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 over your shoulder, across your body, in your hand, or on your back. When you want to be completely free, you can maybe take it piggybacking with your wheeled luggage.
Table of Contents
- 1 Top Picks for Best Personal Bag for Plane Travel
- 2 Carry On Vs Personal Item: What is the Difference?
- 3 Best Personal Item Bag With Trolley Sleeve
- 3.1 Briggs & Riley Baseline-Large Shopping Tote Bag
- 3.2 Away The Everywhere Bag
- 3.3 ECOSUSI Duffle Bag Travel Tote Carry On
- 3.4 Baggallini Avenue Tote
- 3.5 Nomad Lane Bento Bag V3.0
- 3.6 Vera Bradley Women’s Microfiber Compact Weekender Travel Bag
- 3.7 Travelpro Maxlite 5 Underseat Travel Tote
- 3.8 London Fog Kensington II 17 Inch Cabin Bag
- 4 Best Personal Item Backpack for Travel
- 5 FAQs
Top Picks for Best Personal Bag for Plane Travel
Nomad Lane Bento Bag
Away Everywhere Bag
Baggallini Avenue Tote
Carry On Vs Personal Item: What is the Difference?
A personal item can be a laptop bag, tote, camera bag, diaper bag, backpack 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! That would be more in the realm of a carry on bag where the longest dimension measured is 20″-22″ or lower. A carry on bag does not have to fit under an airline seat but it does have to fit in the overhead compartment.
Personal bags for flying have to fit under the plane seat, as you’re not allowed to hold the bag on your lap while taking off and landing. Some spaces under seats are tighter than others so different airlines have different dimension restrictions. We have researched the carry on personal item bag size limits for as many USA based airlines as possible, but not all airlines list maximum dimensions of a personal item. An 18 x 14 x 8 inches bag seems to be the standard acceptable size, although you can probably allow for an extra inch with any one dimension if the bag has a soft and flexible design that allows you to compress it a bit.
So what does one carry on and one personal item mean, according to the airlines? This means that you can take one bag that conforms to its stated carry on dimensions as well as one free personal item according to a different set of dimensions (explicitly stated or not) along with you on board your flight. The carry on has to fit into the overhead bin, while the latter has to fit under the seat in front of you. If your personal item exceeds what the airline accepts, you might have to gate check your carry on bag while keeping your personal item as your actual carry on. Not all airlines and flights allow both on board so check beforehand to be sure.
We have shortlisted a few bags that do very well for travel and are guaranteed to be allowed as a personal item bag for women. 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 for that.
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.
If you want to keep your bag more secure, you could try some crossbody anti-theft travel bags.
Best Personal Item Bag With Trolley Sleeve
As the name suggests, a trolley sleeve is an extra travel bag feature that fits over your wheeled checked or carry-on baggage handle to keep your bag balanced. The bag with luggage slide can be attached firmly to the handle rather than being carried over your shoulder or worn as a backpack. A variety of travel bags for personal items are available with trolley sleeves, including backpacks, duffels, satchels, and totes.
Briggs & Riley Baseline-Large Shopping Tote Bag
If you’re looking for a travel tote that can take you straight from the plane or train to the boardroom, the Briggs & Riley Baseline-Large Shopping Tote Bag is a good bet. It is anything but a shopping tote, as it is made of lightweight ballistic nylon outer fabric in a sleek design with elegant and rich color options like black, olive, navy, and plum.
Transport it either by the leather dual top handles or by the wide piggy-back sleeve at the back that slides over any telescopic handle for easy wheeling. The shoulder strap doesn’t have a pad to cushion the weight on your shoulder, so if your bag is too heavy you may find this option a bit uncomfortable after carrying it for a while. There are feet on the bottom of the bag, so you can set it down anywhere and not get it dirty. There’s a discreet luggage tag hidden in a pocket on the piggy-back sleeve.
The organization on the exterior is just right here. There’s one large front pocket with magnetic closure and one zipped Speed-thru pocket behind the front handle. This one is invaluable for keeping your passport and boarding pass safe. If that’s not enough, the luggage slide sleeve can be zipped closed on the bottom to transform it into another compartment.
