Real life one bag travel – Great Shopping In One Carry On Bag

Hi Frugalistas!

One of the great things about traveling is picking up souvenirs and other goodies to bring home to add to your memories of your trip.  I love shopping for family and friends as well as myself, but, of course, carrying it all in just one carry on bag is a given.

Retro post cards – my new faves to bring home

Here’s how I shop up a storm and still take just one carry on bag:

My bag

My bag is a Rick Steves 21 inch roll-aboard suitcase.  It is a standard international size carry on bag with soft sides.  I find soft sided bags a bit more forgiving when it comes to fitting those last few items in.  The other thing I love about it is that if I get really desperate it is fully expandable, giving me significantly extra room for when I really need it – it needs to be checked if expanded but is there if I need it (I think I’ve expanded it once in all the years I’ve had it though!)

If you don’t think you could possible manage to get all your shopping in for the trip home a folding tote or shopper is an easy way to make more space for yourself.  Depending on your airline policy you may need to check your case with a tote stuffed full of goodies.

Packing strategy

Regular readers will know I have a definite strategy when it comes to packing my bag.  I rarely take a whole guidebook – I photocopy the pages I want and toss them as I finish with them.  I read ebooks, or take cheap paperbacks (secondhand is good) and leave them for other travelers as I finish them.  Most importantly, I do two things that gain me alot of spare packing space – I only ever take two pairs of shoes (including the pair I travel in) and I take old clothes and discard them along the way.

Shopping strategy

Now, most importantly, these are the things I like to buy:

Scarves.  Are obviously light and don’t take up much room.  I buy these both for myself and as gifts.  Most countries have some sort of design culture, and fortunately they often put those designs on scarves!

Great stationery/notebooks – Italy is the home of gorgeous stationery and notebooks, but you can pick them up in all sorts of places – I even managed to buy a very pretty batik one in Bali recently.

Antique post cards.  These are my new favorite souvenirs, and cost almost nothing.  Pick them up in European markets all over the place and don’t spend more than a Euro each!

New post cards.  You can buy the usual picture cards, but a particular favorite of mine is the retro ones which are often copies of tourist posters of the twenties and thirties.  I put these and antique post cards into frames at home to make a beautiful, cheap and unique souvenir.

Calendars.  These make pretty gifts, and of course if you choose wisely the pictures can be framed for an enduring memory.

Christmas decorations.  These are a real favorite of mine.  We did go slightly mad in Germany a few Christmases back and bought rather too much – the solution?  We posted it home!  But normally, a few tree decorations make a lovely souvenir or gift and take up little room in a bag.

Most of my favorite things don’t need to be expensive

What I don’t buy

I don’t buy food of any description or heavy souvenirs such as statues, carvings etc.  The food is for two reasons – Australian customs and quarantine services are incredibly strict about what can be brought in (so best not to risk it), plus it invariably takes up just so much space and is heavy!

I don’t buy perfume because of the liquid restrictions for carry on luggage, and of course, anything sharp means the bag has to be checked!

And of course, don’t forget to get your tax refund if you’ve spent enough in a particular shop!

Don’t forget that tax refund!

What are your favorite souvenirs and why?


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8 Comments on “Real life one bag travel – Great Shopping In One Carry On Bag”

  1. The Hack 24/07/2012 at 8:11 am #

    Scarves are a good one. I like to buy candy too. Sadly, I succumb to shoes for myself. I’ll pack one pair of waking shoes an buy the rest when I travel. Yes, when I over-do it, I ship a box home.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 24/07/2012 at 8:24 am #

      I have been known to buy shoes too, but make sure I can still fit them in by packing small things like underwear into them.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting!

  2. Pretraveller 24/07/2012 at 7:14 pm #

    It is nice to see another Rick Steves devotee!! I first discovered ‘Europe Though the Back Door’ for my first trip to Europe and have used it additional times since then. Thanks for the great tips to pack light.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 24/07/2012 at 7:21 pm #

      Yes, I love Rick. Would never use any other guide book for Europe – I don’t always agree with him on the sights etc but have never had a dud hotel or meal using his books. I find his whole philosophy on travel an inspiration.

      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

  3. Cheating Through Europe 31/07/2012 at 9:41 pm #

    Guys, guys. Buying an expensive Rick Steve’s bag might be great, I support him, he lives 2 miles away from my home. But let’s be honest here, you are not living that frugal if you are doing that. If you really want to get away with buying all that souvenir stuff, get a REAL shopping bag from a dept. store in the country you are departing or airport and put all that stuff in there. Then it can pass as though you were shopping in the airport! True story 😉

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 02/08/2012 at 5:27 pm #

      Ooh, that’s sneaky, and clever! Whether it’s Rick’s bag or anyone else’s I just don’t like lugging multiple bags. If it doesn’t fit in a carry on I’m not doing it – being a pack mule is not first class! But, if you can’t resist buying tons of stuff then your suggestion is clever! Thanks for dropping by and commenting


  1. Ten Tips To Budget for a Trip to Europe | frugalfirstclasstravel - 02/09/2012

    […] you can spend as much or as little as you like on souvenirs and gifts.  Check out my post on shopping with just a carry on bag for tips on small, inexpensive gifts.  If you are interested in food as a souvenir or gift, buy in […]

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