Packing for Paris and Provence: Luggage and Accessories

Having become a committed Carry-On Only™ traveler*, I’ve done much research on luggage and bags. You want something sturdy enough to survive being tossed about and (occasionally) stuffed to the gills, but light enough to be easily maneuverable, and small enough to fit in airline overhead bins without a raised eyebrow from over-zealous flight attendants. Some people eschew wheeled luggage, but I think most of them have a back that is Strong Like Ox and/or a Y chromosome. During one of those two-mile airport connection slogs, I want wheels, baby.

After a few years of purchasing lower-priced lines that split their zippers or burst seams after two or three trips, we invested in a couple of 25″ Eagle Creek Tarmac bags. We were delighted with the light weight and high quality of these bags. Over the years I’ve downsized, and this is the bag I now use for most travel: Eagle Creek Tarmac 20.

Though I did like the interior compartments in earlier iterations of the Tarmac line in the larger sizes, I prefer the totally open design of this smaller bag.

When every square centimeter of space counts, a large open space allows greater flexibility. And my laptop fits nicely in the exterior lid pocket, making going through security, if not a snap, a few degrees easier. This bag is very lightweight, and has quiet-but-sturdy wheels that roll smoothly over any surface.

For smaller items that I want to keep together and organized, I use the Eagle Creek packing cubes. Especially if you’re not staying in one place, they help keep one organized and make re-packing a breeze.

And for le monsieur’s shirts and other clothing that needs to be folded rather than rolled, I use the Pack-It folders. They really do help prevent wrinkles.

Eagle Creek luggage has a “No Matter What” Lifetime Warranty. That means that if a zipper breaks, if your bag gets run over by a 747, they repair or replace it at no charge. We actually had the “opportunity” to test this out, after a checked bag had a corner ripped loose at some point during the baggage handling process several years ago. We shipped the bag to Eagle Creek; they repaired it and returned it to us within a few weeks…no charge.

For my “personal item” carry on, I use a large Longchamp Le Pliage bag.

Inside goes my day purse, a shawl and sweater for the plane, Kindle and any other reading material, a small bag of almonds for a snack, my water bottle, travel-sized lotion, and anything else I’d want easy access to during the flight. This one fits easily under the seat in front of me, with plenty of room for my feet.

On the way home, we often have bottles of wine and vinegars, jars of mustards and flacons of parfum that would never pass security. So we plan to check at least one bag on the trip home with those liquid items, and bring a packable duffel which is pressed into use on the return trip. We also use compression bags for dirty clothes, to reduce the space required on the trip home, again creating a bit of room for souvenirs and gifts.

And no, Eagle Creek did not sponsor this post nor have they provided or offered any compensation. I just really do like their products. 🙂

*notable exception: ski trip.  There’s no way I can fit my ski wear and equipment in a carry on.

Do you have a favorite brand or type of luggage?  Any strategies or tricks for packing light?

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  1. Globe Trotter – indestructible and they last a lifetime.
    The whole no liquids thing, and increased security has really impacted on bringing things back, oh well safety first.

  2. I wish that I did have a strategy for packing light. Unfortunately I am a chronic overpacker. One cure I have found for this is to pack at the very last minute possible. An open suitcase, packed days ahead of departure, is a virtual invitation to ‘just one more thing’. I also suffer from ‘what ifitis’ (what if it rains, what if it gets hot, what if I decide to go to the beach/Vatican/glacier). That is why I love your and Vivienne’s packing/travel posts. I have been getting a real education. In the meantime, however, I have a quick fix: our upcoming vacation is a cruise which leaves from our back door (practically). No flights. No luggage limits. And to make sure that my back and shoulders are spared, both my luggage and carry on must be wheeled. I only carry a very small cross body bag (which I usually keep in the carry on, so I don’t have to carry anything at all). Thanks for the ongoing education. And have a great trip!

    1. Carol, you may try the opposite approach. I now pack several days ahead, and make it a firm goal to take out half before the final closure. Works for me :-).

  3. I had to laugh looking at this post as I have the vintage suitcase in the old ad.. picked it up at a flea market.. it is big as bus and so hard… travel with it was simply punishing ..thank goodness for today’s bags with wheels

    1. I remember traveling with luggage like this when we were kids, but back then there was someone to help from the moment you pulled up at the curb until you reached your destination (and people dressed up for airline travel).

