24 Apr Travel tips: 8 hand luggage packing essentials for less than £15
Travel with hand luggage only means packing space is at a premium. So, multi-tasking wonders that take up little room, but are endlessly useful, are the order of the day. Here are my favourite budget-friendly packing essentials I never travel without.
Packing. Nobody enjoys it.
Just when you want to get excited about the adventures you’re about to have, the panic sets in. Do I have any clean socks? What sort of adaptor do I need? Where’s my waterproof? It’s not exactly glamorous.
And if you’re trying to travel light, packing everything but the kitchen sink isn’t possible. Every item has to earn its keep.
So, I have two strategies that take the worry out of suitcase struggles.
- Make a list well in advance, and stick to it
- Have a bundle of reliable essentials to always pack – wherever you’re going, whatever you’re doing
Today I’m sharing the unlikely essentials that always go in my case. And the best bit? They’re all under £15 and should help to save you time, stress and a few pennies whilst you’re away.
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1. Collapsible water bottle
I’m a little bit obsessed with my Platypus folding water bottle.
It’s always one of the first things I pack for a trip, and probably the one I use the most. Not only does it help to save me from spending on bottled water but it’s also ridiculously practical when hiking, cycling or even just heading to the beach. I even ski with it in my rucksack.
The bonus of a collapsible bottle like the Platypus is that it takes up barely any space or weight in your luggage. And because you can roll it up and pop it in a bag when empty, it’s easy to carry around with you – or tuck away if you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be sloshing water around, like a gallery or museum.
2. Microfibre towel
Most hotels, hostels and Airbnbs in Europe supply towels – it is the 21st century after all.
But let me persuade that it’s worth finding room for this multi-tasking wonder.
Microfibre towels make it possible to squeeze a beach towel in hand luggage. I like mine so much I gave up my cotton beach towel. They’re also great if you plan to head to the pool, sauna or gym whilst you’re away.
Ladies, microfibre towels are also amazing when it comes to drying long hair – and at a pinch, they’ll stand in as a picnic blanket or even a superhero cloak (long story).
3. Packing bags and cubes
The last thing you want to waste time on when travelling is packing and unpacking. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution that makes it that bit easier.
Invest in some packing cubes, or rummage around in the back of the wardrobe for substitutes like cotton shopping bags or old pillowcases.
There are no hard and fast rules for using them. You’ll figure out what works best for you. But I use them to separate certain types of clothing and non-clothing, whatever type of luggage I’m taking. For example; underwear, sports kit, cables and chargers, travel documents and accessories each go in their own bag.
Other great uses I’ve heard of including packing outfits separately for each day of a trip (great for weekend breaks) and separating beach or ski wear from evening wear.
Keeping stuff separate makes it much easier to keep on top of items whilst you’re travelling. They also allow you to pack your luggage Tetris-style – slotting bags around and on top of one another rather than negotiating a random jumble.
We’ve found great value packing bags at Ikea.
4. Folding shopping bag
Throwaway grocery bags are a thing of the past in most European countries these days, including the UK. So if you’re planning to self-cater or even picnic, a lightweight folding bag will save you from heavy loads as well as buying bags.
But, they’re also super-useful in lots of other situation. Here are some I’ve tried and tested;
- Lightweight beach or pool bag
- Impromptu picnic hamper
- Emergency laundry bag
- Shoe bag
- Overflow hand luggage, for those times when you thought you’d get everything in that tiny handbag
- Recycling transporter (especially in central Europe, where recycling is a tad complicated)
- Good old-fashioned shopping bag
5. A scarf or two
It doesn’t matter what time of year I’m travelling, or where I’m going, you won’t find me without a scarf.
Yes, it’ll warm you up on a cold day – but it’s also so much more.
It’ll liven up a simple outfit, whether you’re getting a second day’s wear from a travel basic or dressing up for dinner. It can be a cover-up on a hot day or a way to keep a chill off your shoulders in an air-conditioned room. You can curl up underneath it on a cool plane, and try to get some shut-eye.
A scarf or two won’t take up much room in your luggage, and they’ll give great bang for your buck.
6. Compact umbrella
This might sound melodramatic, but this is the difference between a wet day spoiling a trip or not. When I’ve got an umbrella in my bag I feel like I can take on the world, because the weather isn’t going to beat me.
Accept that it rains everywhere, at any time of year and usually when you least expect it. Arm yourself with a brolly and you won’t mind.
7. Travel size toiletries
Size matters when you’re travelling with hand luggage only.
And something that can steal a surprising amount of space in your case is your wash bag.
So rather than lug around full-size bottles of shampoo and the like, opt for miniature versions. The easiest way to do this is to head to your nearest supermarket and check out the travel miniatures section. Stock up on your regulars and voila, you’re ready to go at a moments notice.
But this wouldn’t be a Girl with a saddle bag travel tip if I hadn’t found a way to make it a little kinder both to your wallet and the environment. I suggest looking out for travel-size, refillable bottles. Either reuse brought miniatures (I very happily wash mine out, refill and re-label, time and time again) or check out bottles specially designed to be refilled in both Boots and on Amazon.
I know that can seem a little daunting heading off with so little. But unless you’re travelling for weeks or more at a time, you might be surprised at how little of each product you need. If you’re not sure if it’ll be enough, try testing out a travel size bottle at home before you go, and see how long it lasts.
Don’t forget: If you’re travelling through a UK airport with liquids in your hand luggage, each container must be 100ml or smaller. All containers must fit in a transparent resealable bag approximately 20 x 20 cm – sandwich bag size. (Correct as of June 2019).
When I’m hungry, I’m not fun to be with. For the sake of my fellow travellers, you’ll always find a snack (or three) in my bag.
It’s an excellent way to avoid extortionate (and usually rather drab) snacks in airports and service stations, on trains and planes. If your travel plans are delayed or mealtimes are missed, there’s a huge relief in having something to hand (that isn’t a bag of crisps. I speak from experience that this does not make a filling dinner for two the night before ski school). And if you like being active whilst you’re away, it’s not a bad idea to stock up before you go to save on shopping trips.
Fruit and nuts, cereal bars, flapjacks – anything that’s vaguely nutritious and easy to eat works for me. These are snacks that survive being in a coat pocket, rucksack or shoved at the bottom of a handbag, and taste good.
Frequently, and melodramatically, known as a lifesaver.
So there you have it – everything I pack before the real packing begins.
Find more handy posts on my Travel Tips page.
Now it’s your turn. What are your packing essentials you never travel without? And what am I missing?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments.