The carry-on bag. What would we do without her? So small, yet so mighty. Keeper of boarding passes, guardian of gum. Compact, yet sturdy enough to withstand the toughest turbulence and pushiest seat mates. Probably your most stylish piece of luggage - but it’s what’s inside that counts.
Packing a carry-on can be more important than packing your checked-luggage, no matter where you’re going. Even a quick domestic trip requires you to bring your most precious personal items through busy airports and across long distances. One little bag (plus a purse, for most airlines) has the responsibility of carting some of your most expensive possessions along with a few necessary-just-in-case items. It’s a big job!
A lot of us are tempted to leave packing until the very last minute. This is especially true for packing carry-on luggage. We get it. It’s much more exciting to plan your actual trip than think about all the boring bits you need to bring on the plane. But we promise: it’s worth your while.
To help you make sure that you forget NOTHING on your next plane trip, we’ve compiled a packing list of carry-on essentials. It contains some surprising must-haves plus various items that you know and love (and really wouldn’t want to forget). Read on to learn 22 things you should have in your carry-on before you set foot on any plane. Or even better, bookmark this page and come back to it each time you go wandering the world. You can never be too prepared!
We know they sell headphones on planes these days, but who wants an overpriced set that barely works? When they’re essential for your on-board movie binging, you don’t want to risk relying on a shoddy airline pair. Pack your best ones from home safely into your carry-on, no matter what.
Headphones aren’t just a way for you to listen to what you love, they’re a way for you to block out what you hate. Drama in the security check line? Take out those headphones. Chatty seatmate? Give the universal sign of 'I’m unavailable' by popping in those earbuds. The right soundtrack can take your commute through the airport from noisy chaos to mellow paradise.
21 Sleep Mask
Who WOULDN’T want to look like Audrey Hepburn resting up in Breakfast at Tiffany’s? A cute sleep mask is never out of style. Take inspiration from glamorous travelistas like Gigi Hadid and invest in a good quality eye mask for your next flight.
You might feel self-conscious wearing what looks like the offspring of a stuffed animal and a pair of sunglasses on your face. Sleep masks may look kinda weird and make you blind, but wearing them on a plan adds to the whole ‘personal paradise’ thing we’re going for. Block out the hectic scenes around you and focus on relaxing all the way over to your next destination.
A girl who has it together always has a packet of gum stashed on her person. We know this because not all of us are that girl, but we ALL appreciate having her in our group of friends. Gum is especially useful on planes. Any frequent traveler knows they wouldn’t want to deal with a takeoff or landing without it.
Because of rapid changes in air pressure from the plane soaring into the sky (or descending back to the ground), our inner ears have to adapt super fast. For most people, this results in ear popping or even inner ear pain. Chewing a piece of gum helps to keep the inner ears moving around and releasing the pressure more smoothly.
Like gum, Gravol can make your time onboard your plane much more comfortable. Even if you don’t normal get car sick or nauseous when you travel by train or bus, it’s good to be prepared for nausea on a flight. Sometimes planes can feel more like roller coasters than anything else, so protecting yourself against puking is definitely a good idea.
If you know there’s a good chance of you feeling queasy or uneasy on your plane trip, take a single Gravol tablet 30 minutes before liftoff. If you’re confident that you’ll feel fine, put a bottle of Gravol in your carry-on anyway. Why risk it? Barf isn’t cute.
18 Lip Balm
It’s an open secret among airline staff that the air on planes is super dry. Because they keep it moving and filtering through the cabin the entire time you’re flying, it can feel like a dry wind on your skin. You might have noticed this problem before. Dry eyes and a little cough are frequent flyers themselves.
If you’ve ever been 30,000 feet in the air without lip balm, you’ll know the feeling of uncomfortably dry lips that are so tight they might crack. Pack a good quality balm (one made of something other than artificially-flavored petroleum jelly) and trust that you’ll be glad you did.
This one goes hand-in-hand with the item above. Literally - your hands will thank you for remembering to pack a small tube of moisturizer for your flight. Dry aircraft air means not just dry lips, but dry skin. Fight the problem by renewing your skin’s moisture barrier with a hearty dose of moisturizer.
A non-comedogenic option that’s designed for both face and body is your best choice. Also look out for options that are lightly scented or unscented altogether. In a confined space like an aircraft cabin, you don’t want too much perfume flavoring the limited amount of oxygen. Remember to buy it travel-sized, put it in a liquid-safe plastic bag, and you’re golden.
