When you’re getting ready to pack for your next trip, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything left on your to do list.  So let us take away the pain from your packing with this guide to those 21 travel items that are essentials for your long haul flight.  From your choice of bag to those vital travel items that you can’t do without, we’ve got your back.  Travel necessities, comfort items, just-in-case extras and entertainment while you fly long haul are all part of today’s guide.  Seat backs upright, please, and let’s get moving.  Here’s how to pack your carry on essentials.

Choosing your Carry On Bag

I can’t claim to be short on choices of bag for any kind of trip.  For me, the best bags fulfill the following criteria:

  • they’ve passed the comfort test – no shoulder slipping, straps that dig in, or uncomfortable hardware
  • they’re secure without requiring advanced origami skills to extract your stuff
  • they’re climate appropriate – no soggy cotton for rainy trips

So my recommendations are a choice of:

  • a backpack – usually with a couple of pockets and a padded spot for your laptop
  • a messenger bag – comfortable cross body and again suitable for laptops
  • a tote – depending on your destination, this can be a great bag for the road, with very flexbile uses

I have a favourite from each of these categories that I’ll choose depending on destination.  I love backpacks for trips when I’ll be mostly on the road, exploring, walking or picnicking.  Messenger bags are my go to for city trips and business travel: smart, compact, and the easiest way to wrangle my laptop on the go.  Totes are my choice for relaxing, chilled breaks, when you want to go with the flow – beach one day, wandering local markets the next.

Your Carry On Essentials

First up, take care of the necessities,  On my list are always:

  • Passport
  • Tickets and reservations
  • Currency
  • Destination information
  • Travel insurance details
  • Small notebook and pen
  • Wallet
  • Phone
  • Camera
  • Prescription medications and copy prescription
  • Basic mini first aid and over the counter medication
  • Spare glasses or contact lenses

Most of these fit into a travel wallet.  My tip is to buy a bright one, so you can always spot it easily in your big bag.  It’s also less easy to forget when you’re packing up on the road.

The 21 Best Items For Your Carry On Essentials - Travel Documents

Your Carry On Creature Comforts

Even when the anticipation is at full buzz, a bit of comfort goes a long way in the air.  Here’s where to remember:

  • an empty water bottle to get topped up after security
  • snacks of your choice – solid, without smells that will offend others, and as healthy as you can get
  • mints or gum
  • a neck pillow
  • eyeshades
  • a soft, comfortable outfit suitable for your destination & spare undies
  • a warmer layer
  • a big scarf
  • warm socks if needed

Your destination outfit serves two purposes: insurance in case of lost or delayed baggage and giving you an option to freshen up before arrival if you wish.

The 21 Best Items For Your Carry On Essentials - Spare Clothes

The next list of creature comforts could also be considered travel essentials:

  • toothbrush and paste, mouthwash
  • moisturiser – I swear I turn flaky in the air
  • deodorant
  • lip balm
  • hand sanitiser and wipes
  • hairbrush and hair ties for the longer haired amongst us

Most of these go in my liquids bag.

The 21 Best Items For Your Carry On Essentials - Creature Comforts

Entertainment options for your carry on

Even if you have plans to make the most on the onboard entertainment, it’s always good to have back up options.  For me, that includes:

  • my laptop, which in any case is best kept in your carry on
  • a tablet or e-reader well stocked with your favourite books, music or magazines
  • earbuds
  • a book or magazine
  • a journal or travel journal and a couple of pens

I like to give myself options during a flight, as I’m one of those pesky never-sleepers.  An actual book or magazine gives me extra choice and is useful for those swaps that often happen on the move.  Journaling helps me build the anticipation before a trip, and keeps my memories safe on the way home.  Selecting choices of entertainment before you go is a great opportunity to balance yourself.  Familiar favourites are brilliant to settle you when you have those trip wibbles, while books set in your destination can flame those travel fires in your soul.

The 21 Best Items For Your Carry On Essentials - Entertainment

Packing your gadgets for travel

We’ve already mentioned laptops and e-readers.  In addition, you’ll need your:

  • chargers and cables
  • travel adaptors
  • a powerbank or two
  • SD and memory cards

I keep my cable spaghetti together with hair ties and corral it in its own bag.

The 21 Best Items For Your Carry On Essentials - Tech

Other travel items that need to go with you

There are a few other things you’ll need in your carry on:

  • any valuables that don’t belong in the hold luggage, like jewelery
  • anything sentimental and irreplaceable that you don’t want to run the risk of losing like original family photos you are taking to an event

Ready to Go?  Here’s Some Helpful Resources

The 21 Best Items For Your Carry On Essentials - Ready For The Road

If you’re looking for more travel hacks, then check out what I’ve discovered during 50 years on the road.  If you’re packing carry on for your main bag, there are winter and summer editions of our best hacks here, and a separate guide for business travel.

