How to Pack a Fall Carry-On Capsule for Europe

Let’s talk about HOW to pack light for Europe by packing a travel capsule. If you haven’t already seen my Fall European Carry-On capsule post you can find that here.

Today I show you how to style those 12 items into 9 outfits. That’s just scratching the surface though. I picked some of my favorite looks from the 12 item travel capsule but there’s easily a dozen more outfit configurations you can build. Instead of just giving you a pretty collage I thought I’d go a little deeper and explain in 10 steps the process of packing light for Europe.

In the last post I went over a few of the reasons WHY you want to pack light for Europe but I saved the best reason for last. Packing light is just plain awesome you guys! I love the challenge of it and I love the confidence I feel when I’ve got just the right thing to wear for just about every travel situation. If you haven’t already discovered the advantages of packing light for yourself then I’m here to give you some encouragement.

Now, I have to admit I don’t always look Instagram worthy but I always feel comfortable and confident and that is key. Packing for Europe doesn’t have to intimidating. Yes, there is this idea that everyone is dressed up all the time. While it is generally, more dressed up than here in the States a smartly put together outfit is all you need.

Step 1 – Lay your Travel Groundwork

Lay your travel plan groundwork. List all your destinations along with the temperatures and activities you’ll experience at each place. Download my Europe Capsule Planner and you can make your travel notes there.

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Step 2 – Build your Core Capsule

Build your core capsule according to your travel activities and weather. Your core capsule will cover your major travel activities and serve as the basis for the rest of your travel wardrobe. It will generally consist of about 8-10 items depending on the length of your trip. Keep Packing Light rules in mind when assembling your core capsule.

Stick to a European color palette of dark or neutral colors. These are easiest to mix and match as well. Read my Guide on How to Plan a Mix and Match Travel Capsule for more details on how to do that. Also pay attention to how well clothes layer to get the most out of your travel outfits and to deal with the ever-changing European range of temperatures that you may experience during the day. Remember that when you layer clothes you rely on thin knits rather than bulky layers.

Step 3 – Add in your Mini-Capsule

If necessary, add in a mini-capsule for clothing needs that don’t cover the majority of your activities. This should be about 4 items. Workout clothes, hiking clothes, beach clothes, dressy clothes may fall into this category. Whenever possible see if you can choose versatile options that will work with the rest of your core capsule wardrobe. Of course, this is not always an option so plan your core capsule carefully so that you’ll have enough outfit options to last you during your trip.

If you don’t have a need for a separate mini-capsule, add in items that help round out your core capsule. This is a good time to add in “wild card” items like printed blouses, blazers or other pieces that will add personality and extend your neutral base capsule.

Step 4 – Choose your Travelista Trio

Choose your Travelista Trio, that’s a maximum of three shoes. Read my post on how to choose the best Travel Shoes to guide your choices. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you’ll most likely be doing a lot of walking, more than you might be used to. So comfort is key. Again, comfort is key! Your fitbit/smartwatch is going to be all over the insane amount of daily steps you’ll be taking. Take care of your feet by wearing a comfortable shoe.

Choose an anchor pair of comfortable shoes that you can walk in. Then select a secondary pair that is comfortable that you can alternate with your anchor pair to help you switch up your looks. The secondary pair is also useful if your anchor pair gives you blisters. The third pair can be your “wild card” pair or can go with your mini-capsule.

Step 5 – Prepare for rainy weather

Don’t skimp on rain gear if you need it. Some parts of Europe can get very damp and rainy. This can literally put a “damper” on your travel plans. If you prepare and pack properly then a few drops of rain don’t have to stop you from enjoying your travels. A high quality breathable raincoat*as well as water resistant shoes will help you not dread rainy weather.

Step 6 – Packing cubes

Packing cubes are a must if you’re moving around frequently and will have to pack and unpack often. They help keep you organized and you can easily find things instead of having to rifle through your whole suitcase or backpack to get to “that one thing” you need. Also it makes it easier to re-pack once you’ve worked out your personal system of what goes in each packing cube. If you’ve ever experienced “suitcase explosion” you could benefit from packing cubes.

