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What to Pack in Your Hand Luggage

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin

Hand baggage can be a frustrating matter. You spend ages trying to keep your bag’s size and weight down, only to arrive to find someone’s crammed a rigid suitcase the size of a house into the locker above your head. Not only is this unfair – you could have brought that third pair of shoes after all – but it now means that you’ll have to put yours in the overhead compartment by the loos, and you’ll no doubt be last off the plane at the other end as you wait to retrieve it.

Overhead lockers

Annoyingly, this kind of behaviour has become more common in recent years with the rise of budget airlines, many of which charge for checked in baggage. This leaves thrifty travellers with no choice but the cram a week’s worth of clothes into a teeny tiny bag while keeping its weight down at the same time, a near impossible task.

Here’s the deal:

When flying, you’re allowed one carry-on bag (usually) with a limit of 10kg and often a size limit too. These vary from airline to airline, with Emirates’ being 55x38x20cm and Etihad’s being 40x50x25cm for example. A second bag is sometimes allowed for computers or cameras, but do check, as all airlines differ. Although some holidaymakers clearly flout these rules and aren’t picked up on it, you can be, and I have personally witnessed travellers being forced to check in too-large hand baggage, sometimes for a fee.

A very full suitcase

So how do you keep the weight down?

On a recent weekend in Athens, my friends were shocked to know that I would be taking just my passport, my phone and my purse in my hand luggage. How could I travel so light? There’s no secret: after years of experience I simply put all my things in my checked in bag. I don’t need much on a plane, especially a long haul one where I can watch the movies or sleep, and the views out the window on overland flights can keep me entertained for hours, particularly if they are of mountains. Having said that, although I slept for most of that flight, the return journey was not so simple and I did get a tad bored once I had read the inflight magazine from cover to cover and polished off my G&T. Next time I might consider taking my kindle. Maybe.

Of course my method doesn’t work if you’re on a hand baggage only ticket, in which case you have to cram in as much as you can. There are ways to travel light though. Here are some of my favourites:

Packed suitcase

Choose the right bag

Double check your airline’s size restrictions and make sure your bag does not exceed them. That way, even if you stuff it to the brim, it still should fit in the overhead locker. Choose a soft bag that can easily be squashed into tight spaces and keep the material light so you have more weight for your things.

Be ruthless

It sounds obvious, but don’t pack things you don’t need. If you’re going for a week you don’t need more than seven daytime outfits for example. Most hotels provide towels, and some even provide slippers and a bathrobe – check before you go so that you don’t double up. Keep an eye on the weather too – if it’s forecast to be 35°C for the whole week, one ‘just-in-case’ jumper should suffice. Likewise,  if you are going skiing, there’s no need to take that floaty summer dress. And don’t forget, many hotels offer laundry services too, so you could always wear your outfits twice.

Packing a suitcase

Wear what you can

I swear by this one. If I’m going hiking, I’ll wear my boots on the plane; skiing, and I’ll wear my ski jacket as my coat. Even on beach holiday I’ll wear my heaviest wedges to fly in, saving the light and easy-to-pack flip flops for when I get there.

Organise your toiletries

The 100ml liquids restriction has been in place for a while now and so many cosmetic companies sell mini versions of their shampoos and body lotions for this very reason. Having said that, do check with your hotel, as many will provide shampoo and soap in the room, and even if not they can point you in the direction of the nearest pharmacy, so unless you have particular preferences, there’s often no need to take any washing items at all. Liquids are pretty heavy, and will add to your weight, so the fewer you take, the more room you have for clothes.

Suitcase full of rolled clothes

Don’t forget the essentials

Don’t get so bogged down with reducing weight that you forget the important stuff. I’m talking passports, credit cards, money, phone, phone charger, plug adaptor, tickets, itineraries, driving licence and house keys.

Remember the rules

These days there are strict rules as to what you can and can’t take, so check before you fly to see whether or not you can take that corkscrew (sorry, you can’t) or those knitting needles (yes, you can!).

Happy packing!


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