Did you find a cheap flight and now you’re wondering how to pack a personal item bag for a week because you don’t want to pay for luggage?
I’ve been there and I’ve cracked the code on how to pack personal item only every time I travel!
I know it might seem impossible to pack for a week in a small cabin bag but it’s not!
I carried my small cabin backpack on every trip in the past two years, including 2 weeks in Spain, 2 weeks in Greece, and a Belgium Christmas market tour.
I mostly fly with Ryanair, but I use the same packing technique for all airlines with the same small bag policy.
Unfortunately, Ryanair is not the only airline with extremely limited-sized free luggage. Most European budget airlines, including WIzzair and EasyJet, implement the same rules.
I will show you how I travel with personal item only for a week or longer so you never have to pay additional baggage fees.
Keep reading to see how to pack for a week in a personal item and save money on luggage!
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and I may earn a commission if you make a purchase using my link, at no extra cost to you. I hope you find the information here useful!
How to pack Ryanair hand luggage for a week?
Packing for a week in a personal item bag means you will be traveling ultra-light. You should only be taking the essentials.
Firstly, start with the right bag.
Check your airline’s free luggage allowance, and make sure your bag fits the dimensions.
You will find the list of free carry-on bag dimensions on European budget airlines further down in the article.
The bag I use is Dechatlon’s Quecha NH ARPENAZ 100. So far, I brought this backpack as a free personal item on Ryanair, EasyJet, Volotea, Croatia Airlines, KLM, Sky Express, and Air France.
Is a backpack a personal item on budget airlines?
Yes, a backpack is generally considered a personal item on budget airlines, including Ryanair and EasyJet. It is crucial that it fits under the seat in front of you and that you respect the size limitations.
I always take a small backpack as a personal item when the airline only allows a small cabin bag/personal item for free on board.
What is the best personal item backpack to use on budget airlines?
Many different backpacks fit the free Ryanair personal item dimensions. However, you don’t need to spend a fortune to buy a backpack to use as a personal item.
Think of the backpacks teenagers use to go to school, they work perfectly! The one I use and recommend is just 10€!
Yes, I found that the best personal carry-on bag backpack is Dechatlon’s Quecha NH ARPENAZ 100.
This 20 litre backpack is a perfect size for a week-long trip and holds more than it seems.
The big pocket has a laptop sleeve and a small zipped pouch to keep small items. It has two meshed pockets that can easily hold a water bottle or an umbrella, and a zipped outside pocket for things you want to be easily accessible.
The backpack comes in a few different colors, and you can use it as a day bag once you arrive at your destination.
The best part is that it is less than 15€. Perfect to keep your backpacking Europe cost low!
The backpack’s dimensions are 47 x 25 x 14 cm when full.
You might notice that it is a little bit bigger than what most airlines allow for a small carry-on bag. However, it fits nicely under the seat in front of you, and you can squeeze it into the sizer of every airline!
How to pack personal item only: packing list
- The essentials – Phone, wallet and documents
- Travel Cosmetics bag
- Minimal travel Make-up bag
- Minimal clothes packing list for a week
- Water bottle
How to pack for a week in a backpack: The essentials
First and foremost, you need to pack your wallet and documents.
- phone + charger
- 2 cards
- Emergency cash
- Visa documents
- Boarding pass (can be on your phone)
- Vaccination certificates (can be on your phone)
- Passenger locator forms (can be on your phone)
You need an ID or a passport, depending on where you travel. Bring at least 2 cards, preferably a different type. That being said, all my cards are VISA.
Be sure to check all the entry requirements for your destination. These days, entry requirements change daily. Some countries open up, and others restrict entry.
Check that you have a visa if you need one and all the necessary vaccinations if your destination asks for them.
How to pack for a week in a backpack: Cosmetics bag
You can only take liquids under 100 ml that fit into a 1L zip lock bag. Therefore, get some travel-size bottles and pour your favorite full-sized products into them.
- Face cream
- Face sunscreen
- Shower gel
- Hair ties + a hair claw
- Nail file
Some cosmetics you can buy when you arrive at your destination.
For example, a full-sized body sunscreen. The same goes for shower gel. If you don’t think 100ml will be enough, just grab one when you reach your destination.
TOP TIP: To save space in your liquids bag, choose solid alternatives like a solid shower bar, solid shampoo, or solid deodorant! I usually take a shower bar that lasts me longer than 100 ml of shower gel.
How to pack for a week in a backpack: Make-up bag
You will need to keep your make-up routine minimal. Everything you bring takes up valuable space, so be sure it is essential.
My travel makeup routine is simple and consists of:
- Powder foundation + brush
- Blush/Bronzer (depending on whether I travel in the summer or winter)
- Eyebrow gel + pencil
- Black liquid eyeliner
I put all my makeup in the small zip-up pouch of my backpack. Theoretically, some of these items can be considered liquid, but I was never asked to put them in my liquid bag.
