what to put in your hand luggage

Hand luggage – I’m a big fan, a huge supporter, and a passionate user. Where possible, I even try to travel exclusively with hand luggage. Not only because the cheap airlines charge almost the same amount you’ve paid for the ticket for checking luggage.

man pulling cabin case after having checked what to put in your hand luggage
Globetrotting the easy way.

No, it’s simply much more comfortable and so much faster. Although, since they established the security regulations regarding liquids, it has become a bit tricky.

Once I got even almost arrested at a French airport for carrying cheese.

But mostly it’s really much more handy. The longest I ‘survived’ on hand luggage were two weeks in Italy in summer; and I did not stink…

But also when you travel farther and longer and do check in a backpack or suitcase of whatever size, do yourself a favor and take in addition a sensibly packed piece of hand luggage. It will make the start of your trip so much more comfortable.

Expect the Unexpected:
Surviving some days on hand luggage

In 2003, out of 1,000 suitcases, 13 got lost. By 2015 the figure has decreased to 6.5. In addition, 95 percent of these strays show up within 48 hours.

All this is good news for you statisticians and, of course, for the airlines since the costs of about 3 billion USD for tracing, special deliverance, and restitution will decrease accordingly.

But if you are one of the 6.5 unfortunate ones, it’s of scant comfort that the other 993.5 passengers roll happily their luggage towards customs while you are filling out forms at ‘lost and found’.

Free Delivery

So 95 percent of the 6.5 – which equals 6.175 people – are fortunate enough to have their luggage delivered to their doorstep eventually.

That’s essentially good news, but there are still two other issues. Firstly, you cannot be absolutely sure that you aren’t the remaining 0.325 until you hug your lost suitcase. And secondly, you are facing many uncomfortable hours if you’re not prepared and put all your important belongings in your checked baggage.

Don’t do that.

In Case Of Emergency

I went from Hamburg to Miami, wearing baggy jeans, a long-sleeved T-Shirt, big sneakers, and a warm hoodie. I was perfectly dressed for a comfy flight. However, this way, I was wearing kind of a sauna-suite for Miami.

On arrival, my suitcase was missing. Well, to be precise: It wasn’t missing, it was delayed.

Nonetheless, I did miss it. Also because I had nothing but the sauna-suite that I had been wearing for about 18 hours by then.

sandals and dress, illustrating the post on what to put in your hand luggage
Strappy sandals, light dress – I had all that…in my suitcase that arrived 24 hours later.

Lufthansa handed me not only a little necessaire including the…necessary for the first night. I also got a traveller cheque worth 100 US$.

I spare you the story of how to cash a traveller cheque in the current millennium.

This way, after a long flight, I had to spend the rest of the day in my sauna-suite shopping for things that I didn’t want and actually didn’t need. But I was facing a hot day in Miami waiting for my suitcase that included all my nice summery stuff.

I’m not the true-born shopping queen, anyway, all the less when I’m forced to shop. Much less when I’m forced to shop for stuff that I don’t want and don’t need. Wearing a sauna-suite.

Also, I would have preferred to keep the hundred bucks for something else.

Lesson Learned:
Packing Like Going Away For a Weekend

But I’ve learned my lesson and since then I pack my hand luggage as if I’m going away for the weekend. Of course, I vary according to the climate on arrival.

So if I’m travelling to a hot, beach destination, I pack

  • light clothes like a dress, a blouse and skirt, a T-shirt and shorts or the like for two days
  • PJs or an extra T-shirt for the night (in case you don’t like to sleep naked)
  • underwear for two days
  • sandals and/or flip flops
  • swimwear
  • beach towel
  • sunhat
  • sunshades
  • sun protection (remember to take a container of 100 ml/3.4 ounces max.)
sun shades and hat
Pack your sun gear. It’s annoying if you have to spend money on things you do not need, but still have to buy while waiting.

It’s more important to be prepared for arriving at a hot place than a cold one. I assume that when you’re travelling to a cold place, you are already wearing your big sweater and warm jacket. So in this case you just need to pack two extra T-shirts and extra underwear.

What’s The Occasion?

Did you make reservation at a nice restaurant? Or do you have tickets for a concert, a theater play or the like during the first days?

Then you should put your

evening wardrobe and your
dressing shoes

in the hand luggage, too. If your first stop is nowhere next to a beach, you won’t need the beach towel. Still, you might want swimwear if your accommodation happens to have a pool.

