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How to Travel with Only a Personal Item

traveling with only a personal item

We at Her Packing List are big fans of packing light to avoid unnecessary travel stress and fees that come from having too much luggage.

But would you bring only a large purse for a weekend trip?

I recently tested out this scenario on a short trip to Florida in order to save money and hassle. We can’t all travel for three weeks with a large purse like Brooke, but I’m here to tell you that ultralight is still possible for the rest of us!

A Cheapskate’s Guide to Ultralight Travel

Being the cheapskate that I am, I usually try to pack as little as possible to avoid extra baggage fees. This past November, I planned a girls weekend with my sister and friend to Universal Orlando Resort in Florida. We were excited to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but because of the high costs of visiting the parks, we wanted to keep the rest of the trip cheap.

So we all flew different budget carriers from our respective destinations. One flew Allegiant from Tennessee, another flew Frontier from North Carolina, while I flew Spirit from Georgia. All were less than $150, but there was a trade-off. We didn’t want to pay for carry on bags each way, so we ended up traveling with only personal items, which are free on budget carriers.

Airlines can be strict about the sizes of personal items, so we picked our smallest bags and fit in as much as possible for a short trip.

>>See how much your flight really costs.

traveling with only a personal item
Caroline, her sister, and a friend off to Orlando with only personal items

Carry-on vs Personal Item

In case you were wondering the difference between a carry-on and personal item, it’s this:

A carry-on bag is generally the luggage that you put into an overhead bin. It can be a backpack up to around 40 liters, or a suitcase up to 22 inches. It does not fit under the seat in front of you.

A personal item is a bag that must fit under the seat in front of you. Airlines have different restrictions for the personal item. For many, this bag can be a laptop bag or an oversized purse. On others, it can simply be any bag that fits under the seat. And on others, it can have a weight restriction tied to it.

It’s always important to check and double check your airline’s carry-on and personal item restrictions.

Picking a Personal Item Bag

I’ve seen many people argue with gate agents over their bags, especially when it comes to budget carriers. In fact, when I arrived in Orlando, a man was being taken away by the police because he refused to pay a fee for his bags that were too big. Don’t let this be you!

I carefully checked my airline’s measurements for a personal item and used a bag that I knew would work, my fantastic knockoff (or cheap real version?) Longchamp Le Pliage bag that I picked up in Malaysia‘s Chinatown. Even when fairly full, it can be squished under my seat, so I didn’t think I would have any problems.

My sister carried a vintage flight attendant style bag she picked up at her local “op shop” that fit perfectly under her seat as well. You don’t have to buy something new!

traveling with only a personal item
Caroline’s personal item held everything she needed for a weekend at Universal

What I Packed in My Personal Item

Even in November, the weather was warm but got colder at night. I knew I wanted to bring a few layers and comfortable shoes for walking around. I knew I wouldn’t need items like toiletries or towels, so I left them behind and only brought my medicated lotions. The hotel had everything we needed and anything else could be purchased there.

Here are just a few of the items I packed:

traveling with only a personal item
Caroline and her friends prove that ultralight packing can be done

Would I Do It Again?

Yes! I didn’t buy much in the way of souvenirs, so I didn’t have to worry about my items not being able to fit back into my bag. It was a nice way to save money and keep myself from carrying unnecessary items.

Plus, I hardly had time to need much in the way of clothing as we were in Orlando for less than 72 hours! I hope to challenge myself next time by being able to pack as light for an even longer trip.

how to travel with only a personal item

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Reader Interactions


  1. christine says

    This is great! Can you share how you folded the items, and also, what were the dimensions of the bag? And, what did you wear on the plane? I always try and wear layers and the “biggest” shoes on the plane to help with packing…

    • Deb says

      I used to roll clothes until I tried the layering method. Largest item first. That’s my beach wrap. Keep layering and top and tailing so it’s all flat. Then fold edges into middle and fold it all up. Seriously you fit so much in this way

  2. Debhulbh says

    I find that if you roll everything, (I mean the tightest roll you can for each item, you can fit in a lot – rolling is key.
    Hope that helps 🙂

  3. Anouk says

    Do you sleep without clothes? I am always freezing and since I had a thyroid lroblem it’s gotten worse. I also bring a pillow. I’ve bought an inflatable with the right shape but it’s cool and it moves… It’s super small so it would be great if that would work.

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