Essential Carry-On Items for Any Flight

Whether it’s a weekend holiday to the beach or a month-long adventure across Europe, a well-packed carry-on is a crucial part of making sure your trip starts off on the right foot. Here are a few essentials for your carry-on to ensure that you have a smooth and comfortable flight.

Your valuables
This seems like a no-brainer, but make sure to pack anything of value or high importance with you in your carry-on, including jewelry, prescription medicine, cameras, laptops, etc. You don’t want to risk anything being broken, stolen or lost, so it’s better to carry these things on your person.

An organized folder with all of your travel documents
Having your airplane tickets, passport or photo ID, customs and immigration forms, hotel information, and any other vital travel documents all in one place makes things much easier for you and for all of the other people who will eventually need those documents. As most airlines now charge for food and drinks, having cash or your credit cards handy is equally as important. You should also have a bit of cash from the country you are visiting; relying on ATMs or currency exchange booths when you land can be a risk, especially if you arrive at night.

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Whether it’s a great book, a new album or a favorite movie, having something (or many things) to keep you occupied while on board is key. Unless you are one of those fortunate people that can sleep through the flight, having multiple forms of entertainment can keep you sane during long airplane rides or stopovers. Long flights are also perfect for working on a travel journal or for writing postcards.

An extra change of clothes
In a perfect world, luggage would never be lost. The reality is, however, that bags are lost every day, and having a change of clothes in your bag (and, if you are heading to the beach, a bathing suit) will ease the stress of waiting for your suitcase to be returned to you. An extra T-shirt may also come in handy if you are seated next to a clumsy passenger who has a fondness for red wine.

Many people complain about cold feet on long flights, so make sure to have some warm socks with you. As it’s smart to wear your bulkiest items onboard (cutting down on weight and space in your suitcase), you may be wearing boots or clunky shoes that you will probably want to remove once you are seated. Having a small pair of flats or slippers in your carry-on can help in keeping your feet warm, and can also cut down on the time it takes to put your boots on again every time you have to use the lavatory.

A toothbrush
There is nothing worse than a close-talker with halitosis, and yet I find I am somehow always doomed to sit beside that very person. To keep your mouth feeling fresh and for the benefit of the others around you, bring a toothbrush to either brush in the airport or on the plane. Just make sure to bring a travel-sized toothpaste that meets regulations, and use bottled water, not the tap water in the airplane sinks. Bonus points if you bring deodorant as well; your seatmates will thank you for it.

Sleeping aids
Whatever will help you to fall asleep, make sure it is in your carry-on. Inflatable pillows, earplugs and eye masks all work wonders to ensure a few hours of sleep on a long flight. You may not be the most fashionable passenger on the plane, but you will be the most rested.

Camera/phone/laptop chargers
Not only are these useful during a stopover, you do not want to find yourself in a new location with a lost bag and a bunch of dead electronics on your hands. Once again, if your bag is lost, having your chargers with you can help eliminate a bit of stress so that you can at least still use your camera, phone, laptop and so on. Make sure to include your international converter, too.

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Moisturizer/Lip balm
All of that recycled air on planes can cause dry skin and lips. Bring travel-sized toiletries that meet airline regulations to ensure that you stay moisturized and comfortable. That golden tan you got on holiday will instantly flake off onboard without constant moisturizer.

A pen
If you are going to a different country, you will definitely be filling out forms for immigration and customs, and that poor woman in row 17 (me) has lent her pen out to eight other passengers by now. Make sure to have a ballpoint pen in your bag so that filling out your forms can be done right away. You’ll probably also earn a few friends as inevitably others in your row will have forgotten this simple but essential item. One more tip: make sure it is a ballpoint pen, and not an ink or rollerball pen, as they tend to explode at high altitudes (and yes, I learned this the hard way).

Another bag
A bag within a bag may seem redundant, but instead of cramming your large bag under your seat or in the overhead bin where you will inevitably have to access it again and again throughout the flight, putting all of the things you will need immediately (a book, socks and your travel documents, for example) in a smaller bag that can fit comfortably under your seat is much easier. Leaving items you may need only once or not at all (your extra clothes, jewelry and camera charger, for example) in the larger bag that you can then place in the overhead bin clears up space so that you can relax and spread out. Once the flight is over, you can simply put the smaller bag back inside the larger bag and carry on your way (pun definitely intended).

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There are dozens of other items you can put in your carry-on, but these are just a few essentials that will make travelling easier, more efficient and more enjoyable. Just remember to research your airline’s regulations on the size and weight of your carry-on before you fly to save time and energy once you get to the airport. Happy travels!


About the Author

Brenna Holeman is a travel writer and photographer. She posts regularly on her blog, This Battered Suitcase, which attracts thousands of new readers a month. An avid adventurer, she has been to over 60 countries in the last six years, often travelling off the beaten track. Her next trip is through Central and South America for eight months.


Published: February 14, 2012