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.
Carry On Vs Personal Item
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 size limits for as many USA based airlines as possible, but not all airlines list maximum dimensions of a personal item.
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.
Samsonite Mightlight 2 Softside Vertical Shopper
As of September 2019, this bag scored nothing less than 4.6 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 Mar Vista 2.0 15-inch Shopper Tote
For another vertical style shopper bag, the Ricardo Beverly Hills Mar Vista 2.0 Travel Tote does have a dedicated padded laptop compartment that can hold a 15.4″ laptop and also a full-sized tablet pocket. Both of these are lined with scratch-free microfiber and secured by a hook and loop fastener. There is also an RFID-blocking zipped pocket on the opposite wall inside for your cards or passport. The rest of the main space is very roomy and the top is secured by a rugged zipper with branded pulls.
This is a soft abrasion and water-resistant nylon fabric bag with 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 solid black, blue, red, or two choices of prints. 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″ H x 14.5″ W x 5″ D inches and weighs 1.8 pounds.
Malirona Ladies Canvas Travel Weekender Carry on Personal Item Bag
If you’re a fan of Vera Bradley printed travel bags but don’t want to spend that much for one, the Malirona Ladies Canvas Travel Weekender is a good low budget alternative.
Transport it by either by the adjustable and detachable shoulder strap, or the attached snap button-wrapped dual top handles, or the wide piggy-back strap 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.
The organization is simple here. There’s one large slip pocket on the front exterior and two side slip pockets. The inside of the bag features one large zippered pocket on one wall and two smaller slip pockets on the opposite wall. You can pack a laptop in here but there is no sleeve for it nor any padding.
This pretty bag comes in 4 different prints on a soft cotton canvas with the inner lining in cotton. It measures 16″ x 13″ x 8″ and weighs 1.7 lbs. There are two clips on the sides that you can attach together with your own carabiner to make the bag smaller if you’re carrying it on planes with extremely strict dimensions.
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. We rate this as perhaps the best personal item bag for air travel.
Lily & Drew Carry On Weekender Overnight Travel Shoulder Bag
If you want a more structured and sturdy satchel tote, this Lily & Drew Weekender may just be the best personal item carry on bag for airline travel. It’s got features galore to make traveling easier and it is available in a grey and a black.
This 18 x 14 x 8 bag weighs 3 lbs and is made of a canvas-like water resistant polyester fabric. this bag can be hand washed. The thick rounded 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 is cleverly designed with a closing zipper at the bottom so that you can use it as a large slip pocket for a magazine if you’re not using it for piggy backing it on a wheeled bag.
There are pockets and compartments galore on this bag. A separate rear zippered compartment reveals a well padded laptop sleeve with Velcro securing for a 15.6″ laptop. This means it is easier to pull out the laptop quickly from its own compartment when you’re going through security screening. The main compartment in the middle features 5 slip mesh pockets and one large zippered pocket. Right on the front is a u-shaped zippered compartment with two slip pockets, a key tether and room for travel documents. All these three compartments close via sturdy dual zipper pulls. In addition, there are two side slip pockets for a water bottle and travel umbrella, and a small hidden front exterior slip pocket between the front tote handle that’s good for a phone, small wallet or passport.
Duffle Bag Personal Item
BoardingBlue NEW United Airlines Free Personal Item Under seat
A duffel bag can hold a lot just because of its simple large interior space and completely soft shell. However, most carry on sized duffel bags don’t have the features that are present on totes or wheeled bags, so they are rarely preferred by those who want easy access to a few items at all times or those who need an easy way to carry it over longer distances. That’s why this BoardingBlue NEW United Airlines Free personal item bag is a welcome hybrid.
It looks exactly like a duffle but has a side mesh elastic top pocket for a water bottle, a full length front zippered pocket, a small back zippered pocket for a charging device and cables, and even a padded tablet pocket inside. If you want fast access to a pen, there’s a slotted patch on the front through which you slide it. No other duffle bag of this size comes with these organizational features.
For carrying options, it has the usual dual duffel handles, an adjustable and detachable shoulder strap, and get this – a piggyback strap at the back!
This 9 x 10 x 17 personal bag is small enough for most airline personal item bag specifications. You can pack it really full and still fit it into the narrowest of aisle seat spaces.
Travelpro Maxlite 4 Tote
This soft duffel style travel bag is made of polyester fabric with water and stain resistant coating and is available in black or blue. The Travelpro Maxlite 4 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 a dual zippered side pocket for 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 1.8 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.
London Fog Kensington 17 Inch Deluxe Cabin Bag
This duffel-style cabin bag comes from the Kensington collection by London Fog and its exterior is made from an easy wipe clean woven jacquard fabric. 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 zippered accessories pocket inside. An external front zipper pocket can hold your travel documents and a cell phone. 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 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 1 lb 12 oz, and it will fit under all airline seats.
Small Boarding Bag
NEW BoardingBlue Personal Item under seat
For those of you who travel regularly by airlines with different maximum dimensions like American, Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit, the NEW BoardingBlue Personal Item under seat is a good choice. You can transform its width and depth to make it smaller or larger, depending on which airline you fly on the day. It measures 16 x 12 x 8 inches when zipped in and 16 x 14 x 12 inches when zipped out. This is possible because it features an expansion zipper just like on wheeled suitcases. It weighs 2 pounds.
This bag opens to the main compartment from the front via a u-shaped double zippered flap. The exterior of this flap features a single zippered pocket for small quick access items. The interior of the flap features a lightly padded and velcro secured laptop pocket for a 15.7″ laptop. The main compartment has an anchored zippered mesh pocket that’s attached via clips to the sides of the compartment’s opening. This mesh pocket is good for toiletries and also prevents your clothes from tumbling out when you open the bag while it’s standing upright to take out just your laptop.
The rest of the main packing space is surprisingly roomy and can hold a lot of stuff. This is because the bag is completely softsided and unstructured. There is a side mesh pocket for a water bottle and a small zippered charger pocket right on top near the handles.
There are two ways to carry this – by the two top handle straps that can be held together with the Velcro grip wrap, and an adjustable single shoulder strap with a sliding pad for comfort. This strap can be made long enough to carry cross body.
Best Personal Item Backpack
Is a backpack a personal item?
This is a question that has sometimes come up in forums. 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.
Can you take a backpack and a personal item on board a plane?
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.
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 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.
Hynes Eagle Veegul Stylish 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 feature small differences. 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 20L backpack comes in several different colors, measures 14.9 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. There are two water bottle pockets on the sides of both styles.
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 semizipper backpack design features two side by side straight zipped small pockets on the front exterior and a single large zippered pocket inside.
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.
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. One such backpack is the Hynes Eagle 38L Flight Approved Backpack.