In this post we will cover everything about what to put in your carry on vs what to pack in your checked bag!
You’ve had your trip planned for ages and now the time has come to actually pack but you just don’t know what to pack in your hand luggage and what to pack in your check-in bag! I’ve totally been there before!
But after spending over 3 years as an international Flight Attendant, I’ve literally been on hundreds of trips in the last few years, both for work and pleasure.
I’ve now mastered the art of packing, what to pack in your cabin bag, what to pack in your big suitcase and what to leave behind!
Here I am going to share all that information with you right here so you never need to panic about packing again!
Related article: How to Survive Long-Haul Flights
WHAT TO PUT IN CARRY ON VS CHECKED BAG
Before we start:
Carry on luggage is the small luggage you are allowed to bring onboard with you.
Checked luggage is what goes in the cargo.
The minute you drop checked luggage off at baggage check you won’t see it again until you reach your destination. Therefore it is important to pack correctly so anything you need for the flight is in your carry on baggage!
Before you start packing ALWAYS check the luggage restrictions for your airline as it varies between different airlines.
This especially applies if you are flying domestic or on low-cost airlines as often it costs extra to bring checked in luggage. If you are flying internationally usually 1 or 2 check in bags are allowed.
Also check the maximum baggage dimensions and the weight restrictions for your specific airline as this also varies.
MOST airlines will let you bring a carry-on bag and a personal item (laptop bag/handbag) so bear this in mind to utilise the space if you have lots of things.
Double check with your airline though as some low-cost airlines are a bit stricter on this.
With the personal item you will be expected to place that under the seat in front of you. The small carry-on suitcase should go up in the overhead stowage.
WHAT TO PUT IN CARRY ON VS CHECKED BAG
CARRY ON LUGGAGE
Whether I am going on a one week holiday or a year long trip when I am deciding what to put in my carry on vs my checked in bag I always remember this:
Imagine your checked-in luggage gets lost.
It is almost guaranteed to happen to you once in your life! Even though the chances are low there is ALWAYS a possibility.
And guaranteed it will be the one time you aren’t prepared. So just get into the habit of always preparing for it to happen.
Now this doesn’t mean pack EVERYTHING Into your hand luggage! There is usually a 7 or 10kg limit on hand luggage and many airlines do weigh it so definitely keep within the weight and size limits for the cabin bag.
What it does mean is pack the absolute basics that you cannot go without for a couple of days.
First split your carry-on packing into 4 sections:
- Things you need for the flight
- Basics you need for a couple of days
- Fragile items that can’t go in your check in luggage
– Wallet (including credit card and drivers licence – especially if you will be renting a car)
– Visa (if applicable)
– Insurance documents
– Trip information (hotel address etc)
– Any medication you may require
For use during the flight:
– Phone charger
– Toothbrush and toothpaste (100mls or under)
– A jumper or something warm to wear for the plane
– Socks/compressions stockings if you need
– Book/kindle/headphones/any entertainment you may need on the flight (make sure you have downloaded movies already!)
– Inflatable pillow/eye mask if you need one. Don’t rely on the airline to provide amenities as not all do.
– Maybe some snacks (provided they are solid food).
– If you are travelling with children pack their favourite toys.
*I try to put all the essentials and things I need for the flight into my personal item bag (my handbag).
That way I can put my carry on bag up in the overhead stowage and not have to keep opening it and getting it down whenever I need anything.
If I keep all my essentials and things I need for the flight in my handbag underneath the seat in front of me I can easily reach anything that I need throughout the flight.
This is especially important if you don’t have the aisle seat – the people next to you certainly won’t appreciate if you need to keep bothering them so you can get something from your suitcase!*
Basics you need for a couple of days:
– A couple of outfits
– A few underwear
– Any essential travel-sized toiletries or make-up you need in your carry-on (so long as they are within 100mls and can all fit in a clear plastic bag)
– Swimming costume if you are going somewhere hot. It takes up so little space and you’ll definitely be glad you packed it in your hand luggage if your main luggage gets lost!
– If you need to bring a razor, disposable razors and electric razors ARE allowed on flights.
– Travel adaptor for charing your phone/camera/laptop. Make sure to pack all the charging cables in your hand luggage too!
– If you smoke and need to bring a lighter/e-cigarettes/vape, pack it in your hand luggage as they are not allowed in the cargo. Usually only one lighter is permitted in your cabin baggage.
Anything that may get broken if it goes in the cargo such as:
As an ex Flight Attendant I strongly advise you to put a padlock on your small carry on suitcase.
I had many flights where organised criminals would steal items from people’s suitcases in the hat racks when the cabin lights were dimmed and the passengers were asleep on long flights.
Don’t trust everyone is on the plane to have a good holiday. Organised crime gangs are common on certain routes (particularly to and from China) so please protect your luggage.
Bringing liquids in your hand luggage
Liquid restrictions on airplanes have been in place for many years but still lots of people forget when packing their luggage.
- You must only bring liquids in your hand luggage that are in containers of 100mls (3.4 ounces) or less.
- All your liquids in your hand luggage must all fit within a small clear quart-sized plastic wallet (20cm x 20cm). They are often available at airports for free.
- The bag needs to be sealed completely, you can’t have things poking out the top.
- Try to have the wallet ready before you get to the airport as you will need to take it out of your hand luggage ready for inspection at security (x-ray).
- You cannot bring a container bigger than 100mls in your hand luggage, even if it is not full and only has a small amount of liquid in it. It will get taken off you at security.
For this reason it is always good to buy small travel sized products so you can fit several containers in the see-through wallet.
Alternatively you can buy some reusable 100mls containers to decant your favourite products into if they don’t come in a travel size.
