Regardless of which airline you travel on, or what type of ticket you buy, using the best personal item can be a great way to maximize the limited amount of packing space you’ll have. The personal item, which is meant to fit under the seat in front of you, is often described as a laptop bag, camera bag, purse, or diaper bag. However, if you don’t specifically need one of these types of bags, there are other options for a carry-on bag that can be used as a personal item.
Here’s our pick for the best personal item bag for airlines, including our favorite and three other great options. If you have a favorite bag that we didn’t list, leave us a comment below!
This post contains affiliate links. A purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own.
Before packing one of these bags, you’ll want to check with your airline to see what dimension limits they have for carry-on bags. Keep in mind that some seats may have less room than others. For instance, on JetBlue Airlines, the middle seat typically has less under-seat space. In addition, if you are in a bulkhead set, the flight attendants will ask you to place these bags in the overhead compartment until after takeoff and before landing.
Best Personal Item Bag for Airlines (4 Great Options)
What to Look For in a Personal Item
Before making a purchase, you’ll want to think about what type of features you want in a bag. Some of the things I look for include:
- Trolley sleeve to fit over the luggage handles of your rolling luggage
- A padded laptop sleeve if you travel with a computer
- Comfortable shoulder straps if you have to carry it that way
- A front pocket or side pocket for easy access to travel documents
- A sturdy build to keep things secure, especially if your bag has to go in the overhead bin
- Water bottle pockets
Nomad Lane Bento Bag
My favorite personal item is the Nomad Lane Bento Bag. This bag holds an amazing amount of stuff in several very organized compartments.
The Bento Bag opens down the middle, with two big compartments, like a suitcase. I use these compartments to put clothes and toiletries in. You can really fit a lot within these two pockets. When I packed it, I managed to fit in several outfits, toiletries, makeup, and electronics.
It also has a laptop sleeve in the center. There are two smaller pockets at the top, which are great for things you may need easy access to. These pockets do go into the main area of the bag though, so they do take up some space.
Finally, this bag has a front pocket with room for pens, small items, IDs, credit cards, etc. I like having this type of pocket so that I can stuff my ID and boarding pass as I go through security.
The Nomad Lane Bento Bag also has a trolley sleeve and a detachable crossbody strap. If it’s fully packed, this bag can get quite heavy. I find that it’s best to use the trolley sleeve to attach it to the top of a rolling suitcase.
A newer version of this bag was recently released with some improvements, including an external water bottle pocket. That version can be purchased on the Nomad Lane website, while the previous version is offered on Amazon. It comes in several colors, including the plum color that I have.
Monos Metro Duffel
The Monos Metro Duffel is a more traditional style duffel bag, with one large interior pocket at the top. It comes in several different colors, in both water-resistant vegan leather and nylon. They are often sold as a pre-sale, since they sell out frequently.
Inside the main pocket, there are several separate compartments. This includes two side pockets for water bottles/umbrellas, a laptop pouch, and a zip pocket.
There are also several exterior pockets, one of which unzips at the bottom to serve as a trolley sleeve. Again, this can be a heavy bag when filled, so you’ll want to use that sleeve to attach this bag to a roller suitcase when walking around the airport.
One of the most innovative features of the Monos Metro Duffel is the QuickSnap™ Modular Kit System. The Metro Duffel comes with a Classic Kit, but a larger Metro Folio Kit can be purchased separately.
With the modular system, you’ll be able to attach one of these kits to the exterior of the bag with a snap. Then, when you board the plan, you can have essentials from the kit at your fingertips.
As a modular kit, you can also use the Classic Kit and Metro Folio Kit in other Monos bags, like the Metro Backpack. Keep all of your essentials in the kit, and then you can swap it out when you change bags.
The Metro Folio Kit has handles at the top, as well as a detachable shoulder strap. It’s a bit heavy even empty. So, as you add items it will likely be very heavy.
Expect to be able to fit a computer, water bottle umbrella, several changes of clothes, toiletries, and more. There’s a lot of room in this bag, especially with the separate classic and metro kits.
Beis Mini Weekender Bag
Of all of the personal item bags I’ve traveled with, my Beis Mini Weekender Bag gets the most attention. The Weekender Bag comes in several different sizes, but the mini is the only one that’s sized appropriately for a personal item. In addition, it comes in a regular style and a convertible style.
With the convertible bag, the zippered shoe pocket at the bottom of the bag zips completely off. I like this one because it turns the travel bag into more of a tote bag, which can be used at your destination. It comes in several neutral colors for the convertible version, and a greater selection of colors for the standard.
My favorite feature of the Beis Mini Weekender Bag is the wide opening at the top. This opening makes it so easy to pack up. There’s also a laptop sleeve in the interior, as well as a key fob and a zip pocket on the exterior (perfect for your ID and boarding pass).
Like the other bags mentioned here, this bag includes a trolley sleeve. Fully packed, it gets very heavy so you’ll want to use this trolley sleeve. There is a crossbody strap, however.
On a recent flight, I took on a small commuter plane, both the flight attendant and I were impressed at how it miraculously fit under the seat in front of me. It was a pretty small space, but it did fit.
On this trip, I was able to pack my laptop, charging cords, two pairs of shoes, toiletries, makeup, and three changes of clothes.
If you get the convertible version and don’t need the bottom for a pair of shoes, I’d recommend removing it. It does add some extra space to the bag, and you’ll be able to fit it in more spaces without the bottom.
Beis The Expandable Backpack
I wanted to include one backpack on this list because a backpack can be essential at your destination. Once you arrive, you may want to use a backpack as your day bag, so you’ll want one that is lightweight and can hold a lot of things.
Beis’ The Expandable Backpack fits the bill and is the best personal item backpack in my opinion . It has a relatively narrow profile when the expandable pocket is zipped close. But it can be unzipped to be a larger size.
It’s made of recycled plastic water bottles and can be wiped clean, making it great for travel. There’s a key leash (I put my Airpod case on it), a water bottle pocket, a laptop sleeve, a trolley sleeve, and multiple interior pockets, including mesh pockets.
This backpack is lightweight but does get pretty spacious when expanded. You’ll be able to fit a laptop, water bottle, change of clothes, chargers, a clutch, and more. It’s also nice to have a choice between using it with the trolley sleeve or wearing it on your back.
It currently comes in just a beige color. That’s a nice neutral that looks good paired with any color suitcase.
For a European trip, I find this bag to be the most useful. I’m able to expand it to use as a personal item on my flight, and then zip it back up to use on a daily basis. It also has two small handles on the top if you don’t want to wear it as a backpack.
Frequently Asked Questions
A personal item is a smaller bag that must fit under the seat in front of you, while a carry-on bag can be placed in the overhead bin. Traditionally, a personal item is a computer bag, briefcase, or purse, but other bags are within the size limit. You’ll want to put your travel essentials in this bag so you’ll have quick access to it during your flight.
It really depends on what you need to pack and what you’ll want to use as a bag at your destination. While I love the Nomad Lane Bento Bag, it isn’t as functional as a day bag. The best personal bag for you will depend on your circumstances.
Yes, a small backpack can be used as a personal item. You’ll just need to make sure that it fits within the personal item guidelines provided by your airline. Some backpacks may be too large.
The FDA limits carry-on luggage to one carry-on bag and one personal item. However, travelers on budget airlines and basic economy fares may have other limits – so check with your airline. It’s also a good idea to check weight limits so you don’t have to pay an extra cost when you arrive.