Sunday, 28 April 2013

Travelling on an aeroplane with only hand luggage

Lugging that 20kg suitcase downstairs and to the car can be hassle enough. Once at the airport, you grab that trolley and head to the check-in desk, which isn't too bad yet you know the pinnacle of frustration is once you've landed: you're at the luggage conveyor, jostling with other travelers watching, waiting for their bag to wind its way to their side of that flat rubber snake.

Seriously, I've had enough of that. Not to mention the extra charges that may be applied for check-in luggage.

We are now able to print off boarding passes online, and so it's possible to head direct to security, hold up our passports and stroll to the departure gate. Easy. We don't need to check in a heavy suitcase, all we need to do is simply pack light from the outset, and off we go!

That is precisely what my wife and I did last week. Okay, so you're thinking "What the hell did you pack?" Yes, we had hand luggage only. Going by airline guidelines we were each allowed 5kg in a bag of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm dimensions.

Before and after security, respectively

In the past, what I used to pack is quite ridiculous. Technology now allows us to forget about personal stereos and a dozen cassettes, three novels and a chunky video camera. That's what compact cameras, smart phones and e-books are for. (Actually, don't get me started on e-books! I'm old-school: I stuffed a paperback in each pocket of my combats, but I'm getting ahead of myself).

Think about it, we don't need a t-shirt for every day of the holiday, nor three different pairs of "smart" trousers for the evenings, five "smart" shirts and certainly we don't need a fresh change of underwear each and every day. Be prepared to give your undies a quick soak in a sink and hang them in the sun.

Remember, you'll be spending most of the time in your bikini or swimming trunks, right?

So, back to the bag: all you need is a 30L rucksack (see image above). Nothing special. Even though when packed full it's over 55cm, when you squash its top down it'll be within the size restrictions. Don't worry.
My bag contained the necessary stuff: underwear, a couple of shirts, shorts, extra pair of combats, swimming trunks, sandals, and a microfibre travel towel (those things are awesome, and ultra-lightweight). Oh, plus I had my Dharma Initiative bag which is now an important accessory to any of my adventures. I had a few other bits in there too. Of course, I must add I packed the required clear plastic bag full of little bottles (no larger than 100ml) containing shampoo, shower gel, deodorant, sun cream, etc.

On this side of security, the rucksack weighed a little less than 5kg. 

The jacket with deep pockets

This next part is the important bit, so take note. Adding to my list was a baggy jacket with plenty of deep pockets, and also a pair of combats, again with a number of pockets. You'll see where this is going. Yes, I've mentioned the word "pockets" twice so far because it's the keyword for this whole blog: it's all about pockets.

I stuffed the jacket with my Dharma bag, phone charger and adapter, headache tablets, playing cards, my ever-trusty notebook and three pens, and a couple of rolled up t-shirts. Not forgetting my camera, spare battery and memory cards. Also, I helped my wife out with her bag weight, so I squeezed in a pack of face wipe things  they weighed a lot, just on their own!

In total, the jacket weighed 2kg.

What to wear at the airport

Wearing a few extra layers, and my hat and sunglasses, I stuck a Dean Koontz novel in one combat pocket and a Clive Barker novel in the other, keeping my wallet and phone in the smaller ones. Clutching my passport, boarding pass, and 10,000 words of The Shadow Fabric and the all-important editing pen (yeah, that Red Pen of Doom), I made my way to security...

There, those trays were waiting. I pulled one out and threw my bag into it, tugged my jacket off and wedged that next to the rucksack. Then emptied my pockets and poked my books, travel documents and novel extract between them and walked through the metal detector.

The security archway buzzed: I'd forgotten to remove my belt and a packet of mints, and so the guy had to give me the once over with his metal-detecting wand. He was happy I wasn't hiding a gun anywhere, and so let me pass.

Grabbing my tray from the other side of the x-ray machine, it was time to use my rucksack's full capacity. The jacket I rolled up and stuck in there, plus my shirt and books, and The Shadow Fabric extract. Ah, and my hat and sunglasses. All gone. Hidden... Now my bag weighed more than 7kg. Easy.

That bag was still small enough to sit between my feet on the plane.

Flying with ease

No one weighed my bag (nor my wife's), nor did anyone measure them. So, perhaps all our hard effort – and cunning packing  was in vain, who knows? Either way, we followed the guidelines.

Once landed, we walked direct to our awaiting transfer. Not needing to join everyone else at the luggage conveyor, when usually I'd get annoyed when someone slams a trolley into the backs of my legs, or stands so close I can smell what they ate for lunch.

Two things I must add: firstly, I forgot to remove from my rucksack the plastic bag containing the liquids and gels so the dudes at security could see what brands I smelled of. And second, I must confess that between my wife and I, we managed to take three blades onto the aircraft. No one challenged us. We had a razor packed (to be honest, we did that out of curiosity), but smuggling my two pencil sharpeners onboard was purely by accident. I'd left them in my Dharma bag.

We made it to our destination, enjoyed our stress-free holiday and returned home, again with no problem. No one weighed or measured our bags anywhere. All three blades still with us.

What to pack in your hand luggage when travelling light

This is just a guide, so add and take away what you will. Please remember, this blog applies to a holiday in a hot country where you intend to spend most of the time laying beneath the sun, beside the pool and occasionally visiting places of interest. And where your evenings are relaxed, enjoying the traditions of local life.

I doubt that packing light would work for the Inca Trail or a ski trip, but let me know if you manage it!

30L rucksack containing:

- 3 pairs of pants / knickers
- 3 pairs of socks
- 2 shirts / dresses
- trunks / bikini
- a pair of shorts
- 2 t-shirts / vest tops
- a microfibre travel towel
- pair of lightweight trousers / leggings
- a pair of sandals / flip-flops
- and the plastic bag containing liquids and gels
  (you may even consider buying this lot at your destination)

Jacket containing:

- phone charger
- travel adapter
- playing cards
- camera, spare battery and memory cards
- smaller items of clothing (roll 'em up tight!)
- headache tablets or any other medication
- smaller bag (handbag or "man" bag)
- and anything else that's heavy


- underwear
- t-shirt
- long-sleeved top (or even a jumper if you worry the nights may be cooler)
- smart shirt
- combats with big pockets containing your novels (or e-book reader),
  phone and wallet, mints, etc.
- hat
- sunglasses (yeah, you'll look like a celebrity but who cares?)
- and the aforementioned jacket with those deep pockets


- Passport
- Travel documents
- and your holiday project: a puzzle book or, in my case, 10,000 words
  of my novel, The Shadow Fabric.

Moral of the story? Wear lots of layers, each with many pockets. If you wish, you can buy yourself a travel waistcoat containing massive compartments (these are beginning to prove popular), then through security perhaps you can wear 10kg or more. Don't worry about lugging that extra weight around, it's only for a few minutes, because once on the other side you can pour it all into your rucksack. With such a waistcoat, perhaps that gives you 15kg to play with if you're unsure whether you can pack as light as we did.

Think about it next time you travel on a plane. It's definitely going to be the norm for us.

Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook:

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