Top 10 tips for travelling hand luggage only (save space & money!)

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Top 10 tips for travelling hand luggage only (save space & money!)

Embarking on a journey travelling hand luggage only can be a liberating experience, offering the freedom to travel light and avoid the hassle of checked baggage! In this guide, I share my top 10 tips for travelling hand luggage only, helping you save both space and money while maximising convenience and flexibility on your adventures! From savvy packing strategies to essential travel hacks, join me as I unlock the secrets to stress-free travel with just a carry-on bag.


1) Get a backpack that is hand luggage compliant (that fits under the seat)

First up, before even thinking about how to save space in your hand luggage, you need to get a bag that is the exact measurements the airline has outlined for cabin bags. These can be different for every airline.

Ryanair requires your bag to be no bigger than 55 x 40 x 20cm and easyJet requires your bag to be no bigger than 45 x 36 x 20cm.

Black backpack under a Ryan Air plane seat

I’ve only been caught out once on a budget airline with oversized hand luggage but it was enough to deter me from ever trying it again! Especially as I was charged a £70 baggage fee – one way! Luckily the airline didn’t check me on the way home but still. £70 was double what I’d actually paid for the return flights from Manchester to Dublin! 

If you don’t want to start your holiday in a bad mood, I’d just bite the bullet and follow the rules on this one. There are plenty more ways we can play the system that I’ll be sharing on this list later on. 😉

I recommend the Travel Hack backpack for budget airlines such as Ryanair and easyJet. It’s the required size for most budget airlines and has lots of handy compartments to make the most of the space. 

The bag has been specifically designed for travellers by travel blogger Monica Stott and is like an Aladdin’s Cave of storage! I’ve been using my Travel Hack backpack for years now. I love how both functional AND stylish it is! 

Get the Travel Hack Backpack.

Travel Hack black backpack

2) Book accommodation with a washing machine

One of the ways I’m able to pack so light is by booking accommodation that has a washing machine, such as an apartment or Airbnb. If you’re away for a few days, this will allow you to just wash what you have without needing to pack more clothes. 

Often you’ll find when the apartment comes with a washing machine, hosts will provide washing powder. But if they don’t you can either buy cheap washing detergent when you get to your destination or take 100ml of travel washing gel with you. You only need a couple of spoon fulls of gel for a small wash with the tube lasting 20 washes – bargain!

Book accommodation with a washing machine.

Washing machines room with a shelf with cleaning products above it in a white, clean room

3) Use vacuum bags to save on storage 

I’ve used packing cubes for years now to save space in my hand luggage but after recently trying vacuum bags, I’m officially converted! 

These vacuum bags help you save on space, and best of all don’t require a hoover to take the air out like other vacuum bags. They’re also really handy for keeping clothes in order so you don’t end up pulling everything out of your bag to find the clothes you need!

If you prefer packing cubes, you don’t need to spend a lot. I have the Amazon basics packing cubes and they get the job done just fine!

Get vacuum bags.

Get packing cubes.

Hands putting vacuum bags with clothes inside into a hand luggage bag

4) Travel with a fillable travel neck pillow for extra storage

I came across these magic fillable travel neck pillows on instagram and they have been a complete game changer! If you can’t fit all the clothes you need for your trip in your bag, just sneak any extras into this fillable travel pillow!

The pillow easily fits an extra outfit or two in it and no one will ever know! Once filled up with clothes it then doubles up as a travel pillow – 2 in 1!

Get a fillable travel neck pillow.

Stuffable neck pillow with clothes inside the open zip

5) Wear a chest or bum bag that can be hidden on you 

Coats and jackets are not only a great way to save space on small items in your hand luggage but an even better way to sneak an extra bag on board! Yes, you read that right – you can hide an extra bag under your jacket and coat and not get caught (within reason!).

Now I’m of course not talking about an additional backpack or anything! But you can hide a chest or bum bag under your jumper or jacket that has your phone, purse and keys etc in it that can double up as a day bag whilst you’re on holiday. 

I generally don’t like to carry a backpack as my day bag when I get to a destination as I only tend to need my phone and purse. But it’s surprising how much space these little day bags take up in your hand luggage, isn’t it?

So provided the additional bag is small and can be worn across the body, you can sneak an extra handbag onto the plane by covering it with a jacket or coat!

Get a chest/ bum bag.

Woman wearing a chest bag over her white jumper

6) Use refillable pouches and contact lense cases for essential liquids

I know it’s tempting to pack your entire skin care routine in your hand luggage but with precious space needed and a 100ml liquid limit for hand luggage, we’re bang out of luck!…Or are we?

