5 tips for travelling with hand luggage only

September 9, 2013 by Flight Centre UK

Travel writer, Ali Garland, shares her tips to make travelling with hand luggage as easy as possible.

Traveling with only hand luggage can be liberating. You won’t have to worry about checked luggage fees. You’ll have less weight to lug around with you. You won’t have to worry about the airline losing your bags. You can get out of the airport quicker since you won’t be waiting at the baggage carousel. If you’ve never travelled with only hand luggage you’ll know how much easier it is but you’ll also know it can be tricky.

1. Know the airline’s hand luggage limits

Before you leave for the airport, make sure you know what the size and weight restrictions are for the airline you’re flying with. The most common size limit is 55 x 40 x 20 cm, and the most common weight limit is 8 kg. However, this could vary widely depending on which airline your ticket is with. Some allow more, some less. Some allow 1 bag plus a personal item, some only allow 1 bag. Knowing these details ahead of time will virtually eliminate the chance that the airline will force you to check your luggage.

2. Limit your liquids

You probably don’t need as much of any of your liquids as you think, so leave those big bottles at home. Buy sample sized products or refillable travel bottles to stay under 100ml. If you’re taking a short trip, you won’t even need 100 ml, so a smaller bottle means you’ll save space. Also consider non-liquid alternatives like bar soap instead of shower gel, or dry shampoo. For reference, a 100 ml bottle of shampoo lasts me 4-5 weeks. A 60 ml bottle of contact solution lasts me about 5-6 days. One 100 ml tube of toothpaste gets my husband and I through about 4 weeks.

hand carry only - liquids

3. Coordinate your clothing

Make sure everything you bring can be worn more than once. Anything that only goes with one shirt or one pair of trousers should be left at home. Same with those cute shoes you have that only go with that one outfit. Stick to simple items and neutral colours, and you should be able to mix and match nearly everything you pack. If you need to dress up once or twice, pack one nice outfit, don’t bring three different options. Unless you’re going swimming every day, one bathing suit should be enough. Be willing to wear things more than once, and do laundry on the road. I generally have about one week worth of clothes, and I find a laundromat when necessary.

hand luggage only - clothes

4. Buy things as you go

If you’re travelling long term, eventually you’ll run out of things like shampoo. Instead of resigning yourself to checking luggage, buy more when you run out on your trip. Travelling long term to both warm and cold climates? Pack for the one where you will spend the most time and buy a few essentials for the other when you arrive. Instead of packing a bulky beach towel, buy a cheap one at your destination and donate it before you leave. Remember that almost anything you’ll need on your trip can be purchased abroad.

5. Use every corner of your bag

Roll your clothes to save space, and pack your clothing first. Then smaller things like socks and underwear can fill in the little gaps or fit into small pockets. Pack your liquids bag at the top so you can easily take it out to get through security screenings. If your bag has big outside pockets, put shoes here. But if you have to put shoes in your bag, pack things like socks into the shoes. Carry your sweatshirt or jacket, it doesn’t need to go in your luggage. Sometime I’ll even attach things like a hat or scarf to the outside of my bag to save space. Consider packing cubes to stay organized and make everything more compact inside your luggage.

hand luggage only - suitcase

Travelling with only hand luggage might take a little more effort before your trip, but it will save you money and hassles while you’re on the road. Despite the limitations, I feel so much more free when I don’t have so much weight to carry and I don’t have to wait around for my bag after a flight. And I never worry about the airline losing my luggage. Give it a try on your next trip, you might be surprised at how much you like travelling with just hand luggage.

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Ali is an American expat living in Germany. She is a freelance writer and travel addict who visited all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She and her husband run Carry-On Info where you can use the interactive carry-on size chart and find answers to all your carry-on (hand luggage) questions.