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 my essentials. What are yours? This post may contain affiliate links, meaning that I get a commission if you take advantage of the offer (thank you!).

Carry-on essentials 

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).

Focus on comfort

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. For how to pack your essentials, check out the post below!

Carry-on Essentials

Carry-on essentials

Basic Travel documents

  • Identification—Passport, driver’s license, etc.
  • Proof of vaccination if your destination requires it (still a good idea to have at least a photo, as things can still change)
  • Any physical tickets
  • Your itinerary printed out, even if you have it in your app. 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 remover 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. Supergoop’s Glow Screen even adds sunscreen
  • Hand lotion—This can be greasy, but I swear by Lucas’s Pawpaw Ointment. It can double as a lip balm, and I use it on my face, too. Use sparingly, as it can be greasy
  • 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. Something like this wrap would be perfect
  • 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!
  • Compression socks: These aren’t pretty, but wear them once, and you won’t fly without them.
  • 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 disposables 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 (yes, I still think it’s a good idea to pack these, especially during busy travel months)

Shop for carry-on essentials!

Here’s the items listed in this post. These are affiliate links, meaning that I get a commission for qualifying purchases (thank you!). 

Luggage & accessories

Looking for a sustainable alternative to the plastic baggie for your liquids when going through security? Use this one from Stasher. Note that it is not as flexible as a regular plastic bag, and it might not fit as much.

This might not pack to nothing, and it’s heavier than you would expect for a “travel umbrella.” However, rain tends to come with wind, and those flimsy little things do not stand up to it. This one does. I use it at home, too.

Use these to keep track of your belongings with these easy-to-use trackers. To track, you will need the Tile app, which has a modest subscription fee, and you can cancel when your trip is done.

Tip: Don’t just use them with checked luggage, but also stash one in your bag when you’re out and about for peace of mind.

If you aren’t using packing cubes yet, consider this your sign from the universe. These reasonably priced and durable cubes keep you organized and make packing a breeze (I don’t know what happens when you pack stuff in cubes to make it smaller, but this is magic I support. This set also comes with a little laundry bag that I find useful on long trips. This comes in different colors.

I can’t tell you how many people recommended Osprey backpacks to me, and now I’m recommending one to you. This backpack works as a carry-on and holds SO much!

It has so many intelligent features, including straps that stash away for stowing in the overhead bin, and the padded shoulder straps and chest strap make it comfortable to carry around. I used my backpack for my three-month trip in the Balkans, and I will now never travel without it. This is very close to a now-discontinued model I have.

NOTE that this includes a daypack, which needs to be removed in order to be used as a carry-on item.


Is this a bit of a brick? Yeah. Will you be SO grateful that you have it when you need it? YEAH! This is a new model than the one that I have.

I don’t think of this as old-fashioned. I think of this as being cheap. If I’m going to lose headphones on a plane, they are going to cost less than $10. These are surprisingly comfortable and good quality, and I use them almost exclusively for in-flight movies.

Personal care

An indelicate subject, perhaps, but a necessary one, especially on travel days. These individually-wrapped wipes help to keep things fresh and clean. When you need them, you’ll be glad you have them.

TIP: They say they’re flushable. Generally, flushing wipes is a bad idea.

Keep your hands clean, even when a sink isn’t handy with these individual hand-sanitizing wipes. The alcohol formula makes these handy for quick clean-ups as well, though, because they are alcohol based, I would not use them on fabric.

A comfortable eye mask will help you get some sleep on a long flight and can come in handy while you’re at your destination, especially in summer.

This is my go-to mascara, and I only ever buy it in the travel size. It will last you just about as long as a mascara should last.

Trust me. When You spritz yourself after a long flight and instantly feel revived, you are going to thank yourself for making what seemed like a ridiculous purchase. It is indeed just water, and, like water, it is a miracle. I use the full size at home as well.

Trust me. When You spritz yourself after a long flight and instantly feel revived, you are going to thank yourself for making what seemed like a ridiculous purchase. It is indeed just water, and, like water, it is a miracle. I use the full size at home as well.


Not going to lie. There’s nothing glamorous about compression socks, but you’ll feel a lot better for having worn them on a long flight. These do the job, and you just might find yourself wearing them for long walks, too, because they feel amazing.They come in tons of different (if sometimes unfortunate) color/pattern choices.

Lightweight and packs like a dream, this wrap will keep you warm after the sun goes down and will keep you cozy on a long flight. Toss it in your bag for when the sun goes down. This is like one that I have.

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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! 

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