a black cat inside a purple carry-on suitcase with grey interior
Budget Travel, Travel Tips

How to Pack your Holiday into a Carry-On Bag – Packing Guide and Essentials

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In the past year, I’ve been on 4 holidays flying with budget airlines. None of these have included checked in luggage. So I’ve learnt to pack light in order to save me adding it as an extra which can get pretty expensive. There are plenty of packing tips and hacks to help when you need to pack for a holiday which only allows carry-on baggage allowance. Here is my complete carry-on bag packing guide which I have personally used when visiting Aarhus, Venice and Dublin to name a few.

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Carry-on Bag Packing Guide

If you know you will need more than carry-on luggage always compare more expensive flights with the budget airlines.  Once you’ve added on say £35 each way for bags onto a flight that was only £30 you could have found a flight with a slightly better airline (which includes baggage) for cheaper than £100. And you’d get a more comfortable flight out of it. If you’re ok with roughing it a bit more always go for the cheaper flights to save money and pack light instead. Skyscanner is a great website for comparing lots of airlines at the same time so you can decide on the best flight for you whether you need extra baggage or not.

Alternatively, if you are going in a group you can buy one set of hold luggage between you and split the price. But make sure to always buy extra luggage before your flight rather than at the airport. It’s always much more expensive last minute. The cheapest way to add hold luggage is at the same time as buying your flight tickets as there is often a discount at this stage.

When it comes to packing for a holiday there’s a lot of factors to take into account. Such as where you’re going to, the season you’re going in and how long you’re going for. You need to consider all of these before starting. For example, there’s no point taking a swimming costume on a skiing holiday (unless maybe the hotel has a hot tub) but you won’t want to forget that for a summer beach holiday! The holidays I have recently been on have been fairly varied so I will go through a few specific things related to those holidays but first a few general tips.

Always wear your heaviest clothes to travel in even if this means carrying your coat through the airport. The same goes for shoes too, wear the heaviest or bulkiest shoes on the flight and pack smaller and more flexible ones. Don’t forget they can weigh your bags but can’t weigh you. So layer up for your flight if you can’t fit all your clothes in your suitcase.

Consider buying inexpensive items once there that you can use for your trip then throw away. This avoids taking up unnecessary space in your hand luggage. Depending on location, some items, such as sun cream, are much cheaper to buy than travel with. Also remember that if you’re staying in a hotel there are often essentials there, such as hair dryers, shampoo and towels so you may not need to bring your own. Take a look at the hotel’s website, or give them a call, before you travel so you don’t pack unnecessary things but you also don’t forget something vital.

Anything you can’t buy over there, such as if you use a specific brand of shampoo, you will have to fit in your carry-on. Remember you can’t take liquids in containers more than 100ml. For these, it is much cheaper to buy a set of reusable bottles/containers to pour liquids into than buying small bottles of shampoo etc. that are advertised in the holiday section. This saves you money and allows you to be in control of what brands you take with you. There’s often a much more limited selection of products that are sold in travel sizes. The exception to this is deodorant which you will need to buy in a smaller bottle since you can’t transfer it.

If you get a see-through pouch to carry them in you can also take these through security. This means you won’t have to move everything into one of the zip-lock bags they give out at the airport. You can buy TSA approved bags like the one below with bottles less than 100ml included.


I always find making a list of things to pack helps me to visualise what I’ll need on the trip. Having it all written down helps me to spot anything I’m missing. You can also then use the same list again for future trips. I always ask someone else (usually my mum) to go through a list of things to pack as well. That should pick up on anything that may have slipped my mind. If you can’t fit everything into your bag, go through your list and decide whether you will really need it. Remove anything unnecessary and only take the things you will definitely use.

Most budget airlines give you a relatively large weight allowance for your carry-on luggage. This means the main issue will be how much space you have. You need to pack smart to allow room for everything you will need. But luckily there are a few ways you can do this. The easiest way to get all your things packed is to pack biggest to smallest. This way you can get the largest things in first and fit smaller things like socks and underwear around them. You can also put things like socks inside your shoes. This stops your shoes getting crushed and allows you to get a bit more stuff in the same area.

Rolling your clothes also helps to save space and stop them from getting creased. By rolling clothes, you can fit things in between small gaps and make better use of the space available. Another way to help save space is by planning your outfits for the trip so they are interchangeable. For example, having several tops that will go with one pair of jeans. This way you’re not bringing unnecessary things with you on your holiday.

