Now that I’ve written the war & peace of rolling carryon suitcases, what about that vaguely named “one personal item” we’re allowed to carry on in the cabin?
There’s Your Carry On Bag, and Then There’s Your Carry-Arround Bag
If you don’t care to read all about wheelie bag suitcases in excruciating detail, here is the TLDR: Go to Marshall’s or Ross or TJ Maxx or Burlington Coat Factory (or similar) and find a case you like for under $50. Suitcases don’t need to be expensive to be awesome. Make sure all the zippers and wheels work.
I’m pretty easygoing with my suitcase. The bigger concern for me is my “personal item” bag. Most airlines allow you one cabin-sized suitcase and one personal item as a carryon allotment. Check your airline’s website, though, and your flight rules! Discount carriers may limit you to one piece.
Your personal item is usually a purse, backpack, diaper bag, shoulder bag or similar.
This is the bag I obsess over packing just right because it’s the one I keep with me at my seat. It needs to fit under the seat AND it needs to be big enough to hold my laptop/electronics/cords/passport/makuppy stuff/in-flight needs/knitting/book/documents/goldfish/kitchen sink, etc.
For the past year I’ve been using this lovely slimline travel backpack.
Mine is the black version and it’s my favorite backpack I’ve ever owned. It’s spendy, but if you are interested I found the navy version on sale at Macy’s here. The straps of this backpack are curved and look much more feminine than a regular backpack, and it’s a slimline shape, which means it is very compact. I can fit my 13″ laptop, an iPad, chargers, assorted makuppy stuff, my passport and wallet, and a stealth snack in here. It starts to get iffy when I add a knitting project. On my trip to Helsinki I had balls of yarn shoved in both pockets of my coat!
A shoulder bag is much roomier, but I love having my hands free as I walk through the airport so I’m now using a backpack. If I had a shoulder bag that could reliably fit on top of my rolling suitcase without tipping over or swinging to one side every two minutes, I would go shoulder bag all the way. I have not given up this wish, so stay tuned. Until then…
Here are the things I love about this backpack:
- It’s beautiful (for a backpack). Sleek, slim, looks stylish, and goes really well with my travel clothes.
- It’s lightweight and ridiculously sturdy for a “classy” pack. I have packed it to the gills and the zippers always close smoothly. After multiple trips abroad there are no tears, no rips, or snags.
- It fits easily under an airplane seat.
- It has a padded internal laptop compartment and plenty of separated areas to store doodads
- The padded straps are actually very comfortable and don’t look like a junior high camper’s pack.
- The model I purchased has an RFID lining in the small pockets.
- Plenty of little pockets on the inside and outside give you spaces to stash your phone, ID, and tickets.
The things I don’t love:
- It is REALLY narrow, I wish it were about two inches bigger in depth.
- Price. It’s not cheap. But maybe this is a get-what-you-pay-for situation? I’m rough on handbags and after six or seven International trips, this thing still looks brand new.
There’s a slightly bigger version by the same brand which appears to have about two inches more room in the main pocket, The Knomo Beaufort Backpack. You can sign up for their email newsletter for 15% off through their website, too.
There is a much more affordable $99 version in all-nylon: The Berlin Backpack. For now I’m happy with the one I have, and it forces me to pack light! My goal was to find a sleek, upscale travel bag that didn’t look like a typical tourist pack and this is it. Also, I purchased my backpack about two years ago at Macy’s during a holiday sale so it was about $120 after the sale price + coupons. Still a little pricey, but I do use it on every trip so there’s that.
That’s my current personal item!
My backup bag
My work bag is a black shoulder bag from Target. I use it every day and right now it’s on clearance. My work laptop is too large for my little Knomo backpack, so on a couple of trips I’ve taken this bag with me to hoist around my gigantic work machine. It’s perfectly fine, although a little heavy, and the straps aren’t as comfortable. The easy price is awesome, and it reminds me of Brenda Leigh Johnson’s bigass black handbag from The Closer.
What To Look For In A Personal Item
If you’re an ultra minimalist packer you may not need this list. I am a hoarder who has by necessity tried to get my luggage and packing situation seriously pared down.
• It should be comfortable to carry, because this is the one you’ll end up holding or hoisting the most.
• The bag should be able to comfortably fit anything you need to pass through security. You do not want to be opening up your rolling suitcase in the TSA line to fish out your liquids or your laptop, so this bag will need to carry both.
• Ideally it will have a zipper. Zipper bags are much more secure in cabin underneath the seat in front of you.
• It can be roomy but not so big that it looks like another suitcase!
Once you’ve selected a bag (or narrowed it down), try packing it ahead of time with everything you might need during your flight. Put your ID, travel wallet, phone, baggie of liquids, knitting, book, laptop, chargers, snacks and makeup in there. You can’t take a water bottle through TSA, but you might buy one on the concourse … do you have enough room to hold it? Can you comfortably wear or carry it across a busy airport? If so, you have a winner!
Packing a good in-flight bag takes a little practice. I have a whole ritual that involves me spreading a clean sheet out on the bedspread and piling and sorting my goodies until I have it just right. I play music and light a candle and have a LOT of feline assistance. It’s become a fun part of my trip planning and something I look forward to. You don’t have to make it into a whole thing, but it does help to plan out your packing at least the night before.
Most of us plan our trips with a lot of care and enthusiasm, why not spend just a little of that attention on the stuff we pack to take with us? It’s another way to draw out some of that anticipation before a trip and you’ll have a more comfortable in-flight experience if your coat pockets aren’t bulging with balls of Noro like some people we know.