  4. I am in the market for a new bag – but am non-virtuously tempted by the Rinowas. All visual, I’m sure, and exceedingly non-sturdy. Your strategy works a charm, I bet.

  5. You once showed these puffy bags for stowing bottles that were checked through… still using those?
    The day I gave up a jaunty duffle for a roller bag was like going into support hose, a definite sign that youth departed- but essential! Use a similar Tumi roller and a SportSac small duffle to carry on.

    Frugal, old luggage is good for storing clothes. I keep shawls in my parent’s old leather suitcases.

  6. Hi – I love the concept of packing only one bag and bringing it on the plane with me…but what about all my “beauty” products? Now that the airlines are so strict with sizes, etc….

    What do you do? Do you just purchase things to use once you land?

    I have kept some old vintage luggage pieces…I stack them like a table in my guest room and keep out of season sweaters in them.

    As always….loving your blog!!

  7. I’ve been carrying Tumi lately, but I have very fond memories of an Eagle Creek convertible backpack/rolling bag that went all over Europe with me in the old advertising traveling days. My six week trip of which epics will be written was made with Eagle Creek… sigh…
    But I’m coveting Rimowa. Next bag, which will be the LAST bag I ever buy!
    big hug,

  8. Learned these tips from a friend:
    Sequester your oldest underwear for your trip. Take as much as you can, wash as needed and discard before returning home.
    Ditto for sox and pj’s.
    Can’t deal with a bad bra so I always take a nude and a black and wash as needed.
    Always take a larger tote that can be your carry-on going home. Check the things that will not pass security and pack the tote with your clothes.
    Always pack luggage with underwear, toiletries and make-up on top. Discourages male custom agents (especially in Latin countries)from the thorough search that makes then closing a bag difficult.

  9. i also have the same luggage in the ad above–all three pieces! Mr FS keeps telling me to donate it, but I am trying to figure out how to do something with them. Thanks–never seen the ad.

    As for luggage today–this is one area where you should spend right the first time if possible. Love the forever guarantee on your Eagle Creek.

    1. I’ve seen that old luggage stacked and made into a table with glass on top or with a pole through them to make a lamp.


  10. I, too, use (and love!) the 20″ Eagle Creek Tarmac. Also have it in a larger size, but don’t use that one often. My boyfriend, on the other hand, uses a GIANT Eagle Creek suitcase and always checks his. He also relies on their cubes/envelopes packing system, which you mentioned. I seem to be too uncoordinated to use those–I just roll my clothes and put them directly into the suitcase. As for the Longchamps bag, I used to use one for flying…thanks for reminding me of it!

    Have a glorious trip–and thanks (always) for your wonderful blog.

    1. Sam, le monsieur prefers to take a bigger bag and check (even though one of his bags went missing for a couple of days), but as we’ll be taking trains and other public transport, I’m pressuring him to go small.

  11. We love Land’s End carry on luggage. The few times we had a problem it was replaced for free.

    I am inspired to travel with just a carry on. I’ll have to give it a go on the next trip. 🙂


    1. Lisa, I’ve heard good things about Lands End too. If you had told me a few years ago I’d be traveling to Europe with only a carry on I would have laughed, but now wouldn’t do it any other way!

  12. Thanks to your advice, I packed for last summer’s three weeks in France using an Eagle Creek envelope and a couple of their packing cubes. The envelope and the cube are wonderful! With the envelope I was able to get a week’s worth of folded shirts over to France without almost any wrinkles. One of the cubes held pants (rolled up) and the other socks, underwear, pjs, etc. Magnifique!

    Now if I had only followed your overall packing advice. I brought a giant suitcase and way too many clothes! Getting that monster on and off the train was très difficile – and, bien sûr, I only wore a little bit more than half of what I brought. So when I go over next year, I will be revisiting your packing posts and only bringing a carry on. Bon voyage madame!

    1. Debra, I’m so glad to hear you liked the packing cubes! It took me several trips before I was willing to pare down the overall amount of clothing, but if you take pieces that are versatile and washable, it’s amazing how little you can pack and still have plenty to wear!

