Packing your Carryon

Incurable Wanderlust Podcast - Season 1, Episode 5

With the airline industry struggling due to the recent explosion in travellers knowing how to pack and travel with a carryon bag is becoming more important than ever. In this episode I go over what a carryon bag is, standard sizes & weights, things you should know about what cannot go in one, things that must go in one, and more. If you are planning on travelling anytime soon, you NEED to listen to this episode!

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Hi, this week I am talking about carryon luggage. I was just going to focus on packing but if you've been watching the news the last few weeks you may have noticed that trying to travel with check baggage just is not a smart way to travel these days. If you've not been listening to or reading the news, then I'll catch you up to speed; understaffing and people starting to get back to the travel levels we were at pre-pandemic has made the perfect storm of delayed or lost luggage. And when you do arrive at baggage claim, then instead of just bags coming down the carousel you will find lines of bags upon bags that you get to sort through. As Canada's removing the travel can app requirement in about a week, I thought it would be good to touch on carryon as the checked luggage situation is about to get a lot worse.

First off, I'll start with some easy terminology for those that are not in the industry or may not have traveled before.

Carrier: This is an airline that you will be traveling on.

Carryon: These are items that you will bring with you onto the plane. Generally it is one bag that fits in the overhead bin and a personal item like a purse or briefcase. Some will allow you to bring a set of golf clubs, pillow medical equipment like a CPAP machine or diaper bag as well. Basically it's an item that fits into the overhead bin and then another one that fits underneath the seat in front of you. You will need to check with your carrier to see what they allow. But we'll get into this a little bit further on.

Checked: This is luggage that you leave with the attendant when you first collect your ticket before going through security. If you're taking more than one flight and a connection is taking you to a different country, then you will want to ask the agent if your luggage is checked all the way through to your final destination or if you'll need to claim it and go through security before catching the connecting flight. If the agent can have them check it all the way through to your final destination.

Luggage, Baggage, and Suitcase: I'll probably end up flipping and flopping these terms and while they are almost the exact same there is some specifics like all suitcases are luggage but not all luggage is a suitcase. Suitcases are typically rectangular may or may not have wheels and have a zipper to close them. Luggage comes from back when people used to travel with trunks and you had to lug it around. You will mostly hear this in British English and Commonwealth nations like Canada. Luggage can be anything that travels with the person. Baggage comes from the French word baggage which means that which one transports with one basically the exact same thing as luggage.

Stow: means to put an item away neatly.

Now that you have these terms down, let's carry on.

One thing to note is just because you're flying on the plane, it does not mean your ticket will allow you to bring items to stow in the overhead bins. About five years ago, the idea of Basic Economy was introduced and it's slowly taking off. What Basic Economy meant was that the flight is cheaper than the standard economy, but you will be typically marked as "hand baggage only". This means you're only allowed one personal item that is stowed under the seat in front of you. As not all airlines make the difference between Economy and Basic Economy clear, make sure to check inclusions before you book your flight. As people started to get more and more creative with their packing methods or would prefer to save money on their flight by mailing their items to their destination. The amount of people booking Basic Economy has exploded. This has also helped airlines free up space in the overhead bins too because after all on this economy fare, you are not allowed to stow anything in them.

Now if you're hoping in this podcast I will tell you how to pack a two week trip into an iPad size purse than this is not the podcast for you. I will certainly go over how to pack a carryon bag but I find that when you get down to packing in a bag of that size, you really hampering your vacation as you're probably traveling with just the clothes on your back so you're constantly washing your items and waiting for them to dry. Not my type of travel nor something I specialized in.

Now that we know what a carry on is what size or weight can you expect to be able to bring on board? Well, every airline has their own requirements due to the type and size of their aircraft. There is a general rule of thumb when it comes to sizes, typically you can expect dimensions of 22 inches or 56 centimeters high including the wheels and if there's an extended handle that does not slide into the suitcase, 14 inches or 36 centimeters wide, and nine inches or 23 centimeters deep. However, some airlines may deviate by one to two inches so make sure to check all of the airlines that you will be flying on and make sure the carry on bag you use will fit go with the strictest airline if you're not sure.

Weight is another issue altogether as there's no "standard weight" across the industry. For example. Lufthansa will allow a bag of 17 pounds or eight kilograms, whereas Aeromexico is 22 pounds about 10 kilograms, and Air Canada only states that the bag must be light enough to put into the overhead bins unassisted. Super confusing right? Again, you have to check with your carrier or carriers that you are flying on and then just go with the most strict.

