Merry Christmas! (And, if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then, I still hope your day is merry.)
While the holidays are usually a cause for tradition, this Christmas is a first for me — I’m spending it abroad! My boyfriend and I are in Germany, and we will be traveling to a few different cities over the next few weeks (more to come on that), but today, I want to write about the packing involved for such an adventure.
PROS: Why you may want to travel with only a carry-on bag:
- Time saver. Traveling with only a carry-on bag means that you can skip the check-in line when you arrive at the airport and go straight to security (Note, this isn’t always the case especially when traveling abroad). Additionally, you won’t have to wait to receive your bag from the luggage carrousel and re-check it in if you have a layover in a foreign country or to reclaim your bag at the end of your journey.
- By your side. Airlines can’t “lose” your carry-on bags; they come on the plane with you and leave with you. (So, make sure to always keep them in sight!)
- Less bulk. Carry-on bags can be much more convenient if you plan on doing inter-city travel. If your itinerary includes buses and trains, then, you will thank yourself for packing light when you find yourself on busy public transit. When I went to China, some of my travel companions found their big suitcases literally hanging out of the back of a taxi and secured only by bungee cords, as their luggage was just too big to fit in the trunk.
- Storage. If your accommodations include hostels, then smaller suitcases are generally better. Many hostels, allow you lockers in shared rooms to secure your belongings. In my experience, a large 50-lb suitcase is not going to fit in on of these facilities.
- (Potentially) Cheaper. Sometimes a checked bag is not included in the price of your ticket (especially for “Basic Economy” options). So, not checking in a bag could easily save you over $100 if the cost is extra and your journey has three or more legs.
CONS: Why you may NOT want to travel with only a carry-on bag:
- Limitations! You just won’t be able to pack everything you desire. For example, I resigned myself to the fact that I would need to buy more shampoo and conditioner in Germany. Others can get around this by relying on the complimentary items that hotels offer (I’ll be doing this for lotion and soap for sure!), but I’m just not a fan of the hair products. Additionally, if your travels include a variety of weather (maybe you’re traveling to more than one location) and occasions (like work/ formal dinners and casual nights out), then you may find it too difficult to fit a winter coat, jackets, and summer clothes all in one bag. Additionally, there will be less room in your bags for souvenirs.
- Laundry. If you will be abroad for more than one week with only a carry-on bag, you should reasonably expect to do laundry, which can be a hassle and an extra expense to consider.
- A lot to manage. One of the big advantage of checking in a bag is the freedom to stroll around the airside terminals unencumbered. As someone who loves to walk around airports, I always find it inconvenient to lug around extra weight. My worst experience was when I stuffed a duffel bag to capacity as a carry-on (no one checked the weight in this instance) for a domestic trip and I found my shoulder aching the entire time. If you’re going to go with just a carry-on bag, I highly recommend you find yourself a light-weight wheeled one.
If you decide that you want to take just a carry on (and a personal item), be sure to check the airline’s specific requirements. For example, on my trip to China, I learned that for economy passengers, a carry-on bag could not exceed 11 lbs (this is literally half the weight of some European and American airlines!). Also, if you will be traveling on more than one airline, be sure to check the weight and dimensions for both.
Because packing really depends on the person (some want to prioritize “going-out clothes” while others prefer “comfy casual” or “exercise gear,” for example), I have decided to provide only general tips (Do’s and Don’ts) for anyone traveling to Central Europe for a few weeks in the Winter with just a carry-on & a personal item:
Pro-tip: Use a luggage scale before you leave. Simply hook your bag onto the scale and lift it up to see how much your suitcase weighs (it could save you some hassle at the airport!).
- Do pack a mix of long and short-sleeved shirts
- Do make sure that EVERYTHING matches (unless you despise/ rebel against general style conventions)
- Do pack more than a week’s worth of underwear/ a mix of wool and cotton socks (~10-12 pairs).
- Ladies — you can probably get away with 2 bras; and also, a sports bra or two if you plan to exercise
- Do pack 1 pair of waterproof boots (wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane)
- Do pack 1 pair of casual walking/ exercise shoes (although this is only necessary if you would like a second pair of shoes/ or plan on exercising)
- Do pack a heavy, waterproof or water resistant winter coat
- Do pack a hat/ gloves/ scarf
- Do pack pajamas — if they’re your thing!
- Do pack a small umbrella (precipitation WILL happen)
- Do pack the essentials including important documents (passport [with copies!], COVID card, Global Entry Card [don’t have one — learn about them here!], medical-grade masks (Germany outlaws cloth masks in many settings!)
- Do pack the proper plug adapters (make sure that you get both 2-prong and 3-prong ones if you need them!) as well as chargers (consider getting a battery for your phone!)
- Do pack a small bag or purse. This will be super helpful to you in your day-to-day!
- Bonus — are you a student? Bring your student ID! You can get discounts to select museums (I even got a bus ticket discount with mine!)
Of course, don’t forget toiletries, medications, and other miscellaneous items (camera, laptop, chargers, sunglasses, etc.)
- Consider leaving chunky sweaters at home; they are bulky, heavy, and unnecessary, if you are already packing a durable winter coat.
- Considering ditching the hair dryer. Hotels usually have these. Even if they are not in the room, often, you can request them free of charge from the front desk.
- Perhaps pack no more than one book…I know this advice is not for everyone, but if you would like to save on weight, consider using a Kindle. Additionally, books will not be hard to come by at the airport.
- Considering doing without flats — ladies, unless you hop from your hotel, into a taxi, and straight to the club, you will freeze your feet off trying to wear flats in the winter in Central Europe.
Additionally, make sure that you have the hotel addresses handy, as you may be asked to write these down when you go through customs at the airport. Similarly, consider printing out any tickets/ itineraries you may have as well as saving screenshots in your phone, just in case. Finally, print out a copy of your passport, COVID tests/ vaccination cards (they were super necessary in my case).
Wishing you fun and safe winter travels, dear Reader! And, more to come on Germany in subsequent posts!