Real life one bag travel: winter weekend city breaks

Hi Frugalistas!  The lovely Clare from Need Another Holiday is back with a great guest post – this time she’s taking just one carry on bag on a weekend getaway to Amsterdam and has kindly agreed to share her packing list with frugalfirstclasstravel readers:

The best thing about travelling with only carry on luggage is the speed at which you can whiz out of the airport once you get off that plane.  And on short city-breaks, that’s exactly what you need to do.  Time is of the essence when you only have a long weekend to enjoy your trip, so wasting precious minutes waiting at the luggage carousel is definitely off the itinerary.

Clare Farrell in coat and black boots in front of Rijksmuseum

On location in Amsterdam

Cold weather city-breaks come with their own packing problems though.  Much as I love my selection of cosy knitwear, my luggage is not a fan of chunky jumpers even if they’re precisely what I want to wear.  It’s like trying to pack giant marshmallows that just won’t squash.  Even just one will take up more space than everything else put together, and the winter staple soon becomes the winter scourge.

You’ve heard this before, but you know it makes sense – winter packing for trips in Europe is all about layers.

And the chunky knitwear best suited to this kind of holiday is a big cardigan you can wear while you travel.  Make sure it’s neutral and not too shabby, and most importantly, make sure absolutely everything else you pack can go with it. Then move onto those layers.  Ideally, I’d love to pack different outfits for day and night, but realistically – a weekend away can often be so chock full of stuff to see and do that you might not make it back to your hotel to change.  For that reason, I never wear sporty clothes or shoes – I need to know that I can go from morning to evening and still look decent if that’s how the day develops.

I pack three or four good quality jersey tops (long sleeved tees).  They roll away to take up minimum space and I stick to styles that have interesting prints, are cut with a swing, or have a bit of clever ruching so they don’t look “tee shirt”.

I also think tonal with everything belonging to similar colour palette.  Then I can be sure all my tops will match my cardi and, in this case, my skinny black jeans and black boots.

rack of long sleeved tee shirts hanging on a rail

A selection of my weekend wardrobe tops

In Amsterdam in February, I went for a mixture of grey black and blue hues.  But sometimes I’ll go with brown boots and tweak everything else to match.

I usually take two pairs of stretch skinny jeans, one very dark blue, one black.  One on, one in the bag.  I don’t think you can go wrong.

Throw in a couple of fine spaghetti strap vests for wearing under everything and you’re pretty much good to go.  All you need then is a good all-weather coat, a scarf that you can wear both for warmth and as an accessory, and a cross-body handbag you can stuff your necessities into (including a beany hat).  Oh, and one last point to emphasise – travel in the only pair of boots you’ll be taking.  you really don’t need any more than that.  And yes – to anyone reading this who has seen my spare “shoe room”, I really did just say that!

bottles of Elemis and Clinique moisturiser

Skincare – home v away

Now you can move on to your beauty products and that pesky plastic bag. Oh, how I loathe trying to fit my bathroom into a sandwich bag! But, alas!  It must be done.  Rule number one is be ruthless.  Pare down your make up to a minimum and when it comes to skincare, ask yourself do you really need x, y and z?  If you hesitate – leave it at home.  You’ll only be away for a few days, after all.  A packet of good quality cleansing wipes is my weekend friend and the only liquids I know I need to are these:

A really good anti-perspirant (if long days run into long nights you need to stay fresh)

A multipurpose mini moisturiser (forget day product and night product – they suck up space in the clear bag)

Mini shampoo and conditioner (I’m an everyday washer, so if I arrive late on a Friday evening for a weekend away, I don’t want my moonlit stroll to turn into a race through dark streets to find supermarket)

Mini toothpaste

Perfume (I’m never without it)

Any additional space can be taken up with the liquids and gels in your make up, or whatever else you feel you need to squash in, but only if the word need genuinely applies.  Throw in your other bits and bobs (chargers, tablet computer, camera, brush and comb) and everything should fit beautifully into your carry on bag of choice.  Mine?  It’s a four wheel spinner expandable Samsonite I got on sale about 5 years ago.  It was a bargain, and I can’t imagine weekending without it!

