How to Pack for London in Just a Carry On
London, one of my favorite cities, was one of the first major stops on my ‘after university backpacking trip’ to Europe. When the husband lived there, I visited often. With a handful of close friends living in the region, I continue to return. London is special. The cosmopolitan urban hub welcomes all. When standing in the center of the city, it often feels like you’re truly in the center of the world; although you have to go to Greenwich to make it official.
If we’re headed somewhere else in Europe, we try to grab a few days in London which we hope provides enough of that ‘fix’ we need to get us to the next time we can return. Regardless of how many times you visit, there’s an ever-changing list of ‘what to pack for London’.
Travel breeds familiarity amidst the new. Each time I return to London, there’s something new to see, some place new to eat, and something new to learn. But, like any location to which you return, there are things that I can’t wait to have again. My must haves include, a pasty from the West Cornwall Pasty Shop, a trip to Borough Market, a walk by the river, and a drink of lemon squash at a pub. The husband gets his fill of Bassett’s Licorice Allsorts and a pint of cask ale at the pub, we pay a visit to the South African shop near Embankment tube station and if time allows, we try to grab a show in the West End. My first time felt like the Griswold’s list of Big Ben and Parliament; now as the visits continue, although there’s always some of the same, we try to fit in something new.
Start with a Weatherproof Bag
While a truly waterproof (welded seam) bag is definitely overkill for London, choosing a carry on travel backpack made with waterproof fabric, like the Outbreaker Backpack, is perfect for the quickly changing and often wet weather the city is known for. The low profile, sleek design is a bonus, you won’t stand out like the tourists dragging gigantic bags in and out of the tube station. And a backpack is far more convenient than a roller bag on those long escalators, trust us.
What to Pack for London: The Necessities
If you travel often, you can probably make your ‘what I take with me’ list in under a few minutes. Perhaps you have all of this stashed at the ready, just in case an adventure emergency comes along. Whether it’s your first trip or your two-hundredth one, there are a few things that will always come along for the ride.
These most significant items are the ones to never leave your side; they remind you who you are, who to contact in a ‘situation’ and how you can pay for all of your excitement.
- Wallet: Photo ID, passport & an extra copy of the front page of your passport
- Travel documents: Travel insurance, visa documents (if you need them), extra copies of passport photos
- Medications: All necessary and allergy – carry extras & copies of prescriptions (it always helps to know the generic name of your medications as all brands differ between regions), tell your traveling companions your allergies or carry a language specific card with them listed
- Necessary tech: Chargers & converters – double check compatibility; bring power strip or extra converters if you have a lot to recharge at once
Personal Item: Hang on Tight
When you find yourself in Europe, take the time to visit London. If your travel adventures stop in Heathrow for a change of flights, take some time to see the city. Whether you’re driving in, taking the train or the ferry, passing through, or flying into the thriving urban hub, you’ll need that personal item in tow.
The Outbreaker Daypack is the perfect personal item to pack for London. With plenty of room for all of your essentials and your laptop on the plane, the waterproof sailcloth performs like a dream in London’s erratic (and often wet!) weather. Plus, it packs flat in your carry on when you’re not using it so it won’t take up any extra space.
We all do our best to be sure to have ‘what we think we might need’ on hand both in flight and on the ground. If you find yourself out of something or need to restock before you head to your next destination, swing by a Boots drug store for all of your personal item needs.
- Mini first aid kit
- Headphones (many people swear by the noise canceling ones)
- Sunscreen (if you’re going in spring or summer)
- Gum or mints
- Make up (if necessary)
- Lip balm
- Change of clothes (don’t forget that extra underwear)
- Unscented lotion
- Antibacterial (unscented) or baby wipes
- Liquids bag
- Fuzzy socks or flip flops (no one wants to be barefoot in airplane bathrooms)
- Scarf, pashmina, or travel blanket (it’s rare to find these provided on flights anymore)
- Mini flash light (hook to backpack with a carabiner clip)
- Feminine hygiene products (if necessary)
- Contact lenses & travel size solution, or glasses
- (tightly closed) Essential oils (if this is your thing)
Toiletries: Stench Free & Sitting Pretty
For the carry-on travelers, this is the most sensitive category. How can we be mindful of the travel rules and restrictions while still having what we need? Be savvy, think like a minimalist, and remember you can always purchase what you need upon arrival.
Put your large scale supplies into travel size bottles (you can pick these up at any local travel/outdoors shop or places like the Container Store, Bed Bath and Beyond or any local drug store). Keep in mind the TSA 3-1-1 rule as you pack your toiletries.
You might consider trying dry toiletries if you feel you need to make more room in your quart sized ziplock bag.
- Toothpaste & toothbrush
- Hair products
- Travel size shampoo, conditioner, body soap
- Razor & grooming kit
- Travel towel/washcloth (depending on your type of travel/accommodations)
Weather: Beware of Delightful, Damp, Drizzle
London can pose a packing challenge. On any day of the year – you may need layers, sunscreen, a raincoat and hat, galoshes, bug spray, or closed-toed shoes. There is a certain possibility of rain each and every day.
The weather is part of London’s charm and griping about it is part of the culture. Wear whatever you can on the flight so as to not have to find room in your luggage. Remember to put gloves and hat in your jacket pockets, hook the umbrella to the outside of your carry on and hit the runway. Regardless of weather, London is always a good time! No matter the season, bring at least one of something that can keep you warm, dry, cool, and comfortable. If all else fails, head to the pub.
