Jun 18, 2013

Posted by in Trip Advice | 25 Comments

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Travel with hand luggage only

When going away on a city break or a short trip, travelling with hand luggage only will not only save you time, it can also save you pounds on checking in your luggage, making your break even better value for money. However, you have to be careful not to fall foul of hand luggage size and weight restrictions. Here are the benefits of employing the hand-baggage-only technique and our top tips on how to make your journey as easy as possible.

Hand luggage tips

What are the benefits of travelling light with hand baggage only?

1. Quicker – no need to join a check-in or bag-drop queue on departure and no need to wait for bags at the luggage carousel on arrival. Plus you get to the taxi queue or car hire rental desks before the rest of the passengers you have travelled with.

Be aware, though, that easyJet is reducing the size limit on hand luggage it will guarantee can travel in the cabin with you from July 2, 2013 to 50 x 40 x 20cm. This is due to limited overhead locker space on busier flights. Passengers will not be charged any extra for bringing hand luggage with the previous dimensions of 56 x 45 x 25cm, but it may be placed in the hold for the duration of the flight.

2. Safer – you keep your bag with you at all times, therefore it cannot get sent to a destination different to the one you are flying to. It is not going to get damaged being loaded or unloaded and it is not available for someone unscrupulous to break into and steal your personal items.

3. Cheaper – you avoid checked-in bag charges which can be up to £160.

4. Less stress – you are in control of your things, not reliant on the baggage system and you can avoid lots of queues.

Our top tips

1. Know your limits – ensure you know the hand luggage restrictions for the airline(s) you are travelling with, especially if you are connecting from one to another or if you are returning on a different carrier. These can vary and it will affect bag size, number of bags allowed and whether there is any weight limit. easyJet, for example, will accept any weight as long as you can lift it whereas Ryanair allows one cabin bag per passenger weighing up to 10kg plus one small bag.

Some also allow one piece of hand baggage plus one duty free bag – so you can buy items you may need such as toiletries, water, guide books, magazines etc to your heart’s content, and place them in one carrier bag from the airside shops. Some airports such as Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester also allow you to buy duty free and then collect on the way back – meaning that you never have to take the items on board, avoiding cabin bag weight limits altogether. If you do have hand baggage that is over the limit, be prepared to have the bag taken from you and an excess baggage fee charged. To avoid this, always pre-book an extra bag online rather than risking being charged at the gate. For example, depending on your route and the time of year that you travel, you could pay up to £70 at the gate for an extra 15kg bag with Ryanair. That same bag pre-booked online would have cost you 50% less.

BA now offers a further option for customers on short-haul domestic and European flights from London. A hand baggage only fare is now in operation which is a low cost option for those not wanting to take checked baggage. The fare allows you to take one piece of hand baggage plus a handbag or laptop bag.

2. Buy the right bag – once you know your hand luggage size limit, ensure your bag fits within this. If you can, choose a soft bag for carry-on luggage as it will be easier to cram into overhead bins and it is lighter – giving you more weight for your items.

We have teamed up with Flylite to bring you a special discount on luggage that is ideal for travelling with hand baggage only. Not only do you save on hold baggage charges of up to £60 each way on Ryanair if you stick to the 10kg limit, you can also save  25% on the price of these excellent luggage solutions.

Choose from a range including two sizes of foldaway cabin bags, two sizes of  trolley cabin bags or a rucksack for the cabin as well as a foldaway wheeled holdall option all made of lightweight materials to maximise the items you want to pack.

Prices start from as little as £15 for small foldaway bag excluding our exclusive 25% discount offer and you’ll get a free foldaway rucksack with any order you make.

For full details click here and quote the code TSM to obtain your discount online or over the phone.

3. Only pack what you need – the tip here is to be ruthless. The aim is to carry as little as possible and to buy items you can find locally wherever you can. Clothing is where you can make a major hit – see note below.

4. Packing techniques – there are three main schools of thought on packing techniques for small bags: rolling everything around a central item, folding everything into squares or bundling items around each other.

5. Which clothes? – Always wear any heavy items you need such as coats, jeans, hoodies, boots, shoes and belts. Otherwise stick to the concept of the capsule wardrobe. Essentially, a small number of pieces that co-ordinate to produce multiple outfits by all working together. The longer the trip, the more creative you need to be here, however be sure you are going to need everything you pack – if not, don’t pack it in the first place. In most places you can always buy something if you really need to get an item that you left behind quickly.

