30 ideas for carry-on luggage | Styling You

30 ideas for carry-on luggage you may not have thought of

Nikki Parkinson Fashion, Travel 13 Comments

Mr Styling You is always perplexed when I present him with a new bag purchase. He strangely does not understand that a girl needs bag options for every occasion.

I’m pretty loyal to my regular “day” bags, switching between a saddle bag and a tote, depending on whether I’m heading to a meeting and might need my laptop and compendium with me.

But when it comes to the smallest and the largest of bags in my wardrobe, I’m less restrained

I have collection of clutches that could work back with just about any outfit. And at the other end of the spectrum, I seem to “collect” overnight or cabin bags.

I think the collecting comes about as I’m always on the search for MY holy grail in carry-on luggage. And in road-testing various carry-on luggage options, I’ve come to realise that having different kinds of bags for different kinds of travel is a good idea.

For example … 

For overnight business travel: tote bag + regulation cabin suitcase

For short-haul flying: tote bag + cross-body bag. One wheelie bag checked in.

For long-haul flying (as a family): soft overnight bag + cross-body bag (me); backpack + cross-body bag (Mr SY); cross-body satchel + regulation cabin wheelie suitcase (Master SY). We pack change of clothes and first day clothes for all of us in the cabin suitcase. One wheelie bag checked in for each of us.

{For my next trip, on board I’ll be taking an Oroton cross-body saddle bag and this bag – a cross between a backpack and tote – I bought on a recent trip to Noosa. The only potential downside is that it’s not zipped at the top. What I love is that it will double as a beach bag for day trips. It also comes in navy, if black is not your thing.}

But what works for me, may not work for you. If you’re wanting more inspiration, below we’ve got 30 ideas for carry-on luggage when travelling – all from incredible women in the Styling You Everyday Style Facebook community (come join us!).

30 ideas for carry-on luggage | Styling You

30 ideas for carry-on luggage when travelling

1. I take a handbag with zips and if I am carry-on only, a wheelie suitcase as well. Or if I am checking in luggage, then a tote that I can then hang off my suitcase. I hate multiple wheelies especially if I have the kids with me. I also have a largish zip bag within the tote for my glasses, lip gloss and other things I will want in flight for the back of seat pocket so I am not always digging in my bag like annoying people! – Alex

2. I take a normal handbag and cabin suitcase. Kids take a backpack. I usually have a handbag that zips up too so nothing spills out and no one can see in it to pick pocket. – Louise

3. I take one small cross-body bag, big enough for phone, wallet, passport, glasses and a few essentials. Then I also take one larger tote bag with a zip that I put in the overhead locker with all my other bits and pieces, iPad, toiletries, book, scarf etc. Last holiday I took a small Hedgren cross body bag which I really liked, very light weight and lots of different compartments. – Shannon

4. I take a larger tote as my handbag plus a wheeler cabin bag. I keep a book, glasses, mints, snacks … anything that I might want regular access to in the tote. The wheeler is good for my iPad and general things that I might need once I check in. Great for bringing home special souvenirs I would hate to go missing and breakables! – Rebecca

5. I take my normal handbag plus my Airpocket which is designed to fit into an airline seat pocket and carry everything neatly! – Nathalie

6. For long haul I take as carry-on an Oroton bag (it’s actually a baby bag but I don’t have a baby, I just love all the pockets and the long, cross-body strap etc and it doesn’t look like a baby bag) and also my Fossil cross-body bag, which easily fits into middle compartment of my carry on. In my Fossil cross-body I have a Trenery leather pouch that holds our passports, my travel wallet containing cash, travel cards etc and my phone. In the pockets in my carry-on I have my iPad and charger, an empty water bottle to refill on the flight, makeup bag, a change of clothes (Mela Purdie pants and top, a CR scarf or pashmina), socks and book. This works for me and I travel long haul twice a year. – Leanne

7. I use a Pacsafe crossbody bag with Pacsafe wallet and essentials for the flight plus a Pacsafe backpack – it’s so much easier to carry it on your back, with the cross-body bag leaving your hands free to wrangle your suitcase. – Helen

8. I can’t really do multiple wheelie bags at luggage collection time, so my most “manageable” combination is a regular-size handbag and cabin bag (like a messenger-bag size) that you can throw over your shoulder or wear cross-body through the airport. The cabin bag is super handy for laptop, books, mags, headphones and some “freshen-up” stuff – Trudi

9. I take a small cross-body handbag and a backpack. This keeps my hands free when trying to deal with checking in etc, so much easier than a tote or wheelie bag. – Rebecca

10. I have my cross-body handbag and my day-pack for the plane. Suitcase goes the hold. Too hard to juggle multiple wheelie bags plus I NEVER take the hand luggage off my body till I get to the hotel. – Lisa

11. I loved having free hands, especially when I travelled with my three and five-year-olds last year – Renae

12. Once I’ve checked in luggage I hate lugging too much around. I leave my normal handbags home and pack a few smaller cross-body ones. One of which goes in whatever I’m carrying on plane. – Elizabeth

