If you think that you’d never manage to travel with just hand luggage, this post is for you. Until I was forced to travel with only one small bag, I didn’t think that I’d be able to do it – but I’d never really tried to. And then I was booked on a flight with (in my view at the time) a tiny luggage allowance on a work trip to Krakow.
Packing for an 8kg luggage allowance
For that flight, I had no choice but to fit everything that I needed into one bag, with the whole thing weighing no more than 8kgs. And that 8kgs had to include my iPad and DSLR camera, which together took up around a quarter of the allowed weight. So that left me just 6kgs to play with. Amazingly, I managed it. The trip went well, and it was so liberating not having to wait for my luggage to arrive once I left the plane, that I have tried to travel with just hand luggage ever since. Here are my tips for packing for a trip with hand luggage only.
How to travel with hand luggage only
1: Make a packing list
Before you actually start to pack, make a packing list. I now do this for every trip. I save my packing lists on my laptop. I name the lists according to destination and month. Then when I need to create a new list I pick one of my existing lists, duplicate it and edit it for my next trip. I then print out the new list and cross things off as I pack them. I edit the printed list as I’m packing, to record what I actually pack. Then I amend and save the list on my laptop so that it’s accurate. This process may sound fiddly, but I find that it makes packing quicker and easier each time.
2: Buy a light, strong, durable cabin bag
If you’re travelling with just hand luggage, you need your cabin bag to be as light as possible, but it also needs to be strong and durable and easy to carry. My favourite bag to use if I’m travelling with just hand luggage is my 40-litre Lowe Alpine Roll-On. This bag was sent to me to review in 2013, and I’ve been using it ever since. It’s a soft bag with wheels and an extendable handle and it has several zippy compartments which help to organise things. I also have a small backpack which I’ve used and which works well, but I prefer to use a wheeled bag. Mine is a Booq Daypack (in the photo above) which I was sent to review, but you can no longer buy Booq bags in the UK.
3: Buy a small, light bag
Take an extra bag which is both small enough for you to wear under your coat or jacket, and also small enough to stuff inside your cabin bag in case the airline is strictly enforcing the one-bag rule. This means that you can keep your passport, cash, cards and other key things close, safe and easy to access. I use a nylon Kipling cross-body bag for this.
4: Use a Duty-Free carrier bag for extra stuff
Besides your cabin bag, you’re allowed to take one duty-free carrier bag on your flight. This is so that passengers aren’t deterred from spending money in the departure lounge. But you can also use this bag for other stuff, so it can work as a handy overflow bag for extra clothes. Some people even save duty-free bags from previous trips to use for this purpose – I’ve not tried that myself, as I’d worry that the bag would be different to those currently used, and I’d be rumbled!
5: Plan your outfits
When you plan what to clothes to take on your trip, choose outfits which you can mix and match easily. It helps if you pack clothes in just two colours, for example blue and white or black and white. This means that everything that you pack will go together, and it makes it less likely that you’ll end up not wearing clothes which you pack.
6: Cut down on toiletries
When you create your packing list, think carefully about what toiletries you really need to take. For example, if you’re staying in a hotel, they will generally provide shower gel, soap and shampoo, so you don’t need to take those with you. At larger airports you can buy toiletries in the departure lounge, which is very handy if you need to take more than the liquid restrictions allow. Boots even offer a click and collect service which allows you to preorder your toiletries and collect them once you’ve gone through airport security.
7: Wear your heaviest shoes and clothes
Once you’ve decided what clothes and shoes you need for your trip, pick out the heaviest ones and wear those for the journey. For me this usually means that I travel in jeans, trainers and a warm top.
8: Wear layers
Obviously the more clothes that you wear, the fewer you have to pack. So in winter I generally wear a vest top, a long-sleeved top, a jumper and a coat or jacket when I travel. In summer you need fewer clothes anyway, so this isn’t such an issue.
9:Use your pockets
Whatever time of year you’re travelling, always travel with a coat or a jacket with pockets, ideally deep pockets with zips. You can use these pockets for carrying small, heavy stuff such as your phone and portable charger. This frees up space in your bag and makes it lighter.
10: Take a Kindle
Load up a Kindle or tablet with whatever you want to read while you’re away. This saves space in your bag which would have been taken up with books.
11: Wash clothes while you’re away
If you’re away for more than a few days, buy some hand washing liquid in the departure lounge so that you can wash your clothes while you’re away. This means that you don’t need to take as many clothes with you.
More packing advice
I wrote about how I managed to pack for my trip to Krakow in this post:
I wrote this after our stay at a rainforest camp in Thailand:
Over to you
Do you have any tips to add? If you’ve ever travelled with just hand luggage, how was it?
Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links, which means that if you clicked through and made a purchase I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you. All opinions and words are my own, as ever.