The lady checking our passports at Schipol airport in Amsterdam looked at me incredulously:
"That's it for two and a half weeks?" (Mind you, she saw what we packed PLUS souvenirs.)
"I know! I was so proud of myself!"
And I was. When Jay first said we should each only bring a carry-on and a backpack I really wasn't feeling it, but I knew he was right. We were going to take 4 plane flights and countless trains to visit 4 countries and 7 cities in the space of 16 days and it just wasn't going to make life any easier to be lugging around a 40-50lb bag through all of that.
Plus, if you're doing any budget airline travel within Europe, they charge a fortune for big bags, and you have to pay to check even American sized carry-on bags (their standards and restrictions are different than most US airlines, which is part of why you can fly so cheap)
So if you are flying into Paris and staying in a hotel for a week and your bag won't move- you probably don't need to listen to anything I say. But if you're packing a lot of destinations into a smallish time frame, listen up.
It's possible. I like shoes as much (or more. probably more) than the next person, and would love to have a full wardrobe at my disposal while gallivanting around Europe. But it's more hassle than it's worth. Here's how I packed a carry-on for two and a half weeks in Europe.
7 pairs of underwear and 7 shirts (long and short sleeved- depends on the time of year and where you go!)
2 pairs of jeans- make sure they are the kind that keep their shape, because you will wear them more than once between washes.
2 pairs of leggings- more on this decision below
1 hiking outfit (stretch zip-up, shorts, tank, sports bra)
7 pairs of socks (you only need maybe half of this if going in warmer months or if you are planning on mostly wearing sandals aka me. I did not need so many socks)
2 lighter jackets- I'm obsessed with the ones I brought. They were perfect. links to those below.
1 baseball cap (Europe isn't super into athleisure, and it wasn't very hot/sunny, so I didn't use this at all)
1 straightening iron (most versatile for my hair, but I would blanket this as just one hair tool of your choice)
Laundry detergent (we bought 3 liquid tide packs, I would buy double that since we ended up doing laundry twice)
2 travel size bottles of shampoo and 2 of conditioner- this would have worked if my hair wasn't so insanely thick. I probably needed two more. Luckily one of the places we stayed had a 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner that I made work to stretch out those last 7 days without my own.
Small makeup bag (I only brought foundation, blush, eyeshadow, and mascara)
Camera with two lenses
Selfie stick (tacky but essential!!)
What would I change? Honestly, especially in Florence and Rome I would have felt severely underdressed if I was wearing stretchy pants or any kind of leggings. I don't wear them very often out in public anyways, so I don't know why I brought two pairs. Bring one- tops, and possibly replace that one with your most comfortable pair of real pants. It honestly depends on what you're comfortable in. I'm a jeans and cute top kind of basics person. If you feel amazing in athletic clothes and wear them all the time, you do you.
If I had room, I would have brought one more pair of shoes. Something like a low rise comfortable leather boot or flat that could handle a lot of walking. I LOVED bringing my ankle strap birkenstocks and wouldn't have changed that, but it was a different/colder climate in Germany and the Netherlands than it was in Italy and it would have been nice to have another option that wasn't a running shoe. I almost NEVER wear running shoes outside of exercising (we did do a fair amount of hiking in CinqueTerre so they were a necessity), so that just wasn't an option for me and consequently I had colder toes than I would have preferred.
I swear by my kuhl jacket. Lightweight, but warm, machine washable (not dryable), and just the best thing ever. And Birkenstocks really work for my feet. I have wide feet and can't wear flats for the life of me, and they have some support, so I brought these because the ankle strap adds a little extra help and they were the best. I walked 10 miles a day in Rome with them and never had sore feet.
So don't be afraid to edit and use at your leisure! If you're staying longer or going during a time of year that isn't April, you very well may need to tweak this. But if you can- I will always suggest packing carry-on. It was the best.