  13. Is the wide body Eagle Creek hard to maneuver down the aisle of the plane? This has been a problem for me with the current Tumi bag I’m looking to replace. Have considered a “spinner bag” but realized how much space in the bag is given up for this feature. The jury is still out, but Eagle Creek is getting much consideration! Thanks.

    1. Marguerite, you know in some airplane aisles I have trouble no matter what size wheelie I have. The nice thing about the small bag is that I can just pick it up and carry if I have to. And the Eagle Creek bags are pretty light, which helps.

  14. I have a set of old Samsonite that I have used. I don’t travel much so I don’t have to worry much about packing. It looks like you hae done a great job figuring out the best way to pack light.

  15. I received a Bric roller suitcase as a gift. Very nice and kinda stylish…although not a carryon size. I took it to Michigan in February when I needed to pack boots and sweaters. My husband travels a lot for business & always does carryon only, but I have a problem with my toiletries. I guess I just need to distill everything into tiny jars, but what a pain! Went to Puerto Rico with my 2 daughters for spring break; heard that there was a CVS right down the street from our hotel, so didn’t pack shampoo or conditioner & just bought it there. Since we have similar hair, we could share products.

    I have an Eagle Creek tote I love: it has a mesh side pocket for a water bottle, another pocket for magazines or books, and it can slide over the handle of a wheelie bag. But I do love that crocodile Samsonite luggage in the picture! I would not get rid of it, surely you can figure out something to do with it. I was determined to find a train case like the one shown, just like my mom used to have, but I couldn’t find anybody who still makes those….so I bought one on Ebay, very similar to the Samsonite one but mine is a nice deep green. It will only get used for car travel, unfortunately!

    1. Jill Ann, I love the idea of one of those train cases! We have a Bric’s store at the local mall and their luggage looks pretty workable. I always ask for travel/sample sizes of products when I purchase any skin care, and there are some websites that specifically sell travel sizes of products.

  16. Travelled many times long haul for work for years (carrying lots of printed matter and also had to be prepared for official receptions and dinners nearly every evening). Now retired and still use the same indestructible Samsonite Oyster suitcase as husband and I travel for at least two months at a time usually across seasons, so need both winter and summer clothes. It’s on wheels, has both key and combination locks so is very secure (husband has its twin). Useful in hotel rooms/rented apartments for storing expensive accessories when out for the day (things that won’t go into the safe with laptop and other goodies).

    Have also always taken a Samsonite office model cabin bag on wheels (again hubby has twin) – fits laptop and all my chargers as well as changes of clothes for several days, plus reading matter, small toiletries and all my note books, pashmina and fold-up umbrella.

    Wear a large black leather cross the shoulder Oroton bag (quality Australian accessories company) which contains all my medication for two months (sadly as one ages one needs such things), wallet and passport, small make-up purse, smart phone, smart camera, reading glasses, sunglasses etc. Great travelling with my man as he’s able to lift bags onto trains. Though where we can we pay for porterage. Sadly there are now few official porters at stations but there are often unofficial guys who’ll walk with you and look after the bags. We’re happy to pay for the convenience. As we always travel business class, on the flights out we don’t use up all our checked baggage allowance but certainly do on the way home as we bring back lots of shopping (in soft bags we pack inside Samsonite suitcases on the way over), though from France we generally post as many books and heavier things as we can in the French Post Office Colisimo boxes. To identify our black Samsonites on the carousel we always tie the same unusual ribbon to each handle and then an additional ribbon, one pink, one blue to each bag so we know which is hubby’s and which is mine. We pack our bags this weekend as we’re off in about two weeks time for Budapest, Vienna, Milan, Lake Como, Antibes, Aix en provence, St Remy and Paris. Yay!! We aim to travel as much as we can while we’re still fit enough to do so.

  17. I have yet to find the perfect air travel bag combo. How I wish flights were still like your illustration. My little packing trick is taking old, about ready-to-replace t-shirts and tanks for wearing under blazers or to bed (also old pajama bottoms). Then I leave them behind in the hotel waste basket. It doesn’t save space on the way out, but makes a place for some shopping on the way back.

