The Almost No-Bag Challenge: How to live out of one bag for 21 days in Europe

“So we heard you went to Europe with very little luggage. How?” This is the most asked question since returning from our European vacation back in August. Not, where did you go, or what did you see, but how on earth did you get by on so little luggage? I never thought that spending 21 days in Europe with one small bag each would make for such interesting conversation. But it has!

Here is how we did it…

It all started when Himself declared that we would take the No Bag Challenge for our tour in Europe. What, no bags at all? What about my cosmetics and all those epipens we have to carry with us? Three kids and all their stuff? Impossible. But what it did was challenge us to re-evaluate how we pack for travel and made us realize that we could do this trip with a small day pack for each kid, a small carry on bag for me as well as my travel purse, and a Scottevest for Himself.


Ma says I shouldn’t show my knickers, but hey, sex sells, right? All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

My clothes list:
1. one yellow strapless dress/tunic/bathing suit coverup.
2. one pink tunic
3. one pink tank
4. 2 Capri length leggings
5. one long sleeve tissue tee
6. one button up cardigan
7. two quick dry undies
8. one bra
9. one pair flip flops
10. one pair walking shoes
11. two pair 100% ped style socks
12. one bathing suit
13. one scarf/shawl
14. one jacket/vest

Packing suggestions:
1. Comfortable shoes, first and foremost! I wore Merrell Encore Mary Janes. On colder days, I wore 100% wool footie socks with them. I prefer slip on shoes when going through the airport.
2. Think layers when planning your wardrobe. We were in temperatures that ranged from 50-98 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Think about how well the clothes will wash and how quickly they will dry. Himself and the children wore all REI convertible pants and shirts that functioned as shorts or pants, or long-sleeved or short sleeved shirts. While their outfits were functional, I chose to travel looking like a woman, and picked an all cotton, inexpensive wardrobe from Target.
4. Basic packing formula- We packed for two days. One outfit to wash, one to wear. Two pairs of shoes each- one good walking pair, one pair flip flops or crocks. A jacket and a swim suit each. Two pairs of undies and socks each. We washed our clothes and showered daily.
5. I did not go with the Scottevest, but chose Magellan’s Adventure Travel & Convertible Vest for a better tailored look and fit. I liked the vest/jacket for the many pockets and carrying our passports on my person, rather than my purse when going through the airport.
5. Lay out all your clothes, do a dry run pack job, re-evaluate items.

1. iphone and charger
2. camera and charger
3. Global adapter
4. Kids- DS players and games, chargers
5. Himself- ipad with charger

Minimal Toiletries:
1. Use small travel containers.
2. My shower gel doubled as laundry detergent. I washed my clothes while in the shower.
3. I did bring my European hair dryer. There were some days that were too cold to go out in wet hair, and some of the flats we rented did not come with hair dryers.
4. Someone else had the sun lotion in their bag.
5. I also had a small arsenal of medications- two epipens, benedryl, and tylenol.
6. Most men and women could go with less then this I am sure, but this was the minimum I was comfortable with, and did indeed use every bit of everything I packed.

Minimal Cosmetics and costume jewelry bling. Some of you men could get away with not packing these items.

Along with my pink duffel bag that you can see in the top most photo, I carried my Baggallini Urban Backpack with my Baggallini Phone Case which can double as a wallet or small across the body purse. The small and sleek backpack (see last photo, click to enlarge) was great for hands-free shopping, carrying a water bottle, wallet, phone, camera, scarf, and passports when we were out and about. I also attached a small shopping bag that folds up into its own pouch for when we hit the food markets.


1. Rental cars and taxis are small, with little trunk room. Huge American luggage is not going to fit.

2. When the train station is 1.5 miles away from the hotel, everyone can happily carry their own bags. We had a good giggle watching other families trying to tow huge suitcases on wheels and carry their wee children.

3. You never know when your flat may catch fire. We grabbed our bags and ran.
4. Less stuff, less responsibility, less worry, less weight.
5. Never fussed over what to wear.


My pink shawl/scarf. Uses:
1. Shawl/blanket- I am always cold!
2. Fashionable scarf
3. Towel
4. Head scarf on windy days
5. Skirt wrap with bathing suit
6. Picnic blanket
7. Toilet paper. When little Fritz had to spritz, she managed well until she jumped off the makeshift toilet log, lost her balance, and fell into her freshly made puddle of spritz, soaking herself head to toe. Sigh. The scarf washed up perfectly.

