What to carry in your “personal item:” Or, how to stay out of the overhead bin.

We’ve seen those flyers who constantly dig around in the overhead bin during the flight, and maybe we’ve been that person. But do you really want your crotch in your seatmate’s face, or to get scolded by flight attendants? With planning and organization, you don’t need anything in your overhead or checked bag, and can be comfortable during flights and full days of transit. Even seasoned travelers can level-up by thinking travel-sized and organized. We’ve compiled a list of items you can pack in your purse, murse, laptop bag, or backpack to ensure everything you need is within arm’s reach. I can fit all of the items below on my person and in my daypack, which fits nicely under the seat in front of me without shoving. If you don’t read anything else, watch the video on rolling clothes because it’s life changing!

  • Use the smallest day-pack possible: Your personal item should leave room for leg stretches, especially on a long-haul flight. Research a small/medium-sized bag with travel features that will help you fit more in less space. We’ve got a review of such a bag here
  • Stuff sacks: Use stuff sacks inside your bigger bag to categorize items. I use different colored Crown Royal Whisky bags and other small drawstring bags as mini stuff sacks that help me locate my stuff quickly.
  • Electronics: Laptop, tablet, phone, Kindle. Don’t forget to download movies, music, and game content on your device before leaving home, as plane wifi is expensive and spotty
  • Electronics accessories: Comfortable headphones, headphone adapters for your seat, power bank, chargers, travel mouse. Accessory adapters and cords are where stuff sacks shine. Bundling chargers and cords in a small sack within your larger bag helps you avoid a huge tangle of cords
    • Power outlets: Even though an airline offers power outlets at your seat, don’t count on them to work. They will not work at certain times during the flight, and they are most often defective
    • Sim cards: Also note that if you’re traveling overseas, pre-purchase and swap your sim card so you’re ready to go when you land
  • Reading material and print entertainment: Writing utensils (pressure-safe pen and pencil); small book; book light with adjustable dimmer; small lined notebook/Moleskine, magazine, crossword puzzle, Sudoku
  • Reusable water bottle: Accept all water offered and more. Drink some, and keep your bottle topped with the rest to save on refilling time and uncertainty. I’m a fan of this collapsible water bottle that you can roll up when you’re not using it
  • Emergency snack: Pack trail mix or other non-offensive snack not easily smashed; avoid stinky or crinkly snacks. Howeve, try to eat a meal before you fly, and finish your meal before you board. You do you, but know that any food is a lot to handle while boarding. Food is exceptionally fragrant and noisy while most other people aren’t eating in this small space. And you’re stuck with your trash until drink service
  • Personal hygiene items: Travel sized items…deodorant wipes, wet wipes, sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, chap-stick, moisturizer, eye drops…anything to help refresh during or after your flight
  • Warmth: Blankets aren’t always available, so a lightweight hoodie, cardigan, poncho, or scarf is essential; these can also block light if you don’t need them to keep warm. Keeping your winter jacket packed in your checked or overhead bag is common etiquette
  • Cosmetics: Mini hairbrush, hair tie, lip balm, concealer, simple jewelry
  • Medicine: Vitamin fizzy tabs, tiny bottle of pain relief, prescription meds
  • Sleep aids: Earplugs, soft headphones, eye mask, inflatable pillow, scarf, melatonin
  • Band-aid or hydro-colloid blister guard: Your feet are probably not used to heavy transit or high-activity days. Bring at least 4 blister guards to protect your heels in the airport before and after your trip
  • Designate a place for documents: Passport, IDs, money, travel doc, map to your first location, etc,…these belong in the same place in your bag every time you travel. Ideally, choose a pocket inside your bag you can zip, secure, and not really bend. Designating a pocket for important items has saved me so much time and panic. 
  • Change of clothes: Delays and lost luggage happen. If I have room, I bring one change of clothes. At the very least, I bring extra undergarments and a shirt. Roll them up so they’re as small as possible (watch this video!!). Invest in a few select pieces of lightweight travel clothing for these situations.
  • Valuables or irreplaceables: Assume the worst will happen and keep your best stuff on you, or don’t bring it.

What do you bring on a flight that you’re always glad you have? Let us know in the comments!


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