travelling in style - with hand luggage only

(Re-edited and update December 2019)

For years, I was keen to fit all my stuff into a carry-on when going on shorter trips around Europe. First, only my cheapie-cheap flights did not include checking in luggage. But lately, more and more regular airlines charge extra for checking your bags.

Does this picture look familiar to you?
Wearing my favorite travel dress at the Singapore Art Museum, becoming one with the art.
(Photo: Mimi Green)

However, money is not the only valid reason for minimizing your baggage: It's so much easier to travel light. Having only a small carry-on with you is so much more comfortable and manageable on buses'n'trains.

My motto: Travelling light - yet in style.
In this post, I let you take a peek on my packing list.

After a couple of shorter trips around Europe that I managed to take with hand luggage only, my trip to Sri Lanka in January 2019 was the first longer trip to another continent where I only packed a carry-on.
Going from Europe to Asia in winter meant leaving a very cold place, taking a pretty long flight just to land in an extremely hot country. All this needed a bit more preparation and discretion, but I manage just fine: packing to travel light without looking like a bum - or like a tourist, which sometimes is synonymous.

However, I had an advantage to real hand luggage: Although I was packing a carry-on - and a medium-sized daypack that I was taking with me on board, I checked the bigger piece. That made packing a bit easier since I didn't have to mind the security restrictions for hand luggage.

Therefore, you'll find tips for both ways of travelling in each of the following chapters:

luggage volume
carry-on on board
carry-on checked in

on the flight
what to wear
what to do

what to pack
clothes and shoes
beachwear and accessories

carry-on on board
carry-on checked in

luggage volume

carry-on on board

What do you have to consider? If you are flying and are entitled to hand luggage only, check which size and weight are allowed - this might differ a bit from airline to airline.
Usually, it's something like 55 x 40 x 23 cm / about 22 x 18 x 10 inches and around 8 to 10 kg (18 to 22 pounds). But beware: For instance, Ryanair allows only a height of 20 cm / 8 inches.

For a summer vacation, that should be fine if you pack wisely - and are allowed an additional handbag which e. g. with easyjet is not the case: I know that I am by far not the only person who on her first easyjet flight desperately stuffed her handbag in the carry-on suitcase since they strictly allow only one piece of luggage and a handbag qualifies as hand luggage, too.

But as far as I know, it's only easyjet, all the other carriers, even the cheap ones like Ryanair or Eurowings, do allow an extra handbag.

My carry-on, by the way, is an Aerolite suitcase on wheels with the measurements of 55 x 40 x 20 cm / 22 x 18 x 8 inches in case I have to fly with e. g. Ryanair. For any other airline, I can extend it to 23 cm resp. 10 inches; you'd be surprised what a difference that makes.

The carry-on has to fit easily in any luggage compartment.
(Photo: User:Mattes, Luggage compartments Airbus, public domain, details on Wikimedia Commons)

Note: Remember that you won't be able to bring souvenirs like wine, jam, spreads like pesto or creamy and liquid cosmetics home with you. I got in major trouble when carrying soft cheese from France: Since it's creamy, it qualifies as a liquid - I wrote a post about this unexpected adventure.

Your only option is to buy them at the duty-free when leaving. They might be more expensive than at the local supermarkets, but remember how much you save on your flight when travelling only with a carry-on; this will make up for the more expensive shopping at the airport big time!

going up!

carry-on checked in

If you're travelling on a long haul flight with hand luggage only, you have the comfort of little baggage yet the option of packing also things that are not allowed in your carry-on such as liquids and sharp utensils.

You probably don't have to worry about your suitcase's weight since its size won't make overweight possible; your limit will be at least 20 kg / 44 pounds, after all.

However, these two advantages do not make up for the fact that the space for what you are taking with you is limited - and so should be your packing.

I solve this problem by taking a midsized daypack with me on board: I have a large Kipling-backpack with a cushioned back and very broad, soft shoulder straps. It's good for my valuables like my laptop and my cameras and I fit even some of my clothing like e. g. all my tops in there, too.

