As a female who travels 80% of the year, I’ve got packing my carry on luggage down to a literal science. There is nothing worse than being mid-flight on a long haul journey and realizing you’ve completely packed all the wrong things. Cue meltdown! Flying can be an uncomfortable situation all on it’s own, so my goal is to set myself up for jet-setting success.
This includes having the right carry on bag, keeping it as light as possible, but making sure to pack my in-flight essentials.
This blog is the complete guide to:
- Airline carry on bag size and weight requirements
- The best carry on bags
- Carry on luggage rules and restrictions
- What to pack in your carry on bag
Why Packing a Carry On like a Pro is Essential
Listen, airlines have been known to do a really naughty thing…lose peoples luggage! That is why it’s SO vital to pack your carry on bag like a seasoned professional. Imagine you were in the bridal party for a destination wedding and the airline lost your dress? Case and point on why packing super important things into your carry-on will be a life saver!
The Best Carry On Luggage
First thing’s first, I got the SMALLEST carry on I could find, without it being completely useless. I wanted something that was very light, easy to roll, could stow under seats, but would still hold my essentials. I used to use a big black tote bag for my carry on bag, until my shoulder started to give me major problems. It was way to heavy to be carrying around airports and I was always complaining about it. I’ll never forget the look on my husbands face when I asked him to carry it for me! Not because he didn’t want to carry a purse, but because he couldn’t believe how insanely heavy it was.
The Samsonite Spinner Underseat - With USB Port
This Samsonite bag checked all the boxes for me. It fits under seats on planes, can be stowed on trains, it’s crazy light and small, and it didn’t cost a ton of money!
Instead of my heavy tote breaking my shoulder, I can breeze through airports with this thing. When I have my checked bag, it actually sits on top of it, allowing me to roll them in tandem.
Even though this bag is tiny, I can still fit an impressive amount of stuff in it, as you will see in my packing list below.
What Are The Carry On Luggage Size Requirements
AeroMexico: 21.5 x 15.7 x 10″ max 22 lbs
Air Asia: 22 x 14 x 9″
Air Canada: 21.5 x 15.5 x 9″
Air France: 21.7 x 13.8 x 9.9″
Alaska Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9″
American Airlines: 22 x 14 x 9″
British Airways: 22 x 18 x 10″ max 51 lbs (woah, that's one heavy carry on!)
Delta Air Lines: 22 x 14 x 9″
EasyJet: 22 x 18 x 9.5
Emirates: 22 x 15 x 9
Eva Air: 22 x 14 x 9
JetBlue: 22 x 14 x 9″
KLM: 21.5 x 13.5 x 9″ max 26 lbs
Lufthansa: 21.5 x 15.7 x 9
Norwegian: 21.5 x 16 x 9″ max 22 lbs
Porter Airlines: 22 x 16 x 9″
Qatar Airways: 20 x 15 x 10 max 15 lbs eco, 33 lbs biz
RyanAir: 14 x 8 x 8
Singapore Air: Sum of 45″ max 15 lbs
SouthWest: 24 x 16 x 10″
West Jet: 21 x 15 x 9″
United: 22 x 14 x 9″
Virgin: 19 x 13 x 9″
These are the top airlines Carry On Luggage Size Restrictions as of August 1, 2018.
If you are on a normal economy flight, staying under these dimensions will ensure your bag is FREE. (Click on any airline to be taken directly to their detailed carry on requirements.)
If you fly Basic Economy:
Some airlines now offer a super LOW ticket price that gives you the bare bones when it comes to your flight. You won't get to bring on a carry on bag without paying $25-$50 for it. However, you will get a Personal Item which needs to fit under the seat in front of you.
Carry on Luggage Rules
1 Personal Item
90% of the time, airlines allow you to bring on 1 personal item IN ADDITION to your carry on luggage. This item is most commonly defined as a: purse, briefcase, laptop bag, camera bag, duty free bag, garment bag.
They list size restrictions, but as long as you can fit in under the seat in front of you, you should be fine.
Bringing Food on a Flight
While liquids are a no-no, there is really no restriction with bringing food on board. Most airlines will allow you to bring your own meals and snacks, as long as they are packaged or in tupperware-like containers. So if you want to bring Grandma's cookies on board, go for it!
Our good friends at the TSA say this about bringing liquids in your carry on:
You are allowed to bring a quart-sized bag of liquids, aerosols, gels, creams and pastes in your carry-on bag and through the checkpoint. These are limited to travel-sized containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or less per item.