Bear in mind some items that might be considered liquids such as liquid makeup! Also don’t pack your expensive perfume/aftershave in your hand luggage if it is more than 100mls!
So often I have seen people have to say goodbye to their expensive toiletries because they didn’t check the liquid quantity!
Put ALL your medication for the whole trip in your carry on bag. No excuses. If your bag gets lost you can buy replacement clothes easily, but it won’t be so easy to get more medication if you are abroad.
If you need to bring any needles or medication that is over 100mls in your hand luggage, just bring your prescription or a note from your Doctor.
Bear in mind it might take a few weeks for your Doctor to write the letter (and it may potentially cost) so be prepared beforehand. Tell the security staff about your medication as they will need to see it and screen it separately.
LIFE SAVING MEDICATION (INHALERS/EPI-PENS)
Please note if you are an asthmatic and will bring inhalers you MUST pack them in your hand luggage. The same goes for those who carry an epi-pen. NEVER carry these in your check in luggage.
Despite many airlines carrying these life-saving medications onboard, NEVER rely on the crew for equipment as it could waste valuable time.
Often if the crew have to provide you with their medical equipment they can not administer it straight away to you as they have to phone a specific medical aviation doctor on ground before they are authorised to give it to you.
This can sometimes take 5 or 10 minutes as there is a lot of paperwork and form-filling that is required. If you have your own equipment with you, you can immediately self-medicate.
Even if you don’t think you will need it on the flight you just never know. You may have an allergic reaction to the airline food and need your epi-pen, or all of a sudden a big asthma attack may come on.
PLEASE PLEASE do not take a risk and pack these in your hand luggage. They take up hardly any space but may SAVE YOUR LIFE.
I know of stories of passenger deaths that could have easily been prevented had they packed their medication in their hand luggage.
BABY MILK/BABY FOOD
You can bring as much baby milk, baby food or sterilised water onboard as you need. You just may be asked to taste a little bit when you are at security!
If you’re someone who likes to bring their own water bottle with them, or likes to have a bottle of water on the plane make sure you don’t have a full water bottle when you get to security.
Your can either buy a bottle after security or you can bring an empty water bottle through security. You can then refill it after security (some airports have free drinking water fountains you can use).
Bringing Food Onboard
You are allowed to bring food onboard – either solid food you have brought from home or food you have bought past security. Things like cereal bars, dried fruit or a small sandwich are a good option.
Especially these days, most airlines have cut back on the amount of food and snacks they provide for passengers.
Therefore it’s always a good idea to bring some snacks, not only for when you get hungry but also to help the boredom if you are on a long flight.
Many passengers choose to bring their own food also because airplane food is known for not being highly nutritious.
In some countries you do need to declare any food brought in, such as Australia/New Zealand. These countries are particularly strict in terms of what food can be brought in and any undeclared food carries a big fine and even visa cancellations.
Many other countries also have similar rules so make sure you are familiar with the rules. If in doubt just make sure you finish all your snacks on the plane.
What to wear on the plane
For the plane journey you need to pick something comfy to wear. Especially seeing as your body naturally expands in the aircraft you don’t want to wear really tight clothes as you will feel uncomfortable.
Also bring something warm like a jumper as often the temperature is cool in aircraft. This prevents people becoming too hot as it is a fairly enclosed space plus it keeps the air quality healthy.
I always make sure I pack some slippers or socks. I don’t like to keep my shoes on during the flight but yet I would never go barefoot on an airplane (very unhygienic plus Flight Attendants find it very annoying).
WHAT TO PUT IN CARRY ON VS CHECKED BAG
CHECKED IN BAG
And my motto for what to pack in your checked in bag:
Don’t pack anything that could break or that you aren’t prepared to lose.
I’m a right pessimist aren’t I when it comes to packing! But seriously.
Clothes can be replaced, but anything of sentimental value or anything particularly valuable may not be so easy to replace if it gets broken or your bag gets stolen.
We all know baggage handlers can be pretty rough when they are moving luggage.
I always feel better putting a padlock on my checked in suitcase. This will mean people are less likely to go through my bag.
Plus it is an easy way to identify your luggage on the conveyor belt if there is another suitcase the same as yours.
Most airlines allow a checked in bag of up to 20 or 23 kg. Always check the limit with the airline you are flying on. Do bear in mind some low-cost airlines will charge you to check in a bag.
If you are only going away for a short time it is a good idea to bring travel products such as travel shampoo and conditioner, as opposed to bringing big heavy bottles.
Liquids can really weigh a lot, and if you’re bringing a lot of things the easiest way to cut down on the weight is to bring less liquids.
Things to DEFINITELY not pack in your checked in bag:
– Inhalers or epi-pens or life saving medication you may need, even if you don’t expect to use it on the flight.
– Anything valuable (eg: expensive jewellery) or fragile (laptops, hard-drives, cameras).
Travelling With Carry-On Luggage Only
Alternatively, you may wish to ONLY bring a carry-on bag with you when you travel! This will save you a lot of time at baggage drop before your flight, as well as after the flight waiting for your luggage.
It can also cut down costs if you are travelling on a low-cost airline where you have to pay extra for checked-in luggage.
It may seem daunting to pack all your luggage for your whole trip in your small carry-on but it is totally do-able and many people bring just a carry-on bag for short trips or even on longer trips!
It certainly makes it easier if you will be travelling and moving around a lot – plus it also ensures you don’t overpack (how often do we come back from holiday and we haven’t even worn half the items we packed?!).
Here is more advice on how to travel with a carry-on only.
I hope this article was useful! Let me know any other things that you think should go in your carry on vs your checked bag!