Since all my other stuff goes in the checked suitcase, my rules shared in an earlier article about what to pack in your hand luggage apply

Expect the unexpected, namely that the airline loses your luggage - and be it only for 24 hours. Therefore, you should always have the following emergency wear in your carry-on:

  • light clothes like a dress or a blouse and skirt or  a T-shirt and shorts or the like for two days
  • PJs or an extra T-shirt for the night (in case you don't like to sleep naked)
  • underwear for two days
  • sandals and/or flip flops
  • swimwear
  • a large scarf that you can also use as a beach towel
  • sunhat
  • sunshades
  • sun protection (remember to take a container of 100 ml/3.4 ounces max.)

going up!

on the flight

what to wear

It's a long flight from Europe to Asia - including short stopovers.

That makes it impossible to wear something that's appropriate for the flight and wearable at the final destination.
What I'm wearing from door to door has to be as warm as possible, yet foldable so that it practically disappears in my luggage while I'm on the road in Asia.

Usually, I'm wearing a T-shirt for an undershirt and a long-sleeve T-shirt-dress on top. A hooded sweatshirt keeps me even warmer. Instead of sweatpants, I opt for thermal leggings. Of course, I wear a pair of warm socks - and for the ride to the airport, I have a foldable down jacket. With all the blankets the flight attendants are handing me, I'm fine.

Once at my final, hot destination, the 'undershirt' becomes a T-shirt again, the knee-long dress - with the sleeves rolled up - is so comfy that I can even wear it on easy hikes.
The hoody might come handy in über-climatized buses and lobbies.
The thermal leggings are rolled together and stowed away in a tiny corner of my suitcase until I need them again for the flight back home; and the foldable jacket can even be used as a neck pillow, once I fold it back into the little pouch it comes in.

A crucial tip for the ladies: Wear a really comfortable bra on a long flight, anything else will kill you. I like to wear sports bras or bustiers - not only on the flight, but during the whole trip. They are much more comfortable and even if the straps show under tank tops or dresses, they don't look necessarily like underwear.

going up!

what to do


To make sleeping on the plane - and during jet lag - easier, I'm taking Melatonin. I don't know if it's for everybody, but I know that it helps me a lot getting a good flight rest. 
Usually, I'm taking one pill on the flight and then for three or four days to fight jet lag. 
Although in the US, you can buy them at every supermarket, I refrain from popping them like candy.

I never ever travel without earplugs - the old fashion wax kind that hermetically shuts your ears against any noise, but I don't really need a sleeping mask since I'm crawling into my hoodie. Hence I know that many people appreciate it.

And of course, I'm having an inflatable pillow to rest my neck whether sitting or laying down. 

By the way, I sleep best with my head and upper body resting on the table. Since I'm tall, it's not working with the table right in front of my seat, but the table next to me is fine. 

No, of course, I'm not doing that when someone is sitting in that seat, what are you thinking!?!


Can't sleep on a plane? Poor you. Hope you're at least travelling with an airline that offers great onboard entertainment like e. g. Emirates or British Airways. 
On TAP, the national Portuguese airline, there was Mr. Bean on - for everybody. Mr. Bean - since he doesn't need to be translated... 

So if you happen to travel with an airline whose only entertainment program is dumb (and this on so many levels) Mr. Bean, you better make sure to have your own entertainment, be it a book - in paper or on a device - music, your favorite series downloaded on your tablet or even phone. 

If you read or watch something on your phone, chances are your eyes are getting uncomfortably dry, particularly in the dry atmosphere on the plane. So you should have eye drops on you (drops=liquid, hence put them in your ziplock 'vanity') and instead of contact lenses, you should wear reading glasses. Make sure to store them thoroughly in an adequate case - my experience is that after one hour of flight every seat on the plane is a mess with papers, candy wrappers, blankets, and extra blankets and spare pillows flying around so you risk finding your glasses in this mess by hearing the cracking noise once you sit on them.

