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. I always bring my knitting with me, but I have Travel Rules. Always something on bamboo double-pointed or plastic circular needles, so no dangerous-looking metal or long straights to poke the person next to me. My scissors get put in my checked luggage. Plus I print out the TSA list of allowed items, with the knitting section highlighted. I’ve never had to use it, but better safe than sorry. (To be honest, on a 14-hour flight I’m more dangerous without my yarn than with it.)

    Also chapstick, hand cream, travel size toothpaste and toothbrush, tissues, gum, snacks, empty water bottle, puzzle book, pen, pencil, book, magazine, iPod, underwear and socks. But clearly the knitting is most important and requires the most thought.

    • Oh the knitting…
      Luckily I have never been confronted on my needles, metal or wood.

      I have had an assortment of TSA experiences and that “print out the allowed list” is genius. In general, the US TSA will allow it, although you might get some questions. Of course non-US TSA-equivalents have their own rules and in addition to looking them up ahead of time, I prepare myself for (gulp) surrendering my knitting needles. So far it hasn’t happened but one time when I was leaving Ireland, the security personnel weren’t sure about whether they were allowed ( and I didn’t have the foresight to print out the list! ) and while one person was checking online, another ripped the needles from the knitting. I thought I was prepared to surrender the needles but I just couldn’t help but gasp out loud when she did that and all the dropped stitches tumbled around. ( They were very nice, don’t get me wrong, but I was stunned nonetheless. ) They returned the yarn-free needles to me and now when I travel overseas I move my knitting off my needles and onto a scrap of yarn or the “wire” portion of my interchangeable needles ahead of time.

      I have no problems getting a small 3″ pair of scissors through and honestly I have used them more for other things than knitting.

  2. I’m curious about the water bottle. In Europe, bottles have been banned from some airports and some pesky security procedure won’t even let you bring even empty water bottle, for chrissake. Fortunately, some eco-friendly airports will let you empty your bottle and refill it after the security gate.

    What about in the States (or Canada, for that matter)? Can you access all airplanes with an empty water bottle? So far, I’ve never tried flying with my own stainless water bottle for fear I’d have to leave it at security.

    And as for carry-on tips: never separate your electronic devices from their charger in case your luggage gets lost and delayed through its final destination (and it does happen more than you think).

    • Yikes- I’ve always brought my stainless water bottles to Europe before – I’d be really mad if they took it away! I’ll have to check out the new regulations!

      In the can always bring a water bottle as long as it is empty. The stainless water bottles used to be weird enough that they would open my bag to check it out, but now they are so common that it isn’t an issue.

  3. If you do even fairly regular flying, it’s completely worth it to pay the $100 and answer a few questions in order to get global entry. This makes you eligible for TSA precheck. Seriously the best thing EVER! Short line, don’t have to remove shoes, leave your laptop and liquids in the bag. Love it!

  4. I am regularly on the road for my job, lots internationally. In European carriers- you often don’t even get 1 personal item, just one bag. I can pack for whole business trips (2 weeks) in a carry on bag. This includes all electronics heavy -bulky (sigh) work laptop, iPad mini, kindle, chargers, plug converters, plus my professional notebooks, pens, business cards, product samples as required. Them, all my clothes. Its all about the wrinkle resistant, yet still professional clothes, that all go together. Black trousers-jacket means you can rewear lots of colourful tops and mix and match without ever looking the same (useful when meeting people for many days in a row). Gym clothes can double as sleepwear. Wear a nice looking pair of trainers that don’t look like trainers and you can use these in the gym too. Washable undies and socks that dry overnight. As I stay in hotels, you really don’t need any toiletries except for makeup and good face cream with SPF and makeup remover wipes. I carry meds I take. Everything goes into nice packing cubes. Check out eagle creek. I also carry a collapsible water bottle as well, that rolls up when empty.

  5. I always pack food, because often airline food sucks and I get sooooo cranky when I’m hungry and tired.
    Last time I flew all my snacks were in a ziplock labelled
    “Snacks on a plane”
    It kept me and my husband entertained to ask each other for the snack bag in Samuel l Jackson voices

  6. As usual, it seems Offbeat Home is in tune with my life! I am going on my first flight in over two decades in 12 days and have been trying to figure out what to pack with me other than my tablet and teddy bear.

  7. My mum lives in Australia and I live in New Zealand, so I travel there a few times a year – it’s a 3.5-4 hour flight. This is what i always take:

    Passport, travel documents, pen in a travel wallet thing, wallet, Cellphone, Ipod + headphones, phone/ipod charger, kindle, muesli bar/some sort of snacks, mini hair brush, glasses, sunglasses, medication, empty water bottle, powder compact, earplugs, and then my small plastic bag for liquids always seems to be full to the brim – hand sanitiser, hand cream, lip balm, eye drops, mini deodorant, mini perfume, lipstick. I always bring a cardigan or sweater because it inevitably gets cold on the plane too.

    If I’m going further than Australia, I add toothbrush/toothpaste, a spare pair of underwear/tshirt and socks (in case my bag gets lost, or just to change at the end of the flight), and eye mask to sleep.

  8. I travel often internationally for work and personal and second the get a decent bag option. Mine is big enough to fit a laptop and smallish handbag in, meaning I pass the 1 handbag on the plane test!

    I can’t recommend enough packing up a small clear bag of toiletries, even for shorter flights – wet wipes and a small deodorant are a godsend, especially if the attendants whack up the heating (often done on intl flights to make ppl sleep) who wants to arrive sweaty?? and a small toothpaste and a brush to feel fresh. lipbalm is another essential due to the dehydration, plus at least two litres of water. I’ve got round the no large bottle issue by buying a collapsible water bottle that folds up and filling it up post security checks at a water fountain like this bad boy: Vapur Element Bottle
    I also recommend Melatonin to help you sleep on long haul flights and a decent face cream to leave on whilst yr on the flight- saves on the wizened look at the other end!

  9. I’ve done a lot of work travel lately, both close to home and across the world. I generally check a bag because of the amount of clothes and shoes I’m required to bring for work, and another just for the kit I use for work (which contains blades and all kinds of things they don’t let you carry on).

    For the shorter flights, I carry a large-ish purse with all my normal stuff (phone, wallet, keys, sunglasses, pill case with lots of Advil, chapstick, hand lotion, tissues, Nook, noise-canceling headphones, and jewelry (which is mostly stored in a double-sided pill case).

    For longer flights, I take a regular-sized purse with all of the above, plus this wheeled tote bag with all the other stuff: It has a change of clothes, a squished up foam pillow (back issues, can’t use the U-shaped neck pillows), my laptop and charger, work documents, phone charger, adapter/converter, saline nasal spray, Kind bars, and (if I’m in coach on an overnight) single-serving cereal cups–just ask for milk instead of having to eat horrible plane breakfast.

    I cannot brag enough about the pill case jewelry kit idea! I work for a jewelry company, so I always have to bring a ton of jewelry with me around the world–no way am I checking it in a suitcase! Since most of what I own is fairly small, I use a double-sided pill case from The Container Store with different sized compartments. It keeps the necklaces from tangling in each other, the stones from scratching each other, and keeps it all in one place. Doesn’t work so well for large pieces like costume jewelry or bangles, but I can’t usually wear those anyway : )

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