1. This is the way to go for leisurely travel. May be difficult for business or cruise travel when a larger wardrobe is expected.
2. There is not one item I regret packing. Each and every thing was used.
3. I missed comfortable jammies and my warm fluffy robe, but found it fine sleeping in my knickers on warm evenings, or clothes on colder evenings.
4. No one smelled. We washed our clothes nightly in the sink or in the shower.
5. I learned very quickly that washing the crotch of my leggings was all that was needed for them to be clean. This I had to do on colder nights when I knew for sure an entire wet pair would not dry overnight.
6. I liked the idea that if all our luggage went up in flames in that fire, we would have very little to replace.
7. Customs was a blast.
Them: “Where is your luggage?”
Us: Holding up our small bags, “right here.”
Them: “No, where is your luggage?” said very testily.
Us: “Right here,” showing them the same day packs.
Them: “How long were you in Europe?”
Us: “21 days.”
Them: “So where are you suitcases?”
Us: “We don’t have any.”
Them: “You all is crazy! Get out of here.”
Us: “OK!” Giggling our way out of there because they missed the Kinder Eggs stuffed in our pockets.

Have you ever travelled with no bags, or at least one day pack? Any tips?


  1. Susan
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 10:24 AM | Permalink

    Very, very smart! Good for you training the kids young. We also travel light…perhaps with just a bit more for the two of us because we tend to be in extreme opposite temps quite often in Europe. I like your shoes. Mine have just about seen their day and have been looking for a new pair, especially for travel. Susan

  2. Big Dude
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 11:08 AM | Permalink

    I can't wait to show this to Bev who has two bags just for toiletries, plus a giant suitcase for clothes – just for a week.

  3. Robin Sue
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 11:22 AM | Permalink

    Susan- Try the Merrell brand of shoes. I got mine on sale at the end of the season!

    Big Dude- Larry, you may get yourself in big trouble if you show her this! I am sure that big ole RV of yours can hold a ton of stuff!

  4. Happy Daze
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 11:56 AM | Permalink

    Great ideas and thanks for the pictures! Traveling light makes the whole trip so much better. My husband's rule has worked for us for 40 years…if you bring it or buy it on the trip you carry it. Why take a trip if you bring everything along? I have carried my pillow since my sleep is much better but otherwise no extras. Thanks 🙂

  5. Kelly
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 12:45 PM | Permalink

    Love this! Great reminder that you don't need your entire wardrobe to travel. I'm going away for 4 days in March and my husband is shocked that I plan on taking just a carryon. I refuse to check baggage, especially for only 4 days! Thanks for the inspiration. 🙂

  6. oneordinaryday
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 2:02 PM | Permalink

    What a smart cookie. I don't even go to my parents' place with that little. I'll rethink it next time, you can bet!

  7. FOODalogue
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 4:06 PM | Permalink

    You truly are Wonder Woman. I bow to your awesomeness!

    Posted January 17, 2012 at 4:07 PM | Permalink

    I can relate! I went on an eight day trip to Ecuador and stayed in a different hotel every night. It's annoying to pack up all that crap, so I just brought along the bare necessities. The two things I found most valuable were the hot pink scarf (you're right, many uses) and a long skirt (great for hot days and cold nights).

  9. Mimi
    Posted January 17, 2012 at 7:53 PM | Permalink

    You are the Queen! I always try to travel light but you've got me beat.

  10. Anna in Atlanta
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:51 PM | Permalink

    #1 – I'm so envious of your trip! I haven't been anywhere since kids. #2 – When I did travel, I always carried a carry-on sized duffel bag (fits a TON, shoves under a seat). At least until I started travelling to scuba dive. Yikes! The gear required! #3 – I'm getting inspired to take my kids somewhere (anywhere?) if I can save the $$. I'm thinking Puerto Rico for a week. Wish me luck!

  11. Robin Sue
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 2:55 PM | Permalink

    Anna- Puerto Rico is wonderful. Try for housing arrangements, we used their site while in Europe and met some wonderful hosts who were very accommodating to a family of 5!

  12. Sabrina
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 3:57 PM | Permalink

    Thanks for the post and the explanations. I have about the "no baggage challenge" and wondered how it would work for a mom who doesn't want to look like someone in the "occupy movement".

