8 mins

Handy tips: How to pack for hand luggage-only travel

Lyn Hughes once travelled for six months taking just a 30-litre daypack. The trip, which sparked the idea for Wanderlust magazine, also taught her how to pack light - a skill every traveller needs...

Packing light: what you really need in your suitcase (Shutterstock)

On my first truly big adventure – a round-the-world trip – I’d packed everything but the kitchen sink, with a year’s worth of gear stuffed into my bag. Then, once I was on the road, the realisation struck that there were actually fully stocked shops in all these countries – who would have thought it?

So, for our 1992 South American jaunt we decided to go hand luggage only. It turned out to be liberating. No worries about things being stored out of sight on public transport. No more fretting about keeping an eye on our cases in cafés or busy places. No feeling vulnerable on arriving in a strange town.

I haven’t travelled quite as light since, though there have been occasions when I’ve packed too light for the conditions – when a guide asks, ‘Where’s the rest of your gear?’, it’s not a good sign (see my epic fails). But even today, I still apply the same principles to my packing list. 

Top tip

What you really need...

  • Footwear - the most important item. Think practical, multipurpose and comfy: eg black trainers or black walking shoes, plus a pair of sandals.
  • Two tops (thick T-shirts, blouses, shirts) - black and/or white can work well and go with everything. Make sure they don't crease easily. 
  • Sleepwear – a T-shirt, vest or camisole can also double as an extra layer in the daytime if needed.
  • Two pairs of underwear/socks.
  • A warm layer – a fleece, down jacket or hoodie can also fill in as a pillow.
  • Toiletries – pare it down to what you really need. Liquids must be no more than 100ml; pick up refills en route.
  • Cables, chargers, universal plug.
  • Water bottle – no single-use plastic.

Optional extras...


  • A swimming costume – ladies can save space by using cami and knickers.
  • Hat and scarf – useful for covering up (culturally or for sun protection) and for protecting a camera/phone.
  • Waterproof shell – one that rolls up really small. 
  • Shades – think cheap/replaceable, so you never have to worry about them. 


Anything else you should be able to pick up enroute!

Happy travels.

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