- A sturdy raincoat
- Closed-toed shoes (consider hiking shoes over sneakers/comfortable walking shoes)
- One extra pair of shoes (in summer, comfortable/durable sandals are a great option)
- Extra layers (wool is a good choice)
- Warm jacket with a hood (especially in winter)
- Hat, scarf, gloves, & Buff
- In winter (since I’m freezing all the time): I pack hand/feet warmers to pop in gloves/socks
- In summer: Bathing suit, beach cover up (if you plan on heading towards the water)
- Two tank tops (they can always act as an under layer if it’s not warm enough outside)
Pack Your Tech
If you’re touching down (from abroad) on the European continent, you are likely to need a travel power adapter for all of your electronic concerns. Keep in mind that if your travels take you throughout the continent, the converters for the UK are different than those of the rest of Western Europe.
Be considerate and disciplined when packing your cords and extra tech gear. Store your cords safely and keep them with you. If you’re traveling with a lot of necessary rechargeable equipment, consider a power strip to utilize in hostel lobbies or a local coffee shop.
- Power adapter & power strip (the strip works great in airports/hostel lobbies)
- Necessary converters (bring more than one if you have many items to recharge)
- Portable charger & cords (keep cords wrapped well)
- Camera, lens, batteries, card reader, memory cards, & chargers
- Tablet, phone, computer, & necessary chargers
- External hard drive to back up your photos (not necessary if camera is wifi operated)
Clothes: Stay Warm & Dry
Casual dress will often do, but keep in mind that London is an international and cosmopolitan city. You won’t be wandering the city center in sweats (I hope!) and with wacky weather, you’re going to want to be ready for anything that comes your way. Unless you’re headed away for a special celebration, there’s no need to bring your fancy clothes.
Comfortable shoes are a must and layers will always be your friends. If you’re on a travel adventure where nightlife might be a part of the story, throw in something that can work for a fun, festive atmosphere for a night on the town.
- Light cardigan or sweater
- Layers (wool base layers are the best/cold gear items are also helpful in winter temps)
- 4-7 pair underwear
- 4-7 pair socks
- 1-2 jeans or pants
- 3-5 t-shirts (lightweight and great for layering)
- 2 long sleeve outer layer tops (sweaters or sweatshirts are great)
- 1-2 skirts or dresses (depending on the season)
- 1 evening or nightlife outfit (you can always borrow or purchase abroad)
Years pass, trends come and go, and travel styles change. What I brought as my ‘extras’ for my first trip abroad aren’t exactly the same now. Although your list may ebb and flow and will most likely be different from your friend’s, depending on your choice of luggage and type of travel, there are some items that might make your ‘possible’ list.
- Reusable water bottle
- Extra poncho
- Bug spray (depending on the season)
- Journal & pens or coloring book & pencils
- Work out gear & lightweight yoga towel/mat
London Bucket List: What to See
Home to Queen Elizabeth, Elton John and the brilliant mind behind a magical wizarding world, England’s capital city is one to put on your list. Grab a picnic, punt along the Thames or throw back a pint at the pub – London is calling! A blend of cultures, accents, trends and talents, London provides action in the city and access to the goodness beyond.
Big City Sights
Although there’s much to experience in England, London is most often the starting point. Some of the best things to see are outside of the city center and there are endless options that don’t fall on the first page of the latest travel guidebook.
Whether you spend your day watching the water in South Bank, tasting treats at Borough Market, eating your fill of naan in Brick Lane, or traversing the treasures of the many museums, London has something for everyone.
- Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey
- Buckingham Palace (changing of the guards)
- British Museum
- Tower of London
- Piccadilly Circus/Leicester Square
- The Old Globe Theatre
- Tate Modern (museum)
- Hyde Park
- Borough Market
- St. Paul’s Cathedral
- Covent Garden
- Trafalgar Square
- London Eye
London is filled with small neighborhoods and areas that distinguish themselves from the next. Each boasting it’s own image and flair, markets and stalls, restaurants and vistas – these neighborhoods are ones that invite you in and entice with their ‘come stay awhile’ attitude.
Whether you visit the market on a Sunday afternoon, wander the sights, stand where time starts, breathe deeply by the riverside or wile away the hours at the local pub – neighborhoods remind us all to embrace community.
London is a fabulous starting point. Whether you’re living abroad for months, passing through, visiting friends or lucky enough to manage a few days stopover – beyond the borders of the city, there’s more to enjoy. Sport the football team colors in Manchester, check out the countryside cottages in the Cotswolds, get your Shakespeare on in Stratford-upon-Avon or taste the goodness of Bath’s own Sally Lunn’s buns. You’ll find beaches and royalty, monuments and markets, literary madness and pubs aplenty.
Hop on the tube, jump on a train, rent a car, take the bus or whatever you need – remember to step outside the city limits… there’s more!
- Windsor Castle
- The Cotswolds
- St. Albans
During good times and bad, with political madness and peaceful celebration, London sees thousands, if not millions, of visitors annually. With it’s multicultural population, epic royals and endless flair, London invites guests from all parts of the globe to see the city, experience the culture and make special memories.
Whether it’s theater in the West End, delicious eats on Brick Lane, shopping on Portobello Road or having a pint at the pub – London doesn’t disappoint. Pack for all seasons, keep your rain gear on hand, be sure to try one of those West Cornwall pasties and get ready for adventures across the pond.
Dress casually, but not in sweats. Be prepared to walk a lot with a comfortable pair of shoes, and remember – layer, layer, layer.