The inside of the bag features one zippered pocket and two elastic pockets on one wall and a detachable waterproof pouch on the opposite wall that’s good for toiletries and cosmetics. If you have to use a TSA-compliant toiletries bag, then this pouch would also work for holding any damp clothes. There’s also a waterproof water bottle pocket on the inside of one end and a key fob. You can pack a laptop in here but there is no sleeve for it nor any padding.
This bag measures 17″ x 13″ x 7.5″ and weighs 1.88 lbs.
- Smart design.
- High quality materials for durability.
- Strong shoulder straps.
- No laptop sleeve.
- No padding on the straps.
Away The Everywhere Bag
For a satchel-style tote bag, the Away Everywhere Bag Is a stylish and minimalist option that you can use as your personal item on planes or as your everyday work bag. It does have a dedicated padded laptop compartment that can hold a 15″ laptop. It is secured by a snap button fastener and has gusseted sides so that you can fit thicker laptops and those held in their own case as well. There are 5 other pockets inside for organization. The rest of the main space is very roomy and the top is secured by a rugged dual zipper.
There are three zippered exterior pockets. One is on the luggage sleeve at the back and is good for holding your travel documents, while a second smaller hidden pocket on the front is for your phone, although it is a bit small for larger phones. The third is discreetly placed on the bottom of the bag and is a waterproof pouch meant for your travel umbrella.
This is a soft abrasion and water-resistant nylon fabric bag with leather trim, but you also have two options for a full leather shell if you want. The nylon version is more affordable and easy to clean with a damp cloth and gentle liquid soap. The bag is available in several choices of colors. The back has a piggyback luggage slide so that you can slip the bag over your wheeled bag’s extended handle and the bag will be perfectly balanced on top. The other ways to transport it are by the dual carry handles or by the detachable and adjustable padded shoulder strap.
This 20L tote bag with luggage slide over measures 16.3″ x 7.3″ x 10.2″ and weighs 2.2 pounds without the detachable strap and 2.6 pounds with it.
- Plenty of pockets.
- Easy to clean.
- Maintains its form even when empty.
- Nice minimalist look and stylish colors.
- Not the lightest bag when empty.
- A little hard to see into the dark interior.
ECOSUSI Duffle Bag Travel Tote Carry On
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, measures 18.5″ L x 11.8″ H x 7.8″ W at the bottom with slow tapering towards the top, and will fit under any airline seat. You can stuff quite a lot in here but note that the actual height of the bag is closer to 8 inches because the zipper is sewn into the fold of the bag and cannot be unfolded. The large main zippered compartment features a padded velcro pocket for a tablet or 15.4″ laptop, three 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.
- Detachable shoulder strap lets you take the bag from travel bag to everyday work satchel.
- Very good value.
- Can hold a lot.
- The usable height of the bag is only 8 inches.
- No lockable zippers.
Baggallini Avenue Tote
The Baggallini Avenue Tote may not appear to be much, but it is a strong contender for best travel tote bag with trolley sleeve if you don’t want to spend so much for the above options! It is the ideal carry-on shoulder tote bag, with plenty of space for your own travel accessories.
You can expect it to last indefinitely, and because of its classic look, this nylon bag can tour the world with you. It’s even machine washable. This 1 lb 4 oz. tote measures 18″ by 12″ by 5.5″.
It has a sleeve at the back to slide over wheeled luggage. You can also wear it across your body with the long and adjustable shoulder strap or over one shoulder with the dual tote straps. It’s small enough to fit under the seat, but it can be crammed.
If you’re carrying a diagonally 15.5″ laptop, that will fit nicely inside the secure padded 10″ by 13″ pocket. There are credit card slots, a zipped pocket and several slip pockets and pen slots inside, so you won’t have to rummage around for small items. There’s a handy removable RFID-protected phone wristlet as well that will protect not only your phone but also your important cards and passport. The front zippered pocket hides a pull out ID tag and if you don’t use the sleeve at the back, you can just zip up the bottom and use it as an extra zipped compartment instead.
