How to be an International Packing Pro

Yes, you did read that correctly. I moved to Italy for one year and all I brought with me was one carry on and a backpack, both filled to the point of explosion I do admit.

So, why didn’t I check a bag? It was included with my flight from New York to London, why not take advantage of it? Well, glad you wondered. I started my journey with a 7 am flight from Billings, Montana and traveled literally all day and arrived at midnight in New York City for a week-long stay. After that I caught a direct flight to London where I also stayed a week before making my move to Italy official. As much as I love clothes, I did not feel like dragging around a backpack, carry on and a full size checked bag for two weeks. And honestly, I am so happy with my deciding not to, because I still managed to take all of this:



One chambray shirt, 9 tank tops, three sports bras, one running long sleeve, two pairs of workout pants, two pairs of running shorts, 5 t-shirts, 2 long-sleeve shirts, 2 thick sweaters, one sweater pull over, 3 pairs of jeans (two blue one black), one pair of denim shorts, one swimsuit, 3 pairs of shoes, 5 dresses, 5 skirts, one military jacket, one bikini and two weeks worth of underwear and socks. (Sorry for the poor quality photos, the day I decided to lay all of this out it decided to rain drastically decreasing the light and my room doesn't have over head lighting, and frankly I was too lazy to lay all those out again!)  I impressed not only myself, but lots of others with the sheer volume of clothing I brought with me. It was even more challenging because I moved to Europe at the end of summer and start of fall, which explains the odd pairing of clothes. Figuring out how to combine summer clothes and fall clothes in one bag was a challenge, but one that I was happy to solve. Here are my tips and tricks for fitting the most you can in one backpack and a carry on for your European getaway!

Step one

Only bring your favorite clothes that you know you will wear. That sweater you keep thinking, “I need to wear that!” Don’t bring it. You’re only going to take up space and regret bringing it.

Step two

 Decide what you are going to wear on the plane from the clothes you selected to bring with you on the trip. I ALWAYS choose to wear the heaviest clothing I want to bring with me on my trip. It takes up the most room in your suitcase. For instance, this trip I decided on my military jacket, favorite cream sweater, white t-shirt, jeans and Steve Madden boots. Why a sweater and a t-shirt? I get SO HOT after going through security. All the opening bags, taking shoes on and off and repacking all my tech equipment really gets to me and there is nothing better than sneaking into the bathroom and taking off my sweater for some relief! Also, I always freeze to death on the plane so having that extra layer for later is fantastic. You also may be thinking, boots for security, isn’t that difficult to get on and off? Answer: Nope. Find a boot that has the primary use of a zipper. Easy on, easy off.



Shoes. Yes, you are going to need multiple shoes and they are all going to have to be comfortable. Going to Italy and planning on rocking six inch heels? Leave them at home – only the most seasoned Italian women brave the cobble stones in their Louboutin’s. I highly recommend Sperry boating shoes. You might get some strange looks because they aren’t as popular here in Europe, but they are perfect for summer and fall. Remember – break in all your shoes BEFORE you come to Europe. Even if you spend an hour or two in them around the house it’s so worth not having your feet hate you the next day. I also recommend a cute pair of boots that you can wear with skirts, pants and dresses. A versatile shoe is the best way to go.


Don’t fold your clothes – roll them. This is a technique I swear by. I did an experiment and I fit HALF as much in my suitcase when I folded and ironed my clothes super flat. Rolling allows you to fit more clothing in and it leaves your clothes less wrinkled! But, if you are still worried about it, grab a travel size Tide Clothing Wrinkle Releaser at Target. This stuff is gold, all you do is spray, pull, and lay flat and watch the wrinkles disappear! To roll your clothes it’s a simple process. Fold your shirt in half hot-dog style, make sure the fabric is pulled taught and as wrinkle free as possible if your shirt is short sleeved, fold the sleeves inward and pat down flat, if long sleeved leave the arms out straight. Start at the bottom of your shirt and roll up keeping the fabric taught and pressing down to keep the shirt flat in the folds. If your shirt is long sleeved, roll up keeping the fabric taught and pressing down to keep the shirt flat, but when you get to the sleeves do not include them in the roll. When you’ve reached the top, take them and fold them around the sides keeping it as flat as possible. Finally, put it in your suit case!


Use the thickest items first to fill in the gaps in the bottom created by the handle. Then, fill in with your other clothing. I don’t suggest rolling jeans. They take up more room that way. Instead, fold them and iron them very flat and use them as a middle layer after you have filled the bottom to its capacity. As far as shoes go, fill them in where they seem to fit best. Use a shower cap to wrap around the bottoms of the shoes if you’ve worn them outside, it keeps them together nicely and keeps your clothes from becoming dirty. Worried about being really cold on your long flight? Keep you sweatshirt or pullover folded flat on the top of your rolled items in your suitcase. It keeps you from digging around and ruining all your carefully placed clothing.


To transform that cute summer dress into a fall outfit, pack along a cropped sweater. This can be an easy way to take a dress to a, “skirt.” Add tights, a thin pull over and a zip jacket to beat the cold without having to pack a thick heavy winter jacket – which you probably won’t need at the start of fall in Italy anyway!



The backpack. This little beast will be your best friend when going through security. I put my laptop, camera and other tech gear I may be packing around in the biggest pocket. Keep the cords in your carry on, they don’t need to be separated and it saves you from rewinding them later. Keep your liquids in your backpack, too. Target sells a really nice travel kit with a clear zippered bag and assortment of travel sized liquid carriers that easily fit in your bag. Pull it out with your tech gear and easily slide it all back together after security. I've noticed more and more that airports are getting rid of outlets and putting in, "recharge stations." Bring a back up portable charger to avoid paying to recharge your phone. Another tip to save some cash is bring a refillable water bottle filled with Kind Bars, gum and other things to snack on inside the empty water bottle. Fill up the bottle at a water fountain and snack on  the food you brought with you. 

Those are my top tips for packing like a pro!

 Did I miss anything or you want to know more? What tips and tricks do you have for packing? 

Brooke JohnstonComment