  18. Wheels take a huge amount of space, especially so in proportion to a carry-on (roughly 20%). So I have wheels on the large ‘moving’ suitcase, but I have a zipable-backpack for a carry-on. The extra straps are neatly tucked into a zipped pocket if I ever have to check the bag, so they don’t rip. But the point is that in my experience, miles of airport corridors always come with carts. On the other hand, miles of metro stairs don’t, not to mention skinny sidewalks covered in dogshit or small cobblestone streets with mopeds, and I’m too old to schlep a wheeled suitcase through all that. It’s not a true backpacking climb-the-Eiger quality rig, but it means I can carry even heavy contents comfortably, I could pack it with books and still cross an arrondissement or two. For Europe, it’s way superior to wheels.

    Oh, it’s still available fabric quality is less than Eagle Creek, that’s true, but the function is so much better.. Same open design, plenty of convenient pockets etc. I’m not a frenetic business traveler, mine’s still pristine after 5 years, but if I had to do it over I’d get this one again.

    1. Marie-Christine, yes, wheels are compromise, but I do find that wheels save my back, and that’s worth a bit of extra space. My bag is small enough to pick up and carry on steps, etc.

  19. We’ve gotten 250,000 miles out of an LL Bean carry-on with wheels. If you’re going for a slightly larger bag than what you show it’s worth the money.

    I put off packing but I find that I more reliably end up with what I need if I don’t.

    1. RoseAG, a lot of people really have good things to say about Lands End. Their quality overall does seem to be high, and I have one friend who swears she’s still using one of their canvas totes that’s 40 years old…

  20. Just one caution – if you check a soft bag, make sure it’s full so there’s less chance of it getting caught in the conveyor belt machinery. I’ve lost two bags that way.

  21. I dislike struggling with large carryons in the airport, so I always check my bag. Get rid of it at the curb and then breeze through security.

    With our upcoming European trip I plan to travel light. These are great suggestions. I will especially look into the compression bags for dirty laundry.

    It’s my husband, however, who overpacks! Our last trip to visit family in Chicago, he packed 3 casual jackets! in August!

    I have warned him we need to pack light for Europe as we are taking the train between cities.

    One time, his bag was overweight and we were about to be charged for it. I happened to have a little roll-up nylon shopping bag I always carry in my handbag, and quickly unpacked some heavy items of his (shoes, yet another jacket! a flannel shirt!) and brought them onboard as carryon – that little shopping bag saved us a lot of $$.

    What about more packing tips for gentlemen of a certain age who accompany les femmes?

    1. Aunt Snow, my monsieur is also a notorious over-packer! I now give him a list and then pack the items for him, otherwise he’d take the entire closet! Once I’ve made his list I’ll share it in my final packing post.

  22. I will absolutely vouch for the Eagle Creek Tarmac bags. We used them when we went to Africa, and I’ve never seen two bags be thrown around, rained on, or suffer more abuse. Nothing instead was ever harmed or barely even moved. We did have to get rid of them finally as they were beyond dirty, with African red dust.
    Haven’t replaced them because I have to admit, that was the only time I’ve traveled with carry-on…..

  23. I’m madly in love with my Travel Pro Maxlite 2 22″ — and since Mr. Pants took it on a trip to Thailand and Vietnam, he has to have one, too. Since this line is a close-out, it hasn’t been easy to find, but I tracked one down.

    It’s super-light, sturdy, and has just the right number and location of pockets. Its main compartment is open, which I prefer, too. Just a great bag!

  24. I’m a carryon only girl myself. I”ve been stranded in Paris with no luggage (read CLOTHES) and I learned my lesson. I”ve started rolling my items as you do and I really think that helps. I also put a duffle that comes in a small pouch in the bottom and I check that with dirty clothes etc on the return trip. Perhaps I’ll do as you and check the carryon so I can bring home some liquid tr eats!

    I”ve used the soft siders but now have a hard shell bag. I THINK I can pack more in it but I’m not sure. I”ve not done a scientific experiment to find out.

    Bon voyage!

  25. We saw a lot of people carrying large Longchamp bags in Paris. My m0851 bag worked perfectly, packed lightly or with camera.