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Do You Know What To Pack In Carry On Vs Checked Luggage?

I love traveling on vacation, but packing before my trip is always stressful. There are so many airline luggage restrictions, so you’ll really have to pay attention to what you pack. In addition, now, many airline tickets don’t allow you to have carry-on bags or don’t come with a checked bag. So, you’ll even have to think about what to pack before you purchase your tickets.

If you are taking a road trip, you won’t have all of these considerations. However, you’ll still need to think about what items you want easy access to, versus things that you pack away in the trunk. For this post, we’re focusing on air travel.

Underseat luggage from Away and Lo and Sons

What To Pack In Carry On Vs Checked Luggage?

Deciding Whether to Carry On or Check Your Bags

Before deciding, you’ll want to double-check what type of bags are included in your airfare. The FAA allows guests to have one carry-on suitcase in the overhead bin and one personal item (like a computer bag, diaper bag, small backpack, or purse) in the seat in front of them.

However, some airline fares (especially from budget airlines or the lowest fares from standard airlines) don’t come with an overhead bag allowance, so keep an eye on that. If you are carrying a shopping bag, a crossbody purse, or a belt bag, you may be asked to put it in one of your carry-on bags if carrying it separately brings you over the limit.

Even if you are allowed to have a carry-on bag in the overhead compartment, it doesn’t guarantee that there will be space available when you board. If you are in one of the later boarding groups, you may have to gate-check your carry-on luggage. In that case, you’ll pick it up at baggage claim and won’t have access to it during the flight or during any layovers you may have.

When deciding, think about what you’ll want to pack. With the liquids restriction on carry-on luggage, you won’t be able to carry large amounts of sunscreen, bug spray, or other essentials you may have. For longer trips where you won’t be able to do laundry, you may also not have a choice about carrying your luggage.

If you do have a choice, consider the following:

  • There’s more of a chance of lost luggage if you check your bag (although on two occasions I had checked bags delayed by the airline after they were checked because there was no more room in the overhead)
  • If you have a connection, you’ll have to bring your carry-on luggage along with you – even if your connecting flight is a long walk away
  • If you have mobility issues, it can be heavy to roll a carry-on and put it in the overhead or the TSA conveyor belt. It can also be tough to deal with carry-ons as well as a stroller.
  • You can save money by going carry-on only if your airline fare doesn’t include checked bags but does include overhead luggage. These fees can average around $30-$40 per bag, each way.
  • You can save time by skipping the baggage carousel once you arrive at your destination. With a shortage of baggage handlers, this can be a good time savings.
  • You may also be able to skip the check-in counter at the airport which can save time
  • You can sometimes save on baggage fees and get a free checked bag through your credit cards
Tote on top of pink roller bag

What To Put In Your Carry-On Bag

Planning to check your bags? You’ll need to carefully pack your carry-on bag to make sure you have everything you need during your flight. In addition, it’s a good idea to be strategic in packing in case your bag gets lost.

For the overhead bag, add anything that you won’t need during the flight. I’d also recommend packing at least one set of clothes in case your bag gets lost or delayed.

I like using packing cubes with one cube per two or three days of my trip. I’ll put the first cube in my carry-on and the rest of them in my checked baggage.

You’ll also want to pack everything you need in-flight, including chargers and books. Medications and important documents, as well as valuables, should also be included in your carry-on bag.

Traveling with a baby? You’ll also want to have extras of everything with you – diapers, a change of clothes, baby food, baby formula, etc. If you are delayed, you’ll want access to those things.

Typically, you’ll want to have a large duffel or a smaller-sized roller bag for the overhead bin. Just be aware of the space requirements of your airline before packing.

If you have a later boarding group or think you may arrive late, be sure to pack this bag with the understanding that it may have to be checked if overhead space has run out. Also, if you are on a small regional jet, these planes may have smaller overhead space.

Reserve the space in your underseat bag – the personal item, for things you’ll need during the flight. I typically include my wallet, travel documents, AirPods, phone charger, medications, books/Kindle, and any fragile items in this bag. While you can access the overheads once the fasten seatbelt light is off, it’s not always convenient.

If you decide to put toiletries in your carry-on bag, you’ll have to be aware of the TSA liquids rule. Anything over the size limit should be put in your checked bag. I will typically include some travel-sized liquids (for essentials) in my carry-on but put the rest in my checked bag.

Seating in the front row or behind the bulkhead? If there isn’t a seat in front of you, you won’t have a spot for your underseat luggage. In that case, it will have to be stored in the overheads during takeoff and landing.

Rolling carry on on top of suitcase

What To Put In Your Checked Bag

Before packing your checked bag, take a look at the restrictions. Airlines may have their own restrictions, but I have found this page on the TSA website with TSA rules to be very helpful (these are for domestic flights, international flights may vary). Wonder if you can bring shampoo on the plane? This post can help you learn more.

Any lithium batteries you have will need to be placed in your carry-on baggage. Weight restrictions also apply, and you’ll pay extra if you go over the limit.

In my checked bag, I’ll include the rest of my packing cubes, extra pairs of shoes, hair products, and anything else that I didn’t pack in my carry-on bag.

When packing before your trip, keep in mind that you may want to bring home souvenirs, so make sure you do have some space left over (considering the maximum weight limit).

Light pink tote on top of pink roller suitcase

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Wednesday 15th of March 2023

Love your article!! Where did you find that great camel color bag in your photos? I’ve been looking for one exactly like that!!!!


Thursday 16th of March 2023

@Tara, It's a Latitude bag from Away Travel, but I think that style is discontinued.

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