Carry-on vs. personal item: Mastering minimalist travel


By Krista

Travel & Tech Writer

Carry-On Vs. Personal Item

The art of smart travel can be summed up into one simple concept: packing light. Understanding the nuances of carry-on vs. personal item can significantly ease your travel.

While a carry-on is often the perfect size for a short trip, sometimes conscientious travelers might even be able to make do with simply a personal item. The determining factors in the carry-on vs. personal item debate will vary based on needs, destination, and the length of the trip but, ultimately, keeping your luggage small and simple is always a travel win.

A carry-on bag is a small to medium sized piece of luggage that does not require you to check it in. You can carry it on-board the plane and store it in the overhead bin (or, if it’s very small, under the seat in front of you). While the exact dimensions of a carry-on bag may vary, each airline will have specific restrictions related to size and weight that will determine if you are able to bring it with you onto the plane.

A personal item is a much smaller bag that is permissible in addition to carry-on luggage. It generally takes the form of a backpack, laptop case, purse, or fanny pack. Understanding the difference between carry-on vs. personal item is crucial for optimal packing.

When and what to pack in your carry-on

For longer trips that require more clothing or to anywhere that requires warmer-gear (such as large sweaters and winter coats), you’ll want something big enough to accommodate.

• Clothing: Pack versatile, wrinkle-resistant clothing that can be mixed and matched for various outfits. Consider a capsule wardrobe!

• Toiletries: Opt for travel-sized toiletries or invest in reusable containers to store your favourite products. Remember to keep your liquids in a clear plastic bag when heading through security. 

• Electronics: Keep your larger electronics, such as laptops and tablets, chargers, easily accessible at the top of your carry-on for pulling out at security. Anything you won’t need to access on the flight (adapters, extra charging cords, etc.) can also be tucked away in your carry-on.

When and what to pack in your personal item

If the trip is short and sweet (think: a day trip, a work meeting, or possibly even a weekend getaway) you might be able to survive with only a personal item. 

• Travel Documents: Store important documents, including your passport, boarding pass, and itinerary, in a designated pocket or pouch for easy access.

• Essentials: Keep essential items like your wallet, phone, and keys within easy reach in your personal item. 

• Entertainment: Pack items to keep you entertained during the flight, such as a good book, your e-reader, and travel games. Plus, any chargers or headphones to use your device or the in-flight entertainment system should be kept easily-accessible in your personal item.

• Snacks: Bring along snacks like granola bars, crackers, or fruit to stave off hunger during the flight. Many travelers find that snack boxes are the best airplane snacks because they offer variety and convenience. Be mindful of any food restrictions and regulations imposed by your airline or destination, in the case of international travel, such as certain types of meat or dairy products.

Keeping comfort in mind

Sometimes it’s a near-luxury to not have to lug anything through the airport or around at your final destination. If you would rather travel ultra-light, then reducing your items to a personal item is ideal. At the same time, if there are items that will enhance the enjoyment of your trip (even something simple like a second pair of shoes, or an extra outfit), consider upsizing to bring a carry-on to ensure that your overall trip will be pleasant and comfortable. In doing so, remember the key differences in carry-on vs. personal item to make the most informed choice for your travel needs.

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