How to Pack for a Holiday with Just Hand Luggage

There are many advantages to going on holiday without checking any luggage into the hold. If your hold luggage isn’t included in the price of your flight, you could save yourself money by not checking in any additional suitcases and instead use the money to enjoy an airport lounge, extra leg room or even an upgrade and really get your holiday off to a great start.

Taking just hand luggage also saves you time when both departing and arriving at airports: If you check in online, it means that you can avoid the check-in queues and head straight to security and once you land at the other end, there’ll be no need to wait for your cases to appear on the baggage carousel. And, apart from anything, the less you take with you, the easier it is to get from place to place. Nobody wants to be looking like a pack horse when heading off on holiday!

You’re probably thinking that a trip with just hand luggage is surely only for business travellers or those going on a short city break, right? Wrong. When done properly, it can be easy to pack for a week or even longer, using just hand luggage. Check out our tips below to see how you could comfortably fit all your belongings into your carry-on.

Use the Right Bag

Suitcases in the airport

These days, most people tend to take hard-sided, wheeled cases for their hand luggage, but these can sometimes be quite heavy and also fairly restrictive if there’s no give for fitting more in or fitting them into the overhead cabin on the plane. Instead, opt for a soft-sided bag such as a hold-all or, even better, a soft-sided bag on wheels. Be sure to check the size and weight restrictions for the airline that you are travelling with.

Wear Your Heaviest Clothing

Obviously, the warmer the place you are travelling to, the less space you will need for clothes as they will be lightweight and there’ll be no need for thick-knit jumpers. But if you are going somewhere that could get cool, travel in trousers or jeans (which can weigh a bag down), a hooded top and a jacket if you need it. The jacket will also be handy for carrying items in the pockets – especially heavier items that could weigh your luggage down. Airlines might weigh your luggage, but they don’t weigh you!

Roll, Don’t Fold

To save space and to avoid creases, it’s best to roll clothes instead of folding them – you’ll be surprised at how much more you can fit in. Tuck underwear and swimwear into the corners of your bag and put rolled up socks inside of a pair of shoes to save even more space.

Be Ruthless with Clothing

Whatever clothes you get out ready to pack for your holiday, get rid of at least a third of them – you just won’t need them. If you are travelling to somewhere hot, chances are you will spend a lot of the time in your swimwear, so you won’t need a pair of shorts and a clean top for every day. It’s okay to wear items of clothes more than once if you only wear them for a couple of hours in the first place. Nobody is going to judge you, especially not on holiday.

Don’t Pack Unnecessary Items

Packing for a holiday

Don’t pack things that will be provided for you at your destination, for example, a hairdryer or towels. There’s no point carrying extra weight and using up valuable space for things that are easily available to you once you reach your destination. The hotel is also likely to provide shampoo, conditioner and shower gel too. You will only be able to take 100ml bottles of liquid, sealed in a clear plastic bag in your hand luggage, so you can either take travel-size bottles or buy things such as toiletries and sun cream once you get to your resort. It is often cheaper to do this anyway.

Suggested Packing List for a Week in the Sun


– Passport

– Travel insurance details

– Tickets/booking confirmations – flights, accommodation etc.

– Bank cards and cash


– Hoody/cardigan/light jacket for cool evenings (can be worn to travel in)

– Scarf/overshirt – can be used for warmth in the evenings or as a cover-up after the beach

– Trousers x 1 (can be worn to travel in)

– Closed-toe shoes (can be worn to travel in)

– Sun hat (can be worn to travel in, to avoid damage)

– Shorts x 2

– Day tops x 4

– Lightweight evening outfits x 5 – non-crease dresses or shirts

– Swimwear x 2

– Underwear x 7 – these take up little room, so there is no need to cut back on such essentials!

– Flip flops/sandals

– Socks x 3 – only if your closed-toe shoes require them

– Nightwear x 1

Toiletries and Medication

– Toothbrush and small toothpaste

– Small roll-on deodorant

– Hairbrush/accessories

– Make-up if necessary

– Razor

– Small moisturiser with SPF

– Diarrhoea treatment

– Paracetamol

– Antiseptic cream

– Plasters

– Any personal medication

Provided by the hotel or to be bought in resort: Shampoo; conditioner; shower gel; sun cream; after sun and bug repellent if necessary.

Everything Else

– Mobile phone/charger/headphones

– Camera/charger

– Travel adaptor

– Sunglasses

– Pen/paper

– Reading material

– Day bag/handbag

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First published September 2014. Reviewed and republished June 2021

Sadie Geoghegan

About the author

Sadie Geoghegan is a freelance travel writer who, when she’s not exploring the world, can be found writing at home with her dog in Cambridge.