How to pack for a week in a backpack: Clothes
The essentials for a week
- 7 pairs of underwear
- 7 pairs of socks/ 3 pairs if its summer and you are also bringing sandals
- 2 bras/bralettes
- 1 PJ
- 1 travel towel
- 1 canvas tote bag
Summer clothes packing list for a week
- 1 midi dress
- 1 short dress
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 skirt
- 1 pair of long thin pants/leggings (in case it gets cold)
- 5 tops
- 1 T-shirt
- 1 cardigan
- 1 bikini
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 1 pair of flat sandals/flip-flops
I wear my linen midi dress, sneakers, and a cardigan on a flight as they take up a lot of space. All the other items are thin, small, and take up little space.
When backpacking Europe in summer, it will be easier to pack more clothes, as summer clothes are generally smaller and take up less space.
Winter clothes packing list for a week
- 2 pairs of pants (mom jeans and black, skinny jeans)
- 1 dress + tights
- 1 pair of leggings (optional, if you plan on doing any sports)
- 1 big jumper
- 3/4 short-sleeved shirts (to wear under your jumper and sweater dress)
- 2 long sleeve shirts/thin jumpers
- 2 nicer blouses
- 1 pair of boots/sneakers
- 1 jacket + scarf/hat/gloves
Winter clothes take up more space than summer clothes. Thus, backpacking in winter means you can pack fewer options. However, if you are at a cold destination, your outfits will be under your jacket anyway.
Usually, I can’t fit two pairs of shoes unless I pack my thin running shoes/low converse.
I wear my big jumper, bulkier mom jeans, and boots on the flight.
I always take my reusable water bottle when traveling.
Yes, you can take a water bottle on board. The trick is to empty it before passing through security, and then refilling it.
My bottle fits nicely in the side pocket of my backpack. However, you can hold it in your hand if it doesn’t fit and nobody will say anything!
Laptop and other electronics
I am adding a laptop to this list as some of you might need to work on your trip. I found that I can sometimes fit my laptop when packing, as I did on my recent 5-day trip to Belgium.
However, I definitely could not fit it in my bag during my 2 weeks backpacking the Cyclades.
Can you bring a small cross-body bag or a fanny pack along with the personal item bag?
Technically you are not allowed to bring another bag on board when you are travelling with just a personal item/ small carry-on bag.
However, I always take a small cross-body bag that fits my wallet and phone, and nobody ever says anything.
Some people claim that fanny packs are not bags, as you wear them on your body as personal attire.
If the flight attendants on your flight look particularly strict, hide your small bag under a jacket. It works like a charm!
Does a handbag count as hand luggage on Ryanair?
Yes, a handbag is a separate piece of luggage according to Ryanair and other budget airlines. I don’t suggest trying to pass with an additional handbag if your ticket includes only a personal item.
Why not? It is hard to hide, and you will almost definitely be asked to pay for the bag if you can’t fit it in your backpack.
Best tips on how to pack in a personal item bag for a week
1. Plan your outfits and pack items that go together
The first step is to make sure that you have a cohesive travel capsule wardrobe. Have an idea of your itinerary, and what you want to wear each day of your trip.
If you are considering a top that only goes with specific pants or the other way around, don’t take them. Take only versatile pieces of clothing that you can mix with others. Think of colour palettes and patterns that go with each other.
You want a fully interchangeable capsule wardrobe.
2. Prepare to be a little bit unfashionable
If you are not an Instagram travel blogger, you don’t need to pack 5 full-length dresses and 15 different outfits for a week-long trip.
When you travel with only a personal item, you probably won’t be able to fit another pair of shoes, apart from flat sandals.
Your clothes need to be practical, as you will wear the same clothes again during the trip.
If you go through my travel blog, you will notice I always pack the same clothes. They are tried and true. I know they work, and I feel comfortable in them.
3. Wear your largest items of clothing on the flight
Your bulkiest items will differ depending on the season. However, you should always wear them on a flight, regardless of how unfashionable they might look.
If you travel in winter, it will be your boots, a coat and a jumper.
If you are traveling in summer, it might be sneakers, a pair of jeans or a bulky dress.
For me, it is always my midi-length linen dress that would otherwise take up half of my backpack. I also carry a cardigan in my hand.
4. Separate your clothes with bags or packing cubes
You will have limited space, so make sure that you are organized.
Some people swear by packing cubes to stay organized. They are a nice thing to have. However, they are not crucial.
As my backpack is not square-shaped, I feel like I can better make use of space when I don’t use rectangular packing cubes. However, I LOVE them when packing my big backpack for longer trips.
I separate my clothes, shoes, and underwear by putting them in different bags.
Remember to bring a bag you will use to keep your dirty clothes!
5. Should you fold or roll your clothes?
The ultimate question is whether it is better to roll or fold the clothes to save the maximum amount of space. Weirdly enough, this is so personal. You can try both and see what works for you.
I prefer to fold my clothes when I travel with a small cabin backpack. I don’t feel like rolling helps me save space, especially with bulkier items, like jumpers and jeans.
6. Pack a travel towel
If you are going to stay in a hostel, you need to bring a towel.
