I’m a carry-on traveler. Rarely do I check luggage. On my recent 9-day trip to Italy I traveled with carry-on roller bag and backpack. That’s my usual travel gear for a weekend up to a two week trip. Admittedly, it’s easier to travel in a carry-on in summer since you don’t need jackets and sweaters. I packed knowing I would probably buy a few pieces of clothing and other things in Italy, which made it a little easier to have plenty of room, especially since my carry-on expands. Traveling this way helps you make smart decisions buying stuff. You buy only what you love as space is limited. I always have a packable backpack for day trip outings and just in case I need an extra bag for the trip home. Here’s what and how I pack for 9 days in Italy in a carry-on bag and sharing some travel tips.
Let’s start first with my Lo & Sons Waverly 2 purse. This has been a travel staple for me since I took it to Switzerland and Paris in September 2019. This purse can be worn four ways. The purse is classic, sleek, and ultra-versatile. If I need to I can easily put it in my Lo & Sons Hanover Deluxe 2 backpack. I typically wear it as a crossbody. On this trip, especially in Rome, where pickpocketers can be a problem, I shortened the strap to wear crossbody style with bag more on my chest than side.
The purse and backpack are two of my all-time favorite travel gear pieces. They’ve gone from Zurich to Santiago and many, many trips in between.
Here’s what I packed in my backpack. In the padded slot closest to my back I put my iPad and keyboard combo and charging cable. I used to travel with a laptop for writing, editing, etc. and a mini iPad I used as a kindle for reading. Earlier this summer I made the switch to a slightly larger iPad. It did take a little getting used to but glad I now only have to worry about one electronic other than mine phone. Plus it gives me extra room in the back slot if I need it.
I pack the main part of backpack in layers starting with the layer of things I don’t need while traveling but don’t want to put in roller in case it has to be checked somewhere along journey. On the bottom I started with a flat red wallet I found in Custard Boutique in my hometown of Greenville, South Carolina, several years ago. It gives me a clutch purse option for evening and, more importantly, it’s where I put my driver’s license for a second ID and the bulk of my Euros.
Tip: Before your trip order foreign currency from your bank. I got mine overnighted to my home. You’ll get a better exchange rate. Cash is still king in many countries and it’s usually best to deal in foreign currency instead of US dollar.
Next to the wallet, I put a worldwide voltage converter and European travel plug. I got the Vintar 2-pack plugs for this trip and ended up never using my converter cube. The other plug went in small front pocket of backpack in case I needed one. The plugs are great for phone, iPad and small electronics, basically everything but hairdryers, straighteners and curling irons that require a converter. Since I had a little more space in this layer I put my blue and white jewelry pouch on top of wallet. I don’t travel with a lot of jewelry but keep what I take super organized in small baggies and pouches. My cousin owns Tela Bella and my longtime dear friend Carroll owns Carroll Dorsey Walker Designs. Some of their creations are always in my travel jewelry pouch.
My next layer is my Eagle Creek Pack-it toiletry kit. It’s durable and I love the red. It has everything from my toothbrush to deodorant to makeup. The top two pockets I keep stocked with the extras – bandaids, eye mask and ear plugs, ponytail holders, aspirin, etc. Next to it in one of the mesh pockets I keep a small portable rechargeable fan. I put it to good use in the 100°F (37°C) temperatures in Florence and Rome. It’s also great on a hot plane before takeoff. In my liquid quart bag, my favorite items are the Matador FlatPak Toiletry Bottles. These reusable bottles are great for shampoo and conditioner.
The quart bag is part of my top layer along with a small baggie filled with Ricola drops, ponytail holder and lip balm. The last items are my “travel tech bag,” sunglasses and rolled up lightweight black wrap (mine is Velvet by Graham and Spencer). I always leave room for my purse.
Tip: Created a “travel tech bag” – I did this several years ago and it goes on every trip. My small pouch holds a portable charger and cable, 2 phone charging cables, car cigarette lighter charger, double USB plug, reusable tie, and a tiny fan that attaches to phone.