16 Makeup Removal Wipes
We bet that when you’re flying on a plane you wear minimal makeup anyway. Makeup removal wipes are essential not just for taking off mascara and concealer, though. A good makeup wipe can cool you down, get all that invisible grime and bacteria off your bare face, freshen up your underarms, and polish the fingerprints off your phone screen. Not the same wipe, obvs.
We recommend using one at the beginning of the flight, applying moisturizer, then using another at the end of the flight so you can step into your destination with a fresh face. If you plan on touching down and immediately going out, a makeup wipe will also give you a clean canvas to paint.
15 A Face Mask
Face masks are what happens when moisturizer levels-up. Why not turn a dry-aired plane cabin into a private spa session? You’re stuck in the same spot for a few hours, anyway. Make it proper me-time. With headphones in and a face mask on, you can make a complete luxury escape that’s all your own.
Fans of the masks-on-planes trend include model Chrissy Teigen, who you’ll notice displaying the look above. As you can see, it has the added bonus of making her look absolutely terrifying to anybody sitting nearby. Nothing ensures personal space better Hannibal Lecter vibes.
14 Hand Sanitizer
If you’ve read any insider info about air travel on our site, you’ll know that they can get pretty gross. The dirtiest surfaces on the plane are found in the washroom and on the tray tables. Even though cabin crew wipes everything down between flights, there are some germs you just don’t want to risk touching.
A problem that’s more common than we’d like it to be is parents changing babies on their tray tables. When it comes to cleaning that, flight attendants usually “use a rag to start row one, and when they end up in row 35, that rag has wiped a lot of tables," according to cabin crew member Annette Long. Pack (and pass) the sanitizer please!
13 A Change of Clothes
There’s always a chance that checked luggage will get lost in transit. An approximately 1% chance, to be exact. You don’t want to be stranded without your luggage in a new destination – especially stranded without at least one change of clothes. You’ll feel gross enough on day three post-flight with no luggage without having to sit in the same clothes you wore on the plane.
Check the weather forecast for the day you arrive in your destination. Choose the most lightweight and easy-to-pack outfit that will suit that weather, and tuck it into your carry-on for safekeeping. For inspiration on what exactly to pack, outfit-wise, take notes from our holiday outfit essentials.
Good travel etiquette isn’t just about sitting quietly, being polite to your cabin crew, and avoiding invading personal space. Smell bad and it doesn’t matter how sweet you are. Your seat mates will wish you didn’t exist.
Avoid this social faux-pas by wearing more deodorant than you might usually wear, and by packing a travel-sized deodorant in your carry-on. This way you can re-apply if you get stinky – or even pass it to a seat mate who smells if you’re brave enough. You’ll also have your deodorant in a safe spot if your checked luggage doesn’t make it to your destination right away. You’ll be sweating then, too!
11 A Good Book (Or Podcast)
Passing time on a flight can be a great opportunity to read or listen to something you really enjoy. You can dive into a book and read for pure pleasure without feeling guilty about neglecting other responsibilities. What else can you do? You’re in the sky! Your housekeeping, homework, or general life admin is thousands of miles away.
We recommend not waiting until you get to the airport to buy your vacation read. Airport stores can be overpriced. Plan ahead and bring one from home you’ve been meaning to read. Similarly, download a few podcast episodes while your home instead of trying to do it through the airport WiFi. Arrive prepared and take in some quality content as you fly.
10 A Notebook and Pen
A lot of great writers have been inspired by travel. ‘On The Road’ by Jack Kerouac is about just that. Creativity gets stimulated when our surroundings are shaken up! If you find that a lot of your best ideas have occurred while you’re traveling, that’s probably why.
Don’t get caught without a notebook and pen when inspiration strikes! There’s a huge variety of cute and affordable journals and notebooks out there these days. Grab your travel buddy and make a pre-trip shopping date to get your holiday reads and in-flight writing materials! There’s always time to go to the bookstore.
9 Toothbrush & Toothpaste
Should you pack these so that you have them in case your checked luggage gets lost? Yes. Should you also bring them to use on the plane? Potentially also yes. If you have a long-haul flight that takes place overnight, you’ll want to be able to stick to your usual nightly toothbrushing routine despite being in the sky. You’ll also want to be able to brush your teeth like normal the following morning, even if you’re still on the plane.
Because it’s just good to brush your teeth after sleeping, you should be prepared to brush them on a shorter flight if that flight includes a long nap. You’ll want to get that morning breath out of your mouth ASAP. This is especially true for feeling fresh when you land and leave the airport. Just be sure to use item #3.