Vanity

Not only for the first day when you are still eagerly waiting for your luggage, hoping that you are not the 0.325 person, you’ll appreciate to have your vanity bag on you. Hence, it must go into your hand luggage.

Already since during the flight or at layovers, you will enjoy a cat lick with some wet wipes, rehydrate your skin with some nourishing cream, brush your hair and your teeth.

Usually, facial cream, as well as toothpaste, come in containers smaller than 100 ml/3.4 oz. Consequently, there’s no need to buy the much more expensive travel sizes.

If you’re not very picky, it won’t be necessary to put your hair- and body-shampoo in your hand luggage. Basically every hotel and even hostels supply you with these toiletries.

Sustainable toiletries
If you stick to solid toiletries like soap bars for your face as well as your hair and toothpaste tablets, you won’t have any problems at security – and it’s better for the environment, too.

Checklist

So here is what goes in a transparent bag with a zipper :

  • facial cream
  • toothpaste
  • toothbrush
  • wet wipes (also for your face)
  • deodorant* (ideally in a plastic container since they are lighter and do not break)
  • hairbrush (preferably foldable)
  • small soap (bar – just in case)
  • sun protection* (already stated above, but since it’s crucial…)

*in this list, only these four items are liquids

These are just the basics, you can complete this list according to your personal habits and necessities.

Don’t forget that also your foundation, lipstick and even mascara are considered liquids. Hence, they have to go into your zip lock bag.

Have a Good Flight:
Prepare For Comfort

The other day, I read on another blog the great advice to wear something comfortable on a long flight. Do you really need me to tell you not to wear your tightest jeans, a delicate blouse, and stilettos? Do you?!

I think for a flight up to four hours you can wear whatever you please. It’s the longer flights that require some better planning in order to arrive at your final destination in good shape.

Stay Warm

You’ll probably need one pair of long pants on your trip, anyway, so you should wear them on the flight. I find some cool, thick leggings the best option: they are soft, warm and comfy and you have the widest range to chose from. Many styles are so sassy that they will make you look rather like a fashionista than a hobo.

Renata Green in her standard travel outfit
This is the layer-look I’m wearing on practically every long haul flight.

I like to wear a long sleeved T-shirt on the flight. Often it’s the only long-sleeved shirt I’m taking with me when travelling to the tropics. On top goes a casual T-shirt-dress.

Hence, I absolutely need a hoodie: here too – soft, warm, comfy, yet stylish. And I love to pull the hood really deep over my face and practically disappear in my sweater. My hoodie is my castle.

Foldable Jackets in various colors - perfect to put in hand luggage.
They come in great colors – and with a handy pouch.

I often fly to tropical destinations during cold seasons so that I need warm clothes for the way to the airport and possible at a layover destination – and then again only weeks later. Therefore, a foldable jacket is the best option (packed in its own bag, it also makes a soft pillow).

Stay Comfortable

Crucial tip for the ladies: wear a really comfortable bra on a long flight, anything else will kill you. I like to wear sport bras or bustiers – not only on the flight, but during the whole trip. They are much more comfortable and even if the straps show under tank tops or dresses, they don’t look necessarily like underwear.

I assume that you’ll wear comfortable shoes like sneakers or hiking boots on the flight anyway, since they are too big and heavy for the luggage.

Items that make travelling easier and should be in your hand luggage
Some basic items.

But also think of socks – preferably compression stockings and in addition a pair of big, soft socks. If you don’t like to walk around in them on the plane – especially when going to the bathroom – a pair of disposable slippers (those you get at hotels) are more comfortable than taking your shoes on and off all the while.

Wrap It Up

I tend to get very cold on flights: often I have to get up really early, I’m all excited, they turn the air condition high – I’m freezing. So in addition to the long sleeved T-shirt and the hoodie and the jacket I like to have a big scarf on me that I can wrap around my shoulders or my neck or use as a light blanket. 

Pareo Seller on the Beach in Rio de Janeiro
It’s not very difficult to obtain a large, versatile cotton scarf.

If you pick one made of a light cotton material, it also serves the purpose of a beach blanket, a sarong, a seat cover…come on, just pick a cotton one.

Make Yourself at Home:
How To Enjoy Your Flight

Whether you like it or not (I do), you are stuck for hours in this big metal thing, only now and then allowed to move – just relax and make the best of it.

By the way, that’s the reason why I like it: I’m forced to sit still and relax – that’s like buddhist therapy.

