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What to Pack in Your Carry on​: 15 Carry On Essentials

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Not sure what to pack in your carry on? Yeah, I get it. Sometimes separating the carry on essentials from the non-carry on essentials can be INSANELY tricky.

But before you even cross that pothole-ridden road:

You’ve got to pick out the best carry on bag to hold all your long haul flight essentials.


I love the Bebamour College Backpack! Not only is it sleek and stylish, but it’s totally functional with a wide mouth opening so you can actually see everything in your carry-on bag (no impromptu scavenger hunts as you tear through you’re carry-on bag trying to find something).


Not only is it big enough to fit all of my electronics (camera, phone, laptop, tablet), without making me look like a Sherpa from Nepal, but it has two handles at the top so I can carry it as a tote. It’s also comfortable to carry when full, even if it fits a bit snugly underneath the seat in front of you during a flight.

Only downside?

Apparently it’s a diaper bag. LoL. So I just took out the changing pad and put my USB cords in the front pocket. There’s also a large laptop pocket and a deep zippered pocket that is perfect for valuables.

The water bottle holder is also pretty small and not all that functional but hey, nothing’s perfect.

Am I right?

But even if you’re not a fan of this carry on bag, just take some time and MAKE sure that you choose the right bag for you!

I mean:

You’ll be carrying this bag during your entire trip, and it will hold some of the most valuable things you own, like your wallet, passport, cell phone, etc.


Take some time to pick out the perfect carry on for you.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure for more information. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases. 

Now onwards, to this list of 15 carry on essentials!

If I’m being honest:

Some of the items on this carry on packing list are kind of obvious and will probably leave you thinking, “Well duh Kelly, how BASIC can you be?”


I put down the no-brainer, carry on essentials here because this list wouldn’t exactly be “slightly perfect” if I didn’t detail all the that items I never travel without.


There should be some surprises here too that will make your long haul flight easier, slightly more comfortable, and maybe even a little fun, as long as you don;t get seated next to that crying baby.

So without further adieu, let’s, for once and for all, figure out what to pack in your carry on!

1. Passport 

This passport holder and travel document holder is a total lifesaver. Not only does it look like an adorable clutch, but it only costs $20 and has RFID blocking capabilities and comes in a ton of different colors.


You won’t be getting very far without packing your carry on with this bad boy.

So while yes:

Packing your passport is rather obvious (don’t forget to check your passport expiry date too), this carry on necessity is just here as a reminder to always have your passport with you and in a safe place.

Wanna be a total travel baller?

Then carry a photocopy of your passport too so that if the unthinkable happens, and you lose it, you still have all your essential info handy and procure another one from your local embassy (even better, save a scanned copy in your email so that you can print it out if you lose all your belongings).

2. Reading Material/Travel Journal/Pens/Pencils 

The worst is when you get on a long haul flight and all the movies suck (Thank God for Netflix downloads. Definitely make downloading movies part of your pre-trip prep routine), or you’ve seen them all and don’t want to endure, I mean watch, them again.

To ensure that you literally don’t become bored to tears as you watch the couple next to you suck face the whole flight, bring a book or download something onto your e-reader.

You could also go rogue and pack one of the best journals out there. This way you can write down your thoughts or some essential trip planning info.


Yeah, I’m that chick researching at the last moment because I’m a procrastination queen and am always packing my carry on at the very last minute (pens are also helpful when filling out customs forms or for writing in general).

3. Neck Pillow/Eye Mask/Ear Plugs

I’m not into eye masks or ear plugs.


They make me feel like I’m in some weird coffin-like cacoon and induce a mild case of claustrophobia.


I am all about a neck pillow. And my pillow of choice is the inflatable daydreamer neck pillow.

Gone are the days where you’re forced to schlepp around a big, bulky, neck pillow that takes up ton of room in your carry on.


Purchase this little neck pillow of awesome and inflate it when you need it, and deflate it when you don’t, giving you plenty of room in your carry on for important things, like snacks.


