More and more people are traveling with just a small carry-on. These small cabin bags not only allow you to travel freely, but they are also very liberating and easy to travel light!
Also, don’t forget that you’ll save a lot of time at the airport by not having to check your suitcase in and wait on the baggage carousel on the other side!
Many of us are used to traveling with just a small carry-on suitcase, but today we’re going to take things to the next level and give you some tips for traveling with just a small carry-on bag under your seat. I would like to share it.
We’re talking about a small carry-on bag that you can bring onto the plane for free.
I always book super cheap flights and usually fly around Europe for less than £20 return. Ryanair charges an extra £50 if you want to carry checked baggage, so I learned to pack light and save money by only traveling with a small free carry-on bag!
I’m holidaying in European cities for under £200 (like £155 for 3 days in Krakow!) but I don’t want to spend 25% of my budget on luggage!
First, I’ll share some of my favorite small carry-on options, then I’ll dive into how to pack a small carry-on and some outfit ideas to inspire you.
You might be surprised at how much you can fit in a small carry-on bag. If you pack it correctly, I think you’ll have enough time for about a week!
What do I mean by small carry on luggage?
When I’m talking about small carry-on bags, I’m talking about small bags that are allowed for free. All airlines, even the worst budget airlines, allow at least one small carry-on bag at no extra charge. This is sometimes referred to as ‘personal belongings’ or ‘handbag’.
The size of this small free carry-on bag varies by airline.
We strongly recommend that you double-check the allowed sizes, as they change frequently.
Skyscanner has an overview of what baggage is allowed on different airlines, so it’s good for a quick look, but don’t take this as gospel. A quick scan revealed that some airlines have changed their policies since this article was written. So take your time and check which baggage you paid for.
i usually travel with easyJet or Ryanair. These aren’t my favorite airlines, but they are the cheapest from the local airports in Liverpool and Manchester, and there are plenty of options.
No matter which airline you fly with, there are no baggage fees.
on Ryanair you get a small bag measuring 40 x 25 x 20cm. This equates to a smaller backpack and I use the Travel Hack Backpack.
With the EasyJet, it’s a bit bigger at 45 x 36 x 20 cm, and I use The Travel Hack Tote.
The main requirement is that these bags must fit under the seat in front of you.
Many of us are accustomed to using such small backpacks or shoulder bags for daily activities such as work, school, gym, etc. It seems crazy to use this for a week’s worth of clothing. But it’s quite possible.
The Travel Hack Backpack is perfect as a small in-flight bag as well as a day bag on arrival
Before we get into details about what to pack, let’s talk about luggage…
What’s the best small carry-on luggage?
Honestly, many of us already have bags at home that can be used to store small carry-on items. Something like the backpacks teenagers use in high school is best.
I prefer backpacks because even though bags aren’t very big, they can get heavy if you pack a lot inside. Waiting in line for a long time can make your shoulders feel heavy.
I also love the idea of a small suitcase, but I’ve never personally used one because I want a bag that can be used as a day bag while traveling.
I’ve introduced several small carry-on bags in this article, but here are my favorites:
- Cabin Max Manhattan Backpack
- Aerolite wheeled suitcase (too big for Ryanair)
- travel hack backpack
- Travel Hack Tote (too big for Ryanair, but I actually used it 7-8 times with no problems!)
- Safete Holdall
Do they ever actually measure your small carry on luggage?
Now, this is advice you really shouldn’t give because it’s against the rules. But I’ll say it anyway.
I have never had anyone measure, inspect, or re-inspect my small carry-on bag.
I’ve flown many times with carry-on luggage (note I said a little too big!) that I knew was a little too big for the airline, only to have it called into question. I’ve never had one.
That being said, just read a few reviews on Amazon for small free bags and you’ll see that many others have been denied certain packages. Does anyone know if this is because they overstuff the bag and it’s wider than it needs to be?
If you’re nervous about it, don’t take the risk.
What is the lightest cabin bag?
the lightest in-flight bag for small under-seat items is something like this 200g packable holdall.
It’s foldable, has a capacity of 25L, and weighs just over 200g.
If you’re concerned about weight, we recommend this duffel bag.
That said, I don’t care about weight.
Most airlines do not have a weight limit for small carry-on bags. And let’s be honest, the bag is so small that it won’t be ridiculously heavy anyway, unless you fill it up with gold bars.
I personally prefer to use a backpack with pockets and comfortable straps, as I find packable holdalls like this to be a bit inconvenient to carry.
What’s the smallest carry on luggage?
I don’t look for the smallest carry-on bag, but the largest bag available in the dimensions allowed.
Check the allowed sizes and look for your luggage accordingly.
Head over to Amazon, enter your measurements, and see all the results.
Can you get underseat wheeled suitcases?
Yes, yes, you can!
One of my favorite small carry-on options is this small under-seat suitcase from Cabin Max.
If you’d rather transport your luggage on wheels than carry it, this is the one for you.
And it actually looks really cute!
