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Travel light with hand luggage only

Travel lighter with our ultimate travel packing list
Travel smarter by travelling lighter

Why make a travel packing list?

Why make a travel packing list at all? I thought like that for a long time and I’d just grab all my holiday clothes and stuff them into a suitcase a few days before a trip. Then I’d carry most of it around for weeks and still not have the right clothes to wear. And shoes. Shoes are the worst. Shoes are heavy so squeezing that extra pair or two into your bag makes a big difference.

After another a trip where I carried a lot of stuff around and then brought it home again unworn I decided to think about my travel packing more carefully. I did a lot of research online and found lots of ultimate travel packing lists but none of them was really perfect for me. You see we travel to a lot of different places, different climates, different conditions. You just can’t write a travel packing checklist for every situation and expect it to work every time.

A flexible packing list for all types of travel

So, I needed to draw up something that was more flexible yet wouldn’t need to be re-invented every time we went on a trip. I decided to approach it by drawing up a core generic travel packing list that could be adapted to any climate, location or condition. I call it THE Travel packing list. Really, I do. I put it in a file with that exact name on my laptop and I open it up each time I think about planning a trip. I save a new copy each time and make the necessary adjustments. It’s quick and easy and means I never (well rarely) carry things I don’t need but I’m never left with nothing to wear.

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Keep it light

Firstly, the travel packing ground rules. We travel a lot by train, car and bus so we need to travel light. When we fly we like to fly hand luggage only. So I set up my travel packing list accordingly. I have a small-size Eastpak Tranverz wheeled bag which I take everywhere. I also take a small day pack with me, usually a large handbag or a very small backpack.

This is my suitcase and backpack for our round the world trip.
This is my suitcase and backpack for our round the world trip.

You can get the Eastpak Transverz from Amazon

Not sure if you want to use a suitcase or a backpack when travelling? Check out this article which looks at the pros and cons of both.

Suitcase or backpack? What's the best luggage for serious travellers?

So, what’s inside? Let’s start with the day pack.

What to pack in your handbag

  • Passport
  • Purse with credit cards, debit card, driving licence
  • Travel tickets
  • Foreign currency
  • Asthma medication
  • Kindle with charging cable
  • Smartphone with charging cable
  • Smartphone battery booster with cable
  • Reading glasses / Glasses
  • Small transparent bag with BB cream, lipstick, small roll-on deodorant and toothpaste if flying

That’s it. Although you can see that my daypack was quite full on our round the world trip, I usually just take a large crossbody handbag. Easier to carry and a bit more stylish for using on a city break trip than a backpack. But use whatever you feel most comfortable with. Because of the restrictions on liquids in hand luggage, I only take minimal toiletries. You can almost always get shampoo and shower gel in hotels. I collect them as we go and bring them home so I ‘ve got a few to take next time if necessary. If you’re staying in budget or self-catering accommodation and you’ve not got a small stockpile of travel-sized shampoo then you can buy toiletries once you’ve passed security at the airport. If you’re on a trip with multiple flights make sure you buy travel sized packs though.

One thing which has made a huge difference to me being able to travel light is my Kindle. I’m an avid reader especially on holiday and I never like to risk running out of books to read. Now I can carry hundreds of books with me and I know I’ll always have something to read. It’s very handy for guide books as well.

If you want to get your own Kindle then head over to Amazon by clicking on the link below. I have the Paperwhite version at the moment but there are some great new models available too. Give it a go, you won’t regret it.


Get your Kindle here!
Easy Packing Tips for Travelling Light

Draw up your own list

You’ll need to adapt this list to suit your needs. If you prefer real books over the Kindle, for instance, then just add that to your travel packing list instead. It’s not about me telling you what to take on holiday with you. I just want to steer you in the direction of effective packing. Also, remember that we’re planning to travel hand luggage only so although things packed in the case will be a bit more awkward to get at than in your day pack, it’s still all accessible if you need it. Although it is a pain if you have to unzip and rummage through your suitcase on a train platform. I know, I’ve done it. But at least it can be done. You haven’t waved goodbye to your luggage at baggage check-in only to discover something important is inside.

Save your list on your phone or laptop so it’s easily available

Open up a word document or spreadsheet and write your own travel packing list down. Use my list as a guide but adapt it to suit yourself. I find that I tend to add fewer things if I plan the list when I’m not about to go travelling. I tend to be more pragmatic about what I need them. Keep that list as a master document. When you want to plan your list for an actual trip take a copy and then adapt it as needed. Your small handbag list should stay fairly constant though.

Now, let’s look at your main suitcase type bag. Obviously, this is going to be a much longer travel packing list but try not to get carried away. Every time you add something to the list think about what you need it for, when are you going to wear it, what are you going to wear it with?

Have trouble travelling light? Get or free hand luggage only list

A travel packing list for your main bag

  • Swimsuit
  • 2 long sleeve blouses/tops
  • 2 short sleeve blouses/tops
  • 1 pair of shorts or crop trousers
  • 1 pair of full-length trousers or jeans
  • 1 summer dress
  • Smart jacket
  • 3 pairs of ankle socks
  • 4 pairs knickers
  • Spare bra
  • Flip flops
  • Cardigan or jumper
  • 1 pair of smart casual shoes or trainers
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • Lightweight folding raincoat
  • Swimcap (if needed)
  • petticoat
  • Large printed scarf
  • Hassam towel
  • 1 pair of cheap but nice earrings
  • Sunhat or woolly hat
  • Gloves (for winter trips)
  • Plastic bag for dirty laundry
  • Toothbrush
  • Folding hair brush
  • Loose face powder and brush

Yes, that’s all. It actually takes up far more space than you’d think but I find that fits nicely into my bag without needing to sit on it to squash it enough to do the zip up. You do want to be able to open it up and rummage around to find things if necessary. What you don’t want is for it to be so tightly packed in that you struggle to repack each time you move hotels.

Adapt the list but don’t add stuff

I tend to adapt the list slightly depending on what kind of trip we’re doing. Obviously, I cross off the gloves and woolly hat if we’re going to the Caribbean for 2 weeks of sun. However, most of it is self-explanatory. As we tend to travel off-peak, ie. during the colder times in the UK we tend to travel in slightly warmer clothes so I wear jeans and a jumper then. So, I always have some warmer clothes. Also, aeroplanes are usually cold in my experience. I wouldn’t take a spare jumper or cardigan on a winter sun holiday though.

Don’t be tempted to add stuff in unless you’re absolutely clear about why you need it. I used to shove an extra couple of shirts in thinking 4 wasn’t enough. I never wore them and it just fills up the case. Take your favourites and wear them. I’ve never been anywhere that I couldn’t get lightweight laundry done. Whether you’re in a luxury hotel or camping, there’s always some option for washing your knickers. My golden rule is that I can adapt and swap but I can’t add. That stops me throwing in a few extra items at the last minute.

Make it your personal list

I’ve found this travel packing list works perfectly for me. You’ll need to alter it to fit your own needs but once you’ve done it then you’ve got your own perfect travel packing list and you can use it time and time again. It’ll help you travel lighter and I think that’s so much more fun. Travelling should be all about discovering new places and enjoying yourself not trailing an oversized, far too heavy suitcase full of stuff you don’t really need.

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