The Ultimate Carry On Packing List After 12 Years of Travel

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We’ve been living out of carry-on bags for over 12 years now. We love the freedom that travelling light gives us—we can pack our belongings in 10 minutes, walk around easily with all our luggage, and breeze through airports without queuing at check-in desks or baggage carousels.

Below we share our current travel packing list. It has evolved over the years and is meant to give you a starting point for your own carry on packing list. You don’t need to follow it exactly as we all have our own preferences and needs. 

Living out of carry-on luggage for over a decade is very different from travelling for two weeks or even six months, and we’re certainly not ultralight travellers. We have a ton of electronics to run our online business, whereas many travellers could manage with just a phone.

We’ve added extra clothes over the years to reduce the amount of laundry we need to do and as I started running and yoga. I can’t believe in our first year we only had three tops and pairs of underwear!

We used to travel mostly in hot climates but have been spending more time in cooler places in winter. The packing list below works for multiple climates and I’ve noted the extra things we pack for cold places.

Our biggest change in recent years has been switching from one carry on backpack each to a rolling suitcase plus personal item. You can read more about that below as well as our carry on packing tips.

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Our Change From Carry-On Backpack to Suitcase

After nearly ten years of carrying everything we own on our backs, we were ready for a change. 

We loved the freedom of travelling with a backpack—it’s easier to carry on rough streets, climb stairs, and hop on and off buses and boats.

But as we added more items over the years, our bags were getting heavier and we began to dread carrying them. 

Our travel style has also changed—we travel more slowly, often rent cars, and can afford to take taxis to our accommodation rather than walk. 

For travelling by bus around South America, a backpack made sense. When we spend more time in airports and cars, a suitcase makes life much easier. 

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Our Carry On Suitcases

Away Bigger Carry On Suitcase and Everywhere Bag for carry on packing
Erin’s Away Bigger Carry On Suitcase and Everywhere Bag

I opted for the Away Bigger Carry-On Suitcase and the Away Everywhere Bag (as my personal item for my electronics). 

With this combination I maximise the amount I can carry on a plane. I haven’t had any issues so far on 10 airlines (including budget European airlines like Ryanair).

I am prepared that on some stricter airlines, I may need to check the suitcase as it is on the larger size for hand luggage and not all airlines allow two bags. If you are worried about this, check out the smaller Away Carry-On instead.

I was nervous about the change, but Away offers an amazing 100 day free trial, so I knew I could return it if it didn’t work out. They also provide free delivery to the US, UK, and Canada.

I haven’t looked back. The suitcase is stylish, spacious, and durable. The smooth spinner wheels mean I can effortlessly roll it alongside me (no need to drag it behind). They even worked on cobbled streets in Europe.

I especially love how the Everywhere Bag slides over the handles of the suitcase, so I don’t have to carry a thing. Airports are so easy now!

Stairs are more challenging with a suitcase than with a backpack, but I think it’s worth it for easy rolling the rest of the time.

Simon's Away Bigger Carry On in Coast and Tortuga Setout Laptop Bag
Simon’s Away Bigger Carry On and Tortuga Setout Laptop Bag

Simon was jealous of my burden-free travel days, so he has now converted to the Away Bigger Carry-On too.

He pairs his suitcase with a Tortuga Setout Laptop Backpack, which he loves. It’s no longer available, but we also tested the Tortuga Outbreaker Laptop Backpack, which is similar.

The backpack has plenty of organisation, fits Simon’s two (!) laptops and large iPad, and has a sleeve so you can slide it onto suitcase handles and not need to carry it. 

Tortuga Setout Laptop Bag
Simon’s Tortuga Setout Laptop Bag is a small version of his old backpack

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Our Recommended Carry-on Backpacks

I do still think backpacks are a great choice for many people, especially if you’ll be moving around a lot, taking public transport, and walking to your accommodation. 

They are best if you can pack lighter than we do—reducing electronics would help. 

Another advantage of backpacks is that you can get away with being over the allowed carry-on weight on planes, as they are less likely to be weighed. That said, our Away suitcases have yet to be weighed (thankfully). Read my tips on dealing with airline weight restrictions.

