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Guide and Tips to Flying With a Backpack: Is It a Carry-On?

Backpacks are often considered bags for students or hikers, but in reality, they are very convenient traveling bags. When flying, a backpack can be easy to carry throughout the airport, leaving your hands free for rolling your suitcase. Good travel backpacks also offer a variety of convenient features when traveling.

But, you may be wondering how to best travel with your backpack, what the best backpacks for traveling are, and if your backpack will be considered a carry-on or a personal item. This post will help you learn how to best travel with a backpack for your next flight.

This post contains affiliate links, and a purchase through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us at no additional cost to you. All opinions are my own. The bags listed below were purchased at our own expense.

Teal backpack on a table in front of a window

Guide to Traveling With a Backpack

Is A Backpack Considered a Carry On Or Personal Item?

In most cases, a standard backpack will likely be considered a personal item. This will vary, however, depending on your specific airline’s rules and the exact size of the backpack you’ll be using.

You’ll want to check both of these before packing for your trip. It can be frustrating to arrive at the airport and find out that your bag is over the stated limit.

In general, a backpack will be considered a personal item if it fits under the seat in front of you. While airlines may have more restrictive policies, the FAA limits each person to one carry on bag and one personal item. Your backpack counts as one of these items.

Most airlines describe a personal item as a diaper bag, handbag, briefcase, camera bag, or computer bag. Generally, any bags that are this size will be considered a personal item.

Some gigantic backpacks, however, may not even be considered a carry-on bag. Again, you’ll want to know the exact dimensions of your packed backpack and compare them against the stated regulations of your airline.

The easiest way to find these regulations is to search on the website of your airline. That’s where you will generally find the most accurate and updated information. there may also be weight restrictions in addition to size restrictions for carry-on luggage.

Pros of Using a Backpack for Travel

I love flying with a backpack as my personal item because then it’s a convenient bag to use at my destination. Whether I’m visiting a theme park or going on a city vacation, a backpack is versatile and can hold a lot.

If you find just the right travel backpack, you’ll also have options for carrying in through the airport. While most people do choose to wear a backpack on their back, some travel backpacks offer a sleeve in the back which can be used to attach the bag to the handle of a roller bag.

I prefer to use the backpack as a personal item. That’s because with most airline fares (although not all economy fares), I can bring both a personal item and a carry-on. I use the backpack as my personal item, and a larger roller bag as my carry-on (this is the bag that goes in the overhead bins).

Checking luggage? While most airlines charge for a checked bag (and sometimes for a carry-on bag), you can generally bring a personal item free of charge. Again, this depends on the airline and the fare you’ve booked.

What Features to Look for in a Travel Backpack

If you are purchasing a new backpack for travel, there are some features you’ll want to look for. The most important is to make sure it’s personal bag or carry on size. If you want it to count as a personal item and don’t want to put it in the overhead compartment, you’ll need to be more careful about size.

Other features can make a backpack more useful for travel, especially if you want to use the bag at your destination. Here are a few things to look for:

  • A padded laptop pouch
  • Dedicated spot for a water bottle
  • Key fob
  • Back sleeve or strap to put over a rolling bag handle
  • Padded straps
  • Separate pouch (to store wet items)
  • Large zipper pocket to easily store clothes and other travel essentials
  • External pocket to quickly store your boarding pass and ID
  • A color selection that fits your personal style and is unique (to stand out among other bags)
Bright blue bag on top of pink suitcase

My Favorite Travel Backpacks To Buy

I have three different travel backpacks that I recommend. These all have different features and functionality and are at different price points.

Baboon to the Moon Go-Bag

Baboon to the Moon offers some fun, unique, and functional travel bags, and their backpacks are among my favorites. The Go-Bag is available in three sizes, and the mini (32L) is best for an airline personal item.

The Baboon to the Moon Go Bag is made of Phthalate-free PVC fabric, and opens like a suitcase rather than a backpack. This makes it much easier to pack.

It has a zipper rain pouch, an external passport pouch, top and side handles, comfortable straps, and lockable zippers. The Go-Bag comes in some bright fun colors, including some limited colors.

When packed, it looks more like a duffle bag than a backpack. This bag, however, doesn’t have a sleeve or a strap in the back to attach to a roller bag.

You can find the Baboon to the Moon Go-Bag on their website.

Beige backpack under seat in front in business class on airplane.

Beis: The Expandable Backpack

Beis is popular for offering trendy and stylish travel products that are also functional. Their Expandable Backpack is a fan favorite, and it is a great option as a travel bag

The Beis Expandable Backpack is made of recycled water bottles. It includes a water bottle pocket, a laptop sleeve, and a key fob leash. A sleeve along the back makes it easy to place on top of your rolling suitcase.

As the name implies, this bag can be opened further to fit even more. But, once you are at your destination, if you choose to use it as a day bag, it won’t feel quite as big.

You can find all of the Beis bags, including the expandable backpack, on their website.

Large Travel Backpack

This budget-friendly backpack, sold by Amazon, is a favorite among travelers. It comes in a huge variety of different colors, and includes a lot of helpful features. These include a shoe compartment, a wet pouch, a strap on the back to attach to a rolling suitcase, and a laptop pouch.

You can find this travel backpack on Amazon.

Bright blue shiny backpack on top of a pink roller bag.

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