We go away for long weekend city breaks within Europe 6 or 7 times a year, as it means I only have to take a couple of days off work each time. To save on flight costs, and time waiting for baggage after our flight, we just take hand luggage with us. After years of practice, we can each now get all we need for up to 4 days or more into a cabin sized suitcase. Obviously, sometimes it’s a bit easier for Rob, being more low maintenance than me when it comes to packing requirements, but after a bit of practice, I’ve gotten pretty good at streamlining my packing. Here are my tips for packing smart for long weekends abroad.
Plan your outfits
Yes, this one seems obvious, but took me a few years to work out. Before, I would pack all my favourite clothes, lots of nice but inflexible outfits because I wanted to wear them. This isn’t practical if you want to travel light. Now, before we go, I plan an outfit for each day so I pack exactly what I need and nothing more. I usually make sure I can wear the same basic outfit from day to night, with just a minor change – like a top. On our city breaks we do a lot of walking around, so comfortable clothes are a must. Most of the time we don’t even go back to the hotel or Airbnb before dinner; we stay out all day exploring the sights.
In the evenings we head to bars and restaurants, but nothing too fancy – nowhere smart, casual clothing would look out of place- so we’re fine to stay in the clothes we’ve been wearing during the day. If you can’t bear the thought of wearing the same clothes during the day and then the same evening because you want freshen up, wear a new outfit each evening, then re-use most of, if not all of it, the next day. Stick to jeans/trousers and tops too, as you can mix and match easily, creating different outfits from few clothes.
I now no longer pack straighteners when I go away for a short break – even though I use them every day when I am at home. The last three times we’ve visited somewhere for a few days, I haven’t used them. I take them all the way to another country, and then they don’t come out of my suitcase once! Maybe it’s because I am quite low maintenance when it comes to hair and makeup, but I rarely find myself being bothered in the mornings to straighten my hair when I’m traveling. We just want to get out and explore, and actually, it’s quite nice having a break from my normal routine. If you’re going somewhere really cold – you’ll be wearing a hat anyway. Europe especially is fairly wet, so a probable downpour may make any earlier straightening work a waste of time anyway! Check with your accommodation provider to see if they provide a hairdryer. Hotels, even budget ones, will usually have one in the room as standard. Every Airbnb we have stayed in has also provided a hairdryer for our use, which is so useful and saves room in our bags. I might not need straighteners, but I do need a hairdryer! Another plus is that the hair dryer plug will fit the socket – no need to use your adaptor for this, which you would have to do if you brought your own.
Toiletries and makeup
Traveling with just hand luggage means you have to be careful with your liquids. The maximum quantity per item is 100ml – which is something hard to meet – and you have fit all of your liquids into one small plastic bag. Like hairdryers, most hotels and apartments will have at least body wash, if not shampoo and conditioner too, which could potentially be a few things less to pack. If the toiletries provided are in miniature bottles, don’t leave the bottles once you’ve used the contents either. Take them home with you and decant your everyday shampoo or conditioner into these mini bottles ready for your next trip.
Stock up in between trips too on reduced testers or toiletry mini bottles that you can use next time. Streamline your makeup bag. How much do you actually need? I usually end up wearing less makeup when I’m traveling, so I don’t need to take more than 3-4 key bits of make-up – saving on space. You won’t have to put powders in your small plastic bag either, so all powder based make-up can stay in your suitcase as you go through customs.
Travel in bulky clothes/shoes
If we’re going somewhere we know will be cold, I will always travel in my largest pair of shoes and chunkiest jumper as that way, I’m saving valuable room in my hand luggage. This works well for me as I am always cold on planes!
We will always take at least one book away with us – even for a short city break, for an hour down-time in the afternoon, or a cozy couple of hours in a nice bar. If you’re pushed for space in your luggage, think about downloading a book onto your phone – you’ll have that with you anyway, and it takes up much less room – and weight! A Kindle will also work better than a book. If you have to go with paper, take a paperback!
Layer up! Europe can be cold in Summer, let alone Winter. The best advice I can give is to take layers for your top half. Not only are they lighter, thinner layers are easier to pack as they take up less room in a suitcase, and they also allow for more versatile outfit choices – you can mix and match. If you are anything like us, you will be hopping from the cold outside into to heated bars, restaurants and museums throughout the day, so will need to quickly acclimatize to different conditions. 2-3 light layers underneath a warm coat will keep you warm or cool enough wherever you are. Jeans are what we live in at home or abroad, and will do the job of providing comfort and warmth when needed. If you’re going anywhere especially cold (like we did when we went to New York in February!) buy some cheap long johns to wear underneath, or a simple pair of tights work well for girls. Both options will take up minimal space in your cabin sized suitcase, too.
If, like us, you travel in a couple or a small group that also share a room or bathroom– split the basic toiletries up so you’re not all bringing the same things. You don’t all need to bring a toothpaste or mouthwash for example, you could share. You could also probably all share the same bottle of shampoo and conditioner for a few days too. You’ll save money buying the stuff before, and space in your luggage!
Top tip – Say “NO” when asked to put your hand luggage in the hold
Cheaper airlines will often run out of room for hand luggage in the overhead lockers because they book passengers on flights over and above capacity. If this happens on one of your flights, you will see staff go along a queue of passengers waiting to board with labels that they ask to put on hand luggage because “it has to go in the hold – there’s is no room in the cabin”. You can say “NO”. We’ve politely refused it a few times now, as we don’t want to wait the other end for our bags – one of the main reasons we only took hand luggage to start with. You might get a funny look, but airline staff will just move on to the next person in the queue. They want to get as many bags in the hold as possible, they don’t anticipate everyone will do it, but very few people know this request is not compulsory!
Most airlines now allow you to take a personal bag (small handbag size) as well as a cabin sized suitcase so you have a little more room to work with.
Pairofpassports.com is a travel blog by Hannah and Rob from Peterborough, UK. They're happiest when they are exploring a new place or planning their next trip. One day they want to travel full time, but until then PairofPassports.com is the place where they will record their travel experiences and tips as they explore the world. firstname.lastname@example.org.