What to Pack in a Carry-on for Your Next Flight

It doesn’t matter if you are an experienced backpacker and travel just with your carry-on or you prefer checking in a rolling suitcase prior to your flight. Because there is always the risk of the airline losing your checked luggage, it’s always best to prepare for a trip as if your cabin bag would have to store all of your essentials.

This makes the question of what to pack in your carry-on especially poignant and perhaps that much more stressful.

With this in mind, we have compiled a detailed guide to help you with your decision about what may be essential cabin luggage. Sorting out the necessities from the luxuries will help you pack your carry-on for your next trip less stressfully.

At the end of this article you can find a detailed carry-on packing list, which you can use as a reference point to make sure you have all of the basics covered.

While you may not be able to fit all of the following personal items in your carry-on, feel free to use these suggestions and to adapt them to your personal needs. For example, you would likely not need an eye mask in your carry-on luggage on a short daytime flight.

Finally, before we go into any specific suggestions about what you should bring in your carry-on, make sure you have checked your airline’s website for their cabin luggage weight and size restrictions. This would ultimately determine how many carry-on items you can bring. Bring along anything that you feel is necessary and leave the rest at home or in your checked bag.

Travel documents

This one is fairly obvious. Your passport, ID and credit cards and your boarding passes are your most important belongings when traveling. This is why they need to be handy but also secure.

In the EU, you can travel freely with just your ID card. However, we would still not recommend packing your passport in your checked luggage as many air travelers have had to deal with lost luggage at least once. The complications of losing your passport are simply too burdensome to risk putting your travel papers into your checked suitcase.

This is why it would be best to pack all of your valuables either in your carry-on bag or to keep them in a safe pocket of your jacket.

We would also recommend that you bring a color photocopy of your ID card or passport with you. If something goes very wrong, you could use this duplicate to purchase plane tickets, to check-in a hotel and even to verify your identity in case of an emergency.

An empty water bottle

There are two coincident and conflicting problems you may face when flying:

  1. You are often dehydrated and feel thirsty during a flight BUT
  2. You are not allowed to take liquids and gels of over 100 ml through security.

A one-liter (about quart sized) reusable water bottle could help you hit the sweet spot between these two concomitant problems.

Most departure terminals in Europe and the US have taps where you can fill your water bottle after you go through the security check. If you are concerned about the quality of the water, make sure you choose a bottle with a built-in filter.

You could go the extra mile by packing a collapsible water bottle. It would allow you to save up space when it’s empty and in your backpack. Once you are allowed to fill it up after security, you don’t have to bother about fitting it back into your cabin bag; you can just carry it around in your hand.

Unless you are on a particularly long flight, this supply should keep you hydrated. In addition, carrying water with you to the plane has the additional benefit of allowing you to take any medications during the flight, if necessary. Naturally, you would also have to pack your meds in your carry-on.

Finally, if your flight is delayed or cancelled and you are forced to spend more time at the airport than you have anticipated, bringing your personal water bottle will help you stay hydrated during your wait.

 

(At least) One change of clothes

As a precaution (and depending on the duration of your trip) pack at least one fresh change of clothes.

This piece of carry-on packing advice is also with an eye on the potential for having your checked bag lost. If you don’t prepare beforehand and your luggage is significantly delayed or lost you would either have to face up with one of two problems. You can either spend a lot of money in replacing the lost articles of clothing or risk having your trip ruined because you have to wear the same clothes repeatedly.


Therefore, recommend packing in your carry-on at least the very basics:

  • 2 changes of socks and underwear
  • A pair of shirts/t-shirts
  • That one t-shirt/jumper/pair of jeans that you love and don’t want to risk packing in your checked luggage

 

Unfortunately, it may be difficult to follow this advice in the winter when you would have to pack bulkier clothes like sweaters. To address this, you could opt for thermal sweaters which typically take less space rather than cumbersome jumpers. This will allow you to stay packed as light as possible.

But if you are not on a business trip for example and travel with your carry-on only, and you don’t need to carry a laptop or other bulkier electronics (and their chargers), you could significantly increase the real estate available for clothes. In this case, you may be able to fit the following into your carry-on:

  • 3-4 changes of socks and underwear
  • 3-4 t-shirts
  • That t-shirt/jumper/pair of jeans that you could wear with anything and means the world to you
  • A raincoat (depending on the weather forecast for your final destination)


Only the most essential toiletries

For security reasons, you are only allowed to bring toiletries in bottles no bigger than 100 ml. In addition, all of your small bottles should fit inside a plastic bag no bigger than 1 liter. It’s important to remember this rule as any liquid containers larger than this would likely be thrown away by the airport security personnel.

A concise list of just the basics would include:

  • Shampoo
  • Shower gel
  • Toothbrush
  • Shaving gel
  • Any essential make-up
  • Wet wipes
  • Hand sanitizer

Most toiletries are essential, of course. But there are a few ways in which you could make things simpler for yourself.

Buy travel-sized bottles
In most pharmacies and even supermarkets today you can find hand sanitizer, shampoo, shower and shaving gel and other toiletries in bottles of up to 100 ml, which you can take in your carry-on bag. You can also buy empty bottles and fill them up with the shower gel or shampoo that you use at home (which would mean less single-use plastic).

Don’t pack them at all
Especially if you are traveling to a relatively cheaper country you can buy (preferably travel-sized bottles), it might be more convenient to purchase any liquid toiletries upon arrival. This way, you will spend less money and save up space in your carry-on bag.


Getting sleep on the plane

Despite the enthusiasm to go and explore the new destination where we have just arrived, we often feel tired after flights. This is why it can very important to get some sleep on the flight. It allows to enjoy and make the most of our first day or two of our trips.

Even though some airlines offer a few of the key items, required for a restful sleep, it’s always best to be prepared and to pack a few of them in your carry-on, especially on longer flights.

A comfy inflatable pillow could go a long way to providing the best head support you can achieve on a flight. They are tiny before inflation and don’t require much of a sacrifice in terms of space in your carry-on. Meanwhile, they are usually much more comfortable than what an airline would offer you (especially if you are traveling in economy class).

Make sure you bring an eye mask too. It’s often a good idea to invest in a good eye mask, one that will block out all of the light without causing you any discomfort. You don’t want your eye mask to create more problems than it solves.

Make sure you wear snug clothing. A comfortable, almost over-sized, sweater could well substitute for a blanket and a pair of comfy socks could go a long way to help you relax.

Finally, a pair of earplugs can often help if you are flying with a particularly noisy crowd or if you don’t want to fall asleep with your headphones or earphones on.


Carry-on Packing List

 

  1. The Bare Essentials:
    1. Wallet/ Purse with your money and/or credit cards
    2. Passport and/or ID card (and at least one photocopy)
    3. Boarding passes for your entire trip
    4. Travel insurance
    5. Medications
    6. A (preferably collapsible) reusable water bottle
  2. Electronics:
    1. Laptop and laptop charger
    2. Phone charger
    3. eBook
    4. Headphones/earphones
  3. Toiletries (every individual item should be below 100 ml and they should all fit inside a 1-liter plastic bag):
    1. Shampoo
    2. Shower gel
    3. Toothbrush
    4. Shaving gel
    5. Any essential make-up
    6. Wet wipes
    7. Hand sanitizer
  4. Clothes:
    1. 2 changes of socks and underwear
    2. A pair of shirts/t-shirts
    3. That one t-shirt/jumper/pair of jeans that you love and don’t want to risk packing in your checked luggage
  5. Sleep-related
    1. Earplugs
    2. Eye mask
    3. An inflatable pillow
    4. A comfortable sweater