- Machine washable.
- Three ways to travel with it.
- Plenty of organization features.
- Only one small exterior pocket.
Nomad Lane Bento Bag V3.0
If you want a more structured and sturdy bag with more organizational features, this Bento Bag by Nomad Lane may just be the best personal item carry on bag for airline travel. It’s got features galore to make traveling from the plane to the boardroom easier and it is available in a few different professional colors.
This 17 x 10 x 8 inch bag weighs 2.9 lbs, is made of premium nylon and faux leather, and is available in a few dark colors with either bronze or silver hardware. The thick dual carry handles, adjustable and detachable shoulder strap with extra thick sliding pad and wide trolley sleeve at the back of the bag make all three methods of transport a breeze. The trolley sleeve features a large zippered pocket for travel documents.
There are pockets and compartments galore on this bag. It unzips via dual zippers down the center to separate into two packing zones that can lay flat next to each other like a suitcase. The rear zone has a dual-zippered compartment that’s perfect for all your clothes and it has a zippered fabric divider that will keep everything in there neat and tidy and separate from the rest of your things. The outside of the divider features a padded laptop sleeve for a 15″ laptop and another sleeve for a tablet. Both are secured by a velcro fastener. Since these devices are completely separate from anything else, it’s easy to just quickly unzip the top part and slide the devices out for the security check at the airport.
The front zone of the bag is separated from the rear by a zippered mesh divider and this space is further divided into three compartments. The one that’s the innermost is only accessible via the mesh panel and is good for packing underwear or a pair of shoes. There are two drawstring shoe bags also provided. The other two compartments are side by side and are accessible via their own external zippered L-shaped openings. One can be used for a toiletry bag and the other for a travel organizer pouch. Both these accessories are provided with the bag – one is a clear TSA-approved size toiletry bag.
Finally, there’s a dual zipper organizer compartment on the front with gusseted sides to prevent anything from falling out. There are plenty of pockets and slots for all your smaller gadgets and digital accessories. There’s also a USB-A port connected from this compartment to the bottom side of the bag so that you can charge your devices on the go, although you’ll need an adapter if they’re not USB-A compatible. You’ll also need your own power bank.
We rate this as perhaps the best personal item bag for air travel.
- Lots of included accessory bags and compartments.
- Easy to pack and access things from.
- All the zippers are water resistant.
- You’ll need an adapter to connect to the charging port if your device is not USB-A compatible.
- The accessory bags are not of great quality.
Vera Bradley Women’s Microfiber Compact Weekender Travel Bag
This brand has the iconic cotton weekender and carry on travel duffle bags that just fly off the shelves, so it only makes sense that they do a similar smaller version as a personal item bag. Vera Bradley’s Women’s Compact Weekender Travel Bag measures 16″ x 10″ x 7″ and weighs just 1.4 pounds but it holds a ton in its 20L capacity. It’s probably the perfect dimensions for a personal item, and it’s designed to fit under any airline seat.
The exterior is made of an ultra-lightweight microfiber polyester fabric that’s machine washable and available in fun solid colors. There are 3 ways to transport this bag – via its dual carry handles, its adjustable and removable shoulder strap with a movable pad, or its piggy back sleeve at the back that fits over a telescopic handle of wheeled bags.
This small boarding bag has two pockets on the outside and in front – a larger u-shaped double zipper one and a smaller single zipper straight one. There’s a side slip pocket on one end for a water bottle. Inside the main compartment that closes via two zippers are 5 mesh pockets. 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″ one in here or use one of the larger mesh pockets inside for a tablet. Since two of these are placed side by side, you can even unpick the separator stitches between the two to make a nice large pocket for a laptop.
Because its internal design is sleek and simple with no unnecessary straps and clasps, there’s more room for your things. The only downside is that there are no feet on the bottom so you should be careful not to set it down on a dirty or wet surface.
- Very light when empty.
- Very comfortable cross body shoulder strap.
- Machine washable.
- No feet on the bottom of the bag.
