On most flights, you’re allowed to bring one carry-on bag and one personal item. There are exceptions, so be sure to check with your specific airline.
Packing Your Carry-on Bag:
Keep in mind that your carry-on may be within an airline’s size limits when empty, but could quickly become oversized if you stuff every compartment full and use any expanding features. Note that some international airlines have weight restrictions for carry-ons as well.
Even if your carry-on is within legal limits, you might still be forced to check it on smaller planes or sold-out flights—so pack accordingly. That means making sure the bag has a luggage tag, which includes your name, email address, and phone number, in case it’s lost, and that any important or breakable items are easily accessible in case you need to transfer them to your personal item in a hurry.
Do the clothing countdown. If you need a mantra to help streamline your wardrobe, use the 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 rule for a weeklong trip. Limit yourself to no more than six pairs of underwear, five sets of socks, four tops, three bottoms, two pairs of shoes and one hat. Stick to clothing items that you can re-wear without showing their reuse. Pack only garments that can be color-coordinated with everything else in your travel wardrobe. If an item doesn’t work in multiple outfits, leave it at home. Throw in a swimsuit and exercise gear or a suit jacket and dress if you’ll need them.
Lay out what you think you’ll need, then edit ruthlessly. Think twice about everything you want to put in your bag. Usually you only use about half of what you pack. Once you’ve pared down – Think Tetris. The best way to fit everything into one bag: fill every inch of space.
Shoe space. A good way to make use of your shoe space is to pack flip-flops or sandals, which take up zero space, and one pair of flats/dress shoes. Always wear your chunkiest pair of shoes (boots/sneakers/dress shoes) on the plane. All footwear should be stuffed with socks. Then lay your shoes together heel to toe at the bottom of your suitcase in a plastic shopping bag to protect clothes from dirt.
Roll, don’t fold. Many travel experts agree that rolling is superior to folding. Tightly rolled clothes take up less space than folded ones. Plus, they’re less prone to getting deep wrinkles from fold creases.
Consider a hat that folds. If your hat isn’t foldable start with a layer of rolled clothes. Then place your hat smack in the middle of the suitcase, filling the center with small items like socks or underwear, and adding more clothes around the sides of the hat so it stays snug.
Half and half rule. If you’re traveling with another person, pack half of your items in each carry-on in case you end up having to check your luggage. Luggage goes missing more often than you think and it’s stressful to have no clothing or grooming items available. Odds are at least one of your suitcases will make it.
If you gate-check your bag, an agent will give you a tag. The baggage handlers will place the bags nearby the aircraft during boarding. You will pick up your bag as you leave the aircraft rather than going to baggage claim. Just make sure everything you need on board the flight is in your personal item.
Packing Your Personal Item:
Choose your personal item wisely. Forget wasting your personal item allowance on a purse. Instead bring a large tote bag that you can stash under the seat, but will still give you extra storage space to keep all of the things you’ll need on hand during the flight. My wife uses a beach bag and stores her purse plus everything else in it. I carry a backpack.
Our personal preference is to pack everything listed below in our personal items in-case we have to check our carry-ons. Several times we have had to check our carry-ons due to sold-out flights. (This was at no charge to us).
Keep electronics easily reachable to speed your security check. All electronics need to be inspected including: MP3 players, laptops, cell phones and personal entertainment systems. Avoid the hassle of digging through the bag by keeping these items close and ready to pull out. We have noticed that some airports now allow them to stay in the bag.
Remember the 3-1-1 rule for liquids (1 clear quart bag, 1 per person, no more than 3.4 ounces). Keep liquids in an easy to reach place since you never know when TSA might be interested in looking at them. Avail yourself of your lodging’s toiletries when you can. For more information on what constitutes as a liquid, check the TSA website.
Gum or hard candy to relieve pressure in your ears during take-off and landing. I have heard that some earplugs not only eliminate noise but also reduce ear pain from changes in altitude.
A comfortable neck pillow to aid sleeping on long-haul flights. We use a blow-up one since it takes up less space.
Headphones or earbuds for use with your in-flight entertainment. Most flights provide cheap earbuds, but they don’t always work. I use noise-canceling headphones.
Talking about entertainment. Unless looking out the window is enough to keep you occupied throughout the flight, bring some sort of entertainment.
An empty water bottle to keep you hydrated throughout your travel day. Once through security, fill it up at a water fountain. My daughter has invested in a collapsible one since it takes up less space.
Medication should be in your personal item. In addition to your prescription meds, pack any over-the-counter meds you might want at your final destination. (Tylenol, Dramamine, Theraflu, Benadryl, etc.)
Phone charger just in case your phone needs a quick boost, especially if all the information you need to get to your final destination is saved in your email box.
Any documents you’ll need throughout the trip. Of course this includes your passport and flight tickets, but also any physical tickets (ballet tickets, train tickets, sporting event tickets), an invitation with an address on it, the directions or address of the final destination, or any other papers with no digital counterpart.
All valuables should be kept in your carry-on or personal item. If you’ve splurged on it, then keep it with you. Camera, jewelry, car keys, computer or other luxury or expensive items. We keep all this in our personal item in case we have to check our carry-on.
Just in case keep a change of underwear and shirt with you. You never know when you will have to check your luggage. If it gets lost you still have something to wear the first day. In addition we always keep our toothbrush and toothpaste in our personal item.
A snack: The small bag of pretzels and a glass of soda that you get in flight doesn’t always cut it, so pack satisfying snacks or even your own lunch. As long as it’s wrapped and a non-liquid, it can go through security. Note: the last trip we took TSA made us put all food items in a separate bin, so on the return flight we had everything in a plastic grocery bag that was easily accessible.
For cruises or an all-inclusive resort: As you may not have access to your room/cabin for a few hours after arriving, the items in your personal item might be the only possessions you have, so we pack our bathing suit, a pair of shorts and a short sleeved shirt in our personal item.
And One Thing Not To Pack. Airlines don’t count sweatshirts or jackets as one of your allotted two free bags, so drape them over your arm to save precious space in your carry-on.
Tie a colorful ribbon around the handle or mark your luggage with brightly colored duct tape, so it’s easy to identify on the luggage carousal and there’s no chance anyone else will mistake your bag for theirs.
If you lock your luggage make sure the lock you use is TSA approved, otherwise they will cut it off.
Pack your personal item with at least one day’s worth of clothing and personal supplies if traveling with checked baggage. That way if your luggage is lost, you will have something to wear the first day.