Travelling with hand luggage only can seem daunting for some, but with the rising additional costs of luggage when flying with many airlines, it’s becoming a more popular option for many people.
I’ve put together this hand luggage only packing list because I would consider myself somewhat of a hand luggage only expert, having travelled extensively around Europe with hand luggage only, I then moved to Australia in 2019 with hand luggage only, travelling for a month through 7 countries on the way, all with just hand luggage (and no I didn’t ship anything to Australia separately either).
It’s worth noting that I am a lightweight, minimalist and budget traveller, so the tips in this guide are suited to those looking to travel on a budget in a minimal or backpacking style, or just for those wanting to minimise the extra baggage costs for those short weekend trips.
So this guide is my hand luggage only packing list, to help you plan what to pack in carry on, whether you’re wondering how to pack hand luggage for a week or for a month, this guide will help you.
I also recommend checking out my Carry on Packing Tips to learn a few tips and tricks to make the most out of your hand luggage allowance.
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The essentials for your cabin luggage only packing list
The best carry on luggage bag
This is my number one hand luggage packing tip, use a hand luggage sized rucksack rather than a wheelie suitcase. You are far less likely to be asked to check your rucksack when the overhead bins invariably get full on budget flights, Rucksacks are less conspicuous, they’re rarely checked for size or weight because they’re flexible and squashable.
My Osprey carry on rucksack which I’ve linked here is the men’s version which I got because I’m a very tall woman (6ft2) but the great thing about Osprey is they recognise body shapes differ and they offer bags for women too. This is the women’s equivalent of the same bag. Osprey creates these backpacks specifically to fit most airline’s hand luggage sizing requirements and restrictions, but always check your airline before flying. This bag is suitable for all the European flight carriers and I also used it with 5 different carriers on my way to Australia.
You might think this is a pricey bag for a carry on, but it’s worth the investment because Osprey has a lifetime warranty, if it ever breaks, you send it over and they’ll either repair it or send you a new one. So this is far more economical than buying those cheap wheelie suitcases that only last a couple of years each time.
My bag has been to 12 countries, on countless flights and it’s still looking as good as new. Plus there’s loads of pockets and compartments for ease of packing and security. In my experience, the rucksacks are less conspicuous and therefore also targeted less by thieves. Also a rucksack means you can keep both hands free!
These Kanken bags are much smaller and they’re recognised globally. Mine has been to 24 countries, it’s lightweight, waterproof, comfy, fits my basic camera gear and I also squash it into my bigger rucksack for longer trips so when I’m in a location I have a smaller day bag to use.
Although these Kanken bags are small, I’ve used them repeatedly for weekends in Europe. I wear all my clothes on the plane, I wear my jeans/trousers and my layers on the plane as well as my only pair of shoes. So this bag only contains my camera gear, spare underwear, a new shirt for the next day, a water bottle and my toiletries!
Check out my full gear guide with all my equipment and camera accessories.
My hand luggage only packing list
This list can be used to plan your packing for a short or a long trip. I’ve written this based on what I took for moving to Australia with hand luggage only. Some of the items like 3 t-shirts or 5 pairs of underwear are obviously not necessary for a 2 day weekend trip! I’ve outlined the minimal packing list I use on a weekend trip in my Kanken bag section above.
Optional electronics - my laptop and compact portable speaker also easily fit into my Osprey hand luggage bag when I need them for longer trips. I don’t take them on short weekend trips.
Passport, ID and boarding pass/flight documents
Insurance documents and booking information hard copies in case something happens to your phone (we all rely on having everything accessible at our fingertips but this has saved me twice when my phone has been stolen or broken)
Portable charger and charger cables
Reusable Water bottle
See-through toiletry bag - see below for a detailed breakdown of what I take in my carry on toiletry bag
Antibacterial hand sanitizers and wipes
Clothing - see my hand luggage packing list for clothing below
What’s in my toiletries bag for hand luggage only packing
Tinted moisturiser with SPF
One shade eye shadow and mini applicator brush
Small hair brush
Face wash decanted into a travel size container
Micellar/toner decanted into a travel size container
Medication - included personal meds and basics like paracetamol and allergy tablets
Spare hair band and grips
Body wash, soap,shampoo and conditioner - I only take if I’m staying somewhere like a hostel or going to be in more remote locations where these are not supplied as complimentary.
