Hand Luggage Packing List

jana meerman airplane

I've spent the past nineteen months backpacking through seven countries. Before I left Canada, I put together a detailed backpacking packing list; the contents have changed slightly since then thanks to thrift shops + book shops!

For shorter trips though, such as our ten-day trip to Samoa, I prefer to only travel with hand luggage. Traveling with hand luggage typically means one carry-on item (a suitcase or backpack) and one personal item (a purse or handbag). I like traveling this way because:

  • no checked bag fees
  • less stuff to carry around while traveling
  • the guarantee that all my stuff will arrive with me since it's with me in the cabin

Make sure to select a bag that fits international sizing standards, can easily be picked up and placed in the overhead bins and is comfortable for you to wear or carry. I usually carry my backpack and a cross-body purse.

TIP: Since most airlines have size and weight restrictions, I recommend wearing what you can to save space and weight in your hand luggage. Tie your sweater around your waist, drape your jacket over your arm, keep your hat on your head...

jana meerman roy's peak wanaka (13)

My backpack!

Whether I am traveling with just hand luggage or with a suitcase down under, here are the things that I like to include:

Travel Documents

All the things that are crucial to the success of your trip. For safe-keeping, I store my travel documents in a plastic file folder. I don't trust my phone not to die right as I need something, so I print everything in hard copy.

  • Boarding pass
  • Travel insurance + any information about medication
  • Information about your first accommodation (with address for immigration purposes)
  • Visa (if needed) and any supplementary requirements
  • Passport
  • Itinerary
  • Proof of required vaccinations
  • Identification
  • International driver's license (if you plan to rent a car abroad)


If I'm traveling to a country where pick-pocketing is common, I keep my money in a money belt under my clothes and carry a wallet with just enough for the day. Make a sensible choice about how to carry money depending on your destination.

  • Wallet
  • Money belt
  • Credit card(s)
  • Cash in the correct currency


Don't risk precious electronics going under the plane for fear of loss or damage. Remember to bring all your charging cables with you, too.

jana meerman san francisco (22)


The maximum liquid allowance for hand luggage is 100ml and you can only bring what will fit in a 1 litre sealed bag. If you're only traveling with hand luggage, make sure you bring all the toiletries you need for your trip - check out my list here.

If you're checking a bag, I suggest putting most of your toiletries underneath and carrying the following on board:

  • Moisturizer (for dry airplane air)
  • Lip balm
  • Deodorant
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Extra contact lenses (I wear my glasses on board so I can sleep)
  • Hairbrush + scrunchie
  • Medication (anything you take regularly + allergy and pain meds)


Make sure you pack plenty of activities to keep you occupied on board!

  • Book
  • Guidebook for your destination
  • Notebook with pens
  • Sudoku or crosswords
  • Deck of cards

Water & Snacks

I find that most airplane snacks aren't very filling or healthy, so I bring my own, instead.

Ensure your food is sealed and does not contain any liquids and you're good to go (and will be the envy of the hungry passengers around you). Be sure to eat any food you bring before you land as many countries restrict what kinds of food products can be brought in.

Bring an empty reusable water bottle through security and then fill it up before you board. Remembering to stay hydrated is crucial when traveling.


If you're traveling with all your belongings in hand luggage, you'll have all your clothes with you. In the event that you've had to check a bag, pack a change of clothes including underwear in your hand luggage just in case.

It can also be useful to have a change of clothes suited to where you are landing - you may be landing in a tropical destination in the middle of winter.

  • Change of clothes with fresh underwear
  • Sweater & jacket (tied around your waist to save space)
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Scarf (can double as a blanket or a pillow on board)
  • Jewelry + watch (don't put valuables in your checked bag)
Jana Meerman

Hi! I’m Jana, a British-Dutch-Canadian with a dream of seeing every country in the world. I am a storyteller, photographer and adventurer passionate about documenting and sharing my travels.

Find me on: Twitter | Instagram | Facebook


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