Home Travel How To Pack For A “Hand Luggage Only” Holiday

How To Pack For A “Hand Luggage Only” Holiday


Back in September I played the part of international jetsetter, going on short trips to both Rome and Dublin. For each city break I took one “hand luggage” bag with me on the plane, and didn’t check anything into the hold. Taking only cabin luggage when you go on a short holiday is a great idea, because it makes everything that little bit easier and much less stressful. However, for those of us who want to look as good on holiday as we do at home, “travelling light” can be tricky! Here are a few things I’ve learnt while going on holiday with only my cabin luggage in tow.

Your case
The standard size limit for cabin luggage is 56 x 45 x 25cm – but check the airline’s website before you begin packing, as these limits can vary! A soft bag is better than a solid one, as it can be squashed to fit the airline’s strict regulations. My friend once tried to board a flight with her hard-cased bag as hand luggage, but she was made to check it in by the airline staff as it didn’t fit into their metal frame. Not exactly a good start to the holiday! Next, it’s important to choose a bag that is practical. As much as I love my Zara holdall, it was definitely chosen for the style rather than the substance! It has no outer pockets and so whenever I came to a security check or wanted to buy a coffee before boarding, I had to find a quiet spot and rummage around through my bag to find what I wanted. Not very glamourous! If you don’t have your cabin luggage case already and are looking to buy one, I would strongly suggest that you choose one with a lot of pockets! That way you can whip out your passport, money or boarding pass in a moment’s notice, without having to trawl through the entire contents of your bag. I’m sure it’s possible to find practical bags that also look good – try John Lewis or Marks & Spencer for something suitable and stylish.

Clothes, shoes and accessories
After you’ve checked the expected weather forecast of your destination, decide on a selection of outfits to take with you – enough for each day you’re there, as well as one or two “emergency” back up pieces in case you spill a drink down yourself or get soaked at a theme park! Consider daytime outfits as well as evening outfits, and remember that if you’re likely to be basking in 30 degree heat, you may well be changing your clothes once or even two or three times a day.  Take your favourite things – not treasured family heirlooms, but your go-to basics that you wear frequently – and don’t pack anything you never really wear. If you don’t wear it at home, you won’t wear it on hoilday! Pack more than enough underwear, and don’t forget to pack a few different bras, especially if you need a nude one for underneath white t-shirts, etc. Carefully roll each item of clothing rather than folding it, and this should prevent them from getting creased. Make the most of any space that you have – tuck socks into shoes! – and you should be able to get everything to fit. If you can’t, you may have too much. Review what you’ve got and take a few things out. Remember that it’s best to wear your bulkiest clothes on the plane – a hooded top, jeans and your chunkiest pair of shoes.

Toiletries and cosmetics
The airline regulations on liquids are really frustrating! The usual limit is around ten bottles, each containing no more than 100ml. This is where travel-sized cosmetics come in handy! Before you go, snap up some perfume samples on eBay. A couple of miniature vials of your signature scent will mean that you can leave the hefty full-sized bottle on your dressing table, and free up some precious mililitres for the things that you apply generously, like sunblock and moisturiser. Lush solid perfumes are a good idea, too – I love Vanillary. Remember that the airline term “liquids” applies to any pastes, balms, and even mascara. If you aren’t sure, check the airline’s regulations or leave that particular item in your bathroom cabient and buy an equivalent when you get the other end! It makes sense to take the foundation that matches your skintone exactly, the hair products that you’re used to, and your signature lipstick, but some of the more basic essentials can be bought after you land. Toothpaste, shower gel and lip balm don’t vary much from brand to brand or country to country, so leave yours at home and buy them there. And if you’re staying at a hotel, remember that they have toiletries on offer!

Everything else
As well as your case, some airlines also allow you to take a laptop bag or handbag, but again, check the rules of your chosen airline first. Don’t fill your bag to the brim – leave some room for souvenirs, duty free, and other holiday purchases. Keep a luggage tag on your case with both your home address and the address of the hotel, hostel or campsite you’ll be staying at for the duration of your holiday. Secure your bag with a lock if you wish. And if you end up taking too much or not packing enough, try not to worry. If you have to wear the same outfit twice or go without eyeliner, it won’t be so bad. Enjoy yourself and have fun – you’re on holiday! You might even end up with a funny story to tell at the end of it…

Recommended Reading
Lonely Planet have a thorough guide to travelling hand-luggage only.
Skyscanner detail one female traveller’s checklist in Ladies & Light Packing!
Martin Lewis shares some money-saving tips on the Money Saving Expert website.
And be sure to read The Beginner’s Guide To Minimalist Travel, from Zen Habits.

What are your tips for travelling lightly?



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