How To Pack For Italy With Only A Carry-On Suitcase

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I’m taking a little break from talking about miles and points so that I can post some information that will make traveling easier for you!

Here are links to other posts from this trip to Italy:

Rome on miles and points, what to pack for Italy

Make traveling easier by learning to pack lighter

If you would have told 18 year old me that one day I would travel to Europe with only a carry-on suitcase, I would have laughed in your face.  I can remember packing for a week-long cruise in the Caribbean on my senior high school trip and having a suitcase for just shoes.  Well, I’ve come a long way.  Now I can go on a 2 week trip with only 2-3 pairs of shoes!

I learned that a little bit of planning before the trip makes it so much easier to pack light, plus planning outfits ahead of time saves time once we’re actually traveling!

There are many reasons I like to pack as light as possible:

  1. It makes traveling between cities much easier.  If your itinerary involves multiple cities and plane,train, or boat travel, having only a carry-on makes it much easier.  If you’re staying on a Caribbean island for a week, it’s not as big of a deal.  But if you’re going to be island hopping in Croatia on a boat like we did, you’re going to want to pack as light as possible!
  2. Packing light can save you money.  Although many airlines allow checked bags with no baggage fee for long international flights, there are still some airlines and routes that charge.
  3. I have the worst luck with delayed baggage.  I have actually had a bag delayed on a direct flight.  I prefer to eliminate this possibility altogether by not checking a bag!  Sometimes its unavoidable though.  For example, I’m not sure I could ever pack for a ski trip in only a carry on.

Sometimes we will pack a foldable tote bag so that if we buy things we can check a carry-on and have an extra bag that we can carry on the plane.  I don’t mind checking bags on the way home from a trip.  On this trip, my tote became my ‘carry-on’ and my backpack was my ‘personal item’ on the return flight.  We checked a suitcase on the way home since we purchased wine and olive oil.

The two most important things that allow me to pack efficiently in a carry-on are:

  1. Eagle Creek packing cubes
  2. A nice piece of carry-on luggage

A few other important things I brought on this trip (besides the obvious such as clothes)


Re-usable Wineskins We also used these in Napa and they kept all of our wine safe on the way home!

Electrical adapters 

A waterproof tote for the beach and boat ride  This also helped because it gave us an extra bag for anything we purchased while in Italy.

what to pack for Italy, packing for Europe in a carry on
A waterproof tote is great for the beach, boat trips, and bringing home souvenirs!
Rimowa Carry-on
rimowa salsa air, what to pack for Italy

I realize it is super expensive, and unfortunately they never go on sale.  You do NOT have to have this suitcase to be able to pack like I’m about to show you. But I absolutely love this suitcase, and since we travel often, splurging on a nice piece of luggage made sense.  It was a Christmas present from Ryan a few years ago!

If you’re interested in a Rimowa, the good news is you can at least go through a shopping portal and earn more points!  These suitcases are sold at Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales, and a few other retailers that you will often find on shopping portals.

We also have a larger Salsa Air that we use when we have the kids with us or when we plan to check a bag.  It is so lightweight that we’ve never had issues with it being overweight despite it being completely full.  How many times have you put your checked back on the scale to find out it is over 50 pounds?  The problem is that many suitcases weigh a lot on their own, so it is nearly impossible to fill them without going over the limit.

rimowa carry on luggage, packing in a carry on
Ryan’s Rimowa carry-on doubles as a ride for Jack at the airport.
Eagle Creek Packing Cubes

Thanks to these I was able to fit everything into a carry on and a backpack for our Italy trip.  They come in different sizes so you can choose what works best for you.

The way these are packed is by rolling your clothes.  I know that rolling clothes to save space is nothing new but for some reason these cubes save even more space by keeping all of your rolled clothes even more compact.  I am always amazed at how much we are able to pack by using these.  Usually I do not have problems with wrinkles, but I always bring a travel size bottle of wrinkle releaser.  You never know if the hotel will have an iron/steamer in Europe!

