The art of packing a perfect carry on bag is one that every traveler wants to learn. The ideal bag is the one that isn’t too bulky, but that has everything you could possibly need. It’s the kind of bag that is packed for emergencies… but not so stuffed with so many items that it’s bulging at the seams and impossible to shove in the overhead compartment. We’ve all seen the people who seem to have it down; strolling through the airport with a small bag, confident that they have absolutely everything they need. We’ve also all seen their opposites; the people struggling along with a huge carry-on that only just meets the size limits, carrying piles of sweaters, plastic bags of snacks, neck pillows and all kinds of other things that they probably won’t need.
In order to help you become the first type of traveler, and avoid the hassle of being the second, we’ve pulled together a list of all the things that you should absolutely remember to toss in that carry-on… and a few things that you might think you need, but that are really totally unnecessary for the savvy traveler.
Let's start with the essentials...
25 Foldable Water Bottle
Travel can definitely be dehydrating, so it’s important to be able to keep drinking lots of water. But buying water at the airport is ridiculously expensive, not to mention wasteful - single-use plastic bottles are not a good look for any stylish traveler. Instead, grab a foldable water bottle to bring with you. Pop it open after security and fill it at one of the terminal water fountains to stay hydrated throughout your flight. And when the flight is over? Empty it out and slip it into your bag flat, saving a huge amount of space for other things.
24 Sleep Mask
If you are going on a short flight, you could probably give this one a miss. But for long flights, a sleep mask is a must to make sure that you get some quality shut-eye in on the flight, and don’t arrive looking tired and puffy. Sleep masks are also helpful for when you arrive. Sleeping in new time zones or strange hotel beds isn’t always easy, and making sure that you can shut out all light before going to bed can be a huge help at making sure you stay well-rested and energetic throughout your trip.
23 Charger Cables
This one should be obvious, but make sure you don’t leave home without your charger cables, and that you don’t pack them in checked baggage. If your bags get lost in transit, the last thing that you want to be dealing with is a dead phone while trying to call the airline and sort it out. In addition, if you are planning to use your devices on the flight (for reading, playing games, working, etc), you’ll want to ensure that they don’t die mid-flight. With many airlines providing outlets, you can plug right into your seat.
22 Portable Battery
Although many planes provide outlets (and even wifi), outlets can be hard to find in airports themselves - and it’s not wise to assume that the plane you are on will have an outlet in the seat. Make sure to pack a (fully charged) external battery pack, so that you can charge on the go if you need to. Try not to rely on it, but keep it for emergencies. This is also helpful when you reach your destination, and it’s possible to buy tiny battery packs that will hold several charges.
It can be easy to forget the humble pen when traveling, especially as most things are done electronically. It’s not just something to bring in order to write in a travel journal or feel like a gentlemanly throw-back, though. Invest in a nice pen, and use it to fill out customs forms and landing cards, as well as anything else that might pop up in your travels (not everything has been digitized yet). You could always carry a biro, of course, but a lovely pen just has so much more style!
20 Scarf Or Wrap
If you think that wraps are just for women, you are missing out. When traveling, a scarf or plain wrap is a perfect multi-purpose accessory. Layers are important for keeping warm in airports and on cold planes, and a large wrap can act as a blanket in a pinch. In addition, a wrap makes a handy neck pillow if you need to sleep - just roll it up and use it for support. Much more stylish than a bulky travel pillow - and easier to store if you aren’t actually using it.
19 Noise Canceling Headphones
You may be one of the lucky ones who gets seated surrounded by silent strangers, but chances are, you’ll end up with some kind of noise around you on a plane. Friends chatting, babies crying, someone deciding to play videos without headphones… so bring your own noise-canceling headphones, and keep calm in the air. Being able to create a pocket of silence around yourself is so important for a peaceful flight, not to mention for dealing with noisy hotel neighbors after you land. And while some can be bulky, there are plenty of slim noise-canceling headphones on the market as well.
18 In-Seat Pouch
The seat-back pocket is a black hole for losing things on a flight - but constantly having to get up and down to pull things out of your bag in the overhead compartment is a hassle. The best thing to bring is a small pouch that you can use to keep anything you’ll want during the flight handy but in one place. Just pop the pouch in the seat-back pocket, and make sure to grab it when you go. Then you won’t end up losing a charger cable at the bottom of the pocket and only realizing when you get to your hotel.
17 Immune Boosters/Supplements
It’s no secret that planes are a great place to catch a cold - between the huge number of people in one space and the recycled air, they aren’t the most sanitary places. Add the stress of travel, and you have a recipe for getting sick. Head it off by bringing immune boosters or supplements; try a high-dose Vitamin C to deal with colds or ginger extract. Of course, there are a huge number of options available, so bring your favorite to boost your immune system when you fly.
Airports may usually have a huge range of dining options, and airlines are definitely trying to up their game when it comes to in-flight meals, but it’s still a good idea to bring some snacks with you. If there is a hold-up either at security or while on the runway, you may be left unable to take advantage of airport dining OR in-flight meals, and leaving yourself to get hungry is a great way to guarantee getting cranky and having a miserable flight.
15 In-Flight Entertainment
Yes, most planes will have seat-back entertainment, but it’s still a good idea to bring something to amuse yourself. A tablet with some downloaded entertainment (ebooks or video) is a great idea because it takes up very little space in your carry-on bag. This is perfect if you happen to be unlucky enough to get a seat with a broken entertainment system, or (again) if you get stuck waiting for long periods at the gate or on the runway.
