Stylist's hand-luggage heroes: useful and stylish packing ideas for your carry-on

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Amy Swales
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Packing for a holiday is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's fun because packing means you're going away, finally. Oh, to eat, to drink, to ski, to lie in the sun, to look at old ruins, any or all of those things. But on the other hand, it's not fun. Because it's not fun.

What to pack in your hand luggage can be particularly difficult, a minefield of forgotten headphones and long boring hours playing peculiarly unsatisfying brick games in the back of someone's headrest.

We are here for you. From entertainment suggestions to combating recycled air and emergency provisions for when your hold luggage jets off on its own vacation, here are cabin bag suggestions for stylish, useful pieces worthy of a coveted spot in your carry-on.

If that's not enough, scroll to the end of our two-part guide to find five destinations (complete with must-pack items) perfect for a hand-luggage holiday from the experts at Travelzoo, so you can skip on checked-in bags completely, stroll off the flight with ease and smugly sidestep the carousels of doom.

Before you wander off into the sunset, we must remind you of one thing: check, check and check again when it comes to size and weight restrictions. As TravelSupermarket’s travel expert Bob Atkinson says, “If you are connecting from one to another or if you are returning on a different carrier, ensure you know the hand-luggage restrictions for all the airlines you are travelling with. The requirements can vary and it will affect your bag size, number of bags you’re allowed and whether there is any weight limit.”

Now, go forth and holiday like a pro.

Go, go gadget

Atkinson recommends consolidating technology. “Phones, iPods, laptops, tablets – these add weight and come with multiple chargers, so download guides, novels, films, games, music, etc onto one item. Notebooks and tablets are smaller than laptops and great if you're only travelling for a few days.” In which case, a smart portable charger makes sense. This chic Knomo leather purse has a built-in power pack and comes in 10 colours (£119, pictured in Lido blue,

Also consider...

A separate slimline charger might just be a lifesaver. This Paperchase beach huts design promises up to 90% battery life (£16.50,

Adaptors are essential. The Conran Shop's travel plug (EU version pictured, £20, has three USB ports for your all-important devices.

If travelling with someone, use a headphone splitter to listen to the same music (aww). This Jack Rabbit one is kinda cute and kinda grumpy (£6.95,

And... relax

On a long-haul flight, sleeping is utterly elusive yet completely necessary. Neom Organics' Essential Wellbeing kits contain a trio of 5ml products to uplift, de-stress or energise. Spritz a pillow or scarf with mist from the Essential Sleep kit (£20, to help you drift off. From 20 May, the website also offers a free Science of Scent set of four 5ml blends (you only pay P&P), so you can sniff out a favourite before purchasing.

Also consider...

Sleep masks can be uncomfortable, but this Dream Essentials Sweet Dreams moulded mask doesn't press against your eyes, giving proper REM sleep more  of a chance. Plus it comes with free earplugs (£8.95,

Your own headphones are always a plus, especially if you can effectively block out your fellow passenger's snores. BOSE QuietComfort 25 Noise-Cancelling headphones do just that (£249.99,

Even short haul, it's so nice to kick off your shoes. Some airlines provide socks, but if not, pack a pair of your own, such as these fun cotton-blend Jimmy Lion flamingo socks (£8, It's all about the ritual.

Stay organised

If, like the author of this piece, you are not trusted to carry your own passport by your other half, a document wallet keeps everything in one place. Forget the plastic folder thing your dad used to carry and opt for a classy number from swish French brand Laurige. This soft leather travel envelope, seen here in turquoise, looks more like a clutch, comes in three colours and can be embossed for that luxurious edge (£21.90,

Also consider...

A passport holder will keep your passport slightly less frayed at the edges. This maps design from Paperchase also looks purdy (£7.50,

Luggage tags definitely make you appear to be an organised, together kind of person. All the better if they stand out, like this Happy Jackson one (£6.95, 

Avoid trying to pay for your sangria with pennies and invest in a smart multi-currency wallet, such as Aspinal of London's four-pocketed version (£95,, to keep your monies separate.

Palette pal

Multi-functional items are your friends, so make-up palettes are a godsend. Charlotte Tillbury's Instant Look in a Palette has soft eyeshadows, enhancer, bronzer, blushes and highlighter in one place (£49,, plus it's not using up your precious liquids allowance. It's also worth taking a punt in the duty-free shop at the airport – they often have exclusive travel palettes and brands tend to be discounted.

