By now you probably know that Ben flies around the world, constantly, with hand luggage only. And for a short trip of less than a week I’ve had no problems traveling with only a carry-on. Last year I decided to step it up a notch, and went to Asia for over two weeks with just a medium sized backpack.
Taking only hand luggage, or ‘HLO‘ as you will sometimes see it referred to in the frequent flyer world, was surprisingly easy, and made the traveling experience so much more pleasant.
I now avoid checking luggage wherever I can.
The benefits of ‘Hand Luggage Only’
Start by learning from George Clooney in the ultimate frequent flier movie, Up In The Air:
- No queuing for check-in, regardless of your status
- No excess luggage fees
- No waiting at the luggage carousel when you land
- No chance of any airline delaying or misplacing your luggage
Think carefully about your destination
It’s far easier to travel with hand baggage only to a warm destination, where you simply need less clothes.
If it was a multi-destination trip covering extremes like Siberia to Singapore, it might be difficult to go only with hand luggage, I must admit! But assuming you are going to a destination with only one climate, take items only for that climate. Yes, you may be cold/hot at your origin for an hour or two, but trust me, its far better than carrying around a needless coat on a trip if you’re spending the whole time in the tropics!
Don’t take things you know your accommodation will already provide. If you’re staying at a five star hotel you’re probably not going to need to pack your own hair dryer.
Similarly, if your resort has a beach club they will provide you with beach towels and you won’t need to check your own.
For my two week trip, apart from a pair of flip-flops I took one pair of trousers (plain, dark jeans) and one pair of shoes.
I wore them on board my Qatar Airways business class flights, hiking up the Batu caves in Kuala Lumpur, and to rooftop cocktail bars in Singapore. Yes, I would have loved to have had a range of options perfect for absolutely every occasion, but I didn’t want to carry around a three piece suit on the off chance I might be going to a fancy dinner somewhere.
Shoes take up probably more space than anything will in your hand luggage.
Yes, there are times that I felt a touch underdressed, or even over dressed, but that’s part of traveling to new and exciting places and you quickly get over it.
Don’t pack ‘just in case’ items
I used to be a hopeless packer.
I tried to plan for every contingency in the weeks leading up to a trip, and would end up packing a whole lot of things I didn’t ever need. In somewhere like the tourism-focused areas of Southeast Asia, as my best mate tried to teach me over and over, ‘all you need is a passport and a credit card.’ And he was right.
If you need something you couldn’t fit in your hand luggage, or run out of something you did pack, there’s a very good chance you will easily be able to purchase it where you are, and depending on the location, it may even be cheaper than buying it back home.
Don’t lug around loads of items you are unlikely to ever need when you can easily find them at your location. You don’t need multiple pairs of sunglasses on the off chance you might lose or break a pair.
My secret: good quality, plain, versatile, basic clothes
I used to buy all sorts of t-shirts on a whim while shopping. It seemed like a good idea at the time so I could have a range of different ‘looks.’ Some of them were rarely, if ever, worn.
So, with a big summer trip on the horizon I knew I needed something that would work and I would wear repeatedly. I found a plain t-shirt online that I liked the look of. I ordered it online, and tried it on. It looked good, fit well, and I liked wearing it.
So I bought that exact t-shirt in five different colors.
And I still wear them all the time.
Plain t-shirts can be worn to the beach with swimwear, on a night out with a nice jacket and pants, and my personal favourite, on board a flight.
If you find something you like, go with it.
Packing and repacking
If you are moving around every few days you will be regularly repacking your items. With hand baggage only you can’t just throw everything in and zip it up because space will be at a premium. I’m a big fan of rolling clothes together. I don’t know how this saves space, but it seems to.
Where possible, wear as many items on the plane as you can to avoid trying to cram them into a small bag. This may mean carrying your coat you had to bring with you even though it’s a warm day. You can put it in the overhead as soon as you get onboard.
Put the things you’ll need first on the top (as well as any electronics and liquids you’ll need to remove for security), and any ‘just in case’ items you brought along right at the bottom.
The worst thing about HLO: toiletries
Some countries are becoming more relaxed about liquids, aerosols, and gels in hand baggage. When I realised my standard ‘clear resealable plastic bag’ was broken on a recent trip to Australia, I asked security at Melbourne airport if they could provide a replacement. They laughed at me and said that provided nothing was over 100mls then I didn’t need to bother with a bag.
On that same trip, transiting Hong Kong I asked security, if I needed to remove liquids from my hand baggage. They looked at me as if I had asked for their first-born child and simply shook their heads in disbelief.
And then there’s London.
They are militant about liquids.
One clear, resealable, square bag per person. Nothing over 100mls. This really does limit what you can take. Once you’ve put your deodorant, hair product, and toothpaste, there’s not much room for anything else.
All of my cologne is in bottles over 100mls so it gets left behind. You can buy smaller, travel sized cologne but I find it to be a waste of money for the price vs the full-size bottles. If there’s one rule about hand baggage I would change it would be to allow, say two releasable bags per person.
You will have to sacrifice on toiletries if you travel hand baggage only. There’s no real way around it. If you usually travel with plenty of liquid make-up you will really need to make sacrifices.
One tip with toiletries is only put liquids in your clear-bag. Although your toothbrush goes with the toothpaste, if you are running out of room in your clear bag keep the toothbrush somewhere else, such as a separate, ‘non-liquids’ resealable bag.
Some of this advice may seem incredibly obvious, and some of you may not dream of traveling without all the comforts of home. But trust me, if you’ve ever cursed the world trying to drag that full-sized suitcase up a flight of stairs anywhere in the world, consider taking only hand luggage on your next trip.
It makes life SO much easier.
What’s the longest you’ve travelled ‘HLO?’ Do you have any packing or traveling tips?