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Updated: An idiot's guide to packing light and flying with hand luggage

Thursday 29 May 2014

Airlines seem to change their baggage rules almost every season, making it hard to keep up with the latest restrictions. Since I wrote this post two years ago, both Ryanair and Aer Lingus have changed their guidelines. It always pays to be 100% sure what your airline says before you fly - remember, if you need to pay to put a main bag in the hold, it's always cheaper to do when booking, or in advance of your departure. If you have to check in a bag at the airport with a budget airline, it's extortionate.

If my blog stats are anything to go by, you're all looking for some advice about how to go away with hand baggage only. And for that, I can help!

So, what can you take?


Dimensions: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm
Weight: 10kg

Recently, Ryanair have decided to allow another small bag to travel with you, without you having to pay anything extra. Hurrah! The dimensions for this additional bag are...

35cm x 20cm x 20cm

This is actually pretty generous. It means that I pack my camera, purse, liquids and phone into this little bag, leaving my main bag free for everything else. If you have anything small, but heavy, fit it into this handbag. For an idea of scale, the handbag I'm wearing below is exactly the right size...

Another thing to note - if you have a duty free carrier bag, then this counts as your additional "hand bag". You can't have both.

Ryanair are notorious for strictly sticking to their rules with this, and a lot of airports will measure and weigh bags. Be sure you're under the 10kg limit, and measure your bag beforehand. You'll kick yourself if you're charged €50 on the day.

Check the guidelines yourself here.

Aer Lingus

Dimensions: 55cm x 40cm x 24cm
Weight: 10kg
An additional small item (Small handbag, laptop, duty free or baby changing bag) is allowed outside the main bag - one only, I might add.

This laptop business is crucial. My laptop weighs a ton, so carrying it outside of my hand luggage saves me 3kg, easy (not that I've ever seen Aer Lingus staff weigh a bag). They used to say that the weight didn't matter, so long as you could lift it into the overhead bins.

Check the guidelines yourself here.

Top Tips for Travelling with Hand Baggage Only

Think it through
Take the time and figure all of this out before you leave the house. Measure your bag. Weigh it if you can. Don't assume that it will all be fine because, if you're flying with Ryanair, it probably won't be.

Dress to Fly (Cheaply)
Do you remember the glamour of flying in the olden days? No? Me neither. Nowadays, nobody cares. The most important thing is to wear all of your heaviest items of clothing on the flight. This is the time for your jeans, boots or hefty shoes, and anything bulky. Don't pass out on me, but don't put it in your baggage.

Cut down on cosmetics
Take a look at your make up bag, and cut it right back. Really think about what you'll need - if you're going on a sun holiday, chances are your makeup will be minimal. This is what I usually take, for day and night...

A moisturiser (make sure it's under 100ml), foundation, eye pallette, lip balm, powder, mascara and eyeliner. And do you know, I never need anything else. But I also always look a little bit shitty, so maybe it's not such a good idea. I also leave my electric toothbrush behind (too heavy, especially with the charger)

Plan your liquids
Yes, this 100ml limit business is infuriating. But it's been the story now for years, so there's no excuse for ignorance. Every single time I go through security, there is someone having to part with their cosmetics, from the mundane deodorant to the pricey perfume. If it's not in a 100ml container, it's not coming through. Even if you have a dribble of liquid left in a bigger bottle, they won't let it through. So just. Don't. Do. It. Remember that ALL of your liquids have to fit into those tiny, plastic bags. Despite my bleetings above, I just got caught out in Manchester Airport recently, as all of my bottles didn't quite fit in. This was because I had a miniature pot filled with coconut oil, which I claimed to be a solid, but didn't get away with it.

Get a little atomiser for your perfume (they really work, and also reduce the risk of smashes), decant your cosmetics into little pots (Muji make some very clever ones, but you can always pick them up in Superdrug or Boots) or buy miniatures. Stock up on samples before you head off, too. And make sure it all fits into that little plastic bag. One little plastic bag. Don't try and sneak a bigger one in. Don't take two. It's really, really not worth it.

If you're going away for a week, to a hot country, you won't be able to buy your sun cream in advance. But there is a way around it... buy it at the airport! This does depend on what airport you're travelling from. Knock, for example, do not have a good selection. Dublin Airport has a Boots in T1, but the pharmacy in T2 is bloody expensive. You can buy the amazing p20 all day sunscreen in most duty free sections. You can, of course, buy it when you're abroad, but it always seems a lot more expensive to me. If you don't know what the shopping is like in your airport of choice, check their website in advance.

Be cool, guys
Back before the whole weighing your hand baggage became a thing, I used to travel with a backpack. This was, consistently, quite clearly over 10kg. And over the depth limit, too. Pretty much over everything. But if you act cool, swan through, and, here's the crucial bit - act like it's light as a feather, you'll probably be OK. Not that I'm contradicting myself completely by saying you should go over the limit, not at all, but there's a lot to be learnt. Don't make a big deal about pulling your suitcase along. Pretend that you're not breaking your back trying to lift it. And when it lands on your finger in the overhead baggage area, hold in that high pitched scream, for your bag is light, light, light.

Emergency! Emergency!
So, you haven't listened to me. Don't worry, it happens all the time. People haven't yet realised that I'm always, always right. But it's OK! I have a backup plan for you.

Now, luckily I've never had to actually do this, but it's always been in the back of my mind as I go through an airport.

You reach the desk. They're weighing bags. If they're measuring them and you're too big, there's nothing you can do. That sucker's getting checked in, and you're out €50. But if they're only weighing them, and you're over, there is a solution.

Go to the side. Open your bag. Put on all your clothes. All of them. You will look like the Michelin Man. You will look ridiculous. But your bag will soon be under the limit. And, if it goes the way it does in my head, you'll be cheered throughout the airport as people stare in wonder at your ingenious method of deception. You have fooled the system! You're untouchable! Someone will likely swoop you into a kiss at this moment.

Of course, the other scenario could involve you fainting. In the last two weeks I've fainted twice, and been cheered... not once.

Such is life.

Good luck, and God speed.


  1. Ah, this post is great! I was never so furious as I was the day that Ryanair deemed my bag too big for cabin luggage and conned me out of €50. Ever since then I've been super careful, weighing it and everything!

  2. Agr, that would destroy me! I'd go mad. I always dread the moment at the gate when you have to walk past them, half hiding your bag.

  3. Loving the 'look a bit shitty' comment.

    Middle Aged Kiwi soon to be backpacker

    1. Ha, thanks! Good luck with your travels, let me know how you get on!

  4. So nice of you to write this post! I am going to move in another town and I want to visit the city before that. Thank you so much for the flight details! You helped me a lot!

  5. LOL really interesting post! I am going to travel light next week to Berlin. It is amazing how much money you could save from airline taxes. Thank you for sharing. Best regards!

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