Eleven Essentials You Need In Your Carry-On

Two weeks ago I took a trip half way across the world from Toronto, Canada to Melbourne, Australia. It took me two flights and over 30 hours of travel time to get to my destination. A year prior, I’d done this same trip, except that last time it took me four flights and over 40 hours of travel time. As you can imagine, travelling on multiple planes for 30-40 consecutive hours isn’t exactly fun, and there are definitely some survival tips I’ve accumulated through my own trial and error that I’m going to share with you…

Waiting in Toronto's airport to board my flight to LA, and then onto Australia.

Waiting in Toronto’s airport to board my flight to LA, and then onto Australia.

First thing, you need to get the right carry-on. When travelling on long, international flights, it’s best to keep your number of carry-on’s and their weight to a minimum. Medium sized backpacks that zip shut and have multiple compartments in them are what I would recommend.

The first time I flew from Toronto to Melbourne, I brought with me one large piece of rolling luggage (which I checked), a smaller carry-on sized piece of rolling luggage, a large leather duffle bag, and a purse. This was a big mistake. Trying to carry a large and very heavy leather duffle bag, plus a purse, plus wheeling my smaller luggage bag through an airport terminal by myself was no easy-feat. Not to mention that one of the downsides of solo travel is that you have to keep all of your possessions with you at all times. This meant that every time I needed to go to the bathroom I had to bring two heavy pieces of luggage and a purse with me too. Can you imagine trying to fit all of that into a bathroom stall? What a nightmare.

Now that you have your carry-on sized backpack ready to go (and maybe a purse or laptop bag too if you need the extra room) here’s what you should fill it with…

My travel folder and its contents.

My travel folder and its contents.

1. A Travel Folder:
This is by far the most important thing to bring on your flight. I always travel with a travel folder that includes and organizes my passport, boarding passes, travel documents (like your flight itinerary, travel visa, travel insurance, etc.), travellers cheques and some cash. It’s important to bring currency from every country you will stop in on your trip (For example, when flying from Toronto to Melbourne with a layover in Los Angeles –  I brought Canadian, American and Australian currency with me). In my travel folder I also like to bring the address of where I’m going to be staying once I arrive at my destination, as well as any contact information I have for the people I’m going to be visiting/staying with. When travelling internationally, you will have to fill out a customs form on the plane that may ask you to submit that information. Also, because you will need to fill out forms, I always bring a pen with me, which I keep inside my travel folder. 

2. Wallet/Cellphone:
I always carry these with me anyway, so for travelling it’s no exception. In my wallet I always carry my credit and debit cards, as well as my drivers licence. When travelling internationally, I usually keep currency from the country of my intended destination too.

3. Entertainment:
No need to stress how important this is, especially on long flights. I strongly encourage you to bring any and most of the following; laptop, tablet, mp3 player, e-reader, books, magazines, crosswords, etc. on your long-haul flight(s). Anything that can help you pass the time quickly. Of course, one of the easiest ways to pass the time on a flight is by sleeping, so rest as often as you can. (Psst! Don’t forget to bring headphones for your electronics!)

4. Snacks/Water:
You can’t always rely on airplane food. Over the years the options have gotten better, but I’ve still seen my fair share of sketchy meals, not to mention that airplane/airport food is often very expensive. That’s why I always bring my own food. Customs usually allows you to bring food for your own personal consumption aboard a flight. I like to bring healthy options that will satisfy my hunger and help keep me nourished and energized for my trip. Usually I bring a trail mix I make myself that includes various nuts, dried fruits, and some chocolates. I also like to bring a piece of fruit like an apple, just remember to keep the sticker on so customs can know where it came from. I also bring protein/granola bars, as well as an empty bottle of water which I fill up in the airport once I’ve cleared security.

5. Lip chap/Moisturizer:
Airplanes have notoriously dry, cold air flowing through them. This means that your skin will chap and crack and flake if you don’t keep it hydrated. Lip chap is essential for your lips, while a lotion is great for your skin. I like to bring an extra-hydrating face moisturizer as well as a thick lotion for my hands. I also apply lotion to my feet before leaving for the airport, which I then cover with socks (the socks help keep the moisturizer on my feet for longer).

6. Medications:
Any medications you’re taking (ladies, this includes your contraceptive pill) need to be packed into your carry-on. I’m going to include glasses/contacts in this category too, since they’re essential for anyone with poor eyesight. I also like to bring a sleep-aid with me as well. I use a natural remedy like melatonin pills to help me sleep without making me drowsy. Finally, I always bring a small container with pain pills (like tylenol/advil/panadol, etc.), as well as pills that will calm an upset stomach, nausea and diarrhoea. I can’t imagine a worse situation than getting sick with nausea/diarrhoea on a 16-hour flight. This is why I always bring medication for this. Better safe than sorry.

7. Power Cords/Adapter:
Not only do most airports have outlets where you can charge your electronics during layovers now, but if your luggage were to be lost, you’d either be without your technology for a few days, or you’d have to dish out the cash to cover all your expensive replacement power cords. Another situation where it’s better to be safe than sorry. Pack your cords in your carry-on.

