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Europe with Just a Carry-on Bag and No Purse

Europe with No Purse
(Photo: Scottevest)

Two weeks, two cities, varied weather, and many connecting flights: How do you pack for such a trip without having to check a bag and lug a massive purse around all day? I just did it on a long trip to Berlin and London last month. Here’s how.

No Purse, No Problem

Walking around with a handbag is such a hassle. You have to worry about pickpockets, your shoulders ache by the end of the day, and you can never find anything in it. But how else are you going to carry around all the stuff you need for the day? Enter the Scottevest Women’s Trench, which allowed me to travel purse-free while looking fashionable and non-touristy.

The Scottevest trench coat looks like a normal coat—but it has 18 hidden pockets and a “Weight Management System” with “NoBulge” engineering, which means you won’t look like you’re trying to smuggle stuff under your coat.

The jacket is lightweight and water-resistant, so it worked well for overcast, chilly days in Berlin as well as unseasonably sunny and warm days in London.

What I Carried in the Jacket

The trench coat easily held everything I would normally put in a purse, with room for more. Walking around Berlin and London, I carried my cell phone, my digital camera, extra camera batteries, lip balm, travel-size sunscreen, a notepad and pen, an umbrella, gum, cash, my hotel key, my credit cards, my ID, and a bottle of water. Everything had its own pocket, and there’s even a specially designed strap to keep your water bottle in place. I clipped my camera strap onto the inside bungee cord in the easily accessible front pocket so I wouldn’t have to worry about pickpockets.

On the Plane

I didn’t want to pay to check a bag (or have to worry about my luggage getting lost, because I had a number of connecting flights), so the Scottevest trench acted as a third bag. I used the Briggs & Riley Baseline Expandable Carry-On suitcase as my main bag (it went in the overhead compartment) and a medium-sized over-the-shoulder tote as my personal item (it fit under the seat) to store magazines, headphones, medications, toiletries, and electronic entertainment that I might need in-flight. The trench coat held my passport, money, and tickets, and doubled as a blanket during the long flight.

What I Packed

I spent a total of 10 days in Europe: five days in Berlin and five days in London. My wardrobe had to cover business-casual clothes for the work-related portion of the trip, casual (but trendy!) outfits for London, outfits suitable for adventure activities (including base flying and climbing The O2), dressier outfits for dinners and going out, and comfortable walking shoes. Since the weather forecast ranged from drizzly and in the 50s to sunny and in the high 60s, I opted to pack outfits that would work with lots of layers.

To save space, I packed five comfortable dresses that could be worn with or without tights (depending on the weather) and with or without cardigans. For city trips, I think dresses are the best thing to pack because they are a single item of clothing (instead of a shirt and pants), they roll up and take up minimal suitcase space, and they can be dressed up or down if you need to go from a business event to a nice dinner. I wore each dress twice: once in Berlin and once in London. I also packed two cardigans (both in neutral colors that matched all five dresses), warm tights, one pair of jeans, two short-sleeved tops, and one long-sleeved shirt (and of course, 10 days’ worth of undergarments and socks).


Since the forecast called for some rain, I wore one pair of water-resistant flat black boots on the plane and packed one pair of flat, trendy gray boots (also water-resistant). I also packed one pair of ballet flats and one pair of high heels. Both pairs of boots are comfortable enough to walk in all day, but I increased the comfort level by inserting a pair of gel insoles to add extra cushion and arch support; it definitely made a difference.


During my trip, I stayed at four hotels and a friend’s apartment, which meant lots of unpacking and repacking. To keep my bag from becoming a giant mess and having to unpack at every place, I used ziplock bags to separate everything, and I divided my bag into areas. I kept everyday toiletries in the outside zippered section of my suitcase, which is easily accessible. (Plus, if anything spilled, it would be relatively contained.) I rolled the dresses to keep them wrinkle-free and to take up less space, and I packed them in one corner of the suitcase. Jeans occupied another corner, undergarments the third, and sweaters the fourth corner. The middle of the suitcase was left for dirty clothes (I packed an empty plastic bag to hold these), and shoes were kept in the inside zippered compartment. It was much easier to find things and repack when everything was organized in this way.

EasyJet Flight

From Berlin to London, I flew the infamous European budget airline EasyJet, which offers extremely cheap fares but hits you with extra fees anywhere it can. I had planned to only take a carry-on on the flight, but it turned out that I had inaccurate information on their hand-baggage allowance—EasyJet’s maximum carry-on size is 56 cm x 45 cm x 25 cm, so when I turned up at the gate with my 20.3 cm x 35.6 cm x 53.3 cm rolling suitcase, the gate staff literally laughed in my face.

Normally these budget airlines are incredibly strict—EasyJet usually charges passengers £40 (approximately $60) to check an oversized bag at the gate. I got lucky and arrived after their overhead bins were full, so they were making everyone gate-check their bags, and mine got checked for free. The gate staff did warn me not to try that again, though!

This is when my trench coat and tote bag came in handy—I was able to keep anything valuable or important (like medications, keys, my passport, etc.) with me in the cabin in case my gate-checked bag was lost.

Return Flights

I flew British Airways, Air Berlin, and American Airlines on the way back, and my bag fit the carry-on requirements for all of them. I had to gate-check my bag with American Airlines, as the overhead compartments filled up before I boarded—but at least it’s free when they force you to do it.

My Air Berlin flight landed at JFK, and I had to go through security and customs again in order to get to my connecting American Airlines flight to Boston. Since I wasn’t planning to check my bag, I hadn’t bothered to take off the luggage tag from my EasyJet flight. This turned out to be a mistake, as I got absolutely screamed at by an overzealous TSA agent who thought I was attempting to bring a bag that was meant to be checked as a carry-on. I had to take off the tag and throw it away before she let me through.

Accumulated Stuff

I went to London—of course I went shopping. And my tote bag came in handy, because I was able to shove any overflow that didn’t fit in my carry-on suitcase in the tote, which I stored under my seat for the flight. If you’re planning to shop, bring a “personal item” with lots of extra room so you can bring all your new scores home.

What I Learned

The Scottevest trench coat is machine washable, which is great, as I’m paranoid about washing everything to avoid bedbugs when I return from travels.

Always bring an expandable personal item that will fit under the seat, in case you go shopping.

Prepare for the forecast to be wrong—London was much warmer than predicted, so I was grateful to have lightweight dresses that could be worn alone.

The freedom to travel without a purse is amazing.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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