Packing it all in – a guide to travelling hand-luggage only

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Packing light used to be a handy skill. These days, it's a necessity.

As airlines are crippled by ash clouds, strike action and general financial meltdown, they've had to find alternative ways of making money. Enter 'ancillary revenues', which basically means airlines charging passengers for anything they can get away with. The upshot? A raft of airlines now imposes fees for putting your suitcase in the hold.

Low-cost carrier Ryanair charges £15 each way for the privilege of stowing your luggage when you pay online – rising to a whopping £35 if you pay at the airport. (Tip: If you must travel with hold baggage, always book in advance.) According to a recent survey by lastminute.com, 75% of travellers say they will travel with smaller bags in future to avoid these fees.

Can you really travel hand-luggage only?

Yes you can – you just need to get clever with your packing.

Related article: Packing for a round-the-world trip

First, check the hand-baggage dimensions permitted by your airline at www.seatguru.com. Limits vary by airline; generally it's around 56cm by 45cm by 25cm. Buy a bag that fits these dimensions and isn't too heavy. (A softer bag will be lighter and more pliable.)

Next, consider your restricted contents. For now in many destinations, liquids must still be carried in 100ml bottles and stored in a clear plastic bag that holds no more than one litre in total, but that really is no problem - where in the world can't you buy replacement toiletries? Alternatively you can pack solid shampoo and soap bars (Lush, for example, has a good range), and remember to remove any extraneous packaging.

Vital medicines can generally be packed in your carry-on in larger quantities if accompanied by a letter from your doctor. Sharp items are not permitted so ditch the penknife and buy a cheap kitchen knife on arrival - handy for picnic preparations/cutting ropes/prising off lids. (You can use dental floss (non-minty) to slice cheese.)

Off on a trip that requires lots of gear? Mountain climbing, camping, skiing maybe? You can still travel hand-luggage only by buying or hiring specialist kit on arrival. It's good for the local economy as well as avoiding baggage fees. If you must take your own gear, pay to store it in the hold on the outward journey, then hook up with a local good cause via www.stuffyourrucksack.com and donate items to schools and orphanages on the ground rather than bringing them home.

Fitting it all in

Plan your packing list in advance and don't pack things 'just in case'. In this globalised world, you can buy most items at your destination. Don't take a whole library: take one book, and swap it en route.  Shoes are bulkiest – take just one pair; say, a smart, multipurpose sneaker/boot. If you need two pairs, wear the biggest on the plane and use the packed pair to stuff shorts, socks and pants inside or use the cushioned interior to protect delicate items. Wear heavy items (coat, jumper) on the plane, or invest in a Scott E Vest: its range of jackets have up to 33 pockets, designed to hold iPods, books, even laptops.

Multi-purpose is key. Trousers that zip off into shorts; fleeces that can be used as pillows; sarongs that can be skirts, beach mats and shawls; sporks – all optimise your bag's weight-to-usefulness ratio. Nomad Travel Store's Ultimate Travelwash cleans everything – hair, body, clothes, pans – while its Trek & Travel Poncho is a budget waterproof that will cover you and your rucksack, and can be used as a groundsheet or makeshift shelter.

Pack clothes that are lightweight (Rohan has a good range), dry quickly and match each other, to maximise your wardrobe options. Ladies, pack a pair of nice earrings, a Travalo 50-squirt perfume atomiser and a light scarf (also good for mosque visits/sun-shielding) for a quick dash of style. Men, buy travel shirts that don't crease and smarter-looking travel shoes that work equally well on safari or in good restaurants (try Brasher).

The science of packing

Folding items individually into squares is the worst way to pack – it's space inefficient and increases creasing. Instead, roll clothes together. Lay jackets, shirts, trousers and T-shirts on top of each – in that order – alternating the thickest parts of the garment as you layer so you don't get an uneven bulge. Once piled, place a bag of socks or similar in the middle, and wrap each item round this core in turn; www.onebag.com has detailed instructions, and loads of helpful packing tips.

Other helpful bits of kit

Hand-held luggage scales could save you a fortune in excess charges; try the set from www.globalbagtag.com.

Packing cubes and organiser pouches allow you to keep your bag tidy and condense contents. Made of nylon and mesh, they dont add much weight. Check out the ones at www.eaglecreek.com.

Invest in a travel towel – these viscose sheets are a fraction of the size of regular towels. Lifeventure's range is antibacterial too.

Product recommendations are the author's own. Grab your Lonely Planet guide by the chapter - no need to haul the whole thing!