How to pack for a weekend city break using only hand luggage – a definitive checklist

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Last weekend, a few close friends of mine and I escaped on a weekend visit to beautiful Berlin. We had managed to nab a flight at a really good price on a budget airline and visit what currently seems to be the coolest city in Europe. The problem with budget flights, though, is that unless you go for the absolute basic package, the extras really tend to add up, especially baggage allowance, and you’re left paying close to what you would have paid on a ‘normal’ flight. My solution: do away with your suitcase completely. You can definitely fit in enough stuff for a city break in your hand luggage, and I’m happy to show you how to pack. Here is my list:

The Bags

  1. A carry-on suitcase: go for the largest one allowed (usually 55x35x20cm). You don’t have to spend a lot of money on this, but if you travel a lot, make sure the bag you buy is durable. Oh, and get one with wheels; they’re a lot easier to carry and won’t tire you out if you have to walk long distances.
  2. A make-up bag: Anything will do. It’s usually best to get flat-shaped ones because they are more easily packed. Buy a small one; you won’t be taking much make-up with you.
  3. A bag for toiletries: I like packing things in separate bags because it’s easier to organise your luggage this way and if you really want to find a specific item in a hurry, you don’t run the risk of losing things.
  4. A bag for first aid: Most hotels and hostels have first aid equipment if you need it, but it’s prudent to pack a few items of your own, just in case.


The essentials

  1. Passport – the most important thing you’ll pack. Check repeatedly to make sure you haven’t forgotten this before you leave the house. It is unlikely you’ll be able to travel without it.
  2. Documents – flight ticket, hotel reservation document, car rental document, and so on. It’s likely you’ll be able to use your mobile to show these in most places, but if you can print them out and take them with you, do.
  3. Wallet – Don’t take too much cash with you. You won’t need all that much for the weekend. Account for transport, food, and accommodation.
  4. Your credit card – Because there are ATMs wherever you go. Keep it in a separate compartment to your cash, just in case it gets stolen.
  5. A book or e-Reader – Especially if you’re on a relatively long flight, or you have long train or coach journeys.
  6. A notebook and pen – To take down any ideas, or things you really want to remember about your trip, especially if you plan to write/blog about it later.
  7. Your phone – Obviously. Have a look and see if there are any apps you can download to make the most of your trip, like offline guides to the city, currency converters and dictionaries, if you are in a non-English-speaking country.
  8. Chargers and earphones – Don’t forget to research what sort of electrical sockets are used in the country you’re travelling to and buy an adapter if needed.
  9. I haven’t included a camera on this list because most phones now double up as high quality cameras, but if you have a separate camera you’d rather use, don’t forget to pack it, and possibly and extra SD card.


What to wear

You want to make sure you’re comfortable when you’re travelling, but remember if you layer up on the flight, you’ll be able to take more clothes with you without packing them up. Here’s the way I do it:

Weekend break - wear
  1. A pair of jeans – versatile, durable, and comfortable. You can’t really go wrong with a good pair of jeans. Make sure they’re jeans you’ve worn before and which fit you properly; you don’t want to end up with a button digging into your belly for the entire duration of the flight.
  2. A vest in a neutral colour – You can wear this under your outfit if the weather gets cold, or you can wear it on its own or with a cardigan if it’s warm.
  3. A sweater in a colour of  your choice – I usually stick to black because basically everything I own is black, but I hear other people enjoy colours (?)
  4. A jacket or coat – This depends on your own personal style. You don’t even have to wear the coat, just drape it over your arm. It doesn’t count as hand luggage and you may find yourself needing it if you’re out at night.
  5. Your bulkiest shoes – I only take one pair of shoes with me when I travel, but that’s because I’d wear army boots with everything if I could. If you’re taking two pairs, wear the bulkiest on the plane to save space in your bag.
  6. A scarf – Keeps you warm AND stylish. Win.
  7. Jewellery – I tend to wear all the jewellery I’m taking with me, which usually isn’t much anyway: a couple of rings, a necklace, my bangles and a pair of earrings. Just remember to remove them when you go through the metal detector at the airport to keep from wasting time.
  8. Sunglasses – Protect your face from the sun while you’re out sightseeing. Just pop them on your head and forget all about them during the flight.