small blue suitcase with four wheels

My Samsonite spinner

About Clare:

portrait of Clare Farrell with water in background


Clare Farrell works a full-time job which means she always needs another holiday. Originally from Liverpool in the UK, she’s a part-time traveller with a penchant for European city breaks and Mediterranean beaches. Clare adores  good food, good wine and good company. She loves visiting new places seeing the familiar through new eyes.Wherever she goes, Clare hunts for five star luxury and tries her best to get as close to it as possible – with a three star price tag. Connect with Clare at:


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15 Comments on “Real life one bag travel: winter weekend city breaks”

  1. Travelling Book Junkie 14/04/2014 at 5:19 am #

    Short breaks are all about packing right. 🙂

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 14/04/2014 at 9:23 am #

      Agreed! That’s why I wanted to get a short break expert like Clare to write about the topic – so important to getting the most out of your trip.

  2. Cindy Heazlit 14/04/2014 at 6:52 am #

    Great post! I love the emphasis of wearing heavy / bulky items on the plane. I also loved that she called out a very subtle point – that it is better to dress up if your schedule takes you from day to night without breaks between.
    If you really can’t give up all those potions consider putting small amounts in contact lens cases. It will save space.

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 14/04/2014 at 9:25 am #

      Thanks Cindy. I love the idea of the contact lens cases – that’s a new one for me, and I love it!

  3. Cassie 14/04/2014 at 1:02 pm #

    I stupidly wore all my heavy items on my flight with Aeroflot last summer and ROASTED!! No/little working A/C, so by the time I got to Germany, I was disgustingly hot and sweaty! Gross!!

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 14/04/2014 at 3:36 pm #

      That is the risk of wearing all your heavy gear. Apart from boots and a decent coat I skip the heavy clothes and just stick to layers

  4. Anne @ Pretraveller 14/04/2014 at 7:13 pm #

    Clare, thanks for sharing your packing tips. It is all about balance, and as you have said having layers in Europe in winter is really essential!

  5. thebritishberliner 15/04/2014 at 1:57 am #

    I love this post and it’s got a lot of common sense to it. However, I like to do a lot of walking around and climbing hills! My boots won’t help me here and I would prefer to put a pair of strappy shoes in my day bag and wearing “walking” shoes instead. I went to London for the weekend in January and I only had the pair of boots in order to save some space.
    I really regretted it. 😦 Any suggestions?

    • frugalfirstclasstravel 19/04/2014 at 12:29 pm #

      Ankle boots can be a good compromise. The thing is with only a weekend, if you are doing both proper serious hiking and city promenading you do need to compromise on shoes – one pair for hiking, and then one other pair that will work for everything else. Whether it’s a hiking shoe that you can use for city walking and then a pair of something jazzy, or a serious hiking boot and something sensible for the rest of the time, you need to make some sort of compromise if you want to pack light. The question I always think is worth asking is “realistically how many hours will I have these shoes/jacket/top etc?” If the answer is only a couple of hours I would question whether you really need it (unless it’s stuff for a special activity such as a wedding)

      Great question!

      • thebritishberliner 21/04/2014 at 2:35 am #

        Yep! Ankle boots sound good and that awful word. Compromise. Thanks. 🙂

  6. Doreen Pendgracs 19/04/2014 at 9:45 am #

    I’ve learned to travel so much lighter than I used to. I’ve learned that you don’t have to have the perfect shoes to go with every outfit. Good enough will do.

  7. Heather - the kiwi travel writer 19/04/2014 at 11:26 am #

    Good stuff here … take as little as possible. One point not mentioned: make sure you know, and keep to, the weight allowance as most airlines are finally being strict about carry on luggage.

  8. frugalfirstclasstravel 19/04/2014 at 12:22 pm #

    A good lesson learned. If you plan carefully there’s no reason why shoes and outfit can’t match perfectly!

  9. KookyTraveller 18/12/2014 at 10:55 pm #

    Great tips from the Holiday Addict – definitely all about the layers 🙂

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