How to: travel with just hand luggage


Want to make the most of your time on a short break? Learn how to travel with just hand luggage! Not only does it stop you over-packing (we’re all guilty of that – especially for beach breaks, when you end up only wearing that one bikini, that was your favourite anyway, but you packed five, just in case). But it also means you can swan out of the airport as soon as you land, without having to hang around at baggage reclaim.

We’re both firm believers that with a bit of prep and planning, anything is achievable with just a carry on bag. Nikki is rather proud of being ‘carry on only’ for a 3 week long trip across Europe and Sarah is the Queen of picking a downsized suitcase for international trips.

We’re not gonna lie, it can be hard at times, but here are some top tips for how to travel with just hand luggage:

Know your size limits

Airlines all have slightly different dimensions for the carry on allowance. Some might be super restrictive, while others are more lax and might even allow you to have a handbag and a suitcase/backpack as a carry on. If you want to travel with just hand luggage, check with your airline the exact dimensions you can bring on board, before you start packing! It might save you a hefty fine at the gates if you do this little bit of prep.

Plan your outfits in advance

Lay out your clothes for the days you’re away and pick versatile items that can work from day to night, with a few tops that are ideal for layering. Ask yourself whether you really need a choice of outfits when you’re there. I always think a black dress that can be dressed down with some flip flops or dressed up (onto our next point!) is great to bring for day-to-night outfits without hassle.


Jewellery takes up a tiny amount of space when you travel with just hand luggage, so take a few nice necklaces or earrings that can transform outfits from beach to bodega. A glitzy clutch bag (that can double up as your kindle case, or wallet even) takes your day time jeans you’ve been sightseeing in, to perfect dancefloor attire too! Lightweight (read: roll up nice and small) scarves are great for evenings out, or beach sarongs too.

Shoes were made for walking…

Take your comfiest pair of shoes that you’re happy to tramp around in and a nicer pair for evenings. Wear your bulkiest pair on the plane over!

Less… is more for toiletries

If you’re staying in a hotel, it’s pretty likely that they’ll provide toiletries, especially shower gel and soap so there’s no real need to bring them. Some don’t provide conditioner; so pop a small travel-size bottle in your toiletries bag. Decant any other cleansers/moisurisers into 100ml bottles and items like suncreams can be bought in the airport once you’ve gone through security.

Roll, don’t fold

If this is your first time to travel with just hand luggage, remember  that rolling is far more effective than folding when it comes to squeezing stuff into a suitcase or backpack. Packing cubes are also great at keeping things neat and tidy.

Downsize with a Kindle

Although nothing is better than flicking through the real thing, a Kindle or iPad is far lighter and easier to pack. You can also raid the hotel/hostel library once you’re there if you don’t have an eReader.

Swap your handbag

Is your daily handbag a Mary Poppins-style black hole? I know mine is. Take out all the unnecessary items and downsize your wallet to the essentials (you definitely don’t need all those cafe loyalty cards when you’re travelling). Once you’ve got your essentials sorted, bring a handy cross body bag or small backpack instead; one that can fit easily in to your main case at the airport.

Travelling with just hand luggage can be done! Do you have any top tips for making carry on luggage work? 

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