Pack Your Bags Like a Flying Pro Without Checking a Bag

by: Danielle Ternyila

All these packing tips for your next flight should make your experience easier, and hopefully save you the hassle of checking a bag and waiting for it around the carousel instead of hurrying off to your vacation or meetings. I very rarely check a bag when I fly, and these tips should do the trick for you too!

Take note, not all airlines have the same dimension limitations for your luggage, so it’s important to review that to be sure you won’t have issues at the airport. If you’re flying international, make sure you check out any other differences in rules for traveling and what to pack. Depending on the length of your stay, you might have to pack up your clothes and shoes in your checked bag; I don’t think I have ever flown to Europe without checking a bag, but I will recommend picking up a cheap pack of socks and undies at Walmart that you can toss as you go instead of flying home all that dirty laundry too.

When you arrive to your airport, you will need to show ID to enter security, so have that stored somewhere easy for you to find. Have it ready when you approach the front of the line to save time, and make sure you screenshot your boarding pass in case you have any issues with Wi-Fi; you’ll want this handy and ready with your ID at TSA.

Personal Item

This is your underseat bag, it will go below the seat in front of you at your feet, so it will be easily accessible throughout the duration of your flight. This is my essential bag; it’s packed with all my snacks, my laptop and anything I plan to need on the flight. If there is something I’ll need on my flight that won’t fit in this back, for some reason, I make sure to take it out of my carry-on before I board so I have it available. The carry-on will be harder to access during the flight.

This is also the bag I like to pack a spare change of clothes in too. I’ll usually pack my cotton t-shirt and a versatile pair of joggers in case I need to use them as PJs or going out. I’ve never lost my luggage on a flight considering I never check bags, but I have had my carry-on bag checked on a few flights when there wasn’t room in the overhead, so I like to be extra cautious.

  • Wallet with your TSA-approved ID
  • Phone Charger
  • Headphones

If you have an iPhone with the pain-in-the-ass headphones with a different jack, make sure you bring a regular set of headphones if you want to use the TV on the plane too if there is one. Some airlines, like United, tend to have spare new ones available, but the quality of those can be temperamental.

  • Laptop and Charger or iPad if needed

If you don’t have TSA Pre-Check, you’ll be asked to take the laptop out of your bag to go through the security checkpoint in the US. Make sure this is easily accessible so you don’t have to unpack and repack everything in the airport!

  • Snacks
  • Gum
  • Empty Water Bottle

You can’t bring liquids over X ounces, but you can bring an empty bottle that you can fill later inside at a fountain to stay hydrated on the flight. Not all flights offer drinks, and some don’t serve until a ways into the flight. I like to have my own water when I get on the plane, so I just fill it up after I pass security.

  • Medications
  • One Outfit and Pajamas
  • Books/or anything else to keep you occupied during your flight

Make sure to put the personal item under the seat in front of you for your flight. There is limited space in the overhead bins, which is why everyone is only given one (if that, depending on your airline). I know for me there is nothing I hate more than when someone acts so entitled to take up multiple spaces in the overhead for no reason. Follow the rule, man. They’re there for a reason, and you aren’t special because you’re the only one on the plane who wishes for more feet space.


It’s important your carry-on bag fits the dimensions for your airline. The last thing you want to do is hold up the line because your bag didn’t fit in the overhead bin. Then it will end up getting checked, and you’ll have to wait for what is likely the last bag to come around the carousel. Plus, I sometimes think checking the bag at boarding makes it that much more likely to get lost in transit. Why risk it?

  • Shoes/sandals
  • Your purse/travel or laptop bag
  • One Outfit per Day (or more if you expect outfit changes!)
  • Hair products and makeup
  • Blanket Throw (for comfort and to keep from getting home sick in your hotel)
  • Toiletries/Liquids (in zip-loc bags, and make sure to check sizes!)

Handy list

I’ve picked up a few handy tricks along the way, starting with my portable squatty potty! You heard me right – if I’m being honest, bowel movements aren’t the same when I travel, so this is a nifty packing hack I’ve found along the way. It is a small fold-flat bench that only stands a few inches above ground, but it takes up less space than my laptop. It is also great when waiting for long periods of time, you can use it as a seat in a pinch at the airport; it’s a stool after all.

My Birdie, by She’s Birdie, is my favorite security piece I travel with; it’s compact and attracts minimal attention hanging as a keychain off my bag, but when I pull the cord, it lets out the most insane screeching noise with beeping and loud flashes. It gets everyone’s attention, which makes me feel safe in most places, knowing I can have all eyes on me within seconds if something were to happen. A homeless man got aggressive with me in Houston while I was sitting in front of my hotel on a bench back before I found the birdie. I bet it would have had that man far from me much quicker! (I got creative in that moment and tried to draw as much attention to us as possible and get louder so someone came to my rescue, then the hotel staff escorted me inside.)

An extra lock is good to have for your hotel if you are traveling on your own or just want to take some extra precaution. I purchased this one on Amazon that is small and easily portable but has worked for most doors I’ve come across. It fits over the door faceplate and locks it in place so it will not budge from the outside while you’re inside.

I love watching movies on the plane from my phone (I download them to my device before we fly to watch on airplane mode without wi-do!). This phone holder and other similar items are used to let your phone hang on the seat in front of you. Use this to watch movies all during your flight without having to hold it or wait until the light turns on and tray tables can come down. This has been one of my favorite flight investments so far, and it really was very cheap! It is convenient and makes my flight more enjoyable, so it’s worth it to me! If you prefer to read, you might prefer a magnetic bookmark to hold your spot on bumps or a mini light for late night flights when they turn the lights out.

Overall, I hope these packing and travel tips are helpful! This is my go-to list for packing without a checked bag. It takes time to master, and rolling your clothes makes for much more room in the luggage. Wear your biggest/heaviest clothes on the plane, and you should be set! Now, go have a great flight!

Comment below what other travel tips or information you want to hear more about on the blog.


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