There’s a very important topic in regards to packing and carry-on airline travel that we, shockingly, haven’t discussed too much on this site yet: the personal item.
Rules are usually less stringent, so in order to not draw extra suspicion to your personal item, it’s best to do the following:
1. Take only exactly an item that is listed by the airline, if they list any at all. The easiest way to avoid any dramas at check-in or boarding is to bring from their mentioned list, so a handbag, a laptop bag and so on.
2. Make sure the item is as small as possible in appearance. Downsize your purse or daypack to a size that is just enough. If you have a somewhat bulky bag that isn’t full, try to cinch it down or flatten it against your body (depending on the bag), so that it doesn’t look like more than a personal item.
3. Make sure the item can fit under the seat in front of you. If you chose an item that is small, then this shouldn’t be a problem. And also make sure that you store that item under your seat and not in the overhead bin when you already have a carry-on item up there.
The most important part of this is to consult your airline’s rules first, just to make sure that what you’re doing is acceptable. On many airlines, the personal belonging isn’t factored into the carry-on weight restrictions; on some it is. Some airlines don’t give a strict size limit for personal items while others do.
For those occasions that the personal item’s weight is counted into the total carry-on weight limit, the extra weight of your laptop, camera, books or other item can completely ruin your carry-on only goals.
Some Airline Examples:
“In addition to your carry-on baggage allowance, you may also carry on board one small personal item such as a handbag, laptop computer*, overcoat, small camera, a reasonable amount of reading material or a small amount of duty free goods (where permitted).
*For a laptop computer to be considered a personal item it must be carried in a slim bag. Laptops carried in large laptop bags will be counted as part of your carry-on baggage allowance.”
“Economy passengers may bring one main item of carry-on baggage and one other small item, with a total combined weight of up to 7kg.
The additional small item you bring on board could be: a handbag, pocket book or purse, coat, umbrella, approved duty free goods (international flights only).”
“Personal item – includes: purse, briefcase, laptop bag OR a similar item such as a tote. The personal item must be smaller than your carry-on bag and must fit under the seat in front of you.
Additional items that will be allowed above and beyond the restrictions listed above include: outerwear such as coats/wraps/hats; book or newspaper; small bag of food to eat on the flight – see guidelines for liquids; approved safety seat for lap or ticketed child; pillow or blanket; umbrella stroller for lap or ticketed child; diaper bag for lap or ticketed child; duty free items; assistive devices for passengers such as wheelchairs, walkers, portable oxygen concentrators, and CPAP machines, etc.; breast pump.”
“Personal bag (flights to Brazil): 45cm x 36cm x 20cm (18in x 14in x 8in) including handles, pockets and wheels.
Personal bag (all other flights): 40cm x 30cm x 15cm (16in x 12in x 6in) including handles, pockets and wheels.
Your personal bag must be placed under the seat in front of you.”
“The maximum dimensions for your personal item, such as a shoulder bag, backpack, laptop bag or other small item, are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm).
The following items are allowed and do not count toward your one bag and one personal item limit: jacket or umbrella, reading material, pet carrier (service charges apply), FAA-approved child restraint seat, diaper bag, food or merchandise purchased in the airport, assistive devices (collapsible wheelchair, cane, one set of crutches, medical devices needed to administer prescription medications, portable oxygen concentrator, etc.); breast pump.”
My Personal Item Examples
On shorter trips, like weekends away, I’ll usually take a small daypack or weekender as my main carry-on bag, and then a cross-body purse as my personal item that can also hold my iPad if necessary for the trip.
On medium trips that don’t require much special gear and/or clothing, I like to take one good-sized carry-on bag (like the 26L Smart Alec from Tom Bihn), store my laptop in it as well, and then take a small purse as my personal item.
On bigger trips, I like to use the personal item as a place to stealthily stash heavy, small items that would otherwise take my carry-on only bag over weight restrictions. So a guidebook, a camera and/or phone, cables, laptop, etc. I tend to also throw in a small (very compact) handbag or wallet in the daypack that I can pull out at airport cafes and on the plane when running to the restroom. The goal is to make the personal item as compact looking as possible, unless of course this airline factors in the weight of the personal item into your total carry-on capacity.
However, not all airlines are created equal, so it really depends on the rules laid out on the the airline’s website as to how I will pack. For example, Air New Zealand gives a very specific photo example of what they consider a personal item versus carry-on luggage, and that means I would not stuff as many things into my laptop bag as I would on other airlines.
Small Bags That Work as Personal Items
A stuffable bag – We’ve discussed the benefits of stuffable bags on the site, so a quick read will get you up to speed on several options. I like the stuffable bag because when you’re not flying, you can cram it into your normal luggage, but when you need to have a bag that might be bigger than a handbag for in-flight necessities, it’s there in a flash.
A small daypack – The smaller the better! We highly recommend the PacSafe Slingsafe 300 GII as it’s small in looks yet surprisingly spacious inside, and it has all those additional safety features that make PacSafe bags so desirable for travelers.
A camera bag – If photos are your thing, then a camera bag can be the perfect personal item. And, if you get the right bag, you can also use it as a purse. Of course, traveling with tons of camera gear as your personal item may cause dramas at check-in and boarding (and security for that matter!), so keep that in mind.
A larger handbag – Bring along one of your bigger handbags- not like your weekend trip bag- but something a step up from the normal grab and go to the shops bag.
A messenger bag – They’re usually slim and sit close to the body, yet work for carrying a laptop and other small extras and storing easily under the seat in front of you.
A tote bag – Tote bags are great because they generally pack up super small when not in use. They’re perfect for extra mags, an iPad and other bits and bobs.
Things to Consider:
If your main carry-on is a suitcase, then taking a small daypack as your personal item is easy because you can wear it on your back and pull the luggage. If your main carry-on bag is a backpack, then you might want to use a messenger bag, large purse or tote bag as your personal item. Of course this gets tricky if you really want to bring a daypack for use at your destination as well. You can do a number of things in this situation:
- wear your small daypack in the front,
- carry it in your hand,
- or bring a really lightweight stuffable tote that can hold the contents of the daypack while the daypack gets packed away in transit.
Time to share. What do you use for your personal item when you travel?
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