8. Valuables:
This includes anything expensive or sentimental which you would be really upset if you lost. I always pack my jewellery, watch and sunglasses in my carry-on because they’re costly items to replace. If you have anything fragile or breakable you’re bringing, I would also recommend you pack this in your carry-on and not your luggage, as your checked baggage tends to be thrown around a lot and fragile items inside could break.

My travel pillow and eye-mask.

My travel pillow and eye-mask.

9. A Travel Pillow/Eye-mask/Ear plugs:
Sometimes on a flight you want to sleep but everyone else in the cabin is awake and all the lights are still on. This is when an eye-mask and ear plugs come in handy. Your eye-mask will block out the light while your ear plugs block out the sound, leaving you much more likely to sleep better. A travel pillow helps a lot as well by increasing your comfort level. Most airlines will provide you with a pillow and blanket on long flights, but airplane pillows tend to be quite flat and don’t really give you great neck-support. If you bring your own travel pillow you can use your pillow for your head/neck and then use the airplane pillow to put either behind your back or shoved between your side and the arm rest for added comfort and support.

10. Clothes:
I always bring an extra outfit (or several) with me in my carry-on during long-haul flights. The first time I did the Toronto to Melbourne trip my airline lost my luggage and it took them five days to get it back to me. I hardly brought any additional clothes in my carry-on, which meant that I had to spend a total of six days in the same pair of leggings that I’d worn on the plane ride over. Needless to say when my luggage finally arrived, I was grateful to wear something other than black leggings during Australia’s hot summer weather. Lesson learned. This time during my long-haul flight I packed several extra outfits; including a pair of shorts, several shirts, a pair of jeans, a bathing suit, pyjamas, a bra, several pairs of underwear, several pairs of socks, a pair of flip-flops, an expensive blazer (I also considered this item a “valuable”), and a few summer dresses. Luckily this time around my luggage wasn’t lost, but if it had been I was fully prepared for up to a week without my bag.

11. Toiletries:
I always bring travel-sized versions of my most important toiletries on my flight (Remember to keep all your liquids and gels in bottles of no more than 100ml each). I bring deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste, dry-shampoo, face wash/wipes, perfume, and moisturizer. These items help keep me feeling fresh and clean on long flights where I’m unable to shower for over 24 hours. I also like to bring a very small make-up bag with mascara, bronzer, blush, eye-liner and a hair brush inside. Although I usually travel with very minimal or no make-up on, I like to freshen up and re-apply once I land so that whomever’s picking me up from the airport doesn’t cringe when they see my appearance. I usually throw a hair-tie into my make-up bag too, so I can pull my hair up if it’s bothering me on the flight.

Other items to bring in your carry-on worth mentioning, which are nice to have but I personally don’t consider essential, include; slippers, a small blanket, an external battery for charging your devices, hand sanitizer, tissues, chewing gum, and a notebook. 

Two days ago I flew from Melbourne to Brisbane on a 2.5 hour flight, and the aforementioned list of essential items to bring (specifically items 1-8) apply here too. Nowadays I make sure to never board a flight without my backpack full of must-haves, and it’s made my travel experiences – and therefore my life – a lot easier.

The bottom line: If your luggage were to be lost by your airline, what items would you need to help you get through those few days where you have nothing? What items will help keep you comfortable and entertained for long periods of time on the plane? And, most importantly, which items do you consider irreplaceable and/or you would be heartbroken if you lost? These are the items that you need to pack in your carry-on.

What are your favourite carry-on essentials? Tell me in the comments below. 

10 responses to “Eleven Essentials You Need In Your Carry-On

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  3. I wish i had read this before I went on an 18 hours flight! It would have saved me some packing time 🙂

    I love love love those disposable face masks. The paper or cellulose ones that come saturated with anti-oxidants and moisturizing properties. Newer formulas come non-drip so you don’t have a mess and your skin will thank you!

    • Ya, I’ve heard many women say that they’re really nice for long flights. I personally don’t use face masks, and I always bring a face-moisturizer anyway, so for me it’s a bit redundant. But I can definitely see the appeal of a mini-facial on a plane 😛

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      • Where did you get it and what is the brand and approximate price of your travel folder? I’m looking around for one but don’t want to spend an outrageous amount! Thanks 🙂

      • I got it at Typo, which is an Australian stationary store. They range in price from anywhere between $20-$25 AUD. Sometimes if you’re lucky you can get them on sale, or in a set that also comes with a passport holder and luggage tags for a reduced price then buying all the pieces individually. I bought the one pictured above for $25 AUD, but since it was over a year ago that style is no longer available. Typo doesn’t have their own website, but they sell their products through an Australian clothing store (Cotton On) that has a website with Typo’s products available for purchase. You can find their products here… http://shop.cottonon.com/shop/typo/bags/

        Thanks for reading! xx

  5. Just found this as I’m packing for a trip to Mexico. Thank you! The only thing I’d add is I consider hand sanitizer to be non-negotiable in public areas like an airport during flu season (now). I’m definitely bookmarking this for reference for future flights.

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