Having a comfortable flight and a great trip begins with thorough planning, and that includes what you’re going to pack in your luggage as well! No matter if you’re going on a short-distance flight or a long haul, having a carry-on with your most important items on board is crucial.
Here’s a complete list of the best carry-on essentials that you should never travel without!
*Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link.*
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Best Carry-On Essentials You Should Never Travel Without
1. Travel pillow
I don’t know about you but I almost always fall asleep on a plane. Yes, even if I’m sitting on a short distance flight! After waking up countless times with neck pain I learned the hard way that a travel pillow is one of the most important carry-on essentials.
Even if I’m not sleeping, watching a movie or reading a book is so much more comfortable while having a travel pillow around my neck.
Although memory foam travel pillows are undoubtedly the most comfortable options, unfortunately, they can take up a big space and it’s not always easy to fit them into an already full suitcase.
That’s where inflatable travel pillows come in handy! Even when I don’t have any extra space in my carry-on, I can easily fit an inflatable pillow basically anywhere, even in my purse. This was a life-changer for me!
2. Sleeping mask
As I mentioned before I can easily fall asleep on planes but if you’re more sensitive to light then having a great quality sleeping mask could be a game-changer for you.
Although you usually get a complimentary eye mask on long-haul flights, those are not so great in quality and can be quite uncomfortable to wear for a long time.
It’s important to choose a sleeping mask that blocks out all the light and puts no pressure on your eyes. This silk eye mask can be a good choice!
Have you ever been on a flight where you were sitting right next to a baby who was crying full-time? Or when you couldn’t sleep because the couple behind you was talking loud the entire time? Even a one-hour flight can feel like an eternity in these circumstances.
That’s why you should always have noise-cancelling earplugs in your bag!
Long flights can be really boring but if you have great headphones you can listen to music or watch movies to make the flight more enjoyable. You don’t get complimentary earphones on all flights and even if you do, those are not really great in quality.
As I mentioned in the article about our travel photography gear, I always have my own headphone in my carry-on whenever I’m going on a trip!
If you prefer headphones, then the Beats Solo Pro is a great option. It comes in 6 different colors so you can easily find the one that matches your style. If having noise-cancelling is not a priority, I also love the Beats Solo3, especially in rose gold color (I used to have this before switching to earbuds).
If you’re looking for something more compact and easy to carry around every day even when you’re not traveling, check out the Apple Airpods Pro. These can be easily kept in pockets and purses which is a top priority when trying to travel light.
5. Water bottle
A water bottle is one of the most important carry-on essentials that you should never travel without. Not only it can reduce your plastic waste, but it can also save you from buying water at the airport (which is always quite expensive).
Plus if you get complimentary water on the plane, instead of asking for the tiny disposable cups of water every 30 minutes you can just ask the flight attendant to fill up your water bottle.
There are tons of water bottles on the market, it’s important to choose one which is either made of stainless steel, glass, or BPA-free plastic. I personally love the designs from Equa (especially this one and this one), but if it’s important for you to keep your drinks either hot or cold, the Iron Flask can be a good choice for you.
If you can’t fit a normal water bottle into your carry-on, check out this Nomader Collapsible Water Bottle which hardly takes up any space!
6. Packing cubes
Do you know the feeling when you’re looking for your favorite t-shirt in your carry-on but you don’t find it anywhere and you need to pack out the whole thing just to find it in the bottom?
Well, if you don’t want to live through that nightmare again there is a quite easy solution: packing cubes!
I seriously don’t know how could I live without packing cubes in the past. I’ve only discovered them before going on our 4 months long Asia trip but I could never imagine traveling without them again!
They are so practical, they help you organize your stuff so you can find anything in your luggage within seconds. I even use it to organize my smaller backpack, not just my carry-on!
The best thing is that they are quite cheap, you can even get a 9-piece set for like 15-20 USD. If you don’t have your own travel cubes yet, you need to get them asap! Trust me, you will thank me later.
