How To Fly Hand Luggage Only

March 11, 2016

There are plenty of ways to detox your hold bag habits. Save money, time and sanity by travelling light with hand luggage only.

If you travel with as much luggage as Kim Kardasian's entourage, then it might be time to have a packing detox. Even checking in a single piece of hold luggage can make air travel a pain, with weight restrictions, lost luggage and baggage reclaim delays causing plenty of pre and post flight stress. Add the (often extortionate) fees that budget airlines charge and putting stuff in the hold suddenly seems like a whole lot of hassle.

Luckily, it's more than possible to fly luggage free - saving money, time and effort. Short city breaks in the sun are the best place to travel light, although it's also manageable to go long haul if you learn to pack like a pro and follow our luggage tips. Of course, if you're an internationally famous celebrity with a private jet then that's fine too - just leave the luggage to your minions.

Be Ruthless

A wallet perfect for travel which holds a passport, money and cards.

If you've got any chance of packing light, you need to start with the basics. Be ruthless when it comes to essentials - and we mean ruthless. Essentials include: passport, travel documents/tickets, debit/credit cards and currency, medication and health insurance details plus accommodation addresses. Once these are in, you can fill the leftover space with desirables: clothing, books, toiletries etc. Some travel cases and backpacks have zip out, zip in mini bags - great for storing essentials separately.

Do Your Research

A woman kneeling on her over-packed bag trying to close it.

A lot of fliers seem to be under the impression that hand luggage restrictions limit you to a handbag or small rucksack. This isn't true; in fact, many average suitcases can be used for carry on and it's worth finding out exactly what you're allowed. Generally, the smallest size allowed - usually with budget airlines - is 50x40x20cm (trust us, it's bigger than you think). Many airlines also have a weight rather than a size limit, great if you're heading somewhere hot and want to take lots of light-weight clothing. In short, it pays to check - you might be surprised how much you're allowed.

Pack Multi Purpose Items

Selection of bathroom related travel items and a pair of pink sunglasses.

While there are some products that deserve their own place in your luggage (e.g. toothpaste), multiple items that basically do the same job can cause surplus bulk. Rather than have shower gel and shampoo, instead take a solid shampooing soap which can double up as both. The same goes for your sarong (which makes a great beach towel or shoulder cover up) and sunscreen (use it as shaving cream, moisturiser etc.). We bet you never use half the stuff you take anyway...

Rolling is Your Friend

A large travel bag filled with neatly packed rolled up clothes.

When space is a luxury, the best way to pack clothes is to roll rather than fold. Lay a thick clothing item flat, then add a thin item on top, then alternate thick and thin before rolling as one bundle (e.g: jumper, t-shirt, jacket, blouse then roll). You'll create an even, space-saving roll, easy to stack in your bag. And we know it seems obvious but make sure heavier items are packed at the bottom and wear bulky clothing on your flight (the Michelin Man's a good look right?).

Motivate Yourself

A pair of blue flip flops, a passport holder and a jar labelled travel full of money.

It's easy to give up and surrender to luggage fees when minimalist packing gets too stressful. If you find yourself flinging flip flops around in frustration then motivate yourself by thinking about how much you're saving. A return luggage fee starts at around £20 per flight each way on a budget airline - that's £40 per person per trip or £80 for a couple. Use what you save to splurge on extras, like a room upgrade, or put it in the travel kitty for your next trip.

Choose Low Maintenance Destinations

A woman tourist looking at a map to navigate her way around a city.

If you're planning on hiking Kathmandu or a month of winter sports in the Alps then fair enough, you'll probably need hold luggage. But for a European city break or summer getaway, it's more than possible to travel sans suitcase. If you're going to a beachy destination then swimwear is key - you'll spend a lot more time in these than you think. Ditto light weight clothing and sarongs or wraps. If you're heading to cooler climes then hand luggage is still possible; wear your bulky items on board and take a miniature travel detergent so you can wash and re-wear warm essentials.

Siobhan Brewood-Wyatt After a Masters in Comparative Literature, Siobhan worked for several big-name travel companies before joining travioor. She has been hooked on travel since her teens and her biggest adventure is booking flights from Rome to Rio after a few too many beers.