bags

Our luggage for a three-week trip to Europe for a family of four

We just returned from a family trip to Europe. It was the first time we took our kids, ages 7 and 4, on an overseas vacation and we wanted to be sure to make the most of the experience. Right from the outset, we did two very un-American things: 1) we took more than two weeks off for the trip, and 2) we packed really, really light. For four people on a three-week vacation we took just three carry-ons and one back pack.

Possibly demanding even more attention than our travel itinerary, our luggage became a bit of an obsession for my husband.

When we decided to take my cousin and his wife up on their invitation to visit them in Poland, we wanted to be as economical as possible, both about getting to Europe and traveling within it. Thanks to my husband’s frequent cross-country business trips over the past two years and the added perk that his company’s European headquarters is in Cork, Ireland, we were able to cover three of our four tickets without spending a dime. We figured once we got to Ireland, like well-traveled Europeans, we’d rely on discount airlines to get us where we wanted to go.

The challenge became figuring out which carriers would get us where we wanted to go for the least amount of money. From Ireland, we wanted to get to Poland, and from Poland, we wanted to fly to London. Then from London, once more to Ireland, for our return flight home.

Ryanair, a notorious (and insidious), Irish, discount carrier was top on our list for cheap flights. Following a close second was Easy Jet.

Though Ryanair has incredibly low prices—we bought tickets from Cork, Ireland to Warsaw, Poland for US$70 per person—they also have ridiculously restrictive carry-on luggage requirements. This is how they are stated on the Ryanair website:

“Strictly one item of cabin baggage per passenger (excluding infants) weighing up to 10kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm is permitted. (handbag, briefcase, laptop, shop purchases, camera etc.) must be carried in your 1 permitted piece of cabin baggage.”

If your carry-on does NOT meet these requirements or fit in the miniature luggage cage positionedryanair by the Ryanair ticket counters and flight gates, then these are the penalties:

Extra/oversized cabin baggage will be refused at the boarding gate, or where available, placed in the hold of the aircraft for a fee of £60/€60. Fees are subject to VAT on Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and German domestic routes at applicable government rates. If you are unsure, check at the Bag Drop desk before going through security.

In other words, if your luggage doesn’t pass, at the gate you may be forced to pay as much as or more than your actual flight ticket to check the offending item.

I’m pretty sure Ryanair caters to the weekend travel crowd, whose weekend’s worth of necessities easily fall within these parameters but for a family of four on a European sojourn, the restrictions were crippling.

The restrictions caused two dilemmas for us. The first dilemma was that the standard size of all US carry-on suitcases exceeds Ryanair dimensions. In fact, after browsing multiple websites and purchasing and returning two, new carry-ons, we could not seem to find wheeled luggage small or light enough to fit their limitations. The second dilemma was that without wheels, our children were not old enough nor strong enough to carry their own luggage. Meaning that everything we needed for our three-week trip would have to be carried by my husband and me.

Armed with a tape measure and digital luggage scale, my husband became a man possessed by the Ryanair luggage restrictions.

Our packing list went from vacation-size to commando-style. Each of us was rationed: five tops (two long sleeve, three short), four bottoms (two pants, two shorts or skirts), seven under garments, three pairs of socks, two pairs of shoes, one sweater, a swimsuit and a travel-raincoat.

Added to this were toiletries, my husband’s laptop computer, business attire for the days he needed to put in at the Cork office (including a sports coat and a pair of dress shoes), entertainment items for the kids (foam-weight, modeling clay; travel journals; crayons; a travel game; a deck of cards; markers), a DSLR camera, and a tablet computer loaded with books, two movies and a variety of travel apps.

We divided these items among our backpack and three small bags, weighed and measured each one…twice. Then stood on our bathroom scale and weighed them again. When we were pretty confident that our luggage met the size and weight requirments—dictated most restrictively by Ryanair—my husband added a contingency plan, which involved wearing all of our heaviest and bulkiest clothing items on travel days.

We were determined to travel small, light-weight and efficient, just like our European counterparts.

So though Ryanair set the stage for our minimalist luggage, thankfully, we only flew one flight with them. In comparison, Easy Jet was a luxury liner with far less restrictive rules and the three other regional carriers we flew even allowed passengers to check items, free-of-charge.

Considering the stress that packing for our trip caused up front, in the end, it was a great lesson in minimalist travel:

  1. confined to a week’s worth of clothes, we were able to do laundry twice on our trip.
  2. With careful and clever planning, our clothing choices yielded 21 different wardrobe combinations, preventing us from looking like we had on the same outfits in the copious number of pictures we snapped.
  3. The time we spent in airports was significantly reduced by the lack of our need to wait at the luggage claim each time.
  4. And, perhaps most rewarding, we’d like to think we blended in with other European travelers, rather than sticking out like typical boisterous Americans on holiday.

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by our Managing Editor and mom of two in Massachusetts, Kyla P’an.

Photos credited to the author.

Kyla P'an (Portugal)

Kyla was born in suburban Philadelphia but spent most of her time growing up in New England. She took her first big, solo-trip at age 14, when she traveled to visit a friend on a small Greek island. Since then, travels have included: three months on the European rails, three years studying and working in Japan, and nine months taking the slow route back from Japan to the US when she was done. In addition to her work as Managing Editor of World Moms Network, Kyla is a freelance writer, copy editor, recovering triathlete and occasional blogger. Until recently, she and her husband resided outside of Boston, Massachusetts, where they were raising two spunky kids, two frisky cats, a snail, a fish and a snake. They now live outside of Lisbon, Portugal with two spunky teens and three frisky cats. You can read more about Kyla’s outlook on the world and parenting on her personal blogs, Growing Muses And Muses Where We Go

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