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A French-Inspired Garden and Home by Judith Stringham

France Travel Tips- Best EVER Carry-On Bag

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Everyone has ideas about how to pack for a trip. Perhaps from personal experience, advice from friends, or even from researching packing tips. These France Travel - Best EVER Carry-On packing tips are a combination of all of those sources of advice, but most of the tips have been refined from personal experience traveling to France for more than thirty years with student groups and with family and friends. Now, my trips combine traveling with family and work-related traveling. 

Keep reading for what my carry-on bag to France looks like now. 

No, this is not how much luggage I take for a trip to France! Here I am in the Gare de Lyon in Paris guarding the bags for three people (two friends and me) when we were traveling together. My bags are hidden behind the other two people's bags. This is NOT what I recommend your bags should look like for traveling to France. Close, but not quite... 

What do I recommend? 

Gare de Lyon, Paris, France
First and foremost, only take what you personally can physically carry without help. Escalators break or do not exist (Paris subways...), trains have steps to board the train, Parisian hotel elevators are TINY with a line of people waiting to get to the lobby to check out, ... Those wheels on bags are great for level surfaces, but there are too many places those wheels are useless. 

The best advice EVER! Pack your bags and walk around the block with them. If you have trouble carrying them, re-evaluate the contents, and eliminate items until you can carry your bags.

European trains run ON TIME, and sometimes there is not much time between when the train arrives in the station and when it leaves. Passengers must get on board quickly with their bags by lifting them onto the train and taking them to the storage area on their train cars. This is when you will love having followed the best advice ever of taking only what you can physically carry by yourself. 

Here's my best advice for how you should pack for France, and what to keep when eliminating items.  

Carry-on bag

Lightweight, tough non-tear nylon, double handles that go all the way around the bag, shoulder length handles, zippered, a small exterior pocket, and an identifying ribbon... 

The bag itself should not weigh much. If the bag is heavy, think how much heavier it will be once it is packed. The double handles that go all the way around support the weight of the entire bag and cannot be torn loose from the bag. Shoulder handles allow free hands for opening doors, presenting tickets, and carrying a drink. 

Zippers are a must for security reasons. Crowded areas invite pickpockets, and zippers help deter them. A tip is to use a large safety pin to pin the zipper tab to the bag. This gives one more layer of security. Zippered bags also offer security if the bag falls over; items stay inside instead of falling out. 

A small exterior pocket is great for keeping some items within easy reach. Only use exterior open pockets for things like brochures, kleenex, chewing gum, pens, etc... Plane tickets, passports, and money must be kept in enclosed bags for extra security, but open pockets help getting a tissue quickly. Losing your kleenex is an inconvenience, but not a trip-changing loss. 

The unstructured nylon shape allows for scrunching the bag into tight spaces; airplane and train overhead bins are premium property. Hard-sided bags are harder to squeeze into the limited overhead space. 

More best advice EVER! Use the carry-on bag as a day bag to carry rain gear, water, snacks, collected brochures, camera batteries, aspirin, kleenex, whatever makes your trip more enjoyable. 

Yet even MORE best advice EVER! An identifying ribbon makes finding your bag fast. Not only for you, but for your traveling companions also. When everyone traveling together ties the same ribbon on all their bags, then everyone can help find each other's bags without having to read the tags. And it prevents mix-ups between people with the same or similar luggage. 

Now that you have the perfect carry-on bag, what do you put in it? Most people think about putting their medicines, glasses, reading material, camera, snacks, and toiletries in their carry-on. 

Here's another best EVER packing tip. Put a complete set of change of clothes in your carry-on. 

If the airline misplaces your checked bag, you have clean clothes to wear while waiting to get your delayed bag or while shopping for new clothes to replace a forever-lost bag. In the worst-case scenario, you have two sets of clothes so you can launder one set while wearing the other set. After flying all night long on an overseas flight, you do not want to wear those same clothes while waiting for your delayed checked bag. You will feel better with a fresh set of clothes giving your whole outlook on life a needed boost after hearing your bags are lost. 

My mother always said you will feel better after a bath and fresh clothes. That was her advice for all kinds of things. Like being in bed with a cold, working hard all day in the garden, traveling in the car all day on a road trip, etc... She was right. 

What's in this freeze-dried plastic bag, you ask? Another best EVER packing tip!  You should include waterproof rain gear of some kind in your carry-on. I recommend an inexpensive plastic raincoat or poncho that will fit over anything you wear. 

You do not want to lose a single day of your long-planned dream trip to a heavy downpour. Nor do you want to spend an entire day in soaked-to-the-bone wet clothes. Inexpensive plastic raincoats/ponchos are lightweight and easy to pack in a ziplock bag. 

A second benefit of a ziplock bag is storing a WET raincoat in your bag if your vacation includes traveling to several cities and changing hotels. You can throw a wet raincoat into your suitcase without worrying about getting tomorrow's clothes wet also. Everything stays dry. 

A quick summary of my best EVER carry-on packing tips...
  1. Only take what you can carry by yourself 
  2. Choose a lightweight, zippered, unstructured bag with shoulder straps 
  3. Use your carry-on bag as a day bag 
  4. Tie an identifying ribbon on all your bags, including your carry-on
  5. Pack a complete set of change of clothes in your carry-on 
  6. Include waterproof, not just water resistant, rain gear in a ziplock bag in your carry-on 
Now, there are lots of other things you will include in your carry-on, but these are my best EVER carry-on packing tips for things NOT to eliminate when down-sizing your bags. 

Bon Voyage!