Travelling with Hand Luggage Only – Choosing Cabin Baggage for Cheap Airlines

travelling with hand luggage only Barcelona

Recently, I travelled to and from Barcelona in Spain with Ryanair, from Manchester Airport. This is about the 10th time that I have travelled by plane with hand luggage only. I now almost always go travelling with hand luggage only (unless it’s a long haul destination such as Thailand or Cambodia) because of so many benefits to a simple flight.

The first time I travelled hand luggage only was for a long weekend in Paris. My recent trip to Barcelona was for one week. I’ve been to several cities in Poland with just hand luggage, including Gdansk and Krakow. I can clearly see the benefits of hand luggage only. The more I do it, the more I like it!

The Benefits of Travelling Hand Luggage Only

  1. No bags to check in, so you can miss the massive queues at the check-in desk and head straight for security.
  2. No waiting around by the carousel at your destination. Head straight out into that new city and explore.
  3. No risk of your checked bag going missing or ending up at a different destination.
  4. Cheaper flights with certain low cost airlines. Both Ryanair and EasyJet charge an extra payment (£30) to check a bag in. If you check a bag in for both your outbound and return flights, that may add at least another £60 to the cost of your light.
  5. Packing light means easier and simpler travel. You will have less to carry and less to worry about.
Slow travel Portugal
Travelling Hand Luggage only to Portugal – Liverpool to Porto flight with a Flixbus to Castelo Branco

The Downsides to Travelling with Hand Luggage only

Of course, there are pros and cons to travelling light. Here are the main downsides to flying hand luggage only…

  1. Restricted Toiletries – You will need to pack in a single small see through zip lock bag. This means buy (or refill) your toiletry minis. But, with careful planning it can be done!
  2. Hand Luggage can still end up in the hold – Sometimes if they have overbooked priority access and the cabins are full they may still put your luggage in the hold. If they try to do this, resist profusely! Otherwise you will be waiting around at the carousel anyway which kind of defeats the purpose!
  3. Restricted clothing choices – Hand luggage is fine if you are just mooching around a city or trekking. But if you want a choice of dresses, shoes, make up and jewellery for several fancy dinners then travelling with hand luggage only is probably not for you!
  4. Carrying all your stuff up the plane steps – Obviously you will have more to carry with you on the plane which is fine if you can pack really light, but bear in mind you will have everything with you when you board.
  5. Restricted souvenir shopping or alcohol! I don’t souvenir shop too much these days, but I do love to bring back a traditional alcoholic drink from the country I’m visiting – Vodka from Poland, Ginja from Portugal, wine from France – you get the idea! You will have restricted liquids on a hand luggage only trip so you won’t be able to take home much booze. A way that I get around this is to buy it at duty free which is fine as long as they seal the bag and you don’t open it during your flight.
  6. You’re putting all your eggs in one basket – It’s a good idea to separate some of your money or credit cards into two separate bags when travelling (in case of the unlikely event that you are robbed), but, of course if you only have one bag then this is much harder to do. The way I get around this is by taking an extra foldable bag with me and using the second bag as a day pack when I arrive. Another good idea is a bum bag or under the waist band money belt so that a spare set of money is kept securely on you.
What to wear in Iceland
Travelling in Iceland – Believe it or not, Reykjavik is doable as a hang luggage only destination!

Remember to Check your Baggage Allowance!

When travelling by plane, it is extremely important to check your baggage allowance and the terms and conditions of your booking. Make sure that you know the maximum weight and dimensions for hand luggage that is allowed with you ticket and airline.

Ryanair actually now do allow a handbag or shopping bag as well as your cabin bag. The dimensions allowed for hand luggage are one cabin bag weighing up to 10 kg with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm, plus 1 small bag up to 35 x 20 x 20 cms may be carried per passenger (true at the time of writing on 3/11/15), For more information on their hang luggage allowance, click here.

Also check the regulations of what you are allowed to carry onto a plane. For example, flammable aerosols or army knives will not be allowed. Liquids over 100ml will not be allowed, and your toiletries (also under 100ml) must all fit into a clear ziplock bag of 20cm x 20cm.

