What to pack in your hand luggage – 16 essential you must have

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Have you noticed how strict airlines are when it comes to checked in bags and hand luggage? Both checked in bags and hand luggage have a weight restriction and if you exceed the weight, you’ll incur an addition cost.  

On the other hand, budget airlines such as Ryanair, Easyjet, Spirit Airlines will charge a hefty levy if you have to check in a bag that is larger than the hand luggage size and weight requirement.  

To avoid these hefty levy’s and to keep you to your budget, we have 16 essentials of what to pack in your hand luggage.  

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Size of your hand luggage 

Hand luggage size varies from airline to airline, along with the weight.  

A rule of thumb is that the hand luggage should fit under the seat in front of you, or in the overhead bins. 

However, it is always recommended that you check the airline’s requirements before packing your hand luggage.  

Are airlines strict with the size of the hand luggage?  

In our experience, we have never been asked to prove the size of our bags to ensure it fits within the airline’s baggage requirements, but that doesn’t mean to say they don’t. Always do your research and take the correct size bag, to prevent disappointment, or a hefty bill to pay. 

What can’t be packed within your hand luggage? 

If you are a frequent flyer, you may already know what you can’t pack in your hand luggage. But for those that are not sure, then make sure you either do not pack these items, or they are within the limits. 


Liquids are not permitted past airport security unless they are within 100ml. 

If you have purchased bottles of water prior to security or taken it into the airport, once you have checked in, you will need to either throw the water away, or drink it.  

Empty the contents of the water and keep the empty bottle. Once you have passed through security, there’s plenty of water fountains to refill the bottle.  


A small amount of makeup is permitted, but each item must be within 100ml and must be stored in a clear small bag. 

If you do not have any clear bags, don’t worry, just as you enter security, they should have some.  

If you’re not sure, pack it into your checked in bags. 

Although you don’t need to pack your kitchen sink in your checked in bag. Keep it minimal. 

Sharpe objects 

Now this is an obvious one, but you can’t take sharpe blades or objects that could cause harm, while in flight. 

Knives can be a great souvenir for some, but if you have purchased knives as a souvenir, then pack this appropriately in your checked in bag and declare it (if required) in the country of entry.

What to pack in your hand luggage
Our hand luggage packed


What to pack in your hand luggage 

We mentioned before that many budget airlines are strict with their hand luggage requirements. Especially when it comes to checked in bags.  

So, to help you pack the right things, so you can keep to that budget, we have all the essential items on what to pack in a carry on.  

Backpack/small cabin bag 

The most important thing you need to start with, is a backpack or small cabin bag, that fits within the airline’s specification.  

Some budget airlines, will allow one cabin bag and one hand bag.  

A backpack or cabin bag should be lightweight, easy to move around and have sufficient space to fit your belongings for the journey.  

When we travel, we have a cabin bag each and a small backpack. The backpack is ideal as hand luggage and perfect for days out sightseeing. 

We use Osprey, for all our travel essentials, but there are other brands out there. If you need more ideas on what backpack you should purchase, then check out our recommendations on the best backpack to purchase on a budget. 

Water bottle 

The cabin pressure and dry air on a plane causes dehydration. By packing a reusable water bottle, you can stay hydrated throughout the flight. 

It’s far cheaper refilling the water bottle, than buying bottled water too. Especially with airport prices. Staying to a budget, doesn’t include buying bottled water. Plus, plastic isn’t good for the environment.  

Just remember, before entering security, any liquids must be consumed or emptied. Don’t worry, once you have past security, just refill your water bottle at the water fountain in the airport lounges. 

First Aid Kit 

This practical first aid kit, is ideal for packing in your hand luggage, in the event you start to feel unwell or sustain an injury in the airport or during the flight. 

I have only become ill once on a flight and my small first aid kit came in handy. I was able to take the medication to aid a speedy recovery. 

You may encounter headaches from dehydration, an upset tummy from the different foods in the country you have visited. Painkillers and Dioralyte are just some of the things you should pack in your first aid kit.  

Tip: You may need to place these in a small clear bag as you go through security 


An emergency amount of medication that’s prescribed to control an illness, should be kept safely in your hand luggage. 

It’s a good idea to pack at least 4-5 days’ worth of medication, in the event that your checked in bag is delayed or lost.  

Note: With any medication, always take the box and the instructions. If port authorities stop you, you can prove the medication. You should research entry criteria for your holiday destination. It has been known for tourists to be stopped and even imprisoned for carrying medication that is illegal in that country. 

You may also need to place the medication in small clear bags, as you enter security 

Electrical chargers 

Only pack the essential chargers with you, such as your phone or iPad/kindle, laptop charger etc.  

If you lose charge, you can charge the device with the charger.  

Most air crafts will either have a plug point, a USB port or both. You may also need adapters for the plug sockets, if you are travelling outside your home country.  

USB-C points are uncommon, so you may also need an adapter, if your charger is USB-C.  


Whether you’re travelling abroad or domestically, you’ll need to pack your passport or proof of ID, airline tickets, hotel or car rental reservations etc in your hand luggage. 

Also keep a copy with you and a copy on your phone. If you lose your important documents, you at least have a copy. 

These are essential, if you don’t carry the physical or at least a copy, you may not be able to travel. Especially your passport. 

Tip: A few weeks to one month before travel, check your passport’s expiry date. You’ll need to renew the passport if it has less than 6 months remaining. 


NEVER pack your valuable items in your checked in bag.  

Firstly, if your checked in bag is lost or stolen, it is unrecoverable, but secondly your travel insurance won’t cover you. 

That would be the worst thing to happen. 

ALWAYS pack your valuable items in your hand luggage. 

What are your valuable items? 

