Checklist for a Carry-on Bag

With proper packing, many people can travel with only carry-on luggage.
With proper packing, many people can travel with only carry-on luggage. (Image: Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images)

A carefully and creatively packed carry-on bag helps eliminate the need for checked luggage and saves a passenger money on the fees most airlines charge to check bags. Space-saving packing tips along with knowledge of what items can be included in a carry-on helps passengers pack bags in an efficient manner. According to the Transportation Security Administration, each passenger is allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item such as a laptop, purse, backpack, briefcase or camera case.

Checking Sizes

Before beginning to pack your carry-on bag, check with the airline. Each airline sets regulations on the size and weight for a carry-on bag. Checking on these regulations beforehand ensures you will have no problems with the bag after arriving at the airport.

Maximizing Personal Items

For many people, the need to stay connected while traveling limits the amount of space available in a carry-on or personal item bag. Rather than carrying a purse and a laptop case, consolidate these items. Fit personal items like your wallet, passport, boarding passes and identification into a camera case or laptop case. (Be sure to always keep these items in your possession while traveling.) Include a book or magazine in your bag – consider swapping reading material with a fellow traveler during the trip.


Whether checking a bag or not, you likely will need clothing in your carry-on bag. Remember that clothing can always be washed, so it is not always necessary to pack a different outfit for each day of your journey. When traveling using only carry-on baggage, Sarah Baxter of Lonely Planet suggests purchasing multipurpose clothing such as beach cover-ups that double as day dresses and pants that unzip into shorts. Layer clothing with the largest, bulkiest item on the bottom. Roll the clothing to save space in the bag.


Traveling with only one pair of shoes can be difficult. Choose a sturdy pair of shoes that works well for walking and hiking when traveling on an adventurous vacation. Baxter suggests wearing the bulkiest pair of shoes on the plane and tucking another pair into your bag. Use the space inside the shoes to tuck in socks, underwear or smaller items. If you need dressy women's shoes, try to pack a thin, flexible pair that will fold up inside the baggage.

Medicine and Toiletries

The Transportation Security Administration limits the amount of liquid items that can be included in a carry-on bag. Items must be contained in 3.4-ounce bottles sealed in a clear, quart-size plastic bag. Buy liquid toiletries already in small bottles or buy empty bottles and fill them. For medications, contact the airline or TSA directly – in some cases, larger quantities of medications are allowed with a doctor's note.

Weather and Sports Gear

Prepare for poor weather by tucking a compact umbrella or rain poncho into the carry-on bag. Baxter suggests purchasing sports gear at the travel destination and donating the equipment to a local charity or school at the end of the trip.


The TSA warns passengers to leave any gift items unwrapped inside of luggage. TSA reserves the right to unwrap any item during a routine luggage screening. Instead, fold a gift bag and tissue paper flat in the bottom of the bag to wrap the gift upon arrival.

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