My travel-fu is strong: The items I always pack in my kick-ass carry-on bag

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what i put in my carry on

Inspired by this post on Boing Boing, and recent travel plans, I thought I’d share with you what I take with me in my carry-on bag. Why? Because I consider myself an expert airplane traveler. With how often I go back and forth from LA to Maui, Seattle, and Texas to visit family and do work stuffs, I had to get my travel game strong. And my carry-on is where I draw most of my strength.

First, it’s all about the bag…

I inherited a Lululemon gym bag with LOTS of amazing pockets, but a good carry-on has these three essentials:

  1. A pocket on the outside for my cell phone, boarding pass, and ID. It’s all about the easy access — no digging around looking for the things you need while going through security.
  2. A separate laptop section inside the bag to make the whole laptop removal and packing-back-up process easy-peasy.
  3. A pocket on the outside for a water bottle.

Now let’s look inside:

  • iPhone with a wallet case — stored on the outside pocket for easy license access
  • Empty reusable water bottle — it gets filled at a soda fountain on the other side of the security line
  • Fully-charged laptop — so I can write/work/watch a movie on the plane
  • Laptop charger — in case of extended layovers
  • Kindle
  • Pouch that contains the iPhone and Kindle charger, plus a USB outlet adapter
  • Headphones — I always use the split earbud ones in case I want to listen to a movie at the same time with my seat partner.
  • Travel size tissues
  • Tampons
  • Inhaler (or any other necessary meds)
  • Lip balm
  • Sunglasses

Now it’s your turn. What items are ALWAYS in your carry-on?

Comments on My travel-fu is strong: The items I always pack in my kick-ass carry-on bag

  1. If the trip is really long, I pack clean underwear, socks, and my toothbrush with some toothpaste – if the bigger tube is in the checked bag, I put some on my toothbrush before I leave. My toothbrush is always in a plastic bag when I travel so it’s not overly messy. Then when I get to my destination airport, I duck into the bathroom and the clean socks/underwear feel SO GOOD and after brushing my teeth and splashing water on my face I feel like a new person.

    • Yes, I always pack toiletries and clean clothes in my carry-on! If my “main” luggage is also a carry-on I might keep them easily accessible in there. Otherwise they’re in my under-the-seat bag. I love being able to wash my face, brush my teeth, and maybe put on a fresh round of deodorant. I also like those single-wrapped facial wipes on occasion. Sometimes I even carry a small bandanna/towel to use while I freshen up.

  2. Since I travel for work a lot especially in the summer, I ended up searching for a laptop friendly bag. I found a great one that almost fully unzips on the side with the laptop and then just needs to be rezipped on the other end of security. The one I got also has some really great extra pockets for the storage. Some out there can get expensive (I saw a lot of these), but the one I ended up with was $35.00 and so far has been worth every penny for me.

    • What is the bag? I’m curious.

      I’ve been coveting this Tom Bihn bag forever: But I can’t justify it, because for back health reasons I have to carry a backback most of the time. (By the way, the cost itself would be worth it – I’ve got a Tom Bihn backpack that I’ve used every day for 8 years, and washed frequently, and it is still holding up well!)

      And if anybody knows of a TSA friendly backpack – where you can just unzip and rezip – I’d love to hear about it!

      • It’s an Olympia bag. While I didn’t originally purchase online I did find the same (or similar) model at amazon.

        The laptop bag

        This one always seems to fit under the seat (even when I cram full of everything from secondary tech to toiletries).

  3. Anti-bacterial wipes! I used to get sick every damn time I sat down on a plane. Now, first thing I do is whip out my wipes and clean off areas I might touch, like the armrests, seatbelt, seat tray and air nozzles. I look like an OCD freak, but I never get sick on a plane anymore.

    Also, if I am traveling from my frozen home to a warm climate, I make sure to pack a cheapie pair of flip flops on my carry on. This way, I’m not sweating though a pair of socks and shoes in 90 degree FL while waiting for my luggage and rental car.