We think the Tortuga Outbreaker 45L Backpack is the ideal carry-on backpack if you want plenty of space with good organisation, comfort, and a stylish design. See our Tortuga Outbreaker backpack review for full details.

If you’d prefer a smaller bag, I used to travel with and loved the Osprey Farpoint 40. They now offer a women’s specific fit, the Osprey Fairview 40.

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Our Carry-On Only Packing List

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Luggage

Our Away Bigger Carry On Travel Suitcases in Corfu
Both our Away Bigger Carry Ons plus kittens at our Corfu Airbnb
  • Away Bigger Carry-On Suitcase (Erin and Simon) – Durable, incredibly spacious, and so easy to manoeuvre. It also comes with an optional built-in battery for charging your phone and a detachable laundry bag. 
  • Away Everywhere Bag (Erin) – A stylish travel bag for my laptop and camera bag. It fits perfectly on the Away suitcase with a trolley sleeve and is also ideal as an overnight bag. This is my personal item on the plane and fits under the seat. 
  • Tortuga Setout Laptop Backpack (Simon) – A spacious, organised laptop bag with a sleeve to slide on the suitcase handle.  Great as an overnight bag too. Simon’s personal item on planes. 
  • Matador Beast 18 Daypack – This packable backpack fits inside our luggage on travel days and is comfortable for hiking. It’s rather bulky, though, so the Matador Freefly16 is a much smaller, lighter option. Read our comparison of the best packable daypacks for more ideas.
  • Reusable shopping bag – This is useful for shopping, beach visits, and storage of water and snacks on journeys. It folds up into a tiny pouch when not in use. 

Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are the secret to carry on packing. They are essential to help us fit more in our luggage and keep things organised. Read my post on how to use packing cubes.

  • Eagle Creek Pack-It compression cubes x 4 (Erin) – I love these as they are ultralight and squeeze my clothes down small. I have two medium cubes (one for tops, one for bottoms/dresses) and two small cubes (one for workout clothes, one for underwear). I have a set of Spectre and the newer Isolate cubes and both are good.
  • Peak Design small and medium packing cubes (Simon) – For Simon’s underwear (small) and clothes (medium). These are heavier and don’t compress quite as much as the Eagle Creek ones, but they do have a useful separate compartment for dirty laundry and a more stylish design. 

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Erin’s Clothes

Carry on travel packing list
Everything in my hand luggage packing list (this is an older photo but similar to my current list)

Bottoms

  • Acai Skinny Outdoor Jeans – My new favourite travel-friendly jeans are super comfy, have huge pockets, and are shower-resistant. I have them in blue and black. They are UK based but ship internationally. For more options see my review of the best travel pants for women.When we spent most of our time in hot countries, I had linen trousers instead of the second pair of jeans. 
  • 1-2 Leggings – For lounging, hiking, yoga, and planes. My favourites are the buttery soft Lululemon Align. The Wunder Under Tights are a bit warmer. The 25-inch is full length on me (5ft4) and I bought two sizes down as they stretch out.
  • 1 RipSkirt Hawaii (Length 2) – This lightweight wrap skirt is perfect for throwing on after a swim as the water-shedding material means no wet bum marks and it dries so quickly. It’s also wrinkle-free and comes in lots of beautiful designs and various lengths.
  • 1 -2 Shorts

Tops and Dresses

  • 1 -2 Dresses
  • 4 – 5 Short-sleeve tops or t-shirts – My favourite is the Bluffworks Threshold t-shirt which is super soft and odour-resistant.
  • 1-2 Tank tops

I also used to have a Clever Travel Companion tank top which replaced my money belt as it has two zipped pockets to keep my passport and cards/cash safe on travel days.

These days I keep my valuables in my jeans or inner jacket pocket or (in low risk situations) in my day bag instead. If I were travelling in places like South America, I would use this tank again though. 

Erin in Matera with her carry on luggage
Erin in Matera wearing a typical outfit for sightseeing on the cobbled streets of Italy—dress and Teva sandals.

Outerwear

  • 1 Cashmere sweater – Cashmere is soft and light but it doesn’t machine wash that well (I do it anyway).
  • 1 Fleece – I have one from North Face that’s lightweight with pockets and a hood.

