Packing Guide: Your Personal Bag

When I was working in customer service for an airline, one of the biggest issues that came up with distressed passengers was luggage. Whether we had lost their bag, or stranded the passenger overnight when their bag went on without them, it was a constant hassle. You should expect the airline to deliver your baggage with you at your destination every time, but this is not always the case. Whenever checked baggage is separated from a passenger it is the airline’s fault, and they will try to fix the problem quickly, but the baggage is not always recoverable in a timely manner. Bags are sometimes reconnected with passengers after a couple of hours, and in some cases, bags have taken several days to get back to the owner.

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I have always been an advocate for carry on luggage only. If you carry-on then you take the airline out of the equation, always have what you need with you, and are traveling light. All good things when you are on the move. Know that carrying your bags is not always a foolproof option. The airline may require you to check one of your bags due to limited available carry-on space, or you may check a bag as a more affordable option than paying for bin space, as more airlines begin to charge for something that used to be free. The progression of bag fees in the airline industry continues to make baggage, both checked and carry-on, a difficult part of travel.

Thankfully, the airline still hasn’t taken away the personal item from travelers. Your personal item is a small carry-on bag that can fit underneath the seat in front of you. Actual dimension limits will vary depending on the airline, but it’s basically allowed to be the size of a small backpack, briefcase, or laptop bag. It should be able to carry all of the items that I strongly recommend keeping on you all the time. You should be packing a small personal item and bringing it with you on every flight. It should have all of the critical items that you need for at least 24 hours if you become delayed, or if the airline loses your other luggage. It would be nice if you could carry everything that you need for the entire trip in the personal bag, and I have seen some people do it, especially on short trips, but I am rarely able to get everything I need into one bag, so I almost always have an additional item.

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Here is a list of the items that you should have with you in your personal bag for when you encounter a delay with your other baggage. The first three items are critical! You should never let these items be separated from you while traveling!:

  1. Medication

If you take any type of medication, you need to have it with you at all times! I encountered tons of passengers who had placed their medication in checked baggage. Why would you ever do that? Yes, the airline is supposed to be able to deliver your bag to you at your destination, but that doesn’t always happen. There is no guarantee that your bag will be delivered to you by the time you need to take your next dose of whatever. The TSA limit on liquids does not apply to prescription medication, so you can bring it through security with you in your personal bag.


2. Keys

Car, House, Bike Lock, Work, and any other types of keys should never be placed into checked baggage. If you are going to put them in a bag it had better be your personal item. If they are in your checked bag then the bag may get lost and you won’t be able to get into your car, home, office, or wherever else you need keys for. Don’t risk getting delayed any further because the airline lost your bag with the keys in it. I have seen zippers open up and seams of bags burst during transit on many bags. If that happens your keys may fall out and be lost forever. It’s best to have these items on you at all times.


3. Personal Identification, Wallet, and Some Cash

You might be thinking, who would put their wallet in their checked bag. It’s dumb, but it happens all the time. It usually happens when a bag gets checked at the gate and the passenger forgets to remove the wallet before handing it over to the airline. It can be a big problem if the airline loses your stuff or it falls out in transit. You’ll have no credit cards, cash, or ID. It’s pretty tough to get around in any location without these items.

I have also seen people leave their passport in a checked bag when they have been travelling on an international flight. Your passport will be checked multiple times before you board an international flight. If you don’t have the passport on you then you will not be traveling anywhere.

I wouldn’t even recommend putting these items in your personal bag. They are very important to keep on you at all times. Make sure they are close when traveling.

It’s a good idea to have some small bills with you when on the road. Most places will accept credit cards these days, but you may run into a situation where cash is necessary. You don’t need much, but it’s nice to have some.

4. Cell Phone and a way to charge it

Most people are attached to their phones today, so most people don’t usually check their device, but many people will forget to pack a charging cable in their personal bag. When the phone goes dead you either won’t be able to use it, or you’ll have to buy a charger at the airport, which will be overpriced. I know that I couldn’t go without my phone for too long on a trip. Make sure you have it with you or you won’t be able to play Candy Crush.

phone charger

5. Clothes for a day or two

I always like to keep a couple changes of clothes with me when I’m traveling. I never know when I may get stuck or rerouted. It is nice to have some fresh clothes to change into after traveling for a whole day. A fresh pair of socks and underwear will always make you feel better, and your fellow air travellers will probably appreciate you not wearing the same clothes for days on end. If you’ve ever caught a whiff of someone who has been traveling for a long time then you know what I mean.

It’s also a good idea to have a coat or jacket with you. Temperatures will vary widely from airport to airport and on airplanes. It’s good to have a layer to add to stay comfortable.


6. Personal hygiene products for a day or two

This one goes along with the fresh clothing. It’s nice to have a toothbrush with some toothpaste, some deodorant, and maybe a razor with shaving cream. If you don’t have these things with you, then the airline or hotel you stay in may offer you an amenities kit with these items in it, but these kits generally don’t have high quality items in them. I grabbed a toothbrush from a hotel recently and it was basically a plastic knife with some thin bristles attached to it. I like having my own toothbrush when I travel. Make sure you have something to put all of your products into. It could be a zip lock bag or an extravagant toiletry bag. Whatever you do, keep them organized and together. You don’t want to be dumping your whole bag out just to find your toothpaste.


7. Snacks

Bring something to munch on when you are traveling. Airport pricing for food is much higher than the prices that you will see at your local grocery store or fast food restaurant. Everything is marked up since there are no other options when you are inside, much like a sporting event or movie theatre. I like to bring some granola bars, nuts, and potato chips with me when I travel. Make sure you don’t bring yogurt or peanut butter, TSA considers those to be liquids, and will not let them through the checkpoint.

If you get stuck overnight in an airport, you’ll be happy that you have something to eat. Most airports have limited food options late at night.


8. Water Bottle

It will have to empty when you bring it through security, but you can fill it up when you get through to the gates. Water and all other drinks are expensive in the airport. Find a bottle filling station and you can save a few bucks on a beverage. If you want flavored drinks then pack some individual powdered drink mixes like crystal light or Kool-Aid. It is important to stay hydrated while traveling, make sure you always have something to carry your water in.

9. A Pen and Pad of Paper

This will come in handy. You never know when you may need to write something down. If you are on an international flight then you will be filling out some paperwork on the plane for customs. It is a good idea to have the customs form filled out before you land.

Pen and paper Sydney Alvares

Remember, you should expect all of your bags to arrive with you, wherever you end up, but it will not always happen. If you pack a personal item with the things I listed above, you should be able to get by just fine until the rest of your stuff shows up.

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What are some other items that you like to pack in your personal bag. If there were any things that I missed then I would love to hear your suggestions! Please comment below.


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