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What Not to Do When It Comes to Carry-on Bags

Whether it’s packing for a quick getaway or a long-awaited adventure to a dream destination, seasoned travelers have discovered the importance of placing the right items in their carry-on luggage. Airlines and countries alike have unique regulations as to what you can and can’t pack inside your carry-on. Knowing them can save time — and extra fees — at the gate or security line and take a lot of hassle out of your travels and departures.

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01Don’t overpack

packing weight limits fees scale seb_ra / Getty Images

When packing, don’t overdo it. While some airlines have no weight limits, others do. And, some carriers are charging extra fees if your carry-on goes over the weight limit. Check the airline’s website before packing your bag, and if you’re a frequent flyer, invest in a small luggage scale to ensure you’re not overdoing it. Stick to packing the essential comforts and valuables in your carry-on.

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02Don’t disregard size restrictions

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Carry-ons can be your best friend or the bane of your existence. Find a wheeled version, preferably with four wheels, for better maneuverability through crowds. It should also be light enough to carry over rough terrains like cobblestones or rough roads. But most importantly, adhere to the airline’s size restrictions for a carry-on. Most airlines require that they are no larger than 22 by 14 by 9-inches, although some require smaller. That includes both the handle and the wheels.

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03Don’t be surprised if you’re gate-checked

luggage gate airline personal item izusek / Getty Images

No matter how closely you’ve followed the rules for carry-ons, don’t be shocked if you’re gate-checked. If a flight is particularly crowded, or if a smaller aircraft is used, the airline may require you to check your carry-on along with your other luggage. Keep all your important stuff, like medications, travel documents, and valuables, on your person a purse or a backpack. Your personal item must fit under the seat in front of you to qualify. If it doesn’t, it’s a carry-on.

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04Don’t forget to check for carry-on fees

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More airlines, both domestic and international carriers, are now charging a fee for carry-ons, and others don’t allow them at all on lower-cost flights. These fees usually range between $10 and $75. Some airlines unbundle their flight costs so that when you search online for a good deal, you don’t see the added price for carry-ons or other fees. It’s not unusual for the cost of the flight to be less than those extra fees they charge for carry-ons, checked bags, seat selection, or priority boarding. Prepaying your carry-on fee online can save you some money.

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05Don’t make checkable items hard to find

Close up shot of luggage being inspected by security at the airport. SolStock / Getty Images

Most travelers know their carry-on will be searched or scanned. Making it easy on the security folks makes it easier for everyone, including those waiting behind you in line. Don’t bury your liquids and gels underneath everything or hidden in a zipped compartment. Have your laptop and any other electronics out and ready for inspection to help keep things moving.

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06Don’t pack full-size liquids or gels

gel liquid plastic bag bottles PoppyPixels / Getty Images

Leave full-size bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotions, sunscreen, or other liquids and gels at home. Airports around the world allow only bottles that hold no more than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters. That includes bottled water, too. If you need a beverage, purchase it after the security check, not before it. There may be some exceptions for food or essential medications if you have children, so check with the airline beforehand. You can carry a single, one-liter sealed plastic bag of liquid or gel-filled containers.

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07Don’t pack jewelry in your checked baggage

Closeup of woman baggage on floor for holiday.

Airlines are urging passengers to keep valuable items with them at all times instead of packing them in their checked baggage. As air traffic ramps up, airports are reporting more incidents of baggage theft, so it’s important to safeguard your travel documents, jewelry, and other valuables in your carry-on or personal item instead of locking them in your checked baggage.

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08Don’t forget to pack medications

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For domestic flights, you can bring your medication with you in your carry-on without declaring it, and it doesn’t have to be in its prescription bottle. Some states require proper labeling, however. Declare all medically necessary liquids, gels, and aerosols. Be aware that rules vary from country to country, and you could be violating laws if you haven’t reviewed them. For example, it is illegal to bring inhalers and certain allergy medications into the country in Japan. Check with the U.S. embassy in your destination country to get a list of allowed medications.

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09Don’t pack a messy carry-on

Open suitcase on floor. Savushkin / Getty Images

Packing at the last minute will undoubtedly end up with you forgetting things that make your flight more comfortable. You’ll end up with a messy, disorganized carry-on that can add to the normal frustration levels of traveling. Make a list. Pack earbuds, snacks, a full change of clothes, reading material, a travel pillow, a 12-ounce or smaller bottle of hand sanitizer, and other items you’ll need to ease travel weariness. Use space-saving items like foldable water bottles and cable organizers for your electronics. Roll your change of clothes instead of folding them. The neater your carry-on, the faster the inspections go at security points.

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10Don’t forget to tag your carry-on

Close up of a luggage at airport. baona / Getty Images

Most people remember to tag their checked luggage but neglect to do so for their carry-on. When filling out your name tag, security experts say to never add your home address. Instead, only provide the first initial of your given name along with your full last name, your cell phone number, and your secondary email address instead of your primary one. The reason for not providing your primary email address is to avoid phishing attempts should you lose your carry-on.

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