Packing guides

Hand luggage only: Top tips for travelling with just a cabin bag

22 February 2020 | Updated 19 October 20235 min read

A close up of hand-luggage in the overhead compartment with suitcases shown on an plane

Leave the checked luggage at home and embrace the art of travelling light when you travel with hand luggage only.

Here, we've pulled together all our best hand luggage packing tips so you can save on baggage fees and spend you cash on the fun stuff.

What should you pack in your hand luggage?

When it comes to deciding what to pack in your luggage, you’ll need to be ruthless. The aim is to carry as little as possible and buy items locally when you can. And while clothing and toiletries are obviously necessary, there are a few ways to streamline your packing list.

A capsule wardrobe

Stick to the concept of the capsule wardrobe to save space in your hand luggage – it’s essentially, a small number of pieces that coordinate to produce multiple outfits by all working together.

You can make the most of any dead space in your bag by stuffing your socks and undies into any pairs of shoes you’re bringing, and keep your bag light by wearing any heavy items you need such as coats, jeans, hoodies, boots, shoes and belts.

Aside from your heaviest items, all other clothes should be lightweight, easy care and wrinkle resistant.

Your travel documents

Keep your travel documents safely on you – and save space in your bag – but storing your passport, tickets, travel insurance, driving licence and money in your pockets.

You can also use pockets of your clothes to take heavier items on board, then transfer them to your bag (for example, your phone charger, camera and book) later.

Your electronics

As notebooks and laptops add a lot of weight, especially if you have multiple items and multiple chargers, be smart about what you take. Could you download all your guidebooks, reading material and other entertainment on to one device? If you are travelling for only a few days, you may not even need the larger items.

Packing cubes

If space is an issue, consider using compression packing cubes. While the weight of your items will remain the same, you’ll free up extra space in your bag and keep your belongings organised.

Of course, the longer the trip, the more creative you need to be, but make sure you are going to need everything you pack – if not, don’t pack it in the first place. In most places, you can buy something easily and quickly if you really need something you left behind.

What toiletries can you take in your hand luggage?

While the end of the 100ml liquid rule for hand luggage looks to be in sight, liquid restrictions remain in place for the majority of UK airports.

Currently, you can take up to ten individual items in your hand luggage. They must be no larger than 100ml and must fit within one clear 20cmx20cm plastic bag. Toothpastes, shampoos and conditioners, moisturisers and balms, and soaps are all allowed, as are deodorants, make-up, suncream and perfume.

To save some cash, decant your at-home products into smaller containers. If you want to do away with the hassle of decanting or need more than the 100ml limit, you can always buy items airside or on arrival.

Alternatively, you can find sustainable items to pack, such as shampoo and soap bars, which won’t count towards your liquid limit, or use whatever your hotel provides – many will give you soap and 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner as a minimum.

You can also keep the plastic zip bag from previous holidays and pack your toiletries before you go. Not only will it save you time at the airport, but it’s good for the environment too. Place it within easy reach in your bag to avoid rummaging through your luggage in the security line.

What are the benefits of travelling with hand luggage only?

There are myriad benefits of travelling with hand luggage only, from skipping bag-drop queues to saving money on checked baggage fees. Not sold? Think about the following.

It’s quicker

Travelling with hand luggage only can save you plenty of time: there’s 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’ll get to the taxi queue or car hire rental desks before the rest of the passengers you have travelled with.

It’s safer

Ditching the checked bag means you get to keep your belongings with you at all times, so there’s no need to worry about your luggage turning up in Tenerife while you’re in Lanzarote. You can also forget about your bag being damaged in the cargo hold – you know your bag is safely stowed in the cabin above your head or under the seat in front of you.

Remember that some airlines now have a cut-off on hand luggage items into the cabin – easyJet, for example, gives overhead locker space on a first-come-first-served basis. All other bags at the correct size could end up in the hold, free of charge. And Ryanair will now only allow passengers who have paid for priority boarding to take a larger bag into the cabin.

It’s cheaper

Taking hand luggage on holiday generally allows you to avoid checked-in baggage charges. However, you must always check the weights and costs of individual airlines before you fly. For example, if you don’t pre-book your hold baggage with Ryanair, you’re looking at up to £59.99 for a 20kg case one way (depending on your journey length) or up to £70 if you arrange this post-booking/at the airport.

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