If the ticket or itinerary that you have been emailed does not provide specifics as to the dimensions or weights that are required. Then a quick Google search of the carrier's name comma carry on requirements or comma carry on dimensions will bring up their requirements. Make sure to go to the carrier's website and not someone else's as you never know if the non carriers website is recently updated and in the end, it is you that will have to pay to get the baggage checked. Not them.

Now I recently got the question of "Do Carryon Size Requirements Really Matter?" and the easiest answer I can give is that following the requirements is like buying insurance, sure you may never need it but you will be glad to have it when you do. What I mean by this is that I have travelled a ton of times with a carryon suitcase, a giant bag, my neck pillow, and no one has even batted an eye. I find in North America, they are pretty relaxed. However in Europe or if you are flying on a smaller prop plane or charter then they tend to be more strict.

When I had been in Amsterdam, I had weighted all of my luggage. It was all under what KLM required as per my manual scale but when I got to the airport, I had to put my bags into a tube that reweighted them and it said that my bags were five pounds over the limit which would have cost me 60 Euro. Luckily they did not care about the weight of my carryon so I just tried to shove as much into the carryon as possible.

Another time, my husband has a carryon that fits under most seats in front of him and it has been to more countries then he can even remember, but one time we were flying within Canada to Calgary the agent we were checking in with made us take the bag over to this little metal square and make sure it actually fit into it comfortably.

Then there was another time when we were flying home from Prague and we were surprised that a similar metal box was welded onto the start of a conveyor belt that fed into the X ray machine. If the carryon did not fit through this box without it being touched, then you had to check it. I've even been stopped at the gate had my bag measured to see if it was too large when the plane was almost out of space, and they needed to get more bags checked.

So as you can see, sometimes the size will matter and sometimes it won't, I would say 80% of the time it won't but better safe than sorry and as airlines feel the crunch, especially with the new laws that came into play for compensation. If you're flying on a plane where the trip starts in Canada, you will find more airlines trying to find ways to penny pinch so I would not be surprised if airlines really start to stick to the sizes and weights for carryons so they can make even more money.

Now you know what size and weight to expect; let's start with what you can and cannot put in your carry on.

When it comes to your carry on make sure to put things in it that you will need in case the check baggage gets lost or things that are of value. So medication jewelry, charging cables, electronics, any medical devices you might have at least one set of socks and underwear deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrush comb, anything you require for work if it's a business trip, and anything else you cannot live without.

When it comes to liquids, aerosols creams and gels, pink lip gloss, hairspray, shampoo, hair gel, face cream, etc all of these have to be in 3.4 ounce (100 milliliter) containers to a maximum of one litre per person. If you are checking them in your carryon, Airport Security usually has Ziploc bags but save yourself some hassle and head to the dollar store and grab some one litre Ziploc bags. Not only will this help you make sure you're staying within the limits, having them already set up and easy to pull out makes security such a breeze. Now I mentioned that this is one per person so if there are two of you traveling then you can take two, one litre bags. If there are four of you then you can take four, one litre bags. If you notice I'm not saying you can take two litre or four litre but two, one litre or four, one litre. The reason for this is because you will need to separate the items into one litre bags and each person will take one bag in their carry on. A great way to remember this rule is calling it the 3-1-1:

3.4 ounces in a

1 litre bag

1 litre per person

If you do not follow this exact rule then it can cause your time through TSA to slow a little bit. For example, if you use one four litre bag for the entire family, then security will either have you separated out into four separate one litre bags or just force you to throw it out altogether. Once I had done some quick packing and while we had two one litre bags I put both into my husband's carry on and he got pulled off to the side by TSA because they thought he was traveling alone. Once I realized that what was happening, I walked up, they realized I was with him, and the agent just told us to make sure that it's onem one litre bag per person and that we carry them in separate carryons. Since that day, we've stuck to the rule and not had any issue since (knock on wood!)

Ziplock bags are also handy because sometimes you will need to pull all of the electronics out of your bag along with the liquids depending on where you're traveling. So having electronics in one bag and liquids in another makes things so simple and quick.

Before I forget, I cannot stress this enough DO NOT PUT YOUR PASSPORT IN your carry on luggage. You must keep this with you or in a personal item because I've seen way too many times where someone puts it into their carryon suitcase and the suitcase has to be checked for whatever reason (it's too big, the flights too full, etc), they forget that they put their passport into a suitcase, and then they have to go through customs.

But they don't have their passport because it's in the luggage that either waiting for them at the destination or sitting in baggage claim and they have to go through customs first before they can pick bag. It's a headache for everyone. It's caused a lot of missed flights as well as embassy visits.