Your valuable items are: 

  • Laptop 
  • Camera’s 
  • Kindle 
  • iPad 
  • Expensive jewellery 
  • Phones 
  • Expensive watches. 
  • Hand held electronic games consoles 

These are just a few things. Valuable items, could be classed as something that is expensive and worth a considerable amount of money. 

At security, you will be required to remove all electronic devices, to go through the x-ray machines. Keep these packed in one bag, with easy access, so you don’t hold everyone else up. 

Mobile phone 

A mobile phone has some great apps to help you navigate and travel. So, packing a mobile phone is an essential.  

Stay in contact with family and friends, download the latest travel apps to help you navigate, save money and stay on a budget. Download maps, to use offline when you don’t have Wi-Fi.  

If you do travel overseas, check with your phone provider regarding roaming. You could purchase a sim card in the country you are travelling, which includes Wi-fi, but make sure the phone is unlocked to use other sim cards. 


Who doesn’t like to hold a physical book, turning each page as you read! But the one thing we have learnt, is the amount of space a book can take up in the hand luggage. And if you read a few books while you travel, your bag won’t have enough space for all the other important things to pack in your hand luggage. 

Have you considered a kindle or e-reader? 

We have all our favourite books, stored on our kindle and there are hundreds. The great thing about kindles or e-readers, are that they take up very little space in our bag.  

Perfect for keeping us entertained on a long or short flight. 

Electronic devices 

Stay entertained on a short or a long flight, when you download your favourite movies, TV programmes, books or magazines to your iPad or laptop. 

You can never guarantee inflight entertainment being available, or that it has any of your favourite programs.  

That’s why we have both our laptop or iPad packed in our hand luggage, so we can still work on our travel blog, keep up to date with our social media, alternatively watch our favourite program. 


Flights can get a little cold, packing a big jumper allows you to layer up if you do get cold. We feel the cold, so a big cosy jumper keeps us warm on a cold aircraft. 

Travelling with a budget airline? Did you notice that you have to pay extra for checked in bags? We travel around Europe frequently with budget airlines and hate that they charge a levy to include checked in bags. 

We therefore have to pack all our clothing within our small carry-on case. So, we have come accustomed to packing smart, so we can still travel on a budget and not have to pay for any checked in bags. 

If we are taking a short weekend trip, then you need to pack a couple of days of clothing. For a week away or more, we will pack 3-4 days of clothing and wash them during the time we are away. 

It is difficult packing clothing in the hand luggage, with only limited space, but it is a must if you want to keep your travel costs to a minimum. 

What clothes will we have packed in our hand luggage? 

  • 2x T-shirts 
  • 2x Trousers 
  • Underwear 
  • 1x Pyjamas 
  • 2x shorts (only in hot climates) 
  • 1x smart shirt and trousers.  
  • 1x smart pair of shoes 

This is all that we will carry with us, for a short weekend away. As mentioned above, we will hand wash our clothes if we need too. 

If our airline allows for both hand luggage and checked in luggage at no extra cost, we will pack spare clothing, should our checked in bag get lost or delayed.  


Stay fresh with a travel size toothbrush and toothpaste.  

Keep a small wash bag with the essentials in your hand luggage and stay fresh throughout the journey. 


Packing a few snacks into your hand luggage is great to keep that hunger at bay during a long journey. Plus, it saves you from spending your holiday money on the snacks they sell on the flight. 

Tip: Some countries are strict on what food can be taken into the country. For example, taking food and seeds into Australia is prohibited. Even fruit that is provided on the flight, is prohibited. There are some allowances, providing the food is declared. Be aware of any foods that might be prohibited when entering a country. Check if you can take it across the border, providing it is declared.  

Travel Pillow 

Sleeping on a plane isn’t comfortable. Packing a travel pillow into your hand luggage, will make the journey that bit more bearable and you might get to sleep a little on the journey.  

Travel pillows are so easy to carry, they are lightweight and clip to the outside of your backpack or carry-on case.  

Ear plugs 

Flights can be a noisy place, with the standard aircraft noise, families with kids, young babies and toddlers crying, you might even have someone sitting next to you that snores loudly.  

The best way to drown out those sounds while you try and sleep, is with ear plugs.  

They are small and lightweight, so won’t take up space in your bag. 

Hand sanitiser 

You should have a small travel sized hand sanitiser packed, to help prevent the spread of germs.  

Especially since the pandemic, more and more people carry these with them. 

To keep things in order, have this packed inside your small first aid kit, or clear bag ready to go through airport security.  

Our hand luggage is all organised
Our hand luggage is all organised

How to pack your hand luggage 

Now that you know what to pack in your hand luggage, but you need to be organised with your packing. You don’t want to be that person, who is holding everyone up in security, pulling all your belongings from your bag, to find your liquids bag, or your laptop. 

Do you have different compartments in your backpack or suitcase to separate its content? If not, think about placing the things you will need to get out at security or your passport at the top, or somewhere that is easy to access. 

Keep all electronic equipment secured in your hand luggage, but somewhere easy to take out at security.  

Keep all your liquids that are under 100ml in a clear plastic bag, you can find these just before you enter the security zone.  

Being organised is key to travelling with ease and with as little hassle as possible 


Although airlines can be super strict when it comes to your hand luggage, you should now be able to pack all your essential items you need for your journey. 

By organising your hand luggage into sections and keeping the documents, liquids and electrical items separate, it will make passing through security quicker, less stressful and you won’t be holding up fellow travellers.  

Save a few pennies, when you pack your clothes in your hand luggage, rather than paying to check in a bag.  

These simple tips on what to pack in your hand luggage, will make travel simple, easy and affordable with simple budget travel hacks. 

What have you got packed in your hand luggage? Is there anything you pack that we haven’t included? Let us know in the comments below. 

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