I'm Canadian so I had no idea what a quart was, but it equals just under 1 litre (0.946 L)
Put all your liquid into a clear, sealable, plastic bag no bigger than 1 Quart and take it out for screening. If you forget anything they will likely find it. Just like they did with my favorite lipgloss, which was confiscated.
What NOT to Pack in Your Carry On
Prohibited and Restricted items! There is a whole crazy list of things you can't bring on a plane. I suggest you read it for yourself HERE. I can't help but laugh at some of the objects! Did you know ANTLERS are allowed as long as they stow under the seat or in the overhead bin? LOL!
Some of the most common prohibited items are:
- Large Batteries
- Gas Cartridges
- Fuel Tablets
- Poisons and Toxins
- Sharp Objects
What you Shouldn't Check
Airlines mention a few items you should bring in your carry on incase your checked bags are lost or delayed. They include:
- Personal ID
- Travel Documents
I have a whole list below of what I personally pack in my carry on, and why!
Yes, I STILL Check a Bag
I am not a ‘carry on only’ kind of girl. I would love to be able to travel so freely, but it’s never going to happen.
HERE'S WHY: I mostly travel full time from place to place, only returning to a ‘home-base’ one time a year. Since I visit so many different climates, cultures and countries, I can’t pack 9+ months of stuff into a carry-on bag. Not even close. I also use a Virtual Closet to help me with keeping my luggage as light as possible.
That being said, I still pack a mean checked bag too! I use this strangely shaped, but wonderfully efficient, Stryde checked luggage.
How to PACK a Carry On Bag
LESS: Once I pack my bag, I take about 50% of it OUT! Even though I am a minimalist, that evil materialist side of me keeps trying to overpack my luggage.
LIGHTER: I have swapped out every full size thing I once had for mini and lighter versions. Things like my blow-dryer, straighter, certain makeup items, and my handbag. I have also been choosing lighter materials for dresses and jackets so I am not adding extra pounds for no reason.
LOVE: If I don’t LOVE it, it doesn’t come. Period. How many times have you said “Just in case” and packed that extra item, just to lug it around the entire time, never wearing it. That used to be my life story!
What’s In My Carry On
The essence of my digital nomad existence. This is probably the main reason my tote bag was tearing into my shoulder all those years! I need to have my laptop with me at all times. Hey, some of my best work is done in airport lounges. I use MacBook Air because it's super light! I used to have a MacBook Pro but it was too clunky and heavy for frequent travel.
Duh, right? Of course my phone is practically an extension of my hand, but it’s what I put ON the phone that matters for a flight. So many planes have dysfunctional or non-existent entertainment screens, so I bring a back up. I will always load my phone with a movie, a good book, and maybe even a few photos I need to edit. That way I don’t have to rely on my plane having seat-back entertainment. I currently have the iPhone 7 Plus because the camera is great for candid travel pics.
Now, if you are going to load your phone with a movie, then you need this little gadget! Before I had this, I would always try and make a little phone stand out of empty airplane sandwich boxes and a flight attendant almost threw out my phone! This stand will angle your phone the way you need it for proper viewing. I have also used it for video calls, a stand for super lazy facebook scrolling, or to hold small papers. I freaking love this thing! And for $6, you can't go wrong!
My carry on has a USB port, but let me tell you, I literally forgot my usb cord, rendering it totally useless. Now I make sure I have a working USB cord, as well as the wall adaptor for charging on the go. Extra long cords are nice for travel as well, because not every hotel room has plugs close to the bed.
I Wipe. Down. Everything.
Want to know a dirty secret? Planes never get cleaned. Before you board your flight, that crew just let off hundreds of other passengers, collected garbage in the rows, then had you board the plane. There was no disinfecting, deep cleaning, or really even a wipe down. Now repeat that hundreds of times. NASTY!
The moment I am on the plane, I whip out a pack of anti-bacterial wipes and go to town. I make sure to wipe the tray table, seat belt, volume buttons, window shade handle, armrest and anything else I will be touching.
Change of Clothes
My in flight fashion style could be called “hobo chic” at times. I am really not out to win any airport fashion awards, I really just need to be comfy. For that reason, always have a change of clothes in my carry-on. Let’s imagine I was delayed in a cute European city for 12 hours. I’m really not going to go sightseeing or wine tasting in my sweatpants.
I will also be strategic in what I pack based on the potential change in temperature. If I am flying from Canada to Mexico, I will die of heat if I had to keep on my sweater and jeans. In that circumstance, I will be sure to pack a light dress and some flip flops.