These cubes come in different sizes and colors and you can buy different sets based on your needs.  Eagle Creek packing cubes will change your life, I promise!

3 cubes, different sizes

packing cubes, packing for Europe in a carry on
3 piece set on Amazon

3 medium cubes

what to pack for Italy, packing for Europe in a carry on
3 piece set on Amazon

Garment folder, medium cube, small cube set

what to pack for Italy, packing for Europe in a carry on with packing cubes
Medium Garment Folder/Medium Cube/Small Cube on Amazon
Our new favorite backpack

We didn’t have this backpack at the time that this post was originally published, but I am updating it to add this awesome backpack!

Tortuga Setout laptop daypack

We have tried several backpacks throughout our adult life in search of the perfect travel backpack.  Just before we left for Japan, the wonderful folks at Tortuga sent us one of their daypacks to try out.  It’s definitely our new favorite.

Setout Laptop Backpack

From Tortuga’s website:

“Frequent travelers need a laptop backpack that’s designed for an airplane, not a classroom. School backpacks work in a pinch but aren’t designed for air travel.”

I couldn’t agree more.  When Ryan and I don’t have the kids with us, we like to pack as light as possible.  We try to limit ourselves to a carry-on roll- aboard and a backpack each.  The problem is, a lot of backpacks aren’t exactly travel-friendly.

The Setout Laptop Backpack from Tortuga slides under the seat of most airplanes, which means it can be your ‘personal item.  It has a pocket for your laptop, several pockets for your other belongings, and it even has a compartment that functions like a packing cube! It’s a great piece of secondary luggage, and it is also the perfect backpack for day trips.

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So, here’s how I packed everything for Italy in a carry-on and a backpack

We visited 4 regions/cities:

  • Venice
  • Tuscany/Florence
  • Amalfi Coast/Capri
  • Rome

This might be obvious but the first thing to do is check the weather for all destinations.  Be sure to pay attention to the lows.  For example, Florence/Tuscany seems to be much like Napa where the temperatures can be in the 80s during the day and then drop 20 degrees at night.  One word: Cardigan!

For the most part, everywhere we went in Italy is warm in September during the day and cool at night.  For me, this means a mix of everything.  Sundresses, jeans, shorts, sleeveless tops, long sleeve blouses, sweaters, sandals, and a couple swimsuits and cover-ups for Amalfi.  I will go through everything that I packed and how.

I managed to fit a total of 7 dresses, 3 pairs of jeans, 2 pairs of shorts, 5 sleeveless tops, 2 long sleeve blouses, 2 swimsuits and coverups, 2 cardigan sweaters, a few pairs of flat sandals (we saw a few girls trying to walk in Positano in heels… no bueno!) and enough sleepwear/loungewear/underwear to last for 10 days!  I only repeated a top and then a pair of jeans.  Instead of bringing my usual huge purse, I brought a small cross-body purse that I was able to fit in my backpack while in transit.

what to pack for Italy, packing for Europe in a carry on
You’re not going to want to walk up and down Positano’s stairs and winding roads in heels. Leave the heels at home!
1. Start by rolling everything that can be rolled. 
packing for italy in a carry on suitcase

(optional) Take your rolled items and divide them up*

*For this trip, I divided most of the clothes up by type (dresses/coverups in one cube, jeans and blouses in another, etc).  Another option would have been to have one cube with outfits and all items needed for each stop on our trip.

trip, I divided most of the clothes up by type (dresses/coverups in one cube, jeans and blouses in another, etc).  Another option would have been to have one cube with outfits and all items needed for each stop on our trip.

packing for Italy, 2 weeks in a carry on

2. Pack the cube

Depending on how thick your clothes are after being rolled, you might be able to pack each cube with more than one layer.  All of these dresses and cover-ups fit in this cube.

