How to Pack in a Carry-On for Three Weeks

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I was strolling through Venice with my friend Chaya, and then I saw an old-ish couple struggling with three enormous suitcases and a number of smaller bags. "What do they need so much luggage for?!", I asked Chaya in a disbelief. She laughed: "Tihana, I wonder the same thing about you!"
Almost three weeks before I was packing for my Italian trip. I don't own a big backpack, so I had to pack a suitcase, and I was aware of the fact that I would have to drag it around every time I change city - which was like every two-three days. I have two sizes: a small one, carry-on, that I use for weekend trips, and that can be in fact used for up-to-five days' trip, so that one I didn't even consider; and a big one, that I use for summer holidays, trips home, and well, moving countries. So I had to pack wisely, pack only things I will definitely wear, bear in mind that I don't want it to be too heavy... the usual things. I failed miserably, and it was during the very first half of the trip that I realized it. And now I'm here to share the wisdom.

I always pack too much clothes. Having that in mind, I tried very hard to pack only what I needed for Italy. But again I failed. I think my main problem is packing things 'just in case'. In case of what?? No matter how much clothes we have, we tend to wear the basics the whole time. I was thinking I had to pack for three weeks. In reality, I could have packed less and washed clothes from time to time - I always had access to bathrooms, and washing a T-shirt is no rocket science. Pack things you usually wear, and don't include something you don't wear often thinking you will find an opportunity to do it while travelling. You won't. Pack things you are comfortable in. Pack things you know you can walk for hours in. Pack things that are both suitable for daily adventures and going for a drink. If you have a gorgeous piece that is not very easily combined with other items, leave it at home. Not only people don't really care what other people wear (do you pay attention to other people's clothes when you're travelling?), but after a few days you will stop caring if everything looks just as it should. This is a special circumstance you're now living in, and there's no need to have on your disposal everything you have at home. Took me years to adopt this point of view, but trust me on this. Just stay informed about the terrain and weather and pack accordingly.

Here are some first-hand examples:

Long pleated skirt. Yes, I could have worn it for dinners at restaurants, but they would usually happen after a whole day's walking through the city, and a long pleated skirt is usually not my first choice. I ended up bringing it back to Berlin without having worn it even once.

Little black dress, suitable for both day and night outings. Well, it did find its purpose when airlines lost friend's luggage, but I didn't wear it. I haven't worn it for a really long time now, I don't know what made me think I would wear it in Italy.

Too many sweatshirts and cardigans. Luckily, it was very warm in Italy, so I didn't need those. Plus, I love and wear like two cardigans the whole time, so I might have just brought those. I did check the weather forecast in advance, but again I packed 'just in case'. I'll be smarter next time.

Socks. I brought like 1500 pairs of socks and I really have no idea what dark magic forced me to do it.

I don't know how it seemed sane when I was packing, but it obviously did, otherwise I wouldn't have packed two pairs of chuck taylors. After like three days, I was like: why on Earth did I bring two pairs??? One remained in the suitcase the whole time. And the majority of time I just walked around in my birkenstocks, because it was warm and they're very comfy. Of course, I did use the other chucks later when it got colder, but I don't really recommend them for long walks, they're bad for the feet. If you plan to walk a lot, think about carrying a pair of running shoes. I would usually be very against this, and I hate this new trend where running shoes are worn with everything (they are RUNNING shoes for God's sake!), but one thing I must admit: they're comfy. And when you're on the go, you want to stay comfy. You don't want blisters and sore feet.

Also, don't pack heels. Just don't. Occasional evenings out are not really worth the space in your luggage. You can go out in flats.

If it's fall/winter/rainy season where you're going, don't forget that you absolutely need waterproof shoes. Walking around with wet feet is no fun, and can make you fall ill.


I packed the exact number of towels I would have needed had I stayed at home. Totally unnecessary. If you're going to a hotel - you get the fluffiest clean towels every day. Almost all the hostels offer towels for a small amount of money - 1 or 2 euros. And if you're surfing, you can ask for one from your couchsurfing host.