Running Gear

Underwear and Swimwear

  • 2 Bikinis – I like Andie Swimwear.
  • 7-9 Underwear
  • 2 Bras
  • 3 Socks – I don’t wear socks often. In cold places, I buy more as needed. 

Shoes

I used to only travel with three pairs of shoes—running shoes, sports sandals, and ballet flats.

Now, when I’m in cold places I add a pair of Allbirds Wool Runners for casual use, so I can keep my running shoes just for running. They are perfect for travel—see the cold weather section below for details.

Alternatively, for rainier climates I like the Allbirds Wool Runner Mizzles, which are water-resistant and have extra traction.

I sometimes add a pair of hiking shoes (for New Zealand, UK, and US National Parks), but it is hard to fit them in my suitcase. I currently have the Oboz Sypes low waterproof hiking shoes.

I like ballet flats for cities and evenings out. I’ve tried many over the years—see my Allbirds Tree Breezers review (which includes a comparison with Tieks and Rothy’s) as well as my Tieks review (after travelling with them for 8 years) and Rothy’s vs Tieks comparison. 

Wearing Allbirds flats at a winery in Bay of Islands
Wearing my Allbirds Breezers for a winery lunch
  • Running shoes  – I’ve run in Allbirds Tree Dashers for years now. I love their neutral design (so I can wear them around town too) and they are comfy, breathable, fairly lightweight, and machine washable. See my Allbirds Tree Dashers review for details. 
  • Sports sandals – My Teva Verra sandals are perfect for travel—super comfortable, waterproof, and practical for hikes but nice enough to wear in cities. Amazingly, there was no break-in period. Buy them on Amazon or from the Teva website.
  • Ballet flats – My Allbirds Tree Breezers are ultra comfortable, lightweight, machine washable, and made from sustainable materials. I wear then on planes as they are easy to slip off at airport security. See my Allbirds flats review for more details. 
  • Shower caps – I pick up a few shower caps from hotels to store my shoes in and protect my suitcase. 

Accessories

  • Sun hat
  • Sunglasses – I like Maui Jims, which are expensive but durable, stylish and have polarised lenses to reduce glare (it really makes a difference). 

Cold Weather Extras

Erin in the winter clothes on her carry on packing list at Zion National Park
At Zion National Park in winter wearing Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody, REI flannel shirt, Lululemon leggings, Oboz hiking shoes, and Allbirds hat

In cold weather, I add these extra items: 

See our Iceland packing list for what we pack when we are only visiting a cold country. 

Erin with Away suitcase on Great Ocean Road
Erin with Away suitcase and Everywhere bag wearing cashmere sweater, jeans and Allbirds Wool Runners

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Simon’s Clothes

Simon's carry on packing list - everything in his bag
Everything in Simon’s carry on packing list (an older photo but it’s still similar)

Most of Simon’s clothes are from the small US company Bluffworks, which makes shopping really easy.

They make travel-friendly clothes that are stylish, durable, wrinkle-resistant, moisture-wicking, and machine washable. Most feature hidden pockets to keep your phone and wallet safe.

Simon loves having clothes that are as suitable for active adventures as for dinners out and city exploring.

Bottoms

Simon at Galaxy's Edge at Disney World
Simon at Disney World wearing a Bluffworks t-shirt, Clothing Arts shorts, and Teva sandals

Tops

  • 5 T-shirts – Most of them are the wonderful Bluffworks Threshold t-shirts. They are as soft as cotton but moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and odour-resistant. He’s found them more durable than merino t-shirts (his previous go-to).
  • 1 Long sleeve dress shirt – After struggling for years with shirts that wrinkled, Simon now travels with the brilliant Bluffworks Meridian dress shirt, which has all the features you need for travel—wrinkle-free, soft and comfortable, moisture-wicking, and quick drying. It looks great, too, and works as well for dinners out as it does for hikes. 
  • 1 Long sleeve t-shirt – The Icebreaker 260 Tech Crewe Base Layer is the perfect light layer. As it’s merino it doesn’t smell.