Talking 'bout candy wrappers: I like to eat on the plane (actually I like to eat anywhere and any time; but especially on a plane) - only exception here was again TAP where they just slapped a little trough down on the table - no explanations, and of course no questions about preferences or allergies asked. But maybe you like snacking between meals or you forgot to order your special diet. In this case, it's good to have some snacks like dried fruits, sundries, or whole wheat cookies on hand.

box from KLM
Thank you, KLM, this is so true! Especially if your neighbor is me!

I personally don't need snacks, but I need vitamins. Usually, my diet is so good and healthy that I don't take any supplements. But over the past years when I kept getting colds and rashes because my immune system went down from the stress of travelling, I took up the habit to pop vitamin capsules daily from about one week before leaving over the entire trip; and it's getting better.

You know that they recommend moving around on the plane as much as you can - of course during those periods when it is allowed - and make some exercises. They are actually right, I try to walk and stretch as often as I can. 

But I'm also helping my eyes a bit with the 20-20-20-rule: I'm looking every 20 minutes for 20 seconds at a spot about 20 feet / 6 meters from me. This way I'm blinking more often and spreading the lacrimal fluids.

going up!

what to pack

clothes and shoes

Obviously, what sort of clothes you take on a trip is the most personal and individual part of packing. But with limited space, you might wanna consider certain aspects.

What are you planning on doing?
Visiting cities and museums and go out for dinner or maybe even a cultural event?

I see all these tourists walking around the elegant shopping areas in world's metropoles wearing ugly safari shorts, tennis socks in sturdy hiking sandals, carrying a sports backpack - looking like....poorly dressed tourists.
I hate that.
When travelling, I'm basically wearing the same style I wear at home.

Very often, I wear dresses. I think that they call a dress a dress because you always look...dressed.
It's so easy: You do not have to think about coordinates - you slip on a dress, put on a pair of sandals - or sneakers - and you are ready to go; looking dressy.

Like mother, like daughter. My second time in Malaysia, I travelled in the company of my daughter Mimi.
Long skirts are not only light and airy, they are also an appropriate attire when travelling to a Muslim country.
(Photo: June Karim)

And summer dresses are light; remember - if you can't check your luggage, you're allowed about 10 kilos max!

It basically doesn't have to matter if you are gone for one week or three: You actually need the same amount of clothes, you just have to handwash or give them to a laundry place from time to time.

I'm packing three light dresses, one or two skirts and one pair of shorts. With that about ten matching blouses or T-shirts, whereby blouses are at least as light as tops but deem dressier.

Since most of my dresses are sleeveless, I'm taking a large, but light muslin shawl to wrap around my shoulders in churches and temples for modesty; and in climatized environments against the cold.

Since you never know, I also take a hooded sweater - already for the plane cabin. When moving from place to place, what I sometimes do on a daily basis, it doesn't go in the luggage, I wrap it around my shoulders or tie it around my waist.

In order not to look like a clown, I choose my travel clothes very matchy-matchy: One or two basic colors - I admit - yawn! - it's mostly blue and white - and maybe one more accent like e. g. a cherry red blouse, and that's it.

Besides the foldable jacket - that normally remains folded the entire stay - I'm also taking a foldable raincoat with me. There's nothing more annoying than spending the day at your guesthouse because you cannot go outside without getting soaked. 

The sweater and the sandals - we'll get to them later - have to go with every piece of garment I take with me.

A silken wrap skirt is just perfect for exploring a city: As light as two scarves, dressy, and you can even get in full swing in it.

Obviously, I need underwear and socks.
I pack these always for one week. If the trip is longer, I handwash them.

For the night, I take two boxers and two tank tops. The tank tops are also a nice back up if for any reason I need an informal top.
These can also be quickly washed by hand and dried overnight if necessary.

Shoes - also extremely personal preferences here. I like to have at least two pairs of - comfy! - sandals that I can wear with at least most of my clothes and one pair of light, a bit dressy sneakers.

