When I booked my first international trip to Portugal, I made a firm decision to travel with just a carry-on bag, embracing the concept of packing light. As a Type-A planner, I spent a significant amount of time to preparing for this trip, including creating spreadsheets and conducting multiple trial packing sessions.
In the end, I successfully managed to fit all my necessities for a three-week adventure into a 40-liter bag!
In this blog post, I will share my valuable tips for efficient packing and provide you with an itemized packing list that covers exploring Portugal’s cities, hiking trails, beaches, and more.
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How To Pack For 3-Weeks in Europe In A Carry-On
Packing for a 3-week trip to Europe can be challenging. But if you’re trying to avoid the hassle and cost of checking luggage, it is worth it. Not only does packing everything in a carry-on save you time at the airport, but it also helps you avoid the stress and strain of dragging a bulky suitcase up and down cobblestone streets.
Note: I visited Europe (specifically Portugal) in May so I didn’t have to worry about packing for cold weather!
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Tips For Traveling To Europe In A Carry-On
- Use compression packing cubes: In my opinion, packing cubes are a game-changer. Not only do they help keep your clothes organized, but they compress them to fit more in your bag. Here are the packing cubes I used for my 3-week trip to Portugal.
- Pack versatile clothing: I only pack clothing that can be mixed and matched to create different outfits. Neutral colors like navy, olive green, brown, white, and beige are great choices since they can go with almost anything.
- Pack clothing that can be layered: If you’re traveling to Europe, you’ll want to bring clothes that work with a variable climate. This looks like breathable layers (I loved wearing linen), fleece, and an outer layer (like a denim jacket).
- Wear your bulkiest items on the plane: If you’re traveling with a bulky jacket, wear it on the plane to save space in your bag. You can also wear your heaviest shoes, like hiking boots, instead of packing them.
Packing List For 3-Weeks In A Carry-On
Gregory Border Carry-On 40-LIter
For my 3-week trip to Portugal, I used the Gregory Border Carry-On 40-Liter as my main luggage. I love the split case design, which allowed me to separate my clothes and gear into two distinct compartments, making it easier to access what I needed without having to dig through all my stuff.
The abundance of pockets was also a major selling point for me. There were pockets on the front and sides of the bag, a section for my water bottle, a smaller zippered pocket on the top flap, and a padded laptop sleeve, which fit my iPad and journal.
Finally, the durability of the Gregory Border 40-Liter Carry-On, like all Gregory bags I’ve tried, is top-notch. The bag is made from high-quality materials and has held up well to the wear and tear of travel. I felt confident that my belongings were well-protected, even when the bag was tossed around during Uber rides and airport travel.
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Gregory Nano Shoulder Bag
For my personal item, I used the Gregory Nano Shoulder Bag. For being only 3-Liters, this little bag fit a surprising amount of stuff! I kept my wallet, passport, medications, sunglasses, headphones, phone, hand sanitizer, and so much more in this cross-body bag.
In addition to being handy for airport travel, this was the bag I used to take on all our day trips! It’s cute, compact, and versatile from city to trail.
- 3 Cropped Tank Tops
As an avid hiker who lives in a warm climate, I live in cropped tank tops. My favorites have a built-in bra and are neutral colored so they go with every outfit. While I wear crop tops as bras under my shirts, I also wear them on their own or under an open button-down shirt.
Here are the three cropped bras I packed for Portugal:
- 1 Tank Top
This ribbed tank top from REI Co-op was a last-minute addition to my bag and I’m so glad I brought it! Not only was it great for hiking and general exploring, but it also served as my sleep shirt.
- 2 shirts
I visited Portugal in May, when the highs were in the 80’s F and lows in the 60’s F. With lots of hiking and general exploring on the itinerary, I wanted to bring a couple of versatile t-shirts that were moisture-wicking.
Here are the t-shirts I packed:
- 1 Long Sleeve
When it came to packing a long sleeved shirt, I wanted something light-weight that would give me sun protection. I packed my Patagonia Lightweight A/C Button-Down Shirt and wore it constantly! It kept the sun off my shoulders, matched all my outfits, and kept me cool while walking around the cities.
