With ever-increasing baggage fees and stringent TSA regulations, it's important to pack your bags for a flight carefully. On most flights you are allowed one piece of carry-on luggage for the overhead bin and a personal item like a backpack, tote or purse that can be stored under the seat in front of you. Your personal item is what you’re going to have easy access to, so you'll need to pack light yet effectively for the best travel experience. Take a look at a packing list of the in-flight essentials before you set off.

Clothing & Accessories

Flights can be delayed and checked bags lost, so if you’re not using a travel backpack or carry-on only luggage, it’s a good idea to pack one set of spare undergarments and a change of clothes in your carry-on backpack should you have an overnight stay at the airport. Roll up and pack a light cotton jacket to combat the chilly air on board. An inflatable neck pillow, which folds neatly into a travel-sized item, could also be a great addition to your travel bag.

Travel Documents

Keep your passport and a passport copy in your carry-on bag (or on your person) at all times. A snug, deep pocket in the main compartment your backpack is a good place for it. Be sure to avoid side pockets as those are the most easily accessible for would-be pickpockets or for falling out.

Copies of rental car and hotel reservations should go with it. If you have visa documents that you must present upon arrival at your destination, slip them into a clear plastic document holder to avoid crumpling them and slide them into the flat part of your pack that touches your back. Another travel essential is your driver’s license of course, and even credit cards, which we recommend placing in a similarly safe area of your travel pack as well.

Entertainment & Electronics

In terms of electronics, an amazon kindle or iPad are great, slim devices that can provide hours of entertainment while taking up minimal space. If you pack your laptop in your backpack, download a couple of new movies before takeoff. Small electronics, such as a digital camera, personal DVD player or handheld gaming system, should also go into your backpack and never into checked bags. International travelers should pack a charger for their long haul voyage.

Books, magazines, crossword puzzles and more can also easily fit into your travel backpack as well and provide hours of quality entertainment, while ensuring your backpack stays within the size requirements.

Personal Care & Refreshments

In your toiletry bag, fill a quart-sized zip-top plastic bag with carry-on size versions of your toiletries, such as shampoo and body lotion. Add a 100-ml. tube of toothpaste, lip balm, some deodorant and a folding travel toothbrush. If you plan to wash your face during the flight, pack your own washcloth. A personal first aid kit, with motion sickness medication and a general painkiller, is also advisable.


Pack your own snacks, such as transparent zip-top bags of mixed nuts or peanut butter sandwiches, to avoid paying the hefty on-board prices. For drinks you can always pack an empty water bottle to fill up at a drinking fountain after you pass through airport security.

Check your Backpack’s Size

Check your airline's size limits for carry-on luggage. Most airlines allow you to bring on one personal item such as a purse or briefcase, as well as one larger item such as a backpack. For many airlines, the maximum size of a carry-on item is 22 by 14 by 9 inches. If your filled backpack is larger, you'll need to check it.

Pack your items into the bag. If you're using it as a carry-on, be sure any liquids, gels or aerosols follow the Transportation Security Administration's 3-1-1 policy. Each item must be no larger than 3.4 ounces and all the containers have to fit into a single 1-quart plastic bag. Remove this bag when you go through security so it can be screened separately.

Place the bag inside a zippered plastic bag or cheap duffel bag if you're planning to check it and have any concerns about the bag getting damaged or caught on something. Bring the backpack onto the plane if you're opting to use it as carry-on. Place it in an overhead bin with the straps facing down and the top of the bag facing out. This position makes it easy to grab your backpack once you've arrived at your destination.


If the gate agent feels your backpack is too large or bulky, or if there's not enough space in the overhead bins for all the passengers, you might be asked to gate-check your backpack. You'll be given a tag to place on your backpack and will leave it just outside the plane's door so it can be placed in the belly of the plane. You'll pick your backpack up again just outside the plane once you arrive at your destination.