What we pack in our carry-on luggage to help us during our journey can have a huge impact on your whole trip. Here are the essentials. There are no affiliate links in this post. Brand names are bolded, recommended because I personally use them. I’m a woman, and these are skewed toward those who identify as female. I’d very much appreciate any other perspectives/ideas for how to make everyone’s trip more comfortable. Let me know in the comments!

Carry-on essentials make perfect stocking stuffers

For this one brief but shining moment, I am going to ignore the grim news about a new wave and an ominous variant with an equally ominous sounding name, and I’m going to focus on travel, specifically carry-on essentials that make our journeys more comfortable.

As a lot of these make perfect stocking stuffers for the traveler in your life (or, you know, maybe you), this seemed like a good time to post. Don’t forget to check out other Tips and Tricks for Travel!

Long-distance travel takes a toll on us, and what we bring with us can make or break a trip. These carry-on essentials can help make your journey a pleasant one, or at least less arduous. 

Updated with a free download below to help you organize your packing! Be sure to also check out part two of this series, How to Pack Your Carry-On Essentials

Customize these carry-on essentials to match the trip

For the purposes of this post, we will assume that we’re packing for an international flight with layovers that goes through US security. Obviously, you can tailor this as required, but it also works for long train trips (though you don’t need to separate out your liquids).

This is not an exhaustive list including everything you need for your trip. Instead it covers what you need to make your time in transit more comfortable.

In part 2, coming next week, we will talk about how to pack your essentials to make your trip organized and comfortable while you’re in transit.

Carry-on essentials

Basic Travel documents

  • Identification—Passport, driver’s license, etc.
  • Proof of vaccination
  • Any physical tickets
  • Your itinerary printed out, even if you have it online. Sometimes you do need to be able to present proof. I watched someone get grilled on the Chile/Argentina border, because he didn’t have proof that he had an exit ticket, and we were on top of a mountain without any cell service. He got through, but I was very happy to just have a printout to show the agent
  • Emergency contact information


  • If you don’t want to lose it, pack it in your carry-on luggage, preferably your personal item that you keep with you at all times


  • Hand sanitizer—Because duh
  • Dry shampoo—Don’t show up at your destination with sad, greasy hair. A quick spray and brush through will have you looking refreshed. I use the original, and, in my view best, Batiste
  • Facial water mist—Yes, it’s just spray water. Yes, it’s expensive. And, YES, you will thank me when you mist your tired face after a long-haul flight and instantly feel better. I have a full size of this at home, too. I use Avene
  • Eye drops—I recommend Rohto, because they just work, but don’t use these if you’re wearing contacts (why are you wearing contacts on a flight?)
  • Toothpaste (you might consider one of those disposable toothbrushes with toothpaste if your destination has iffy water)
  • Shampoo and Conditioner if you aren’t checking a bag
  • Stain remover pen—Let’s face it, travel can be messy. Don’t let it ruin your flight
  • Wrinkle spray—You aren’t going to have an iron en route, and a quick spritz can freshen up your clothes and get them presentable
  • Facial moisturizer with sunscreen (a tinted can do double duty) for your face
  • Hand lotion—This can be greasy, but I swear by Lucas’s Pawpaw Ointment. It can double as a lip balm. Use sparingly
  • Any liquid makeup
  • Contact lenses, etc.
  • Any liquid or aerosol medicines (I have an inhaler)
  • Neosporin or other antiseptic ointment/spray—You never know

In-flight comfort

  • Disinfecting surface wipes—Duh. Make sure these look different from your face ones, as you don’t want to have an incident!
  • Snacks—Don’t be sorry ,and don’t fork over your life savings for a granola bar at the airport convenience store (unless that’s your little travel ritual, in which case, have at it). Having a few small individually wrapped snacks can mean the difference between a pleasant flight and crankybritches
    • CAUTION: Double check that your snack won’t get you into trouble at your destination if you don’t eat it. Some countries have strict protocols around nuts and seeds, and fruit is not a good idea
  • Water bottle—many airports now have a place where you can fill your water bottle without having to use plastic bottles
  • Gum—pulls double duty as a way to unblock your ears and freshen your breath. Maybe offer some to the seatmate who feasted on sour cream and onion chips
  • Headphones that can work with the in-flight entertainment system or work without Bluetooth with your own system. A colleague tells a story about treating her seatmates to some rather aggressive music with her wireless headphones
  • Light sweater/pashmina—Flights can be cold
  • Book/magazine
  • Laptop/tablet, with downloaded entertainment. Don’t underestimate your need to chill out or count on in-flight systems working
  • Charger, one that has both a USB and plug to be able to access whatever’s available
  • Spare battery—always important. Anker makes excellent ones
  • Wipes for you face and body—If you have a long flight, you are going to be grateful for a chance to get at least a little bit clean, and they come in handy while zipping here and there, too. Make sure that these are distinct enough from your disinfecting surface wipes that you don’t have an ouchie!
  • Comfy socks
  • Eye mask—I don’t sleep on flights, but these still help with rest
  • Travel pillow—Consider this. I don’t use one, but it could make a difference for you. I’d go with an inflatable one to reduce bulk
  • Any sanitary supplies—Consider including panty liners

First aid

  • Band-aids, including blister aid
  • Additional first aid kit as required for destination
  • Antihistamine
  • Any medication


  • Toothbrush (consider a disposable one for the flight if the water situation is iffy), floss
  • Deodorant (stick)
  • Change of underwear—Trust me
  • Wrinkle-free top—Nothing like a fresh top to make you look/feel a bit more human
  • Destination appropriate attire if significantly different from where you left
  • Small hairbrush
  • Comb
  • Hair ties, if necessary
  • Makeup
  • Umbrella


  • A bag of bags: A gallon-sized freezer bag containing an assortment of freezer bags. These come in handy and don’t take up much room
  • Extra masks in a bag

A free gift for you!

Carry On
Carry On Packing List (2 pages) free for you as a Wonder & Sundry subscriber!. Click on the image to access the download.

Your suggestions!

What you bring on your flight can have an impact on your entire trip. Make sure that you have what you need to travel in comfort (and reasonable style). 

What did I miss? Any hot tips? Let me know in the comments!