Tips for packing only hand luggage

I can’t remember the last time I flew with a big suitcase. Not even for a 2 week summer holiday in Ibiza. Ok yes, I’m a frugal traveller (aka cheapskate), I usually fly with a low-cost airline and I am NOT paying to check-in a bag.

But I honestly do prefer not having a big, heavy, annoying suitcase. I can nip around the airport with my small case, carry it easily when I need to and its much more convenient.

Packing only hand luggage

There are a number of reasons why I think traveling with only hand luggage and packing light, is the way to go, for any length of holiday.

And by hand luggage I mean a small, wheelie, carry-on, suitcase that fits in the plane’s cabin and is about 56 x 45 x 25 cm in size like this Antler suitcase. Always check the dimensions with your airline to see what size cabin bag they allow.

The perks of taking only hand luggage on holiday

  • You will not have to pay extortionate prices to the low coast airlines for checked baggage
  • You don’t have to queue at the airport desk to check your bags in
  • You don’t have to worry about your bag being lost on a flight
  • You won’t sit on a flight and realise that you packed something you now need into the big suitcase, which is in the aircraft luggage hold
  • You won’t have to wait for your bags at the airport baggage carousel
  • You can fit a family of 4’s cases all into the boot of a car
  • Traveling from airport to your hotel by public transport is much easier with a small bag
  • You don’t have to lug your heavy cases up to your hotel room

*RELATED post you may enjoy reading – How to survive a low cost airline flight

The art of packing a small suitcase

There is a bit of an art to packing a small carry-on suitcase with everything you need so, it does require some planning. You can’t just chuck it all in at the last minute and away you go.

It will take a little bit of time and  organisation to fit everything in. I know that some people find the idea of organised packing just another hassle that they would rather do without in the lead up to going on holiday.

I will share with you my top 10 tips for packing only hand luggage, this is what I do, every time.

If you follow these simple steps, I promise you will be a hand luggage packing pro.

** Get our FREE printable Spain holiday packing list – It’s the perfect checklist for spending 7 days in Spain, it all fits into a carry on  bag and includes an outfit planner!**


My 10 tips for successfully packing only hand luggage

1. Make sure your toiletries are 100ml

Or less and you have them packed into the little airport issued plastic bag. I usually grab a handful of these each time I fly so that I have some at home ready to go. This rule includes all liquids and gels. If you are traveling with a partner, friend or as a family don’t forget to spread your toiletries out so that you carry one bag each though airport scanning. No, you cannot use a little see-through vanity case, or that giant zip-lock bag from the kitchen drawer.

2. Think about what toiletries you really need

In advance and only take the essentials. Invest in some small plastic travel bottles that you can dispense your favourite shower gel into or buy the little carry-on friendly mini items. Ladies, try not to take all your make-up. Avoid powder-based make-up like blusher and eye shadow as they tend to get broken and go for cream blush and sticks that are versatile and tough. Don’t forget that lipstick, eye pencils etc don’t need to be in the toiletry bag but toothpaste, lip gloss and mascara do.

3. Have an outfit plan

So that you are not trying to pack half of your wardrobe. I’m not trying to take the fun out of selecting your holiday outfits but why not chose what outfits you like best before you go on holiday. Quickly Google to see what the weather is going to be like and lay out all the possible outfit options on your bed. Choose just your favourites and you will find that you don’t pack as many clothes as normal.

4. Mix and match outfits

And this tip applies to guys as well. You really don’t need a different pair of shorts to go with every shirt. And ladies, you certainly don’t need a different pair of shoes to go with every dress. I’m not suggesting that you wear the same outfit every day, just pick out a few key pieces that can be paired with other outfits.

5. Roll all your clothes

Not only does it stop them from getting super creased it really helps to fit more into the bag. Fold each item of clothing in half,  length ways then roll it really tight from one end. You will have lots of little neat, rolls of clothes that then need to be tightly packed together in the suitcase. It might be a little Tetris like as you work out which clothes fit next to each other, as jeans will be longer then vest tops but stick with it and make sure there are no gaps.


