You already know how to pack the perfect carry-on, but what about the so-called personal item? While a carry-on bag with all your clothes and shoes can fit in the overhead bin, your personal item must fit under the seat in front of you. Ideally, it holds all your flight necessities: reading material, electronics and headphones, toiletries, and anything you need to make the flight more comfortable. Here, Fodor's experts reveal their picks for packing the perfect personal item.
After years of overstuffing a large handbag as my personal item, it's refreshing to have a stylish and spacious backpack instead. Not only does it comfortably fit items I may need on the flight, it's also still small enough to slip under the seat in front of me. No matter where I am flying, I will always carry gum, tissues, hand sanitizer (those seatback trays need a good cleaning most of the time), headphones (essential in blocking out any loud travelers around me), reading materials (especially since most domestic flights do not have seatback screens with free entertainment), and a scarf (to keep the chill of the plane at bay). I like keeping my more expensive travel accessories near me rather than in a checked bag or an overhead carry-on (i.e. my camera) so that I know where they are at all times. I also always toss in a small handbag, too, so that when I get to my destination I can have something smaller than my backpack to take on-the-go. Being able to create a little personal bubble for myself on planes is the quickest and best way to ensure whatever trip I am on gets off to a great start. —Taraneh Djangi, Marketing Manager
My bag is a Vanguard Kinray Lite 32GR, which is actually a sling camera bag. I purchased this bag a few years ago and haven’t used anything else for my personal item since. The bag is compact and light, yet I can fit my DSLR and two lenses in the main compartment, along with other camera gear (batteries, charger, memory cards) and necessities like phone, passport, sunglasses, etc. in the other compartments. There’s even room for a small travel guide. Because the bag is so small I have to pack smart and use a travel wallet in lieu of my rather large everyday wallet. But I don’t mind because I’m really paring down what goes with me. Most camera bags are bulky; since I always travel with a camera and must always have it onboard with me, this bag is perfect for my needs without being unwieldy. When I’m on a plane with this bag, it fits perfectly in the space in front of my seat, which means it’s always in my line of view and within reach without sacrificing legroom. —Jennifer Arnow, Senior Photo Editor
I’m a window-seat kinda guy (it’s better for sleeping and taking Instagram-worthy photos), so it’s important for me to have a personal item that won’t take up any of my precious leg room yet can hold everything that I might want during a flight. For both short-haul and long-haul flights, I like to use this Bottega Veneta briefcase, which is big enough to hold the essentials but small enough to keep my tendency to overpack in check. Inside, I make sure to pack a phone charger, a camera (I like this Leica D-Lux a lot because it’s not super heavy but it takes great shots), my passport in a monogrammed holder, sunglasses, noise-cancelling headphones (the Paww WaveSound 2 blocks out ambient noise and it works wirelessly—I hate fumbling with cords), a pen, a Moleskine notebook, and something I can read or do work on: the Google Pixel C is my favorite because it can be used as a tablet or as a notebook computer thanks to the smartly designed keyboard, which attaches to the tablet magnetically. If I plan on sleeping, then I also pack an eye mask, a small shoehorn (don’t forget: your feet swell during long flights), a comb to fix my hair when I wake up, and items to combat the dehydrating effects of flying: eye drops, face mist, and lotion and lip balm from Kiehl’s. Finally, for an evening flight, I’m a big fan of the Carry-On Cocktail Kit, which allows you to add a little refinement to in-flight drink service. —Michael Alan Connelly, Editor
My carry-on personal item basically acts like an oversized purse, but instead of bringing a giant purse that I won't want to lug around when I'm exploring a new place, I take a fun tote. I have a few, but my newest favorite is this one decorated with the titles of famous banned books. It holds my wallet and my phone of course (necessities for waiting around in the airport), and then it's all about entertainment. I always try to sleep for the first few hours of a flight (thanks, neck pillow and headphones), but usually fail miserably. So then it's up to a good book, the latest copy of the New Yorker, and my Chromebook (and hopefully some good in-flight WiFi) to keep me occupied. —Amanda Sadlowski, Associate Editor