Packing cubes also have the added “packing light” benefit of helping you limiting you to what can fit in the packing cubes. I’m a huge fan of them and plan on writing more about them in future posts.

Step 7 – Make a laundry plan

Packing light means you will be doing laundry on the road. If you’re traveling for more than 7 days you’ll need to plan for how and when you’ll be doing laundry. Read my post on travel laundry to learn how to pack a laundry kit and what your other laundry options are.

Don’t forget to pack some sort of laundry bag. Even if it’s just a plastic grocery bag. You don’t want your clean clothes mixing in with your dirty clothes for days. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy by any means just a simple way to separate your dirty clothes from your clean ones.

Step 8 – Pack Minimal Toiletries

Once you have your capsule wardrobe set it’s time to think about the other crucial component to packing light: toiletries. In order to be a carry-on traveler you must pack minimal toiletries in a clear, quart sized bag. These aren’t my rules they are the TSA’s. As a product junkie myself this may seem like an impossible task but it is doable.

First let’s go over the TSA rules for packing liquids:

“You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item. Placing these items in the small bag separate from your carry-on baggage facilitates the screening process. Pack items larger than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters in checked baggage. Any liquid, aerosol, gel, cream or paste that alarms during screening will require additional screening.”

Consider what items can be substituted for non-liquid versions. For instance, instead of a liquid foundation consider a mineral powder foundation. The same can go for certain hair products where a styling powder can be used instead of liquid or cream based products. Bar soap instead of liquid soap. Again, I’ll have a post coming up on this soon.

Toiletry Alternatives:
– If you are traveling with a spouse or close friends consider sharing toiletries or packing them among a group.
– If you want to avoid the hassle of all of this you can always buy toiletries once you land in Europe. However, they may not have specific products and prices may be higher than in the states.
– Pack your personal essentials and rely on hotel toiletries for items like soap and shampoo.
– Cut down on the hair products by adopting a low maintenance cut or hairstyle. Hello ponytails and braids and hats.

Step 9 – Don’t overload on electronics

Minimize electronics whenever possible. Evaluate your electronic needs and see where you can pare down. Do you really need to bring your laptop? I brought mine on my last trip and regretted every minute because I had no wi-fi at most places I stayed and could have brought extra SD cards instead of emptying my camera’s memory card every night on my laptop.

On the flipside, use devices like smartphones and tablets to your advantage. Load them up with guidebooks and leisure reading instead of bringing bulky books with you.

I love photography and am by no means a professional. So I try to bring the least amount of gear and choose lenses based on where I’m going. It’s a painful process but then I remember the shoulder pains I get from lugging my heavy DSLR along with multiple lenses. Bring camera gear according to your needs and abilities. Most of us can get away with a decent point and shoot. The Nikon Waterproof Coolpix AW120 has served me well as an alternative to my Canon EOS-7D. I was also impressed at the quality of the photos I’ve taken on my Iphone 6s.

Step 10 – Pack your personal carry-on

When packing your personal carry-on bag you want to take the same packing light philosophy. After all, you still have to lug your personal carry-on as well as your luggage so you don’t want to be weighed down. So pare down to your absolute essentials.

It goes without saying that you’ll need your travel documents and wallet with credit cards and cash in your carry on bag. Pack them in the same place inside your bag so you can get to them quickly when you need them.

Some general categories of things you’ll want to include in your carry-on:
Tech
Comfort
Snacks
Entertainment
Toiletries
Pen and Notebook

Step 11 – Use checklists

Ok, so there are really 11 steps to get you packed for Europe. Checklists are a great way to keep yourself organized. Allow yourself plenty of of time to use them and fill them out. Set aside time before your trip and try on the clothes in your carry-on capsule and make sure that you feel great in the clothes and can easily mix and match them.

Fill out checklists during your packing process and that way you’re less likely to forget anything. But if you do, rest assured they sell toothbrushes in Europe (the one thing I still always forget!). Cheers and Happy Travels! Please share your European travel plans below in the comments or in the Facebook Group.

Grab my Europe Carry-on Capsule below that includes checklists.

*links to products are affiliate links

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