Business Travel 101: The Personal Item

Business Travel 101 is a weekly series about making that first business trip as easy and successful as possible. Packing, security, comfort, and etiquette are all factors that, with a little planning, can contribute to a smooth and efficient trip. If you think of a topic I should include, email me at

One of the most important items to have for that first business trip is the carry-on. I don’t mean your rollerboard, but your personal item. It holds everything you need for your flight, and acts as a purse, briefcase, laptop bag, and entertainment center all in one.

What exactly do I mean by personal item? The guidelines for American Airlines state that the personal bag is anything that can fit under the seat in front of you. It can be a purse, laptop bag, backpack, tote,  or a smaller suitcase.  I have traveled with everything from a backpack to a tiny purse to an Eagle Creek packing cube holding my giant tablecloth that I use for events. As long as it fits under that seat, it counts, but technically it should not exceed 36 inches when you add length, width, and height.

I would also like to add that I love purses, in case you haven’t noticed. In addition to acting as a necessary travel too, your purse should make you happy when you look at it. Just because we are professional women who travel for business does not mean we need a boring purse or briefcase with no style. There are so many fabulous possibilities out there! You can, and should, love your bag.

What To Look For in a Great Travel Purse

There are several things I look for in my travel purse. Not all of my purses have all of them, but my general guidelines are:

  • Size. Has to fit my laptop, and hold all of my carry-on travel items.
  • Multiple interior pockets. I think the best purse interior is divided into two sections, one for a laptop and one for the rest of your stuff. It also needs to have a pocket inside for keys, cell phone, and lipstick.
  • Exterior pockets. An exterior pocket on the side of your purse is so helpful for things you don’t want in your hands, but need easy access to, such as your boarding pass.
  • Easy to carry. You have to be able to carry your purse on your shoulder or strapped to your suitcase. It would be very difficult to travel with a purse that you had to carry in your hands. I like two straps that are at least an inch wide, which will minimize cutting into your shoulder.
  • Sturdy construction. There shouldn’t be any obvious weak spots, or stitching coming loose. Leather is great for travel bags because it is so durable, but fabric bags can work as long as they are strong enough.

Some great purses I have found are this fab yellow one from Latico, this great traditional bag in many colors from McKlein, and this amazing satchel from B. Makowsky.


There are several schools of thought about the travel purse. Some find their travel bag too bulky to bring along out to dinner, or they would rather have something small with the necessities that they can grab. Here are a couple of options.

  • Get a big purse that fits your laptop. I am a big advocate of getting a purse for travel that is big enough for your laptop. It’s the simplest way to make sure all your stuff fits. For some people, this means you have a really large purse for travel! But there are definitely large, attractive purses (or laptop bags that look like purses) that will fit a LOT of stuff. (Like this bag from Latico. Check out the so-cute lining!!) This works well for me because my laptop is pretty small, and I have found a regular purse that will hold it and my other stuff.
  • Put everything in your laptop bag and pack your purse. I think this one is a little more complicated, but it seems to work for some people.  They simply take all of their purse stuff (wallet, phone, lipstick, etc) and put it in their laptop bag, and then they pack their purse in their big suitcase. This way when they get to their destination they pull out their purse and put all the stuff back in. They still only have two carry-ons, and they have a smaller purse for when they arrive. Best of both worlds!
  • Drop a clutch or wristlet in their laptop bag. The other way to have the best of both worlds. Take your normal laptop bag, and have a wristlet with your wallet, phone, keys, and lipstick that you just drop inside. Especially convenient if you can put this small purse in a pocket or hook it to the inside top of your laptop bag.

What’s In My Purse?

What exactly do I keep in my purse when traveling? I like to keep it simple, and only keep the necessities in my purse. I clean my purse out before every trip so I’m not carrying around receipts, old boarding passes, or other unnecessary junk. This way I can find everything I need when I need it.

  • Normal purse stuff.  Of course I have my wallet, with my ID, credit cards, and money, as well as my lipstick, keys, and sunglasses.
  • iPhone. I used to have a cell phone, a GPS unit, and an MP3 player. Then the geniuses at Apple came out the something that would do all of those functions! Brilliant. And it sure did make my packing easier.
  • Boarding pass. Print this out ahead of time so you can just fly through security. So much faster!
  • Make-up. I keep my make-up with me so that I can touch up when I arrive, if necessary.
  • Kindle. It used to be a book (or two or three), but now that I have the Kindle my purse is much lighter. And easier to put stuff into. For those of you who haven’t been converted into fans of ebooks, a book or a magazine will work just fine.
  • Laptop. For work, it’s a necessity. If I’m not staying overnight, and therefore traveling without my suitcase, I will also keep my charger in here.
  • Pashmina. I often use it as a blanket or pillow on the plane, and a scarf once I arrive. It has also served as a swimsuit cover up and a substitute towel.
  • Knitting. Just because I love to knit! I don’t always feel like working or reading, and knitting is a great way to pass the time.
  • Notepad. I love writing lists, and my little notebook holds them all. I have to keep it around in case I have a stroke of brilliance!
  • Ziploc of teabags, Splenda, and Emergen-C. In case I need a pick-me-up, or the hotel doesn’t have Splenda or a good teabag. Little comforts can make being away from home much easier.
  • Plastic bag of toiletries. I will keep this in my purse until I get through security, and then throw it in my suitcase.



  1. I just went to Europe and searched high and low for just the right bag to take along, and I think I had your list except for the knitting : )

  2. I just discovered your blog – great tips!

    I have to share that I was once prevented from taking my “personal” item as a carry on. An airline employee decided that the definition of a personal item was either a purse or briefcase. I had chosen a small toiletries suitcase as my personal item – had all my toiletries, reading materials, purse, etc. in it. This employee told me that because my item was not sold as a purse (since it had the Samsonite label on it), then it did not qualify, even though it fit under my seat! My children were also forced to check their backpacks for the same reason. We almost missed our flight. To add insult to injury, as I was boarding the flight, I noticed a number of individuals with backpacks as their second bag! When I returned from the trip, I ran out and purchased the largest purse I could find to use as my personal item in the future.

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