13 Carry-On Packing Mistakes to Avoid for Europe (That Will Save Your Trip!)

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From tighter size restrictions to unexpected bag checks, travelling carry-on only in Europe is full of traps and potential mistakes.

… which pains me to say, because I’ve been such a fangirl of carry-on travel for so long.

In the age of budget cuts & overall corporate greed however, airlines are getting stricter, stingier, and (gasp) they’re starting to catch onto our light packing tricks. Don’t worry though – plan properly, and sticking to Team Carry-On can still be an amazing way to save money when you travel.

So, to prepare you, in this post I’ll be sharing my top carry on packing mistakes to avoid for an stress-free trip (with some new ones that reflect recent changes in airline rules and habits).

Save this list of Carry-on Packing Mistakes for Later!

You’ll be very glad you did.

Mistake #1: Not being precise with bag size

Remember: you need to pay close attention to the baggage allowances for your specific airline, and the specific fare you paid.

When it comes to budget airlines in Europe like Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air, there are no uniform rules as to what you’re allowed to bring on board, so reading the fine print for each flight is key. You’ll often find that their permitted sizes are smaller and more restrictive than standard airlines at home, and yes – this does matter.

These days, all airlines (especially low-cost ones) will have sizers that they use to gauge whether or not your bag fits their allowance Typically, these measurements include the wheels and handle too, so double check that your bag works with their specific requirements! From experience, not all bags marketed as ‘carry on size’ will actually fit. With my carry-on for instance, I had to get the slim version of their carry-on for it to fit on budget airlines.

Mistake #2: Not considering your carry on’s weight

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but… Once upon a time, weight limits on carry on bags were very rarely enforced, to the point where you could pack as much as you wanted and so long as it fit size restrictions, you were probably fine.

Buuut, these days, airlines are starting to crack down.

I had my carry-on weighed at the gate for the first time in my life a few months ago. It was Lufthansa and I was just over the limit so they made me check the bag. Luckily, they didn’t charge me, so things could have been worse, but now I’m a lot more careful in terms of how heavy my bag is.

Now if this concerns you, the only real way way to ensure you stay within the weight limit is to just pack fewer things. This can be accomplished by a) making plans to do laundry throughout your trip and/or b) packing clothes made of the right material that can last longer between washes.

For this purpose, I can recommend merino wool – it’s a magical material that is naturally resistant to wrinkles and odour, and stays fresh for days (sometimes weeks). This means you could pack one pair of socks for a week, rather than one pair per day, or one top instead of three.

Some staple merino wool items I like to pack include…

All that said, material does matter, so if you want to ensure you’re within weight restrictions, merino wool is a great material to look into. I know ‘wool’ sounds heavy but merino wool is very fine and light!

Mistake #3: Forgetting about the actual weight of your bag

A common thing we forget when travelling carry-on only is that our bags actually have some weight to them as well… weight that does indeed contribute to our allowance total.

Listen, I love having a hard shell suitcase, but honestly, if you wanted to save more weight allowance for other items, something like a duffel bag or backpack might be substantially lighter.

… Just something to keep in mind.

Mistake #4: Not taking advantage of your personal item more

When it comes to carry-on allowance, most airlines in Europe differentiate between a carry-on bag and a small personal item that fits under your seat. In most cases, if a carry-on bag is included in your fare, a personal item will be as well.

It’s very often though that I see people rocking a tiny purse or belt bag as their personal item… but honestly? I think that’s a huge waste of potential space.

This is the backpack I usually use for my personal item and it can fit SO much more than just a small purse. Granted, you need to be careful that you’re bringing something that can fit inside airlines’ baggage sizers, but I’ve found backpacks are great for this because if you don’t cram them full, they’re quite flexible and can often be squished to fit.

… So, be sure to use up every bit of personal item allowance you have!

It’s especially worth noting that while carry-on bags are getting weighed more these days, personal items are (for now) still very rarely weighed, so moving forward I’m going to be packing my heavier gear in my personal item for sure.

Mistake #5: Putting valuables in your carry on rather than in your personal item

Assuming your carry-on actually makes it on the plane (more on this later), you’ll inevitably have to put it up in the overhead compartment… which is why I’d never advise keeping your most valuable items (e.g. passport, laptop, etc.) in there.

Because your personal item stays under the seat in front of you, the goods you put in there are naturally more secure, which is why I’d advise putting anything essential (and anything you need for your flight) in your personal item rather than in your carry-on bag.

This is overall a good habit to get into because you never know when your carry-on bag might need to be checked due to the flight being full.

One time, I was on my way to Morocco and this guy checked his carry on suitcase at the gate, forgetting that his passport was in that suitcase… SO when we arrived in Morocco, since the passport control was before baggage claim, he had to explain to the passport control that he did not in fact have his passport. I’m sure it worked out in the end… but don’t let that be you.

Mistake #6: Assuming your carry-on will make it on the plane with you

On a related note, please never assume that your carry-on will make it on the plane with you. Increasingly, I have noticed that this privilege is no longer guaranteed.

On my past few trips, the airline has always asked people to check their carry-ons for free, and in more extreme cases, I’ve been made to check mine at the gate because the plane was too full and there was simply no more space.