13. I took a small cabin-size light wheelie bag and a tote that slipped over the handle. Inside I took a cross-body bag. I used the tote for big days out and the cross body for everyday out and about. – Rachel

14. I take a small/medium cross body bag with wallet, passports etc and a decent-sized tote for other travel necessities! My husband has a backpack and so do my kids. We all usually have a wheelie suitcase each that is checked. This combo is what has proved best for us. I always think a small wheelie would be a good carry on, but to be honest it’s not, it’s bulky and awkward and hard to get into on the plane. – Amanda

15. I keep a nylon shopping tote that folds up very small in my bag to use for snacks, magazines etc once past security. – Dana

16. We did an eight-week US trip and I got a small backpack that also had wheels so I could wheel it once I had checked in my big suitcase. It was the best of both worlds and still a small enough backpack for day trips. – Maria 

17. I take a medium sized cross-body handbag and the carry on is like a duffle bag but it slips over the the suitcase handle and if you don’t need to use it it folds into itself like a small pouch. Hard to describe but this is it. I love using it – Tania 

18. I take a cross-body handbag and a small wheelie cabin bag. I usually pack in this a change of clothes, some toiletries … generally whatever I need on the first day of my holiday. I have had my luggage lost multiple times so I basically prepare for this now. – Sue

19. I have a lightweight tote bag and a lightweight Samsonite wheelie bag. Inside the wheelie bag I have a clear plastic bag (cheap) with all the things I want with me for the flight. Just before boarding, I swap the tote for the clear plastic bag and I’m set. I’ve been an expat for years travelling extensively and this works brilliantly. – Belinda

20. For long haul long trips, I used to take leather tote and Longchamp bag (one of the big ones). But now I’m older, slogging these around an airport is too tiring on my poor old shoulders. Last year, I bought a colourful Mandarina Duck four wheel carry-on in Florence and it’s the best thing I’ve done travel-wise in years. I have the usual four-wheeled suitcase checked in and after picking up that, I race them both along no problem. Plus, I still pack the old, large Longchamp bag (weighs nothing) so I can chuck the tote in that if I need to plus whatever loot I’ve acquired along the way! Important tip: always buy a wheeled carry on that fit the requirements of the stingiest airlines (Ryan Air – hello!). Ask and the shop assistants will know. That way you can carry on both domestic and international flights. We fly, pick up a hire car and tour usually, so often we’ll stow the big case in the car, pack three or four days’ worth of stuff in our carry-ons, the trusty Longchamp bag and a cheapo travellers’ garment bag! – Sue

21. This was my first long-haul holiday on my own I had a suitcase with wheels and a cabin bag that fits over the suitcase … sounds ideal BUT once the suitcase was checked in I had to carry the cabin bag, not good! NOW I have a wheeled backpack that works for me, it has a smaller backpack zipped to it that I use for day outing. – Maria

22. I take a cross-body hand bag and a zip-up tote big enough for my tablet, camera, headphones etc. My partner takes a backpack as his carry on. – Jan

23. I just got back from OS and had a cross-body handbag and a tote. The tote was easy to store in overhead luggage. I saw one roll-on suitcase fall out of an overhead bin onto a woman’s arm on one plane … ouch! – Lisa

24. I like the idea of a cross-body handbag and a small backpack because this keeps your hands free when juggling passports, immigration documents and boarding passes. – Kathy

25. I am currently on a trip in the US from Melbourne – I have a large zip Longchamp bag for the flight and find having one bag to deal with in transit is enough. I have a cross-body bag for shopping upon landing. However, for the first time ever, I missed an internal flight and have had to make do with same clothes and no toiletries for 48 hours, which has been yuck! I had taken out my extra pouches with toiletries and change of undies and t-shirt between LA and Orlando but wish I had kept them with me. My adult daughter had a small wheelie bag – American Tourister – which she found great for her carry-on. – Linda

26. I am loving this bag. I take a nice dual-purpose handbag which is suitable for evenings and will fit inside this as well and my purse/boarding passes etc go in there. In this one I can fit my tablet, wrap, scarf, water bottle snacks, medication, junk … and it coverts between backpack and slouch. The fabric is amazing – dirt repellent and I have been using it for four months now it still looks like new after being kicked under airline seats multiple times – Donna

27. I take a small lightweight backpack. I also take a wheel-on bag. Carrying a heavy bag around the airport is exhausting. I pack a change of clothes in my wheel-on bag (I have had missing luggage plenty of times). I have enough room that I can fit the backpack inside the wheel-on, then I put things I want to use during the flight in the backpack, which also fits under the seat in front of me, so I don’t have to get up and rummage about in the overhead locker. The pack also turns into a good foot rest on long haul flights. – Julie

28. I bought this bag from Mimco a couple of years ago for long haul flights but also use it at other times as it’s versatile with lots of pockets and particularly good for concealing things like passports, money etc – Jacqueline

