The Pro’s and Cons Of Travelling With Hand Luggage Only

13799 27

For the last three months I have flown internationally and domestically between mainland Malaysia, Borneo, Thailand, Burma and Cambodia – with only a 30 litre backpack (it’s actually a laptop bag). There were many reasons why I took this challenge and it’s definitely been an interesting and exigent test to my journey.

It’s not all black and white. Some parts of travelling with only hand luggage have been glorious and other times it’s been a complete pain in the arse. Here’s what I have loved and hated about the experience, should you ever consider go light on your travels.


Walking past queues of stressed-looking people, waiting to weigh in their huge bags at the counters: I just turn up an hour before the flight and print out my boarding pass via Air Asia’s touch-screen computers. I have saved many hours off my travel time doing this and it’d be very hard to go back to the inconvenience of waiting. Bish, bash, bosh! Cuppa tea, please.


Lack of clothing options. Also, I was cold for the first time in 8 months, trekking from Kalaw to Inlay Lake, but I didn’t have any warm weather gear.

This is a determining factor to my disdain because I absolutely hate the cold!


Not having to trust a complete stranger with my worldly belongings: I used to die a little inside when I’d wave bye-bye to my big backpack onto the conveyor belt. Travelling with hand luggage only, enables me complete freedom and absolute control over what happens to my gear. And I really like it that way.

Making friends on Air Asia 🙂


Although it’s nice to have complete responsibility for my bag when getting on a bus or a plane, I find it problematic to store my bag when seated. My hand luggage is bulky and tends to not fit in any overhead compartments and I end up having to sit with it on my lap. Not good for a long journey!


Less packing time!


Not being able to buy any souvenirs: I’m a man, men like to collect things. One day, when I’m all settled and whatnot, I want a great big ‘man wall’ with souvenirs from every country that I have visited.

Other men will look at my man wall in admiration and wish they had a man wall too. I also want a big ‘man drawer’ for really macho things like tribal daggers. *Beats chest*

It’s pretty much impossible to do this right now, unless I buy a storage unit and Fedex everything straight away. Food for thought.


Having less weight on my back: Sure, I love a good physical challenge, but I am already keeping an eye on my posture after hours of sitting at a laptop and it has already improved with this change.

Conclusion – will I go back?

I’ve heard many people who have made the transition to travel light, completely fall in love with it and proclaim that there is no way they are turning back. I don’t think I’m one of them (yet) and I’m still not sure if I’m going to commit to being a full time light traveller.

However, I think there are adjustments that I could make to make this more enjoyable. For example, I think I’ll give smaller compression sacks another go and I may buy the same size back pack as the one now, but a transformable one with wheels. These tend to be of firmer material and I’m thinking I could pack more stuff in, more efficiently with one of them bad-boys.

Nevertheless, I’m not giving up on travelling with hand luggage only just yet. Anything that saves me time is always worth persisting with, as time is precious and I don’t like it being needlessly wasted.

Are you a hand luggage traveller only? Have you tried it, converted back or stuck to it? Any suggestions to make the experience more love, and less hate?

Join the Conversation


  1. Adrian Land Reply

    I made the conscious choice never to travel with luggage when on work trips. There are a number of reasons. The main one as you said is such convenience.

    If you check in and have your boarding pass on your phone (sadly only some airlines so far), you pack and wear wisely e.g. no belts and all purpose shoes (work and smart casual) you can get through the airport from front door to departure gate in <30mins.

    When you are on short business trips, time is not your friend and having to get somewhere super early to fight with unnecessarily large queues and badly prepared tourists who pack/unpack at the check in gate seems pointless and adds stress.

    But it means that unplanned activities can't really be done. But not that bigger deal on work trips. Personal long trips I just join the back of the queue knowing it could have been different!

    1. Anthony Reply

      Hey Adrian,

      That’s a great idea mate, I’m finding it harder for long-term travel though :/

  2. Jaime Reply

    I know we just had an entire conversation on your FB, but um yeah I love my 40L for the one reason you mention here the “MAN WALL” as for me I want a “MAN TRAVEL SHELF” filled with things around the world and well since my bag is bigger I am able to buy a few things here and there and carry them around until I know I will be sending things home. Since you are not sure if you wanna be a LIGHT TRAVELER for ever then think about the bag I showed ya… really 40L plus 10L if you need it is PERFECT. It’s often times hand luggage and sometimes not, but I have everything I need plus space for extra things. As much as I would love to go lighter I know I just can’t. And once again we are dealing with life and NOT HAVING IT ALL. Why can’t we ever just have it all…lol!!!

    1. Anthony Reply


      hahaha yes let’s continue the novel from our Facebook timelines 😛 40 plus 10 is edging on the possibility of “maybe, or maybe not” hand luggage and that confuses me even more!

      Right – that’s it! Me, you, Christine and Paul will have a “Come Dine with Me” type of series and we have to vote who has the best ‘man-wall’ out of us all! (No stealing please).

  3. stacey Reply

    I can’t do lightweight travel…I own it and accept it. Even 20kg is low for me. Whilst I like the freedom of travelling light, as a woman who does not want to forgo fashion in favor of MC Hammer pants and crocs…(who also can’t shop in Thailand because of the sizes) ….I tend to bring what I will need for at least 6 months. 30kgs is the norm…lovin’ Emirates for accommodating that at no extra cost.