Outerwear

  • 1 Bluffworks Gramercy Shirt Jacket – Another genius creation by Bluffworks. This replaces Simon’s old fleece and his Bluffworks Gramercy Blazer. It’s more casual than the blazer but still looks stylish and has a cosy fleece lining and tons of pockets. It’s versatile enough to wear for bike rides or city travels and can be worn alone or under a down jacket for extra warmth.
Simon in Bluffworks shirt jacket hiking in the Peak District, England
Simon in his Bluffworks shirt jacket and jeans hiking in the Peak District, England
Simon in Bluffworks shirt jacket in the snow in Sedona
He even wore the shirt jacket on a snowy walk in Sedona, Arizona! It has surprisingly good water resistance.

Underwear

  • 7 underwear – His favourites are ExOfficio Give-n-Go Sports Boxer Briefs, which are very light and quick drying. 
  • 4-7 socks – He prefers socks made from merino wool which is moisture-wicking and odour-resistant. REI, Icebreaker, and Smartwool are all good brands. Search REI for a range of options.

Shoes

For nearly 10 years, Simon had just two pairs of shoes—hiking shoes and sports sandals.

A few years ago he also added a pair of casual sneakers, the Allbirds Tree Runners, which he loves. 

If you aren’t planning any major hikes, the Allbirds are great for travel as they are smaller, lighter, and easier to dress up than hiking shoes, and can be worn without socks. 

Simon at Turtle Bay Resort in Oahu wearing Bluffworks
Hawaii resort casual: Bluffworks shirt and shorts with Allbirds Tree Runners

Accessories

  • Sunglasses – Like me, Simon has a pair of Maui Jims with polarised lenses. 

Cold Weather Extras

In cold weather he adds these items:

Simon hiking in Joshua Tree NP in winter
On a sub-zero winter walk in Joshua Tree National Park wearing his Mountain Hardwear down jacket (with t-shirt, Icebreaker, and shirt jacket beneath), Bluffworks jeans, and Allbirds Tree Runners

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Toiletries

Remember to keep all your liquid toiletries in containers of 100 ml (3oz) or less if you are travelling by plane. Solid toiletries help minimise the liquids you need. 

  • Toiletry bag – We have the Sea to Summit Hanging Toiletry Bag which is lightweight and comes with a mirror and hook to hang it up when there’s nowhere to put it. We have the small version which is just enough space for all of our toiletries. 
  • Small zip-lock bag – For liquids when flying. We usually fit our liquids into one bag between us.
  • Suncream
  • Solid shampoo bar + tin – A must for carry-on travel. Solid shampoo lasts ages and doesn’t use up your liquid allowance. We often use it as soap as well. We buy bars from either Lush (which has shops worldwide) or Ethique
  • Toothbrush each + head cover
  • Toothpaste (usually a 50 ml tube)
  • Solid deodorant (Salt of the Earth 50 g) – The more solid toiletries you pack, the better. This natural crystal deodorant works well and lasts over a year. 
  • Lip balm 
  • Moisturiser – I like the Steamcream 75ml tins.
  • Hand sanitiser (50 ml bottle) – Especially useful for bus journeys and hikes. Dr Bronner’s lavender hand sanitiser smells so good.
  • Shaving oil (15 ml bottle) – Magic stuff! A tiny bottle lasts Simon nine months.
  • Razor each + 2 or 3 spare blades
  • Hairbrush (travel-size)
  • Nail clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Menstrual cup (Erin) – Essential for travellers who menstruate. A Mooncup or Divacup takes up less space than tampons (and you don’t have to worry about finding them abroad) and is better for the environment, your body, and your wallet.
  • Hairbands and clips (Erin)

Sometimes we add these extra items in 50-100 ml (2-3 oz) bottles when needed:

  • Hair conditioner
  • Insect repellent

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Medical

  • Paracetamol – Painkillers.
  • Loperamide (Imodium) – In case of traveller’s diarrhoea.
  • Dimenhydrinate (Dramamine) – For motion sickness.
  • Plasters (Band-Aids)
  • Prescription medications
  • Antihistamine – Simon has allergies, so we sometimes carry these.