Because of this, I would pack in a way that assumes my carry on has to be checked, so anything I absolutely need for the flight or for the trip in general goes in my personal item and not my carry on suitcase.

After all, if you are spontaneously asked to check your bag, the last thing you want is to be shuffling through your suitcase looking for your headphones, laptop, etc.

Sad carry-on bags being left to go down below

Mistake #7: Forgetting an AirTag or tracker for your carry-on

Now, a lot of savvy travellers know these days to put an AirTag or tracker in checked bags (a great general travel safety tip)… but many people make the mistake of not getting one for their carry on as well.

I would highly recommend taking this extra step, because (as mentioned) it is becoming more common these days to check your carry on bag at the gate, and having a tracker in that bag would help a lot with ease of mind when that happens.

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04/20/2024 12:24 am GMT

Mistake #8: Bringing too many toiletries

Many travellers don’t realize this, but the amount of liquids you can bring in your carry-on can actually depend on the airport, and some airports in Europe are actually much more restrictive and force you to have all your toiletries in one specific size bag (side eyeing you, UK airports!!)

So, remember to search up the requirements for your airports before you go.

Depending on the length of your trip, I would also say that toiletries are one of the easiest areas to save space. Odds are you can get the toiletries you need abroad and it’s fairly easy to share these items within one travel party, so consider packing lighter in that category by sharing with travel partners or just planning to get the right stuff once you’re over there.

The same goes for things like hair tools if you’re using them – sharing with a travel partner can help save a ton of space and weight!

Mistake #9: Not being strategic with your airport outfit

If you want to maximize the amount of carry-on space you have, you’ll have to plan your airport outfit to incorporate the heaviest and bulkiest items. So, think your thickest jacket, thickest sweater, and heaviest shoes. I know many people dress to be comfy on flights, but especially for short haul flights, your comfort may have to be a sacrifice you make.

The amount of space/weight you can save by being strategic with your airport outfit is wild. It’s all about layers, baby.

No shame in the puffy multi-layer game

Mistake #10: Packing things just in case

If space is a concern, then every item you pack should ideally have a purpose. Do not bring things just in case.

After all, if you’re travelling to Europe, remember, they do have stores there… and you could probably get things as you need them.

Mistake #11: Packing single purpose items

Next: remember that the most important thing when it comes to packing light is ensuring that what you pack is versatile, so this is where having basics can come in handy.

What I wouldn’t pack are things that can only be worn for one purpose like a sporty top for instance or embarrassing pyjama bottoms.

Instead, something like a breathable T-shirt would make more sense e.g. a top that could be dressed up with nice jeans or a skirt but could also be comfortable enough for a walk. Or, with sleepwear, instead of a matching reindeer set, maybe choose leggings or a plain top that could also be worn out in a pinch.

Making sure your items are versatile will go a long way in maximizing the space you have.

BONUS TIP: To really make your wardrobe as versatile as possible, I would ensure that every top matches every bottom, and all items match your coat too. Picking one colour palette can be very useful for this purpose.

Mistake #12: Not testing your wardrobe before you go

I wouldn’t necessarily do this for every trip, but if you’re unsure of whether what you’re packing is enough, then a really easy test is to just gather and pack everything a few weeks before as a trial run and then test if you can live out of your suitcase for a week.

I say a week because with carry on travel, I usually always pack for a week and then assume I’ll do laundry as needed. You can tweak this for your own trip length, but what’s important is you actually test living with just those clothes for the duration of your trip. I think you’ll find it’s doable and this should give you a lot more confidence before your head out!

Mistake #13: Not organizing your clothes when you pack them

Finally, the last mistake is simply not organizing your clothes throughout the planning process.

If you’ve been on my site before, you’ll know how much I adore packing cubes. In any case, whether you use packing cubes, ziplock bags, or some other alternate system, the important thing is to make sure you do have some kind of system.

Mine is this: I put all my tops in one packing cube, all my bottoms in another, and then all my socks and underwear in one as well. Some others swear by doing one outfit per packing cube. Do what works for you but the reason this is important is if you’re in a situation where you have to rearrange or repack your clothes then having a system like this can be so helpful.

For instance, if your bags get searched at security, and everything is just scattered everywhere, it can be helpful to have your system to default to so you can squeeze things back in where it fits. More importantly though, this helps you know where all your stuff is so you’re less likely to panic if something does arise like you needing to unexpectedly check your carry on.

This can also help you stay organized when you unpack and repack for different destinations. All in all, make sure you have a system!! I promise you’ll be way less stressed.

Ah, the satisfying neatness of a well-packed packing cube!

Did I Miss Any Carry-On Packing Mistakes for Europe?

Let me know in the comments!

My Go-To Travel Favourites:

🧳 Eagle Creek: My favourite packing cubes

💳 Wise: For FREE travel friendly credit cards

🍯 Airalo: My go-to eSIM

🏨 Booking.com: For searching hotels

📷 Sony A7IV: My (amazing) camera

✈️ Google Flights: For finding flight deals

🌎 WorldNomads: For travel insurance

🎉 GetYourGuide: For booking activities

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