I’ve done a lot of traveling over the past couple years, so it goes without saying that I’ve packed a lot of suitcases.  A lot of my travel involves cheap budget airlines, and it’s inevitably a huge pain to cram everything I want for a trip into a small suitcase. 

But even though it’s a pain, it’s not impossible. Here’s how to pack a carry-on for a Ryanair flight and avoid those extra fees.

(Actually, these tips work pretty well for any kind of packing, whether you’re wondering how to pack for a semester abroad or just for a regular airline flight. Especially if you have lots of irregularly shaped items.)

Here’s everything I’ve jammed into a suitcase and gotten on an actual Ryanair flight this summer. Let’s just say I’m not a light traveler (this is a twin-sized bed):


That’s 6 tops, 1 cardigan, 1 jacket, 2 dresses, 1 crop top, 1 pair of pants, 3 pairs of leggings, 2 pairs of shoes, 2 scarves, 2 books and 1 e-reader, a laptop, two cameras plus a lens, two mugs, 100 bags of tea, a tin of biscuits to go with the tea, toiletries and a purse.

*The mugs look a bit weird – they’re a stand-in for two my grandma gave me in honor of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

Here’s the suitcase in question:


And here’s how you can perform the same feat with your very own luggage (one item, maximum 55cm x 40 cm x 20 cm, of course!).

Pre-packing: Figure out what you’re taking first. I’ll post some pointers about packing lists later on.

Step #1: Pull out everything that’s boxy, inflexible or bulky – boxes, books, etc.


Put them in the corners of your bag. I left the magazine out because it’s so thin it can get squeezed in on top of something else.


If your bag doesn’t have a completely flat bottom (only half of mine does), make a flat surface by lining the bottom with clothing first.

Step #2: Find your biggest, bulkiest clothing items (pants, sweaters, and dresses). Roll them (don’t fold!) and line the bottom of your bag with them. Leave a space at the top of your bag.


Step #3: Get your shoes. If you have more than one pair, wear your heaviest, biggest ones on the plane. Line the side of your case with the remaining pair(s).

Step #4: Put everything delicate or easily breakable aside. I chose my stand-in teacups, my camera, and my camera lens. Hold off on anything you need to take out for airport security screening – ebooks, laptops, etc. – you’ll want those on top of everything else.


Roll them up in clothing for padding – I used a big soft tee (the red one in the pic below).

Place these on top of your items from #2 in the three-dimensional center of your pack for maximum protection. Aim to get them near the top of your suitcase so there’s less stuff weighing down on them.


Step #5: Roll up the rest of your clothing tight, and nestle it around your breakable items around the side edges and bottom of your suitcase (in the above pic, my tops are on the right-hand part in the lower left corner, and my scarf is on the left-hand part in the corner).

Set aside anything that’s really difficult to roll, and wear it on the plane – like my leather jacket and chambray shirt. I chose a leather jacket, chambray shirt, and combat boots – they all take up a ton of space in a suitcase that’s better used for other stuff.

Step #6: Okay, you should be left with just a few items now, like small toiletries, electronics you need for security screenings, and purses.


Anything that’s pretty hard to break, put at the bottom of your bag (like my contact lens case and bottle of solid deodorant)

Put electronics near the top of your bag and in the 3D center – you’ll have to pull those out for security, so you want them to be easily accessible.


Step #7: Check that your bag zips up, and gently stand it up for a few minutes. This lets everything sink down and gives you a bit more space.

Step #8: Add anything else to the remaining space at the top of your bag. Ryanair only lets you have ONE item of hand luggage, which includes your purse. Make sure you can get it in, if only for five minutes during boarding. (UPDATE: this rule has changed since I wrote this post. You can now take two items, which means one carry-on bag and a small item like a purse).



You may have to make minor adjustments. Just remember a few keys: roll your clothes, pad anything breakable, and put things that you’ll need access to in an easy-to-reach spot.

That’s it! Everything should fit in your bag safely and securely, and you’ll live to escape the budget-wrecking wrath of Ryanair’s hidden fees another day.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary. Source: The Telegraph

Next week, I’ll have some more tips for using the Ryanair system to your maximum advantage.

Does anybody else have great tips for how to pack a carry-on bag for a Ryanair flight that I’m missing?