Have you ever searched for a list of essential carry on travel items, only to find one with weird, out of touch items or shockingly high prices?
I once read one which suggested a $300 carry on handbag and $26 under-eye mask as “essentials.” I actually raised my eyebrows incredulously. Surely those can’t be the items that people consider essential?
You’ll find no such extravagant items in this list. This is all about the basics; the things I always carry on with me, especially for a long haul flight. Traveling by plane can be a really stressful, uncomfortable experience for those of us who can’t afford to fly in those glorious first class seats (which airlines rudely always make us walk past). Over the years I’ve developed a list of items that I always keep on hand in order to make the process as painless as possible.
The Perfect Bag
The best bag for the trip can vary depending on where you’re going, how long you’re going, how long the flight is, and whether or not you have a suitcase as well. I try to travel with only carry on luggage as much as possible, because I don’t like to risk someone losing my luggage or throwing it around and breaking something.
If I’m going on a longer trip with one or two destinations, I will generally take a carry on suitcase with a large handbag that sits on top. I have a lovely set my grandma gave me for graduation that I really love.
Four wheel suitcases are a MUST.
When I studied abroad I had two suitcases with only two wheels and they were a nightmare to drag through the streets of London.
It’s also important to have a well designed bag for your personal item. Mine is great because it has lots of pockets and compartments, plus it sits on top of the suitcase and attaches to the handle. This is my ideal setup because airports often involve a lot of walking, and I hate carrying a heavy bag. I’m not a big fan of flying with duffle bags, although Joe loves them.
Whenever we go on trips with multiple destinations or when we’re flying on budget airlines, we generally just pack everything into backpacks. I have this Andoer backpack and it’s been amazing. It has a laptop sleeve and a padded compartment for my camera (it also works well for other stuff if I’m not taking my camera). Because the bottom half is taken up by that compartment, it means I can stick notebooks, toiletries, or whatever else I need in the smaller compartment on top and it’s super easy to find without having to dig through the backpack. I can’t recommend this bag enough.
Buying water bottles at the airport isn’t difficult, and they’re usually not outrageously priced – though they are definitely marked up. But if you want to save a bit of money (and a bit of plastic!) you can pack a reusable water bottle to fill up at the airport. Airports in many countries have water fountains, and in some countries bars are required to give you tap water if you ask for it. This may not be practical for every country – for example, we bought water bottles in Morocco because the tap water isn’t safe for us to drink. (You can invest in water purification systems, though we haven’t done this yet.) It’s always best to research whether it’s safe to drink the tap water before you visit anywhere.
Just make sure the water bottle is empty before you go through security or your bag will get pulled!
Makeup Remover Wipes
This may seem more of a “feminine” thing, but honestly anyone can feel sweaty or gross after a long flight (or rushing through security). I don’t usually wear makeup on long flights anyway, so I like to keep some makeup wipes on hand to keep my face feeling fresh and clean.
Wearing a scarf isn’t always practical depending on the weather, but if it’s cool enough outside to get away with it, they can really come in handy. Planes can get very cold when the air is blasting, and while overnight flights usually provide blankets, it’s always good to have something on hand. Plus I’m still not sure if those blankets are clean or not… don’t tell me though, it’s better if I don’t know.
Anti-bacterial Wipes and Hand Sanitizer
Planes and airports are GERM CENTRAL. I try not to think too much about how many sick people may have touched something, or someone who doesn’t wash their hands in the bathroom (we’ve all seen someone just walk out of a stall and leave the bathroom). It’s not good to dwell on, and I try not to go overboard, but I will sometimes wipe down the tray table or TV in my seat. And I definitely make sure to use hand sanitizer before eating.
And please for the love of God, do not use the toilets without shoes on.
Medicine and/or vitamins
We have a little first aid kit that we take with us when we travel. A few things that I usually bring with me:
-Vitamin C (I try to take this around flying to boost my immune system)
-Painkillers (Ibuprofen, paracetamol, etc)
-Throat lozenges (The air on the plane can be irritating and cause cough attacks)
-Indigestion and heartburn medicine (That plane food can be a bit iffy)
-Cold medicine (If you’re in a foreign country it can be tricky to find the right medicine, so it’s good to have some on hand)
Melatonin or anything that makes you drowsy can be useful, though I usually don’t personally take it on planes.
