’ strict carry-on size limits.
2. Packing Cubes
These luggage lifesavers condense the items inside your bag into a more manageable shape and make it easier to zip up once you’re done packing (which means you can take more stuff with you!). Look for cubes in a variety of sizes, and feel free to experiment with different ways of separating your belongings. Always place the largest cubes at the bottom of your bag and the smaller ones on top for easy zipping. You can find packing cubes virtually anywhere that sells luggage.
3. Organize Wardrobe Around Central Theme
Have a favorite color? Pack only clothes that are either in that color family or can be easily paired with that color. Planning a low-key vacay? Pack only your comfortable clothes. The point is to choose a single theme and bring only the clothes that fit the theme. This way, you can pair down the total number of outfits you bring and refrain from lugging around those random or “just in case” articles of clothing that you never end up wearing anyway. Just be prepared to visit the local laundromat during your trip to get the most mileage out of your limited wardrobe!
4. Buy Local
When you’re packing your carry-on, resist the urge to pack that floppy sun hat or other space-eating items. Unless you’re embarking on a trek through the Amazon rainforest, there will always be opportunities to buy supplies once you arrive at your destination. A cheap sun hat and a bottle of laundry detergent will likely cost you far less than checking luggage at the airport, and you never know what exotic treasures you’ll find in foreign pharmacies and department stores.
5. Share the Load
This isn’t always an option, but it’s much easier to avoid checking luggage when you’re traveling with someone who can pool resources with you. For example, you can each carry your own clothes and personal items while one of you carries the shampoo and the other carries the sunblock. This is also a good way to avoid being stranded if one of your carry-ons gets lost or stolen—you’ll still have half of your needed supplies at any given time. On a sidenote, never carry all of your cash in one place for this same reason.
6. Let it go
Finally, seize this chance to be “out with the old and in with the new.” It might sound crazy, but consider bringing clothes that you no longer want and leaving them behind before returning home. You can drop them off at a nearby used clothing store or ask your hotel to donate them to a local charity. If you take books and magazines with you during the trip, leave them at your hostel when you’re done reading them. Many hostels have lending libraries for travelers, and they’ve even been known to leave secret messages inside the books to the next reader who picks them up. Recycling your bag’s contents abroad is a fun way of accomplishing your spring cleaning, plus you’ll be able to bring back plenty of souvenirs in your newly-empty carry-on!