29. I take just a big tote that has a zipped top. Inside that, a small handbag and stuff like headphones, pillow, kindle etc. Wheelie cases are a pain to get up into lockers and if you want something out of it, a pain to get down and open up. I loathe them. I also loathe dragging bulky things around airports and lounges. Keep it simple. – Adrienne

30. I place my cross-body bag within a large tote bag and also take a wheelie cabin bag as I am a major shopper and this comes in handy when coming home. – Kym

And finally words of warning for those who like to push the boundaries of carry-on baggage limits … 

If you’re travelling economy check your limits. Airlines seem to be keen on the one carry-on bag rule. Make sure you can get a handbag into a cabin bag. – Sue

Remember, some airlines may weigh your handbag as well as your cabin bag. – Tania

So tell me, how do you work your carry-on bag options? What is the best formula that works for you when you travel?


PS. There are more how-to-pack tips, tricks and ideas in my new e-book: Confessions of a Reformed Over-Packer


Styling You and Hello Me Escapes

In 2016 Styling You and Hello Me Escapes hosted their first travel tour to Bali. You can read all about how much fun we had here.

In 2017, I’m excited to be hosting two trips plus an event in conjunction with Hello Me.

We’ll be heading to Melbourne in April and then back to Bali in October. These escapes are designed for women wanting to travel on their own or groups of girlfriends looking for more from a girls’ weekend or week away.

That “more” will come in the form of a styling workshop hosted by me as well as dedicated shopping trips. There will be sessions in some of my favourite stores as well as special offers and gifted clothing items from some of my favourite brands.

As part of the Melbourne shopping weekend, I’ll also be hosting a high tea event (this is now sold out). If you’re on the shopping trip, you’ll get the best seats in the house.

Spots on each of the escapes are purposely limited. We want these trips to be small groups so I can better work with you and we can easily get to know each other.

Find out more HERE … we’d love to see you join us.

Nikki Parkinson | Styling You


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  • Nice Blogpost!
    For me travel is a life and I always face problem to carry my needs. But thanx to your post now I got my choice here that is small backpack with wheels. It will easy to carry and manage.

  • Karen

    Great post thanks Nikki! I am going overseas on holiday next month so this post and your e-book re packing tips (which I got a copy of) have been very handy. My boyfriend and I both take a backpack on the plane – hands are free and its more comfortable on my shoulders and neck with a bag on my back – and a checked in suitcase each. We usually use one backpack during the day and I take an across body bag to use at night. I also purchased last year the packing cells that you have recommended from Kathmandu. Have only used them once but they were great, I’m looking forward to using them again next month. Thanks again for your tips, much appreciated! 🙂

    • Oh yay for a new holiday, Karen! Glad my e-book has been of help and glad you’ve got those packing cells at the ready!!

  • Kathryn

    I needed this post. I really struggle with getting bags into the overhead lockers because I am so short! Heading up to Mackay tomorrow to see my new grandson <3 <3 <3 so just one bag for check in plus my cross body bag.

    • Oh happy travelling. And congrats!! Happy baby sniffing and squishing 🙂 x

  • Lisa Mckenzie

    Great tips Nikki thank you I have been stranded at airports and luckily had a decent sized carry on bag and things I need in there!

    • Nothing worse than being stranded, Lisa! Good to have your “things” with you x

  • PrincessEatsPeaSoup

    This is very close to what I needed to read today because I am looking for a backpack right now. It’s become apparent to me that I have no idea how to find a good bag. I took my last back in for repairs and was told that it was falling apart because it was only cheap leather! It wasn’t cheap according to the price tag and I thought that insured that it was good quality as well but I realised that I obviously don’t have the skills required to buy a decent bag.

    • Don’t be hard on yourself. It’s not easy. Some great tips from all the SY community though!

  • merilyn

    all good pointers here thankyou nikki! … I think you are queen of packing now hun!
    we are off to perth soon then queensland a bit later so we’ve decided that one large piece for mr m to deal with and I will have the hand luggage in tow!
    KISSweetheart! I keep telling myself!
    we have learnt the hard way with excess overseas! never again! … not worth the hassles!
    much more sense now!:))X
    enjoy your day lovely! m:)X

    • I need to be careful with my crown, M! Give me a good luggage allowance and I’ll fill it! Happy travels to you! That’s a lot of Australia you’re seeing!

  • For my big overseas trip last year, I had a small-medium cross-body handbag from Kate Hill + a gym bag as my carry on, then a large wheeled suitcase as checked-in luggage. I manged to survive with it all, but I eventually swapped the gym bag for a large Lacoste tote that I received as a GWP along the way (bought one of their perfumes in Berlin) because I was running out of space. Despite spending HEAPS whilst in America (how can one resist all those beauty products?), I only had to pay excess once. If I were to fly domestically, I’d do away with the extra carry-on option & just use my handbag + a suitcase methinks.