How To Rest

To make sleeping on the plane – and during jet lag – easier, you can take Melatonin. I don’t know if it’s for everybody, but I know that it helps me a lot with getting a good night’s rest. Usually, I’m taking one pill on the flight and then for three or four days to fight jet lag. Although in the US you can buy them at every supermarket, they should not be popped like candy.

I never ever travel without ear plugs. I use the old fashion wax kind that hermetically shuts my ears against any noise. Conversely, I don’t really need a sleeping mask since I’m crawling into my hoodie. Hence I know that many people appreciate it.

And, of course, you should have an inflatable pillow to rest your neck whether sitting or laying down. By the way, I sleep best with my head and upper body resting on the table. Since I’m tall, it’s not working with the table right in front of my seat. However, the table next to me is fine.
No, of course, I’m not doing that when someone is sitting in that seat, what are you thinking!?!

Entertainment

Can’t sleep on a plane? Poor you. I hope you’re at least travelling with an airline that supplies you with great entertainment like e. g. Emirates or British Airways.

On TAP, the national Portuguese airline, there was Mr. Bean on – for everybody. Mr. Bean – since he doesn’t need to be translated…

So if you happen to travel with an airline whose only entertainment program is dumb – and this on so many levels – Mr. Bean, you better make sure to have your own entertainment. Whether it’s a book – paper or on a device, music, your favorite series downloaded on your tablet or even phone.

If you read or watch something on your phone, chances are your eyes are getting uncomfortably dry, particularly in the dry atmosphere on the plane. So you should have eye drops on you (drops=liquid, hence put them in your zip lock ‘vanity’) and instead of contact lenses you should wear reading glasses.

Make sure to store them thoroughly in an adequate case – my experience is that after one hour of flight every seat on the plane is a mess with papers, candy wrappers, blankets and extra blankets and spare pillows flying around so you risk to find your glasses in this mess by hearing the cracking noise once you sit on them.

Snacks

Talking ’bout candy wrappers: I like to eat on the plane (actually I like to eat anywhere and any time; but especially on a plane) – only exception here was again TAP where they just slapped a little trough down on the table – no explanations, and of course no questions about preferences or allergies asked. But maybe you like snacking between meals or you forgot to order your special diet. In this case it’s good to have some snacks on hand.

box from KLM
Thank you, KLM, this is so true! Especially if your neighbor is ME.

I personally don’t need snacks, but I need vitamins. Usually my diet is so good and healthy that I don’t take any supplements. But over the past years when I kept getting colds and rashes because my immune system went down from the stress of travelling, I took up the habit to pop vitamin capsules daily from about one week before leaving over the entire trip; and it’s getting better.

Omnia Mea Mecum Porto:
Keep Your Valuables Always Close To You

“All that is mine I carry with me” – Bias of Priene, who according to Cicero said these words, was a pretty smart cookie.

And although you don’t need to carry everything that is yours with you, you sure should follow his lead when it comes to valuables.

By valuables I don’t mean only jewelry – if you take any with you at all; however, it shouldn’t be of commercial value – cash and credit cards, your passport and your vaccination certificate*.

No, in addition, you should put all documents needed in your hand luggage, all necessary medication you need to take.

If you have a guide book, it might come handy to have it on you from day one.

Euro coins and bills as well as credit dards
Obviously, money and credit cards have to be safely stored. Ideally, in a body pouch or a money belt.

Even if you have addresses, directions, and booking confirmations on your phone – it doesn’t hurt to have them printed out, too.

Then you should have copies of all your documents, especially your passport and vaccination certificate. One set of these copies should be in your carry on luggage and another one in your checked baggage. But be very careful with sensitive info like your credit card numbers.

Another copy should be left at home with your family including numbers of all your credit cards, albeit, no PINs!
Ideally together with your banks’ emergency numbers.

Gadgets

Of course, all your electronic devices such as your phone, tablet, laptop, camera belong all this time with you. Don’t forget the charging cable(s). Also, it might be a good idea to carry an additional, fully charged power bank. On the road, it’s sometimes easier to obtain Wifi than power.

Even in these digital times, you might have to fill out immigration forms or customs declarations. Therefore, it’s always good to have one or two ballpoint pens on you. To write quick notes, larger sticky notes are very handy for multi-purpose. I always have a small block on me.

Renata Green behind her camera that's always packed in the hand luggage
Taking good care of my beloved camera.

You’ll probably have a little cash on you, anyway, but I always make sure to have at least 10 US$ in small bills to tip people. Although the €uro got really well accepted around the world, the disadvantage is that small amounts are in coins; so US Dollars it is.

