BuzzFeed may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page if you decide to shop from them. All products were independently selected by our editors, and the prices were accurate and items in stock at the time of publication.
When my boyfriend found out he had a plus-one for a friend’s wedding in Florence, we knew we couldn’t pass up a chance to visit Italy. Attend an event at a villa in the beautiful Tuscan countryside? Why yes, thank you, sign us up. But once we figured out whether we could afford it and considered that we were given late notice and had busy work schedules, we didn’t want to take a long trip.
While I was still perfectly happy to have a long weekend in Europe, I also felt like that meant I couldn’t justify checking a bag. Some initial questions I had: How do you pack for a European vacation in a carry-on? How can I include everything I need for a weekend of wedding festivities in a tiny amount of space?
Given the short turnaround, Amazon Prime (or paying for expedited delivery elsewhere) was the only option to make sure I could get what I needed on time.
Now that I’m back, I can officially say that I had everything I needed for a successful trip and I was a stellar wedding guest (IMHO). So I wanted to share what I learned to help travelers pack light, stay organized, and maximize space in a carry-on to avoid checking a bag when traveling.
Before you say it, I already know that most of the things on this list are not strictly necessities. Sure, it’s not the end of the world if your clothes are wrinkled at the wedding, but I will say that for my own personal happiness, I wanted to look and feel my best. If you also tend to feel out of whack particularly during international travel and have the time, resources, and interest, these are some things that I recommend to stay organized and make the most of a quick trip.
I’ve had the same old Samsonite carry-on bag for many years, and it doesn’t really have any special features or interior compartments that facilitate organized packing. If you need to buy a carry-on suitcase, here are some good options that you can buy on Amazon.
I wish I could give credit to the TikToker who inspired me to look into packing cubes, but the thought came to me long after I had seen and failed to save her video. So I just searched Amazon for packing cubes and found some with good reviews that were available on Prime and ordered them immediately. I knew I wanted a translucent mesh surface so that I could see what was in each cube without opening them. I also wanted ones with a material that wasn’t too structured so I could maneuver and sort of squish them if I needed to. And let me tell you, this was some of the best money I’ve ever spent.
I’ve never been a more organized traveler than I was thanks to these cubes. It helped that I planned out outfits as best as I could and packed each cube with items that made sense to be together, but the cubes alone were really the stars of my last-minute Amazon haul.
Promising review: “These were seriously a GAME CHANGER. I’ve never felt more organized in my life!! I recently bought these for a trip to Hawaii and it was sooo nice to organize all of my clothes into little compartments. I knew exactly which outfits were where and there was even one for shoes!” —Katelynn
You can buy Travel Packing Cubes from Amazon for around $21.
I usually use a backpack as my personal item for flights, but since I was on this organization kick and knew that space in my suitcase would be limited, I wanted something that could fit more and was easier to dig through. I also thought it’d be nice if it had that little open pocket that allows you to slip it onto the handle of a wheelie bag. This one had that, plus a large open space, interior laptop sleeve with pockets for chargers, an interior zip compartment, and exterior open pockets on either side.
I was able to fit a ton in here, including my book, computer, chargers, adapters, passport, wallet, medicine bag, hand sanitizer, Aquaphor, fanny pack, neck pillow, eye mask, headphones, and probably more that I’m forgetting. It also never got too chaotic inside despite the amount of things I was continuously pulling out and putting back in.
Promising review: “I purchased this for a recent trip to Vegas. Since I don’t like to check bags, I used this (tethered to my rolling carry-on bag) as my personal item. It did not disappoint. I was able to pack lots of stuff in it. And the pockets (including an outside zipper pocket along with two side pockets) helped keep me organized.” —D. Hutchinson
You can buy this Travel Duffel Bag from Amazon for around $33.
Now let’s get into specifics for some of those things inside my duffel, starting with the eye masks. We took a red-eye from New York to Rome to maximize our time there (before heading from Rome to Florence), so attempting to sleep on the flight was a must. I sleep with an eye mask every night, but they’re extra helpful when you’re on a plane or unsure of the sleeping conditions of your destination. I decided to buy this Mavogel option because I lost my Dream Sleeper that I had previously used as my travel eye mask. (Check out this sleep mask roundup for more options.)