It’s got this velvety soft exterior, built in neck support, and an air pump for inflation (it’s in the pillow).


This little sleep-inducing marvel will help you get the rest you need while taking up a minimal amount of space in your carry on.

4. Water Bottle /Drinks 

Gotta stay hydrated, especially at 50,000 feet where the air is Sahara level dry.


Please don’t hate me but I’m not that healthy and drink copious amounts of Diet Coke.

(quietly hides in the corner and cowers in shame)

No for real. I am a total Diet Coke monger. I know it’s bad but I just love it and find water to be about as dull as dish water.


The premise is the same, whether your drink is diet coke or water.

Drink a ton so that you don’t feel like you have the worst hangover of your life.

That and if you have your own drinks:

You won’t have to pay extra or constantly nag flight attendants for extra drinks as they make that long, arduous journey down the aisle with that unforgiving cart that squishes feet and makes my ever hungry stomach groan with hunger.


When packing a water bottle, I always bring a collapsible, reusable water bottle since they save you money, keep you hydrated, eliminate unnecessary plastic waster (three cheers for saving the planet), and can be deflated/rolled up to save space when you’re not using it.

It also makes me feel like some sort of baller, minimalist packing champ. Like the Bear Grylls of minimalist packing.So purchase a collapsible water bottle for the win!

***Worried about getting sick? Put a little Neosporin underneath your nostrils and it will kill germs before they fly up your nose and make you sick. Also, remember your perscription meds when packing your carry on!!***

5. Wallet

Pretty obvious, I know.

However, you gotta make sure you have enough dollar dollar bills y’all to buy all that water in the airport, or in my case, a CASE of Diet Coke (these lame puns crack me up, like a nut).

So consider this a friendly reminder to make sure that you have your wallet packed in your carry on BEFORE you head to the airport.

And if you’re in the market for a solid wallet/clutch that is fashionable, has RIFD blocking capabilities, and that can hold your phone, passport, money, etc, then you may want to check out the Itslife women’s clutch and wallet.

Not only does it come in like 10 billion colors (Or 37.You decide which is more accurate):

But it is a good sized wallet, made with high-quality material, that has 6 slots on one side, 12 slots on the other, and a space for your photo ID.

The coin purse is also large and there is even an awesome cell phone pocket that is perfect for an iPhone 6 plus.

My only tiny complaint?

When you use all of the pockets and the slots in the wallet/clutch, it can be difficult to close so just keep that in mind.

6. SNACKS!!!

Actual footage of me twirling because of my love for food.

I LOVE food!! Food, glorious food!

It makes me so happy as it swirls through my tummy and makes me fat.

Sadly though:

Most airplane food does not make me happy since it tastes like tar. 

That or you end up waiting half the flight for a bag of peanuts that turns out to be $19.95, plus tax.

It’s price gouging I tell ya!

To avoid paying too much or participating in an impromptu episode of the Hunger Games,  bring some protein bars or whatever snack you absolutely adore.

For me:

My go to is a pack of protein bars because they’re yummy, mildly healthy, and keep me from feeling ravenous since I’m always a hungry beast, no matter how much I eat


I consider myself somewhat of a protein bar connoisseur and Oh Snap (think of this as a healthy Rice Krispie treat)/Grenade Carb Killa protein bars are my all time faves.


They taste just like candy bars, so you may have to actively stop yourself from eating too much.

7. Sleeping Pills

No, I’m not suggesting that you become some sort of Ambien riddled, drug seeking zombie.

But let’s be real:

Sometimes, sleeping on a plane can be really tough! Especially when you’re seated next door to a screaming baby for seven hours.


Leaves you sleep deprived and feeling like you may never want to see (or hear), let alone have, another child again.

Added suckage?

When you’re sitting there, wide awake, while everyone else is drifting off to la la land (Ryan Gosling, take me with you!).

