Your carry-on can sometimes make or break a trip – especially if it’s a short trip. Checked luggage can get lost, left behind, or redirected to various other locations (I once had my bag sent to Hong Kong when I was visiting Singapore, ugh). To ensure that you’re prepared for such an inconvenience – and really, to be able to take it in your stride and say “No worries, I’m set for the next few days until you send it to me, I’ll be busy taking in the sights like a pro!” we strongly recommend packing the following in your carry-on.
And if you’re the type to only travel with a carry-on (kudos to you, smart traveler!) you should still make sure you pack these items, which should all fit in your purse or backpack!
Headphones are a serious necessity when traveling – whether it be on a train, bus, or plane, really! They’re a great way to drown out those airplane engines during take-off and that baby screaming during your 8-hour international flight. Use them to listen to your e-book, especially if your flight entertainment is non-existent (true of many US domestic flights and low-budget European airlines). And if you’re like me, they definitely help to keep your ears from popping during take-off and landing (don’t ask me how, I have weird eardrums I guess).
I’ve shopped around for headphones quite a bit over the past 13 years and I love these for their sound quality and fit. While I do own a noise-cancelling headset, I prefer to travel with earbuds to save space.
A copy of your passport
In addition to any visa-related documentation you may need (DS-2019, I-20 etc.) a copy of your passport is a must-have in your carry-on. Emergencies such as misplaced passports and secondary screenings do occur, and it can be a blessing to have a copy of your passport when they do.
Never have to shuffle for your wallet, passport, and boarding tickets through your purse/backpack again! I adore my travel organizer by Fatima Marini who runs Art Therapy Studio on Etsy (note that I was not paid to promote her store – I just love her collection of travel organizers and you will too!). It lets me keep my travel card, my passport, my husband’s passport, and our boarding passes, tickets, luggage tags, and more, perfectly organized. I don’t have to struggle with zippers, nor have to dig through my bag during check-in or boarding. And it’s a great way to make sure you don’t forget your items as well – easily check your organizer at any time to make sure you have all your essentials! The cherry on top? Use it during hikes, or anytime when leaving your hotel room, so that you don’t have to lug around a separate wallet, purse, etc. with your essentials (and this way you always keep your important documents handy and on your person, just in case!)
Most flights and cars have a USB outlet now to help you easily recharge almost any device – from your phone to your tablet. I personally carry two USB cables wherever I go – a standard long one and one of these nifty small ones for emergencies.
Worldwide travel adapters with USB port(s)
Instead of buying different adaptors for different parts of the world (based on your travels), get a universal travel adapter instead! We love ours, which comes with a USB port as well – we strongly recommend you purchase an adapter with a USB port to charge that phone and GoPro simultaneously 😉
Note that the types of products mentioned on this article have been purchased and used by us during our travels! We were not previously paid to push any of the items mentioned. We love them and can sincerely recommend them to you.
Speaking of chargers, a solar charger is a new, extremely useful addition to our carry-on. We really appreciate our WakaWaka Solar Charger that lets us charge our devices even when there’s no electrical port around. This makes it perfect for charging devices in flights, trains, and cars without outlets, and when camping, hiking, and simply lying around on the beach. Step up your portable charging game by making it a portable solar charger! The WakaWaka charger works as an extremely powerful torchlight as well (with a dimming option included, how thoughtful, right?) so it can be very useful when hiking those volcanoes before dawn or camping at night. The WakaWaka company even works with the International Rescue Committee to donate a light for every charger purchased. This way your purchase will help bring light to others that need it; remember, 1.2 billion people around the world have no access to electricity.
Toothpaste + toothbrush
Whether you’re gearing up for a grueling 48 hour series of flights across the world (yup, speaking from experience!) or hopping from New York to DC, we highly recommend you pack a toothbrush and toothpaste in your toiletry bag. Brushing your teeth can help you feel fresh and alert, even when you feel like a crushed bag of tomatoes after that tortuous red-eye.
These packs were invaluable during those long-haul flights; and every time I arrived at my Airbnb and realized that I forgot my toothpaste!
While on the topic of looking good, a good lip balm can do wonders to keep your lips from looking like cracked ice when you get off the plane and greet your long-distance boo or business associate. Whether it be the cabin pressure or fluctuating humidity levels in flights, a good lip balm is essential in avoiding those dried out lips in your Instagram photos 😉 Not to mention dried lips can really hurt!