Further Tips

I think that I wrote all the necessary down. But if you happen to have further questions – or maybe an additional suggestion! – I’d be very happy to hear from you.

In this post I’ve listed a couple of items and gadgets that became indispensable for my travels.

*If you are uncertain which vaccination you need, check my WORLD’S MOST COMPLETE TRAVEL INFORMATION where you find this info no matter from where to where you are travelling as well as all other relevant information.

Special: Newsletter-subscribers will get a printable list with all the stuff that should go in your hand luggage that can be completed according to personal needs and checked so nothing will be forgotten. Wanna get it? Subscribe right now either through the pop-up form or by sending me an Email.

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59 Replies to “what to put in your hand luggage”

  1. You have some great tips in here! Didn't realize that much luggage got lost. So it's important to be strategic about carry-on versus checked luggage packing. Great post!

  2. After my luggage arrived later at least three times, I thought I write down what one might need while waiting…and waiting…and waiting 😀

  3. Loved your simple and honest tips! Have struggled with late luggage and I know how it feels:) Can sour up the vacation too!

  4. I have heard many horror stories about lost luggage. Thank god it hasn't happened to us. But you're right, we should get prepared in case it happens one day. It is a good idea to pack the essentials in the hand luggage like the basic clothing.

  5. Lots of great tips here. My carry-on is filled with electronics. It's got my laptop, my phone, my Kindle, my iPod and all the chargers. It looks like I'm carrying around a mobile Best Buy!

  6. I'm taking only my phone and either my laptop or my tablet. Kindle is on my phone and tablet, but I so much prefer turning paper pages of real books…

  7. I am impressed you get all of this into a carry on! I play with the idea of traveling with just a carry on but it seems they often end up getting checked anyway due to lack of space so I haven't tried it.

  8. Actually it's not so much, Sherianne. I even don't put it all in a carry on but into a regular daypack. But you are right, with the larger carry ons they often do, especially on short Euro flights. But there the risk of loss or delay is smaller because usually it doesn't have to travel on all these belts through the airport's womb 😉 Happy travels!

  9. Love all of these tips! I try to always travel with just my cary on and these tips will be so much more help! Thanks!

  10. I almost always bring only hand luggage when I travel, unless I'm out of town for multiple weeks. One of my biggest pet peeves in travel is waiting and waiting for your checked luggage to drop down onto the luggage carousel at baggage claim. It always takes longer than I expect, and I always want to leave the airport as fast as possible, so checked luggage always delays that process.

  11. Fabulous tips, and so useful! I have been travelling on and off the last few years and I tend to get chilled in airports – the last time at Bangkok, so this made perfect sense.

  12. Whoa that statistics on lost luggage is mind blowing. Can't imagine myself to be the unfortunate one to loose luggage.
    These tips are so helpful for packing light. I have a similar list for myself.

  13. Heh, my carry-on (a drybag rucksack) is filled with electronics. Mainly my 2 cameras and some gimmicks. On my last trip to Ecuador, it got checked by hand 6 times… Well, no wonder, I had a toy type2 vw truck and 2 surfing stormtrooper action figurines with me – security got curious 😉 Apart of that a pair of underwear and a shirt.

  14. A large drybag is a super carry on. Only disadvantage: you never find what you're looking for – which is the problem with basically every backpack, though. I love drybag – leaving things not only dry, but also clean and dust free. Happy travels!

  15. Great advice! I haven't flown in over five years now, not since I had my three youngest but this is really helpful for when we do, hopefully next year!

  16. Woah, and this is exactly why I hate flying. It would definitely ruin my trip if I lost my bag. But you are so right, carrying essentials in a hand bag is a must!

  17. It's an emergency plan. I'd still freak out if they lose all my favorite travelling clothes – or all the nice stuff I buy abroad. Luckily until now they only misplaced or delayed it, but still: the wait was nerve wrecking. Happy travels!

  18. What a bunch of great tips for plane travel! I'll be the first to admit I don't take as much time as this preparing for a plane ride. Honestly, all you really need is to have your passport and cash on you, the rest is extras. Which I will still pack, don't get me wrong. I love the Bias quote, about all that is mine, that's a good rule to follow.

  19. I totally agree with your tips! I'm more a fan of hand luggage than checking it in, but sometimes it can't be helped. I always fear my luggage will be the one that's lost! I'll definitely remember to pack better for warmer countries than cold, I've always been caught out on this!