Flip-flops - rather philosophy than shoes: The epitome of  summer vacation.

Whereby, in Sri Lanka, I'll go hiking so I trade them for my sensible hiking shoes.

Walking downhill in dressy sneakers in Cabo Verde, I slipped and fell and was incredibly lucky that I did not rip a tendon - since then only sturdy hiking shoes for me.

For the beach - and for walking around at the hotel - I pack a pair of flip-flops.

In general, make sure to pick shoes with non-slippery soles.

going up!

beachwear and accessories

I tend to take too many bikinis with me when travelling. On my last trip, I limited myself to two and, surprise-surprise, it was totally sufficient.

What's crucial is a sunhat (mainly to shield my eyes when I'm reading, so even a baseball cap will do) and of course sunglasses. Good ones, not those fun ones from H&M - be good to your eyes.

To stretch out, a light sarong is perfect - you can also use it as an informal skirt or dress on the beach.

If you don't have a sarong - or a canga, as they call it in Brazil - you can purchase one right on the beach.

Travelling light, I'm not taking an extra beach bag with me, but will use the daypack. Unfortunately, the fabric doesn't protect my stuff sufficiently against the fine sand dust, so you I wrap my phone in a plastic bag and keep my camera in a neoprene case.

Water and sand: The beach is my friend, but my camera's arch-enemy.

I'll also use the daypack on hikes and maybe in cities, too; in case I find it too bulky for a city tour, I always have a light, trendy canvas tote bag with me.

going up!


carry-on on board

Now, this might seem like the biggest issue when travelling with hand luggage only, especially since you are limited to a container size of 100 ml / 3.4 ounces max. As we all know, you have to carry it in a transparent ziplock plastic bag - which is good because this spares you an extra toiletries bag. You can take up to 10 of these containers (which probably never fit in that bag, anyway).

Cosmetic companies are making a lot of money by selling their products in 'travel sizes' which is a total rip off since they are far more expensive. Unless you are going away just for a weekend, they are pointless because far too small. And at the end of the day, let's think a bit environment-friendly: There are all these great - literally solid - products that don't come in plastic containers and are much better on so many levels!

However, let's break it down:

You have to remove makeup and clean your face: You can use facial wipes, however, the environment-friendly alternative would be a facial soap bar or a konjac sponge. In either case, they are no liquids, hence no problem.

You use day and night cream: The regular sizes come in 30 to 50 ml / 1 to 1.7 oz, so they can go into the ziplock.

You brush your teeth: Regular toothpaste comes in 75 to 100 ml / 2.5 to 3.4 oz and can go into the ziplock. However, there are these tablets that you chew so they become creamy toothpaste. Light and extremely environment-friendly.

Your toothbrush = No liquid (see, you've learned something new here).

You are taking showers: Instead of shower gel, take a nice bar of soap with you = No liquid.

If you insist on a gel, you'll probably get some at your hotel, anyway, or you buy one at your destination.

Sustainable toiletries
On this picture, you see some of my environmental-friendly toiletries: Konjac sponges for my face, a soap for my body, solid shampoo, a bar of soap for my face, a bamboo toothbrush and some solid toothpaste - arranged from left to right behind the corals which are actually only decoration.

You are washing your hair: If you stay at a hotel, use their shampoo and conditioner. However, the more environment-friendly alternative is a solid shampoo bar.

You are using body lotion: Buy it at the duty-free shop after you went through security or at your first destination (depending on the product, I need 200 to 300 ml / 6.5 to 10 oz per week).

You use deodorant: Opt for a solid stick. The regular sizes come in 30 to 50 ml / 1 to 1.7 oz = Goes into the ziplock.

You need sun protection: Buy it at the duty-free shop or at your destination (depending on how many days I spend on the beach, I need 100 to 200 ml / 3.4 to 6.5 oz per week).