- All mesh and no zippered pockets inside.
Travelpro Maxlite 5 Underseat Travel Tote
This soft duffel style travel bag is made of polyester fabric with water and stain resistant coating and is available in several colors. The Travelpro Maxlite 5 Tote duffel bag is a great personal item luggage option for both men and women.
The main compartment opens from the top via a u-shaped flap with dual lockable zipper pulls. There’s a zip top mesh pocket inside. You may find that the use of some organizers are best to pack lots of different items and keep the interior from getting messy. The front exterior features a large padded dual zippered u-shaped pocket that’s good for a 15″ laptop or tablet and there’s another smaller easy access pocket in front of that. There’s a large dual zippered u-shaped gusseted side pocket for a pair of shoes or a water bottle and other small items.
There are three ways to carry this personal carry on bag. The first is by its detachable shoulder strap that’s adjustable for length and comes with a sliding pad. The second is by its sturdy dual grab handles on the top that can be kept together by the velcro wrap. The third method is by the piggy-back strap at the back that will fit any telescopic handle on wheeled luggage, although this method isn’t the best as the strap is thin and can be a bit loose around some handles.
This bag measures 18″ x 11″ x 8″ and weighs 1.6 lbs. Can this duffel bag be a personal item? Yes, on most airlines. If you don’t stuff it too much, it can be squeezed under many other seats too as it is a soft tote.
- Great organizational features.
- Lifetime warranty.
- Very lightweight but durable.
- Won’t fit under some tight economy seats.
- No external water bottle pocket.
London Fog Kensington II 17 Inch Cabin Bag
This duffel-style cabin bag comes from the Kensington II collection by London Fog and its exterior is made from an easy wipe Tri-weave Ballistic with water and stain repellent Fog guard. If you don’t want to carry it by the dual top 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 large zippered accessories pocket inside. An external front zipper pocket can hold your travel documents and a cell phone. There is a slip pocket on each exterior end that you can use for a small water bottle.
The bottom of this duffle bag personal item comes with hard plastic “feet” to keep it off the ground when you set it down. Some may find the lack of a shoulder strap problematic, but it is designed to pair with a wheeled carry on bag so that you use that bag’s telescopic handle to transport it most of the time.
This is a good chic-looking bag that can hold a ton, including a 15″ laptop if you pack it in its own sleeve first.
It measures 17-inches x 11-inches x 9-inches and weighs 2 lbs, and will fit under all airline seats.
- Classic and stylish look.
- Lots of interior space.
- The inside lining can rip if it snags on something.
Best Personal Item Backpack for Travel
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 that they can be squished into the sizer bin to fit. One such backpack is the Hynes Eagle 38L Flight Approved Backpack.
Hynes Eagle Veegul Doctor Style Travel Backpack for Men and Women
Hynes Eagle is known for making great lightweight carry on luggage with specific dimensions for strict airlines. While the Veegul travel backpack is very similar to the Lily and Drew backpack above, there are a few small differences in features. This is also guaranteed to be allowed as your personal item even on stricter airlines like Spirit and on European budget airlines that have smaller height restrictions on personal item bags.
This 18L backpack comes in several different colors, measures 14.6 x 10.6 x 6.7 inches and weighs only 1.5 pounds. It is made of durable cotton canvas, gold-toned hardware and genuine leather trim for a chic look.
This also opens from the top via a doc bag-style double zipper opening and rigid wire seam to keep the top stiff and in shape. However, for those who find it a bit of a nuisance to use two hands everytime they want to quickly grab something, there’s a vertical zipper at the back that you pull down to reach your hand in, feel around and grab whatever you need. This compartment can accommodate a 14″ Macbook Pro but it will need its own protective case as there is no dedicated sleeve for electronics.
You can get a choice of two designs based on pockets. The regular backpack design features one large u-shaped zippered pocket on the front exterior but you should be careful while opening it because it has a single zipper opening, which makes it easier for small things to roll out if the bag is not standing upright. The regular pack also has two small zippered pockets inside. The semi-zipper backpack design features two side by side straight zipped small pockets on the front exterior and a single large zippered pocket inside. There are two water bottle pockets on the sides of both styles.
