Packing a Carry-on Bag & Tote for 6 Weeks in the UK
A week ago Saturday, I left France and flew to London to spend six and a half weeks in jolly old England. It’s been exactly 30 years since my last trip to the UK. I’m not keen on driving on the opposite side of the road, so I'm using public transportation for the entire trip. Hence my need to pack light. That meant bringing only a 20-inch carry-on bag, a large tote bag and a waist bag.
Traveling to London from Brittany, France involved six trips on public transportation and a whole lot of walking. I caught the train to Rennes from my village, a taxi to the Rennes Airport, a 45-minute flight to London Gatwick Airport, a tram to the South Terminal where I caught a train to Clapham Junction and then a bus to the Battersea neighborhood and my rented Airbnb room in an apartment in South West London. Jumping on and off trains, trams and buses all day, I was glad I packed light.
Airline baggage limitations
I flew EasyJet, which is a low-cost airline in Europe. Carry-on luggage on EasyJet is limited to one under-the-seat bag with measurements no larger than 45 x 36 x 20 cm (including any handles and wheels). That’s 17.7 x 14.2 x 7.9 inches, which by American standards is a laptop bag or cosmetics case, or for me a large tote bag. And that’s it. No additional personal item or purse is allowed.
I could have paid extra for a larger carry-on bag, but that would have limited me to one bag and all my liquids and gels would have to fit into one quart-size bag. I have too many lotions and potions to do that, so checking my 20-inch bag was the best option.
Honestly, I didn’t think I could get everything into a 20-inch carry-on bag and a tote bag. That’s not even the maximum sized carry-on bag for most airlines, which is typically a 21- or 22-inch bag. But I did it, and I want to share my packing list and lessons learned in hopes it will inspire you to pack light on your next extended stay in Europe.
A travel capsule wardrobe
The best way to minimize your travel wardrobe is to choose pieces that all work together. If I can’t wear a top with at least two other pieces, I don’t bring it. Although I’m traveling in July and August, the temps have rarely reached 70 degrees. So I’m happy to have layers and a light-weight rain jacket.
Here's my entire travel capsule wardrobe including what I wore on the plane:
5 short sleeve tops
2 long pairs of pants
1 jean Bermuda-length shorts
1 jean jacket
1 waist-length, lightweight, Columbia rain jacket (not pictured)
5 pairs of no-show socks
Asics walking shoes
Brown Birkenstock sandals
Gold Birkenstock plastic sandals (my house slippers)
On the plane I wore my walking shoes, long green pants, off-white blouse with pink and green flowers and my peach linen blazer because I didn’t want it to get wrinkled in my suitcase. The more layers you wear on the plane, the more room you’ll have in your suitcase.
I brought just the right pieces, although I wish I'd included a comfy zip-up hoodie to lounge around in on cool mornings. Five tops didn’t seem like a lot, but after a week and a half I realize I’ve only worn four of them.
Although EasyJet only allows you to have one carry-on item, nobody called me out on my waist bag. If they had, I could have easily placed it in my tote bag. A waist bag is great because it puts all your valuables within easy reach.
My small waist bag holds a surprising number of items:
Cellphone with credit card and driver’s license holder (Not pictured because I took the photo with it.)
Euros and Pounds in a change purse
Baggallini RFD blocking wallet that holds my change purse, additional credit/debit cards, vaccination card, medical insurance cards, Global Entry card, SIM cards and Scandisk adapter for transferring photos via my MicroSD card
Tiny container of sunscreen
Collapsible pen and black Sharpie pen
Eyeglass cleaning cloth
Small amount of over-the-counter medicine
Small bottle of hand sanitizer attached to my waist bag (This needs to go into the quart-size liquids bag while going through security.)
An 18 x 13.7 x 5.5-inch tote bag was my only carry-on item. There was no room to pack extra clothes in case my luggage got lost, just my most vital items. I don't put anything that would be expensive to replace in my checked bag. I also had to carry my super lightweight Birkenstock flipflop sandals (in the green bags pictured below) because they didn’t fit in my suitcase.
Here's everything I packed in my large tote:
13-inch Laptop and padded case
Cords for laptop, cellphone, toothbrush and Kindle
USA to UK adapter with USB ports
Computer glasses and sunglasses (in the long pink bag)
Bite plate and retainer in blue case
Small bag with miscellaneous hair accessories, mints, ginger chews, hair accessories and an extra necklace
Straw visor that rolls up
Tiny portable fan
Extra N95 mask
Binder with print outs of my itinerary
Waist length, lightweight, Columbia rain jacket (not pictured)
Finally, here’s what I packed in the suitcase in addition to my clothes:
Two small packing cubes (One holds socks and underwear and the other my four tops.)
Hanging toiletry bag
Small bag of medications and first-aid items
Six weeks of vitamins and supplements including a large jar of collagen power
Two sleep masks
One long and one short exercise strap
Pink massage ball
15 times makeup mirror (can’t live without this)
Extra N95 masks
Covid test in a Ziplock bag to save space
Light weight backpack (not pictured)
Sacrifices and true confessions
Packing light always involves difficult decisions. There was no room for my hairbrush, but I did bring two combs. And I couldn't bring my carbon monoxide detector.
The biggest sacrifice was not having room in my tightly packed suitcase and tote for purchases in the UK. My hope is by the end of my trip, having used up my jar of collagen powder, vitamins, body lotion and foot cream, there will be enough room for gifts and all the clothes I just bought.
Yes, I tend to accumulate things on my trips. Little did I know, the town of Thornbury in South Gloucestershire where I’m staying has 10 charity shops. In less than two weeks I have bought six articles of clothing, including that warm hoodie — all of which coordinate with my travel capsule wardrobe. I’m a bit worried that everything won't fit into my suitcase and tote. If needed, I'll purchase a cheap, lightweight suitcase to hold my smaller bag and the extras I buy. But I can’t go crazy because I still need to lift the suitcase and my tote onto trains and buses.
Would I do it again?
I feel I brought just the right amount of clothes, toiletries and supplements for a six-and-a-half-week trip. If I were traveling longer, all my supplements would not have fit. However, in all honestly, the next time I’m traveling for a month or longer, I'll bring a 24-inch suitcase, adding in a few comfort and safety items, but only fill it halfway.
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