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How to pack for hand luggage only
Home Swapping Tips

How to pack for hand luggage only

Ellena Morgan
By Ellena Morgan - 12 minute read

Trav­el­ling light is more impor­tant than ever. Not only will it low­er the envi­ron­men­tal impact of your trip (less weight = low­er emis­sions), but it’ll also save you mon­ey in extra bag­gage costs and time wast­ed check­ing in your lug­gage at the air­port. And with cur­rent wait­ing times in air­ports due to staff short­ages, flight can­cel­la­tions and delays, we think we can all agree that this can only be a good thing! 

But before you think that hand lug­gage is only for overnighters, let us show you that pack­ing lights is actu­al­ly ide­al for a whole range of hol­i­days. Ready to ditch the pain of bag­gage reclaim? Then read on for our top tips on how to stick to hand lug­gage for every adventure.

Why pack hand-lug­gage only? 

There’s a whole host of ben­e­fits to trav­el­ling light. But the biggest rea­sons to stick to hand lug­gage include:

  • You’ll save mon­ey (lots of it). Air­lines are increas­ing­ly charg­ing their cus­tomers for the cost of extra bag­gage, espe­cial­ly if you’re trav­el­ling short-haul. By opt­ing for hand-lug­gage only, you’ll be able to save mon­ey that you can spend else­where on your trip.
  • You’ll save time. There’s no bet­ter start to your vaca­tion than land­ing in your des­ti­na­tion, grab­bing your bag from the over­head com­part­ment and head­ing straight off to your des­ti­na­tion with­out wast­ing time in the air­port. Embrace pack­ing light, and you can say good­bye to hang­ing around at bag­gage reclaim.
  • It’s more con­ve­nient. Keep every­thing you need with you on your flight, and you’ll have less stress and has­sle in the worst-case sce­nario of your flight being delayed or can­celled. Bet­ter yet, there’s no chance of your bag­gage get­ting lost by the air­line or even stolen from the con­vey­or belt!
  • You can be more flex­i­ble. Pack­ing light means that you’ll be able to trav­el more freely than if you have large, heavy, cum­ber­some bags. Which also means that it’s eas­i­er to catch pub­lic trans­port (sav­ing mon­ey yet again), and you’ll be able to explore your des­ti­na­tion with your bags – which is par­tic­u­lar­ly handy if you have some spare time before or after you’ve check into or out of your accommodation.
  • You’ll be safer. Car­ry­ing large bags and suit­cas­es makes hol­i­day­mak­ers a tar­get for tourist-relat­ed crimes such as scams, pick-pock­et­ing and more. By trav­el­ling light, you’ll only have to focus on the one bag you have, free­ing up more head­space and mak­ing you more aware of your sur­round­ings (and more like­ly to blend in with oth­ers in the area).
  • It’s bet­ter for the envi­ron­ment. If you’re trav­el­ling by air, vaca­tion­ing with just your hand-lug­gage is a great way to lessen your impact on the plan­et. Sim­ply put, less weight = less emis­sions. So if you’re trav­el­ling light, it means less fuel is need­ed to pow­er the plane which is bet­ter for the plan­et. You gor­geous lit­tle eco-warrior.

Top tips for packing light

Choose the right size bag 

The key to avoid­ing extra bag­gage costs is to make sure you have the right size bag. The exact mea­sure­ments allowed will depend on the air­line you trav­el with, but a gen­er­al rule of thumb is a car­ry-on bag should be no big­ger than 55cm (22in) by 35cm (14in) by 20cm (9in), with the weight restrict­ed to around 7kg. You should be able to find the mea­sure­ments pri­or to book­ing your flight, though we’d sug­gest opt­ing for a soft bag over a hard case, to allow it to fit under your seat, in the over­head lock­er and most impor­tant­ly, in the size checker.

Duffle bag on the ground next to a chair

Using a soft bag over a hard suit­case allows for more flex­i­bil­i­ty for your car­ry on to fit under your seat or the over­head locker

Pack light on liquids 

Don’t for­get that there’s a lim­it to the amount of liq­uids you can have in your hand lug­gage. You can’t bring any liq­uids over 100ml, and these liq­uids also need to be in bot­tles or con­tain­ers that are 100ml or less in size. Any­thing more than 100ml will need to be dis­card­ed at secu­ri­ty, so make sure your con­tain­ers are all small­er than this and place them in a clear 20cm by 20cm sealed plas­tic bag. You’re only allowed to take one of these bags onboard with you, so leave any­thing at home that can’t fit into one bag. 

