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Carry-On Baggage 101: What You Can (and Can’t) Bring on Board Right Now

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If you stayed on top of your socials this year, you likely saw everyone you know and love jumping on a flight to see the world again. The summer of 2022 quickly became the season of travel as more COVID restrictions began to lift, and vacation bucket lists continued to grow. Whether you’ve already travelled this year or are planning your dream escape, preparing to pack your luggage might feel overwhelming after an extended break from boarding an airplane. And if you’ve made the brave choice to only pack carry-on luggage, you are probably wondering where the heck to begin. 

Ready to plan your next trip? From liquids restrictions, sizing requirements, fees and more — trying to squeeze all of your must-have items in a weekender-sized bag is not for the faint of the heart. Fear not, travel besties! We’ve gathered all of the latest intel on what you can (or can’t!) bring on board in a carry-on bag this year.

Related: 10 carry-on luggage options under $200.

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What is the approved carry-on luggage size?

The biggest question on everyone’s mind when it comes to carry-on bags? It’s all about size: how big can my carry-on be?

According to Air Canada, the standard dimension for any carry onboard luggage item is currently 55cm x 23cm x 40cm — and trust us when we tell you there are rarely any exceptions. Travellers are also permitted to bring one personal item, like a backpack or purse, with a maximum dimension of 33cm x 16cm x 43cm. Also, parents travelling with an infant can include one additional standard article for their child’s belongings.

Many travellers have opted for carry-on this year to avoid lost luggage at check-in, which means airplanes are fuller than usual with suitcases and bags. Many airlines will verify the size of your carry-on luggage at your gate before boarding; if you miss the mark—you could be forced to check your bags and pay additional fees.

See also: Canada ranks 8th for safest countries for women to travel in solo.

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What exactly can I pack in my carry-on?

Unfortunately, on-flight luggage comes with a long list of restrictions, but at a high level, expect to pack far less than you would in a checked piece of luggage. Liquids have the most rules stacked against them, with food and electronics as a close follow. Not sure if something is allowed in your carry-on bag? The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) allows you to search items for onboard validation.

Packing clothing and accessories depend on how much you want to lug around while travelling. The main thing to remember is that some airlines might have weight restrictions, especially if you are connecting to a smaller aircraft when travelling in places like Europe. Check your itinerary ahead of departure to ensure you’re within the limits of any airline policy.

You may also like: These sustainable travel essentials are a must this year.

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What is the maximum amount of liquid you can take in your carry-on?

It’s one of the most commonly asked questions about carry-on travel, and this is what you need to know: according to CATSA, containers of liquids, non-solid food and personal items in your carry-on must be 100 ml/100 g (3.4 ounces) or less. The containers must fit neatly inside one clear, resealable one-litre plastic bag. The bag needs to be transparent so the screening officer can review the items inside, and it must meet the dimensions requirements of approximately 20 x 17.5 cm (or 8” x 7”).

While it might be tempting to stuff the clear bag, it’s possible you could be forced to throw away some items, especially if the security agent can’t easily see all of the items in the bag.

Related: 10 affordable drugstore makeup dupes for viral faves.

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Which liquids are exempted from the limitations?

Trying to determine which beauty or skincare products to pack for a carry-on can be tough. Understanding what constitutes a gel, liquid or aerosol for on-flight luggage could help you narrow down your options.

The CATSA comes through again by providing a handy chart that lists items within each category (for example, mascara and liquid foundation both count as “liquids.” The site also provides a list of exceptions outside the 100 ml rule, including baby food and drinks, prescription medicine, COVID-19 test kits and liquids or gels for diabetes or other medical conditions.

See also: The 20 best places to travel in November outside of Canada.

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Can I pack food in my carry-on bag?

Food can feel tricker to navigate, mainly if some foods include liquid. We already mentioned that food and drinks for babies are exempt from carry-on liquid rules, but food for adults has a more strict set of rules.

First, any drink over 100 ml will need to be consumed or discarded before you enter security. Second, any food that contains any liquid (think a canned or jarred item) needs fit in your clear liquids bag, which extends to non-solid food items like pudding, yogurt, etc.

Most solid foods of any size are permitted if you’re travelling within Canada (be sure to check the regulations for other destinations), but they must be solid at room temperature. So, forget about freezing liquids over 100 ml because security knows all the tricks! Also, there are specific rules for what you can check and what you can carry on when it comes to alcohol (other than duty-free).

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There are quite a few prohibited items, but for good reason. A full list of all the things you can’t bring on a flight can be found on the Government of Canada website. The most common (and perhaps obvious) items that are banned from carry-on include guns, firearms, slingshots, razors, tools, baseball bats and golf clubs — or essentially anything sharp or explosive that could inflict harm on another. However, knives with blades under six centimetres are permitted, as are scissors with blades that are longer than six centimetres from the fulcrum (the pin where the blades are held together). That excludes travel to the United States, where carry-on knives are not allowed — always check the specific rules for other countries that you’ll travel to.

It also states that inorganic powder and granular material such as baby powder, foot powder, cooking powder, bath salt, sea salt and sand are prohibited.

Related: The cheapest times to travel to these popular destinations.

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Can I pack electronics in my carry-on?

When it comes to in-flight entertainment, electronics usually hit the top of the list for priority packing. The good news is that you can feel free to pack your cell phone, laptop, iPad and e-readers, but prepare to remove them from your luggage during the security process for additional screening.

For folks who like to travel with filming equipment, you may consider confirming the rules around accepted items, weight restrictions and specific regulations around batteries and packaging with your selected airline. You can get a good sense of what’s possible on the Air Canada website, but know that the same rules don’t always apply to each company.

Related: Dreaming of travelling to Europe solo? These 5 tips may help.

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Are there any fees associated with carry-on luggage?

By now, it’s no surprise that airlines sometimes get to set their own rules, and that’s often true of associated fees, weight requirements and the number of bags allowed for each traveller. A general rule of thumb is to pack an approved size of carry-on luggage. Additional approved bags could include a purse, laptop, suitcase, backpack and/or baby bag. Most airlines will allow you to check and pick up strollers, wheelchairs and other mobility aids at the aircraft door (but always double check the rules for the airline you’re travelling with).

If you do not meet the requirements for carry-on luggage and personal items, you could be forced to check your luggage at the gate and get slammed with an additional fee. The only scenario where you won’t be charged a fee is if the aircraft overhead bins are full and you have no choice but to check your luggage. It’s good vacation karma to review the rules associated with your airline before you take off.

You may also like: 2 Canadian ski resorts are ranked among the best in the world.

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How should I pack my carry-on luggage?

Packing carry-on luggage is supposed to make travel easier, so keep your plastic bag of liquids accessible for security and any electronics you need to remove for screening. This can easily be done in a small bag or backpack, but your biggest challenge will undoubtedly be choosing which parts of your wardrobe to bring along for the journey. In the case of packing light, consider a capsule wardrobe to get the most mileage out of the limited items you can squeeze into a suitcase. If folding your items takes up too much space, try rolling your clothes instead or placing them in compressed packing cubes to create more space where you need it.  

Bon voyage!

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