What to pack in a carry-on bag for flight: Your questions answered

Whether it is an important business trip or a weekend getaway, the packing process tends to be extremely exhausting, not to mention you may stand waiting at the carousel a desperate yearning only to after a long flight – only to realise that your suitcase has been mislaid by the airline. That being said, a handy carry-on luggage or and a personal item to hold everything you’ll need for in-flight comfort and entertainment should be a panacea to this nightmarish scenario. But what should you pack in your carry- on luggage? And which one is the best for you? Let us have your questions answered.

To assist you with this thorny problem, our team has created the ultimate packing list of every travel essential that you will need to enjoy your trip to the fullest. Once you know what should be included in your carry-on, you'll start to travel like a pro on your next journey.

Type of carry-on bag? 

If you’re constantly looking out for the suitable carry-on luggage size and have tried to choose the right one in the massive amount of options out there over the years, here are some of our suggestions according to your needs as well as airline size requirements.

In a nutshell, your personal item should be a bag, not a piece of luggage or a suitcase. Most commonly, personal items are purses, totes, backpacks, messenger bags, or briefcases. For each type, we will get into the nitty-gritty of the reasons we think it is a true match for you.


If you’re an enthusiastic globetrotter, your best bet is definitely a carry-on sized travel backpack, especially when you’re bringing a laptop along. Not only will you avoid checked bag fees, lost luggage, and waiting at the luggage carousel, you’ll be able to navigate the city hands-free with ease. Also, a backpack will keep your gear safe if you get caught in a sudden downpour, so choose a backpack that is made of waterproof sailcloth so you won’t need to worry about clothes — or more importantly, your electronics — getting wet.


Named for its original purpose of carrying suits for business travellers, a suitcase is a travel bag for safely transporting personal items such as clothing, shoes and toiletries. Not only universal and suitable for all kinds of extended travel, including casual weekend getaways, family holidays and business trips, it also comes in various designs and fun colours (some even have a built-in USB charger). Most of them are designed to fit in all overhead cabins and in front of your seat, yet you will be impressed with how much they can hold for a carry-on luggage. It sure is a well worth it investment for travellers who need a regular companion for weeklong trips. 


While the suitcase is a little too fancy to use regularly, a tote with its under-seat size and rigid structure would be the perfect choice on the way to the airport, much more light weight and convenient than a backpack. This type of bag comes in different designs as well as in a rainbow of colours, not to mention some also have multiple pockets on the outside, which is great for stashing boarding passes and passports.  Simple as it is, you will be surprised at how easy it is to get tuned up. But don’t pack too much for this one, as you will be carrying everything on one shoulder.”


If you’re about to head on a short business trip and contemplating whether a brief case would best suit your needs, you’ve landed in the right place. The briefcase, first adopted by legal professionals to carry briefs (hence the name), is a bag generally used for transporting business essentials like paperwork, laptops and other gear in daily office life. Although modern briefcases, with their blend of style and functionality, can also make excellent everyday bags.

It’s worth noting that some modern briefcases now have the capacity to hold overnight clothing as well as work essentials, which somewhat blurs the line between the briefcase and suitcase. These dual-purpose briefcases are suitably elegant for the office but also great options for short visits or last-minute travel.


Small and simple as it is, a purse can also make a great carry-on personal item, especially when you’re only on a day trip.  You can bring some of the same essentials in your purse like the ones you can carry in other types of carry on bags. But due to its limited size, you should keep the number of items in at the minimum level and only bring the most essential ones, such as snacks or chocolate, a hand sanitizer, kindle or a book. Our team also suggests that you should arrange all your items in a way that is organised but also accessible. 

Personal Item List - What should you pack for a carry on bag?

When it comes to travelling, the packing process tends to be the most daunting one as there are too many essentials and just-in-case items that you need to consider putting in your bay. And to make it even more complicated, the airport has a number of personal item regulations about items that can only travel in your carry-on bag. Don’t fret. We’ve got you. Let’s start with our recommended checklist to see which items to pack in your carry on.