To get through secu­ri­ty quick­ly and with­out any fuss, place your bot­tles in a reseal­able food bag when you’re pack­ing your bag, and place this at the top of your bag (or in an eas­i­ly acces­si­ble pock­et). And don’t for­get that sun­cream and make­up (such as mas­cara and liq­uid eye­lin­ers) are also con­sid­ered to liq­uid, so include these in your clear plas­tic bag too.

Buy your liq­uids later 

What if you want big­ger bot­tles of liq­uids? Trav­el­ling light does­n’t mean you need to com­pro­mise on your beau­ty and hygiene stan­dards! Many cos­met­ics and toi­letries are sold in the off-duty shops and phar­ma­cies once you’re through through secu­ri­ty, so you can either pur­chase them at air­port price, or if you’re extra pre­pared (and thrifty!), then order them online for col­lec­tion from the store. This works espe­cial­ly well if you’re trav­el­ling as a group and want to use col­lec­tive toi­letries like body­wash, mois­turis­er and sun pro­tec­tion that you’ll all be using dur­ing your trip. 

As an eco-friend­ly alter­na­tive, you could opt for liq­uid alter­na­tives like soap bars, show­er bars and stick deodor­ants. These aren’t count­ed as liq­uids, which will leave you more space in that all-impor­tant clear bag.

Person adding mini toiletries into a washbag

Pack light on liq­uids and instead buy any­thing larg­er you need once you arrive

Check oth­er items you can’t bring 

There are some items you can’t pack in your car­ry-on that you would be able to place in your checked-in lug­gage. Many of these are com­mon sense as they could be dan­ger­ous, haz­ardous or flam­ma­ble, but dou­ble check the require­ments for the coun­try you are fly­ing to and from to find out more. Some items that could be banned include cer­tain elec­tron­ics, over­sized sports equip­ment, frozen breast milk, scis­sors and knives.

Make a pack­ing list 

A pack­ing list is essen­tial to avoid over­pack­ing the very lim­it­ed space you have! What you need to pack depends on the type of hol­i­day you’re going on (your pack­ing light’ list for a ski trip vs a beach hol­i­day couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent) so get some guid­ance online for the kind of things you’ll need to bring with you. Even bet­ter, do an online search for the type of hol­i­day you’re pack­ing for, plus the words hand lug­gage’. For exam­ple: City break pack­ing list hand lug­gage only’ or ski trip pack­ing list hand lug­gage only’.

Plan your outfits 

Remem­ber that you don’t need an entire­ly dif­fer­ent out­fit each day. How often have you packed a huge range of out­fits, only to find your­self in the same shorts on day 5?! We’d sug­gest try­ing on each item you pack to help cre­ate a set of out­fits that you know you’re hap­py with, then try­ing to mix and match to make sure you get plen­ty of use out of each item in your bag. This way you can cre­ate a cap­sule wardrobe with colours and items that will go with every­thing! Ver­sa­tile, mul­ti-use gar­ments are also real­ly help­ful such as a scarf that can act as a beach blan­ket, a sari for pop­ping to the shops, or a shawl at night. Also, try to pack dark­er items that are less like­ly to show up stains (so you can wear them again if needs be!)

Use pack­ing pods 

When pack­ing with hand lug­gage only, you’ll want to be as organ­ised as pos­si­ble and use all the space that’s avail­able in your bag. Trav­el­ling light is even eas­i­er if you use pack­ing pods, as these will allow you to organ­ise your items by cat­e­go­ry so you can eas­i­ly find what­ev­er you’re after. They also allow you to pack denser, mean­ing you can often cram in even more than if indi­vid­ual items go into your bag loose! We’d also rec­om­mend pack­ing a spare car­ri­er bag or can­vas bag for any dirty items.

