Ladies: How to Pack for Two Weeks in Europe

We all face the same dilemma. We want to bring more stuff than we want to carry. Short of a magical bag, we need a plan: How to use a capsule travel wardrobe to pack two weeks of clothes in a carry on.

Photograph, Pglam on iStock Photos.

We all face the same dilemma. We want to bring more stuff than we want to carry. I mean, NO ONE wants to be the idiot schlepping through the airport burdened like a pack mule. It’s not cool. It’s not sexy. Okay, I’m not really going for sexy these days — but I am going for competent.

What we want: a Harry Potter bag that magically holds everything we could possibly want to wear in our wildest fantasies on this upcoming trip.

Well, here’s the reality check: you’re a muggle, and you don’t have that magical bag. Oh, and for you witches and wizards reading this, you may smirk quietly amongst yourselves.

Can You Get  2 – 3 Weeks of Clothes in a Carry-on?

Yes. If you’re willing to do some planning, make your selections and prepare, you most certainly can. You will, of course, be doing laundry. I give the laundry to the hotel, or do it myself when I have an apartment.

Packing List

 Early Fall  Late Fall
  • 4-5 bottoms, either pants, skirts, or capris (wear 1 on plane)
  • 6 tops (wear 1 on plane)
  • 1 dress (optional — if you choose this, eliminate 1 bottom and 1 top from items above)
  • 1 cardigan (wear 1 on plane)
  • 1 vest (optional)
  • 2-3 silk scarves
  • 2-3 pairs of shoes (wear 1 on plane). **** if these are bulky shoes, then 2 pair only.
  • Sleepwear
  • 4-5 bottoms, either pants or skirts (wear 1 on plane)
  • 5 tops (wear 1 on plane)
  • 1-2 pullover sweaters (may need to delete 1 bottom or top)
  • 1 dress (optional — if you choose this, eliminate 1 bottom and 1 top from items above)
  • 1 jacket or coat (wear on plane)
  • 1 vest (optional)
  • 2 scarves (1 light, 1 heavy)
  • 2-3 pairs of shoes (wear 1 on plane). **** if these are bulky shoes, then 2 pair only.
  • Sleepwear
  • 1 swimsuit (optional, depending on trip)
  • 1 extra bra
  • 7 undies
  • makeup, toiletries, medicines
  • brush/comb
  • Bath scrubby (European hotels often do not have wash cloths)
  • jewelry — keep it light
  • soap for clothes, clothesline
  • sanitary products
  • Converter — Bestek, with multiple plug spots
  • Power supplies (laptop, phone, iPad, camera)
  • 1 extra bra
  • 7 undies
  • makeup, toiletries, medicines
  • brush/comb
  • Bath scrubby
  • jewelry — keep it light
  • soap for clothes, clothesline
  • sanitary products
  • Converter
  • Power supplies (laptop, phone, iPad, camera)

  • This can make or break you in weight and bulk. Needs to be all in small bottles, and eliminate anything not absolutely necessary.

  • This is NOT the time to bring your train case. Pare it down! You may want to choose one color palette and stick with it.

A Capsule Wardrobe

I believe in planning, and I’m an advocate of what is called a capsule wardrobe.

The idea is to choose pieces with the maximum ability to coordinate with one another, giving you as many outfits as possible.

  • First Core of Four: Pick one dark neutral (I chose black in the example)
  • Second Core of Four: Pick a lighter neutral (I chose a stone-taupe)
  • Bridge Four: Choose pieces of clothing that work with the two Core sets of clothing. These may be blouses or shirts that have both colors in them, or they may simply be colors that complement both of the core colors well.
  • Accent Four: If you were building a stay-at-home wardrobe, these might be more tops. For travel, I use scarves as accents — they’re light, and they add a pop of color.

For my shoes and handbag, I chose black and a soft blue. I’m sticking with black for shoes because I own these already, but you might want one pair in a neutral taupe if you were buying.

I’ll be gone for nearly three weeks, in New York City, London, Rome, and Florence. London is the coldest, but since I’ll be there at the end of August, I don’t need to worry about a heavy jacket. Have a close look at the time in the fall you are traveling, and look at average temps wherever you plan to be. On my trip, these are the temperature ranges I expect. (Holiday Weather is a handy site for looking up average monthly temperature ranges).

Cities Temperatures
London, late August  57 – 70° F (14-21° C)
Rome, September  61-81° F (16-27°  C)
Florence, September  61-81° F (16-27°  C)

Black and Taupe Capsule Travel Wardrobe

Two week Europe packing list
A travel capsule wardrobe in black and taupe. By being disciplined in selecting pieces in two neutrals, one dark and one lighter, it’s easy to get multiple outfits out of a few pieces.

Different outfit ideas from the capsule wardrobe:

Capsule wardrobe for travel in black and taupe
Here are just a selection of combinations possible with this capsule wardrobe.

So — there are SO many ways to go at the capsule wardrobe work, and it can be a lot of fun. On my last two cruises, my core colors were navy and white.

Best Bags for a Trip to Europe

Well, the answer to that question is different for each of us, isn’t it? I am often living out of a suitcase for three to four weeks these days, so here is my solution to the problem.

How we pack, the luggage we pick, and what we decide to bring are all highly personal choices. I do not suggest this is the answer for everyone out there, but it works for me — and I think travelers learn something from looking at one another’s packing systems.

