Hand luggage only packing tips

If you want to get in and out of the airport with minimum faff (not to mention expense), then avoiding the baggage check-in desk and flying with hand luggage only is the way to go.

But with fiddly security rules and weight restrictions to take into account, a little advance prep can go a long way to smoothing your airport experience.

Here's some advice on how to keep travelling as light and stress-free as possible, plus a baggage allowance guide.

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The one-bag rule

Airlines that only allow one bag really mean just one bag and can be stringent enforcing it. This means your handbag, changing bag or any duty free will often have to fit into one carry-on.

Make sure you can remove anything you'll need during the flight from your bag easily, or dress accordingly with lots of pockets.

Luggage weight restrictions

Once you've crammed your whole life into a single bag, the fun's not over - further restrictions mean you should be prepared to have your bag weighed.

If you'd like to be completely prepared, one savvy Mumsnetter recommends investing in a home travel-scale. It's also worth checking how much your bag weighs empty; some wheeled-bags weigh a couple of kilograms before you've even started packing.

Packing smart

If you're going for the one-bag approach, how do you maximise the amount you can fit in it? The secret is to be a smart packer, as demonstrated by this ultra-savvy guide from the New York Times on fitting a veritable catwalk of clothing into a single bag.

But if this is beyond you, Mumsnetters recommend other tips and tricks, such as taking bras without underwires because they roll smaller, using small vacuum bags to compress your clothes and taking microfibre towels instead of normal ones because they're less bulky.

Capsule wardrobe for warm weather holidays

Mumsnetter Ivykaty44 offers her pared-down packing method:

• Pack three outfits, plus one for the evening

• Flip flops, and one other pair of shoes

• Stuff your toiletries and underwear inside the shoes you just packed

• Wear your fourth outfit to fly in (if you turn up naked at check-in, they may object)

Restricted items

The infamous 100ml liquids rule is still with us, which means you'll be forced to discard any liquids in your carry-on bag that exceed 100ml, even if the bottle isn't full.

And be clear which toiletries constitute a liquid - for instance, lipstick, deodorant and toothpaste are all counted. Directgov has a helpful guide to taking liquids in your hand luggage.

All your 100ml containers have to then fit into a single one litre plastic bag. Some Mumsnetters have a stock of resealable clear freezer bags or pencil cases – worth considering, especially since several airports charge you £1 for the plastic bags. But do ensure your bag is definitely resealable.

Baby milk and food are exempt from the 100ml rule, but you're only allowed to board with 'sufficient for the trip' (there's no set rule on how much this is) and you may be asked to taste it when going through security.

Finally, medicines and tablets are all fine to take through security (as long as they're not over 100ml) but you can't take anything sharp on to the plane (although razors are OK), so check children's pencil cases for scissors. Here's a complete list of dangerous and restricted items.



Airport security

Getting through security can be one of the most irksome parts of flying, but savvy packing can make it less stressful.

If you're bringing an iPad or laptop on to the plane with you, for example, make sure you haven't carefully buried it under three or four layers of tightly packed clothes - security will make you dig it out to place in a separate tray when scanning.

And while it may be a smart move to wear your clumpiest boots through the airport to save on your weight restriction, be prepared to take them off at security. If they've got fiddly laces, it might be worth unlacing them while queueing.

Airline baggage allowances

Here's a rough guide to what some of the main airlines will and won't allow, but double-check before you fly, as these may change.

It's also worth remembering that there is no guarantee your 'cabin' baggage will actually be allowed in the cabin.  Quite often space is limited and those who have paid extra for priority boarding could potentially nab all the space in the overhead lockers, meaning your bag gets put in the hold. Unfair yes, but worth being prepared for. Ensure anything you need to have in-flight can be taken out and kept on your person.


Max size: 55 x 40 x 20cm  Weight limit: 10kg
Fees for excess: £50/€50
Handbag allowed? Yes, one additional bag up to 35 x 20 x 20cm
Changing bag allowed? Yes, up to 5kg, when an infant (23 months or younger) travels on adult's lap


Max size: 56 x 45 x 25cm  Weight limit: N/A
Fees for excess: £25-£40
Handbag allowed? Only if you're an easyJet Plus cardholder, FLEXI fare, Upfront or Extra passenger
Changing bag allowed? No, but you can take on one bag of duty free shopping <helpful>

British Airways

Max size: 56 x 45 x 25cm  Weight limit: 23kg
Fees for excess: £34-£90
Handbag allowed? Yes
Changing bag allowed? Yes, infants under two are allocated one cabin bag

Virgin Atlantic

Max size: 56 x 36 x 23cm  Weight limit: 10kg (more for Upper Class) 
Fees for excess: £40-£50
Handbag allowed? Yes
Changing bag allowed? No, all essentials are to be within your one main cabin bag

Thomas Cook

Max size: 55 x 40 x 20cm  Weight limit: 6kg
Fees for excess: £50-£70
Handbag allowed? Yes, or a laptop bag
Changing bag allowed? No, all essentials are to be within your main cabin bag

Aer Lingus

Max size: 55 x 40 x 24cm  Weight limit: 10kg 
Fees for excess: £12-£45
Handbag allowed? Yes, or a laptop bag
Changing bag allowed? Only instead of a handbag


Max size: 55 x 40 x 20cm  Weight limit: 5kg
Fees for excess: £25-£40
Handbag allowed? No, separate bags aren't allowed
Changing bag allowed? No 

Data correct in April 2015


What Mumsnetters say about travelling light

  • Look in TK Maxx and Matalan for a a small, light suitcase. If you fly regularly it will save you loads in excess baggage charges on budget airlines.
  • Use rucksacks not suitcases as they are a lot lighter, or those very light holdalls.
  • Think about what you can buy at the airport - toiletries, nail scissors, all sorts that you can't pack can be bought without limit once you're through security.
  • We have two Trekmates travel towels, which fold up really tiny and only weigh 230g.
  • I got caught out by my nasal spray inhaler for my asthma. I hadn't thought about it being a liquid and got delayed.
  • The plastic bag for your liquids has to be resealable. I just use the small freezer bags with a 'zip' top. A woman in front of me at security was sent off to buy a different plastic bag, as she had a regular freezer bag which didn't seal.

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Last updated: 4 days ago