  4. Wow, those look a LOT like my contents, right down to the stainless steel water bottle!

    For international flights, I also always carry:
    this worldwide converter
    -a small pouch of wipes of some kind (that are save to use all over, on the face too)
    -spare underwear
    -a tiny, light travel notepad with important number and addresses in case my phone dies at an inopportune time
    -a few teabags to help with sleep and anxiety at night
    -my camera with spare battery

  5. Soooo… little nipper bottles of booze are less than 3oz and can be put in your quart sized ziplock bag. I don’t always drink them, but I always have them in my carryon just in case.

    • Um, you’re a fucking genius. I totally brought a full flask on the airplane coming back from all the fun at the Denver Lovesick Expo a few months ago. The TSA agent saw it, even picked it up, and I was DOH! He shakes it around, clearly hears the booze, and was like “this is empty… right????” I’m all, “Oh, of course, what am I? An amateur?” Winky wink.

  6. Perfect timing for this post! We just committed to taking our 3 kids (6, 4, and 18 months) from Toronto to Victoria this summer for a family wedding. I’m terrified….
    I am a packing freak. As in, I make lists of lists of stuff, repack the backpacks a half-dozen times to get everything to fit properly, and have it all done a week in advance. It’s been over a year since I took them on a plane though, so thanks for getting me back in that mindset!
    Another thing I always toss in, even without kids – a few packs of fruit snacks or granola bars or something similar, that won’t leak/melt/be messy in my bag, but can be just enough when you’re waiting hours for your luggage and are at the end of your rope.

  7. I need to get a nice new bag for this–the ones I have are too small, or too big and don’t have enough internal organization. I’ll probably get one with removable padding for my DSLR camera and lenses, since last time they were just floating around in my bag. Oops.

    Anyway, your list looks a lot like mine! I would add a small travel container of moisturizer, since my hands get super dry on a plane; a decent snack and some of my own tea bags so I don’t get stuck with Lipton; and a pen and notepad with the important details or printed directions to wherever I’m staying in case I’m traveling internationally or have phone issues. And sometimes the DSLR–I know not to ever check that.

    • I too usually have a little notepad and a pen, along with all my electronic devices. It’s mostly just from habit that I write down my important travel info on paper rather than in a text file or something. But your comment shows that it’s actually smart to keep some details in hard copy! I also don’t have a smart phone, so it’s not very convenient to have to go fishing around on a computer when you need a confirmation code or something of that sort.

  8. Love this! And definitely agreeing with you on the importance of pockets. God, do I love an organised bag when I’m travelling.

    The one thing I’d disagree about is keeping things like my phone and ID in an outside pocket. Easily-accessible – yes. Outside pocket – no. A lot of bags have an internal pocket that’s good for that kind of thing, so I designate one of those. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I want those important, hard-to-replace items stowed away as safely as possible.

    • Ah yes, I forgot to mention that my outside pocket has got a closure, and blends in with the rest of the bag. So much so, that I had to put a pin on it to remember which side it’s on. You can see it up there! So it’s a COVERT outside pocket. 😉

    • I was totally going to mention that maybe if safety isn’t a concern in the States, if you travel overseas, you definitely want to make sure your travel documents and phone are stashed deep, deep inside your bag. In some touristy places like Paris, you really want to avoid tempting pickpockets.

  9. After airlines all instituted THE BAG FEE in the US, I stopped bringing luggage with me. It’s rather worked out for me because my trips tend to be short, anyway.
    I bring a backpack with two changes of clothes, my toothbrush, my laptop, my chargers, a little makeup, a brush and hairties. I keep my cell/ID info in my pocket and wear layers on the flight. A not-full backpack fits perfectly under the seat in front of me, so there’s no need for pesky, over-filled storage bins.
    For screening, my laptop slips into an oversized laptop sleeve that can fit the laptop and the charger. Easy peasy mac n’ cheesy.

