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How to pack for air travel?

How to pack a bag for air travel

Airplanes give you the freedom to travel the world at impressive speeds, but packing for plane travel can be an unwanted chore. You must decide what you need in your carry-on for the flight and what can safely go in your checked baggage. Plus, there are rules to adhere to and weight limits to consider. 

While it's important to take the basics you need, remember that you can buy items while on vacation, so forgetting a few things isn't a huge deal. As long as you bring your passport, you’ll be on your way.

Choose luggage that stands out

While there's no need to buy new luggage if you already have some perfectly good cases, anyone who needs to buy new bags should choose luggage that stands out. When your luggage is distinctive, it's easier to find your checked bag on the luggage carousel and you avoid the risk of grabbing the wrong carry-on from an overhead locker filled with bags that all look the same. 

Find out luggage rules and restrictions

Some rules and restrictions about what you can take on a plane are universal across all airlines and travel routes. For instance, there's a blanket ban on traveling with explosive items — such as fireworks — both in your carry-on and checked luggage, so you'll never be allowed to take those on board. Other rules depend on the airline or where you're traveling to. When traveling to Australia, for example, you can't bring any plant material for the risk of introducing invasive species to the island.

When deciding what to pack, find out the allowed weight or dimensions of luggage. Some airlines only care about the dimensions of the luggage you bring, whereas others check the weight. You’ll want to avoid stuffing your suitcase too full or packing anything too heavy, or you may face an extra fee for overweight baggage. 

Make a packing list

Preparation is the key to remembering everything you need and not bringing anything you don't need. If you tend to overpack, try planning outfits for each day so you don't bring mounds of extra clothes and shoes "just in case." It might not be glamorous, but don't forget about paperwork — it's a good idea to bring photocopies or photos on your phone of your boarding passes or passport in case you lose these items. Though you'll likely be provided with some toiletries at your hotel, don't forget sunscreen if you're going to a warm climate. 

Consider what to take in your carry-on

You don't want to find yourself on your flight wishing you had access to something you packed in your checked bag, so carefully consider what to pack in your carry-on. Although your carry-on is primarily for items that you'll need for the flight, we'd recommend packing valuables in your carry-on, along with a few essentials, such as spare underwear and your toothbrush, that you really couldn't do without in the event that your bag gets lost or delayed. 


Pack items that will help keep you comfortable on your flight. We all know that a standard economy class seat isn't conducive to good rest, so if you're going on a long flight or overnight flight, bring items that will help you get some sleep. Travel pillows are always popular, as are eye masks to block out light and blankets to keep you warm. If you travel regularly, it's well worth investing in a pair of high-quality noise-canceling headphones, such as Sony WH-1000XM4s


You'll appreciate the option to freshen up during a long flight, so it's worth packing a travel toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry-on, along with some wet wipes and deodorant. It's also a great idea to bring sanitizing wipes — such as Artnaturals Cleansing Wipes — for your hands and for surfaces like the tray table and armrests. Remember that any liquids you bring in your carry-on must be in containers of 3.4 ounces or less and all liquids combined must fit in a quart-sized clear plastic bag. Larger containers of liquids should go in your checked luggage.


When you're on a long-haul flight, you'll thank yourself for bringing some alternative entertainment once you're sick of the inflight movies or watching reruns of Friends. Pack a book or, better yet, an e-reader filled with hundreds of books. Load your phone with some fun games that you can play offline and consider bringing a power bank to recharge your battery.  


Let's face it — airplane food sucks. If you're not sure you can brave the in-flight meals, pack plenty of non-perishable snacks in your carry-on to see you through your journey. While you can't bring a full water bottle through security in your carry-on, we'd recommend packing an empty reusable water bottle in your carry-on and filling it up once you get through security. 

Packing a suitcase for air travel

Pack electronics in a single layer

The TSA will often open both carry-on and checked luggage to inspect electronics. Make sure to pack electronics in a single layer, somewhere close to the top of your bag so that TSA agents don't need to remove everything in your case to get to them.

Roll, don't fold

Rolling your clothes rather than folding them not only saves space, it avoids deep creases so you won't need to spend your vacation ironing. Another quick tip to save a little space is to stuff balled-up socks in your shoes. 

Don't overlook your personal item

Some airlines allow you to bring a standard carry-on bag to fit in the overhead bins, plus a "personal item" that must be small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. First, find out if your airline allows personal items and their maximum dimensions, if so. Next, make the most of your personal item by bringing a backpack or similar, rather than a small purse. 

What you need to buy for plane travel

London Fog Cranford Spinner Suitcase

You won't fail to spot this plum paisley pattern luggage on the carousel, making it an ideal checked bag choice. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Macy's

Cabeau Evolution Classic Travel Pillow

A plush, comfortable memory foam travel pillow that's perfect for napping on long flights. 

Where to buy: Sold by Bed Bath and Beyond and Amazon

Latitude 40°N Eye Mask

This eye mask is designed to completely block out light, giving you a more restful sleep when traveling by air. 

Where to buy: Sold by Bed Bath and Beyond

Wanderlust Travel Compression Socks

If you'll be on a plane for more than 4 hours, it's a good idea to wear compression socks to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis from sitting for too long, especially if you have a family history of blood clots. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Lauren Corona writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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