How to pack for a week’s holiday with just your hand luggage: 8 top tips

Checking in hold luggage can be alarmingly expensive — especially on budget airlines. Here are 8 tips on packing for hand luggage only travel, meaning you can save more money for your trip...

6 mins

There’s nothing like a spontaneous trip. You feel like going somewhere, find a good deal on plane tickets, and before you know it you’re savouring gelato in the Cinque Terre or hiking the Nova Scotia coastline.

But those cheap fares can hide some truly egregious costs, chief among them the checked bag fee. Low-cost airlines tend to be the worst offenders, with EasyJet charging as much as £50 to check a 23kg case – but even British Airways might charge you £65 if you check a bag at the airport.

The good news if those prices make you baulk is that you can easily manage a week-long summer break with just cabin bags. Here are a few tips on making your hand luggage go the distance…

1. Be realistic about your plans

It feels sensible to pack for every eventuality – what if it’s rainy, or I want a fancy meal, or I go on a cycling tour? But trying to do this just means you end up packing for three different versions of the same week.

Be honest with yourself about what you’ll wear, what you’ll use and what you’ll be doing. If a pair of shoes is uncomfortable at home, it’ll be uncomfortable on holiday. If you read one book a month, you probably won’t get through six even on the laziest of week-long beach breaks. And if you’re more into bottomless brunches than early-morning spin classes, ask yourself if the running kit is worth the space in your bag.


2. Choose your bag carefully

Obviously, the bigger your bag the easier it is to bring everything you’ll need. The standard dimensions are 52 x 45 x 25cm, so though it varies slightly by airline, this is the best size to buy.

Beyond that, think about what fits your normal style of travel. Do you prefer a hard-case bag with wheels? It’s sturdy, the regular shape makes it easy to stow, and you don’t need to worry about lugging it around. Or maybe you’d rather use a backpack? A soft bag can squash down smaller if you don’t bring as much, and having a rucksack is easier than a wheeled case on rough ground.




3. Buy specially designed ‘pack and go’ clothing that folds down tiny

The weight limit can cause problems for even the most efficient packer, and if you’re landed with extra fees because your bag’s too heavy, then you might as well have paid for checked luggage. This is where lightweight, multipurpose items, like the Jack Wolfskin Pack and Go! collection, come in handy. The chic, simple tops, trousers and jackets are perfect for a city break, but also have you covered if you want to head out into nature – there’s no compromise on technology or style, for maximum flexibility.

The collection’s main appeal though is the size of its items. All the items take up very little space in your bag: the waterproof jackets, for example, fold away into their own pockets, while the t-shirts fold into a pack the size of your hand. Even the lightweight shoes fit into small packs to make them impressively small in your bag – a great way to squash more in on a last-minute trip. Need another reason to buy? Many of their items are made from recycled materials, so you can feel even better about your outfit choice. 

4. Fold and roll

Once you’ve honed your packing list, it’s time to make it fit. There are a million and one packing hacks out there, but ultimately you need to find out what works for you. That said, there are a few tips which are always helpful when trying to maximise the efficiency of your packing.

If you have a hard-shell case, it may have ridges on one side for the handle. Fill the spaces between them with long or small items, like underwear, swimwear and lightweight clothes. Once you’ve made a flat surface, stick to one method for the rest of your clothes – fold them flat and wide, laying one item on top of the next, or roll them up as small as possible, stacking them next to each other.

Toiletries, books and equipment are often irregularly shaped or delicate, so you may want to fill in any gaps between them with clothes. Similarly, you should save a few small, soft items (like socks) to stuff your shoes; this helps them hold their shape and ensures you use all the space in your bag.



5. Make use of your second bag

Once you’ve decided on your main bag, it’s time to give some thought to your second one. Most airlines will allow a handbag, laptop bag or camera bag on top of the main one, and you should make the most of this. Some will even allow for a lightweight backpack.

Most camera bags have room for lenses as well as the camera body; keep these to a minimum (will you really need a telephoto lens for your week on the beach?) and instead use this secure space for anything valuable or delicate. Laptop bags usually have room for your book or e-reader, your wallet, your phone, and any small items you remembered just before leaving for the airport.

6. Wear your bulkiest clothes

No matter how smart your bag choice and how efficient your packing, there may be a few items you can’t fit in your bag. Maybe you’re expecting to hike a lot, and the bulky shoes are causing packing problems? Or perhaps you can’t find room for a coat, even though it might rain? The best solution is to ignore style for the time being and wear all your bulkiest items for the flight – not forgetting a light scarf or jumper, for the icy temperatures on the plane.

You can also put things in your pockets if you wear a coat, ideal for reusable water bottles, foldable umbrellas or books. So long as you don’t go overboard, this can be a great way to bring an extra item or two while keeping your luggage (technically) under the weight limit.

7. Minimise your liquids and switch to solids

One of the main hassles when flying with only hand luggage is the restriction on liquids. Most of the time, you’re limited to one small, clear bag containing up to a litre of liquids, in containers no larger than 100ml each.

Buying travel-sized toiletries is the most expensive way to deal with this issue. Instead, use small bottles to decant your usual toiletries, minimise what you bring, and switch to solids wherever you can. So instead of a spray deodorant, try roll-on; instead of liquid shampoo and conditioner, use solid ones; instead of shower gel, bring soap. As an added plus, these products are often much longer lasting and better for the environment.





8. Consider what you can get there

Finally, consider what you can buy after you’ve landed. While you don’t want to stock up on single-use plastics while you’re there, there are plenty of items you can pick up in your destination. By heading to local shops for your sunglasses, sandals, food and drink, or even a guidebook, you can support local businesses and pick up a few useful souvenirs. Just be careful with anything you’ll be bringing home – the baggage limit will still be the same, after all.


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