So, to help you feel SLIGHTLY more well-rested:

Forget the habit-forming, addictive medication and try the vitamin, Melatonin instead!

Now, I know everyone is different:

So this vitamin may not work for you, but I LOVE Melatonin. It seriously helps this insomnia suffering fool get the Z’s she needs.


It’s extremely safe since it’s a vitamin that is already naturally occurring in your body.

It also doesn’t leave me feeling like I’m in some sort of sleep induced haze when I wake up.

But just a word of caution.

If you’ve never taken this vitamin before then get the lowest dose possible because it’s pretty potent.

And you definitely don’t want to accidentally sleep your way onto a return flight (kidding but if it could happen to anyone, it’d be me).

8. Sweatshirt/Extra Set of Clothes 

This is without a doubt, a carry on essential!!!

Not only can airplanes be sub-Arctic level freezing, but those thin ass blankets aren’t washed between flights (gross) and don’t keep you warm anyway (they just delay the onset of hypothermia).


Do yourself an epic favor and pack a sweatshirt for the flight, even if you’re visiting a tropical paradise.

While you’re at it:

Pack an extra pair of clothes (and socks so your feet don’t get cold) just in case the airline lose your luggage or you get bumped off your flight and stranded, with nothing to change into.


If you do forget to pack an extra set of clothes in your carry on, you can always use this as a good excuse to go on a Pretty Woman style shopping spree, minus the whole prostitution thing of course.

9. Cell Phone/iPad/Kindle and Headphones

I dunno, I just really like having my own headphones since they’re better quality and somehow, feel cleaner.

That’s why I splurge and get some of the best noise canceling headphones out there.

Seriously some of the best money I’ve ever spent.

I just plug these noise producing ear muffs into my cell phone (Or iPad or Kindle or whatever electronic device you use. Also, don’t forget to pack some awesome incredible travel books too!) and blissfully drown out all the ambient noise around me.


They’re super helpful if you’re a die-hard, trvel introvert, like me, and want to avoid any kind of human interaction.

Also extremely handy when you’re sitting next to someone super chatty and just want a mildly polite way of shutting them up, without using your middle finger (AKA the universal sign for don’t talk to me. The headphones, not the middle finger).

10. Cell Phone Charger/Battery Pack/Universal Voltage Converter 

If you’re gonna get a power bank, why not make it cute AF?

I love those portable, cell phone power banks because it’s so nice to pull them out and recharge your cellphone whenever you need to.

I mean:

I’m so dependent on my cellphone that I get anxiety when the battery runs below 50%.

Sad but true.

So, to retain some semblance of my sanity, I always carry a portable battery and charge it fully before I even leave my house.

This way:

I don’t have to troll for a wall outlet in the airport, like Golam looking for his precious, or rely on sometimes faulty airplane outlets.

***When considering what to pack in your carry on, I would also bring a wall charger as well as a currency converter so that you can charge your phone (or any electronic device really) in any and all outlets both away and at home.***

11. Sunglasses/Glasses and Contacts Case and Contact Lens Solution 

I always have a pair of contacts in my carry on because I hate wearing my glasses and being mistaken for a librarian.

But sadly:

I also have to pack a pair of glasses too, just in case my eyes get dry and yucky and start non-verbally screaming, “My retinas! They burn!”

Nothing worse than contacts that hurt your eyes. Bleh.

But even if you don’t wear glasses, having a pair of sunglasses that can protect your eyes from the harshness of the sun is a must!

And these sunglasses? Not only are they adorable but they’re POLARIZED and give you added UV protection!


They’re cheap (under $20 and come in a ton of colors), so if you’re constantly losing your sunglasses, like this chick right here, you can easily afford another pair.


They even make a WEIRDO like me look slightly cooler than I actually am.

12. Important Travel Documents

As a slightly crazy, anxiety addled fool:

I always have hard copies of important travel documents with me at all times.

You know:

Just in case a hotel or major attraction only accept hard copies of a particular document.