The packing list above WILL fit into a 21″ roll-aboard, as long as you aren’t crazy with toiletries, makeup, and medicine. What I find, though, is that it’s tight, and my preference follows.

Picking the best bag for Europe travel. Spinner and tote.
My new luggage duo: a Travelpro Platinum Magna 21″ Expandable Spinner, and a Briggs & Riley Transcend Clamshell Cabin Bag. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I take two bags for clothes and toiletries. One is almost empty when I go:

When I am in transit, my purse is packed because I carry my camera bag instead. This way I’m only handling three objects.

I keep my passport, money, and credit cards in a wristlet in my camera bag or tote, which is easy for me to take to the restroom on a plane or a train for safekeeping.

I am just not a backpack kind of woman, so the Rick Steves “put it all in one backpack” system is not my thing. I easily navigate the airport and the train stations with my luggage, but I always take either a taxi or a car to the hotel. I’m not ever going to take the subway, metro rail, or buses to move my luggage around — and I won’t be rolling any distance on sidewalks.

That said, I can always pick up and carry my own luggage when it’s necessary. It’s the reason I won’t take a larger suitcase.

Luggage ad
Can you imagine? A luggage ad for trunks and train cases.

Why not just carry one big suitcase?

I carry the spinner with the tote because it’s much easier for me to get those two lighter pieces of luggage on and off of trains, or up staircases than it is for me to carry a large pullman case.

I have just replaced my wheeled carry-on suitcase.

I went from a Hartmann roll-aboard with two wheels — that always tumped forward if I’d packed it fully with it fully extended (– what a pain in the ass!) to a Travelpro 21″ Spinner.  [Please note, the case itself is 21″ — but total length with wheels is H: 23.75in W: 14.75in D: 9.5in — ALWAYS note the difference. I always check these bags, because my camera bag is what I choose to take onboard — but if you plan to take the suitcase with you on the plane, you MUST know the total dimensions with the wheels to be sure the case will fit.]

Also, as most of you are aware, the carry-on size restrictions in Europe are often smaller that they are in the United States. Since I check my suitcase, this isn’t a concern for me; if you are planning to carry yours on, go for an “international” carry-on size.

The Amazon Carry On Guide is a handy page where you select the airline you’re going to fly with, and then Amazon gives you a list of carry-ons from various companies that will fit those overhead bins.

There is definitely a debate among travelers as to whether it’s better to have a roll-aboard with two wheels, or a spinner suitcase with four wheels.

This is a personal choice. The benefit to the two-wheeled varieties is that they generally have more interior packing space, although this is not always true.

If you are going to be dragging your suitcase over cobble stone streets from the train station to the hotel, the two-wheeled versions work better; the spinner wheels catch in indentations more. I would continue to choose a two-wheeled roll-aboard over a spinner if I weren’t having problems with my elbow.

Which bag for travel would you choose? Spinner and roll aboard side by side.
Here is my new spinner on the left, and my roll-aboard on the right. The spinner is definitely smaller — not by much, but when you’re packing, you feel the difference. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Make a decision based on how you travel and what you plan to do with the case. When you are choosing a new suitcase, make notes on both the interior and exterior dimensions, and look for a interior capacity measurement, as you compare possible candidates.

I am changing from a roll-aboard to the spinner because in 2005, I was in a motorcycle accident, and I have some arthritis in my right elbow. Spinners work better for me because they don’t put weight on that elbow the way two wheeled cases do.

What goes in the spinner, and what do I put in the tote? My 21 inch spinner gets EVERYTHING except: One TSA sized liquids bag with: deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste, essential makeup, makeup wipes. Hairbrush. Small cube with clean undies, one top, and a sleep shirt. Cardigan. Converter, chargers, power supplies. Travel documents. Medicine. Jewelry. Spiral notebook. This way, if the airline loses the spinner for a day, I can manage.

Blow by blow series of photographs on packing below. Click to enlarge to read captions that explain how I pack.

If you looked at the blow-by-blow above, you’ll see the capsule wardrobe easily fit in the Travelpro 21″ Spinner — and I didn’t even put anything in the top part of the suitcase at all. And — it can still expand in width another two inches if I need it.

So is my Briggs and Riley tote full? Of course not! No, it’s very light. And it should be starting out . . . on most trips you return with more than you brought. In fact, I say, if you plan to do a little clothes shopping, whack that packing list up there down by at least one top and one bottom!

Briggs and Riley Transcend clamshell tote
I chose the Briggs and Riley Clamshell style tote because I like the fact it lays completely flat when unzipped. It makes packing so much easier.

*** For those of you wanting to know about specific products, the clothing is from Chico’s, the scarves are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Hermès — a design called Bateau Fleuri, ballet flats and booties are Sam Edelman, and the driving shoes are from Cole Haan.

Fossil Maya Small Hobo, Steel Blue

Safe and happy travels!


Downton Abbey car packed with suitcases
Ah, well. Where’s Carson when you need him?

Author: Ann

Writer, traveler, and cancer fighter. Get out there and live life!

4 thoughts on “Ladies: How to Pack for Two Weeks in Europe”

  1. Ann:

    What a great pack list!¦I am sending it to my daughter. She is rather good at packing but this is great. I have been traveling internationally since 1989. Nalgene bottles for toiletries are the trick. These are actually pharmaceutical bottles and will not break or leak. These come in all sizes and can be inexpensively obtained at the Container Store.

    Regards, John

    Liked by 1 person

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