Also consider...

There's more than one all-purpose balm beauty insiders love: Lanolips 101 Ointment is made from lanolin, more commonly found on sheep's wool, and is great on lips, elbows, cuticles, frizz or wherever you need a moisture boost (£10.99,

Face sprays and spritzes are a travel fave: they can be used over make-up, combat drying air con and are scented to invigorate or relax. Jurlique's Rosewater Balancing Mist has a calming vibe, and moisturises with aloe vera (£18,

But your face will really thank you for ditching in-flight make-up. If you don't have room in your see-through bag for cleanser, toner and moisturiser, proper face wipes (that actually remove make-up rather than push it around) are the next best thing. Cleanse by Lauren Napier are individually wrapped so they won't dry out en route (from £8,

Colour away boredom

Colouring is our favourite revived pastime. Stay travel-themed with Gulliver’s New Travels by illustrator James Gulliver Hancock. Inspired by the author’s namesake and his own colourful jaunts, the book has a touch of the personal and the fantasy: ideal for whiling away flight time about five hours in when reruns of The Big Bang Theory and the latest no-thinker action flick just aren't cutting it (RRP £9.99,

Also consider...

Good news knitters and sewers: all your kit is allowed on the plane. Just keep scissors under 6cm long. Stitch & Story has several beginners kits available (

You've got time to kill for once, so get creative. This A5 Paperchase Aqua Marine notebook comes with a ziplock so there's no danger of scribbled notes and holiday mementos going astray (£7,

Another childhood fave rediscovered, watercolour pencils can be used as normal colouring pencils or wet a little to create a watercolour effect (£3.49,

Hair today

We might think to protect hair from the sun or condition post-pool, but the actual flight can affect it too. Mark Leeson, global creative ambassador of haircare brand Goldwell, says, “Air travel is one of the worst environments for hair. As it does with skin, circulated air combined with high altitude zaps moisture and causes hair to become dry, static and frizzy. A nourishing smoothing oil will keep it hydrated. Kerasilk Control Rich Protective Oil can be applied to dry hair and used as a leave-in treatment whilst flying. The lightweight formula won’t leave your hair greasy, while the keratin and silk proteins help nourish and defend against drying air.”

Kerasilk Control Rich Protective Oil, £23.50, Goldwell salons

Also consider...

Ditch aerosols and choose a powder to revive locks if they're a bit lank after nine hours. Batiste XXL Plumping Powder (£3.99, is designed for volume and lift.

If not a dry shampoo fan, wrap up in a scarf and be done with it. Wear this skinny Topshop College scarf (£12, round your neck stepping onto the plane, and round your head stepping off.

Tangle Teezer is a hugely popular brand for a reason, so it's worth packing the compact model (£12, for your jollies.

Hand-luggage heroes

Millions of checked-in cases go missing wordwide every year, so it's worth packing a few extras if you can squeeze them in.

Knickers take up no room but could well spell the difference between mild annoyance and despair (x3 hipster briefs, £9.99,

A toothbrush is a no-brainer really: great for in-flight and off-flight should your case do a runner (Colgate Portable Soft, £1.50,

These Tory Burch travel ballet pumps (£205, come in several colours and are designed to fold up neatly into your bag. Winner.

The case

While travelling with only hand luggage could save you around £60, get your dimensions wrong and you'll get charged for a bag in the hold anyway (without the handy extra wardrobe space). Travel expert Atkinson points out that four popular short-haul carriers have different size and weight restrictions: “EasyJet will accept any weight as long as you can place it in the overhead locker and it is no bigger than 56x45x25cm.

“Ryanair allows one cabin bag per passenger, weighing up to 10kg and no bigger than 55x40x20cm, plus one small bag.

“British Airways allows one cabin bag per passenger weighing up to 23kg and no bigger than 56x45x25cm, plus one small bag: either a personal handbag (maximum 40x330x15cm) or a laptop.

“Thomson allows one cabin bag per passenger, weighing up to 5kg and no bigger than 55x40x20cm.”

To play it safe, opt for a carry-on well under all the restrictions. Ted Baker's Betzie Dispersed travel bag (£169, is extremely compact, coming in at 40cm high, 35cm wide and 18cm deep.

Also consider...

