The best personal item bag for travel by air today may not be the one you’ve used before.
Flown anywhere with what the airlines universally refer to as a “personal item” lately? Many travelers are tripped up by ever-changing carry on luggage regulations, some of which forbid a carry on suitcase altogether.
Other airlines make you pay for overhead space, depending upon your ticket class. Still others restrict size and dimensions to levels beyond tiny.
The best personal item bag on flight “A” may work, but not on airline “B,” and if no overhead space is available it must fit under the seat. It’s all very confusing!
The best personal item for carry on will meet your needs in all, or at least most of, these scenarios. Read on for our assessments and tips.
The Best Personal Item Bag Fits Most Scenarios
In a perfect world, you’d have a personal item bag that would see you through any potential check-in scenario. But as we all know, the airlines are doubling down on passenger carry on restrictions.
Many are adding fees designed to, depending upon what you believe, cut down on the amount of cabin baggage as seat configurations, increase the number of bodies in coach, or gouge paying customers for stuff that used to be free.
Different Strokes for Different Airlines
When your personal item on flight “A” sails through with you onto the plane with no issues, but fails on your next flight because the overhead compartment is smaller or not available for your use, it’s a frustration. The best personal carry on item is going to be versatile in that it will have some “give” – a semi-soft material will fit under an aisle seat whose space might be compromised with an electrical or USB floor outlet. It’s happened to us!
We’ve also seen more than one hapless passenger try to convince a hard-shelled spinner suitcase to fit under an airline seat. Needless to say, the bag wasn’t going to cooperate. A bag with in-line wheels instead of spinners that stick out (and are vulnerable to snapping off), as well as a flexible fabric material might have made all the difference for these unhappy travelers.
Here’s a quick table we put together showing some of the differences on U.S. domestic airlines along with examples that meet the requirements as of this writing:
|Personal Item Bag for Spirit Airlines - a purse or a small backpack||Personal Item Bag Frontier Airlines - a purse, handbag or briefcase||Personal Item Bag for Delta, AA - 1 purse, briefcase, camera bag, diaper bag, or 1 laptop computer||Personal Item Bag United Airlines - purse, briefcase, laptop bag||Personal Item Bag Southwest Airlines - purses, briefcases, cameras, food containers, or laptops (case included)|
|18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) including handles and wheels||18 by 14 by 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm) including handles and wheels||No dimensions given but personal items must be able to fit securely under the seat in front of the passenger.||9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm) must fit in overhead or under seat in front of you||18.5 x 8.5 x 13.5 inches (47 x 21.5 x 34 cm)|
|Delsey Luggage Fusion Wheeled Tote - 6.75 x 17.25 x 12.75 inches||Aerolite 16" Carry On Under Seat Wheeled Trolley - 16.50 x 13.80 x 7.80 inches||BoardingBlue Soft Personal Item 17" Under Seat Duffel - 17 x 13 x 9 inches||Travel Weekender Overnight Carry-on Shoulder Duffel Tote Bag - 6 x 11 x 14 inches||Airlines Personal Item Laptop Backpack - 18 x 13 x 8 inches|
|Click here for details and latest price||Click here for details and latest price||Click here for details and latest price||Click here for details and latest price||Click here for details and latest price|
As such, our specific recommendations for the best carry on personal item are going to reflect these realities. It’s not just that we prefer them, it’s that we’ve come to prefer them because they work in today’s air travel climate.
Tip: Looking for additional luggage recommendations? Check out our latest update: Which Luggage is Best for Travel
The Best Personal Item Bag for Women
Women have some fun choices in terms of personal items. Because we’ve carried purses and totes forever, we will often already have a bag or two that will suffice. After all, the best personal item bag for travel is one that will hold all the things you normally carry with you, along with the extras you decide to bring to make your flight comfortable. These will vary depending on flight length and distance, domestic vs international, whether you’re changing climates at your destination and other variables.
Can you bring a carry on and a backpack with you in the cabin?
You certainly can! Just make sure the items you have conform with airline regulations. Small backpacks suitable for stowing under the seat in front of you come in fun patterns and materials that coordinate with your fashion statement. Change from your personal item on flight 1 to another on flight 2 depending upon your need for additional space (or in the rare event you’ve managed to end up with fewer items since the last boarding).
You might decide your “main” carry on will be a larger backpack. If so, just ensure your personal item is the appropriate size.
Tip: Check out Passing Thru’s New Amazon Travel Shoppe for curated collections of packing, luggage, and travel lifestyle items specifically selected for stylish convenience.
The Best Personal Item Bag for Men
When men are searching for the best personal item for carry on purposes, they’re often looking for a bag that will handle tech essentials or camera equipment.
Protecting valuables with the best carry on personal item can be challenging, but we managed to find several items that fit the bill. Can you bring a carry on and a backpack? Yes, with one of these you certainly can.
Tip: Check out our Travel Tech Essentials recommendations for digital warriors on the go!
The Best Personal Item Bag for International or Long Haul Trips
The best personal item bag for travel on international flights or long hauls with stopovers are often going to have to serve in tandem with a regular carry on which together will hold all the necessities for the trip. The reason for this is that many travelers are reluctant to check their bags all the way through on a multi-leg flight. We’ve been lucky so far, but we know it’s better when switching airlines on different international legs to retrieve luggage from baggage claim and undergo the check in process again. This can be a real pain, but as full time travelers, we’re insufficiently minimalist to go carry on only on most itineraries. On occasion, we’ve stored luggage at a regional airport knowing that we’ll return to fly out of that location, but those times have been rare.
So, what should you look for in similar circumstances? Chances are you’ll be schlepping this bag fair distances in the airport, upon arrival, and maybe over cobblestones or up multiple flights of steps depending on the location and type of your accommodations. The best personal item bag for travel on long haul, multi-leg trips will have the following features:
- a trolley sleeve to slip over the handle of your larger roller bag so that you can double them up
- multiple interior compartments to keep smaller items organized and protected
- a padded compartment for your laptop
- slots for smaller electronics – phone, reader or tablet
- a variety of exterior pockets to keep items you need to grab in a hurry accessible
- an adjustable handle – if it’s a roller (and we recommend that it is) – to accommodate a smaller bag size with comfortable height
Fortunately, manufacturers have given careful thought to features the best carry on personal item should have. We’ve selected several here that will perform well at affordable prices.
Tip: Now that you know which bag you’re going to choose, it needs a luggage tag. Check out our fun designs that you can customize in the PassingThru Travel Shop: click here.