So make sure to keep important documents like visas (both the credit card and the country entering ones), passports, ID cards, birth certificates, insurance information, any important emails, copies of tickets, your cell phone, anything else that would be extremely important and difficult to replace. If you lose it, keep it on your person. Whether that be in a pocket or a purse or de bag that never leaves your sight and fits under the chair in front of you.

Also, DO NOT put important items into the seat pocket in front of you; things like plane tickets, custom cards, passports. I have seen so many of these forgotten or thrown out. This causes missed flights, long phone calls to the airlines Lost and Found, and possibly even embassy visits.

With that important bulletin out of the way, let's get into what you shouldn't ever pack in your carrier. Now these do change sometimes I mean my first flight was less than a week after September 11, 2001 and we had to remove batteries from every electronic device before we flew and put them into a blue bag that we carried onto the plane with us. The second time I flew a week after the London bombings which became the reason why you're not allowed to take certain sizes of liquids, gels, aerosols or creams on a plane. As you can tell, I had a lot of luck when I first started flying.

Now I know a lot of us are sure that we're not bringing anything prohibited and then we get to security and we act like we have 10 kilos of cocaine hidden somewhere within our luggage or ourselves. Just make sure that all the pockets and corners of your luggage have been checked so nothing is hidden or placed somewhere it shouldn't be. If you do use a drug that is legal in your country, but not the one you're visiting, then a vacuum and wipe down of the bag wouldn't hurt either.

With that out of the way you will want to check with the carrier as to what you're not allowed to bring on it or in your carry on just in case you're planning on bringing in additional item. There are a few standard items however such as no weapons liquids over certain size anything flammable or explodes.

So things like any liquid gel, aerosols creams or snowglobes over 3.4 ounces 100 million litres. Weapons so firearms, explosives like grenades, tear gas, airbags, knives, baseball bat hockey sticks, scissors that are longer than six centimeters tasers, brass knuckles, pepper spray. Lighters and lighter fluid. If you're traveling with a bottle opener make sure doesn't have a little knife on it, some of them do to help remove the wrapping on the wine bottles. Paint, hammocks, tripods, drinks and bottles that you bought before going through security. Prohibited food so usually fruit nuts, seeds, vegetables, animal byproducts, like meat, cheese shells. Illegal drugs, while something is legal in your country does not mean that it is in another. Snakes. They're not allowed on planes and neither are any other animals that you cram into your carry on if you're not following the rules of the airline. Replica explosives or weapons like collectible round Coca Cola bottles that came from Galaxy's edge at Disneyland and Disney World as they look like grenades, bullet shaped whiskey stones, toilet paper holder shaped like guns. Some airlines also have an issue with power banks as the cheaper ones have been known to have their lithium batteries explode, so check with your carrier.

While some of these may seem funny, they are listed because someone has tried to do it and it needs to be made obvious because common sense is not so common anymore, unfortunately. Now not all of these prohibited carry on items can go in your check luggage either so make sure that if you need to bring a baseball bat that you fall within your carrier's rules for doing so. They may need you to swing by earlier so they can mark this special cargo. Also quick side note: if you have a pretty passport cover on your passport, just take it off. TSA and any other person that needs to check your passport will have you do so. It's super annoying to constantly have to take it off and then put it back on.

If you are ever interested to see what other amusing things TSA does stop or you have questions about something, if they will let them through, then head over to Twitter and go to @AskTSA. It's quite an amusing feed and if you send in a photo and ask they're usually really good at getting back to you.

When it comes to packing and actual carry on suitcase. If you're going to travel with it and no check luggage I find there's two great ways to pack. The first method is rolling your clothes; I find this works extremely well for bulkier clothes like jeans and cargo pants. Basically you take the item, fold it in half hot dog tuck in the sleeves if there are any, and then roll from the bottom to the top. The item then usually takes up less space and then also helps prevent wrinkling.

My second method is the layered box as I like to call it. This is better for thinner clothes like T shirts, leggings, summer clothes, that sort of stuff. Well find this is hard to explain without a video, I'll do my best. Fold all the pants in half, hot dog, and imagine a clockface. I would lay the first pair of pants with the waist in the middle of the clock and the legs pointing to the nine position. The next pair of pants I would lay it on top and the first one with the bums of the pants covering each other but with the legs pointed in the three position. I would then keep repeating back and forth 9 to 3, 9 to 3, 9 to 3 until all the pants are done.

If you have crops or shorts, then what you want to do is fold them hot dog and start with the longest item working to your shortest with the first one placed the bottom of the pants pointing in the sixth position with the waistband lined up to the outside of the pant layering over the bottom. Then place the next one pointing to the 12 position layered over the bottom layer until the bottom is covered. Then you'll work from six to 12 six to 12 six to 12.