6. Use up all the space in the suitcase

By cramming socks and underwear into the corners. Stuff them inside your shoes and around bulkier items. If you have compartments inside your case, use them. Don’t fight the internal set-up of your bag or worry if there are lots of little pockets inside. Just take a moment to think about what item will fit where and pack everything in as tightly as you can. If you can, use packing cubes, they are really handy for keeping things separate in your case. They also make it easy to just grab one pack and find want you need instead of rummaging around looking for something.

7. Wear your heaviest clothes to the airport

You will want to be comfortable on the flight so don’t turn up like the Michelin Man but try to wear your heaviest shoes, jumpers, jeans and any jackets. It will make a big difference not having to pack those items in your suitcase.

8. Don’t take unnecessary items

Like a hair dryer, if your hotel bathroom has one. Your hair straighteners, if it’s going to be so humid it’s a waste of time. Your running trainers, if let’s be honest you’re going to spend all week drinking cocktails. It only takes 10 minutes to think about what activities you are likely to be doing on holiday to see if you really need this stuff.

9. Have 1 hand luggage bag only

Do not even try to test that tired, over-worked poor girl at the boarding gate. You have opted to take your small suitcase on as your carry-on, so you cannot take a handbag, backpack or laptop case. What I do to get around this restriction is buy something at the airport so I get a duty-free plastic carrier bag. This plastic bag is allowed as well as your little suitcase, so put in there your paper, water bottle, book, whatever items you might need on the flight.

10. Keep your valuables safe and handy

By popping them into a smaller bag, like a clutch purse or travel wallet. The one bag rule only (really) applies for the 15 minutes that you queue at the boarding gate and board the plane. So, I usually put this smaller bag inside the top of my suitcase or in the outer pocket and before I take my seat I get it out and put it under the seat in front of me. Now I have my phone, passport, wallet, keys all with me and I’m not panicking that my little luggage has just gone to the overhead locker down the other end of the plane.

*RELATED article – check out this article for more advice on How to keep your valuables safe when traveling

I hope these tips help you next time you are packing for a holiday 🙂

Do you have any interesting or inventive ways you pack your luggage? If you do, let me know in the comments box below.

Here are some things you might find helpful when packing just hand luggage…

Other Seeking the Spanish Sun thoughts and travel advice posts you might like…

Why I think everyone should travel 

How to be a good tourist

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Printable Spain holiday packing list

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  1. 12th December 2017 / 10:30 pm

    Wow! Thanks to your post, I can now pack like a pro! Excellent and very practical tips which I will definitely need. 😉

  2. 7th December 2017 / 4:38 pm

    we travelled hand luggage only earlier this year and the tips you have here are great, rolling clothes is especially good for space saving! Hand luggage only is definitely the way forward for easy travelling!
    We wrote a blog post on hand luggage only as well and have many similar tips 🙂

    • 8th December 2017 / 11:14 am

      Hand luggage only is definitely the way forward! Thanks, I will take a look at your post.

  3. 7th December 2017 / 1:42 pm

    These are great tips!! I am traveling with my husband for our 1 year anniversary and I hate paying for 2 large suitcases at the airport. I’ve always wondered how he fits his entire life in 1 carry on duffel bag, lol. But these are really good tips, I’ll do my best to remember them come April, lol

    • 7th December 2017 / 2:20 pm

      Have a lovely time on your anniversary holiday!!… save these tips and hopefully they will help you to pack light 🙂

  4. 7th December 2017 / 12:48 pm

    I definitely love traveling with a hand luggage only and can second all of your tips! It’s actually so easy. I’d also add 20-20 rule. If you’re not sure about the thing you’re putting in the suitcase, leave it out if it might be a matter of 20 minutes & $20 to get it on the spot!

    Great job on the article 🙂

    • 7th December 2017 / 1:12 pm

      Thanks Ieva! god yeah, trying to rearrange your luggage at the airport is a nightmare and there’s nothing worse then them hitting you with extra baggage charges!

  5. 7th December 2017 / 11:35 am

    Love this list! I just started rolling my clothes too (kinda Marie Kondo style), and it has worked wonders for my suitcase organization. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • 7th December 2017 / 2:17 pm

      I swear by rolling my clothes for packing, it really does work wonders!

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