What clothes to pack


  1. A black dress – because you’ll probably be wanting to go out and experience the nightlife of the city, and because black dresses look amazing paired with army boots. Really.
  2. But if you don’t trust me, you can pack a second pair of shoes. Make them lightweight. Flats are best because they don’t take up lots of space.
  3. A t-shirt or another sweater – depending on what the weather forecast says for the weekend you’ll be there. Remember to roll your clothes instead of folding them because it keeps them from getting creased and saves on space.
  4. A light cardigan – in black or grey or any other neutral colour which will match the rest of your clothes. I tend to stick to black and grey and use scarves to add colour to what I’m wearing.
  5. A scarf or two – because they take virtually no space, they change the look of any outfit and they can basically do anything.
  6. A handbag – you’ll only be able to take your carry on as hand luggage on the plane, so your handbag will need to be packed into your suitcase. Go for a softer bag which will sit flat when you pack it.
  7. Three pairs of socks and a pair of tights to go with your dress.
  8. Underwear, obviously – three pairs of knickers will be enough for the weekend. You can always wash them in the sink and dry them over the bath overnight if you need to.
  9. A separate bra. You’re already wearing one – possibly your comfortable t-shirt bra. Maybe pack a nicer bra to go with your dress.


Make-up bag

  1. Eyeliner – I personally prefer liquid, but go ahead and pack a kohl pencil if you prefer.
  2. An eyeshadow trio – get a small one in a neutral palette.
  3. Mascara – because of reasons.
  4. Concealer – I know that Touche Eclat isn’t strictly a concealer, but I call it my miracle cream. There are cheaper highlighters on the market which work just as well, or you could just go with your favourite concealer. Use the triangle method to get rid of dark circles under your eyes.
  5. Your favourite lipstick. One is enough and you know it.
  6. Lip balm – I find that if I go somewhere with a different climate to the one I’m used to, my lips go dry. Lip balm helps a lot.
  7. Blusher – Get a small compact like this one so you don’t have to worry about carrying around huge brushes.
  8. Things I didn’t include which you MIGHT want to take: foundation, primer, lip liner, bronzer, etc. I find them unnecessary.


Toiletries bag


  1. Deodorant – because of hand luggage restrictions, it is better to take a roll-on deodorant than a spray.
  2. Here’s where all the perfume samples come in handy. Take two or three to last you the whole weekend.
  3. You can buy 100ml travel size bottles for your essential toiletries from most pharmacies. Fill them with shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, and moisturiser.
  4. Don’t forget your toothbrush and toothpaste. You can buy travel size toothpaste which won’t get confiscated by airport security.
  5. Face wipes – to remove your make-up. They’re a lot less cumbersome than having to carry a bottle of make-up remover, cotton disks, and toner, and more likely to make it through airport security.
  6. Hand sanitizer – Keep it on you at all times, especially if you’re sightseeing with no immediate access to a bathroom and soap.
  7. Cotton buds – for cleaning make-up.
  8. Bobby pins – and a couple or hair elastics.
  9. A hairbrush or comb.


First Aid bag

first aid
  1. Bandages – in case of any minor cuts or burns. You may also want to pack a couple of blister sticks if you’re going to be doing lots of walking.
  2. Antibiotic cream – you can usually buy this over the counter. It’ll come in handy if you have any small open wounds or any inflamed insect bites.
  3. Painkillers – For headaches, period pains, and so on. Paracetamol is usually best because it doesn’t make you drowsy (like codeine) and doesn’t mess with your stomach (like ibuprofen) and you can get it over the counter. Get rid of the box and just take one or two blister sheets.
  4. A small pair of scissors (with the blade no longer than 6cm) is usually allowed in hand luggage.
  5. Sunscreen – Even if it’s not particularly hot where you’re going, put on some sunscreen if you’re going to be spending a lot of time outdoors.
  6. Menstrual supplies – Tampons, sanitary towels, diva cup, whatever you use. Don’t get stuck somewhere without them.
  7. Antacids – In case that street food you had for lunch gives you reflux. You might also consider taking some Imodium with you, just in case you get the runs.
  8. Tweezers – For removing splinters, glass, AND grooming your eyebrows. Multi-purpose ftw.
  9. Any prescription pills – Contraceptive pill, anxiolytics, antibiotics, steroids, anti-depressants, etc. If you’re supposed to take them every day, make sure you pack them.


That’s it! Have I missed anything important? Let me know in the comments.

  • Sekhhmet
    November 16, 2013

    Seems pretty complete. I am currently in the process of packing my stuff for 4-5 days in Amsterdam in one carry on (am allowed one checked item on a budget airline but I don’t trust them with treating suitcases decently and not loosing them). Trade show as well. Any miracles to pack up a suit in a carry on? I heard putting clothes in bin bags prevents wrinkles as well.

  • Eve
    October 26, 2014

    I’m so excited to find someone who’d take combat boots on most travels, I do too. For me, it’s the most comfortable option.

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