Tip: Usually they don't have these good yet middle-priced brands at airport duty-free stores. They have rather top-shelf brands so that what you don't use shouldn't go to waste. You might consider taking or buying 100 ml plastic bottles for the rests so you can take them home with you.

Even if you need your foundation, mascara, lipstick, and nail polish - it will still fit in your ziplock: According to the above list, there's hardly anything in it.
Oh, to remove nail polish, you can also use wipes that come in small packs, so no liquid here, either.

carry-on checked in

When I'm checking in my carry-on, there obviously is no problem with the size of my liquids.

However, in case there is a problem with my checked luggage on arrival, I'll have one of these transparent bags with a zipper (e. g. ziplock sandwich bag - maximum size 1 liter/33.81 oz) with the following with me on board:

  • facial cream*
  • tooth tablets
  • toothbrush
  • wet wipes (also for my face)
  • deodorant* (preferably a roll-on product in a plastic container since they are lighter and do not break)
  • hairbrush (preferably foldable)
  • small soap (bar - just in case)
  • bar of shampoo
  • sun protection* (already stated above, but since it's crucial...)

*in this list only these four items are liquids

going up!


Guys, I think you're almost set for your one- or two-week summer trip. Now you need some good read - which you'll probably have on a Kindle while I'm smuggling the big book with me. Everything else will be stored on your phone, don't forget your charge cables, your power bank, and headphones. Take your computer or tablet - or, if you don't have to work, you might as well leave it at home.

No matter how little space - a travel blogger without a notebook is like a cowboy without a horse. Yeehaw!

I wish you light and carefree travels - and, please, don't forget to send me a postcard!

going up!

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  1. Awesome tips! I usually try to travel with only hand luggage as well :)

  2. Lovely pictures! I love traveling with hand luggage only but I am always a bit scared that I took too much cosmetics to fit in the plastic bag :)))

  3. I am a BIG fan of carry-on only travel! It's so much easier when moving thru a city - lugging things in and out of trains, taxis, up/down stairs, etc. The more I travel, the more my shopping has changed - I suddenly notice the weight of clothes and how big or small the can pack down! It makes a big difference when packing!!

  4. I am always impressed how other people manage to travel so lightly. I always overpack, because I overthink everything and pack for every eventuality. But your list is a starting point for my next short trip.

  5. Oh well. My traveling packing is centered around my camera and lenses. They re so big and heavy, that I hardly have more space in hand luggage.

  6. Got 2 bags - one about 40L that fits a lot of things and is our "small" bag while backpacking the world. And another smaller 15L or so shoulder bag that has become my go-to bag for city sightseeing and airport ready bag. It fits in the bigger and is easily to grab!

  7. My husband and I usually only travel with carry-ons . . . it's amazing what you can fit in those sizes of bags! I agree about bringing dresses. It makes less dirty laundry and you always look pretty nice, plus they're comfy!

  8. We have always travelled with quite a lot, but we leave for a round the world trip soon so your tips are really handy as we have hand luggage each and one checked baggage between us, plus lots of tech gear! It's the least we have ever travelled with, but for the longest time! We need to make sure out toiletries are compact and that I don't try and take too many pairs of shoes!

  9. Annemarie LeBlancJuly 17, 2018 at 12:54 AM

    Years of traveling experience has taught me to pack light, just like you. I always refer to my travel itinerary so I only take with me the right clothes for the destinations and activities that have been planned.

  10. Great tips! I wish I had seen this before I just paid for two 20kg suitcases for our holiday this year! I am such an over packer!!

  11. Wonderful tips. I have always tried to travel light but I have never ever traveled with only hand luggage unless it is just 2-3 days. This post inspires me to do better.

  12. I love the idea of just taking hand luggage and travelling around living out of one bag! It sounds like the easy life.

  13. Travelling hand baggage is just amazing for getting out of the airport zand enjoying your destination so much sooner. One other tip: They sell travel sized toiletries after security at all UK airports, good brands as well so you don't have to worry about taking any liquids through & save your tiny plastic bag for lip gloss :)

  14. Yes, great article! I love travelling light and carry-on only saves LOTS of valuable spending money!! It's true that the gadgets always seem to take up space and add tons of weight - yikes. Thanks for this!

