With travel season more chaotic than ever, airplane carry-ons are your best friend this summer. Checked bags mean more time spent waiting in line, more time spent waiting after your flight at the baggage carousel, and the possibility of your luggage being lost. The good news is that the savvy traveler can pack for an entire week with only a carry-on (also known as hand luggage), as long as they know the rules and take a minimalist approach to packing. Because, after all, are you really going to wear that full-length evening gown or third bathing suit during a week in Paris?
Here is our guide to packing light, and packing right, for a 7-day trip to France.
Carry-on and Personal Item Size
Budget airlines have been shrinking their baggage allowances, so make sure that you check the specific bag sizing if you’re flying an airline like Ryanair or French bee. You might not be guaranteed a carry-on bag, with your allowance limited to a personal item. Standard sizes for personal items (backpacks, large purses, laptop bags) are up to 18” x 14” x 8” but can vary by airline. Carry-on size is generally 22” x 14” x 9”.
What can’t I bring on a plane?
For those who need to hear it: don’t pack a firearm in your carry on. Other banned objects include lighters, knives and scissors, federally banned substances (which includes cannabis regardless of its legality in your home state), alcohol (even if it meets the liquid sizing requirements), and certain flammable aerosols. You can bring a water bottle through as long as you empty it before going through security, and fill it up once you’ve been cleared. Electronic cigarettes must have their batteries removed in order to reduce risk of activating the device’s heating element.
Liquids must be in bottles of 3.4 oz (100ml) or less, and must all fit in a single, sealed quart-sized plastic bag. It helps if the bottle has the measurement written on it as well. (I had my 100ml travel size contact solution confiscated by Heathrow security this summer because it didn’t have the size written on the bottle.)
(Note: Most airlines will not let you put a backpack in overhead storage if you are bringing it as your personal item along with a small suitcase, so be prepared to stash this bag under your seat.)
- Laptop (you’ll have to take this out and put it in a separate bin when going through security)
- Quart-sized plastic bag for liquids (ditto)
- Chargers (and adapters)
- Toiletries bag
- Medications (any liquid prescriptions fall under the same rules as all liquids)
- Snacks (most flight food is terrible)
- Empty water bottle
- An FFP2 mask (while masks are no longer required in most parts of France, it’s always good to wear one while traveling and have an extra on hand–Europeans prefer the FFP2 to the KN95 or fabric masks)
- Handheld fan (because no AC all over France will really do a number on you)
Quart-sized plastic bag
- Conditioner (see if your preferred brand sells travel conditioners in packets, which save space)
- SPF 50 Sunscreen (longer days in Europe in the hot summer mean more sun exposure… SPF 30 is for amateurs)
- Travel toothpaste
- Facial oil that can double as frizz-be-gone for your hair
- Liquid deodorant
- Any foundation or liquid makeup… this includes concealer, mascara, liquid eyeliner, etc. (sticking to only the essentials will benefit you here… not that you want to be wearing a heavy face of makeup while on your feet all day with no AC in sight)
- Contact solution (if necessary)
(Note: This is a bag for any personal items that aren’t liquid.)
