Don’t you just love that personal item that you can stuff with extra things and take with you on the plane? Your regular carry on is subject to scrutiny if it even appears slightly overweight or oversized but your handbag can be pushing its limits and still be allowed without a second glance. You don’t have to tag it like your carry on either.
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 2 Softside Vertical Shopper
As of September 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 2 Softside Vertical Shopper measures 15″ x 13″ x 6″ and weighs just 2 pounds but it holds a ton. It’s probably the perfect dimensions for a personal item, and 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 ultra-lightweight nylon fabric 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 a few large zippered pockets – 1 exterior one on the front and one inside the main compartment that closes via a zipper. 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 15.6″ 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.
Ricardo Beverly Hills Coastal Travel Tote
For another vertical style bag, the Ricardo Beverly Hills Coastal Travel Tote bag does have a dedicated padded laptop compartment that can hold a 15.5″ laptop and also a full-sized tablet pocket. Both these are lined with scratch-free microfiber and secured by a Velcro fastener. There is also an RFID-blocking zipped pocket on the opposite wall inside for your cards or passport.
This is a soft ripstop polyester fabric bag with polyester lining, a front external zipped compartment for travel documents and easy access items, and two slip pockets on the sides for a water bottle and compact umbrella. The bag is available in either a blue or grey. The 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 padded carry handles or by the detachable and adjustable shoulder strap.
The bag measures 15 x 15.6 x 6.5 inches and weighs 1.7 pounds.
Satchel Styled Totes
ECOSUSI Unisex Large Travel Weekender Bag
Perhaps the most unstructured of our choices here is the ECOSUSI Unisex Large Travel Weekender Bag. If you’re looking for a large slouchy type bag, this is it. Available in three colors and made of water-repellent nylon with beautiful black faux leather accents and gold hardware, this satchel-style tote can be carried by dual top carry handles or by a padded detachable and adjustable shoulder strap to make carrying the bag very comfortable.
It also has a wide back panel that slides over any telescopic handle of a wheeled bag so that you don’t need to carry it on your body for long periods of time. This back panel features a zippered pocket that’s big enough for a passport and boarding pass.
It weighs 1.2 pounds and measures 18″ L x 11″ H x 8″ W and will fit under any airline seat. You can stuff quite a lot in here. The large main zippered compartment features a padded velcro pocket for a tablet, two slip pockets and one zippered pocket.
The wide bottom is semi-rigid and features 4 metal feet to keep the bag upright when set down.
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 Anti-Theft Classic Tour Bag Medium
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 Anti-Theft Classic Tour Bag Medium is a good choice. It measures 11 x 9.5 x 3 inches and weighs just over 1 pound.
This is a full-fledged anti-theft bag, as there are front and rear external slash pockets, and interior card slots and passport sleeve with RFID protection so that RFID readers can’t access private data. The central main compartment can be locked, and is roomy enough for a DSLR camera. There is also a padded pocket for an iPad. There’s an outer zippered expansion mesh 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. This shoulder strap is cut-proof and can be secured to a post or table leg by its strap lock to prevent it from being carried away when you’re not looking. There is no padding on it, but because you can’t over pack this bag, that won’t be a problem.
Lightweight Shoulder Tote
Ricardo Beverly Hills Malibu Bay 18″ Tote
For a full size tote bag that is also extremely lightweight, consider this 18″ tote from the Ricardo Beverly Hills Malibu collection, a brand that specializes in well made luggage. It measures 19″ x 14″ x 5.5″ and weighs just 1.3 lbs, making it possibly the best personal item bag for carry on with your regular wheeled bag. It is available in 2 colors and is made of a very light fabric called Dreamfel, which is lighter than polyester and nylon and is abrasion and weather-resistant and environmentally friendly. The inside is lined with water-resistant nylon.
For organization, you get a front zippered pocket for travel documents and other items that you need to reach quickly, and a back slip pocket for a newspaper or book. There’s a slip pocket as well on each side. The main compartment opens via a zipper, and the interior features two zippered pockets inside, one large and one small, and a padded laptop pocket that can hold a 15 inch laptop or tablet.
Two padded 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.
While customers love how roomy and durable this bag is, the shoulder straps can feel a bit too short if you wear it over your shoulder with a thick coat on. However, you will be able to manage it anyway.
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.