Updated: Jul 19
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The Importance Of Properly Packing A Personal Bag
The second I book my plane ticket I start thinking about what to pack on my next International flight. What outfits will I wear? What accessories do I need? I love to tear apart my closet for the best flowy dress that screams "Mediterranean cruise" or my most laid-back linens that are begging to ride camelback through a desert.
I have the trip on my brain every time I head to the fitting room at the mall and I LOVE it. Packing can be a lot of fun when it comes to finding the right outfits for the journey ahead, but the personal bag is always such a drag to think about.
The personal bag needs to be the most practical bag I pack. It needs to have all the travel essentials for a long haul flight, all my important paperwork, and snacks and entertainment too. It needs to be my Dora the Explorer backpack, or my (more niche reference) Jumanji backpack from the Rock's version in the jungle. Basically, if I want for it in the 24 hours that it takes me to get from my home doorstep to my first hotel bed, I need it in that pack.
But the issue is - we're backed against the wall with luggage size limits, weight limits, and so on. The personal bag is SMALL and needs to fit under your seat in front of you. This is the one bag you get for free no matter what airline you are on, and sometimes it holds the entirety of your vacation in it! (Yes, it's possible, I've done it, thanks to packing cubes!)
Bottom line is, the personal bag needs to be carefully and creatively packed. So, what are the absolute must-haves for an overseas or international long haul flight? What are the requirements?
From cosmetics to accessories, entertainment and more, here's a breakdown of the absolute necessary overnight flight essentials for the woman traveler in 2023.
Personal Bag Size Limits
When packing for an overseas trip, nowadays you may find a huge variety in what is ok and what is not ok to bring without paying a fee for bags.
Smarter Travel has laid out a lot of the details on personal bag size limits at this link, which can be a good visual refresher for what should already be included in your airline's confirmation email.
The Difference Between a Carry On and a Personal Bag
Understanding what you can bring and the limits of those items is essential. Recall that by distinction a carry on fits in the overhead bin and the personal bag is by your feet under the seat in front of you. Carry on's are typically no bigger than 22 inches tall, and most typically are roll-on style bags.
A personal bag has to fit under the seat, so it is really whatever your 'extra bag in hand' may be. This could include:
A briefcase or laptop messenger bag
An underseat rolling bag
A small duffle or weekender bag
A reusable shopping bag
A bag of souvenirs
It's pretty common to see people trying to bring two or more of these items on board and passing them as one 'personal bag' because they all fit under the seat. Keep in mind that most airlines will not allow this and will stop you. Your best bet is to consolidate into your largest bag that can fit under the seat.
If you have a duty free purchase, this is commonly excluded from the bag allowance policy and can be placed up top or below the seat.
What Type of Personal Bag is Best?
I have tried every bag on that list above, and hands down the one I love best is this tote bag with a zipper.
Amazon sells this amazing bag that I got from the Samsonite store, and they sell it for a good $20 cheaper than I bought it. It's such a steal and it's great for so many reasons:
Packability: Empty it folds pretty small, so I can pack it in my carry on or checked bag and bring it home full of souvenirs if I need to
Volume: This bag literally held 3 weeks of clothing for me with the use of trusty packing cubes.
Accessibility: Unlike my underseat rolling bag or a backpack, I don't need to pull the whole thing out, prop it on my lap and unzip it. Everything is easily accessed from the top zipper.
Front Pocket: The pocket in the front is big enough for all the passports and important paperwork, and zips for safety.
Style: Understated, we bought one in black and one in navy blue.
Durability: The quality of the fabric is way superior to other packable totes that I own.
Now that you have the bag picked out, what do you put in it?
Long Haul Flight Essentials
Deodorant - for the next morning when you land, you want to feel fresh!
Eye drops - for the next morning!
Hand lotion - for the next morning and throughout the night. Airplanes really dry you out!
Hand sanitizer - for after every meal or bathroom visit
Tissues - for equalizing your ears upon landing and ascent
Face masks - the disposable blue ones are the best I think for traveling. They are the most breathable, most comfortable for sleeping in, and cheapest for disposing of when you land at your destination. Bring a few just in case some break. Note: these are mostly optional worldwide now. Be sure to listen for any announcements from the cabin crew stating otherwise.
Eye mask (I used to use a basic furry lined one, but lately I LOVE these self-warming eye masks. They get warm as soon as they come out of the package, and stay warm about an hour. It's nice on a chilly airplane to put you to sleep. Bonus is that they are comfortable, disposable, and individually packaged.
Mini toothbrush picks. These are amazing. You can buy in little mini packs or mega packs, but basically this little brush has a blue center that releases a fresh peppermint tooth gel once you start brushing it around your mouth. It's very subtle and you can kind of brush around while you are landing, and no one really knows what you are doing. The bristles work to scrape away the overnight ick, the gel provides a minty fresh mouth, and the pick is for any extra duty. Toss in the trash when you are done! No rinse and spit and no sink required!
Get them here: https://amzn.to/3pd365Q or by clicking on the photo below.
Neck pillow - this is a game changer. I never understood why so many people had these, but you need one! Get a good one (not the inflatable kind, you will regret it) and pick one that has a snap on it. This way you can snap it to a bag strap or a carabiner.
Medications - a trick I use with these is to take them at the time you should be taking them at home for the flight. Once you arrive, jump on the new time zone schedule. Just make sure that is safe for whatever meds you are on, of course.
Pen and paper - you never know when you need them.
A puzzle book - I prefer logic puzzles. They keep my mind active and take about 20 minutes each
Book - keep it small and light
Extra batteries, if needed
Phone charger - there aren't always chargers on board, but just in case keep it handy.
Foreign adapters (you'll need this pretty soon after you've landed)
Snacks for you (I usually pack Oreos or a favorite candy to have with my free red wine after the in-flight meal, and then some kind of breakfast granola bar for the morning in case the morning meal option isn't super. Bonus if you can bring an orange for the morning. There is nothing better than the smell of orange after 10 hours. So juicy and delicious!
What to Wear on Your Overnight Flight
Wear socks - these are your slippers for walking to the bathroom mid flight! Just be careful what you step on...
Easy on shoes - for the afore mentioned warning!
Long leggings or a long cotton dress- no buttons or zippers - Dress for the country and weather you are going to. These options cover my legs from the cool air (don't forget you will also have a blanket on the long hauls), they are comfy enough to sleep in, and aren't too constricting for sitting down a long time.
Sweater - no buttons or zippers - something cozy, but not sloppy. You don't want to look like a college kid rolling out of her dorm room. I usually bring an oversized cardigan, or if I am going to cold weather I will just wear a sweater that doubles as a top.
Pack your sweater or even a pair of slippers into your personal bag, and pull them out when you need them.
Final Thoughts About Personal Bags
Personal bags are just that - personal. This list is just to get you going, but make it personal for what you need on your flight. With the right bag, you'll have easy access to all your necessary belongings, feel fresh upon landing, and have had a nice night of entertainment.
Pack your personal bag for you.