The set of two was perfect — one for me and one for my travel partner — and they came with little pouches that had carabiners to clip onto the outside of my bag. That made them even easier to access at any time and also kept them nice and clean.
Promising review: “Super soft and really love the nose area that you adjust to fit just right. My son loves his too. I also love the little bag to keep it clean, especially for travel.” —Shawny
You can buy Mavogel Cotton Sleep Eye Masks from Amazon for around $15.
I’ve been back on the fanny pack train for a while now, so I’d already gotten plenty of use out of this belt bag before my trip. In fact, I love it so much that I’ve gotten it as a gift for several people and recommend it to anyone else who will listen. I use it regularly for running errands, walking my dog, etc., but it really comes in clutch for traveling.
I wore it at the airport so that I had easy access to my passport, wallet, AirPods, and phone without having to rummage through the duffel, and then popped the whole thing into the duffel once I took my seat on the plane. I also used it in Italy when we were out and about during the day since it’s safe, hands-free, and the perfect size to hold my essentials.
It’s not an Amazon buy, so it might not come quite as quickly if you’re scrambling at the last minute, but you can buy it in store if you’re near a lululemon or order online if you have the time.
Promising review: “It is the perfect size! I did not want anything bulky - but wanted something that would fit my air pod case, keys, small credit card holder and lip gloss. It handles all this and is not bulky. Love that it has 2 pockets.” —Trumpet via lululemon
You can buy the Everywhere Belt Bag from lululemon for around $38, although it was sold out at the time of publication. Try this similar version, the Mini Belt Bag, which is about the same size and also $38.
The realization that I needed plug adapters is actually what triggered the last-minute Amazon splurge just days before I left. At the airport, I discovered you can buy them there, but I’m sure these ones were much more affordable than what they sell at JFK. Again, the pack of two was nice because you often have several things that need to be plugged in at the same time, and they worked perfectly. The USB ports came in handy as well. Just make sure to get appropriate adapters for whatever country you’re going to! (These will only work in Europe.)
Promising review: “These came in a package of 2. I ordered them for 2 upcoming trips to Rome, Greece and Croatia. My husband forgot his, so luckily, I had brought both of mine, but was worried that I would need them both. What I didn’t realize was how many options for plugging things in each plug has. My husband has now permanently abandoned his adaptor in favor of mine. It was a great purchase! Just keep in mind that it’s an adapter, not a convertor so you still need a dual voltage curling iron etc., otherwise you'll ruin your 110-voltage appliance. It does work however, for charging iPhone, laptops, tablets, etc.” —Sioux1
You can buy European Travel Plug Adapters from Amazon for around $20.
One of the first things I worried about was packing a dress for a wedding knowing that there’s no way it wouldn’t be wrinkled when I got there. We stayed in an Airbnb in Florence, so I couldn’t rely on having an iron or steamer available. I decided to try a wrinkle release spray, not only for my dress, but also for other outfits that would surely crease while packed.
I cannot say that this actually released every wrinkle from my clothing. However, when I was pretty generous with it, it definitely helped (particularly for a linen skirt and top set that was crumpled to the max when I unpacked it). If you don’t have the space to pack a steamer or you’re not sure whether you’ll have access to one, I recommend throwing one of these tiny little bottles in your bag.
Promising review: “This will now be a travel staple. It takes several pumps but really does help with the wrinkles. It doesn't get them all out, but it does a pretty darned good job.” —Nancy Nixon
You can buy a 3-pack of Downy Wrinkle Releaser from Amazon for around $12.
OK, this may be the item I debated packing most but ultimately decided to bring with me to Italy. Thanks to my packing cubes, duffel, and all around thoughtful organization, I had the space for it in my roller bag and figured I’d feel better knowing it was there.
I got this exact mini steamer on sale when my trusty old college steamer finally conked out. I liked that it looked sleek because even when I’m the only one seeing my things, I can’t help but value the aesthetics. It came in a nice little drawstring bag, which made it even easier to pack. I made sure that the water cup was empty so that it wouldn’t leak out all over my clothes and popped it into my bag.
While my usual travel de-wrinkling technique is to hang a garment in the bathroom while I’m showering with the door closed and hope that the humidity works its magic, I decided that for a formal event, I needed more reliability. The Downy Wrinkle Releaser plus this compact little steamer proved to be a dynamic duo. Even though I only really used them on the attire I wore for wedding festivities, I have no regrets about making room for both.
