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John’s Guide To Travelling With Hand Luggage Only


The Problem

An Airport QueueOne of the most tedious parts of flying (apart from being forced to fly economy class) is luggage. With the introduction of checking in online you can beat the queues to check in! Unfortunately instead you have to queue for just as long to drop your luggage off, so no gain at all. Next, when you arrive you have to go and collect it which means standing around for 20 minutes waiting for the luggage to be unloaded from the plane. Then you wonder if your luggage actually made the trip with you (if not you’ll end up in a world of hurt). When it does finally turn up you have to battle to get it then queue again to get through passport control with a lumbering suitcase. Wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to do any of that?

The Solution

Which brings me onto flying with hand-luggage only. For my recent trip to Los Angeles I decided to not check any luggage in at all as an experiment. I scoured the web far and wide for advice and the perfect piece of luggage that would be small enough to fit into an overhead storage bin on the plane, have enough room for 5 days worth of clothes along with compartments for my laptop, washing kit (more about that shortly), books, glasses and everything else I’d need for my trip.

The Luggage

After much research I settled on the Wenger Patriot case. It ticked all the boxes: it had a section for clothes, a removable laptop case (so that you’ve got another smaller bag to carry around at the destination), a pocket for magazines, a handy pocket that perfectly fits things like passports, boarding cards and directions to hotels and a roomy front section filled with pockets and sleeves for all the other things you need like phones, chargers, adapters, books and so forth. And most importantly it’s got a telescopic handle that makes wheeling it around an airport dead easy. You almost spend more time queueing to have your passport checked than actually flying these days so to not have it slung over your shoulder is a real bonus. It goes without saying that the bag meets all the regulations of hand luggage size so doesn’t even raise an eyebrow from the cabin crew.

The Wenger Patriot Bag

The Toiletries

These days you can’t carry normal sized bottles of shower gel, deodorant, shampoo and so forth on as hand luggage. Instead you have to put small quantities of each inside a clear plastic bag for inspection (as if liquid explosives were the only option for a would-be terrorist) which is a bit of a pain if you need a week’s supply. Sure you can rely on using the products you’ll find at your 5 star hotel when you arrive, but for those of you with sensitive skin or allergies that’s not an option. Fortunately Boots have a range of handy travel accessories like small bottles you can decant your favourite shower gel and conditioner into (I’d recommend you use separate bottles). For deodorant Lynx make these rather metrosexual perfume-like mini deodorant sprays called bullets. Now you wouldn’t catch me putting one of these in my ‘man bag’ (whatever that is) for a night out but they’re ideal for hand-luggage international travel. Add a small tube of toothpaste and a razor (yes, you carry disposable razors on as hand luggage) and you’re all set!

The Clothes

Generally I pack n+1 pairs of socks and pants where n is the number of days I’ll be away. I then throw in a spare pair or so of cut-off sports socks for special occasions. A few t-shirts, long sleeved tops, a shirt and a pair of ‘New Zealand’ trousers (they’re the ones that have zip-off legs that turn into shorts – two garments for the price of one) cover everything else and as long as I’m wearing a jacket that’ll get me through the local and destination weather I’m good to go. Oh, it can’t hurt to throw in a Hawaiian shirt if you’ve got room – they’re good for those unexpected party situations.

The Screaming Baby Blockers

My iPhone goes wherever I do so I can listen to calming music while flying / queuing for passport control / waiting in the departure lounge. So I bought a pair of the souped-up Apple iPhone earphones that you insert deep into your ear canal. They have the benefit of blocking pretty much all external noise so while you listen to podcasts and Boards of Canada you’re oblivious to that screaming baby in the seat next to you. Note that if you’re flying business class (as you should be) you’ll be far less likely to have a screaming baby next to you but the earphones will help block the irritating toothpaste company executive next to you telling you about the latest tongue scrapers and what their profit margin is.

The Results

So as I said at the start I decided to test this travelling without check-in luggage and I have to say it was a complete success! I didn’t find myself waiting around quite as much and I didn’t have that nagging feeling that my clothes weren’t going to turn up when I arrived – I had everything on me at all times. Of course when Microsoft decided to hand out laptops to everyone who attended the PDC my first thought was “how the hell am I going to fit that in my bag?!” but fortunately I was able to get one of my colleagues to put my Hawaiian shirt into his check-in luggage and I was all set.

So I think that from now on any trip I do of less than a week (except a snowboarding holiday – I’d never get my board in my bag) I’ll go hand-luggage only and cut out all that hassle of queueing and checking in bags safe in the knowledge that I’ll never be separated from my kit and can breeze through an airport like I own the place!

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

15 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. I used to travel hand luggage only, but then got bored of it all, especially once I could go and hide in the various airline lounges, also I tend to end up carrying all sorts of random cables and connectors now that I do the infrastructure side of things rather than just programming and meetings….

    That bag however looks rather good so maybe I’ll have to replace my daily Tumi bag that I use as hand luggage.


    • Yeah, the lounges are definitely a nice option!

      Tumi do a nice version of my bag at an eye watering £499 so if you’re feeling rich that could be the one for you! 😉


  2. Some top tips there, John. I don’t think I’d be able to get away with that with my cheap £30 hand luggage, so it looks like it really is worth investing in some quality luggage.

    What’s your stance on hairdryers? I often find myself packing one because hotel ones are so rubbish.


    • Quality luggage all the way! I just got this one for Rachael which is like a female version (room for a hairdryer and shoes).

      Personally my super-short hair doesn’t need drying in the morning so that’s not a situation I have to encounter. And besides, when it was longer I preferred that natural dry look! 😉


  3. Hand luggage only…definately the future. When I worked for a company that didn’t shudder at the thought of spending cash on training, I went to Seattle for a course. The airline I flew with (who’ll shortly be on strike) sent my luggage to New York, where I think it had a wild week without me. My case finally got to a DHL depot in Seattle on the day I was leaving, so I had to take a taxi to collect it…all good fun.
    Since then, whether I’ve taken a full-size case or not, I always put a couple of days worth of clothes in my hand-luggage.
    Ofcourse, if you’re going somewhere with your wife/girlfriend then forget about hand-luggage only…for anything more than a day-trip you’ll be going with at least one large case – bit sexist I suppose, but (mainly) true non the less ;o)


  4. Why is it you can’y take more than 150 ml of deoderant on a plane or even as recently confiscated at Dubai a vernier calipers (engineers measuring device)yet in duty free you can buy a litre of brandy in a glass bottle (look we are in a fight there is a vernier and a bottle of brandy on a table give me the bottle any time ok I know I’m from Glasgow and that is the weapon of choice) (maybe terrorists aren’t from the west coast of Scotland so its ok)

    Happy Christmas John et all


  5. Not sure I’ll be travelling hand luggage only when I head to the US of A next, doesn’t seem worth the effort when there is going to be so much additional screening, just more stuff for the security people to get “excited” about when they are going through the bag…


    • Yeah, you’re right. I’m thinking with the knee-jerk changes that will be applied travelling’s going to get even less pleasant. Stupid really as these measure still don’t actually make flying any safer…


  6. Hello John

    Read this when you first published it. I’m now looking to buy but can’t find one to look at in the flesh for love and money, seems they’re only available online.
    As you are the proud owner can you tell me if it will accommodate my MacbookPro 17″.
    Measures 390mm x 265mm.
    cheers for your review and help on this



    • For those reading along (I answered Paul via twitter) it does indeed fit a MacBook Pro, although not in the included laptop bag, it only fits in the main bag.


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