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12 Best Tricks & Tips on How to Travel With Hand Luggage Only

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If you’re looking for how to travel with hand luggage only, then we’ve got you covered. After all, for the past couple of years, I’ve made it my mission (whenever possible) to travel solely with hand luggage. And yes, that even includes month long trips, as well as voyages to several different climates in one go!

Fewer bag fees and shorter waiting times are just a few of the many reasons that I choose to go with just a single bag when travelling. Over that time, I’ve learned a few tricks to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible when taking a trip with little baggage. Here are my very best tips for travelling with hand luggage only:

12 Best Tricks & Tips on How to Travel With Hand Luggage Only. Here's everything you need to know about going away with no checked luggage and just a cabin bag!

Your carry on bag is the most important part of the equation

Before I dive into discussing the best ways to only travel with hand-luggage, it’s important to note that the piece of the luggage itself is one of the most important factors to consider! When it comes to carry on cases, I personally look for a bag that’s not too heavy (as many airlines have a restriction on the weight of your bag and the case is factored into this) and something that’s durable, as well as spacious.

A personal favourite of mine is that the case be soft as opposed to hard-shelled so that I can stuff more things in! You’ll also want to consider whether you purchase a rolling case or a backpack. While rolling cases are easier if your bag is heavier, backpacks are often much easier to transport over cobblestones and place into overhead lockers.

Most airlines have a restriction of 55 x 35 x 20 cm or 22 x 14 x 9 inches (though some airlines are even smaller or require you to purchase extra luggage space) so this is an important factor to consider when purchasing your luggage. I personally use this case, which is one of the lightest rolling cases you can purchase. Otherwise, this backpack is perfect for those seeking a backpack option!

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#1 Keep your liquids in an easily accessible place

When you’re going through the airport, you’ll want to hold up the line as little as possible when preparing your bag to put on the conveyor belt (you don’t want to be that person who takes five hours to sort out their things and makes everyone behind you sigh loudly!). You already know that you can’t bring liquids over 100 ml, even if the liquid inside the bottle is less than 100 ml and so just leave those bottles at home.

Keep your liquids in a clear plastic bag and in an accessible place (I keep mine in the front pocket of my suitcase so that if they leak, they don’t ruin my clothing). You also might want to invest in some travel sized reusable bottles. These are both environmentally more friendly than purchasing tiny bottles all the time and you can actually take your favourite products with you!

If possible, try to prepare your bags in advance of time (and at home) so that you don’t miss any liquids when going through the scanner. After all, it would be a shame to have to throw away your favourite lipstick! Next, be sure to have all medicine clearly labelled and be sure to have a copy of your prescription on you at all times.

#2 Bring plastic or canvas bags for your dirty laundry (and extra shoes)

When it comes to travelling with hand luggage only, you’ll want to try and be as organised as possible so that you can make proper use of the space available. This means compartmentalising your things and placing them in plastic bags (or preferably canvas bags if you’re trying to be environmentally friendly). Be sure to bring plenty of extra bags so you don’t have to mix your clean and dirty laundry (no one likes doing this, even by accident!). 

Burrator Reservoir: visiting the prettiest body of water in Dartmoor National Park, Devon, England: edge of the lake

#3 Wear your largest items while travelling (think winter coats, heavy boots etc)

Of course, when you’re travelling with just hand luggage, finding enough space is your worst enemy! After all, you don’t have very much of it. To conserve space, and make sure you’re able to pack that extra pair of sunglasses, or even that extra dress, be sure to wear all of your heaviest items while actually travelling. Things like heavy boots and winter coats take up plenty of space and can easily be worn through the airport instead!

#4 Pack versatile items

To ensure that you can pack as many outfit variations as possible, pack plenty of versatile items. For example, a scarf (which is pretty much an autumn/ spring/ winter staple anyway) can be used as a blanket, as a scarf, or as a way of accessorizing an otherwise boring outfit. Pack your bag with a capsule wardrobe in mind. Think colourways and patterns that go together, as well as neutral coats/ jackets/ shoes that will go with pretty much everything you bring with you!

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#5 Choose your carry on bag wisely: make sure it has various compartments so you can better organise your things

This is one of those tips for travelling with hand luggage only that begins before you even think about going away! When you’re selecting your hand baggage piece to purchase, ensure that you’re choosing not only a durable bag but one with plenty of pockets. Again, the lack of space in your luggage means that you should be as organised as possible, and having plenty of compartments allows you to do this in an easy fashion.

#6 Remember that you always need less than you think

That is, apart from when it comes to warm clothing. In which case, always bring the spare jumper/ pair of thermals (learned from personal experience!)

Menton harbour on a clear and sunny day in Spring

#7 Don’t pack anything you haven’t worn in the last six months!

Of all the tips for travelling with hand luggage only, this is probably the advice I personally need to follow the most but is something that should go without sating. Unless you’re packing some kind of seasonal/ specialised clothing, if you haven’t worn the piece recently, chances are you won’t wear it anytime on the trip! Don’t pack it and save the packing space for something you’ll actually want.

#8 You only need a few pairs of shoes

When you think about it, you really only need to travel with two pairs of shoes, especially if you’re going with hand luggage only. I personally always go away with a pair of boots that are semi-waterproof and can be dressed up for evening meals, as well as a pair of trainers/ tennis shoes to walk around during the day. If it’s the summer, I’ll also pack a pair of easy to walk in sandals that can easily go from day to night.

detailed cobblestone and recycled architectural material in Leuven

#9 To fold or to roll your hand luggage essentials?

The age-old question is whether you should be rolling or folding your hand luggage items. Well, I personally prefer to roll my clothes as I find that they stack much more easily, meaning that I can fit extra dresses and t-shirts in my bag! However, others prefer to fold their clothes, and so the choice is totally up to you! Just make sure to weigh your bag before you go- many airlines restrict hand luggage to 8 KG or 10 KG only!

#10 Invest in Packing Cubes

And while we’re on the subject on how to pack your clothes when travelling with only hand luggage, you might consider splurging on some packing cubes. These little pockets are total game-changers and will easily allow you to separate your clothes and belongings, allowing you to stay organised and easily find the most essential of items. Check packing cube prices here.

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#11 Charge all your electronics fully before you set off

If you’re going to be spending time at the airport, then no doubt you’ll want to spend time on your phone or laptop prior to taking off. Though you may have everything easily to hand thanks to the aid of packing cubes, that doesn’t mean you want to go unpacking all your chargers in the departure lounge! As such, be sure to fully charge all your electronics at home before even making your way to the airport.

#12 Invest in a Kindle

If you’re truly trying to cut down on your packing list and want to save a little weight, then switch to paperless. I was given a Kindle as a Christmas present close to a decade ago and haven’t looked back since. Easy, fast, and convenient, I love the fact that I can read up to a month’s worth with a single charge and take an entire library with me as I travel, without the need for being weighed down by a library’s weight!

I also love that the Kindle allows you to download books with the press of a single button, without having to wait for a book to be delivered or even without having to leave your reading nook! Check the waterproof Kindle Paperwhite prices and further information here.

Pin tips for travelling with hand luggage only!

Tips for travelling with hand luggage only: tips, tricks and practical advice for packing your suitcase light!

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Abdurrahman Nazim
    19th May 2018 at 5:33 pm

    Nice article, nice tips.

  • Reply
    Emily M.
    18th November 2017 at 9:56 am

    Good tips for travel light with just a luggage

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