Carry-On Travel Essentials

  • 3 min read

Picture this. You’ve made it to the airport two hours early, checked your luggage, breezed through security, grabbed a snack and settled down in a seat next to your gate.

On the airport intercom you can hear boarding agents welcoming new passengers to board their flights, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience and for choosing our airline. We’ll begin the boarding process for your flight shortly. Each passenger is permitted one personal item…

You look down at your own carry-on bag and wonder, “Why am I carrying all this stuff?”

Don’t worry. You’re not alone. Most people tend to overpack (and I don’t mean taking too many bags of groceries inside the house at the same time, although people do that too. Two trips. That’s all I’m saying.).

This list of essential carry-on items will help you pack like a pro. If you follow our guide, your next trip will include a lighter carry-on bag that includes all your on-board traveling necessities.

Identification, passport, credit cards, phone

You can’t get on the plane without proper identification, so this one is a no-brainer. Bring cash and a credit card or two. Your phone can also be used to scan, store or access important documents if they go missing during your travels.

Expert Advice: You won’t need allyour credit cards where you are going. Consider trimming down your wallet and leave some cards (gym membership, grocery savings cards, access to your work building, etc.) at home.


The last thing you want is for your luggage to get lost and your daily meds to disappear along with it for any amount of time. Until your personal items resurface, keep a small case with your medical essentials on you.

A handful of pain relievers is optional, but strongly recommended. Kill your stress headache before it kills the start of your vacation. (Yes, traveling is stressful. It's a fact.)

Extra layers

Airplane temperatures can be finicky. In case you weren’t aware, some airlines no longer pass out blankets to passengers who fly economy. Throw an extra pair of socks or a light fleece into your bag if you tend to get cold easily.


While we are on the topic of things airlines no longer provide...pack some snacks for your flight. To be fair, you'll probably get a small packet of nuts or pretzels with a complimentary beverage during your flight. However, it won't be enough to satisfy your hunger.

In-flight meals can be pricey and they may not have an option that sounds appetizing or works with your dietary needs. Grab something before you head out the door or in the airport terminal that you know you’ll enjoy. After all, you’re on vacation!


Yup, you are seeing a trend here. Many airlines don’t give away free headphones, so pack your own pair.


Pass the time using your phone, tablet or laptop. Just don’t forget to bring along a charger. Many planes now come equipped with electrical outlets to keep you amused ( = quiet and in your seat) all flight long.

Breath mints

You are about to enter into close proximity with other humans. Be kind and keep your breath fresh. Your aisle companions are silently thanking you.


If you snooze on the plane, you’ll probably want to tame your bed head before stepping off the plane to greet family and friends.

Expert Advice: Lots of travel packing lists include a laundry list of additional toiletries, like deodorant, sunscreen and a toothbrush and toothpaste. However, these are common, inexpensive items you can get in many states and countries if you find yourself stranded without your checked baggage. Some hotels even provide these items to their guests for free. If you have the unfortunate need to purchase toiletries in your vacation destination, think of the purchase as a cheap and unique souvenir and save yourself from lugging around items that you won't need to use on the plane.


Some people like a bag they can throw on their back, others prefer something they can roll. Whatever your preference, make sure it meets the size and weight criteria for your airline.

Expert Advice: Before you head out the door, ask yourself, “Is it light? Is it durable?” After all, your carry-on is going to be:

  • Lugged around a lot
  • Picked up / Set down
  • Lifted multiple times over your head in order to store it in overhead compartments
  • Slide under seats in front of you
  • Used as a pillow / Used as a footrest (which is kinda gross, when you think about it that way…)
  • and the list goes on and on...

Did I forget an important carry-on item? Share it in the comment section below!

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