What Do Airlines Call A Personal Item?

We love to travel, and 2020 was supposed to be a big travel year for us. Like the rest of you, that didn't happen. 2021 hasn't been so good either!

We're still dreaming about travel, reading about new destinations, and making (tentative) plans for the future. We hope all of you are well and staying safe... and that you find some inspiration here for YOUR future travels.

Let's hope we can all be traveling again in 2022! 

"I keep hearing that airlines will let you take a "personal item" on the plane along with your roll aboard, carry-on size bags.
I'm not exactly sure what they mean...
Can you give me an idea?" Suze

I edited that so I could put it on the website, Suze...

No, the additional item that airlines are talking about is not something unmentionable... and... er... well... personal.

In the United States, you are allowed to take one carry-on size suitcase and one personal item.

There are things you can’t or shouldn’t put into your suitcase... just in case you have to check that carry-on bag at the last minute...

And that can happen even at the gate with planes being so full these days.

That’s where the personal item comes in... it gives you a way to carry all those thing you absolutely must keep with you all the time.

So what "items" are we talking about?

What can you carry-on the planes besides that carry-on suitcase? It can be...

  • a briefcase
  • a camera or a camera bag with all your gear
  • a handbag or purse
  • your laptop in a carrying bag
  • or a small day pack....or...
  • Something like we take.. a dedicated "travel purse"... one that you can cram all or most of the above into.

How Small Must It Be? Or Should We Say, How Big Can It Be?

As a general rule, the total outside dimension should be no larger than 36 inches (91 centimeters).

Our Carry-on Luggage and one personal item each to carry on the plane

That "travel purse" we currently take is .... 10" x 16" x 7".  That's height + width + depth. 

If we need one item for each of us, we sometimes also take a camera bag or a small daypack.  If I'm taking my laptop, I have a padded day pack that I take.

And we can travel for a month with this... Even with the laptop. Really!

What To Put In That Personal Item?

    Pack it as if you'll have to check your carry-on bag...

We pack everything that we have to have with us NO MATTER WHAT only in the bags that we KNOW will stay with us.

The overhead bins may be full...

There may be times when your plane is so full that you are required to "gate check" your carry-on suitcase, but you can always take that personal item with you.

Sometimes when you change carriers you could be required to check your bag... this is more likely internationally than it is domestically.

    Watch the weight... Especially for international travel.

If you're lucky enough to be traveling internationally, be advised that many "foreign" airlines may be stricter about what you can take on.

Weighin for personal item in Peru

Not only may the dimensions be smaller for your carry-on suitcase, but some international carriers may have weight restrictions too.

Some of these are down right stingy!

I have to let them weigh my carry-on size bag, and I'm prepared to check it if I must... but I try not to let them weigh my travel purse with all we manage to pack in it.

We are always prepared to redistribute heavy items into a little daypack... I carry the laptop or iPad... Mark carries the camera.

Sometimes they will weigh your personal item and sometimes they won't.

    Here's what we put in our personal item...

If we think we might have to relinquish our carry-on size bag during a connecting flight, we pack that with "emergency supplies" that need to stay with us. To give you an idea what to pack in your personal item, we'll tell you what we put in ours.

  • passports and any paper tickets and supporting documents (when they're not in your money belt)
  • toothbrushes and toothpaste
  • hair brushes and combs
  • cosmetics (all small sizes!)
  • two of those "One quart plastic bags for liquids" since there are two of us traveling
  • medicines (including aspirin and Pepto-Bismol) and copies of prescriptions
  • prescription eyeglasses, extra contact lenses, dark glasses
  • laptop with appropriate cables and chargers
  • camera (also with cables and chargers)
  • cell phone (we just hope this stays charged!)
  • guidebook and reading material
  • small notebook and pens (you need something to fill out those immigration forms!)
  • umbrella
  • small flashlight
  • car keys for when we return home
  • and we might even pack in a change of underwear!
  • an expandable bag in case we really, really need more carry-on space for our return.

Sound like a lot?

It is. They are all small and compact items.