    • I also avoid checked luggage – even if it’s free, because a) I’m a bit paranoid about my luggage getting lost/damaged and b) it forces me to pack light. In a standard carry-on size wheelie suitcase, I can pack 5-6 days worth of clothes, my toiletries, and an extra book, maybe even my crochet stuff. My smaller carry-on is my purse, and in that I have the standard wallet and phone, a book, some snacks, meds, gum, pens, etc. You can actually bring a lot in carry-on!

  10. I have a laptop bag on wheels that’s super awesome as a carry-on bag. I also always pack Wet Wipes. It may not do much, but at least I won’t have to worry about eating baby poop with my peanuts.

    In the pocket with the easiest access, I have a Ziploc bag with my meds and my favorite stuffed animal. Because if that plane goes down and I survive, I want to at least have a shot of getting him off the plane with me.

  11. My carry-on contents look very similar! I add herbal & green tea bags, too, like many of my fellow tea drinkers. 🙂 Also, a tin of balm for dry lips/hands, a couple of latex-free plasters (BandAids), menthol lozenges for clearing blocked sinuses, and a vial of saline solution… because it’s really difficult to flush something out of one’s eye with a large bottle of drinking water in an airplane lavatory.

    For travel on European budget airlines, I always carry my telephone, earbuds, ID, wallet, boarding cards, etc. in a tiny, long-strap purse, which is tucked into the top of my carry-on when I need to avoid the merciless bag-counting glares of airline staff. It’s slung cross-body at my hip the rest of the time for safekeeping and easy document access.

      • Actually, normally I prefer coffee. But:
        1) Easier to make your own tea in the morning on the plain than your own coffee , and
        2) I use to have frequent anxiety attacks, and one of the important coping strategies in my arsenal is to lay off the coffee in situations that produce anxiety. Oddly enough, I can drink the same amount of caffeine in tea form without the same effects.

    • I’d suggest ear plugs for any flight, simply for hearing protection. A jet engine is LOUD, and 3+ hours (or even an hour!) with that sound assaulting your unprotected ears isn’t good for them. You can still hear things around you – but the 30dB reduction keeps you from having a sonic-assault headache later (and spares you from serious hearing loss).

  12. My record is 8 flights in 6 weeks, all international. Here’s my advice:

    –socks (to change out of shoes or flip-flops on the plane and so you’re not THAT person who goes barefoot)

    –second the water bottle (I dry out like whoa on flights, and a buying a big Dasani is expensive. If you’re somewhere with potable drinking water, BYOBottle). Price compare when you’re in the airport! Prices aren’t standardized (and I’m talking USA here), so you can pay a lot less in a vending machine than in a Hudson News for the same size bottle.

    –and because I dry out like whoa, small thing of lotion in the liquid bag. Face, hands. Bring chapstick.

    –I keep a small pill case with earplugs and lots o’ Benedryl. Mama needs her sleep.

    –wear a jacket. I don’t care if I’m going to visit my folks in the South in the Devil’s armpit of August–I bring a jacket. Doubles as a blanket, and they always crank the AC on planes anyway. Many of my friends like to bring a big scarf/shawl. Use it to keep warm, look good, cover mussed-up airplane hair.

    –bring a pen! Hate having to borrow, and maybe you could make a new friend (“Need a pen? Here you go!”). Definitely met some interesting people whilst filling out visa entry forms on planes.

    –spare energy bar/bag o’ nuts & fruit (keep in mind you may–though not necessarily–have to chuck fruit/veg if you go international). I get HANGRY on a 5+ hour flight, and am also very cheap! I recommend comfort food (comfort snacks?), but make a stop at the store beforehand to get them. My Mounds Bits are more than double the price at the airport.

    –a hard glasses case. Don’t want to knee the seat pocket in front of you only to remember later, horrified, that that is where you stashed your unprotected glasses when you were sleeping. Trust me.

  13. Guys after three years of travelling back and forth from London to the USA, I have found my saviour. I suffer really bad from dry nostrils on the plane, which in turn leads to me getting sick. And then I found AYR NASAL GEL.