Just like a change of clothes, but bathing suit is coming in my carry-on. 99% of the places I am traveling to will have a beach, lake, or at least a pool inside the hotel. Unless you are built like a VS model, bathing suits aren’t an easy “Oh, I’ll just grab one at my destination” kind of deal. It takes me months to find the right suit, so I’m not risking losing it!
Contact Case & Glasses
I’m sure wearing contacts on a long flight was originally invented as a torture technique.
I made the mistake of keeping mine in on a 10 hour flight which resulted in something that felt like shard of glass under my eyelids! I now bring a contact case full of solution and my glasses.
Small RFID Wallet
I started using a small ‘anti-theft’ cross body bag when I travel and I’m hooked! My credit cards used to get compromised all the time when I was abroad and since I started using anti-theft RFID bags, that hasn’t happened! If I ever decide to check my RFID bag, I will sneak a little RFID wallet into my carry-on bag. It has a little layer of material that makes it impossible for thieves to ‘scan’ your credit cards and ID’s. Perfect travel safety hack. My fav brand Arden Cove is launching a new line of these wallets soon.
I will literally lose my shit if I get hungry while travelling. I turn into this scary, ravenous, desperate version of myself that I would rather keep at bay. It’s kind of like the Incredible Hulk, except I just want to crush plates of nachos. That is why I have gotten into the habit of keeping healthy snacks in my bag, so I don’t turn psycho.
I love Kind Bars, Beachbars, mixed nuts or dried fruit.
Ear Bud Headphones
I would love to get some fancy over the ear Beats headphones, but so many planes still make you hold off until well after take-off to put them on. Boo! I need my tunes the moment the plane starts taxi’ing down the runway. What else is going to keep me calm to the fact that I’m taking off in a huge piece of metal, flying thousands of feet above the ground?
Until the day comes when every flight allows over the ear, I will continue to use noise cancelling ear bud headphones. I try my BEST not to forget these, because if you have ever used the free headphones they give out, your eardrums will remember why.
What is up with air-conditioning? Am I the only one who feels like it’s a little excessive these days? Growing up in Canada, I would wait all year for our few weeks of summer, just to embrace the sweltering heat. Now anytime I am in a summery climate (mostly in the US!!), every indoor space is cooled to North Pole temperatures. This includes airports and airplanes.
I won’t travel without some sort of sweater, shawl, scarf, or blanket-ish thing in my bag. Every flight I have been on in the past 4 years has warranted my obsession with bringing a shawl. They are all freezing! Plus, nothing feels quite like getting to snuggle up with something draped over you.
I’m not talking about packing enough makeup to do an entire Youtube tutorial video, I’m talking about the basics. I leave 70% of my makeup in my checked bag, but there are certain items I will bring on the flight with me.
– Eyebrow pencil. If I fall asleep and my face touches anything, my eyebrows will cease to exist.
– Eye liner. I have been using black pencil eyeliner since the 8th grade, why stop now?
– Mascara. Because it’s the holy grail of looking put together.
– Mini Coverup tube. Small and just to hid my jet-lag circles
– Lip Gloss. Planes are dehydrating, enough said.
Those few items hardly take up any space, but can help me feel a little less ghoulish coming off a long flight.
Even if I take my contacts out, my eyes have a tendency to get more red than watching “Marley & Me’ for the first time. I need to have eye-drops tucked away in my bag at all times.
Sooner or later, it’s either going to be my husband or myself that comes down with a gnarly travel headache. Buying Advil at the airport is like buying little golden nuggets, so I prefer to buy them ahead of time and store in my carry-on beside my makeup.
I was once told that one the biggest flight attendant pet peeves are when people ask for pens. I get it. There could be 400 people on a plane and every one of them could be asking for a pen. Seriously annoying. I travel with 2 freaking cute pens so I am not contributing to the problem.
If I check them, they will be the only thing in my luggage that breaks. Plus, I am usually travelling to hot destinations where I will need them right after leaving the airport. Oh, and they are also a disguise for how awful I might look after a red-eye flight.
My husband snores like bulldozer, so I went to the ear doctor and had special silicone ear plugs molded especially for my ears. My sleep depends on having these babies with me at bedtime. I can’t lose or forget them, so it’s best I have them with me at all times. I even use them on the fligh if I want to sleep on the plane. They block out SO much noise!
Top 3 Carry On Bags for 2018