Make sure to get a microfibre travel towel that packs up super small. I have this large microfibre Dechatlon towel, and I highly recommend it!
7. Pack a canvas tote bag
A canvas tote bag takes up almost no space, and it can be very useful on your trip.
You can use it as your day bag or a shopping bag at your destination.
8. Umbrella does not count in your luggage allowance
Did you know that most airlines allow you to take an umbrella and don’t count it in your luggage allowance?
Thus, if you travel to a rainy destination, bring an umbrella and carry it in your hand!
9. Accept that sometimes you won’t be able to pack in a personal item only
While I love packing in a personal item only and recommend it to everyone, sometimes you might not be able to do it.
For example, if you have a trip to multiple destinations with different climates or you have specific events on your trip. Also, if you plan on doing some serious hiking, and need the proper equipment.
Finally, if your clothes simply take up more space. I know I can put an additional pair of shoes in my bag, while my boyfriend with his 45-size shoes can’t.
The personal item backpack is small, so don’t feel like a failure if you can’t do it! As a solo female traveler, it is just important that you can carry your own luggage!
European Budget airline’s free carry-on bag rules 2024
Most budget airlines’ free carry-on policy had shrunk from a carry-on suitcase and personal item to just a personal item – a small cabin bag.
Gone are the days when you could take a cabin-sized suitcase on board for free on the most popular budget airline flights. They justify it as saving time during boarding, but we all know the real reasoning behind this decision.
You might be wondering, is there any European budget airline where you can take a carry-on suitcase for free? Yes, some European budget airlines still allow free carry-on suitcases!
European budget airlines that only allow small cabin bags for free:
European budget airlines that allow free cabin suitcases:
- Iberia Express
Wizzair’s free hand luggage policy
Wizzair was the first airline I used that started charging for a carry-on suitcase.
If you fly with Wizzair, you are entitled to travel with one free small carry-on bag – max. size 40 x 30 x 20 cm.
Check all up-to-date Wizzair baggage rules here.
Ryanair’s free hand luggage policy
Ryanair changed its hand luggage policy in November 2018, and now they are allowing only a small bag on board for free. Ryanair personal item or free bag size is one of the smallest.
You are allowed to take for free a small bag of 40cm x 20cm x 25cm on Ryanair flights.
Check up-to-date Ryanair policy here.
easyJet free hand luggage policy
easyJet changed its policy in 2020. Now, you are allowed to bring one small cabin bag per person on board for free.
It can be a maximum size of 45 x 36 x 20 cm (including any handles or wheels)
Here is the up-to-date easyJet baggage policy.
Vueling free hand luggage policy
Spanish budget airline Vueling does not allow passengers to take a free cabin-sized bag either.
With Vueling, you can carry one under-seat bag, free of charge max. Size 40x20x30 cm.
Here is the current Vueling baggage policy.
Eurowings free hand luggage policy
With Eurowings Basic budget fare, you are only allowed to take a small cabin bag.
The maximum dimensions of Eurowing’s small cabin bag are 40 x 30 x 25 cm.
Check up-to-date Eurowings baggage policy.
Norwegian free hand luggage policy
The Norwegian budget airline has one of the strictest baggage policies. You can only take a small bag on board for free.
The maximum dimensions of the under-seat bag are 30 x 20 x 38cm, and it must be under 10 kg.
Check Norwegian baggage policy here.
Volotea’s free hand luggage policy
Volotea was one of the budget airlines that allowed a free cabin suitcase, until the summer of 2022.
Now, you can only take a small bag max. size 40 x 30 x 20 cm on Volotea flights.
Here is the up-to-date Volotea baggage policy.
Transavia’s free hand luggage policy
Transavia is one of the few European budget airlines that still allows free cabin luggage!
With Transavia, you can carry one piece of hand luggage (max 55 x 35 x 25 cm), and an accessory (max 40 x 30 x 20 cm) for free.
Here is the official Transavia baggage policy.
Jet2 free hand luggage policy
Jet2 is an English budget airline that allows free cabin luggage and a personal item!
With Jet2, you may carry one piece of hand luggage free of charge on board, as long as it weighs no more than 10kg and is no larger than 56cm x 45cm x 25cm.
Here is the official Jet2 baggage policy.
Iberia Express’s free hand luggage policy
Iberia Express is a Spanish low-cost company that allows free cabin luggage and a personal accessory. If the flight is full, you might be asked to check in your cabin luggage for free.
The maximum size for hand baggage is 56 cm x 40 cm x 25 cm, and for the personal item 30x40x15 cm.
Check the official Iberia Express baggage policy here.
Summary: How to pack for a week in a backpack?
And that is it! All of my best tips for packing in a personal item to travel with a free carry-on bag only.
I hope you now know how to pack in a personal item bag for a week, and that you won’t be paying for luggage on your next budget flight as personal item travel is the best!
Do you have more tips on how to pack everything for your trip in a free bag? Let me know in the comments! I am always looking for new ways to make the most of my flights and stay on budget.
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