To keep them organized:

I store all my documents together, in a clear folder, so that I don’t have to frantically rummage through my carry on to procure my hotel address after a long flight.


I store copies in my email inbox, just in case something happens to my bag.

I mean:

I have terrible luck in general and never know when my phone will just spontaneously combusts or something.

13. Toothbrush, Floss, Toothpaste, Face Wash, Brush, Deodorant, and Tampons (or whatever
feminine hygiene products you use)

I always carry pint-sized, personal hygiene products with me, wherever I go, so that I don’t feel funky and gross when I step off the plane (especially after a long overnight flight).

Cuz ain’t nobody got time for bad breath.

Plus, it’s not like you can take a shower on the plane. So these items are just there to help you feel extra fresh and rejuvenated when you get off the plane.

14. Locks

I use TSA approved locks just in case the airport po po need to hack into my bag.


Any kind of lock will do, as long as you can attach it to the zippers of your carry on.

I just find locks extra reassuring since I know my belongings are safe from bad boys, bad boys, what ya gonna do… Sorry, I had a moment.

Okay, I’ll stop.

Back to my locks, which are combination locks that are strong, easy to use and easy to get on and off.

However, you can go with whatever works for you.

I just know myself and know that if I had a lock with a key, I’d lose the key in about 2.5 seconds and destroy and semblence of my not-so-brilliant plan.

15. International Sim Card  ( I switched to T-Mobile so this is not an issue anymore for me)

I actually semi-recently switched my phone carrier to T-Mobile, since they offer unlimited data usage in Europe.

That’s why:

An international sim card isn’t THAT essential to me anymore, especially since I can make calls too.


If your phone carrier doesn’t offer international service (or if it’s super expensive), definitely replace your sim card with an international one (Hold on to your original sim card because you’ll need it when you get back home. If you lose it, you’ll have to buy a new one and register it with your cell phone carrier after your trip).

For under $30, you can get a 30-day sim card with 12 GB of data, 3000 texts, and 3000 minutes.

So say hello to international wifi and goodbye to $800 cell phones bills from data overage fees.

Just do yourself a favor and buy a sim card from a person, or online.

I bought mine from a vending machine because I hate human interaction, and the machine ate my sim card.


Learn from my mistakes and don’t do that!


Don’t forget your travel insurance too!


So there you have it, a mildly perfect carryon packing list.

But let’s be real, even if you feel like this list is way less, it’s cool because you now have a really good excuse to go on Amazon and buy some “essential travel items” for your trip.

And if anyone questions you about it, just blame me and i’ll back you up.

So stay classy my friend and travel better with your hopefully, new favorite packing list.


*** HELP ME, I’M POOR! Please note this Disclaimer: On my blog, I sometimes use affiliate links. I will always tell you and these links are only for items that I use and approve of. If you click an affiliate link and purchase that product or service, I will be paid a small commission but your cost will still; remain the same or less. I will always disclose this at the bottom of the post. This money goes towards keeping this site online. Note: We are a participant in an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to affiliated sites. If you found this website helpful, please support it!

Jacquie Grosz

Thursday 11th of April 2019

I just ordered the collapsible water bottles! Thanks as I've been searching high and low for them for Italy and the free drinking water. Appreciate the info.


Friday 12th of April 2019

Oh I hope you like it as much as I like mine! It has been so helpful for me!

Rob Taylor

Wednesday 30th of August 2017

I'm so glad you pack a guide book. I do that too and totally have to reference it randomly, and if nothing else, it's great motivation and build up to visiting a new place.

Becky Angell

Thursday 16th of February 2017

Awesome thanks Kelly, I think I am pretty good at packing hand luggage although I wish I had a change of clothes in my bag instead of gifts for my family when I got stranded in the snow in Istanbul for 2 days ????????????

Kelly Ann Duhigg

Thursday 16th of February 2017

Oh god. That sounds dreadful for sure. I hate when that happens and you are basically stranded with only the clothes on your back. No FUN!

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