The best personal item bag for carry on is roomy enough to hold everything you need during the flight plus a little extra and is easy to carry either over your shoulder or across your body. When you want to be completely free, you can maybe take it piggybacking with your wheeled luggage. It can be tricky to use a backpack as your personal item unless the backpack is much like a purse, a sling bag or a small daypack, but an over the shoulder tote or cross body bag is fine.
A personal item can be a laptop bag, tote, camera bag, diaper bag or purse. That does not mean it can be a large bag that has space for a laptop or camera along with several changes of clothes! These are not wheeled bags so if you want bags that can fit under an airline seat but can be rolled along too, we have separate recommendations.
Since there are no listed dimensions of how big a personal item can be, here are six bags that do very well for travel and are guaranteed to be allowed as a personal item bag for women. For more options like these, take a look at the ones available on Amazon.
Also consider the cross body-style Rise Gear Jumper which has an inbuilt shelving system that you hang up from a rod to avoid having to unpack your clothes in a hotel.
Vertical Styled Totes
Samsonite Mightlight FCO Vertical Shopper
As of January 2017, this bag scored nothing less than 4.5 stars on average, and it’s no wonder because it is from the hugely successful Mightlight collection from Samsonite. The MightLight FCO Vertical Shopper measures 17.5″ x 14.0″ x 8.0″ and weighs just 2 pounds but it holds a ton. It’s probably the largest dimensions that can pass for a personal item, but it’s designed to fit under any airline seat and makes it easy to reach for your belongings en route without getting out of your seat.
The exterior is made of a nylon and polyester blend with SamGuard™ for water, oil and stain resistance. There are 3 ways to transport this bag – via its dual carry handles, its adjustable and removable shoulder strap, or its piggy back sleeve at the back that fits over a telescopic handle of wheeled bags.
This bag has lots of large zippered pockets – 2 exterior ones on the front and one on the back, and one inside the main compartment that closes via double zippers. You can stuff a sweater inside the main compartment along with other large items. Although there is no padded sleeve for a laptop, you can fit a 17″ one vertically in here.
Because its design is sleek and simple with no unnecessary straps and clasps, there’s more room for your things. The only downside is that there is no padding on the shoulder strap so be careful about carrying heavy stuff.
Ninewest Addison 17 Inch N S Brief
For another vertical style bag, the Nine West Addison bag does have a dedicated padded laptop compartment that can hold a 15″ laptop. This is a part cotton, part polyester jacquard bag on the outside with a fully lined interior that has additional zippered and slip pockets for organization. The bag is available in either a beige or grey background with a tan or pewter clover print respectively.
The front exterior features two full width zippered pockets, one above the other, while back has a piggy back strap so that you can slip the bag over your wheeled bag’s extended handle. The other ways to transport it are by the dual carry handles or by the detachable and adjustable shoulder strap that features a padded wrap for comfort.
The bag measures 4.2 x 17 x 16 inches and weighs 2 pounds.
Satchel Styled Totes
Ricardo Beverly Hills Imperial 16-Inch City Tote
Perhaps the most elegant of our choices here is the Ricardo Beverly Hills Imperial City Tote. Available in three colors and made of polyester with a beautiful two-toned jacquard print, this satchel-style tote can be carried by dual top carry handles or by an adjustable shoulder strap that has a padded wrap to make carrying the bag very comfortable.
It weighs 2 pounds and measures 16″ L x 12″ W x 9″ D and will fit under any airline seat. There is a front compartment that’s good for quick access items and a large main compartment. Both feature dual zippers. It also has a strap at the back to fit over luggage handles.
London Fog Luggage Chatham 360 Collection 16-Inch Satchel Tote
This satchel-style tote comes from the Chatham 360 collection by London Fog and its exterior is made from an easy wipe clean woven jacquard polyester. If you don’t want to carry it by the dual satchel handles, there’s a strap at the back that you can use to slide it over your wheeled bag’s handle.
There is just one large central compartment that you access via dual zippers but the fully lined interior gives you a zippered accessories pocket inside. The bottom of the bag comes with hard plastic “feet” to keep it off the ground when you set it down. Some may find the lack of an exterior quick access pocket problematic, but if it’s not a must for you, this is a good chic looking bag that can hold a ton, including a 17″ laptop if you pack it in its own sleeve first.
It measures 16-inches x 10-inches x 8-inches and weighs 1.5-lbs.
Small Boarding Bag
Travelon Adjustable RFID Blocking Boarding Bag
For those of you who don’t tend to carry a lot in their handbags or need to be forced to travel light, the Travelon RFID Blocking Boarding Bag is a good choice. It measures 10.9 x 8.7 x 3.9 inches and weighs just over 1 pound.
Although this is not a full-fledged anti-theft bag, there is a rear pocket that features 4 card slots and a passport sleeve with RFID protection so that RFID readers can’t access private data. There is also a mesh pocket in here. The front pocket contains a slip pocket and is good for odds and ends, like sunglasses. The central compartment is roomy enough for a DSLR camera or an iPad Mini and there’s another mesh pocket in here. All the compartments are zippered. There’s an expandable mesh drop pocket on one side for a water bottle.
You can carry it by the top handle but an even better way is over the shoulder or across the body. There is no padding on the adjustable shoulder strap, but because you can’t over pack this bag, that won’t be a problem.
Lightweight Shoulder Tote
IT Luggage World’s Lightest Tote
For a full size tote bag that is also extremely lightweight, consider this tote from IT Luggage, a brand that specializes in lightweight luggage. It measures 16.5″ x 12.8″ x 5.9″ and weighs just 1 lb and 4 ozs, making it possibly the best personal item bag for carry on with your regular wheeled bag. It is available in 4 different colors and prints and is made of a high density polyester with a wipe clean interior lining.
For organization, you get two front zippered pockets for travel documents and other items that you need to reach quickly – one horizontal and one larger U-shaped. The main compartment features two zippered pockets inside and a padded tablet pocket with Velcro fastening that also secures a smaller padded pocket on the outside wall of this pocket. This smaller pocket is ideal for your smartphone if you don’t want to keep it in one of the exterior compartments. Two shoulder straps are long enough to make carrying comfortable and there is a piggy back strap as well at the back. Four metal feet on the bottom keeps it clean for longer.
Backpacks that are soft and unstructured can do very well as personal items even if their dimensions are a bit over the maximum limit. The secret is to not pack them fully so they can be squished into the sizer bin to fit. Two such backpacks are the Hynes Eagle 38L Flight Approved Backpack and the Cabin 1 Travel Backpack.