And if you’re like me, and packing is all part of the anticipation of a great time, then a number of forums and other sites can help you tease out what suits you best.  Here are some of my favourites:

However you pack, make it a great trip!


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The 21 Best Items For Your Carry On Essentials - Sea


Author: Bernie

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14 thoughts on “The 21 Best Travel Items For Your Carry On Essentials

  1. Great tips Bernie, and most are already on my evergreen packing list but there’s always something I tend to forget! I’ve had to do an airport haul of hand cream and hair grips on more than one occasion!

    Posted on February 11, 2018 at 9:21 pm
    1. It’s usually shampoo I manage to leave at home. Although I seem to have enough hand cream to satisfy an octopus. 😉

      Posted on February 11, 2018 at 9:25 pm
  2. Empty water bottle and a travel journal – I do believe we’re kindred travel souls 🙂 This is a great list. I read through thinking “check, check, check – oh – better pick that up – check, check…”

    Posted on February 17, 2018 at 2:57 pm
    1. Travel journals are wonderful, aren’t they? It’s the ability to relive it all over again every time you open those pages in the years to come. Definitely kindred travel souls. 🙂

      Posted on February 17, 2018 at 4:59 pm
  3. Great list! I struggle with the snacks “as healthy as you can get” – what do you usually bring? I buy granola bars but I know they are not that healthy but it’s just easy.

    Posted on February 17, 2018 at 8:55 pm
    1. I’m usually carrying granola bars too, and oatcakes. If possible I bring a salad or tapas and crackers. The crunchier things like radishes and peppers seem to survive well, as do olives and sundried tomatoes although I need to be sure they’re all gone by the end of the flight. Having seen a spaniel identify a sneaky apple in someone’s bag at JFK, I really don’t want to be that person. 🙂 I think I get a little bit more leeway onto the plane for what’s called “medical food” as I#m coeliac and lactose intolerant. Although no one’s ever questioned what I’ve brought with me.

      Posted on February 17, 2018 at 10:00 pm
  4. I do many of these things so great tips! I love the destination outfit tip. For me having things do double duty helps with packing light!

    Posted on February 18, 2018 at 12:31 am
    1. Double duty’s definitely the way to go. 🙂 Says the woman who is currently wearing her destination outfit on top of her travel one, as the destination is w…a….y… colder than forecast. 😉

      Posted on February 18, 2018 at 7:16 am
  5. This is very relevant as I’m currently packing a carry-on backpack for months of travel throughout South East Asia. And thanks for the reminder about the empty water bottle, that gets me every time haha. Thanks for sharing <3

    Posted on February 19, 2018 at 5:23 am
    1. It’s the hairbrush that haunts me. 😉 Which isn’t bright of me at all, considering my hair is below shoulder length. Hope you have a fab time in SE Asia. I’d love to know how the packing went for you when you’re back. Did you use everything, or were there things you wished you’d packed? It would be fascinating to know.

      Posted on February 19, 2018 at 11:32 pm
  6. I’ve never thought about bringing a copy of my prescriptions, but that is a great thing to do in the event of an emergency!

    Posted on February 20, 2018 at 1:02 pm
    1. I can’t remember who suggested it to me in the first place, but I’m glad they did. If I’m traveling solo, keeping it with my passport should mean that in an emergency someone will know key things about me.

      Posted on February 20, 2018 at 2:34 pm
  7. This is a great article. I wish I had read this before I almost permanently lost my bag in January. It showed up again, after exactly 20 days, but I was sure that everything in there was lost and it was a good lesson on what to pack in my hand luggage.

    When it comes to items that cannot be replaced, do not forget any pieces of clothing that have a sentimental value for you. That dress that you bought in a tiny shop in Italy? Put that into your hand luggage. Also, I like to put my expensive lightweight rain jacket into my hand luggage. It barely takes up space and weight and, depending on where I fly to, can be hard to replace.

    Besides that, I couldn’t agree more with everything you wrote. I am especially happy you mentioned that empty water bottle. It saves both money and the environment to fill it up after security.

    Posted on March 19, 2018 at 3:34 am
    1. That’s a great call about the pieces of clothing with sentimental value. I have a dress like that – bought in Ghent on a leisurely summer day – that I’d be sad to lose, as it’s full of memories and has traveled with me to so many places. The hard to replace items are key too. So glad your bag finally showed up!

      Posted on March 19, 2018 at 6:55 am