Packing a carry on 101

Essential Items That You Must Include When Packing a Carry-On

One of the most thought-out parts of preparing for a flight is packing a carry-on. Which bag should you pick? Will it fit under the seat in front of you? Is this going to be too heavy to lug through the airport all day?

I’ve become somewhat of an expert at packing a carry-on, and rarely change my routine. When I fly, I’m fully prepared for the unexpected, and never have to purchase something last-minute at the airport (knock on wood).

I’ve certainly added many of these products through the years after personal experiences. Truthfully, I’m not sure how I traveled without them before! Here are my essential items that I include when packing a carry-on.

Selecting a Bag

Packing A Carry-On

This will probably be the most personal part of packing your carry-on, and I truthfully can’t give you an exact answer for which bag you should pick. I always opt for a backpack, but understand that many of you may prefer a briefcase or a purse. There really is no right or wrong answer here, as long as it is easy to carry, can fit under the seat in front of you, and can fit all of your belongings.

I cannot stress how important it is to pick at least 1 carry-on that can fit under the seat in front of you. If the overhead space becomes full, you will be asked to check your bag if it doesn’t fit under the seat in front of you.

Since I travel with camera equipment, my personal item is always my camera bag. I use this camera bag, because it is spacious and close to theft proof. If you travel with camera equipment, I highly recommend this backpack. I love how your camera gear is against your body, so you don’t have to worry about pick pockets while traveling.

Here Are Some Other Carry-On Bags That I Recommend:

Good, Reliable Headphones

Don’t even think about leaving for the airport without your headphones. And certainly be sure that you put them in your carry-on. Not only will you need these for any on-board entertainment, but they will be your only line of defense when the woman sitting next to you can’t stop jabbering on about the politics of her book club.

Not to mention, who wants to play charades while you’re watching a movie on a transatlantic flight? Sure, you can always buy headphones, but you have 90 pairs, so why waste your money?

I use Beats headphones, and can’t recommend anything more. They are so much more comfortable than the headphones included with your iPhone or iPad, and they block out the noise around you. No more losing sleep because a baby was crying for your entire flight!

Tune The World Out And Upgrade Your Headphones


I personally don’t leave the house for an extended period of time without my iPad. I always pre-download a few movies or a television series with my Netflix app, and binge watch for my entire flight (no wifi necessary). Also, if you’re purchasing wifi on your flight or are flying with an airline that provides it for free (Southwest), you’ll be grateful for the larger screen.

If you’re old-school, and like to read a book, I salute you. I always bring a paperback book with me if I have space in my bag, and you don’t have to worry about bringing chargers or your device dying in flight.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately:


This includes money, credit cards, valuables, passport, and anything that you don’t want getting lost in your luggage. I also always have a color copy of my passport that is laminated just in case I lose my passport while out of the country. Hopefully this one is a no-brainer for you, but you don’t want to be caught without your money or your grandmother’s necklace if your baggage gets lost or stolen. I hope that it goes without saying, but when you’re packing a carry-on, you should always include valuables of all sorts.

If you’re paranoid about your information being stolen, I recommend investing in an RFID-blocking wallet. These protect your credit cards, passports, and even your driver’s license from being stolen by skimmers. These thieves steal your information simply by scanning your cards, which is the last thing you want to happen when you’re traveling. Just remember to take the wallet out of your pocket when you go through security since it contains metal!

Here Are A Few Options for RFID Blocking:


Another no-brainer, but carry on any medications that you need or have packed. I always bring Tylenol, Advil, and Benadryl when I’m traveling in the United States. When I’m traveling abroad, the list gets longer including chewable Pepto-Bismol (only available in the United States). You’ll certainly want to include these when you’re packing a carry-on.

I also always pack my contacts and glasses with a copy of my prescription so I can get a pair of replacement glasses just in case. It may seem a little paranoid, but you do not want to be caught in a situation where you can’t see until you return home.

Water Bottle:

Many people don’t know this, but you become severely dehydrated when you fly. The air in the airplane cabin isn’t humidified, so your body loses far more water than it ordinarily does. (On a normal day, you lose one liter of water just by breathing!)

When I’m packing a carry-on, I never leave my water bottle at home. I simply go through security with it empty, and fill it up once I pass security. I love my Swell water bottle because it keeps water cold for up to 24 hours, but there are a lot of great options out there.

Lotion and Chapstick:

For the same reason as bringing a water bottle, I don’t leave home without lotion and chapstick. I try to keep my lips and skin as moisturized as possible, and plane rides tend to dry them up. I save the small travel sizes that they give away in travel kits on international flights and keep them in my bag. They take up hardly any space, so there’s no reason to leave them out when you’re packing a carry-on.

Skyroam Wifi Hotspot:

I legitimately never leave home without my Skyroam, and this is why. Skyroam provides extremely affordable, fast wifi in over 100 countries. It has changed the way that I travel. Read more about Skyroam and how you can save money on your own here.

Guide Books and Phrase Books:

Packing A Carry-On

This one is certainly personal-preference, but you won’t find me packing a carry-on for an international flight without them. Most of include maps of major cities, and their phrase books are life-saving abroad.

Hand Sanitizer:

I think that everyone tends to turn a blind eye when it comes to how utterly disgusting aircrafts are. I’ve read several accounts from flight attendants that say they aren’t cleaned at all except for picking up trash and vacuuming. That’s why I wouldn’t dare packing a carry-on without including hand sanitizer. I pick up a bunch of the small ones at Bath and Body Works, but you can get the travel sizes literally anywhere. Sometimes I’ll bring a travel size of Clorox wipes if I’m feeling extra OCD.


Depending on the length of the flight, I’ll bring a sweat shirt, a pillow, and sometimes a blanket. Flights get cold, and like I previously mentioned, they are dirty, so I try not to use the airline’s blankets. I like to fly with my Nike half zips because they’re super easy to fit when I’m packing a carry-on, but keep me nice and warm.

Check out these neck pillows and this travel blanket that rolls up small enough to fit into your carry-on!

Chargers and Converters/Adapters:

You do not want to be caught without a charger when you need it most. I always pack my chargers for everything in my carry-on. I even bring a portable charger with me at all times. There is nothing worse than your devices dying in flight or having to shell out your hard-earned money for a charger at the airport. Furthermore, you don’t want to get to an international destination without your converters and adapters! Be sure you include these when you’re packing a carry-on so you aren’t caught without a phone battery.

Camera and Lenses:

I would never in my wildest dreams be caught checking my camera and this is why. A lot of photographers check their camera equipment because it can get cumbersome, but I never want to reach my destination and not have it. My camera is easily my #1 priority to have on my person at all times because I never want to miss capturing a single moment. If you don’t travel with a camera, I highly recommend purchasing one, as it has changed the way that I travel and has given me a fun and rewarding hobby. These are my recommendations for entry-level cameras and lenses if you’re interested in getting into photography.

Those are my essentials that I wouldn’t survive a flight without! What do you include in your carry-on?

Danielle Guy

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