- Comb (takes up much less space than most hairbrushes)
- Powder-based makeup products
- Safety pins, bobby pins, small sewing kit
- Solid deodorant (if you don’t use liquid)
- Bandaids (if you’re planning on bringing a full first aid kit with neosporin, remember that it will have to go in the liquids bag)
- Toothbrush, floss
- Nail clippers, nail file, tweezers, hair ties, earplugs
What to wear on a flight
- Long athletic pants or comfortable jeans
- Sports bra (optional)
- T-shirt or long-sleeved shirt (seasonal)
- Lightweight sweater or denim jacket (this can be worn over other outfits in case of a chilly night, so bring something nice enough to throw over a dress, but comfortable enough for the plane)
- Coat (seasonal)
Packing a Suitcase
Keep in mind that the French tend to dress more nicely than Americans on a day-to-day basis, but they also have a good pair of jeans they rewear all week. Steer away from graphic tees and athletic wear, and towards comfortable basics. If you’re going to be doing a more active trip, pack for that. If you want to do seven days of Instagram photoshoots, pack for that. But if you’re somewhere in the middle, aim to bring around three nicer outfits (dresses, dress shirts and slacks, blouses with dress shorts, etc.), and two to four comfortable outfits (anything you would feel okay walking and sweating in for several hours at a time). Wear your sneakers (or boots, if traveling in winter) on the plane. Pack a pair of sandals or dressier shoes in a shoe bag, packing cube or cloth grocery bag to keep any dirt off your clothes, then use this as your dirty laundry bag as the week progresses. Fabrics like polyester, nylon, viscose, rayon, wool, cashmere, knit, and denim are wrinkle-resistant and good options for travel. But if you’re traveling in the summer then lightweight, breathable cotton outfits might be worth bringing even if they require pulling out the ironing board at your Airbnb for a quick press. There are also brands like Wayre and Anatomie that design clothes specifically for travel, which are wrinkle-resistant, comfortable, and stylish.
- 4 comfortable outfits, such as…
- 2 pairs jeans, shorts, or other bottoms, and 4 breathable tops
- 3 nicer outfits, such as…
- 3 dresses, the French favor long and flowy (maybe bring one and save room for a French shopping spree)
- 2 pairs slacks or loose flowy pants, and 3 button-down shirts or nice blouses
- 2 pairs dress shorts/khaki shorts and 3 short or long-sleeved (depending on time of year) button-down shirts or polos
- 1 matching set, 1 jumpsuit, and 1 dress
- PJs, 2 sets
- 2-3 bras (if we’re still doing those)
- 9 pairs of underwear (two pairs more than the number of days in your trip… thank us later)
- 8 pairs of socks (one pair more than the number of days in your trip; always bring one pair of wool socks for that rare wet, cold day… smart wools are a great choice)
- Flip-flops or Birkenstocks (either for the beach, or for your hostel)
- Bathing suit (if there’s a beach or pool in your future… or if you’re just optimistic)
- Travel towel (travel towels are lightweight, quick-drying, and often sand-repellant, and it’s good to have one on hand if you’re staying at a hostel or Airbnb) or lightweight sarong that can do double duty on the beach and as a light blanket on the plane
- Umbrella (for those rainy Parisian days)
- Packing cube for dirty laundry (or a cotton grocery bag if you don’t have packing cubes)
What’s the weather like in France?
The climate in Paris is roughly equivalent to that of New York. Be prepared for rainy weather in winter and spring, and hot dry heat and a noticeable lack of air conditioning in summer.
North of Paris will be colder, with Lille staying quite chilly even through May.
The hottest part of the country is the inland part of the South of France, with places like Toulouse and Montpellier hitting 80 or 90 degrees Fahrenheit in early May. Things cool off by the shore, however, though cities like Nice, Cannes, and Marseille get warmer earlier and stay warmer longer than their Northern counterparts. It’s far from tropical, but perfect for spending every day at the beach from June until September.
Other packing suggestions
These are a great way to make sure your travel wardrobe is as versatile as possible. From more affordable options at Zara or Lulus to higher end options at Everlane or Reformation, a few pieces in neutral or complementary colors make mixing and matching easy.
The best part of post-pandemic fashion is the formal canonization of the white sneaker as a pairing for every outfit. The French love their Stan Smiths, but a pair of Nikes or Vejas will keep you stylish and comfortable as you trek up the stairs to the Sacré Cœur.
Uniqlo’s Heattech collection includes extremely lightweight, quick-drying, and wrinkle-resistant basics like long-sleeved shirts and leggings, which will save you room while packing bulky cold-weather clothes. Always have one thin all wool sweater to layer over and two pairs of good quality wool socks for chillier nights and mornings.
Catherine Rickman is a writer and professional francophile who has lived in Paris, New York, and Berlin. She is currently somewhere in Europe with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.