Speaking of cabin pressure, drinking (water) is an essential part of any flight. That being said, those little plastic cups of water they offer in flights are usually not enough to keep you hydrated, unless you ask for three or four at a time (like I had to in the past!) There’s also the option of buying those overpriced water bottles at the airport kiosks… $4 for a small bottle of water? Yikes. You, your wallet, and the environment are much better off packing an empty water bottle and filling it up after security check-in (as you are not allowed to carry liquids over 50/100ml through security). Most US airports have water fountains nowadays. Drink as much water as possible during a flight, and pick an aisle seat for ease of bathroom access. Your body will thank you!
Small bottle of lotion
To round off the items needed to battle the dehydrating effects of airplane travel, include a small bottle of lotion (below 50-100ml, check with your airline beforehand) to keep your skin happy as well. This way, you can avoid the exorbitant prices those airport stores will charge you for a tiny bottle of lotion when you notice the cracks on your skin (yup, it happens!)
From customs forms, to immigration and emigration forms, there’s no end to the papers you need to fill out when traveling. I always keep two pens handy whenever I travel – in the event that I just can’t find that bloody pen I packed (or it just doesn’t work), I always have a spare.
I really can’t get enough of Uni-Ball pens!
Camera: GoPro + additional batteries + charger
I always have my GoPro handy in my carry-on. I love my GoPro Hero 4 Silver because of its beautiful lens, picture and video quality. Its nifty size and durability are the most important qualities to me, I’ll admit; I love that I can poke it in my purse or backpack wherever I go, and that I can trip through mountains and fly over volcanoes without having to worry about damaging US$2000+ equipment. And if you’re half as clumsy as I am, a GoPro is a must. I purchased my Hero 4 with an additional battery and dual battery charger which is AMAZING. I cannot speaking more highly of it (no, I am not an ambassador for GoPro!); you absolutely need an extra battery for peace of mind when you spend a whole day filming and photographing the wonders this world has to offer.
That being said, you can choose to pack whatever device you use for photographing in your carry-on, from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera – but this may depend on the size of your equipment. Drones etc. would obviously need to be checked, but have a camera handy, just in case! (You don’t have to be camera-less in beautiful Changi Airport in Singapore, or during a getaway to Greece if your checked luggage gets delayed, for example!) Having a GoPro means I don’t need to dedicate too much space in my carry-on for my photographing needs.
Let’s face it. Even if you’re a veteran traveler like me, who’s traveled for days on end, multiple times a week, and still enjoys it – traveling is exhausting. While airports can be fun, and I love discovering new places, new types of aircraft, and new movies (seriously, some airlines have amazing entertainment selections!), air travel still tuckers me out. Not to mention you can definitely forget to clean those pores while battling for the armrest or choosing which movie to watch (or being frustrated at the lack thereof). I make it a point to always pack my face wash in a small container (usually available at CVS/Walgreens/Boots etc.) and make sure I wash my face at least once every 7 hours during a long-haul flight. Not to mention that you’ll thank your stars for packing this in your carry-on in the event that your onward flight is postponed/canceled during transit or your luggage is lost!
Change of clothes
Speaking of extended transits, make sure you pack a change of clothes and extra “underoo” in your carry-on. You’ll thank us the day that airline attendant tells you “Sorry ma’am/sir, but I’m afraid your flight’s been cancelled due to the storm, and we’ll have to put you up in a hotel for the next two days.” But what am I going to wear for the next two days? The stores are closed due to the storm you say? CUE PANIC. Oh wait – I have a change to get me through this! Now I can focus on battling the airline for those meal vouchers they’re supposed to give me… (Yup, this happened to me in Paris a few years ago during one of those dreaded winter storms).
A change of clothes is logical but a swimsuit? Is she nuts? Nope – a swimsuit can help you make the best of those extended layovers and cancelled flights. Head out to the beach or enjoy your hotel pool to help you unwind after a long battle with your airline representative. And if your checked bags are delayed when you land at your destination, you’re still set to enjoy yourself in the water with no worries until your luggage arrives! (And no, you underwear doesn’t count as a bikini…)
Sweater + scarf
Speaking of clothes, you can’t board that flight without a sweater/pullover! Flight can get super cold, and even if your airline offers a blanket (we’re still shocked than some of them don’t, even on flights that are 5+ hours long!), a sweater and scarf are excellent in keeping you warm and toasty while you curl up with a movie, book, or just knock out. Not to mention you won’t have to do the eternal dance of making sure your blanket doesn’t slip off your shoulder while still covering your feet… yeah, we’ve all been there
We cannot stress how important socks are when flying. They’re a great way to keep you warm during those frigid flights, not to mention they keep your feet covered and clean when you take off your shoes during security. At the risk of sounding like your mom, I’d suggest you pack two pairs of socks for long haul flights.