This small suitcase is perfect if you have difficulty carrying heavy bags. To be honest, I also fall into that category. Having a laptop and a few other heavy items in my bag makes it very heavy, so I’d rather carry it with me.
If you read the Amazon reviews for this case, opinions are divided as to whether it can be carried as under-seat luggage. Some people say it’s okay, some people say it’s not. Personally, I’d take the risk, but if I’m nervous about getting on a plane, I wouldn’t do it.
Do wheels count on carry on luggage in the size allowance?
Yes, yes, that’s right!
That’s why it’s best to avoid four-wheeled suitcases if possible. I know it’s great for getting around the airport, and the wheels are great, but his four wheels are taking up valuable space. So, if you want to maximize your carry-on space, avoid wheels altogether and opt for a backpack or duffel bag.
If you really need wheels, it’s best to look for one with two wheels that don’t stick out as much so you have more suitcase space for the dimensions allowed.
Do I need to worry about my luggage weight for my free bag?
No, you don’t need to worry. Many airlines do not have a weight limit for small carry-on bags. Remember that the main condition is that you need to be able to carry it yourself and that you may have to climb stairs.
Most passengers will need to be able to carry their own bags, although this will vary if you have a disability and request assistance when boarding the plane.
Which cabin bag is best for small free hand luggage?
Best small carry on luggage for Ryanair
When I fly with Ryanair, I use the Travel Hack Backpack. Be especially careful when flying with Ryanair as their free baggage allowance is one of the smallest. The bag needs to fit under the seat in front of you, but Ryanair seats are small so it’s obvious if the bag is too big.
I love that the Travel Hack Backpack has internal pockets for organization and large pockets that fit a lot. There are also pockets on the outside, so you can conveniently store items that are always easy to access, such as your cell phone, wallet, passport, documents, tablet, etc.
You can also get compressible packing cubes that fit perfectly inside your backpack. Compress your clothes to save a lot of space and fit like a dream.
Best small carry on luggage for easyJet
My favorite under-seat bag for the EasyJet is the Travel Hack Tote. There are many pockets inside and outside, convenient for organizing and has plenty of capacity!
What clothes should I pack when I’ve got carry on luggage only?
The clothes you pack when traveling in a small carry-on bag will depend on your destination, season, and, of course, your personal style.
So here are some outfits to bring on your European city break trip. If this was a winter trip, I would just wear fleece tights under my skirt.
If it’s a summer trip, I’d probably leave my thick jumper and boots at home.
- Choose thin and light materials
- Please wear bulky items (jeans, boots, jumpers, etc.) on the plane)
- Choose neutral pieces so you can easily mix and match and wear them again
My small carry on luggage packing list
Here’s what to wear on the plane:
- warm and comfortable boots
- thick jeans
- chunky yellow jumper
- Striped t-shirt
This is what I pack
- black skinny jeans
- 3 x midi skirt
- 1 x white shirt
- 1 x black jumper
- 1 x black cardigan (but I could have skipped this one as it is very chunky and looks very much like a black jumper)
- Black T-shirt with puffball sleeves x 1
- 1 x Black body T-shirt
- Pajamas (please get smaller ones)
- Underwear (put it in a small bag in case you need to open it at airport security)
- liquid/toiletry bags
- Make-up (other than liquid)
- mobile phone charger
- Water bottle
- hair iron
- Wash cloth/makeup remover cloth
To prove that this is possible, I packed all of this up and used the Travel Hack Compressible Packing Cube to fit it all inside my Travel Hack Backpack.
They were a tight fit, so if I were to wear them again, I would choose thinner, less bulky sandals since the soles are thicker. I’m also throwing away my black cardigan. I packed something warm and thick because I think it would look the same as a black jumper anyway.
The BEST tips if you’re travelling to a cold destination
If you’re traveling to a cold destination, it can be difficult to pack light because you’ll need big, bulky clothes to keep you warm.
My main tip is to wear one big and super warm coat!
Check out our list of the best heated jackets for women here.
That way, you can eliminate all the layers and jumpers as the big coat will keep you warm.
We also recommend purchasing brushed-lined tights. It’s small so it doesn’t take up much space, but it keeps you very warm. Looks great with a skirt or under baggy jeans!
Carry-on luggage for a summer city break
For a summer city vacation, it’s best to bring only carry-on luggage. A pair of sandals (I’m loving my Barbour Gabby sandals right now – they’re so comfortable and I can walk in them for miles!) and a simple, floaty summer dress that looks gorgeous but is barely wearable. It’s okay if you have a lot. Create more space in your carry-on bag.
I highly recommend using The Travel Hack Tote as it’s stylish, large enough and perfect for use as an arrival bag.
Should you use packing cubes?
Yes, I love stuffing cubes. Compressible packing cubes, in particular, remove air from bulky clothing and save a lot of space in small carry-on bags.
Packing cubes also help keep things organized and give you privacy when going through airport security. You may need to open your bag at security to remove liquids or electronics, but you don’t want your underwear spilling out!
Check out our blog post on packing cubes here!
Is there any value in packing cubes and does it save space?