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Pack your carry-on with essentials first -- medication, identification, a copy of your itinerary, and everything you'll need for the first 24 hours at your destination, just in case something happens to your checked bag. If you're bringing important business materials, such as a presentation or portfolio, bring them in your carry-on, too, as they're less likely to go astray.
If you're bringing a laptop or cell phone, be sure to have chargers, adapters and other accessories available in your carry-on. Also consider a pair of noise-canceling headphones if you plan to spend time concentrating on work (or even just reading a good book) during the flight.
Whatever it looks like, your carry-on had better fit in that overhead bin once you're on board the plane, and your personal item needs to fit under the seat in front of you. You may not want to cram your Kathy Van Zeeland handbag on the floor, but you may have no choice. When you're packing, bear in mind that you will need to lift your carry-on luggage into the overhead bin yourself. Flight attendants may assist but cannot do it for you.
If you're not one of the first people on the plane, it may be necessary to pack your carry-on some distance away from your seat. In the frenzy of boarding, stowing your gear and getting seated, it's easy to lose track of where exactly your bag is. Make things easy for yourself later by making a note of the compartment number or seat number nearest to your bag.
Especially if you have a heavy bag, be careful taking it down at the end of the flight. Many a passenger has suffered a bruised shoulder because someone else's bag fell out of control.
Again, start with the question of what suits your needs best. A duffel style is roomy and casual, and conveys a sporty appearance. If you don't have a lot of clothes that need ironing or special care, or if you want to maximize every inch of space, consider a carry-on duffel.
Perhaps you want to keep it simple and just have a tote on board that includes the essentials—maybe some snacks (non-liquid, of course), over-the-counter and/or prescription medicines, toothbrush and toothpaste, one day's worth of clothing, camera and any valuables. You can move swiftly and it's hassle-free getting through security.
Wheels are another option, making a carry-on bag of any style easier to manage through a large airport or on a quick connection. Shoulder bags keep your hands free for the important things, such as talking on your cell phone as you walk toward the gate. They can be small, counting as a personal item, or larger to serve as a carry-on.