Slobodanka Graham


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How to fly with even less in your handbag

How to fly with even less in your handbag

I originally published this post some time ago - and decided to update it due to my recent long haul trip. Since those early trips, I’ve changed my handbag to an Airpocket, which I reviewed for Planepack.

On this trip, I carried these things in my Airpocket:

  • passport

  • wallet

  • pen

  • a small pouch containing lipstick, pocket mirror and hand cream

  • a cord roll containing iPhone charger and Apple earphones - as a backup for my Bose travel headphones

  • sun glasses

  • reading glasses

  • iPhone

  • face mask

I’ve managed to cut back from my previous packing tips. This is what I had to say about two years ago - still valid, but I’m travelling even lighter now:

You need a handbag as well?

Yes, you do. Even if you're travelling light with your single carry on bag, you are permitted by most airlines to take on board one additional personal item. I find it handy to have my documents, money, iPhone, headphones, sweets easily accessible when I'm on board. I don't want to have to haul things in and out of the overhead locker - so travelling with a small handbag makes sense. But remember, this is usually included in the overall weight limit of 7 kgs. So pack carefully - and if in doubt, check my list of permitted carry on luggage. And listen to the podcast of this blog post at iTunes - for the auditory experience!

For the past four or five trips, I’ve flown with the same handbag (see the photo). I sling my handbag over my shoulder and it contains all my documents and other essentials. My current handbag is plain soft leather in a neutral colour. The bag doesn’t have any adornments: no extra zips, pockets or buckles. The bag came with a longer strap to wear across my body, but I find if the bag is full, it’s not comfortable to carry that way.

My bag

My soft leather handbag

My soft leather handbag

My bag is multipurpose: I use it on the plane, or on the beach and on the trip if I need to carry a few more things than would fit into my smaller bag. I’m not too fussed if something spills on my bag, which usually happens in the plane. And I’m equally happy having it at my feet, pushed under the seat in front of me.

My bag opens with a single zip across the top and I usually sling  the bag over my shoulder with the zip opening at front: no danger that someone will unzip my bag behind me.

I travel with an additional across-the-body bag, which I carry inside my handbag on the plane. I also take a rolled shopping bag with me, which can double up as a beach bag, a grocery bag or a shopping bag - as it fits neatly into my across-the-body bag. Mr PetMan grumbles that this small bag might get stolen, but who would think that something that small contains anything of real value? And using an across-the-body bag leaves my hands free to take photos, buy things, eat - but still have quick and easy access to the contents of the bag.

My appliances for the trip

I confess that I'm an Apple fan: I have an iPhone, an iPad Pro, a MacBook Pro and a Mac Mini. I’m a fairly recent convert to Apple products; I used to swear by PCs, but I was won over in 2010 when I got my first iPad, followed a year later by my MacBook Pro and earlier this year by my Mac Mini - and I’m now onto my fourth iPhone. I enjoy the design, ease of use, and particularly the interoperability between these Apple products.

When I first got an iPad, I took it with me on my travels, but since getting an iPhone 7, I take only my iPhone - and leave everything else at home. As the iPhone has a large screen, it’s replaced my iPad for most things as I can

  • Watch movies and videos

  • Capture travel memories with photos or videos

  • Read and listen to books

  • Communicate with the world - there’s free wi-fi at most cafes and hotels all over the world: no need anymore to buy phone plans, or mobiles (with all the inconvenience of changing numbers and punching in codes).

  • Use utility apps like the compass, language translators, currency converters, banking - and everything else I need to make my trip easy and comfortable.

Ready for take off

What do I take with me? This is my essential handbag packing list:

I love my handbag organiser: everything is in its place so I can grab it when I need it.

I love my handbag organiser: everything is in its place so I can grab it when I need it.

  • handbag organiser - I use a bag within a bag to make finding content easy. It also makes changing handbags easy: I lift out the organiser - with all its contents - and put it into any other bag. The organiser has neat little side pockets where I slip in my passport, wallet, reading glasses and sunglasses: a place for everything so that I can grab one or the other thing when I need it. This isn't essential for travel, but as my larger bag is just a shell, I found the organiser keeps everything organised!

  • Passport

  • Wallet with card charged with local cash. I also take my normal credit card - and leave all the other shopping cards at home. I don't want to add any unnecessary weight.

  • Reading glasses

  • Sun glasses

  • Business cards - these are useful for exchanging contact details overseas

  • Headphones - preferably over ear (I find in-ear headphones uncomfortable and Apple earbuds fall out of my ears). I have a nice fold-up pair that packs easily.

  • Smartphone - Before I travel, I load my iPhone with with books, audiobooks, videos and movies so that I don't use up expensive download facilities overseas

  • Phone charger - I'm always on the lookout at airports to charge my iPhone

  • Headphone charger - I use wireless headphones and a charge powers a long haul trip

  • Pen that doesn’t leak - I learnt this the painful way when I discovered blue ink all over the inside of my bag. You always need a pen on board to fill out arrivals forms.

  • Face mask - I recently wrote about wearing a face mask and how it cocoons me from the trials of travel.

  • Moisturiser - I like to apply this every time I wash my face during the long trips

  • Lipstick or lip gloss - as the atmosphere on board is so dry, I like to moisturise my lips

  • Sucking sweets

  • Light reading - magazine or book as a change from my iPhone books or videos

  • I don’t need toothpaste/toothbrush or socks or eye patch as I get these on the plane

  • I don't any longer take a change of clothes in my hand bag as I'm travelling with carry on luggage that contains all my clothes. Step on and off the plane like a celebrity!

  • roll up grocery or utility bag - I could pack this in my cabin bag, but generally it lives in my organiser

  • cross body small handbag (fits my purse, my iPhone, my sunglasses, lipstick, tissues - and perhaps a small purchase) for my day use. Sometimes I use this at airports as its easer to access my essential documents from the small handbag - rather than open my larger handbag. But I pack this away before check in.

While this sounds like a long list, there's no one item there that weighs too much - so you should be able to get away with your 7 kgs combining these contents with your suitcase. I've only once had an airline weigh in both my handbag and my carry on bag - mostly they are accommodating. The worst that will happen is that you have to send your carry on bag into the hold, which annoys me as it defeats one of the major purposes of travelling light - you don't want to waste your time at the baggage carousel waiting for your carry on luggage. But in the last seven years of travelling light, this has only happened to me once. So good luck with the light packing!

I'm Slobodanka Graham, publisher and Planepacker.

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