I did pack big bottles (big meaning 250 ml) of everything, like shower gel, shampoo, hair conditioner, because I think that small travel-sized of 100 ml and less are not enough for a trip so long. But I forgot the obvious thing. Shower gel and shampoo exist everywhere. I could have just bought them in Italy. However, there is another issue bigger than this and a mistake I will never repeat again. Apart from the hair conditioner, I also packed a leave-in conditioner I usually use, as well as a leave-in thingy that makes the hair curly. I think that I cannot live without these things, and trust me I am getting nervous because I haven't found the curler thing here in the Netherlands, but there is seriously no need to have those while travelling.

Also, don't forget 2-in-1 products (shampoo and conditioner), or even 3-in-1 (shampoo, conditioner and body wash). While they're definitely not the best option at home, they're perfect for travelling. And on a side note, maybe not for the three weeks' trip, but useful tip for shorter trips: bring free samples. If you have any soaps and shampoos you picked up in hotels, or in shops, use them wisely, meaning save them for travels!

I did pack it, but wore it like never because I'm just too lazy. If you're not and you do your make-up every day, feel free to include it, but I would also recommend trying to do without it. But I did pack five nail polishes. FIVE. Yes, I am a nail polish maniac and there are times when nobody sees my natural nail color for like two months, but five for travelling is just too freaking much! And do I really need to tell you that I only applied it once? Give your nails a break, plus, you don't really have time to do your nails regularly. At least I didn't.

Oh, come on! Seriously?! There is no room for accessories in your luggage. Learn from my mistakes. I brought necklaces, rings, earrings... ended up really wearing... you guessed it right, nothing. Just don't bother. If you wear something the whole time or really often, include it. Otherwise just don't. In the morning you won't think about what goes with what, you'll just want to get dressed quickly and leave the place so you can explore. You can do it without earrings that match your outfit perfectly.

Laptops & e-readers.
If you are self-employed or there are some tasks that absolutely need to be done while you're away, go ahead. (But even if you're self-employed, hey, you deserve a break!) Unless your laptop is an 11-inch light piece that fits in a purse, just leave it at home. I brought mine along because I wanted to blog, but most of the times it didn't happen, and if I get the similar idea next time (posting while I'm away), I'll just schedule posts. Carrying a laptop was not such a mess when I was changing cities because I carried it in my little backpack, but staying in hostels can get you worried because you don't really want to carry it around the whole time, and usually you have to pay for the locker. So spare yourself the trouble and kilos and don't bring it. As for e-readers, I brought my Kindle, but apart from reading at the Milan airport when I spent the night there, I didn't really use it, I didn't have any time. If you know you will travel long distances and/or have long waits, bring it, but otherwise be aware that it's most likely you will just worry about someone stealing it.

So, what do you absolutely need? Passport. Wallet (cash + cards). Cellphone. Camera. Chargers. Medicine. Everything else you can do without! A good advice I read somewhere: have both hard and scanned copies (in your phone) of your passport and tickets. As for medicine, please learn from my experience and include some even if you don't usually fall ill - because that's what happened to me. They don't take much place but can be life-savers! Bandaids. Pen and paper. You never know. Tissues. There are SO MANY uses of paper tissues, so make sure you have some. Bonus advice: if you're an internet freak (who isn't nowadays?), buy a local SIM card with mobile data. That way you can stay connected the whole time, and not plan your day around places and times when you can use Wi-Fi. And you can share your travels on Instagram in real time :)

I hope you found this useful. If you're planning a getaway for Christmas, start looking for tickets so you buy them in October - rumor has it that they're the cheapest 8 weeks before the flight. And don't forget to check my Cheap Travels Guide!

Do you have any packing tips? I'll be more than happy if you leave them in comments!




  1. love this! I also had to learn the hard way to pack, but I think i mastered it pretty well! :)

    1. One of those skills you pick up during EMCL, I'd say... :)

  2. I am going on a three week trip with a 15kg allowance. This is exactly what I need to read! Love it <3

    1. I'm glad if it's helpful! Where are you going?? Looking forward to read about that! :)


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