  20. What a wealth of incredible tips! I especially love the idea of carrying a big scarf because I'm always cold on a flight. Also the earplugs. Not that screaming babies are bad, per se. But it's always nicer if you aren't able to hear them quite as well. x

  21. Great tips! This is exactly why we travel only with carry-ons unless it's with an airline I completely trust (there's only one haha). The down jackets from Uniqlo are PERFECT for folding up!

  22. Totally agree that it’s much faster and so much less hassle traveling with hand luggage only! I’ve never managed it on a longer trip, but short trips of a couple of days, it’s so nice to breeze past those stupid conveyor belts which always take so much time to return your bag! Congrats on lasting two weeks on hand luggage – that’s some seriously impressive skill!

    I’m lucky that in 10 years of travel I’ve only had my bad misplaced once (thankyou Turkish airline for paying for my shopping spree in Venice as a result!) With the huge amount of travel these days I’m actually surprised more bags don’t go astray.

    Agree that you need to be more prepared for a hot destination than a cold one -thanks for the packing tips! Going to try and aim for a longer hand luggage trip than 3 days!

  23. I have never lost my luggage but I do try to plan for if I ever did! We also mix our clothes and toiletries between two bags so if one goes missing, one person doesn't lose everything and one have their whole wardrobe!

  24. It's so true that you have to expect the unexpected. I always pack enough underwear and tops for 2 days. Also, I'm amazed at how many people pack valuables in their checked luggage. It's insane. I had a family member who packed all of their money and cards in their luggage and it got lost. Wow.

  25. Even I am someone who tries to visit the world with a handbag. The cons is I can't carry liquid items which is ok. I found your post interesting. Will take up few tips from this one to pack my handbag in future for sure.

  26. Whoa! I did not know these statistics about lost luggage. I will be so mad if my bag gets lost! Also, you have given nice tips for flights.

  27. We travel with only hand luggage on shorter trips, but for longer trips we take a bigger bag to put in the hold. I didn't realise so much got lost, I'll keep it in mind for our next flight and pack more into the hand luggage.

  28. I've just had to travel to and from Budapest with hand luggage only and I did prefer the ease of skipping the check in queue. That said, when you're travelling for cold temperatures there's not much room for chunky jumpers – something I'd factor in next time. I did have a slight issue trying to get a cork screw souvenir back unfortunately which was my own fault for not thinking to check beforehand!

  29. Really good tips here! i always pack light on a vacation and prefer to keep my fave goods on me at all times. how horrible all that luggage got lost!

  30. Ok let me try to comment again! I can't recall what I said in my previous message apart from the fact that I prefer to travel with a carry on as well. But one airline company charges more for carry ons than for checked luggage!!

  31. Love the KLM message – I wish all airlines did that!
    One thing I have learnt the hard way when checking a suitcase in: always take a picture of it. If it gets lots/delayed… it's much easier for the team looking for it to know what it actually looks like than a description saying "it's black with a little orange". Especially if there is a language barrier…

  32. These are great tips and very useful! I'm glad you didn't get arrested for having cheese in your bag <3

  33. omg..reading ur psot reminded me of my lost baggage after my south america trip..it was so bad as i left my hard disk with all the photographs in it..but since then i m very careful what to pack in hand baggage..thanks for sharing all the tips.

  34. I have to admit, with four children my hand luggage is normally filled up with all their things. I always make a point though of spreading our clothes amongst all the luggage so if one bag goes missing everyone still has at least one change of clothes.

  35. I am totally for carrying the minimum amount of luggage and trying to keep it to just the hand baggage. Landing in a new country to find that my bag has been lost is my biggest fear! I have collected bottles of less than 100 ml of each – perfumes, sun screen lotion, moisturiser only so that I do not need to check in my luggage. It is however sometimes very tough (especially when you're travelling for 2 weeks or so when you are going to a place where it is going to be cold) to restrict yourself to hang baggage only. You have some great tips here!

  36. Yes, two weeks on hand luggage is a challenge and e. g. with kids not doable. I was referring rather to an additional hand luggage so that you don't put things you might urgently need the first 48 hours in your checked luggage and stand there empty handed what that one gets lost or even only delayed.

  37. I only ever travel with carry-on luggage. It's great not having to wait for your luggage on the carousels. My luggage has never been lost when I've checked it in but I'm always afraid that one day it will be so I prefer carry-on luggage.

  38. I agree that it is great to travel without having to check your luggage! Sometimes it can just be such a hastle!