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Electronics

Carry on travel packing list - electronics
Our electronics (an older photo)

We have way too many electronics but we do need/want them as we work as we travel. Most people on shorter trips will only need a phone, Kindle (if you read a lot), and perhaps an iPad.

Laptops and Accessories

Photography (Erin)

Wearing my Tieks for a long day of sightseeing in Kyoto, Japan
Taking photos in Kyoto, Japan (I’ve changed my camera bag since then)

Most travellers these days can manage with the camera on their phone and save lots of space. As a travel blogger, that’s not an option for me. 

I switched from DSLR to smaller but high quality mirrorless cameras years ago and think they are the best option for serious travel photographers. 

I pack everything in my Peak Designs bag and then place that inside my Away Everywhere Bag (my personal item) so I only have two pieces of luggage on travel days.  

I charge my camera with my Kindle’s USB cable. 

  • Sony A7 III Mirrorless Camera – This full-frame camera takes high quality photos and is especially fantastic in low light. 
  • Sony 16-35mm f4 lens – I love the wide angle on this lens for landscapes and interior shots. 
  • Samyang 35mm f/2.8 lens – An inexpensive, small, and super light lens that’s ideal for street photography, food, and low light.
  • Peak Design Everyday Sling Bag – I love this stylish, comfortable, versatile camera bag that can be carried in three ways. The inside can be configured to fit your camera and lenses using the velcro dividers. I have the 5L in the older version—the 6L is the nearest size in the new bag. 
  • Peak Design Slide Lite Camera Strap – A versatile strap that’s so much more comfortable than a standard camera strap. It can be worn as a sling (my favourite), shoulder, or neck strap, and it’s easy to switch between the styles. 
  • 2 batteries 
  • 3 Sandisk Extreme 64GB SD cards 
  • USB memory card reader – For transferring photos to my laptop. 
  • Lens pen – For cleaning.

iPhones, iPad, Kindles, Watch

  • iPhone 13 Pro (Simon) and iPhone 11 (Erin)- iPhones are becoming increasingly good for photography and I often use it when I don’t want to carry my camera. We buy local SIM cards with data plans in each new country. eSIMS are really convenient (no physical card and you can set them up before you arrive)—we’ve used Airalo in various countries.
  • Peak Design Everyday Case – This brilliant phone case is slim, elegant, and protective. It connects to our Peak Design wallet to make a phone stand (we often use it for selfies). You can also get mounts for cars and bikes.
  • Apple AirPods Pros x 2 (Both) – We both love the wireless AirPods so much and the noise cancelling is great in the Pros (a life changer for planes).
  • iPad Pro + neoprene case (Simon) – It’s huge, but Simon loves the beautiful screen, especially for drawing.
  • Apple Pencil – For drawing on the iPad Pro. Perfect for travelling artists as it replicates a real pen or brush. Simon now does all his artwork digitally.
  • Kindle Paperwhite Signature + USB cable x 2 (Both) – I couldn’t live without my Kindle. It fits thousands of books on a device smaller than one paperback and is waterproof for pool reading.
  • Apple Watch + USB cable x 2 (Both)  – We find them especially useful for fitness tracking and convenient Apple Pay payments.
  • Apple lightning cables  + USB power adapter
  • Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter – For connecting our iPad and Mac to a TV. 

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Miscellaneous

  • Waterproof phone pouch – This keeps our phone and wallet dry while swimming, kayaking, or river hiking.
  • Travel towel – We mainly use this for the beach or swims on hikes.
  • Yoga Paws Skin Thin – Little yoga mats for your hands and feet. A much smaller, lighter alternative to a yoga mat. I practice every day wherever we are with Yoga with Adriene videos (free on Youtube or I signed up for the membership site for offline downloads and extra content). Read my Yoga Paws review.
  • Klean Canteen water bottle – This fits in the water bottle pocket of Simon’s laptop backpack on travel days.
  • Vapur Element 1L water bottle x 2 – They are light and fold flat or can be rolled up when not in use to save space.
  • Silicone earplugs (Erin) – Essential for me for noisy places and overnight bus and plane journeys.
  • Eye mask (Erin) – I use a cheap light one, like the kind they give out on planes.
  • Tiny sewing kit – Like the ones that hotels provide.
  • Moleskine pocket notebook – I tried going digital but I still mostly prefer making travel notes on paper. 
  • Pens
  • Zip-lock bags – These always come in useful for storing food or wet clothes. I take a few small and medium bags.
  • Beeswax wraps – A sustainable way of storing leftover food and sandwiches. 
  • Toilet paper – We store a little folded up in the pockets of our bags.