A pack of tissues can be very useful – from wiping your face down, to helping you wipe your hands after a snack, to rescuing you from those bathrooms without toilet paper – they can be lifesavers.
We recommend a pack of almonds at the least. You should always pack snacks of your choice whenever you travel, if only to avoid the ridiculous price of a bag of chips for purchase on flights and airports, or in case you miss/hate airline meals.
Sometimes, airline entertainment doesn’t work. Or worse yet, some flights don’t have them altogether. Or, shock, horror, gasp, you’ve already watched what they have to offer! And when you’re tired of listening to your downloaded Spotify playlist for the tenth time, you should have a book to turn to. Or if you’re anything like me, you simply don’t need an excuse to pack a book in your carry-on.
A word of advice: try not to pack the biggest book you can find. I’ve made the mistake of lugging around my biography of Jacqueline Kennedy from airport to airport. Even if the book is excellent (which America’s Queen: The Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is!) it may not be worth the space it takes up in your carry-on. This is where a tablet or Kindle may come in handy. While I am old-fashioned at heart and enjoy the feel of a book, there’s no denying that loading your tablet or Kindle with dozens of books of your choice for no additional space in your bag has its benefits.
A small bio-degradable bag
Why on earth would I stuff an extra bag in my purse/backpack? Simply put, for emergencies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I had a spare bag with me – when disposing of trash, or when in need of a laundry bag on the go, a bag can be extremely useful. You can reuse a plastic bag you have at home, or better yet, purchase a pack of bio-degradable bags for future use.
Car Charger Adapter
The word günstig in German can be used to describe an item that is both cheap and of good quality, as well as something that is convenient. This is what I would use to describe a car charging adaptor: it is cheap, takes little space to pack, and can be extremely useful when renting cars around the world. This way you can keep your phone/electronics charging while you explore, and don’t have to pay top dollar for a flimsy travel charger at your rental car agency.
Car Charger, WirelessFinest, Dual Port 3.1A USB Car Charger Adapter for Apple iPhone 6/6 Plus/5s/5c/5/4s/4, Apple iPad 4/3/2/Mini/Air/2, Apple iPod, Samsung Galaxy S6/S5/S4/S3/Tab 4, Motorola, HTC Phone and other USB powered devices (Black)
Car Charger, Maxboost 4.8A/24W 2 Smart Port Car Charger [Black] for iPhone 7 6S Plus 6 Plus 6 5SE 5S 5 5C 4S, Samsung Galaxy S7 S6 Edge, Note 7 5 4 S5 Tab S,LG G5 G4,HTC,Nexus 5X 6P,iPads Pro Portable
Some people invest in neck pillows, some in “regular” pillows. Whichever size you prefer, and can fit in your carry-on, a pillow is a must-have when you travel, especially on long-haul flights. Larger pillows can help you get that extra-comfortable shut-eye as you fly international waters!
A great travel credit card
Last but definitely not least, shop around for a great travel credit card. We cannot stress the importance of a travel credit card, from those that give you cash back and travel credit, to those that help you book that vacation to the Bahamas (or, let’s be real, to Boston/New York!) for miles accrued. I love my Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card, which gives me travel credit for all my travel purchases, at no annual fee. It almost feels like they’re rewarding me for traveling! 😉 This card and a few dollars in cash are all I need in my travel organizer during my travels.
Whether you’d flying transatlantic or hopping on a quick trip from New York to New Orleans, these items are a must-have in your carry-on. I recently had three German friends who visited me in Sri Lanka, have their checked luggage delayed for three days upon arrival on the island. Even worse, they’d already been delayed and rerouted over the course of two days in Abu Dhabi. One of the three seemed more relaxed than the others. “I have everything I need in my carry-on” were the golden words. Trust me, you want to be that person when you find out your luggage has been delayed/rerouted! Even if you have all your bags intact, the last thing you need is to fight your way into your checked luggage after long hours of traveling. Pack the essentials you need into your carry-on and you’ll be all set for a restful, even enjoyable start to your adventures!
As always, be a conscious traveler: Take nothing, and leave nothing behind. Be conscious, be welcome! Read more about Conscious Travel here.
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