The Ultimate Carry-On Packing List

Lists are one of my favorite things in the world, including (maybe even especially) my carry-on packing list. No matter where I’m flying off to, my carry-on packing routine remains pretty similar. It could be a quick flight up to Washington DC or a jaunt across the pond to Italy, but my goal remains the same: pack the essentials, stay comfy, and avoid boredom!

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Carry-On:

This one is obviously going to depend on the length of your trip, but here are a few recommendations:

  • Purse: For short flights, a tote is totally sufficient. I’d recommend a Longchamp Tote Shoulder Bag, or something similar in size. Store all of your immediate needs in here.
  • Backpack: If you’re checking a bag, a small backpack should work. I like something like a JanSport Classic Backpack, which fits my electronics (cameras, laptops, etc.)
  • Large backpack: If you only pack a carry-on, I’d recommend the Osprey Farpoint 55L Travel Backpack. I have had this backpack for years, and it has withstood the test of time, as well as baggage handlers and hostels around the world. Make sure to check your specific airline’s requirement in advance – some of the budget airlines are pretty stingy when it comes to carry-on sizes!
  • Packing Cubes: I am completely obsessed with packing cubes and have converted family and friends into using them too! Use them to organize your carry-on (and your main bag!) I like to separate clothes, electronics, and entertainment so I can  bring a cube out without rifling through my bag and dropping a spare pair of socks on my seatmate’s head.
Prague attractions #visitprague #czechrepublic

Entertainment:

I can safely say I’ve never looked forward to a long flight. However, I have gotten better at entertaining myself, so here are some tips for your carry-on packing list:

  • Coloring book & pencils: No longer just for kids! Bring an Adult Coloring Book and some colored pencils for entertainment. Trust me—even one picture takes some time. I’ve been coloring the same shark for quite a while now…
  • Books: Don’t forget a book! If you’re looking to get inspired for your adventure, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed was amazing. She is one kick ass lady, so if she can’t inspire you, hope is probably lost.
  • Kindle or iPad: Download some books and games on your Kindle or iPad. I love reading, so this helps time speed by for me.
  • Headphones: Rock out (quietly) in your Bose headphones to your music of choice.
  • Portable Battery Charger: All that rocking out and reading can quickly drain batteries. Ever since I discovered this portable battery charger, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. If your seat doesn’t have a charger, you can just plug your device into the battery pack and bring it back to life!
Italian bucket list - Manarola, Cinque Terre

Food and Drink:

Let’s face it, the cardboard snacks airplane food is usually not terribly delicious. Save yourself the disappointment and stock up beforehand

  • Snacks: Snack bars, apples, baby carrots, trail mix, and my personal favorite—chocolate covered almonds
  • Water bottle: Don’t leave home without your Camelbak Water Bottle. irplanes usually have very low humidity, which easily leads to dehydration. Fill up your handy-dandy bottle after security, and you should be all set!
  • Emergen-C packets: Emergen-C can be a lifesaver on long flights where literally everyone around you seems to have the flu. (Side note: Does this happen to anyone else or just me?) Just drop it in your water, chug, and avoid all those nasty germs!
Plan an epic 3 days in Havana, Cuba!

Beauty:

Every time I get off a plane, I always think “Oh wow, I feel so fresh and clean”…said no traveler ever. Check out these items to keep you refreshed and looking your best:

  • Change of clothes: Be prepared in case of lost luggage. It’s no fun to wear your plane outfit for three days straight.
  • Travel size liquids: Follow the TSA’s 311 rule and come equipped with Travel Size Beauty Products. Make sure to remember face wash, toothpaste, contact solution, eye drops, dry shampoo, hand lotion, etc.
  • Travel size containers: Another option is to buy Silicone Travel Bottles and fill them with your own face wash, shampoo, and other beauty products. If you have specific beauty preferences that aren’t always available in travel size, this is a great option.
  • Hand sanitizer: Clean hands = happiness. Needless to say, this is always on my carry-on packing list.
  • Regular beauty products: Bring along all of your regulars. I always have deodorant, a toothbrush, hairbrush, mascara, and concealer.
  • Lip balm: Planes wreak havoc on your lips and dry them out. I don’t travel without at least one tube of Burt’s Bees. I usually bring a few for good measure (also because they disappear into the great depths of my purse!)
  • Face towelettes – I am obsessed with Burt’s Bees Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleansing Towelettes. I’ve used them to stay refreshed on a plane, to remove makeup, and even to “take a bath” on a night train. Not proud of that last one…but it worked well enough.
Plan an epic 3 days in Moab, Utah. With this Moab, Utah itinerary, you’ll see the top attractions in the area, but still want to come back for more! #utah #moab #travelutah #canyonlands #archesnationalpark #delicatearch

Sleep:

Plane rides might not be the most fascinating thing in the world. Come prepared for a nap, especially on long haul flights:

  • Neck pillow: Invest in a cushy Memory Foam Neck Pillow for a decent night’s sleep. Before my neck pillow, my head used to flop all over the place, which is awkward (napping on neighbors is a no-no) and super uncomfortable. Goodbye neck kinks!
  • Sleep mask: Pop on a silk sleep mask and you will be in heaven, I promise. Feel free to thank me later.
  • Earplugs: Drown out the crying babies, loud seatmates, etc. with some quality Ear Plugs.
  • Blanket: Airlines have been pretty stingy on the blanket game recently, especially for economy fliers. Invest in a Turkish Towel, which can be used as a blanket, but also doubles as a cute scarf or towel.
  • Compression socks: Compression socks are clutch on long flights, which can be absolutely brutal for blood flow in your legs. Avoid any potential blood clots in your legs and discomfort by bringing a pair of compression socks. Side note: most compression socks are not cute, but A-Swift offers everything for polka dots to argyle. Might as well look adorable while keeping your legs healthy!
3 days in Cartagena, Colombia | photo shoot

Actual essentials:

Everything above is to keep you happy, well-rested and feeling good, which is key to an awesome trip. However, these are several critical things that you cannot forget:

  • Boarding pass (duh!): Print it out ahead of time or have it available on your phone.
  • Passport/ identification/ visa: Always have required identification with you when you travel! Pro tip: Make a copy and store somewhere else for safekeeping. I also usually take a photo of my passport and email it to myself for good measure.
  • Cash and credit cards: If you’re planning to make purchases not in line with your typical spending pattern, alert your credit card company ahead of time. Some credit cards don’t require this, but if you’re unsure, you can always look online for your particular credit card company or call their customer service number.
  • Health and travel insurance: I always bring my health insurance information in case something happens. If you’re traveling for a longer period of time, consider investing in travel insurance. I’d recommend World Nomads which covers travel insurance for over 150 countries.
  • Anything valuable: Always carry on cameras, jewelry, drones, etc.
  • Reservations & itinerary: I like to print out a paper copy of your first stop. Especially after a long flight, I just want to get to my hotel/ hostel. This also comes in handy in countries where you may not speak the language. Just give your driver a copy of the hotel address and you’ll be good to go!
  • Medication or prescriptions: Always pack for the worst case scenario. If your bags are delayed, make sure you can make it a couple of days with just your carry-on.
Discover 2 days in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Your itinerary includes geysers, mountains, and ancient villages!

And there you have it…my ultimate carry-on packing list. What’s on your carry-on packing list?

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52 Comments

  1. Excellent list! I must be the only traveler on the planet that is not a fan of packing cubes! Instead I use zip loc bags. I like that I can see through them and write on them with sharpie. When the kids were younger I could put an entire outfit in a bag. Each morning I just handed them out and everyone got ready easily! Great list!

  2. This is a cool list. You included some unique items. Never thought of bringing an adult coloring book and color pencils, but they are fun. Totally agree about travel insurance. Many people skip it but it can be a life saver.

    1. The adult coloring book is so much fun! I have one of animals, and even if I’m home and had a stressful day at work, it can be an awesome stress reliever. But definitely makes time on the plane go by really quickly!

  3. Most times when we are traveling around in Europe we are just carrying a normal sized backpack. It has been sufficient for a weekend trip and it is always nice when you don’t need to pay extra for the checked luggage. Will be going on a 5 day trip soon and hope that the one backpack solution will prove sufficient once more. 🙂

      1. I have a purse/wallet withshoulder strap that contains pockets for $$, CC’s and Passport & health instead inside: I want everything Valuable On Me, yet easily accessible-in my backpack; ( I learned from a seasoned traveller to Italy) that a purse is considered a 2nd “carryon” that’s why it is put in my backpack for quick retrieval

  4. extra battery is a must!! I never leave home without mine because my phone always seems to die easily! great list!

  5. Looks like you’ve included everything I usually carry on…and more! I generally don’t take things like books and coloring books, because they make me sick on planes. I generally just try to sleep as much as possible! It helps make the time pass quickly, and I don’t have to lug a bunch of stuff on the plane 🙂

  6. Some of them are obvious but it’s always important to repeat them, and read them once in a while Also becaust you can discover things you didn’t know existed and you’re going to love once you travel Like packing cubes, I got them a couple of months ago, they’re super! And I can satisfy my need of playing Tetris.

  7. Nice – I never thought about the compression socks – and I do have them for my next mountain trekking adventure. Will definitely keep that in mind! Great list.

  8. I absolutely love this list! It seems really practical. I actually just purchased a new Jansport backpack a few minutes ago – you should check out their new Hatchet line of backpacks! Very pretty.

  9. I think you have captured it all. There does not seem to be anything else that I might need for a travel, except my camera, which is always in a separate case. Well done!

  10. Brilliant list. Every last thing that you mentioned there is necessary. And I like the way you have put up your favourite items as well. Easy on the shoppers, great for first timers.

  11. You have covered almost everything in your list. I have been looking for travel containers for my liquids and I am heading out there to make a purchase. Hopefully they will fill allow me to order from India. I should get an adult coloring book myself.

  12. Great packing list for carry on. Ill have to use this next time so I dont forget anything important or useful. I like the extra stuff you inckuded to make the journey more fun like the colouring.

  13. oooo packing cubes! That’s a great idea. I’m going on a trip to Vietnam this summer and only bringing a carry on (which I’ve never done, SCARY!). bookmarking this for later fer sure

  14. Bookmarked this article after reading it to the end! I must say this is a comprehensive list indeed! I have a not saved in my phone for must-pack list in my carry on and even wrote a draft in my blog for a similar topic. Nice one!

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