All clothes should be lightweight – many companies specialise in selling items that are light, wrinkle free and easy care. This allows for less stress when unpacking a crumpled shirt or blouse and also means they can be hand washed at your hotel and worn again. If you plan to wash items at your hotel you could use a laundry service or wash them yourself – in which case take a plug with you as most hotel bathroom plugs are poor.

6. Toiletries – you need to obey the 100ml rule at present and decant items into small bottles that fit within one plastic bag for security. You can always buy items airside or on arrival. Most hotels will give you soap, shampoo etc. Ladies (and increasingly men) should try to minimise the toiletries and make up they take. Do you really need all of that? If so,  use travel size bottles or packets only or buy locally. Toiletries can weigh far more than you think.

7. Pockets – use the pockets of your clothes to take heavier items on board which you can transfer to your bag once you are on board (eg phone charger, camera, books, and toiletries). Use pockets as well for travel documents such as your passport, tickets, travel insurance, driving licence and money.

8. Phones/iPods/Laptops/Notebooks – these often start to add weight especially if you have multiple items and multiple chargers. Be smart, can you download guide books/info/entertainment/games/music etc onto one item and just take the one with you? Notebooks are smaller than laptops and if you are travelling for only a few days then you may not even need the heavier and larger items.

9. Don’t pool your hand luggage – most airlines will not allow you to pool your hand luggage allowance across a party of people, so ensure that each bag is not over the limits where a weight limit applies.

Provider Free hand luggage weight allowance Hand baggage size
Jet2 10kg in one bag 56x 45 x 25cm
Ryanair 10kg in one bag plus one small bag no bigger than 35 x 20 x 20 55 x 40 x 20cm
easyJet No limit but must be able to lift into the overhead locker unaided. One bag allowed 50 x 40 x 20cm will guarantee your bag can travel with you in the cabin. Hand luggage no bigger than 56 x 45 x 25 is allowed, however it may have to go in the hold
British Airways One bag up to 23kg plus either a handbag or a laptop 56 x 45 x 25cm
Wizz Air No limit but bag must fit under the seat in front of you 42 x 32 x 25cm, however a larger bag measuring no more than 56 x 45 x25 can be taken onboard but you will be charged a fee for this
Virgin Atlantic One piece up to 10kg plus a handbag 56 x 36 x 23cm
Norwegian Air 10kg in one bag plus small handbag or laptop 55 x 40 x 23cm
Monarch EITHER 10kg in one bag OR 10kg across two bags with a combined size no bigger than 56cm x 40cm x 20cm 56 x 40 x 25cm
Flybe 10kg in one bag 55 x 40 x 23cm
Aer Lingus 10kg in one bag plus a small ladies’ handbag/gents’ satchel/Duty Free shopping bag 55 x 40 x 24cm
Thomson – Flight Only 5kg in one bag 55 x 40 x 20cm
Thomas Cook – Flight Only 5kg in one bag 55 x 40 x 20cm

Last updated: May 23, 2013.

  1. Ann Mayer says:

    Please could you explain the rules for handbags, which are carried in addition to hand luggage.
    Are you allowed handbag + hand luggge + duty free carrier bag?
    Many Thanks.

    • Hi Ann

      Where an airline allows one piece of hand luggage and one small handbag or lap top bag, then duty free or airport shopping would generally need to go into your hand luggage IF you take the second small bag with you. If you don’t take a handbag or small laptop bag then you can instead have an airport shopping bag as your second item.

      Check with your individual airline for guidance via their website.

      Kind regards


  2. Anonymous says:

    Can you just come with hand luggage or do your have to book it in advance?

    • Hi there

      You can fly with just hand luggage and you do not need to notify your airline you are doing that.

      If you are checking a bag in you should book the bag online prior to going to the airport. Airlines which charge for a checked in bag will charge you more for doing it at the airport than doing it online ahead of your departure.

      I would need to know your airline to advise further.

      Kind regards


  3. Christophe says:


    Could you clarify the situation with Easyjet cabin luggage allowance please? I’m considering getting that cheap back pack for easyjet flights but now I’m not certain it is suitable for allowed hand luggage?
    Is the allowance 56x45x25cm or 50x40x20cm?