14 Copy Of Your Passport
Some things should be included to make your flight more comfortable, but this one is a must just in case the worst happens and your passport is lost or stolen. Having a copy of your passport and a set of extra passport photos makes it significantly easier to get a replacement at the embassy, and means that you shouldn’t end up stuck in a strange place if the worst were to happen. Keep it tucked in a safe place in your bag for a little extra reassurance.
13 Written Copies Of Hotel Info
This might seem crazy, in an age of technology for everything, but it’s still a good idea to have hotel and flight info written down. Like keeping a passport copy, it’s a smart just-in-case move, so that if your phone gets lost or stolen, you’ll still be able to know where you are going and how you are getting back. It also helps if your phone dies while dealing with customs, or if you’d rather not hand your whole phone over to a cab driver at your destination.
12 Disinfecting Wipes
Grab a travel-sized pack of disinfectant wipes, because we hate to tell you… airplanes can get really dirty. The tray tables and air nozzles don’t get disinfected nearly as often as many people think they do, and it’s a smart move to wipe them down to avoid getting sick. Especially if you are eating on those tray tables, just give them a quick wipe first to kill any germs that might be lingering on the surface.
11 Flat Iron
It might seem strange to recommend that men carry a hair styling tool (unless you happen to have long hair), but this is actually a great carry-on item for anyone who has to hit the ground running. After a long flight, clothes get easily wrinkled, and if you don’t want to land looking rumpled a straightening iron can act as a portable clothing iron. Plug it in at the airport for a quick once over on the worst creases, and step out of the airport looking fresh and pressed.
And these 10 items are a waste of space...
Whether you are a smoker, or just one of those guys who loves to carry around a helpful zippo (you never know when it might come in handy), give it a miss on planes. While some airports have relaxed the rules on lighters in carry-on bags, many will still confiscate these. You can always grab a cheap one at the airport when you land if you really need it, but leave the fancy Zippos at home while traveling.
9 Swiss Army Knife
Yes, it seems like a handy travel tool - after all, swiss army knives are perfect for dealing with all kinds of emergencies, from broken nails to bottles of wine (for those who consider an unopened bottle of wine a personal emergency, that is). However, like lighters, many airports will still confiscate any blades - even teeny tiny ones that fit into a classic red pocket knife.
8 Paperback Books
We love paperback books, and any bookworm will wax lyrical about the smell of a fresh book… but these just aren’t smart for traveling anymore. If you want to bring a paperback for the poolside, toss it in your checked baggage. For carry on, stick to e-readers and tablets, so that you can store a huge number of books without taking up space in your bag, or weighing you down.
7 Bulky Hoodies
Planes can definitely get cold, but there are smarter ways to layer up and make sure you stay cozy on a flight. Bring a wrap or scarf for a lighter, stylish option, and leave bulky hoodies and sweaters at home (or in your checked baggage). Light layers are not only a more practical choice for dealing with temperature changes while traveling, but they look more stylish, too - and you aren’t going to get an upgrade if you are in a giant hoodie!
Ok, if you are on a work trip where you know that you will be using your laptop throughout the flight and trip, bring it (just make sure it’s a smaller one). However, if you are going on vacation, be realistic about how much you would use a laptop - and how much you can get done on a tablet, instead. If you will just need to reply to a few emails, maybe check some shared documents, there is no reason to bring your entire laptop and charger. It’s just a waste of space and weight.
5 Full First Aid Kit
It’s smart to try and stay healthy while traveling, but it’s easy to overdo it. A lot of the time, flight attendants will be able to provide you with something for minor discomfort, and you can also buy pretty much anything you would need at the airport or your destination. If you are prone to headaches, bring a small bottle of painkillers, but there’s no need to stock up on bandaids and eight different kinds of over-the-counter medication.
4 Separate Face And Hand Cream
Definitely consider bringing a light moisturizer on the plane - as we’ve already mentioned, travel can be incredibly dehydrating, and men who care about their appearance will know to bring a moisturizer to keep their skin looking good. For the sake of a single flight, though, skip the different creams for hands and face, and just bring a good quality light lotion that you can use on both in a pinch. Multiple bottles and jars are just a waste of space in your carry on.
3 Neck Pillow
Staying comfy on the flight is one thing, but a neck pillow is actually unnecessary when you carry a travel wrap (as mentioned earlier). Not only are many cheap neck pillows actually not that much better for your neck, but they are annoyingly bulky, and mean carrying a pillow around the rest of your trip, just for the sake of the flight time. Skip the pillow, and use your scarf instead. It just makes sense.
If you happen to be traveling to or from a particularly sunny destination, feel free to bring your sunnies. However, most of the time these can easily go in a checked bag - and keeping bulky glasses cases just takes up precious space in your carry-on. They’re also an easy item to lose if you are keeping them on your head or tucked into the front of your shirt. Plus, no one wants to be that guy, wearing sunglasses while indoors at the airport and looking like a prize idiot.
1 Steel Water Bottle
As we’ve already mentioned, the best way to stay hydrated on a flight is a foldable water bottle - so leave the steel water bottles behind. At the end of the day, carrying an empty steel bottle is literally taking up space in your suitcase with nothing more than air… and who wants that? Bulky water bottles just don’t make sense for travel, so invest in something a little more practical (and that you won’t have to hang off the back of your bag like a hiker).