They have to be if you're traveling light... and we think that's the way you should travel.

If you've been reading any of our other packing pages, you've heard THAT before. But you can see why we don't necessarily want to put it on the scale!

In addition to your one piece or carry-on size luggage and your personal item, you can also get by with carrying your coat and an umbrella... if it's not in your bag.

Trust us, you really don't want to be juggling much more than that... especially if it's a long walk out of the terminal.

You really can get by with one carry-on suitcase and one small bag each like we do...

We've traveled the world this way for years. It's really not painful... in fact, you'll be glad you've learned to travel light. Honest!

Happy travels... even if you don't travel the world... just remember that life is a journey... embrace and enjoy it! Judy and Mark

Curious about what else we've written about?  Search our site for a destination or travel tip.

But... We'd love to have you share this page or comment on it…
Thanks, Judy and Mark

Return from What is A Personal Item to Carry-on Packing Tips
What Is Carry-On Size?
Basic Packing List  Travel Security Alert Packing List
Go to MouseToursTravels Home Page

New! Comments

Have your say about what you just read! Did it help with your travel planning and preparation? Eager to leave on that next vacation? Please leave your tips or comments in the box below.

Timely Tips

Shoulder Season
We love travel during shoulder seasons.
September, October, November...
Well, usually we do, but COVID is still making things a little harder.

Even so...
They're all great for travel somewhere!
Sunny Fall days with colorful leaves in the north.
Spring is greening things up in the Southern Hemisphere.

Fall foliage in shoulder season

The weather can be changeable, so be sure to pack layers and some rain gear...

See all of our Packing Lists and Tips.

We have had a summer of home maintenance and sheltering in place... we're so dreaming of future travel!

Need Travel Ideas?
Things to See in Europe
Africa Calls!
Travel In America

Don't just dream about it...
Start making plans!

Custom Tour Planning List
International Travel Planning Tips
Foreign Is Fun - Not Scary!
Get Your Passports and Visas


Search MouseToursTravels
Travel questions or destination info?
Find our answers faster..


We want you to feel comfortable out in the world and on our pages - so surf away in your own language...

Updated Tips & New Travel Stories

  1. 2020 Travels - What Travels?

    Our 2020 travels were slim. COVID kept us home too. One trip to the Three Guyanas, but dreaming of travel next year.

    Read More

  2. Discovering The Three Guyanas

    Love discovering less touristed regions? The three Guyanas are tucked up in the north east corner of South America that doesn’t get much attention.

    Read More

  3. 2019 Travels - Africa, Asia, Europe and USA

    On our 2019 travels, it was independent travel, a custom tour and a group tour. All work beautifully... just depends on where you’re going and what you want.

    Read More

Navigate Our Site

Related Pages
Packing Tips

Packing Basics

Carry-on-Packing Tips
What Is Carry-On Size?
What Do Airlines Call A Personal Item
What We Recommend... Travel Light!
Packing Right
Why Put Identity Tags On Luggage?
Tips to Prevent Lost Luggage
Packing For Road Trips

Packing Lists

Basic Packing List
Tropical Vacation Packing List
Cold Weather Packing List
Mixed Weather Packing List


Packing Methods: Fold or Roll It?
Travel Luggage Recommendations
Travel Luggage Options

Packing for Airport Security

Security Packing Tips
Travel Security Alert Packing Guide
How to Pack That Plastic Bag?
Requirements for That Plastic Bag?
Packing Cosmetics for Today's Security


Electricity Worldwide - What To Know
Dual Voltage Appliances
Adaptors and Converters
Electronics for Travel - IF You Use It
Keep In Touch - Not Just Postcards!
GPS Satellite Messenger - Let Friends Know Where You Are

Packing Medication

Packing Medications
Pack Enough Medication
How To Pack Pills

Two Ways To Like Us!

Like Our Site Top Left
Like Our Fanpage Below
Thank You!

Ready For A New Adventure?

We escape by traveling…
But there are more ways to escape. 
Work on something you LOVE…
With A Website
SBI Teaches You Everything

First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life