- Fancy Top
Even though this was a backpacking trip, I still wanted to bring at least one cute top to wear out! I picked up this tie-front shirt from Madewell as a birthday gift to myself and am so glad I did! It looked super cute with my skirt and linen pants.
- 3 Shorts
Since I knew we were going to be doing quite a bit of hiking, kayaking, and an adventure tour or two, I packed three pairs of shorts. I was very intentional about choosing colors and went with navy, cream, and olive green.
*In retrospect, I wish I had left one pair of shorts at home and packed an extra pair of bottoms, like a skirt or dress.
Here are the shorts I packed for Portugal:
I almost left my Patagonia Fleetwood Romper at home and am so glad I didn’t – it was the piece I wore most on my trip! This jumpsuit is flattering, comfortable, easy to wear, and versatile… it truly is the perfect travel outfit.
- Linen pants
The Quinn Pants from Free People were the perfect addition to my travel wardrobe! The linen kept me cool and they are so versatile! I wore them as lounge pants in the hostel, sleep pants in a cold hotel room, and a beach cover-up.
My most complimented item of clothing from this trip was a vintage red Eddie Bauer skirt that I found on Poshmark! I was nervous about packing such a bright color but it looked amazing in photos and was fun to wear with my Madewell shirt, cropped bras, and over my bikini.
Since I had heard that the coast could be quite cold and windy, I opted to bring this packable windbreaker from Cotopaxi. I only ended up wearing it once but it was still nice to have on hand and didn’t take up much room in my bag.
Upon my husband’s instance, I brought my Patagonia Re-Tool Snap-T Pullover fleece jacket. I didn’t have enough room for it in my bag so it was packed in my husband’s bag. Don’t tell him I said this… but he was right. The fleece came in handy multiple times!
In addition to wearing my Blundstone Boots on the plane, I packed two pairs of shoes:
I love having a pair of waterproof adventure sandals to wear to the beach and on hikes, and brought a pair of Chaco Z/1 Classic Sandals. These sandals looked cute with my skirt and linen pants, and came in handy for costal hikes and kayak trips but learn from my mistake — they need to be broken in. I didn’t break them in before our trip and was rewarded with massive blisters.
To be honest, I wish I had packed my trusty Teva Hurricanes. They are lighter and comfier than Chacos.
Even though I wore my Blundstone Boots on the plane, I wanted a separate pair of shoes for hiking. I packed my go-to Mafate Speed 4 Trail Runners from HOKA because they are lightweight and ultra comfortable. To pack them, I stuffed them with 4 pairs of hiking socks and wrapped them in a plastic grocery bag in case they got muddy.
I packed all my toiletries in my favorite REI Co-op Shower Roll (size large) and carried my liquids in a quart-sized Stasher Bag.
- Shampoo + conditioner bars
- Bar of soap
- Denman brush
- Toothbrush + Toothpaste
- Floss picks
- Cotton balls + Q tips
- Contact solution
- Contact case
- Extra pairs of contacts
- Cuticle clippers
- Bug spray wipes
- After-sun spray
- Cerave lotion in a reusable bottle
- Makeup (eyebrow gel, mini concealer and liquid blush)
- Cameras (GoPro and Canon Powershot)
Final Thoughts + Regrets
It’s a little dramatic to title this section “regrets” but I do wish that I had packed one less pair of shorts and opted for one more pair of pants or another long skirt.
And as I mentioned, I regretted bringing Chaco’s – I wish I had brought my Teva sandals or Birkenstocks.
I know that packing for a trip can be a daunting task, but with a little planning and the right gear, it doesn’t have to be! I hope this post inspired you to pack light and efficiently for your next adventure!
Let me know if you have any questions about packing for a 3-week trip in a carry-on! And if you want to see the outfits I wore on my Portugal adventure, check out my Instagram!