Packing for a trip can be a daunting experience. You want to streamline your stuff so as to travel light, but you also don’t want to be so bare-bones that you wind up shopping for the essentials you forgot when you should be enjoying your trip.
Maximizing your carry-on baggage allowance is a great way to ensure you’re packing light without skimping on the things you actually need, but you’ll want to ensure you’re packing items that won’t get you held up at the TSA security checkpoint. There are certain TSA carry-on rules and regulations you’ll want to be aware of when packing your carry-on bag, such as how much liquid you can actually bring on board or if your disposable razor is allowed through.
If you’re hoping to optimize the way you pack your hand luggage, you’ll want to read on. We’ve outlined everything you need to know about what’s allowed in a carry-on bag — and the best carry-ons to consider for your next trip.
What is a carry-on bag?
Carry-on luggage ranges in styles and sizes — from hard-shelled spinners to soft-sided weekender bags and even travel backpacks. But the bag will need to fit the size regulations of your airline. In fact, carry-on allowance isn’t determined by the TSA but instead by individual airlines. Generally speaking, most airlines implement a maximum size policy of 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches, including wheels and handles.
Your baggage allowance could also depend on your ticket type. Some basic economy tickets only allow for a personal item, such as a purse, rather than a piece of carry-on luggage. When it comes to the weight of the bag, you’ll want to ensure you can comfortably lift your carry-on up and into the overhead compartment efficiently. However, some airlines — particularly budget carriers — limit how much a bag can weigh.
Ultimately, if you’re planning to bring a carry-on bag on board, be sure to check your airline’s policies. Once you’ve determined your carry-on baggage allowance, you’ll then need to pack it with items that are permitted by the TSA.
What is allowed in your carry-on bag?
If you want to avoid checked baggage fees, you can often get away with traveling with just a carry-on bag. Here are some of the most noteworthy items you can pack in your hand luggage without worrying about getting stopped at airport security. You can find the entire list of permitted items on the TSA’s website.
Alcoholic beverages are permitted in carry-on luggage as long as they are less than or equal to 3.4 ounces. Mini bottles of alcohol in your carry-on must also be able to comfortably fit into a single quart-sized bag. However, keep in mind that airline policies on alcohol are strict, and the FAA prohibits travelers from consuming alcohol on board an aircraft unless it was served by a flight attendant. In other words, the alcohol you can pack in your carry-on bag cannot be consumed on board.
Baby food and equipment
Baby food, baby formula, breast milk and juice are all allowed in reasonable quantities. Formula, breast milk and juice should be removed from your bag and screened separately. Additionally, ice packs, freezer packs, frozen gel packs and other accessories required to cool formula, breast milk and juice are allowed in your carry-on. Additional items such as baby carriers and child car seats are also permitted so long as they’ll fit in the airplane’s overhead bin or underneath your seat.
Cooked meat, seafood, vegetables and other prepared foods
Cooked meat, seafood, vegetables and other prepared meals and dishes are permitted as long as they do not exceed the 3.4-ounce liquid limit. If you’re flying from Hawaii, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, note that most raw vegetables are not allowed into the U.S. mainland due to the risk of spreading invasive plant pests.
Disposable razors are permitted in carry-on luggage. However, loose razor blades, such as box cutters or those not in a cartridge, are not permitted in carry-on luggage.
Most personal electronics, such as hair care products or handheld devices, are permitted in carry-on bags. Adult toys are also permitted in hand luggage.
Lighters and matches
Passengers are permitted to pack disposable lighters in their carry-on luggage. Additionally, one book of safety (non-strike anywhere) matches are permitted as carry-on items. However, strike-anywhere matches are prohibited.
Nonflammable liquids under 3.4 ounces
Nonflammable liquids, gels and aerosols (such as shampoo or deodorant) are permitted in hand luggage as long as they follow the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule for liquids. This means that you can bring one quart-sized bag of liquids limited to travel-size containers that are 3.4 ounces or less per item.
The TSA allows larger amounts of medically necessary liquids, gels and aerosols, but you must declare them to the TSA officers at security and expect to be pulled for further inspection.
Power banks and portable chargers are only permitted in carry-on luggage. However, they must have a rating of 100 watt hours (Wh) per battery or less. You can bring two larger spare batteries (up to 160 Wh) if you have airline approval.
Vitamins and supplements
FDA-approved vitamins and supplements are permitted in carry-on luggage.
What isn’t allowed in your carry-on bag?
There are obvious no-fly items — like weapons and full water bottles — and then there are prohibited items that might surprise you. Here’s what you’ll want to pack in your checked luggage or leave at home entirely. You can find a full list of prohibited items on the TSA’s website.
Self-defense items, ammunition and sharps
Self-defense items, including ammunition, are banned from carry-on luggage and in some cases from checked luggage as well. This also includes most martial arts equipment, pepper sprays, firearms, chef’s knives, corkscrews and other sharp items.
Flammable or explosive material
Flammable or explosive material such as fireworks, flares and replicas of explosive materials are strictly prohibited not just from hand luggage but also from checked baggage.
Sporting goods and equipment
Certain large sporting goods and equipment, such as golf clubs or hockey sticks, are not allowed in carry-on luggage. However, basketballs, soccer balls and other small sporting goods are typically permitted.
Our favorite carry-on bags for easy travel
Familiarizing yourself with what is — and isn’t — allowed in a carry-on bag is the first step to breezing through security, but you’ll also want to ensure your carry-on bag allows you to streamline your travel for a comfortable and stress-free trip. Here are some of our favorite carry-on bags that will make your trip that much more seamless.
$275 at Away
Away luggage has become a travel industry darling for its streamlined aesthetic and heavy-duty design at a fair price point. The rolling carry-on features the “Rolls-Royce of luggage wheels,” according to our testing. In fact, this bag earned the top spot in our books for the best overall hard-shell carry-on luggage.
$299.99 at Amazon
The Delsey Paris Hardside collection was our runner-up choice for best hard-shell luggage, thanks to its chic design and affordable price point. The elegant carry-on might look delicate and sophisticated, but this hard-shell spinner can take a beating. We've dragged this carry-on through international budget airlines and domestic flights alike, and it's held up extremely well throughout.
$139.99 at Amazon
Featuring a fully polycarbonate shell with a micro-diamond texture, the Samsonite Omni PC Hardside Spinner is a great option for those who tend to stuff as much clothing as possible into a carry-on. The unique design can hold a lot without becoming bulky or top-heavy.
$139.99 $79.93 at Amazon
Looking for a basic design that will hold up for the long run? The American Tourister Belle Voyage Hardside Luggage offers a lightweight design that affords ample packing space. The featherlight design also comes with four multidirectional oversized spinner wheels that will make racing through the airport a breeze.
$89 at Amazon
The Amazon Basics 21-Inch Hardside Spinner offers surprising longevity given the budget-friendly price point, but it may be a struggle for those looking for a carry-on with ample room and organizational pockets. The basic design is aesthetically pleasing enough, but you’ll want to avoid checking this bag at all costs. We found that the ABS shell is prone to scuffs and scratches.
$98 at Beis
If you're in the market for a weekender bag for storing all of your carry-on essentials, Beis' The Weekender bag is a good option. Not only does it have a separate shoe compartment, but it also has the versatility to be carried any number of ways — by handles, shoulder strap and a zippered pocket that can become a trolley sleeve.
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