Promising review: “Got this on a whim and I am so glad I did! I tossed it in my things when packing for a destination wedding. This little steamer did not take too much room and had me steaming out the wedding gown, 3 bridesmaids dresses, and a mother of the bride dress in under an hour! My new go to! Tossing my bulky old steamer out.” —Elizabeth Hunter
You can buy the Electrolux Compact Travel Steamer from Target for around $40.
All right, it’s time to ease you into the medicine and toiletries that I truly don’t go anywhere without. (If you need one, here’s a toiletries bag from Amazon that has more than 30,000 reviews, a 4.8-star rating, and is only $27.) The first thing I pack in it is a pain reliever like Advil. Flying and lack of sleep and jet lag can all result in a headache that makes it hard to enjoy your travels, or you’re walking way more than usual so your feet and back start to ache. Whatever it may be, having some Advil on hand never hurts. (Or Tylenol or any pain reliever of choice. Personally, I’m an Advil girl.) This is my preferred size since it’s petite but lasts longer than those tiny little travel tubes that have about two pills inside.
Promising review: “These arrived early and where exactly what I needed! Highly recommend!” —Kelly
You can buy Advil from Amazon for around $4.
And now the real staple of my medicine bag — stool softener. My gut health is at best unpredictable, so when I’m on vacation, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’m going to get backed up. Especially in a place like Italy where I absolutely need to be eating all of the food, and on this trip when I wanted to look and feel good in my dress, it’s extremely unfortunate to feel bloated and uncomfortable 24/7. So, as a preventive measure, I’ll take one stool softener per day while traveling and up the dose (not exceeding what is recommended) if it’s been two days or more with no movement.
For those who don’t have experience with stool softeners, they’re not laxatives. They won’t make anything extreme happen, but they will ideally make it easier to stay regular. If you tend to have the opposite problem when you’re in an unfamiliar place, consider packing some Imodium instead. Per usual, consult with your doctor before taking anything, because I can only speak to what works for my own body. Another good option is a fiber supplement, which experts recommend to help stay regular.
Promising review: “I use these stool softeners daily, because I have IBS. If you are constantly constipated, these softeners help with a painless and easy bowel movement. Also: No cramping! Very important 👏” —JCar
You can buy Colace Stool Softener from Amazon for around $15.
You usually think of packing sunscreen for beach vacations, but it’s important to wear it any time you’re going to be spending time outside. The sun in Italy in June is also STRONG, let me tell you, and if you are fair-skinned like I am, the last thing you want is a sunburn. When you’re only bringing a carry-on, that SPF obviously needs to come in little bottles.
I love Supergoop, so I was pumped to find this travel-size set, which includes two sheer face sunscreen options and one for the body. It should be everything you need for yourself and any travel companions to stay protected.
Promising review: “I’m not really a sunscreen person because I hate the sticky, tacky and greasy feeling of sunscreen on my skin. However, approaching my 30's I noticed that I really need to start using sunscreen because I’m now getting sun spots. This was perfect for me. I got introduced to it by someone else. The tackiness goes away in a few mins. It goes on like a moisturizer. It doesn’t change the way my makeup goes on. Absolutely love it.” —Jo Lion via Ulta
You can buy the Everyday Superstars SPF Discovery Kit from Ulta for around $25.
After years of buying whatever random mini products I could find in a drugstore travel section, this trip finally inspired me to invest in some TSA-approved silicone bottles so I could bring products that I actually want to use. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m maturing or I’m just getting more set in my ways with age, but if the beauty products I know and love don’t come in travel size versions, why risk my hair drying up or my skin breaking out with a new set of toiletries when I travel?
I may be late to the game on this, but it was nice to have my tried-and-true shampoo, conditioner, face wash, and toner with me when I wanted to look and feel my best. This set also comes with cute little labels so that you won’t accidentally wash your face with shampoo, or vice versa.
Promising review: “I got these for my boyfriend when we had gone on a trip! Worked perfect! Silicone material, no leaking, comes with labels also!! Perfect size for traveling and clear pouch is durable as well.” —Alex Garcia
You can buy Portable Travel Bottles on Amazon for around $13.