Compact mirror - only if you plan to be on the road a lot without a mirror accessible e.g. in a campervan.
Items like moisturiser, hair products, tweezers and nail scissors are not necessary for short trips like a long weekend but if you’re away for a few weeks or more I would suggest buying in your location.
2 pair of trousers/jeans - I wear one on the plane then have one optional lightweight hiking pair that folds small if you’re doing outdoor activities. For a weekend away I would only take 1 pair.
1 pair of shorts if you’re going somewhere warm
1 skirt/dress something light and thin that packs small if you’re doing photos or going somewhere nice for a meal
3 t-shirts, plain colours to be dressed up or down. One black, one white, one patterned. If you’re
1 jumper/sweater - i wear this on the plane to save space and I usually find planes to be cold
Optional 1 coat/jacket - only take if you’re going somewhere cold or will be open to the elements, I wear this on the plane and the pockets allow me to store more stuff.
2 pairs of shoes - I only have one pair if it’s a weekend trip and those are the ones I wear on the plane and the whole weekend. For longer trips I have two pairs, one trainer/hiking shoe for activities and another pair of sandals which can be dressed up or used on the beach etc
1 scarf/shawl - helpful to cover up on cooler evenings, can also be used as a blanket on the beach and is useful if you’re going somewhere where you’re visiting temples and religious sites and will need to cover your shoulders and head.
1 Hat - either a cap to protect you from sun or a wooly hat if somewhere cold
No more than 5 pairs of pants and socks - wash as you go
1 versatile bra to be worn with everything. 1 sports bra/support bra if you’re doing active activities
1 pillow case - I use this for my laundry bag, to wash delicates or to put over a pillow if a case isn’t supplied in a hostel etc
1 compact fast dry towel - these should be the travel sizes and very compact. I try to avoid towels usually as they’re supplied in most accommodations. However if you’re living on the road for a long trip, it can be necessary and also doubles as a picnic blanket or a beach/pool blanket.
Hopefully this hand luggage packing list guide has helped you plan your packing for your minimalist trip, whether it’s a weekend or longer. Let me know if you use the Osprey bags too - they’re awesome!
Flights: I use Expedia to find great flights and the best deals all over the world, they have regular sales and offers so I always check their website. I also check CheapOair to find cheap deals on round trip flights.
Car Rental: I love the customer service I've always gotten and the variety of options with Rental Cars. But for short notice rentals, I've been using Expedia for the last year, they always seem to have great one-day rates or last-minute rates from the main rental companies.
Accommodation: I prefer the flexibility of booking accommodation with Booking.com so I can cancel or change my reservation without a fee or only pay on arrival for most properties. For longer or more unique stays I prefer AirBnB because you can get the long stay discount, you can also find more unique properties and book experiences with talented locals and businesses. For my budget trips, I always stay in hostels and book through Hostelworld because they have great guarantees if anything does go wrong. If you arrive and your booking is not at the property, they refund the full deposit AND give you $50 extra credit.
Tours and organised trips Although I don’t use tours that often, I do like to book local experiences or day trips once I reach my destination. For that I use GetYourGuide because it has the biggest selection and variety of tour and experience options.
Travel Insurance: For all my longer trips and for the entire year I’ve spent in Australia, my partner and I have always used World Nomads. They cover everything I need and I can buy coverage for a year at a time, they also allow you to purchase cover when you’re already outside your home country. Plus my camera gear and equipment is covered and they also have special cover for when I’m scuba diving too.
My camera gear and equipment: I use a Canon 77D with an 18-135mm lens or a 50mm lens. And a DJI Mavic Mini Drone. For all my gear including laptops, tripods and more camera accessories read my travel photography gear guide.