How much you’re fed on a plane can depend on the length of your flight, the style of your airline, and what class you’re flying in. For example, ‘no frills’ airlines like Wow Air don’t serve passengers complimentary in-flight snacks. Even when airlines do, there’s no guarantee you’ll want them. We’ll pass on the nuts, thanks.
It’s ALWAYS a good idea to bring snacks. An apple is a perfect example of something light, small, and healthy that you can toss in your bag without worrying that it’ll stain or soak anything. Energy bars are another great option. Remember it’s just you and your carry-on from baggage check to baggage claim, so it’s better to overdo it on the food prep.
7 Change of Underclothing
This one is more for your peace of mind. It’s even more important than packing that spare outfit, which is why it’s closer to number 1 on this list. We know that if you’re reading this article, you’re probably old enough to not have any pants-peeing problems – but maybe you do! We don’t know your life! We all know that underwear needs changing despite flight schedules and luggage losses.
Most destinations also are likely to have shops for buying replacement knickers if you need ‘em, but why spend money on something you already have plenty of? Even if these tragedies never befall you, no risk is good risk when it comes to clean undies.
6 Prescription Meds
If you take any medications regularly, it’s smart to bring at least a few doses of them in your carry-on bag, if not full bottles. Whether they’re insulin shots or anti-anxiety meds, you don’t want to be stuck in a foreign country without something you need.
A vacation is not a good time to have to go through withdrawal from any medication. You’re going away so you can enjoy yourself or spend time with people you care about! If you need any more convincing to put these on your carry-on packing list, picture Kid Fury wailing while knee deep in the ocean because he forgot to bring his anti-depressants to Jamaica. Sad, true, and easily avoidable.
5 Electronics & Chargers
Phone. Laptop. Tablet. Whatever valuable electronics you’re planning on traveling with better be put in your carry-on. These are not items you want to get broken or lost by being flung around below deck. Your carry-on is the perfect place for them and all their chargers. It keeps them both safe and accessible so you can reliably whip them out anytime you want your own in-flight entertainment.
They’re also important to keep with you so that you’re reachable in case of emergencies. Even small delays in your arrival time can be emergencies when you need to communicate with your ride! WiFi-equipped planes make sending messages to people in the terminal quick and easy.
4 Your Destination’s Address (And How to Get There from the Airport)
A clever travel hack that true frequent flyers use is packing a note about your destination details into your carry-on bag. For example, if you’re visiting your Aunt Marge in Corfu, write a small note (possibly with your #10s) about her phone number, street address, and directions from the airport to her house.
It's also smart to have backup contact information, like phone numbers of other nearby friends and local cab companies This might seem extra, but who knows what might happen! If you end up stuck without your phone or internet access, a simple handwritten note could help you get where you’re going and save the day.
3 Water Bottle
Do we need to tell you that the water on planes is gross? THE WATER ON PLANES IS GROSS. According to reports by the US Environmental Protection Agency, 15% of aircrafts have water systems that contained potentially harmful bacteria. This is fine for a toilet bowl, but not for your mouth.
Bring a big ol’ water bottle with you from home so that you can safely quench your thirst, brush your teeth, and more. You won’t be able to get it through security if it’s full, so pack it empty and remember to fill it up by your gate. Airport water fountains were made for smart people like you who fill up before boarding to stay both hydrated AND hygienic.
2 Your Wallet
Money and ID are absolutely essential to your commute through the airport and beyond. By carefully prepping a wallet or change purse to contain a few key things, you can feel comfortably prepared to start your next journey on the right foot.
Most important are any credit or debit cards you plan on using throughout your trip. With those safely packed, move on to cash. It's wise to carry a handful of bills in both the currency of your starting country and the currency of your destination. Lastly, some ID to supplement your passport is always a good idea. Bring your health card and/or license, and cross your fingers that you won't find yourself needing them.
1 Boarding Pass and Passport
You’re not getting anywhere without them! Your boarding pass and passport are your golden tickets to your destination. Holding them the whole time is such a risky move. What if you set these precious documents down somewhere? By zipping them neatly away, you make sure that they're ready to be retrieved and shown to gate staff when needed.
We've listed these as one item (and as the number one item) because they should be inseparable the entire time you're in the airport and boarding your plane. The pros know to put a boarding pass into the page spread of a passport with the photo ID. Tuck them into your trusty bag and you're good to carry on with your carry-on!