How to pack hand luggage only for a one-week trip: the carry-on challenge

Here I help you avoid expensive baggage fees by sharing some tips and a hand luggage only packing list for a one-week trip in varying climates.

Hand luggage only packing tips

  • Find clothes and accessories that mix and match. If a T-shirt only goes with one pair of trousers, it’s a no-no
  • Multipurpose “dress up, dress down” clothes are a godsend
  • Roll your clothes rather than fold them. It really does take up less space
  • Laundry is not a dirty word. You can wash your undies and the odd T-shirt when you’re away
  • Layers are genius, and help you prepare for temperature changes when you land back home
  • Wear layers, your coat, and your clumpiest pair of shoes to the airport

The case study: one week hiking and exploring in Gran Canaria

Four days hiking in the mountainous interior of the island, and three days exploring the capital, Las Palmas. I wanted to be warm when hiking and – in the capital – not dress TOO much like a tourist.

I flew with Ryanair and Monarch from/to the UK. In both cases their carry-on hand luggage allowance was 10kg, and I was allowed a small handbag too. Info about exact dimensions of allowed luggage, weights etc, are on the airlines’ websites.

Hand luggage only packing list

Clothes – bottoms

hand luggage only for one week trip

3/4 trousers: genius

1 pair not-too-smart, not-too-casual jeans

1 pair casual long casual trousers for hiking

1 pair three-quarter length cotton/linen trousers that work for either hiking or the city

1 pair shorts (remained unworn)

Clothes – tops

hand luggage only for one week trip

versatile dress-up/dress-down T-shirts like this one are a godsend

1 biker-style jacket for blending in in the city

1 long-sleeved fleece top for hiking

1 x thin wool jumper/sweater for hiking or the city

1 x thin cotton jumper/sweater

1 x long-sleeved T-shirt

4 x short-sleeved T-shirts (I only wore 3 of them)

Clothes – underwear

2 bras

6 pairs underwear

3 pairs socks

Shoes and accessories

hand luggage only for one week trip

yup, I did wear my hat!

1 pair hiking boots (you can substitute for other closed-toe shoes/trainers as needed)

1 pair sandals

2 scarves for accessorizing and/or warmth, 1 of which could double for a sarong/beach towel

2 costume jewellery necklaces

1 pair gloves and 1 woolly hat. I always need ‘em!

1 bikini (unworn)

Guides / books

Assorted novels, chapter of the [amazon text=Lonely Planet Canary Islands&asin=1742205585] guide (all on e-reader)

Pocket [amazon text=Spanish dictionary&asin=0007437919]

[amazon text=Map of Gran Canaria&asin=1782750320]

[amazon text=Small walking guide book&asin=1856914615]


2 x UK/EU adaptors

Apple Mac laptop and sleeve – hopefully you won’t need to take a laptop on your holiday!


Mobile phone

Chargers for phone, E-reader, laptop

Small digital camera with fully charged spare battery

Toiletries and other – sometimes girlie – essentials

hand luggage only one week trip

your plastic bag for your toiletries needs to be smaller than this one

Toiletries, including small sunscreen, all in small bottles and in sealed plastic bag. Apparently the bag needs to be around 20 x 20cm (this was news to me – I’ve been flying with a bigger bag for years without anyone saying a word). However, if it’s a slow day in the airport some security folks can insist yours measures up (yup, I discovered this the hard-way. Jenga-style re-packing of my toiletries followed).

Basic first aid kit of plasters, antiseptic wipes, antihistamines, imodium, rehydration sachets

Small bottle of liquid laundry detergent (to wash underwear and socks)

Make-up (foundation, eye liner, lipstick, blush)

Small umbrella

Hand luggage only bags

hand luggage only for one week trip

ta dah!!

One small carry-on suitcase. Mine was similar to [amazon text=this one&asin=B00BLIYTW0], by Antler.

Day pack rucksack for hiking purposes (you can swap for a larger bag or handbag for non-active holidays) and which needed to fit in the carry-on suitcase

1 large bin liner (good to sit on for impromptu hiking picnics, can be a makeshift kagool in case of a downpour)

Small handbag for evenings and for travel

Small purse/wallet with Euros and credit card, passport, European health card, travel insurance policy number and phone number, drivers licence

Bag for dirty laundry

What to leave at home – but which you could take when not travelling hand luggage only

Swiss army knife, razor – these aren’t allowed by security when travelling hand luggage only

Camera battery charger, microfibre travel towel, light waterproof kagool – to save space

Hair straighteners – I figured no-one up a mountain in Gran Canaria was really going to care if I was having a bad hair day

Extra copies of paperwork – eg a full copy of my travel insurance policy document, spare paper copies of passport photo page. I took a photo on my e-reader instead.

When not to attempt travelling hand luggage only

  • A girls’ holiday. You’re gonna want a wider choice of shoes. And hair straighteners. And probably a variety of outfits for every casual / smart / glammed-up scenario. In all these cases, it’s waaaaaaaay simpler for a couple of you to pay for and share one check-in bag, and then each have a small carry-on case too. This also gives leeway for a girlie shopping extravaganza.
  • Your first holiday with a new boyfriend / girlfriend. Ditto. You probably don’t want him/her to see you wash your underwear in the sink just yet. Or have a hissy fit at security because they want to confiscate your best make-up / favourite aftershave.
  • A business trip of more than 4 days if your day job requires smart clothes. Trying to fit smart clothes, evening clothes, casual clothes, laptop and work files all in one carry-on is nigh on impossible. I’ve ended up taking more stuff on a 4-day business trip than I have on a 7-month round the world adventure.

What are your hand luggage only packing tips? Have you tried it, or does the thought fill you with horror? Share your experiences below.

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