12 Tips: How to Travel with Hand Luggage ONLY

I was the child who insisted on toting 10 teddy bears and 20 coloring books on a two-day trip out of town. I was the pre-teen who packed piles of itsy-bitsy bikinis for a week-long camping trip into the middle of… nowhere. And I was the teenager who liked to convince her parents that ten delicate dresses were crucial additions to a suitcase packed for a ski holiday in rustic France. But here I am, a young adult, recently praised for my ability to pack lightly, and faced with the task of dishing out tips on how to travel with hand luggage, and hand luggage only.

Whether you’re going on a trip along the Amalfi Coast in Italy, a weekend-long sailing trip, or a week-long tour of California there are skills everyone can use to ensure they’re not carting massive amounts of luggage along for the ride. In fact, all you’ll ever need for most of the trips listed on GuideAdvisor is one carry-on bag. With this saying in mind, “There are two types of travelers in this world: those who pack lightly, and those who wish they had,” I bring you the low down on how to travel with just hand luggage.

The bottom line: think in terms of what you can do without, not what might come in handy, and when in doubt, leave it out.

1. Pick carry-on luggage wisely

To get the biggest bang for your buck, steer clear of bags that, empty, weigh half the carry-on weight allowance. Instead, pick a sturdy, spacious piece of luggage that is made with lightweight materials, and that, in turn, you can pack less painstakingly. Note: the crème de la crème of bags have numerous pockets and compartments that make keeping organized while traveling that much easier.

2. Roll, don’t fold

To minimize wrinkles and maximize space, roll each garment into a sausage-like shape.

3. Engage your inner Tetris-master

Since seasoned travelers know that to travel successfully you should take along half the clothes and twice the money you think you will need, pretend like you’re playing Tetris when it comes to packing your limited-in-space bag. In other words, adhere to the following:

  • Shoes go in first, packed along the edges of the bag (souls facing the “walls” of the case to avoid dirtying clothing and to optimize space; remember this is a game of real-life Tetris we’re playing…)
  • Jeans and pants follow the shoes, forming a good base on the floor of the case
  • Lighter garments (tops and underwear, namely) lie on top of the trouser-layer
  • Toiletries and make-up (and clutches, if you absolutely insist on taking one little luxury) enter last, forming the top layer.

4. Keep your eyes peeled for wasted space

An excellent spot for little items is, wait for it, the insides of shoes, a space that otherwise would sit vacant and very, very wasted.

5. Leave the shampoo and conditioner at home

Since space is limited, omit items that can easily be purchased at your destination, like run-of-the-mill cosmetics. Items that take precedence in hand luggage are medications and accessories to electronic devices. Note for overseas travelers: remember to pack voltage converters and/or adapters.

6. Zip-lock it up

To avoid arriving at your destination only to find your favorite shirt covered in some sort of cosmetic goo, place all “leakables” in zip-lock bags.

7. Don’t pack to the gills

Remember that you may want to bring back a token or two, so save some space for souvenirs.

8. Pick your favorite (without being judged!)

To save space (notice a theme developing?), select one or two electronic items you simply can’t fathom living without, and leave the rest at home. Also, try to smash many-into-one when possible: for example, use your cell phone as an alarm clock, camera, and video recorder, which immediately removes three separate entities from your packing list.

9. Mix-and-match

When it comes to clothing, mixing-and-matching is the name of the game; this way, you can create multiple outfits with fewer pieces. For example, pack a basic sundress to wear during the day, and then throw on some jewelry and a cardigan and you’ve got an evening outfit. Also remember to keep colors neutral as this makes for simplified color coordinating. The rule: if it doesn’t work in multiple outfits, leave it at home.

10. Two shoes only

I know, I know, ladies in particular, you must be grinding your teeth at this one, but it’s just not a good idea to pack more than two pairs of shoes, one pair being comfy walking shoes, the other dressy for evenings out and about.

11. Forget about “just in case” items

Unless you’re going to the moon, you’ll likely be able to find the “just in case” fingerless mittens (or at least a version of them) at your destination.

12. Maximize your personal item

In addition to one carry-on suitcase-like bag, you are allowed to travel with one personal item, which can be anything from a compact handbag to a briefcase. Here, the trick is to travel with a spacious backpack that can hold your handbag plus more.

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