Basic Personal Item Packing List

Passport, Boarding Pass and other Travel Documents

First and foremost,  always ensure you have your ID, driver’s licence, a boarding pass and a valid passport accessible under any circumstance - whether in the airport, during boarding, at customs or even at baggage claim. It’s crucial to organise necessities beforehand and stow them in your purse or backpack to ensure a smooth trip. 


Turning to financial preparation, debit cards and credit cards are both great options to get money for overseas travel. They are considered to be highly convenient and versatile, accepted in most transaction modes. However, it is important that you withdraw some cash at your local bank before you leave and so you won’t have to face the scenario where you struggle to find an ATM as soon as you arrive in a foreign country. Such incidents can be quite disheartening.

Jacket or extra layer of clothes for cold flights

Instead of a heavy, space-occupied blanket, we recommend bringing a coat or jacket that will provide as much warmth on the chilly flight or for the cold weather at your destination. Plus, when you wear your outer clothes throughout the trip, you’ll save plenty of luggage space.

Pick your clothes carefully! Image from Unsplash

Pillow, eye mask, and earplugs for sleeping

A neck pillow and silk eye mask for your travels will assure maximum comfort, especially during long-haul flights. 

Hand sanitizer

Make sure to bring hand sanitizer in your pack on every flight and throughout your travel day. It is easy to find a hand sanitizer under 100ml to bring on the plane or one that can be easily attached to your rucksack strap.


In case of long delays at the airports and your Kindle not being with you, it’s best to keep yourself entertained with some of the latest best selling hits or classical novels and the waiting time will go faster than you even realise. As the saying goes, “a book a day keeps the boredom away” – so bring them on board!

Notebook and pen

Travelling is an enriching experience and you may learn a few words of the foreign language, how to say thanks or simply be able to comprehend a language you didn’t know existed just a few weeks before. Keeping a notebook and a pen accessible at hand as you tap into your next great adventure.

Toiletries, Liquids, and Medications

When you are travelling carry-on-only, please keep in mind the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule: 

“Each passenger may carry liquids, gels and aerosols in travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or 100 millilitres. Each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels and aerosols. Common travel items that must comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule include toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash and lotion.”

In other words, the TSA only allows liquids in containers of 3.4 ounces (100 ml) or less in a clear, one-quart bag. If your liquids meet those requirements and fit in that bag, you’ll easily get by when it comes to security checks.

Hygiene essentials

Be sure to prepare a toiletries bag and toss your essential hygiene products into your carry on bag and make sure they are in travel size and are sufficient for any circumstance. Here’s the list:

  • Deodorant
  • Dental floss
  • Moisturiser
  • Lip Balm
  • Nail Clippers & File
  • Tweezers

Travel aids

A small bag with the most necessary pills and medicine is indispensable for every traveller. You wouldn’t want to find yourself suffering a migraine trigger, high-climate fever, upset stomach or all three of them running hand in hand during your journey. 


In the modern time, most of our work is connected with electronic devices, i.e., mobile phones, laptops, tablets, etc. Your personal item is a good choice for these electronics if you want to use your laptop for work or tablet for entertainment during the flight. 

Pay attention to your electronic devices! Image from Unsplash.

Laptop, Tablet

To ensure safety and accessibility purposes when travelling with a laptop, you should definitely keep your laptop in your personal item bag. 

Portable Charger

For a more enjoyable trip, you should definitely add a portable charger to your personal item packing list. People have a tendency to forget about this when packing luggage, which is definitely a terrible mistake as the price for an extra one in airports and at some local stores is absolutely expensive. Therefore, it’s best to keep this item on the permanent carry-on packing list and to prevent any inconvenience during your travel.


A smartphone is definitely a must-have item. It can be used as a camera, in-flight entertainer, flight-update receiver, and for other purposes — from listening to music on the flight, to ordering an Uber upon arrival, to navigating your hotel via GPS, etc. So do yourself a favour and keep your phone easily accessible in your personal item bag.