And now my tips for a few specific places.

a purple suitcase filled with everything you need for your carry on bag packing in Paris France. a red bikini, blue and grey trainer, red and black flowery dress, blue raincoat, purple hoodie, grey jeans with a brown belt, blue shorts, a white top with black writing saying I SPEAK FRENCH (FRIES) and a multicoloured umbrella

Carry on packing for 4 Days in Paris, France in Summer

When I went to France, the weather was not great. For this reason, I mainly wore jeans, t-shirts and a hoodie but took a few dresses and a pair of shorts just in case. I wore jeans, a hoodie and trainers on the plane. Then took my extra clothes, shoes and toiletries in a small suitcase. The hotel we stayed in also had a pool so a swimming costume was needed. France is fairly unpredictable in terms of weather so it’s usually best to take items such as a raincoat and umbrella too. Take a compact umbrella to save space and make it convenient to carry with you.

A purple suitcase with carry-on packing for Cyprus. A brown sunhat, red bikini, black and red dress, black and red kimono, white flowery dress, pink flip-flops and blue shorts.

Carry-on packing for 5 Days in Paphos, Cyprus in Summer

Cyprus is a much warmer country to visit and in September can average about 30 degrees Celsius. I mainly took dresses and shorts with a few warmer pieces of clothes like cardigans for the evenings. I took several pairs of shoes but as these were mainly sandals and flip-flops they didn’t take up much room. Also, I wore a sunhat through the airport to avoid it being squashed in my bag. I wore jeans on the plane since it was colder in England but I didn’t wear these once over there. I also couldn’t forget to take my bikini as I spent a lot of time in the water over there.

A black and grey back used for carry on luggage for 3 days in Brussels. A grey winter coat with brown fur around hood, brown wool hat and scarf, brown and grey hiking boots, grey jeans and a tangle teaser hair brush.

Carry-on packing for 3 Days in Brussels, Belgium in Winter

Since we were there for such a small amount of time and our Airbnb check out was fairly early in the morning, we took a backpack each instead of a suitcase. I went wearing hiking boots but took a pair of trainers with me too. This was just in case it rained and my boots got too wet. Also, I took a couple of pairs of trousers and t-shirts but overall didn’t need a lot of clothes. I wore a coat, hat and scarf at the airport and for most of the trip as the weather was fairly mild at about 10 degrees Celsius.

I’m not sure if it was because I was constantly wearing a woollen scarf and hat or because of the wind but, by the end of each day my hair was very tangled. If you have hair like this I would recommend getting a tangle teaser brush. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it makes for me. It is so much easier to get stubborn knots out of hair. There are plenty of different colours and styles but the compact one is the best for traveling. It comes with a handy lid to protect the bristles.

a purple suitcase with the carry on packing essentials for 3 days in France in winter. Grey winter coat with brown fur, purple hoodie, grey jeans, brown wool hat and scarf, grey and brown hiking boots, grey t-shirt with black mickey mouse heads and a blue t-shirt with Stitch from Lilo and Stitch.

Carry-on packing for 3 Days in Paris, France in Winter

Funnily enough, although it was colder the weather was actually a bit better in February than it was in August. I still took mostly the same clothes (with the deduction of my swimming costume since our hotel didn’t have a pool this time). A couple of pairs of trousers, t-shirts and hoodie. I also took a bigger coat than my earlier trip. And a hat and scarf which I wore on the plane. I fit this all in a small carry-on suitcase. As well as toiletries, journal and other useful things such as my pocket blanket. These are really useful for a variety of circumstances such as picnics, beaches or if you ever need to sit somewhere that might be wet. They are large waterproof blankets which fold down into a small, easy to carry case.

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  1. Great tips! After 12 years of marriage, my husband and I have a well-oiled packing regime. I make the lists and organize and he rolls the clothes and fits them in the bags.

  2. Christine says:

    Great tips! I always try to buy my toiletries when I arrive mainly because I don’t want them to spill in my bag and get everything covered in liquid!

  3. Great tips and lovely cat! lol Packing when you have cats is a whole new adventure.

  4. Alice says:

    That’s such a good idea to show what you take for different trips to different places and weather!! I prefer traveling with a carry-on too, gonna use some of your tips for next time!!

  5. I managed a week in Barcelona with just carry on with Ryanair. It’s totally possible! Packing cubes are really good as well as you can cram things in them bit they hold their shape well.

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