Zoomed in shot of clothes in suitcase on a bed

Use pack­ing pods to avoid a dis­or­gan­ised suitcase

Roll your items 

It’s long been debat­ed as to which is the most effec­tive way to save space when pack­ing light, but the Love Home Swap team have come to the con­clu­sion that rolling clothes is the most effec­tive way to save space (sor­ry, to all you fold­ers out there!) Rolling allows your clothes to stack more eas­i­ly, and it also makes them eas­i­er to see in your bag or pack­ing pods. Just make sure you weigh your bag before you go, as many air­lines have a lim­it of around 7kg for car­ry-on bags.

Wear your larg­er, heav­ier items when travelling 

If the con­cept of pack­ing all your items into hand lug­gage seems daunt­ing, make some strate­gic deci­sions about what you’re pack­ing. For exam­ple, you could wear your larg­er items – like bulky jack­ets, chunky knitwear, thick jeans and big boots – on the plane to save space in your bag. If you’re wor­ried about over­heat­ing, we’d sug­gest pack­ing a fold­able bag (such as a shop­ping bag or a tote bag) that you can store any extra lay­ers in once you’re through secu­ri­ty or after boarding.

Pack less shoes 

It’s very easy to over­pack shoes. Once you start list­ing all the pos­si­ble activ­i­ties and events you’ll be doing, you can end up with a dif­fer­ent pair of shoes for each day of your trip! Try to be strict with the amount of shoes you bring, as these will like­ly be the most cum­ber­some item you pack. Always wear your bulki­est shoes on your flight, and then try to stick to 1 – 2 pairs of shoes max in your hand lug­gage. We’d sug­gest a com­fort­able pair of train­ers that dou­ble up for active days but are also com­fort­able to walk around in all day, and if you’re going on a sun­ny hol­i­day, a pair of light­weight sandals.

Trav­el­ling light means pack­ing smarter 

There will always be some items that you can’t live with­out on your trip, but it doesn’t mean they need to take up a huge amount of room in your bag. Try swap­ping out bulky items for light­weight, stream­lined options instead.

  • If you’d like a small­er back­pack or hand­bag for day tips, opt for a pack­able rucksack. 
  • If you’re a gad­get lover and you need a lot of charg­ing cables, invest in a mul­ti USB charg­er that allows you to charge mul­ti­ple items at once. 
  • If you’re spend­ing time at the beach, instead of pack­ing a chunky beach tow­el or a big pic­nic blan­ket, opt for a com­pact micro towel. 
  • If you’re a book lover, con­sid­er invest­ing in a com­pact Kin­dle instead of pack­ing mul­ti­ple books for your trip (where you can read a month’s worth of nov­els in a sin­gle charge!) 
  • If you’re head­ing some­where chilly, pack a com­pact puffer jack­et instead of a large wool coat.

You can find many of these items in our trav­el gift guide to make your next trip even better.

Ask your hosts what they have 

Often we feel we need to pack every­thing for just in case’ sce­nar­ios, but if you’re home swap­ping for your next trip, your host might actu­al­ly already have what you’re after, which can save you lots of space in your car­ry-on. This is espe­cial­ly true for fam­i­lies that may be pack­ing a whole range of essen­tial items, from books to toys to prams. The same applies to oth­er trav­ellers too. From umbrel­las to board games, it’s like­ly the place you are stay­ing will have many items that you’d usu­al­ly pack. Sim­ply send your host a mes­sage to see what they already have at their place, so that you avoid pack­ing any doubles.

Leave some space in your bag 

You nev­er know what you might find on your trip, so it’s nice to leave a lit­tle bit of space in your car­ry-on for items you’d like to buy on your trav­els, gifts for friends, or sim­ply for stor­ing any larg­er, bulki­er items that you have cho­sen to wear on the plane. This acts as a great insur­ance pol­i­cy and if you don’t see any­thing you fan­cy, at least you’ve made your bag that much lighter!

And there you have it – every­thing you need to know to be a hand-lug­gage only, trav­el­ling light whizz! Do you have more tips for pack­ing light and using car­ry-on bags only? Then share your tips by drop­ping us a line, or leave your thoughts on Twit­ter or Insta­gram. We’d love to hear your ideas, and add them to our list!