Once that is already done, it's time for your tops. Again, start with the longest sleeve top work your way down to the tank tops. Lay the tops over the pants in the nine and three positions while doing this. So with the first one, you'll tuck in the sleeves, lay it on top of the pants make sure that the shirt is aligned with the waist of the pant underneath it. Then the next shirt will go on top of that with a collar on top of collar but pointed in the opposite direction and keep your pipe repeating 9 to 3, 9 to 3, 9to 3 until you're done.

Now you'll roll your underwear into your socks and if you have a bra or a swimsuit and wrap these around the socks and place them in the center of the pile. Now what you want to do is start folding the bundled clothes. So the last item that you've layered, you'll take it the bottom of it and fold it up and around your undergarment bundle. Then you'll take the next top that was folded or that was layered and fold it up and over the undergarment bundle. You then continue with this back and forth until you left with a bundle of clothes with your pants on the outside that should fit perfectly snug into your carry on suitcase.

Usually I'll do the rolling method for my husband as His clothes are bulkier and the layered box for mine. However, if I'm traveling for work or just a quick weekend away, then I'll do the rolling method as it does help with wrinkling and it's just so much easier to pull things out of a suitcase instead of having to undo the entire bundle.

Now there are a few items that you should always carry on to a plane like guidebooks, maps, directions, any currency you're bringing your house keys, all your charging cables and electronics, important documents like passports, visas, IDs, confirmations, tickets, etc and your medication.

If you head over to my Pinterest which is @female_abroad, I have a super handy checklist both for putting things into your carry on basic clothing, the pack, pre travel prep and things never to put in your carry on.

Also, if you head over to and sign up for a newsletter you will receive these checklists in a printer friendly PDF.

I also thought I would end this with some frequently asked questions.

1. Is a backpack considered carryon?
Yes, if it fits the carrier's dimensions then it can be carried onto the plane and placed in the overhead bit unless the plane is full in which case it might need to be checked.

2. Can I check my carry on for free?

If you check out when you first arrive at the airport when you collect your ticket typically no unless the agent says otherwise. Sometimes when the plane is full, they'll allow you to check it there for free. Typically, however, you'll have to get to your gate and once the plane starts loading or when the agents arrived, then you can politely go up and ask them if it's possible to check your bag for free. If you wait, then they may do an announcement saying that the plane is fairly full and asked for people to offer to put their bags up for free. However, I have yet to see a carrier charge when they want to make room.

3. I have a CPAP but need to use distilled water how can I carry the water on the plane?

For those that don't use a CPAP, typically you have a four litre jug of water or a gallon and that's what they need to travel with. So if you have distilled water in one of these gallon jugs, it's just like breast milk, if you're traveling with your CPAP machine, then it's classified as a medical device and not necessarily a liquid. Now I say supposed to because if you get a super strict agent or someone who's new, then there's a good chance you're gonna miss your flight due to arguing about if you can or cannot take it on a plane. To save myself a headache, if I needed to ever do this I would look into if I could purchase the distilled water in my destination, see how much it would cost to mail it to myself, see how much one of those distilling devices on Amazon would cost, or I would try to put it into a bunch of 3.4 ounce 100 milliliter containers up to a maximum of one litre.

4. In economy I'm allowed to carry one carry on but in business I'm allowed to take two is booking business better for me?

It really depends. If you prefer business over economy and the price doesn't matter, go for it. One thing you might want to do though, is look and see if there's a restriction on that second carryon. Sometimes it will say things like "golf bag" so it's not necessarily just available, you can take anything, it might need to fit in to specific requirements. If price is a little bit more of a concern, then take a look and see how much the airline charges for checking extra baggage then look at things that might be included in business classes as well like meals, seat selections, lounge access, additional points, anything else that might be more important to you if by booking business than economy, then look at the cost one versus the other to see if traveling in business makes the most sense to you. You could also wait for the checking email that sent out 24 hours prior to your flight to see if they're providing any upgrades to business for discount if there's space available of course.

These are the four questions I've received. But if you have any questions that are not answered in this episode, then feel free to shoot you know or leave me a comment in the review about it.

Safe travels!

Thank you for listening and make sure to follow or subscribe so you never miss an episode, and can find us when you need to find your next trip. If you can recommend the Incurable Wanderlust to those that you travel with and also if you have a moment, leave us a rating and review. In the review if there are topics or destinations that you'd like to learn more about make sure to include it in your comment. Also, do not forget to visit for more helpful tips, tricks and trips, as well as podcast transcripts. And if you want to stay up to date with me, then follow me on Instagram @female_abroad . Remember the incurable wanderlust is a weekly podcast with new episodes released every Thursday. Thanks again for listening and until next week. Safe travels!