CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

I'm Ditching Extra Baggage Fees on My Next Trip, With These Products

Going on a summer getaway but don't want to pay extra for a carry-on or suitcase? Here's what I'm using to pack everything into a single personal item.

Charlotte Maracina Associate Writer
Charlotte Maracina is an associate writer for CNET based in Long Island, New York. When not writing about top products on the market, she's traveling, binging Love Island or following Harry Styles on tour.
Expertise Charlotte has two years of experience tracking different travel, fashion and lifestyle trends among 18-24 year olds.
Charlotte Maracina
5 min read
$158 at Lululemon
Lululemon Wunderlust Bag
$121 at REVOLVE
Beis Hanging Backpack
$28 at Calpak
Compakt zippered pouch set
$19 at Topo
Topo Pack Bags (Currently Unavailable)
$11 at Garage Clothing
Garage Stella Seamless Plunge tank tops

In 2023, my friend and I jumped at the chance to fly roundtrip from JFK to London for only $300. That's half the cost of the usual $600 ticket. When we saw the discounted price of $300, we instinctively booked a weeklong trip then immediately bought a ticket on a $40 RyanAir flight to Portugal. But with every low-priced flight comes a ticket high in restrictions: Mine included only one "personal item." Even a carry-on costs $55 extra each way. Want to bring a suitcase? That'll run an extra $80 each way. 

A black backpack sitting on a bed.

Here is my bag, fully packed and ready to go for a weeklong trip overseas.

Charlotte Maracina/CNET

I've realized that if I want to save myself extra fees like that, I need to fit all my stuff into a personal item, a bag that can fit under the seat in front of me and that doesn't exceed the dimensions of 18 inches by 14 inches by 8 inches. For reference, think of a high school backpack or an oversized purse. 

Yep, that's all the space I had to pack in for a weeklong trip. 

While packing for the trip, I tried out several types of backpacks that all could be considered a personal item. After several rounds of trial and error, I finally perfected the formula to fitting all my items for a weeklong trip into a personal item. Since first embarking on my personal-item-only journey in February, I've used this backpack for several other trips on budget airlines, saving myself hundreds of dollars in baggage fees.

The only airline that gave me a hard time was Frontier. But every other airline, including Spirit and discounted European airlines such as RyanAir, allowed my bag to pass for a personal item. My advice: Buy this bag, don't fly Frontier. 

The bag

First, let's start with the basics: the bag. There are a variety of bags for you to choose from -- mini roller bags, purses, duffle bags or backpacks. I prefer to use backpacks because they tend to be the easiest type of bag to carry around multiple cities and hostels. Here are the top two bags that I recommend for your upcoming trip.

I want to note that the Lululemon bag is obviously pricey, but I've already used the bag for six separate flights making it well worth the money. The idea that I would have to pay extra for even a carry-on bag is outrageous, and I was willing to find long-term ways to work around all this.


This was the bag I've been using. Inside the bag I was able to fit three packing cubes and a pair of heels. The bag has two zippered exterior pockets that can act as extra storage for smaller toiletries or tchotchkes you may need; I used them to hold my travel size shampoo and conditioner along with my makeup. 

My favorite aspect, however, is the exterior padded pocket, which can fit a 16-inch laptop. One of my biggest challenges while finding the perfect bag was finding a bag that could not only fit my clothes but also my laptop. Being that I'll be working remotely on my trip, bringing my work laptop is kind of non-negotiable. While this bag may not fit smoothly under the seat in front of me (I'll most likely have to shove it a bit) it's big enough to fit all my belongings and more while still counting as a personal item! 

Need more space? I also got the Lululemon Belt Bag to hold my more important items such as my passport, AirPods, ID and sunglasses. (Let's be honest, it's a fanny pack; calling it a belt bag is all marketing.) Being that the belt bag is small enough to be strapped on my person, most airlines never normally give me a problem with it. If the airline does strictly adhere to the "one personal item per person" policy, the bag can easily be shoved into my backpack and then taken out once on the plane. 


OK, this bag was a super close runner-up. If you don't have any packing cubes but still need a way to organize your clothes then let me introduce you to the Beis Hanging Backpack. This, my friends, is not any normal backpack; open it up and you'll find a compressible shelving system. It also has four interior pockets, as well as an exterior laptop pocket and zippered pockets.

The Hanging Backpack is a unique backpack and it's by far my favorite travel backpack made by Beis. In the end, the deciding factor between the Lululemon bag and this one came down to the size of the laptop pocket. I'll definitely be using this backpack for future weekend trips.  

Packing cubes

For the longest time I've been against packing cubes. Why? I have no idea, mainly out of laziness. The thought of having to repack everything into tiny little cubes seemed like such a waste of time to me. After traveling more, I now see the error of my ways. Packing cubes really do make your life easier when you have a limited space. Below are the packing cubes I used to help me stay organized while packing for my trip.


The Topo packing bags were useful for my clothing and larger items, but this zippered pouch set from Compakt easily fits toiletries and smaller items. If you happen to have a bag that doesn't have a lot of zipper pockets or extra storage space, then that's where this pouch set comes into play. The waterproof three-piece set will help keep you organized and eliminate any extra hassle of digging through your bag to find smaller items. (There's nothing more annoying than having to take everything out of your bag to find a phone charger.) 


When I first got the Topo Pack Bags, I thought, "There's no way this will fit everything.Once again, I was proven wrong. In one of the 5-liter packing bags I fit seven tank tops along with a long-sleeve shirt. In the 10-liter packing bag I was able to fit three pairs of jeans and one pair of leather pants. I used a second 5-liter bag to fit my intimates and smaller items of clothes. 

Packable clothing

The difficulty of packing really depends on where you're going. Headed on a beach vacation? Packing in a personal item will be a breeze, all you really need is bathing suits and tank tops. Packing for a trip where you'll be lucky if the weather gets above freezing? That's where the trouble lies. 

Strategically packing is the secret formula to making everything fit into a backpack. This means bringing clothes that can be easily layered and wearing about four different layers of clothing on the plane. I always make sure to pack jackets that are designed to be packable so they don't take up an exorbitant amount of space in my bag. Here are just a few essential clothing items I packed for my trip.


Over the past couple of years, my collection of these tank tops has quickly grown. I now own about eight of them, all in different colors. The seamless plunge tank tops can be dressed up or dressed down and easily layered which is why they're essential for travel. The tank tops can be easily rolled up and packed into any size bag. Whether you plan on kicking back or going out, these tank tops are great for every occasion.