These cases are some of the lightest on the market. This American Tourister Lightway is a four-wheel spinner trolley case and tips the scales at 1.2kg (55x35x20, £99,

The Lowe Alpine AT Lightflite (40L) meanwhile weighs just 0.76kg. It's a rucksack, but the harness straps can be folded away to carry it like a case (50x35x20cm, £65,

IT Luggage World's Lightest two-wheel trolley case comes in a range of designs and weighs in at a respectable 1.67kg. And there's a pug on it (55x40x20, £25,

Travelzoo's top five hand-luggage destinations

The wonderful folk at Travelzoo have used their expertise to choose five destinations for that are perfect for a hand luggage-only holiday. Who needs a suitcase anyway?

New York, USA

Flight duration from London: 7hr 30
Average temperature for June/July: 24°C with highs of 28°C
Must pack: English chocolate, because American chocolate just doesn’t cut it

You’ll have to resist the famed shopping of 5th Avenue in order to stay within the hand-baggage limits, but this iconic city has much to offer beyond Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s. See the sights, such as the Statue of Liberty, Rockefeller Centre, Empire State Building, Times Square and Central Park, have an evening walk along The High Line and take in the city lights with cocktails at 230 Fifth, New York’s largest outdoor rooftop garden. For eats, try The Smile (a cool restaurant you won’t find in guide books), Blue Hill, which sources all of its ingredients locally, and Beauty & Essex, a gorgeous restaurant and bar hidden away behind a pawn shop. Stay in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for a relaxed vibe.

Bologna, Italy

Flight duration from London: 2hrs
Average temperature for June/July: 23°C with highs of 28°C
Must pack: comfortable footwear – it's spread out, so you'll be walking lots

One of Italy’s best kept secrets, Bologna is great for a romantic mini-break and foodies are spoilt for choice. There are lots of beautiful churches and religious sites to explore, as well as museums, then head to Via Farini or Via Indipendenza for shopping. At 5pm, it’s aperitivo time, so order an Aperol Spritz and people watch 'til dinner. Bologna is renowned for its superb cuisine, so make sure you eat in as many different trattorias and restaurants as you can fit in. Piazza Maggiore is a great base and very central.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Flight duration from London: 2hrs 30
Average temperature for June/July: 21°C with highs of 27°C
Must pack: Your Game of Thrones t-shirt – Dubrovnik was the main filming location for King’s Landing and there are themed tours

Dubrovnik is a beautiful, enchanting and charming city. The Old Town is overflowing with history and it has a truly magical atmosphere. Get an amazing view of the glittering Adriatic Sea from the old city walls, and take in music, theatre, opera and dance performances during the world-renowned Dubrovnik Summer Festival (July to August). Enjoy sundowners at Buza Bar, built into the cliffs with panoramic sea views, and there are some great pizza restaurants in the Old Town, and plenty of gelato to be found along the Stradun (main street) after dinner. Stay in Ploce – it requires a walk but has fantastic views of the Old Town, the harbour and the sea.

Marrakech, Morocco

Flight duration from London: 3hrs 45
Average temperature for June/July: 27°C with highs of 37°C
Must pack: Antibacterial hand gel/wet wipes – not the most exciting, but you’ll probably get hot and sticky in the Medina

Whether you’re looking for a jam-packed city break, a lazy sun-drenched getaway, or a combination of both, Marrakech is a great hand-baggage option. Spend the day discovering the souks in the Medina, getting lost and buying things you don’t need, and if you can stick the heat, it comes alive at night for a taste of the real Morocco. Recover at a Moroccan Hammam afterwards, and check out Jardin Majorelle, a garden formerly owned by Yves Saint Laurent (but avoid the overpriced café). Stay in one of Marrakech’s authentic and historic riads near the souks in the Medina or there are plenty of luxury hotels further out.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Flight duration from London: 1hr 50
Average temperature for June/July: 16°C with highs of 20°C
Must pack: A small umbrella – the weather is very unpredictable

This city combines cafés and culture in equal measure and is another great destination for foodies, overflowing with Michelin-starred restaurants and bakeries with their famous pastries (though it’s worth noting that food doesn’t come particularly cheap in this part of the world). Hop on a bike to make the most of the city before spending the evening in the Meatpacking District, where you’ll find trendy bars, friendly people and great restaurants. We also recommend spending a day at Amager Beach Park, Copenhagen’s artificial white-sand beach, if the sun shines. Stay in Nyhavn with its pastel-coloured cafés and bars right by the canal and picturesque surroundings. This neighbourhood is often busy with tourists and locals but still feels relaxed and friendly.