Cabin Bags Suitable for Hand Luggage

I invested in this Deuter Women’s Gröden 30 Sl Backpack, which is light weight and fits the current dimensions for cabin baggage with Ryanair and Easyjet. I’ve used it twice for short trips 3-4 days and it’s been absolutely perfect. There is a separate laptop section, front section which I use for passport and purse and side pockets perfect for charges and socks! It also has a mesh back support and a waist clip for extra comfort.

Remember that there are usually two options when you fly with a cheap airline – one bag that fits under the seat in front of you (e.g. a small daypack) OR small bag for under the seat in front of you PLUS one cabin luggage that goes in the overhead locker (usually comes with PRIORITY boarding). If you choose the latter you get more packing room and two bags, still without the wait at the carousel. BUT remember that you will have to carry it all up the plane steps when you board. Personally, I either go with just one daypack or I check in a second bag. Checking in a 10kg with Ryanair is usually cheaper than a big 20kg one.

If you want to book Priority boarding which allows for a cabin sized case, choose something something with wheels. Go for the Aerolite Hand Luggage (55 cm, 34 Litres from £16.99) from the London Collection. It fits in with the hand luggage dimensions and comes in a variety of colours including charcoal, black or rise gold.

Avoid Excess Baggage Charges with Ryanair and Easyjet!

Whatever baggage you choose for hand luggage or overhead cabin luggage, make sure that you check the dimensions carefully against your boarding card to double check it will be allowed. If it is not within the requirements of your airline, you could end up paying an excess baggage charge of £60 or more.

Great Hand Luggage only Destinations from UK

Looking for ideas on cheap travel destinations that are doable with hand luggage only? Here are some of my top ideas….

  • Poland – Flights go from Liverpool, Manchester and London to numerous Polish destinations such as Poznan, Gdansk, Krakow and Warsaw. Vodka, old town architecture and fascinating museums.
  • Bulgaria – Flights go direct from Liverpool, Manchester and London to Bulgarian destinations including Sofia, Varna and Burgas.
  • Greece – Head to one of the Greek islands for a short break where you will enjoy clear Mediterranean Sea and gorgeous Orthodox Churches. There are numerous flights with Easyjet and Ryanair from UK airports to Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, Kos, Corfu and more. If you’re a bit of a history buff then head from Manchester to Athens to visit the Acropolis.
  • Reykjavik – Fly to Iceland from Manchester, Liverpool or London (just wear loads of layers on the plane – that’s what I did!). Head on a tour of the Golden Circle to see the Geyser in action!
  • Portugal – Flights go to Lisbon, Porto and Faro (Algarve) from Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester and London. Portugal is very easy to get around with trans and Flixbus, so you can either move around or plan a few day trips (I recommend Sintra and Tomar).
  • Marrakech – 4 days in Marrakech is the perfect hand luggage only getaway, with warm summer temperatures mean you can get away with packing light clothing. Fly direct from Manchester, London Gatwick or Edinburgh.
  • Tel Aviv – Cheap flights run from Manchester to Tel Aviv with Easyjet and it’s a great 5 day break with a gorgeous beach and good nightlife. If you’re adventurous add on a day trip (or a few days) to Jerusalem, the Holy City for three major world religions. Here’s a great 3 day itinerary for Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

I could go on – there are also many destinations in France, Hungary (Budapest) Spain and Germany, but the above are some of my favourite.

The Future of Travelling Hand Luggage Only

Due to globalisation, many more people are going to be commuting and doing business abroad. An increasing number of students and young families are taking long weekends away in Europe. My prediction is that with this in mind, we are likely to see an increase in the number of people travelling hand luggage only.

I feel that the benefits of travelling hand luggage only mean that in the future, I may be travelling this way for a two or three week trip. I’ve recently visited Poznan in Poland travelling with hand luggage only (Ryanair)and I had a fantastic trip. As it was summer, a couple of T-shirts and cycling shorts or leggings were more than enough for 4 days.

Have you ever travelled hand luggage only? If so, please leave a comment. If not, do try it – you might be pleasantly surprised by how little you actually need!

You might also like to read about Slow Travel and Tips for Travelling Alone.