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What’s In My Carry-On? Twelve In-Flight Must-Haves

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Hello there, and welcome to my blog !

Depending on the length or type of my upcoming trip, I usually travel with a carry-on bag only. I do enjoy travelling lighter, with less items and less hassle. It saves money, space and time, but it’s not always possible.

When travelling long-term (6 weeks +) or with backcountry camping gear, I’ll often check a full-sized backpack, but keep certain items in a packable carry-on bag for my flight. This packable tote or backpack usually bunches into a pouch and will serve as a day bag during my trip.

So which carry-on bags do I enjoy using?

Well, I recently bought a Shambhala messenger bag that folds flat and weighs very little; it’s more chic than a stowable backpack. There’s lots of room for all the articles below, but it’s also a nice accessory when it acts as a slouchy purse. That being said, I also love my two Eddie Bower stowable backpacks (one is 20L, the other 30L). They pack small and light, but they’re made tough and sewn sturdy; these attributes are hard to find in packable bags.

If you are thinking of travelling with ONLY a carry-on backpack
- and I fully encourage it, dear brave soul -

Here are 12 items that I normally take with me in my chosen bag onto the plane. Obvious necessities (wallet, passport-travel docs, cell phone) aren’t included in this list.

1. In-case-the-airline-loses-your-checked-bag CLOTHES

This has saved my ass several times now. I place these pieces at the bottom of my bag (since I won’t need them during the flight), usually in a small packing cube. (I try to wear my favourite pieces that I wouldn’t want to lose, then pack close favourites in the tote). This way, if the airline misplaces my checked bag, I’ll have a few emergency items.

  • Extra underwear and bra

  • T-shirt or long-sleeved shirt (Note: Wear your jacket on the plane.)

  • Extra shorts-pants

  • Flip-flops or light shoes (Note: Ideally, you would wear your bulkiest shoes on the plane.)

2. In-case-the airline-loses-your-checked-bag TOILETRIES

Stay away from liquid items as much as possible.

  • Important medication (prescriptions, Gravol, etc.)

  • Chewing gum (for fresh breath but also to prevent ears from popping during flight)

  • Travel toothbrush, toothpaste and floss (keep paste in separate liquids bag for security)

  • Wet wipes (for face, body, hands and surface wipe-downs)

  • Minimal makeup (keep liquids in separate bag for security)

  • Diva cup or tampon (if you’re travelling while on, or close to, your period)

3. Eye mask and ear plugs

These two items are absolute musts, not only for your flight but for any overnight train or bus ride, as well as for sleeping in hostel dorm rooms. They are absolute life savers for me!!!

4. Collapsible water bottle

I attach a carabiner onto my 750ml HydraPak bottle, and I’m ready to go. Although it’s not my everyday first choice as a water bottle (your water can sometimes take on a plasticky taste and it’s not super sturdy), I think it’s still a pretty cool gadget. It’s a godsend on hot days, and it packs small and light in your day bag once you’ve drunk its contents.

5. Large scarf

A cool scarf always adds pop to an otherwise neutral outfit. Also, it can serve as an in-flight blanket, a rolled-up pillow, or a wrap for your shoulders on chillier evenings.

I’ve become a fan of this travel scarf that I found on Etsy. There’s a hidden, sewn-in pocket to stash your passport and cards, room key and lipgloss, even your cell phone if it's light enough. Convenient and handy!

6. Music device and headphones

Music is my life. It always plays in the background at home, in my classroom and in my car. I’ll even listen to music while reading a book. I haven’t graduated to wireless earbuds yet, since I really like my Sony foldable headphones, although I feel a change coming soon.

7. Inflatable travel pillow

I was super stoked when I found the Sea To Summit Aeros UltraLight Travel Pillow. It packs small and light. Very helpful on trains, planes, buses and in dorm rooms as well. Doubles as my camping pillow. The double inflation-deflation valve is more practical and of higher quality than most travel inflatable pillows I’ve tried.

8. Headlamp

I like the Petzl Actik Core headlamp; its long-lasting lithium battery charges with a USB cable, and the headband has an integrated whistle. I like using the red light on the plane; its glare is softer (so it won’t keep me from falling asleep), and is much less disturbing to my neighbours. Also, a headlamp is easier to direct onto my book or journal than the harsh spotlight above my seat.

Headlamps are also practical for reading in your bed or for nighttime trips to the bathroom down the hall. This model isn’t the least-expensive headlamp out there, but its lasting power is impressively long. It always comes camping with me and it’s my nighttime running companion. A worthy investment.

9. A pen. Any pen. As long as it works.

So simple, and so easy to forget. Especially important on international trips when you have to fill out those customs forms. And that cute stranger sitting next to you? Now you have an excuse to ask if he or she needs to borrow your pen.

10. Books - Magazines - eReader

Reading is my favourite in-flight activity. Sometimes I’ll enjoy a new movie I haven’t seen yet, but I’ll usually pop in my headphones to block out the world and get lost in a new book.

11. Tea bags

Sounds silly, but this will bring comfort on a long flight, warmth in a cool plane cabin or solace if you’re not feeling 100%. I’ve never been on a flight that couldn’t provide me with the necessary hot water; I just reuse the same paper cup they gave me for water.

12. Phone and device chargers

It just makes sense to have them with you, in case your checked bag gets misplaced.

So there you have it! Those are my 12 essential carry-on items.

What items do you bring onto the plane when you travel ? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!


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