We don’t always have room to bring much, but it’s always better if you can bring some of your own snacks. Firstly, buying food at the airport or on the plane is expensive. Secondly, long flights do usually offer meals, but sometimes they’re really gross. It’s good to have backup snacks just in case. Lastly, if you plan in advance it’s easier to get something more nourishing, instead of just eating chips and candy.
I have read that there are benefits to fasting on flights, but truthfully I haven’t tried it yet because I like food and sometimes it’s the best way to cure boredom when you’ve been sitting on a place for 5 hours.
Magazine or Book
I always like to have at least one physical magazine or book to read on long trips. It’s good to have the option if you’re running low on battery or don’t have signal. Plus, on long flights my eyes will start hurting if I spend too long watching movies or looking at my phone. Spending a few hours in the air is a great way to get a digital detox and stop looking at a screen for a bit!
Lotion, Chapstick, and Face Spray
One of the things I hate the most about flights is how much it dries out my skin! The air on planes is terrible and before long my knuckles are cracking and my lips are chapped, so I always keep lotion and chapstick on hand. Face sprays are really refreshing as well and help when it’s been too many hours and all I can think about is getting off the plane.
It’s always useful to have tissues on hand, especially because sometimes while traveling you find yourself in a bathroom with no toilet paper.
Headphones and Ear Plugs
These are often provided but they’re not great quality. Over the ear headphones are great for canceling out the noise of the plane. I usually take my Beats headphones, as well as my regular Apple ones, because sometimes the over the ear ones start to hurt. They’re also not great if you want to have music or noise playing while you try to sleep.
I usually like to have ear plugs as well in case I just need some peace and quiet.
Long haul flights often have some kind of outlet or USB charging port, but sometimes they don’t work, and shorter flights rarely have them. Joe and I always take our portable charger, which has two USB ports and holds 8 charges. It’s not the smallest, but the fact that we can use it for so long without charging it makes it well worth the space it takes up.
Chargers and adapters
The portable charger is great when you’re on the go, but sometimes you have a long layover and end up spending hours in the airport. I might need to charge my laptop or iPad while I’m there, so I make sure to have all the chargers easily accessible. It’s also great to have an international adapter, that way you can stay charged no matter what country you’re in!
Neck Pillow and Sleep Mask
Again, overnight flights often provide a pillow and a sleep mask, but they’re not always great quality. I have a sleep mask which is cute, soft, and has a little bag to keep it clean. Travel pillows can be slightly annoying to deal with, and it’s difficult to keep them off of questionable surfaces, but they can definitely come in handy if you really need to be able to sleep on a flight.
One of the things that can get me flustered in the airport is trying to keep up with my passport, residence permit, boarding pass and phone. Plus I need a good place to keep a pen, money/credit card, and keys to my luggage locks. This travel wallet that I received for Christmas is perfect for all of it.
Sometimes if I’m traveling with a backpack that makes it harder to get the wallet in and out, I’ll take a tiny purse or fanny pack (hey, they’re really useful) so that I can get what I need quickly.
This is a small thing, but many times when you travel to a new country you have to fill out a landing card. They usually have some extras on the plane, but you’ll have to ask the attendant, they’ll have to track one down, you have to flag them down to give it back… it’s honestly too much hassle. Keep one on you for anything you might have to fill out.
I’m a big fan of keeping a travel journal as well, so add in a notebook and you can write about all your adventures.
A couple things that I personally find helpful:
Stress Away Essential Oil Roller
I’m a lot more chill in airports than I used to be, but get me in Heathrow and I can start to get a bit flustered. I love using essential oil rollers because it helps me feel more grounded. I can’t definitely say that the oils always make my stress disappear, but even just the act of stopping to roll it on helps me acknowledge that I’m stressed and that I want to let go of it. Plus they smell nice.
I’m one of those people whose feet swell horribly on long flights. (TMI? Just wait til it happens to you and you’ll be glad for the advice.) When we went to Australia earlier this year we had a 7 hour flight followed by a 13 hour flight, and it was painful. We purchased compression socks beforehand, and while it didn’t stop the swelling entirely, it definitely helped. I also suffer from restless leg syndrome, and I noticed a significant improvement when wearing the socks.
Are you planning a trip abroad?
Use our international travel checklist to make sure you’ve taken care of everything before you go!