    I could not get my shoes into the back pack you pictured…

    1. Anthony Reply


      I know you personally and you is a diva 😉

  4. Cally Reply

    We each travelled with bags the maximum permitted carry-on size of 22×14×9 inches (56×36×23cm) (I dont know what the volume is) which gave us ample room to pack enough for nearly 5 months travel and some space for gifts. Yes, we did send some “man wall” stuff home – over 20kgs! The down side was that my husband decided he had to take his golf clubs on the trip, so we were waiting for luggage anyway! I only packed one pair of thongs (flip flops) along with the walking boots I wore. I should have packed another pair of shoes for evening, especially since he packed his golf shoes! The key was to make sure everything coordinated. 3 shirts & 3 trousers = 9 outfits. It was all bought new, so I didn’t get bored with it. A few scarves purchased along the way brightened things up & changed the look of outfits. I would do it all again – minus the golf clubs.

  5. Paul Reply

    I now want a man wall

    1. Anthony Reply

      Join us, Paul!!

  6. Elaine Reply


    Nothing to do at all with the size of your bags, but lovely to see your blog arrive in my inbox, have no idea where the others have been for the past months. Great to see you doing so well, miss your phone calls. Sending love.


    1. Anthony Reply

      Elaine, my darling!

      Yeah I kind of went off the boil for a bit, but now I’m back 🙂 I’m going to call you next week, seeing so I don’t see you online on Skype these days. Looking forward to a catch up.

      Lots of love, pet 🙂


  7. Fred Reply

    Nice run down, Anthony. As a carry-on-only traveler I have two suggestions for a better bag. (1) Find a bag that’s more rectangular. It will give you more packing space for a given set of dimensions. Here’s a full explanation: (2) Use a bag made of tougher material (1060-1680D nylon). The thicker nylon will give the bag more structure like you mentioned in your conclusion.

    Definitely don’t use a convertible backpack. The wheels add more weight than you’ll want to carry. Most multipurpose tools are mediocre at everything and good at nothing.

    1. Anthony Reply

      Cheers for the tips, mate! The rectangular thing makes sense now that you point it out – could you recommend a particular model? Hmmm, interesting that you’re not a fan of the wheels – the search for the perfect backpack goes on!

  8. Christine Reply

    Gosh, I want a man wall. This is very admirable, although I think looking dapper is quite important!

    1. Anthony Reply

      Hey Christine,

      You can come and visit me when I am settled (no time in the near future) and admire my man-wall 🙂 I totally agree about the dapper importance – pretty much all of my gear is clothes to compensate. Got some lovely shirts in there, but alas – no iron to give them the full potential that they deserve :/

  9. Cally Reply

    I was going to mention in my post. I learnt everything about traveling light from this website. And I was able to look dapper, just with a smaller wardrobe. 9 changes of clothes before I had to repeat any outfit is more than enough when traveling, plus there was no time spent working out what to wear!

    1. Anthony Reply

      Thanks, Cally!

      I’ve bookmarked that, because I really need some extra help for how long I do decide to do this for.

  10. Val Hamer Reply

    Great article. As a fairly low maintenance female I don’t have a problem travelling light. The issue for me is the restrictions imposed on hand luggage. I need my special nail scissors, (for legitimate reasons.)

    1. Anthony Reply

      Cheers, Val!

      I carry nail clippers and have never had them took off me after the x-ray 🙂 Nail scissors freak me out a bit

  11. Ed Rex Reply

    I did that once when I went travelling in Ireland for one week with some friends. The disdain looks i got from my friends when I would cheerily walk off the plane and grab a pint of Guinness while I waited for my friends to collect their baggage…one of them whose bag was misplaced n the wrong flight!

    Well done on your challenge!

    1. Anthony Reply

      Hey Stranger!

      Hahahe see – I just don’t trust people with my stuff! Hear stories like this all of the time

  12. Tim Richards Reply

    I agree with Fred; I see luggage with wheels and I just think “unnecessary weight”. Once a backpack is down below 10kg there’s no reason it can’t be carried on your back, and it’s much less likely to pull a muscle there anyway, as the weight is evenly spread.

  13. Tim Richards Reply

    While I think of it, I wrote a blog post recently about what I pack in my cabin-luggage-only travels – may be of interest:

  14. Jeremy Reply

    Ha love your description of the Aussies in Asia, beater, flipped up flat brim and short shirts, ready for any bird coming their way.

    1. Anthony Reply

      Hahaha – that’s a very touchy subject. Every Australian I have met lately has been – well…an arrogant, racist prick – to be honest!

  15. Rebecca Reply

    I go back and forth. I am usually a hand luggage only gal (especially for weekend trips) but I usually “invest” in checked luggage once a year for my big vacation.

    People that don’t know how to pack the overhead bins piss me off so much. Stop laying everything out, it’s going to get squished together anyway!

    1. Anthony Reply

      Hahaha Rebecca,

      Well you would have LOVED me when I rushed my packing at the end of my Burmese bus trip 😛