    You guys I am in love. It’s an aloe vera saline gel designed specifically for your nose. The first time I did it, I tried to be real dainty; put it on a q-tip and tried to wiggle it in my nose. That doesn’t really work so well. So now I just sanitise my hand and use my finger the old fashioned way. It is a god send.

    But don’t use too much or you’ll end up like me (again, the first time I used it) with a nose full of blue boogers.

    Also, out of curiosity – does anyone but me use flight socks anymore? I’m always checking out peoples’ feet and I never see any but on me.

    • I am the one in big fuzzy pedicure socks. I have Reynaud’s Syndrome (thanks dad), so my feet will literally go numb from cold. So I pack socks to keep my tootsies toasty.

    • I always wear compression stockings on flights 5+ hours in order to prevent DVTs. But, I usually wear long pants and fuzzy socks over them so I don’t think others notice.

    • I use both a saline nasal spray for long flights AND flight socks! I got these amazing bright pink argyle socks from Nabee, and I look forward to the day someone sees and asks about them : ) I figured it can’t hurt to wear them on the 14-hour flights, and my ankles swell less on landing if I wear them.

  14. I always like to bring contact solution, contact case, and my glasses just in case the dry air makes my eyes hurt. And toothpaste and toothbrush just in case. Oh, and gum, so so much gum!

  15. I chuckled when I saw the inhaler because I kept ones right in my coat pocket and had a backup inhaler in my carry on bag. I only packed one backpack when I flew from Maine to Hawaii since it had a mesh pocket on the outside of it I could slip a pair of flip flops in their and wear my sneakers for the flying/airport part of my trip. My mentality was to pack as lightly as possible so when I got a second carry on bag I could fill it with souvenirs and goodies.

  16. I always pack certain things in my carry on with the idea that my hold baggage might go missing. So I will have my toothbrush, any meds, and a pair of clean knickers and socks. It sucks when your luggage goes missing, but a spare pair of pants can make all the difference!

  17. As a veteran of Australia to the US flights (12 – 14 hours) I always have one of those croissant shaped neck pillows. Mine is inflatable with a removable cotton case. Takes up no space at all and makes sleep so much more comfortable. Oh, and a mild sleeping pill. I take the pill with the first meal, blow up my pillow and wake up with time to watch a movie, have the second meal and prepare to land!

  18. After a couple years of bouncing back and forth across the country every few months (the joys of a fiance in the Marines stationed on the other side of the continent), I have my packing down to an art. My “personal item” bag (as I refuse to pay baggage fees and have a little bitty suitcase with all my stuff) contains:

    -laptop and charger
    -phone and charger
    -Nook and charger
    -iPod and charger
    -fuzzy pedicure socks
    -lipstick, blush, and possibly mascara, plus a compact mirror (gotta look good when I deplane and see my hot man!)
    -glasses case (I usually wear contacts, but I prefer to travel in glasses)
    -my neck pillow

    I also usually wear layers and bring a big pashmina to double as a blanket.

  19. Just fyi, be extremely cautious if you use outside pockets. If you want to use them for some of the most important items like your phone, boarding pass, id, wallet, etc., just remember how many people you are around. There are plenty who would jump at the chance to quickly pick those right out when you aren’t looking. Especially at airports, terminal transport, train stations, and subways, you are in very close proximity to many many people.

  20. So am I the only one who brings a wubby then? I have a stuffed wyvern from WoW that goes on trips with me.

    Also, always, always, always put your medications in your carryon.

    • I have a Travelling Dragon that goes on trips with us (TY beanie scorch the dragon) He’s been to Canada, The Maldives, Barcelona and Southern spain, Berlin, Istanbul, France. So far.

  21. Two pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear, one tshirt, and most importantly, ANOTHER BRA. I have had my luggage lost before. It was not pretty. Clothes can be replaced, but bras in my size are either expensive as hell or impossible to find. Wearing the same bra for more than three days will give you a rash in bad bad places.

    Also snacks. Always bring snacks.

  22. I’ve been looking for years for a bag just like that, for the same reasons.

    Megan- please could you tell me where you got your bag, or the brand/style?

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