One trick I’ve used as long as I’ve needed glasses is putting my favourite skin care products into contact lens cases. They’re the perfect size for enough cleanser, toner and moisturiser for a long weekend and are so compact.

You don’t even need to be a contact lens wearer, you can get contact lens cases on Amazon or from discount shops like Home Bargains. 

I also recommend not bothering to take items like shampoo or body wash. Your hotel or Airbnb will provide body wash/ shampoo as a bare minimum so there’s really no point. The only thing they never seem to have is conditioner, so I always pack a mini refillable pouch of conditioner to last me a few days. 

Anyone with long or thick hair will appreciate it’s a bloody nightmare trying to get a brush through hair that hasn’t been conditioned so it’s a none negotiable for me!

Any mini reusable pouches will do, I have these ones off Amazon. Pouches are so much easier to fill than bottles and you’re able to squeeze more of the product out so there is less waste.

Get refillable travel pouches.

Get contact lens cases.

Refillable travel pouches with labels on them of what they are

7) Pack a make up remover cloth instead of face wipes 

I’ve been using a make up remover cloth for years now. They’re better for the environment as you’re not disposing of unrecyclable face wipes everyday and they save you tonnes of space In your hand luggage!

For anyone still skeptical if make up remover cloths actually work, I was the same as you! I would see the cloths in places like New Look and Primark and wonder how they could possibly take off all my make up without any cleanser? But they do! 

The microfibre technology allows the cloths to lift even the thickest mascara and eye make up from your face with just a little water. You don’t even have to be rough, the cloths are really gentle on the sensitive areas of your face. 

They’re great for travelling as you can use them 3-4 times before having to put them in the washing machine and they dry really quickly.

Just try them, I promise they’re a packing light game changer!

Get make up remover cloths.

Mel looking in the mirror removing make up with a white make up removing cloth

8) Don’t pack any extra shoes

One of the best ways to save space when travelling hand luggage only is to be strategic with your foot wear by wearing the shoes you’re travelling in!

If I’m only away for a few days I wear the same pair of comfy boots the whole time I’m there. I can walk all day in them without my feet hurting and can be dressed up or down depending on what activities you’ve booked.

In the summer months I travel in trainers or converse and pack some flip flops if the weather is super hot and a nice pair of sandals for if I go out in the evening.

But most of the time, (especially if you’re travelling through Europe) boots are best because no matter what the season, it’ll no doubt rain or get chilly at some point so I always play it safe unless there’s a heatwave!

Mel walking in Copenhagen with overalls and black boots

9) Wear extra layers to save space in your bag

This trick is great for winter when you have to pack thick layers into your hand luggage that quickly take up space.

Instead of trying to fit more clothes in your bag – just wear your additional layers on the plane! You can save space in your cabin bag by wearing an extra jumper or a couple of tops under your coat. I often tie an additional jumper around my waist too! 

Budget airlines are not going to ask you to put any additional clothes you’re wearing into your bag and you can always take the extra layers off on the plane if you get hot. 

Woman wearing a black hat and a backpack looking at the flight screen in the airport

10) Utilise pocket space

Speaking of sneaking extra clothes on your person whilst flying! Utilising your pocket space is a great tip if you’re flying in winter especially, as your coat provides all sorts of hidden storage space!

Pockets both on the outside and inside of your coat and any zippy compartments can be utilised to carry small items that are taking up valuable space in your hand luggage. 

My hiking jacket can fit both canned headphones and hair straighteners in the inside pockets. Without even using the pocket space on the outside!

Small items such as bulky chargers, plugs, socks and tops will fit in the pockets of any coat but be sure to choose your coat wisely my traveller friend!

Hair straighteners in a jacket pocket

Bonus tip: Share items with your travel buddy!

I can feel my boyfriend rolling his eyes as I type this! 😂 But a great way to save on space when travelling hand luggage only is to share items with your travel buddy!

It’s not necessary to bring two of common items like straighteners, hairbrushes and liquids which can all be shared whilst you’re on holiday.

Check in with your travel buddy before you go and decide who is taking what in each bag and you’ll save half a bag each just by sharing communal items!

If your travel buddy is a light packer as well you can always ask if they have any extra room to carry some things for you. Which of course I never do. 😏

Couple pulling suitcases and handing hands looking outside the airport window at planes taking off in the background


Do you have any tips for travelling hand luggage only? Let me know in the comments below! 😄

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