Also, if you’re looking for some budget-friendly gifts for travel lovers, this is one of the best options you can ever give to a friend.
7. Travel toiletry bag
Carrying liquids (such as face creams, perfumes, aerosols and makeup removals) in a carry-on has a special rule that you should always pay attention to.
You are allowed to put a maximum of 10 liquids into your carry-on as long as they are up to 100ml per item. You should always separate them from the rest of your stuff and store them in a clear, transparent container to make airport screening easier.
While you can use disposable plastics for that, they can easily be damaged so it’s better to have a quality travel toiletry bag or clear makeup bag with you. You can not only use that multiple times but it looks so much better than a disposable one!
Ever since I have had it, I use it for all my trips, even if I’m just going away for a weekend to my parent’s house.
8. Small travel bottles for toiletries
As I mentioned before, you can only pack toiletries in your carry-on if they are under 100ml. So what if you have a bigger-sized face cream you can’t live without? The solution is quite simple, small-sized toiletry container bottles!
You can use them to store a smaller amount from your cremes if you only have bigger ones. Plus let’s face it, even if you have toiletries under 100ml you’re not going to need all of them if you’re only going away for a few days. So it’s worth transferring a small amount to the containers to save some space in your carry-on.
9. USB Cable
Nowadays many planes have a USB port to charge your electronics from so it’s worth having a USB cable with you on board! (You’re going to need it for the next item in this list anyways.)
10. Portable charger
Long flights can drain your phone’s or iPad’s battery easily, especially if you use them for movies or games. As I mentioned before, many planes already have built-in USB ports, but unfortunately not all of them.
That’s why I always have a portable charger with me! This dual portable charger is quite cheap (you can get 2 for only 22 USD) and has amazing ratings so you can’t go wrong with it.
If you prefer something smaller, I personally use the iWalk Portable Charger and it works great!
11. International power adapter
I’ll be honest with you, although I’m a big planner, I often forget to check the plug types in my travel destination. Not only that, it happened to me a few times that I had a longer layover in an airport and I just couldn’t charge my electronics because the plug type was different than my chargers.
After that, I realized that it’s essential to keep an international power adapter in my carry-on which works in almost all countries in the world!
12. Passport copy
When traveling abroad, your passport is the most important personal item in your bag. My worst nightmare is to lose my passport (luckily it never happened) so I always keep a copy of my passport with me.
It’s better to have a paper copy but I personally store it on my phone. Of course, your copy is not an official document, but at least you can prove your identity with that if anything goes wrong.
13. Travel insurance copy
I hope it goes without saying but having travel insurance when traveling abroad is very important! Unfortunately, accidents can happen anytime and it’s better to be prepared for that.
After many hours of research, I decided to choose SafetyWing and I can only recommend them!
No matter which company you choose, it’s worth having a copy of your travel insurance to be ready to hand, in case you would need it.
14. Emergency cash
Although credit cards are widely accepted around the world, you can always come across places like immigration offices or border controls where you can only pay with cash. Plus you can never know when your credit card will stop working or the ATM breaks down, so it’s better to have some emergency cash with you.
If you can change some cash at home to your destination’s own currency, that’s the best. Otherwise, it’s always good to have some USD in your pocket because it’s widely accepted, even in countries like Indonesia or Cambodia.
If you’re traveling to Europe, having some EUR is the best because you can pay with it in almost every European country.
15. Travel medical kit
While you can choose to buy a ready-made first aid kit, I’m not such a big fan of it. Instead of that, I recommend putting together your own personalized travel medical kit!
Always put some band-aids and cleaning wipes in it, as well as some painkillers like Advil. If you have some allergies or you get motion sickness easily, don’t forget to throw in some meds for that as well.