  15. Geraline BatarraJuly 17, 2018 at 3:04 PM

    Wow! This is such a great post and very informative. Loved the way you twist on how to do traveling with light luggage.

  16. I loved this. I often travel hand luggage only and it really shows how little you need. I love using up all my travel size products/samples too!

    Ami xxx

  17. I love the travel tips here. Packing dresses to go away is so smart. You don’t need to bother about extra pieces.

  18. What a delightful post. I have had both experiences - travelling with full allowed luggage limit... sometimes exceeding too :( and travelling with only hand baggage. And the latter one has always been more happy experience. You post is a reinforcement. and the tips are very helpful to manage it all.

  19. I travel with hand luggage most times except for very long haul flights. I plan outfits so that I can wear them on multiple days to save on space and I carry a large enough handbag for extras because women's handbags are not considered luggage.

  20. So many great packing tips. I love packing for summer trips because the clothes are lighter and my summer wardrobe is brighter :) Winter packing is a challenge for me!!

  21. Great tips and traveling light makes the trip all the more fun and is something I also prefer

  22. Super great tips. I always try to have light luggage but end up with more. I think i'll try this out on my next travel.

  23. Oh How I wish we can travel with just a hand carried luggage. If it's just me, then maybe. But with the kids always coming with us, we have at least 3 checked in luggages and 5 more hand carried items for a one week trip.

  24. I mostly only ever travel with hand luggage, but it hasn't always been like that! I think travelling light comes with experience and style of travel. I certainly don't think I have mastered travelling light, but I went to Bali for two weeks with 7 kg hehe.

  25. Some great tips here! I'm getting better at travelling light. I was very proud of myself that I managed to travel around India for a few weeks with only 9kg in my backpack. :-)

  26. I always travel light like you. I hate stuff. My friends are always shocked when I even go out for a day trip with next to nothing. All I need is my phone and wallet! Thank you for informing others that they can do it.

  27. I can see why packing for just carrying hand luggage would become challenging. Lots of things to think about there.

  28. I've recently gotten into traveling with carry-on luggage only. It's so much easier to not have to keep track of a giant suitcase. And I LOVE not having to wait for my stuff after getting off an airplane!

  29. Traveling by carry-on only is such a great way to go. A good friend of ours can travel for a week or more with only a small gym-sized carry duffel and his laptop. Impressive. Unfortunately, with all our camera gear, tripods, video gear, laptops, smartphones, cables and other assorted electronics, carry-on rarely happens.

  30. I find shoes a challenge to pack into a small carry on since like you said, you basically need a pair for hiking then for the beach and of course for every day wear as well. But I loveeeeee dresses too for how easy they are! You literally get an outfit out of one piece of garment only and it's basically a guarantee that you'll look fab for any occassion hahaa.

  31. Nice read. Hand luggage travelling has always been my thing as I don't like my stuff going in the hold.

  32. I did this on the last trip I was on! I was gone for 6 days and got away with just a carry on. Although it was SO HEAVY. Lols!!

  33. I always take hand luagge! I have the perfect rucksack from ikea that fits everything x

  34. Yes, the first time I heard Rick Steves mention traveling with only one personal carry-on item, I was shocked. His trips are longer than mine!

  35. You taught me how to travel light. Thanks for your lovely tips. Will try to follow them in my next trip. Hand luggage only travel would be such a bliss.

  36. My husbands moto is the bigger the bag the more you pack, the smaller the bag the less you pack and can learn to travel with! Love this!

  37. I can imagine that you are travelling and you have only one hand luggage is an amazing feel. This is because you have less items to manage an dcarry and honesly less to worry about unpack and pack. Loved your post.

  38. If only I could carry light with just a travel case. I always end up taking everything but the kitchen shop when travelling.

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