The front pocket of my backpack is filled with face masks, wipes, hand sanitizer, tissues, couple of bars/snacks, and on this trip a European plug. I also keep an emergency poncho and Rubz roller ball for my feet in this pouch. In a small top pocket I have phone charging cable, small hand lotion and some business cards (you never know when you need one!).
My carry-on roller is also ultra-organized. Here’s how I packed for 9 days with room to bring back stuff.
Tip: Less is more! Lay out clothes/outfits you’re thinking of taking then take out at least 10%.
Clothes colors and fabrics matter – Think through your activities and plans while selecting outfits. Color coordinate clothes to mix and match. I typically stick with black, white, and grey then accent with colorful scarves and a little jewelry. I also go with a neutral palette so I can blend in better. I’m often a solo traveler and for safety I opt for simple colors and clothes to not stick out looking like a tourist. Be fabric conscious and pack fabrics that breathe, aren’t bulky and don’t wrinkle.
Use packing cubes – They keep your clothes organized and reduce wrinkles. I didn’t believe the wrinkle part until after the first time I used cubes. It does take a little extra time to neatly fold your clothes and put in the cubes, but saves you time while on your trip. I use 2 compression bags (one small, one medium), a double sided packing cube and a small cube. I’m a fan of the Eagle Creek packing cubes. I recently added a clear pouch a friend gave me for my birthday. It’s great for accessories, bras and delicates. During trip I put dirty clothes in the small compression bag and backside of the double side bag. Makes it easy to keep clean and dirty separate.
Use shoe covers – I try to put my shoes in one compartment so they’re all together. Put sandals or flip-flips as pairs in shoe covers. I also use a designated shoe cover for my hair tools and/or brush.
Pack an inexpensive hat – I found my Chaos Headwear hat on sale for about $20 online at REI Outlet. It’s gone to Mexico, Belize, Italy and a few other trips this summer. I fold it in half and pack it. After a trip, I’ll steam the brim to get out any creases.
Take a packable backpack – The Matador Freefly 16 has been a staple in my bag for several years. It’s great for urban exploration, beach days and hiking. This also doubles as an extra bag if my roller gets filled with overseas purchases.
Tip: Leave some in your expandable suitcase, especially if going to a shopping destination like Italy. Take one or two less outfits and wear something you buy during your trip.
Here’s my packing list:
Shoes: These take up the most room in your bag so be thoughtful on what you’re packing. On this trip I took 6 pair of shoes including my On Cloud running shoe I wore on the plane. The pairs I packed were red Cloud Footwear shoes, black Ilse Jacobsen shoes, 2 sandals for evening, and 1 pair Merrell slides. You should have at least 2 pairs of shoes to interchange if walking a lot, especially on cobblestone and uneven sidewalks and streets like in Florence and Rome.
3 pairs of black capri pants – Wore two capris two days each (including travel days). Took a third pair specifically to wear on our Cinque Terre day since we were going to be at the coast and on boats.
1 pair lightweight black pants
1 black skort
2 black maxi dresses (for evening, but one I wore day and evening)
Black dress specifically for wine tasting tour day
3 tops – white Royal Robbins 3/4 sleeve Expedition Shirt, aqua dressy tee, animal print top
4 t-shirts – white/black stripe, green, off-white (wore on plane from USA), and white (doubled as an extra workout shirt)
4 pairs of socks, 9 pairs of undies and 3 bras – These include what I wore on the plane over to Europe. Socks are sneaky space zappers so I usually take one pair for every two days. You can also wear a bra for 2-3 days depending on how hot it is. I always have Woolite packets and a couple of laundry sheets in a baggie to wash socks, undies, bras and more in the sink.
3 workout outfits – 3 t-shirts, 1 skort, 1 shorts, 1 capris, 2 sport bras
1 pair of pajamas
3 scarves – Going into cathedrals and churches it is respectful to have your shoulders covered. I kept one in my daypack or tied onto my purse just in case I needed it. Scarves are an easy way to jazz up an outfit too.
Packable hat, packable backpack and hair brush
What I took and didn’t wear – black top and white jeans, black shorts, black sleeveless dress and 1 scarf
I knew I was going to be shopping in Italy so I packed leaving room. For trip home, I expanded my carry-on and was able to fit all of this, and my Italians finds in it. The bag got checked on the way home.