What Is Hand Luggage?

Dan Cavallari

Hand luggage is any type of small luggage that can be carried by hand. These units are fairly small and lightweight, and they are typically designed for carrying fewer objects than larger pieces of luggage. Hand luggage is usually even smaller than carry-on luggage that fits in overhead bins on airplanes, though some pieces of hand luggage can be somewhat larger. In most cases, these pieces of luggage only feature a handle or shoulder strap, though some may feature telescoping handles and wheels for rolling the unit across airports, train stations, hotel lobbies, and so on.

The terms "hand luggage" and "carry-on luggage" are often used interchangeably.
The terms "hand luggage" and "carry-on luggage" are often used interchangeably.

Very often the terms "hand luggage" and "carry-on luggage" are interchangeable. When this definition is used, hand luggage can be fairly large, as long as it is not so large as to be unable to fit in an overhead compartment. Carry-on luggage very often features a telescoping handle for easy pulling across airports, and wheels to help the luggage glide smoothly. Sometimes the luggage is stackable; one piece is fairly small and features wheels and the telescoping handle, and another piece can stack on top of the rolling piece and secure to the telescoping handle, thereby making one unit for transport.

Hand luggage may refer to small pieces of luggage that can be carried by hand or stored easily in overhead airplane bins.
Hand luggage may refer to small pieces of luggage that can be carried by hand or stored easily in overhead airplane bins.

The materials used to make hand luggage can vary. The materials are usually fairly durable to withstand the rigors of traveling, and they may range from natural materials such as cotton or canvas to synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, or even plastic. Some carry-on luggage features a hard shell to protect fragile items, especially electronics. Hard shell hand luggage is not as easily stored, however, since the hard shell will prevent any compacting. Soft shell luggage can often be compacted slightly to fit more easily in overhead bins or even in trunks of cars.

A broader definition of the term hand luggage may include any small piece of luggage, regardless of design, that can be carried by hand and stored fairly easily in overhead bins. This means certain duffel bags and purses may fit the definition as well. Hard shell cases can also fit the definition, regardless of whether those cases are intended for use as luggage. Other carry-on items, such as musical instruments, may be considered carry-on luggage, depending on the context, and in many cases, airlines will not charge for storage of such items as long as they fit the size restrictions outlined by the airlines before boarding a plane.

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Discussion Comments


One of the best investments I ever made when I started traveling was to purchase a hand held luggage scale that could easily weigh my hand luggage. Most airlines have restrictions for hand luggage which limit them to as little as 10 pounds per person.

While I must admit that hand luggage weight is rarely checked closely by airline attendants, I really like to be safe and weigh my own luggage before heading to the airport. My cheap hand luggage just isn't worth the huge fees that can accumulate from extra baggage charges. I was only dinged for an overweight bag once before and it cost me $45!


Whenever you go to choose your hand luggage for flights make sure that you check each individual airline's restrictions. It seems that each airline has a different about the proper size of hand luggage and it varies even more when you are flying internationally.

Generally, if your hand luggage size is 9 inches by 15.5 inches by 21.5 inches you should be allowed to take it on the plane. Though I have seen a few airlines that want something smaller.

It seems that as fuel prices continue to go up, luggage allowance goes down. One of the best things you can do if you travel a lot is to buy a variety of second hand luggage for your trips. That way you'll always have the right size.


@bagley79 - I couldn't agree with you more. My husband and I actually once travelled for a week with a six-month-old baby and no checked bags! (Naturally, we had to gate-check his carseat.)

We did have to buy some stuff when we got there - like diapers - and of course these days, with the restrictions on hand lugguage, you have to limit your liquids and gels to those tiny little bottles in quart bags. It helped that she was breastfed, so we didn't have to carry formula and bottled water (except for our own use).

Not only does it save time, but you don't have to worry about your bags getting lost (which can really spoil a trip). You can get on an earlier flight at the last minute, dash to make a short connection, etc. without worrying if your bags will be joining you or not.


Since I do quite a bit of traveling for my work I always take advantage of taking a carry on and a hand luggage bag on each flight.

In my hand luggage I keep my computer and any business documents I may want to review while on the airplane. I don't ever put this in the overhead bin like I do my carry on luggage.

I like to travel light and this way I don't have to wait and claim any baggage once I arrive at my destination.


I have a piece of travel hand luggage that I use every time I fly on an airplane. This luggage is basically a brief case on wheels with a long handle for pulling around.

There is also a hand strap so you can carry the luggage as you would any brief case. Because I always fly with my laptop computer, this really comes in handy.

If I have another piece of larger carry on luggage, I can set this briefcase on top of it and wheel both of them around the airport.

If this hand luggage is the only thing I am traveling with, it is nice to be able to pull it using the wheels if I don't want to carry it through the airport.

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