Do you think traveling for two weeks to three foreign countries in a carryon is impossible?

My husband and I did it. I’d love to tell you how.

I may ascribe to a philosophy I like to call living a perpetual vacation, but it’s not all about actually traveling. Most of the time, I live my own perpetual vacation by staying put in Managua, Nicaragua. Living and working awesomely doesn’t require leaving your home. It only requires creating work that’s meaningful to you and fulfills you, doing your best to take care of yourself as you go about achieving your goals, and living out your ideal day.

Sometimes, though, I do travel — just because I enjoy it so much. Travel is a part of my own ideal lifestyle, so I’ve striven to explore more this past year.

As I travel more, I’m getting better at making it an optimal experience. After receiving an invitation to speak at a business school in Madrid, my husband and I planned a trip to Madrid, Florence and Copenhagen over the course of two weeks. I knew it would be a major trip for us, and I didn’t want to be bogged down by our luggage.

So, we decided to accomplish it all by not checking a single bag.

How to Pack Correctly

One of the biggest troubles is knowing how to pack. I remember being mindblown when I watched a video of a flight attendant comparing how many clothes fit into a carryon when they’re rolled up instead of folded. Rolling your clothing grants so much more space! I definitely used that approach on this trip, but I also had to be careful with two important attributes of packing:

  • Weight — Airlines have different rules for the weight allowed. Since we were traveling within Europe, most of the airlines we flew had the similar weight limitations, the lowest of which was 10kg or about 22lbs. We used that lower number to guide our packing endeavors to make sure we weren’t charged overweight and forced to check a bag at any airport.
  • Size — Airlines also have different rules for the size of the carryon used. I’m used to traveling within the US, which allows for bigger bags, so this trip to Europe was a bit different. I borrowed smaller carryon luggage from a friend to make it within the limits.

It’s important to do your research on this. I looked up every airline we flew to make sure that we used the smallest limits possible to ensure we didn’t run into any surprises along the way.

But don’t fret! No matter how small or light your carryon has to be, there’s so much that you can fit inside.

What to Pack (And What to Leave Behind)

Have you ever gone on a three-day vacation with a huge bag full of clothes that comes back unworn? Yeah, same here.

So many of us pack way too much for trips. Not only do we not use half the things we take with us, but we’re doing it due to an emotion we’re not even aware of: fear.

Most of the stuff we pack and goes unused we take because we never know what might happen along the trip — I call these “just in case” items. And most of those “just in case” situations never happen.

Here’s the breakdown of what I think is necessary, and what absolutely is not:

  • What you need — These are the items you absolutely need, like underwear, pants, shirts, etc. Only the absolute basics.
  • What’s “just in case” — These are the items you think you might need along the way, like a fancier outfit, an umbrella, and so on. It’s up to you to analyze just how likely these situations truly are.
  • What you don’t need — These are the items that you absolutely don’t need and are just taking for a ride, like your entire set of earrings.

I hope that helps you when you’re packing for your next trip. I know that it absolutely helped me to decipher what made the cut and what didn’t.

How We Did It

In our recent trip to Madrid, Florence and Copenhagen, we wanted to make sure we didn’t pay the bag checking fee. We also wanted our trip to feel as easy and light as possible. At the end of a very long trip, waiting for checked baggage in the terminal feels terrible, right?

Here’s what I was able to pack in my 10kg carryon:

  • 4 pairs of jeans (one worn during trip)
  • 1 pair of white capri pants
  • 1 pair of navy blue shorts
  • 1 black day dress
  • 9 shirts (one worn during trip)
  • 1 light navy blue jacket
  • 1 very light black sweater (worn during trip)
  • 1 navy blue blazer
  • 5 pairs of shoes (one worn during trip)
  • 1 European blowdryer
  • 2 hair combs
  • 1 pair of socks
  • 1 tan belt

Sounds like a lot, right? Wait until you hear what I packed in my personal item (a tote bag):

  • 1 Macbook Pro and charger
  • 1 Bose noise-canceling headset
  • 1 Moleskin
  • 4 pairs of earrings and necklaces
  • 1 iPhone and charger
  • Toiletry bag with hair products, hand cream, medicine, etc

I definitely had a great time on the trip, and every single item that I packed was used many times. At the same time, I was able to keep the trip as light and carefree as possible.

How You Can Do It

These are just my own travel experiences. I’d love to hear your stories:

Is there a particular trip in mind that you’ve been holding off on?

During your own travels, what holds you back from feeling free?

Are there small tweaks you could make — like packing in a carryon —that could help you feel more free?

Can’t wait to hear from you in the comments!

Here are a few of the things I’ve picked up over the years that have a special place in my packing list. 10 Essential Tools for Practical Travelers

Featured photo credit: Nick-K (Nikos Koutoulas)via Flickr

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