2 weeks in a carry on, packing with cubes

3. Zip the cube

how to use packing cubes

4. Repeat until all rolled clothes are packed.

I used 3 of the medium size cubes for most of my clothes.  Then I used 1 small cube for bras/enough underwear for 10 days.

how to pack for Europe in a carry on

5. Now that the cubes are packed, I have to figure out how to arrange them in the carry on.

Remember,  I also have a backpack.  I usually try to fit all of my cubes, liquids case, jewelry, socks, and whatever else will fit in the carry on.  Then I pack odd-shaped things such as sandals and hair tools in my backpack.  Sometimes we just bring our GoPro camera which is small and easy to pack.  But if we bring our DSLR camera, it always goes in Ryan’s backpack since he tends to have extra room!

how to pack a carry on for Europe
packing for italy in a carry on suitcase

I had one dress that I did not want to roll so I placed it flat on one side of the suitcase before placing the cubes.

packing for italy in a carry on suitcase

1 medium cube, 1 small cube, liquids case, and jewelry case on the left, and 2 medium packing cubes on the right.

packing for italy in a carry on suitcase

Remember, most airlines only allow a carry-on and a personal item.  So I cannot take the Rimowa, my backpack, and the tote on the plane.  Wondering how I got the large tote packed? Well it was empty on way there, so I just collapsed it between the two compartments before zipping the suitcase.

packing for italy in a carry on suitcase
6. Done! All of my things for Italy in a carry-on suitcase and a backpack!
packing for italy in a carry on suitcase

 Bottom line:

I know that for some destinations, such as ski resorts, not checking a bag would be difficult.  But packing light when possible makes traveling so much easier!  Plus it’s less you have to unpack when you get home, because we all know that’s the worst!

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  • The Platinum Card from American Express [rates and fees]

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25 thoughts on “How To Pack For Italy With Only A Carry-On Suitcase”

    1. Haha. Well I never bring shampoo, lotion or soap if I’m staying at a hotel so that helps. I have travel size face wash, dry shampoo, hairspray, toothpaste, mouthwash, and wrinkle releaser. I bring a roller ball perfume bc I don’t like traveling with a 100ml bottle. That’s pretty much all the liquids I need but if I run out of room I just use Ryan’s bag 🙂 … I guess some makeup such as lipgloss and liquid foundation are technically liquids but I always leave them in my makeup bag and no one has ever said anything.

      1. Hi Nina! I just use a normal sized Jansport backpack like one that a high school or college kid would use. I usually fill the carry on with the packing cubes since they fit well and then use the backpack for things that do not fit in the carry on after the cubes are packed. So things like shoes, liquids, cosmetics, camera, and laptop.

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  6. Nice blog. I travel on miles since 3 years, mostly with carry on only. I don’t roll my clothes, but I use one gallon zip log bags. I fold everything to a format, so it fits flat in the bag, press out as much air as I can, and close it up. I also fold up the used stuff, and the bag gets an ‘X’ for laundry. Glad that I don’t have to bother with a suitcase anymore. Only exception: if I want to bring 25 pounds of chocolate and marzipan from Germany to Maui where I live.

    1. Thank you! That is a great idea too. Have you ever tried compression bags? Eagle Creek also makes some. They look like a zip lock bag but they have a one-way valve so it’s very effective at getting all of the extra air out! We use them when we have bulky clothes such as ski jackets and pants. Yeah, bringing home chocolate, wine, and other souvenirs is always a challenge! That’s why sometimes we bring an extra foldable bag in the carry on so that we can use that as our carry on and then check the carry on for the return flight.

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  14. Tanya Banowsky

    We will be hiking. Can you recommend a shoe for hiking in Italy in July that can also sorta be a sandal? I don’t want to take running shoes but i can.

  15. Hi! Can you speak to spinner wheels on the cobblestones of Europe? The internet is overwhelming me–are they terrible? Will they break? Is it just preference?

    1. I was worried about this, but mine held up fine. And we walked a fair amount with them. I don’t think they are that difficult to maneuver on cobblestone-type ground!

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