How I Packed for Two Weeks in Eastern Europe in a Carry-On

This post is inspired by a lively discussion I had on Facebook the other day after telling my friends that I’d challenged myself to pack for a two-week Eastern European Viking river cruise in nothing but my 19-inch Delsey Chatelet carry-on. In the spirit of sharing, here’s exactly how I did it.

In other words, here’s how to cram 52 items into a carry-on that’s about the size of my cat (photo evidence below).

The Items

To begin with, I needed to actually think through my itinerary, something I rarely do when I travel (I know, I know…). My usual process is to dump a bunch of clothes I like wearing into a suitcase and then sit on the poor overstuffed thing to try and zip it up. Anyone who knows me personally knows this to be true.

So for this trip, I looked at the average weather in each country I’d be visiting – Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and Hungary – and then thought about what I’d actually be doing there. Temps would be ranging from a chilly 55 to a balmy 89. Because I was traveling with Viking, I knew I’d be doing a lot of walking on the city tours, so I knew I’d need some city-appropriate clothes with sleeves (for cathedrals, synagogues, and the like). I’d also signed up for a couple of excursions to the Croatian and Bulgarian countrysides, too, so I knew I’d need some comfortable, warm-weather clothes with good hiking shoes. From past experience, I also knew I wouldn’t need a lot of formal clothes or high heels, as the dress code tends to be incredibly informal on river cruises.

I perused my closet and decided on a color scheme: monochromatic with a splash of pink. Why pink? Who knows…I pulled out a pink top with polka dots and thought it’d be cute for a city walk, so I decided to base things around that.

Then, the hard part: anything that didn’t match this color scheme didn’t make the cut. Here’s everything, laid out, so you can see exactly how everything fit together. As you can see, I could pair any shirt with any pair of pants and any pair of shoes. Four splashes of pink helped to “lighten up” the greys, blacks, and blues.


This was my master list:

  • 2 jackets – one jean and one faux leather
  • 2 pairs of pants – blue jeans & light khakis
  • 1 pair of yoga pants
  • 2 pairs of shorts – blue jeans & khakis
  • 3 dresses – one cocktail dress, one sundress, one t-shirt dress
  • 2 cotton cardigans – black & blue
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 long-sleeved shirt
  • 6 short-sleeved shirts
  • 2 spaghetti-strap undershirts
  • 1 silk bathrobe
  • 1 infinity scarf
  • 1 romper
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 4 pairs of shoes – ballet flats, nice sandals, hiking sandals, flat tennis shoes
  • 13 pairs of underwear
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 3 bras – 2 regular, one sports

And here’s how I got it all into a 19-inch carry-on.

The Process

The first thing I did was use a small packing cube (thanks to my friend Molly who let me borrow one of hers!) to roll up all my t-shirts:


Then, I folded my shorts in half and put them on top of the t-shirts:


The next step was to start putting items into my actual suitcase. I folded my dresses in half and laid them in the bottom of the flat side of the suitcase and put the packing cube on top. Then, I filled the rest of the space up with black ballet flats and the two undershirts:


Then, I moved over to the other side. Because there’s a locking mechanism and two poles running down the length of the suitcase, this side is a little trickier. I started by rolling up my pants and cardigans and lined the sides with those. In the middle, I folded my sweaters. On the outer edges, I rolled up the romper and the bathrobe. Once everything was in, I peppered the socks around the edges wherever there was room.


Then, I folded up the jean jacket and laid it flat on top of everything. All the underwear, bras, and bathing suit went into the zipper pouch on the other side. I left out the other jacket, the scarf, the yoga pants, a black t-shirt, and the tennis shoes–I wore all of this stuff on the plane.


The last step was to toss in my hairbrush, makeup bag, and toiletry kit. I knew from sailing with Viking before that I wouldn’t need a hair dryer (thank goodness, as I have no idea how I would have fit that in here), so I found it pretty easy to cram all the bathroom stuff in there.


Then, all I had to do was zip it up.



The End Result?


AMAZING. I NEVER, EVER thought that 1) I could be so discerning and well-planned with my packing, or 2) that I could pack that much stuff into one tiny suitcase. I used almost everything–the romper never made it out, sadly–and I was really happy that I’d brought two jackets and a couple different kinds of tops. Because Viking is a really casual cruise, I knew I wouldn’t need a lot of fancy clothes, so I really cut back on the “nice stuff” this time around. As I suspected, I only needed one nice cocktail dress for my aloha dinner with Ryan in Budapest.

Was it a perfect list?

Not completely. I would do a couple of things differently next time. For one thing, I’d bring an extra pair of jeans, as it was cooler than I thought it would be and ended up wearing those jeans probably eight or nine out of twelve days. I’d also bring more underwear, just so I’d have a few extra pairs, and would probably leave the bathrobe at home (I only wore it a couple of times on lazy mornings in our cabin). Also, I’d probably take out one cardigan and add in two more t-shirts to give a little more variety to what I wore on top. Things were feeling a little repetitive by day ten….

Anyway, thanks to Delsey, I think it’s safe to say I’ve changed the way I pack forever. No more cramming a million clothes that I think I *might* need into a giant suitcase that will almost always weigh more than 50 pounds, leaving me tossing out items at the last minute at the airport. Those days are SO over. From now on, it’s lightweight traveling for me!

(Here’s me at the Hilton Budapest, wearing the same outfit I flew over in!)


Also, as a side note, I think two little furry guys in my life were pretty happy to see me get home yesterday. This is Giuseppe and Luigi 😀


Do you have any packing tips that have worked for you? I’d love to hear them!!

Yours in travel,




  1. Ken Mock says

    Don’t forget my age-old packing tip of rolling up any socks or underwear and stuffing these in your shoes.

    • says

      Haha! Dad, I only brought sandals!! (Except the tennis shoes I wore on the plane :-D)

      But, of course…next time I go somewhere with closed-toe shoes, socks are going inside.

      By the way, you are the packing king!!


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