Headphones or earbuds

Headphones or earbuds, especially the noise-cancelling ones, are both excellent choices for not only remote working but also for sleeping and in-flight entertainment. 

Food and Drink


Whatever your reasons for travelling, it’s advisable to bring some high-protein and nutrient-rich snacks along in your personal item to help soothe any travel nerves you may have and also to avoid overpriced food at the airport. These in-flight nourishing snacks can be protein bars, fruit in a non-smashable container, crackers, grass-fed beef sticks, or maybe your favourite bag of chips and candy bar. However, to ensure a comfortable trip for everyone, please refrain from bringing food that is too smelly, spicy, perishable or crumbly, no matter how much you love them. 

Empty bottle of water

Remember to bring an empty reusable water bottle to make sure you stay hydrated during your flight. The reason for this is because you need to make it through security first, as liquids over three fluid ounces are prohibited. Once you’re done with the security check, you’re free to fill your reusable water bottle and stay hydrated throughout the trip. 

A pack of gum

It’s also a good idea to toss a pack of gum in your personal item. Gum chewing will help prevent the popping or blocked ears that might result from abrupt height changes during takeoff and landing.

>> Check out: Can you bring food through TSA on a plane?

FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

Got a question? We’re here to answer!

Here are the top questions that we get asked the most from our beloved followers. If you don’t see your question here, drop us a line on our Contact Page.

What can you put in your personal item bag?

In your personal item, you can bring anything that is permitted on the plane. There are no restrictions on what must be in which bag.

What is restricted in your personal item bag?

Here's a list of categories that you may want to take note of right away to make sure you’re not accidentally bringing it with you during your trip: 

  • Flammables
  • Firearms
  • Food
  • Sharp Objects
  • Household & Tools
  • Sporting & Camping
  • Medical
  • Miscellaneous

Can you have liquids in your personal items?

Yes, as long as you abide by the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule for liquids, which requires liquid to be as 3.4 ounces (100 ml) or less, and be packed in one clear, quart-sized bag.

Can you put clothes in your personal items?

Certainly, you can pack clothes in your personal items or carry-on bag. But for a better experience, we recommend packing most of your clothes in your carry on and leaving extra space in your personal items.

What happens if my personal item is one inch too big?

It depends. But the worst that could happen when you cross the limitation in your personal item, the flight attendants may ask you to store your personal item in the overhead carry-on compartment above your seat. 

In this case, just make sure you have everything you will need for your flight (book, headphones, laptop, hand sanitizer, etc.) out of your personal item before you store it up above.

While you can get access to the overhead compartment after take off when the seatbelt signs are turned off, reaching it is kind of a hassle. It will make your flight a lot more comfortable to have everything by your seat with you instead.

Can I bring two personal items on a plane?

Technically, you can only have one personal item on a plane with you. However, airport shopping bags and airport foods do not go toward your one personal item.

Furthermore, you can usually get away with having a larger personal item, such as a backpack, as well as a small purse (fanny pack or small crossbody bag) on your body while boarding. Although this would technically count as two personal items, usually it’s not a big deal.

If the gate agent does say something about your two personal items, all you would have to do is show that you can fit the smaller one into the bigger one.

Will backpacks fit under airline seats?

Yes, most backpacks nowadays are designed to meet the customers needs and requirements, which is to fit in under aeroplane seats or the overhead compartment and to be counted as your personal item. 

How much can I fit in a carry-on bag?

That depends on how you organise your essentials. Restricted objects must be avoided at all costs, since security will confiscate them. Keep in mind that most airlines have a size limit for carry-on bags, which includes protuberances such as wheels, handles, and pockets.

Phuong Nguyen

1 comment

  • Maria Coats

    This is great information for new flyers and a very valuable reminder for all regular flyers. It answered all my questions without having to call the airline. Thank you.

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