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Documents and Money

  • Travel insurance – We used True Traveller for many years and they are the best value we’ve found for Brits. We now use SafetyWing instead, which is a monthly subscription designed for digital nomads and is available worldwide. See our SafetyWing insurance review for more details and our travel insurance after departure post for all the options if you are already travelling (or travelling long term).
  • Peak Designs mobile stand wallet – This slim wallet is so well designed. Not only does it keep our cards easily accessible, but it connects to our phone with a magnet and has a built in stand (perfect for selfies).
  • Dollars – Around $100 for emergencies. Otherwise, we’re mostly cashless these days (depending on the country) and use Apple Pay via our watches (so convenient). When we do need cash, we withdraw from ATMs locally.
  • 2 debit and 2 credit cards each – We recommend travelling with at least two cards in case one gets lost or compromised. Wise (in many countries) and Starling (UK) are the best debit cards we’ve found to use abroad. Read more about managing your travel finances.
  • Passports – We protect them with a clear plastic cover.
  • Card reader for online banking – This is issued by our bank for secure access.
  • Driving licence
  • International driving licence (when needed)
  • Photocopies of passport (we also keep a scanned copy on our laptops) 
  • Passport photos – For visa applications.
  • Vaccination card
  • Scuba diving certification card

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Carry On Packing Tips

Here are my top tips for how to pack a carry on.

  • Use packing cubes or compression bags to keep your clothes organised and squeeze more in.
  • Pack clothes for about a week and then do laundry.
  • Buy quick-drying and odour-resistant clothes (like those made from merino wool or from travel companies like Bluffworks). This isn’t essential if you’re on a tight budget, but it does make things much easier. You have to do less laundry and items dry more quickly when you do.
  • Choose solid toiletries (like shampoo bars and crystal deodorant) over liquids to maximise the amount you can fit in your airline-friendly ziplock bag. Keep liquids under 100ml/3oz.
  • Don’t pack items “just in case”. Everything needs to earn its place in your bag. If you really need it later, you can probably buy it locally.
  • Wear your bulkiest clothes on travel days.
  • Go paperless. A Kindle will save so much space if you’re a reader.

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More Carry-On Packing Posts

See our other posts about packing light:

If you enjoyed this post, pin it on Pinterest!

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111 Comments

  1. As a seasoned traveler & packer, I have to call bs on your one carry on & one personal item mentioned holding everything in your list. I’d like to see a video…

    Reply ↓

    • Haha, we barely believe it too! They are very tightly packed at the moment. But the Away suitcases do hold a remarkable amount.

      Reply ↓

  2. Best travel tip I learn if on a one week or two week vacation. Bringing less clothes. Each outfits can be worn two times . After wearing each outfit hang up or fold neatly to be used again (space out wearing days) or you can wash if needed

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  3. Hi Erin!

    What’s your experience with Away Bigger Carry-On? Did you have to check-in? And in the overhead bin, it was easy to put the baggage?

    Reply ↓

    • We haven’t had to check it so far but due to the pandemic, we’ve only flown long haul flights (and one domestic New Zealand). We’ll be testing on a budget European airline (Easyjet) in May. We haven’t had any problems putting it in the overhead bins but you might on a very small domestic plane. We love the space it gives us!

      Reply ↓

      • As I watched a YT videos on travelling with Carry-On, one suggested that the commonly accepted size is 9″x 14″ x 21.5″, which would not allow (officially) for anything bigger than this. I could verify the next time at the airport during check-in, they have box frame to verify sizing, if you have not seen it already.

        The kicker is, it is up to the airlines to enforce it. Sometimes, they un-officially allow when the carry-on is too big by asking and moving the carry-on to the checked bag areas. I suppose a passenger can’t complain for not paying a charge for checked bag.

        Reply ↓

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