The back panel and pair of adjustable shoulder straps are padded to make the pack comfortable to carry. In addition, there are two grab handles on the top that can be kept together with the attached snap button strap. There is no trolley strap at the back to allow you to slide the pack over a wheeled bag’s handle.
If you’re looking for a 9 x 10 x 17 inch backpack that conforms to United Airlines’ underseat allowance, then this backpack comes closest. Note that you won’t find a tall and thin pack to match those exact dimensions because it would probably bend outwards near the middle when you wear it on your shoulders.
- Large and wide mouth opening for easy access.
- Durable and hardy.
- Very roomy.
- No trolley sleeve.
Lily & Drew Casual Travel Daypack with Doctor Style Top Opening
One such backpack that would work extremely well as a personal item for women is the Lily & Drew Casual Travel Daypack. What makes this backpack great for travel on a plane is its large tote-style zippered opening to the main compartment on the top, but with the inclusion of several carrying options.
Inside this bag is a padded sleeve for a small 14″ laptop and 2 slip pockets. All your belongings can be found easily and wide items just slip right in. You can also pack a change of clothes in there. There are two external zippered pockets on the front. One has a hidden zipper and is tall and narrow – perfect for a cell phone. The other lies below and is wide and deep – good for travel documents. Each side features a water bottle slip pocket and there’s one external zippered pocket on the back too for a newspaper or magazine.
There are several ways to carry this bag. You can use the padded adjustable shoulder straps, the dual grab handles with wrap grip on the top, or the trolley strap on the back to slide it over the telescopic handle of your rolling luggage.
This backpack with trolley sleeve is lightly padded on the bottom, measures 15″ tall, 10.2″ wide, 8.7″ deep (including the external pocket), and weighs 1.6 lbs. It is made of water resistant polyester and can be hand washed if necessary.
It does seem that you should be careful with the side pockets, as some customers have said that they can rip if you try to use a bottle with a tight fit. The main zipper also needs two hands to open – one to hold one end of the top and the other to pull one zipper pull the other way. However, both left and right handed people can appreciate that there are two zipper pulls to to allow for opening and closing in either direction.
- Has a luggage slide sleeve, which is rare on backpacks.
- Easy to clean.
- Only for 14″ or smaller laptops.
- Doctor style opening makes it harder to insert and remove wider objects.
The answer depends a lot on the size of the backpack. You can use a backpack as your personal item if it’s a backpack purse, a sling bag or a small daypack. The latter can double up as a day bag for sightseeing or a light hike for a few hours. These types will most likely be allowed as a personal item. However, many travel backpacks are designed to be carry on luggage and many hiking backpacks have to be checked in on a flight.
If you want to take a regular carry on backpack and another smaller bag with you on a plane so that you avoid having to check anything in, then you must make sure that the smaller personal item bag can definitely fit under any airline seat and the backpack will definitely fit in any overhead bin, because if either one doesn’t, you’ll have to check one of them at the gate.
The most common personal item sizes to fit underneath the seat in front of you, such as a shoulder bag, duffle bag, laptop bag, or another compact object, are 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches and 8 inches x 14 inches x 18 inches. However, there some airlines with much stricter limits, so you should check with the airline through its website or customer support.
Yes, a duffel bag can be your personal item as long as its dimensions are within the airline’s stated limits. Most airlines will allow you to carry two pieces into the cabin. The larger one is considered a regular carry on bag and it must fit in the overhead compartment. It doesn’t matter what type of luggage the smaller piece is because what matters is that it fits underneath the seat in front of you. Some duffel bags are more structured and can’t be squeezed into that tight space if any of their dimensions are a bit over the limit. However, many soft-structured ones can.
Airlines don’t typically state a separate weight limit for a personal item, rather they’ll mention a combined weight limit for all your pieces. They also pay more attention to the size in dimensions rather than the weight simply because your carry on has to fit into the overhead bin and your personal item has to fit underneath the seat in front of you.