    Many thanks for your help

  4. I’m struggling to find a suitable cabin bag on wheels for Loganair who specify 40cm x 35 cm x 18 cm. Have you any advice please.

  5. Ian barker says:

    seems unclear with Norwegian air if the total weight across the hand baggage ie larger and small hand bag/laptop is for 10kg, or if small one isnt counted in 10kg, the help line seemed to say it was max 10kg, any advise

  6. Judy Milsom says:

    Probably sounds a silly question but are we allowed to take travel electric plugs in our hand luggage & I understand that I’m unable to take cartridges for curling tongs in my hand luggage but still don’t understand whether I can pack one in my hold luggage?

    • Hi Judy

      Which airline are you travelling on? The rules are pretty standard however if you put the name of your airline and hold luggage/hand luggage into a search engine you will find the relevant pages.

      Plug adaptors can go in hand luggage as can small electrical appliances, however these will be screened separately at security. Gas cartridges for curling tongues are not usually permitted in hand or hold luggage, however do check with your airline.

      Kind regards


  7. Hi I’m travelling with whizz air to Sophia Bulgaria on Feb 29th returning on March 7 th myself and partner we only have hand luggage but our cabin bag is 55cm x40cm x20cm do we have to pay and if so how much for to go and come back for the 2 hand luggage a and how do I pay and book it please thanks a lot x

    • Hi there

      Wizz allow a ‘small’ piece of hand luggage on board for free. Your luggage is larger than this and so incurs a charge. The information on their bag sizes is here;


      To check the amount and to pre-book this you can do this via the manager booking section on the home page of the website;


      Click the ‘add a bag’ section and follow the onscreen prompts. The charge will be between €10-€18 euros per bag each way. If you wait to do this at the airport it is a flat €40 each way per bag so pre-book online and save the money.

      Hope that clarifies it for you.

      Kind regards


  8. Ros Locchead says:

    Hi My daughter is travelling on Easjet with hand luggage only. She has the correct bag, but is she allowed to take a small rucksack type handbag and a camera bag with her? All so confusing these days?

  9. Lorraine Barr says:

    Please can you advise if I have to join the check-in queue still if I am flying Easyjet and taking one cabin size case please? I have checked in on-line and have my boarding pass.
    Many thanks,

    • Hi there

      if you have successfully checked in online and received a boarding card and are travelling hand luggage only, you can head straight through security on arrival at the airport. No need to go to the check-in desks at all.

      Have a great trip.

      Kind regards


      • Kathleen says:

        Non EU passport holders HAVE to go to check-in, even if you only have hand luggage. Your boarding pass needs “the stamp” ….. that they’ve checked your visa.

  10. Judy Adams says:

    Hi ! Just wondering if my carry on case will be okay. The dimensions are slightly different : 50x40x20, whereas flybe”s dimensions are now 55x35x20. This seems to have been changed since 2013.

    • Hi Judy

      Your case needs to be able to fit inside the bag gauge at the gate if challenged to do so. On the face of it your bag won’t fit and you would be liable to a baggage charge if they went by the rules. In reality you would probably get away with it although I cannot guarantee that.

      So, either risk it or invest in a new or different bag.

      Kind regards


  11. I searched the shops to buy the correct sized case for Flybe which is smaller than other airlines only to find that other passengers had larger hand luggage which they used as hand luggage. I have also come across this before with other airlines. They just seem to rarely check and people are able to use larger cases all the time.
    Why do I bother

  12. Anonymous says:

    Hi. I am flying often by Ryanair. I always pay 15 kg luggage and than I have laptop backpack for free. Now I thinking that it’s not fair. My paid luggage can be taken as a cabin bag for free. And my laptop bag as hand bag for free as well. It’s slightly bigger than measurements for hand bag but I can easily put it under the seat.
    Is it risky?

    • Hello,

      In my experience with Ryanair, if the attendant at the gate thinks a laptop bag/handbag is too large, they will ask you to put it in your main carry on luggage, provide it will fit. If it doesn’t fit then there is obviously a risk as you may not be allowed to take it on board the flight. I can’t guarantee this is what will happen, as it can depend on the person checking luggage but I’ve seen it happen this way on multiple flights. It’s up to you whether you risk it or buy a laptop bag that is definitely within the limits to be certain.

      Hope this helps,


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