16. Mini purse
I always have a mini purse with me when I’m flying to store my valuables in it, such as my phone, passport, cash, and credit cards. You can also use a small backpack or any other type of bag as long as it’s really small. I never put my purse inside the overhead compartment, I always keep it close to myself, just in case.
Although many low-cost airlines have very rigid rules about carry-ons where you can only have 1 bag per person but in reality, I’ve never had a problem with carrying an extra purse. That being said, it’s better to leave some extra empty space in your carry-on, in case you need to fit your purse inside as well.
17. Hand sanitizer
It’s safe to say that at the beginning of 2020 every single person on this planet has learned the importance of hand sanitizers. It’s really one of the most important carry-on essentials you should never travel without!
You can simply never know when you will come across a dirty toilet, broken tap, or empty liquid soap container. Better to be safe than sorry! This travel size hand sanitizer is perfect for flights and can be attached to your bags or purses.
18. Hand cream
Since the air on the plane is really dry it can easily dry out your skin, especially your hands. Therefore it’s worth having a small amount of hand creme in your bag ready to use whenever you need it.
I personally love the hand creams from The Body Shop as my skin absorbs the cream quickly without leaving any stickiness, not to mention the delicious smell!
The same goes for your lips as due to the dry air they need some extra moisturizing while you’re on a plane. I swear by this Carmex lip balm and I never leave the house without it!
20. Chewing gums
I know it might sound strange to list chewing gums as carry-on essentials but it’s not only good to keep your breath fresh but it can also help your ears at take-off or landing. Therefore you should always have a pack of gums in your bag while traveling on a plane!
21. Jacket or sweater
If you’ve ever traveled on a plane, you know how cold it can be. So it doesn’t matter, if you’re going on a beach vacation or a tropical getaway, you should always pack a lightweight jacket or hoodie in your carry-on!
Even if you have no more space in your bag, you can put on your jacket during boarding and simply take off when you’re on the plane.
22. Lightweight rain jacket
Unless you like getting soaking wet, having a lightweight rain jacket in your carry-on is a must! You can simply never know when you will find yourself in the middle of the rain so it’s better to be prepared.
Although you can pack an umbrella in your suitcase as well, it takes up much more space than a rain jacket. Not to mention that when your hands are full with your luggage it’s almost impossible to hold an umbrella!
Did you know that if you’re sitting in the window seat you can expose yourself to harmful UVA rays due to the high altitude? Therefore it’s essential not just to pack sunscreen in your carry-on but actually apply it on your face when flying!
When it comes to a skincare routine, I swear by Image Skincare and I’m using their Prevention+ SPF 50 sunscreen every single day on my face.
24. Writing Pen
I know it might sound random but trust me, you should always have a pen in your carry-on. If you are on an international flight you might have to fill out customs and immigration forms on the plane and most of the time airlines don’t provide you a pen for it.
Of course, you can fill them out after landing as well but in this case, you will be the last one in the never-ending line for immigration and no one wants that, right?
25. Spare change of clothes and underwear
You can hear many scary stories about lost and delayed luggage all the time. Luckily it never happened to me but I always pack a spare change of clothes and underwear in my carry-on, just in case
You don’t even need to pack a full-blown outfit, just a fresh t-shirt, socks, and panties will do the trick. Having a spare t-shirt also comes in handy if you happen to spill food on yourself while eating your breakfast on the plane (please tell me I’m not the only one).
Although packing for a big trip is often stressful, I believe with a great plan you can eliminate most of the stress and consider packing as part of the journey itself. I hope you liked this list of the most important carry-on essentials that you should never travel without and it will help you in your packing process!
You might notice that I didn’t list any camera equipment in this packing list. It’s kind of a personal decision whether you want to pack full-blown photography equipment or you just plan to use your phone to capture the most important moments.
In case you’re interested to know more about what is in our camera bag that we always bring with us on our travels, check out my detailed post about our travel photography gear!
If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email, I always love helping you out! Would you like to add some other essential travel items to this list? Let me know in the comments!
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