How to backpack for months with just hand luggage

Everyone we met was shocked (and impressed) that two girls were travelling with just hand luggage but, honestly, its easy and so worth it.

Why should you do it?

  • No waiting at baggage carousels for your luggage wondering if they even put it on the plane
  • Save money by not paying for hold luggage
  • Save time checking in – you can check in online, print your boarding pass, before you get to the airport, and go straight through to security
  • It makes travelling from place to place so much easier – walking with a 40l backpack is easy
  • You get to laugh at people struggling with massive backpacks that look like they’re carrying their whole family and applaud yourself for being such a savvy traveller

How do you do it?

The bag

First of all, you need to maximise your potential space. This means the right bag. There are other bags on the market, and I swear I’m not an ambassador for Osprey but, the Osprey Farpoint 40 is the dream bag. At RRP £80 its an investment but believe me, you wont regret it. Usually, roughly 40 litres in capacity and 7kg in weight is the maximum you can take on as hand luggage, for both international and domestic flights. In reality, people were taking on larger bags no problem, particularly in Asia where security is just is not on the same scale as other places. Regardless, the Osprey fits the requirements and makes for a smooth process through security.

The wonderful Osprey Farpoint

The wonderful Osprey Farpoint

If my bias persuasion hasn’t sold you on the Osprey, these other bags might be worth checking out:

The Tortuga travel backpack (which can also be found on

The Minaal Carry-on

The REI Vaganbond

You can also check out these blogs which have reviewed a number of different travel backpacks: Snarky Nomad, Never Ending Voyage and The Yoga Nomads.

What you actually need

All travellers will tell you that you only need about half of what you think you need and they’re right. You probably don’t even need that.

  • Liquids

The main thing to remember when travelling with hand luggage is restriction on liquids. You are limited to 10 100ml bottles of liquid and they all need to fit in 1 sealed, clear plastic bag. This is doable, even for girls with unruly hair who need a mass of hair products. It’s worth noting that products that everyone in the world uses are going to be affordable in the country you’re going to. However, things like suncream and bug spray that are only really used by westerners will be expensive out there – so use this as guide as what to take.

So, what are the musts?

  • Suncream (we recommend Riemann P20 once a day lotion)
  • Bug spray (with at least 50% deet protection, own brands are available in most drugstores which is cheaper than the branded stuff)
  • An antihistamine cream to sooth the bites (you will get bitten)
  • Some shampoo and toothpaste (but remember you can get it out there)
  • Hand sanitiser
  • Deodorant (roll on only as aerosols are not always allowed)
  • An antiseptic cream
  • Moisturiser or after-sun lotion

If you leave something behind it’s likely going to be available in a supermarket or chemist in your destination. In Asia, medication is giving out like candy and you can get heavy narcotics without a prescription.

As for storing these products, check out these nifty bottles ideal for taking small amounts of liquids and these cosmetic bags to carry them in.

  • Clothing

You really don’t need a lot of clothing, you’ll likely be moving from place to place quite often so you can wear the same clothes again. And as for getting it all clean, nearly everywhere you stay will offer a laundry service. And worst case, just pop to the many markets and buy a new t-shirt for just a few US dollars.

Our packing list was fairly small and we just took a few of each item. It helped being 2 girls of a similar size so that we could wear each others clothes.

Our packing list for Asia

Our packing list for Asia

As you can see, for over 2 months of travel our clothing was pretty limited but I didn’t even wear all of my clothes. We got our stuff washed about once a week and this was ideal.

In terms of cramming all your clothes into your backpack, you need to invest in some packing cubes. All my clothes fitted into just 2 of those packing cubes, which left loads of space for everything else…

  • Everything else

Depending on who you are will determine what other things you want to bring; if you’re a keen photographer a lot of your space might be taken up my camera gadgets but check out the packing list above to see what else we took with us. We also took with us a small 10 litre backpack that fit inside the front pocket of the Osprey, which we used as a day pack, between us, when we were in Asia. We also both had bum bags (or as the Americans call them – fanny packs) which were really useful to keep money and phones in to prevent theft and just because they are really handy!

Katrina 🙂


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