How to Travel with Only a Personal Item

Personal items include a backpack, purse, laptop bag, camera bag.

Travelers are always looking for ways to save a few bucks. The only luggage I brought to Miami, New Orleans, and San Diego was a personal item packed with everything I needed. Almost every airline allows you to have one free personal item to bring with you.

The largest personal item allowed on most flights is a school backpack. A school backpack can fit roughly 7 articles of clothing, a laptop with charging cables, a kindle, or 3 books. Lastly, buy travel size toiletries when you arrive to your destination.

Personal Item Bag Dimensions

The size of the personal item may vary per airline. The largest personal item is about the size of a normal school backpack. Other bags include purses, laptop bags, camera bags. Below are ten airline personal item dimensions:

  • Alaska Airlines: not specified
  • Allegiant: 16″ x 15″ x 7″
  • American Airlines: 18″ x 14″ x 8″
  • Delta: not specified
  • Frontier: 18″ x 14″ x 8″
  • Hawaiian Airlines: not specified
  • JetBlue: 17″ x 13″ x 8″
  • Southwest: not specified
  • Spirit: 18″ x 14″ x 8″
  • United: 17″ x 10″ x 9″


Packing a personal item forces you to pick the clothes you actually wear. You have your backpack to pack extra clothes, and you have your body. You can wear an entire outfit. If you wear a sweater or jacket you just gave yourself another outfit.

I take three maybe sometimes four shirts with me, folding them as small as possible. I pack one pair of shorts, usually a nicer-ish pair that would be acceptable to go out with. To be honest, I don’t pack any extra underwear. If i’m traveling with only a personal item, the length I will be gone is at max a week. On average, it’s for a three day stay.

Besides the pair of socks I’ll already be wearing, I pack about two extra pairs. I like the feel of fresh clean socks. There is no room for a second pair of shoes, so pick a pair that are comfortable to wear for long periods.

If you wear one shirt and a pair of pants, and you pack four more shirts and a pair of shorts, that’s ten different outfit combinations. Throw on a sweater or jacket and you just added more opportunities to look stylish!

Electronics and Other

I bring my laptop with me on all trips because I do a lot of writing. The backpack I use has a little pouch perfect for a laptop. Make sure to bring your charging cables. My laptop cable and phone cable both fit it the small front pouch. Sometimes I bring my camera and collapsible tripod with me that I carry in my hand. It doesn’t fit in my bag, and I haven’t had a problem so far carrying it.

If you enjoy reading like I do you probably already own a kindle. If you don’t, I would recommend grabbing a kindle. It’s a library of books perfect for travel. If you prefer books I get it, I have fit three books in my bag before. It was a tight fit, but it worked!


Toiletries are a group of items that you can buy when you get to your destination. I prefer to take my toothbrush, toothpaste, and deodorant with, and buy travel size shampoo and conditioner when I arrive. Sometimes if you stay in a hostel they may have a leftover box of all sorts of goodies.

Suggested Personal Item Travel Bags

Personal item: water resistant
Personal item: rolling luggage
Personal item: water resistant
Personal item: water resistant

Personal Item Summary

Traveling doesn’t have to be so complicated. Traveling with only a personal item can be a great discovery of how little you actually need. Only the essential items can fit into your bag. What are you going to bring?

Traveling cheap? Check out the article I wrote about hostels.

Keep Moving Forward

Robbie Knecht

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