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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!


  1. This is EXACTLY what I love to do. Carry on, nothing else. I can't stand to travel with more than one or two bags, and for me, the MINIMALIST, it's not necessary. I am not an elegant traveler, so I don't need oodles of clothing when I go anywhere. Carry on is the best, and in this French bleu, tant mieux!

  2. I like the idea of this bag having shoulder straps. I was wondering if you could carry it like a back pack. Great tips. Makes me wish I was packing for a grand adventure! Hugs!

  3. Unstructured bags are the best and zip lock bags (different sizes) are a must! In a pinch, the bags can be used as a back rest or even a pillow if stuck at an airport or train station for any length of time.

    Marilyn (in Dallas)

  4. You are so right about having a change of clothes in your carry on. This gives you such an easy solution if something gets spilled on you in an airplane (or something worse happens...) I also pack a couple of granola bars in case I find myself stuck somewhere and hungry.

  5. Your are so right on. I went to Europe last year and in the Germany airport I had to carry my bags up and down lots stairs. Also another airport and I was so mad someone in our group didn't mention this before our trip.I have severe disk problems in my back and this was very bad situation for me.
    I will never go again however I know to only take a small nylon bag LOL I did enjoy the places I visited but i'm happy at home now, maybe a shopping trip to the big city once in a while

  6. Great advice, Judith! After carrying my own bags up and down steps while taking the London Underground, I ended up looking like I had fallen on the stairs, though I had not! The hard surfaces on my bag had just bumped into my body way too many times!

  7. Excellent tips, Judith! My husband and I have long traveled with just a carry on bag. It eliminates the worry of a bag not making it to the destination. I've also found that I really don't need to take a lot. Black pants, a few tops, etc. I like to layer for the weather. Wear a pair of shoes and pack another. Simplicity is good when traveling. I've also learned to roll my clothes when packing. It's amazing how much more efficient that is than stacking flat and folded clothes.

  8. As one who has never traveled beyond the caribbean, I appreciate the advice! I've heard that there are many security issues and would not have thought of pinning a zipper down. Also I was unaware of the tiny elevators and other situations where wheels on bags would be useless. Great advice!

    1. Hi, Debbie,
      Thank you, Debbie. When wheels on bags came out, I was so glad. Over the years I have bought more than one bag with wheels, but they are useless in many places in Europe. You have to pick up your bag and carry it.


  9. Hi Judith! I love this very informative travel post. Your ideas are great. I always take too many bags and they are always too heavy and awkward. The freezer bag idea is perfect for me because I always feel very unorganized. I'm feeling a sense of excitement for and with you!

  10. Only take what you can carry yourself, wonderful advice Judith!!! When I traveled for my corporate job I had neon ribbon and a lepoard print scarf tied to my suitcase because everyone had those black suitcases, lol!! Thanks for sharing with us at TaDa Thursday!!!


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