  13. Molly
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 5:23 PM | Permalink

    That is super amazing! Quite the accomplishment for a 21 day trip. I've had the opportunity to live in England and can sometimes take 3-4 day trips to Europe. I have definitely learned how to pack light so I never have to pay baggage fees and can easily tote my stuff to and from airports, public transportation, and hotels/hostels. My small backpack normally has the same items that you pack but unfortunately when traveling during the winter, warmer clothes tend to be bulkier and very much against me condensing my bag.

  14. Robin Sue
    Posted January 18, 2012 at 8:51 PM | Permalink

    Molly- I agree about packing in winter about the bigger bulkier clothes, but I am sure most can even rethink that. Makes me think, that's for sure! Layering is key!

  15. Penny
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 7:22 PM | Permalink

    Robin Sue, this is so timely for me. We leave on June 9th for a 3 week trip to Paris and Provence. We will have laundry facilities in all of the places we are staying, but that just makes it more realistic to pack light. I am ordering your vest. You have been an inspiration. Thank you.

  16. Stephefc
    Posted January 22, 2012 at 7:06 PM | Permalink

    Well, I've never traveled that light, but I did manage a semester abroad in Australia (5 months) with a medium sized suitcase, a day pack, and a purse. Of course I had to buy some things when I got there, but I made sure I used up all of my consumables, packed everything I could back into the same bags, and then left the rest(not much) in the community donation area for future students. If you can't carry it, you have no business taking it with you anywhere. On the way back home, my friend and I did a surf trip and then stayed on the 7th hostel with a broken elevator- I was fine, but she had two huge suitcases, a big duffle, a backpack, and more.

  17. Pam
    Posted January 25, 2012 at 11:54 PM | Permalink

    Excellent post! My hubby is a pilot, and we fly standby a lot, that means no checked bags allowed. We have learned to pack well in just our regular size carryons. And for me this usually includes my large camera and full size laptop! It just boggles my mind to see people get on the plane towing gobs of luggage. It seems that since baggage costs to check, passengers are trying to carry on everything but the kitchen sink!! Learn to pack light people!!! Passenger planes are NOT UPS.

  18. Pam
    Posted January 26, 2012 at 11:03 AM | Permalink

    P.S.- We LOVE kinder eggs too!!!

  19. becca
    Posted August 1, 2013 at 11:02 PM | Permalink

    Haha! I had the same reaction when I went to Europe for a month with only one bag. The person who checked me in for my flight over was quite surprised indeed~

    I went in the summer, so along the way hats were acquired to keep the relentless sun off. Definitely the way to travel though! I hate suitcases now!

  20. Posted December 14, 2013 at 2:31 AM | Permalink

    Terrific article! You nailed it by taking multi-purpose items. My wife & I have also benefited by using Color Me Beautiful, for women & men. The right colors mean fewer, but correct items. How many women would need loads less make-up (sorry, but very American), look more secure & beautiful if they wore better colors.

    My parents visited us in London & Switzerland with bags that were hard to lift! They had new outfits for each day! And Mom didn’t trust our washing machines etc. Good for you and your sweet looking family to maintain that kind of discipline to carry so little. Respect! Weight is a pain, anywhere in the world!

    Everyone should consider checking out Golite (I don’t work for or rep them) for their carry-on luggage & their light shirts are great for travel/hikes; they also provide UV protection. And for cooler/colder travel, Icebreaker or Smartwool; their tops & undies do not itch & do not need to be washed everyday. For socks we look for the thinnest wool or Coolmax which helps shed persperation and dries quickly after a quick wash in the sink; cotton smells quickly in any clothing except as a PJ. Tops made for running (Asics, Nike, Adidas) are great in the sun & heat, even the long-sleeve tops are light and don’t smell after use (1-2 days of use is usually fine). They also dry quickly.

  21. Katie
    Posted June 12, 2014 at 8:24 AM | Permalink

    I love this article as I try to help my husband pack lighter for trips. I managed to live in England for an entire summer out of two carry-on bags. Included in that luggage was a large laptop and a formal ball gown. I was not lacking anything that summer.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Carry on only? | oliver&amandaineurope on May 28, 2013 at 3:09 AM

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  2. […] This is a great list for families with children. A good look at packing with children and how to do a practical light packing challenge. […]

  3. […] – Specifically check out this post on their almost no bag challenge with kids for three weeks in […]

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