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Person packing up a backpack for a trip surrounded by maps, a camera, and other travel gear
Halfpoint | Adobe Stock

What to Pack in a Personal Item: The Ultimate Personal Item Packing List

Your personal item is probably the most important piece of luggage on any trip that involves flying. Almost all airlines allow a personal item for free; most define it as a bag that can fit under the seat in front of you. Purses, backpacks, and laptop bags all fit into this category.

Think of your personal item as the place to store all your essentials and valuables. Unlike a carry-on suitcase, which may get gate-checked if the airline runs out of space in the overhead compartment, a personal item is always allowed on the plane if it can fit under the seat. 

Your personal item is where you should store anything you’ll need easy access to in-flight, along with anything you can’t live without on your trip (in case the rest of your luggage gets lost).

Follow this personal item packing checklist to ensure an easy and organized experience on your next flight.

Download Our Editable Personal Item Packing List

This handy half-sheet has everything you need to pack the perfect carry-on—download here.

Backpack with sunglasses and passport sitting on chair at airport
surachat | Adobe Stock

The Best Personal Item Bags

A good personal item should be able to pull double duty at your destination, so I always choose a backpack I can reuse as a day bag.

I look for a backpack with a luggage sleeve so I can slip it over the handle of my carry-on and spare my shoulders when walking through the airport. Calpak’s Luka Laptop Backpack is the perfect size and has lots of compartments (including a padded one for travel tech) to keep everything organized. 

Other good personal item options include totes with zip-tops, small weekender bags, large purses, and laptop bags. Check with your airline before flying to confirm the personal item size policy. 

Personal Item Size by Airline

I’ve found that airlines rarely check the size of your personal item as long as it fits under the seat, but you should still be aware of each airline’s maximum personal item size dimensions.

Airline Personal Item Max Size
American Airlines 8” x 14” x 8”
JetBlue 17″ x 13″ x 8″
Spirit Airlines 18” x 14” x 8 “
United Airlines 9” x 10” x 17”

Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines do not have specific measurements for personal item size requirements. Instead, they state that the bags must fit under the seat and be purses, backpacks, laptop bags, or similar-sized baggage. 

Personal Item Packing List

Your personal item should be packed with everything you need to be comfortable and entertained during the flight and anything you can’t travel without in case your bag gets lost. It’s also where you should stash anything you wouldn’t want to check, such as valuables, breakables, or items not allowed in checked baggage, like certain batteries. 

All of the products featured in this story were hand-selected by our travel editors. Some of the links featured in this story are affiliate links, and SmarterTravel may collect a commission (at no cost to you) if you shop through them. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

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