Stumbling through life, one day at a time

Hand Luggage Only: How To Travel With Just A Handbag

A few months ago I went on a bit of an obsessive foray into the world of getting out of your comfort zone. It lead me to making absolutely no changes to my day-to-day life but I do feel like I’ve gained valuable knowledge and inspiration from the blogs/articles I read during that time. Inspired, I started writing a list of things which would be out of my own comfort zone – some things can barely be seen on the horizon from my comfort zone as they are that far out, some are a little closer.

One of the things I wrote was travelling to another country with a minimal amount of stuff.

I’ve always been someone with too many belongings. I’ve had friends’ parents comment on how they’ve never seen a child’s bedroom with so much stuff in it, I moved out of my childhood home and have left most of my belongings there yet I still struggle to find space for everything I do have, and I once travelled around the USA with the biggest suitcase I’ve ever seen in my life. I think that was an eye-opener and, in the four years since I returned from that trip, I haven’t travelled with a suitcase since.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my home comforts but I just don’t need them on a trip. I also like the idea of just not being able to use something I haven’t brought. If it’s not in my bag I can’t use it, and I can either let it spoil my trip or just get on with it. So, on my recent trip to Portugal, I decided to travel there for a week with nothing but whatever I could fit in a handbag. How? Read on to find out!

What I packed:

  • one pair of socks
  • 15 pairs of underwear
  • one dress
  • one pair of summer trousers
  • two skirts
  • 6 t-shirts
  • Pyjamas
  • Swimming costume
  • one day bag
  • plug adapter
  • phone charger and portable charger
  • one book
  • my journal
  • toothbrush
  • travel sized toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, toothbrush)
  • minimal make-up (powder, mascara, eye-liner, lipstick, eye-brow pencil)
  • make-up wipes
  • passport / purse / money
  • Regular sized sun-cream and deodorant (bought at the airport)

What I wore to the airport:

  • strappy t-shirt
  • long black skirt
  • jumper
  • denim jacket
  • sandals
  • sunglasses
  • refillable water bottle (carrying)

Things I didn’t take:

  • leggings/comfy loungewear
  • bikini
  • razor / shaving cream
  • foundation (there was no way I was risking my Fenty getting broken)
  • Hair brush (forgotten not deliberately not packed)
  • extra jewellery
  • extra shoes/jackets
  • Towel (these are usually provided in accommodation)
  • Travel documents (I had all of these on my phone – boarding pass, insurance, booking confirmations)
Sorry for the terrible circa 2009 mirror selfie but it’s all I had to show the size of my bag

Top tips:

Plan outfits before you go: I always lay out different outfits on my bed before I pack them. You might have a gorgeous top that you love but if it only goes with a certain pair of trousers, I wouldn’t pack it. The trick is to take a few versatile pieces that go with everything. This means lots of block colours and denim. I ended up with a long black skirt, a short black skirt and a denim skirt. Most of my tops were white as that goes with everything, and the sandals I wore were black so I knew they’d go with every outfit.

Think about how many shoes you realistically need: I usually like to take a pair of closed shoes like trainers of Converse that I can walk around in during the daytime, a dressier pair for night time, and a pair of sandals for beach days. As I was trying to force an extra pair of shoes into a handbag I thought, do I really need these or will one pair of sandals be enough? Turns out the sandals are enough.

100ml toiletries are enough: Especially if you’re only going away for a week or two. You don’t need to buy regular sized toiletries in the airport as they’ll just take up space and will be a waste of money as you won’t finish them and you’ll have to leave the behind when you come home. The only things I bought which were regular sized were sun-cream because you should definitely finish a bottle in a week, and deodorant because it was the height of summer

Roll don’t fold: You can fit more in if you roll your clothes rather than folding them. They also don’t get as creased by doing this.

Minimal denim: Try not to take clothes made out of material like denim as they tend to be bulkier and don’t roll/fold as well. In the summer try to pack flimsy, summery clothes and wear any denim you want to take to the airport.

Utilise all the space: Try to use all of the pockets/compartments of your bag. I usually pack a small day bag but I put small things in it like money, chargers, jewellery etc as it usually doesn’t change the size of the bag and you’re utilising extra available space. Also, when packing a suitcase I usually like to put all underwear on the bottom them pack everything else on top. When packing hand luggage only this wastes space. Instead, pack everything then shove your underwear in between wherever there is space. Works a treat.

Things I would do differently:

Buy a razor: I hate buying razors when travelling with just hand luggage as you either have to spend a lot of money on one or buy a pack with lots in. Either way it feels like a waste of money as they have to be left behind when coming home. Towards the end of the trip though I was starting to feel a little bit self-conscious about my hairy legs! I know this was a way to get out of my comfort zone and I know there are bigger things to worry about but, if I was staying for any longer, I would have caved and bought some.

Taken more socks and comfy clothes: I was staying in hostels and I do not want to be walking bare-foot around a hostel. I thought one pair of socks would be enough as I wouldn’t be wearing them for long each day – just walking to and from the bathroom. Turns out I would have liked a couple of extra pairs. I also would have liked a comfy pair of leggings to lounge around in at night, especially in those moments after getting back for the night and before going to sleep. The hostels I stayed in all had rooftops too so it would have been nice to have something covering my legs as it got a bit chilly in the evenings.

Take a bigger bag: Taking only a handbag was doable and easier to carry around, but I’m not sure it’s worth the hassle of limiting belongings. It was also a struggle to pack again when coming home. If you’re a light packer anyway I definitely recommend. For me, though, I think I’ll stick to under-packing my duffle bag!

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