After a few uncomfortable flights with either way too much carry-on luggage, or forgetting the essentials to forgo carry-on luggage altogether, we’ve finally figured out the balance: our non-negotiable carry on packing list. Along with our travel must-haves, we’ve also listed what not to pack (looking at you, face masks and mists), because it’s not necessary and it’s actually not doing you any favours. Below, we’ve listed the travel essentials you should always pack in your carry-on luggage, no matter the length of the flight.
Our #1 Carry On Packing Rule:
If there is one packing rule to stick to with carry-on luggage, it’s to pack only what is necessary. Pare down to the basics to avoid lugging around heavier carry-on luggage than you need to. It also makes for a guaranteed hassle-free process through security check, and you’ll probably notice that we’re all about making the travel process stress-free. (Goodbye, travel anxiety!) 👌
The Carry On Packing List You Really Need:
- A broad-spectrum SPF 30 (I apply before, & then reapply this powdered SPF)
- A lip balm
- A hand sanitizer
- A TSA-friendly bag for your liquids, gels & aerosols (like this one or this budget-friendly one)
- A water bottle (like this self-cleaning one)
- Noise-cancelling headphones (or earplugs, or for me, both)
- A USB cable (or phone charger) + your phone
- Your travel documents + a pen
- Your valuables, that shouldn’t be checked
- A travel pillow (maybe optional)
- Your choice of entertainment
SPF, Before the Flight!
Did you know that UV rays 35,000 feet in the air are 175 percent more damaging to your skin than the rays that hit you every day? And that most airline windows (and car and office windows, for that matter) only block UVB rays, not UVA? Some even equate it to exposure from a tanning bed, so I’d definitely add it to your list of inflight necessities. It’s an airplane essential!
What kind SPF do I need to protect my skin?
Find a sunscreen that is broad spectrum, meaning it provides coverage for both UVA and UVB, and at least SPF 30. I prefer mineral (physical) over chemical, even though it is hard to find one that doesn’t leave a white-cast. However, if you prefer chemical sunscreens, make sure to apply it 30 minutes before sun-exposure. Top it up with this powdered SPF, that won’t draw anymore moisture from the skin in a plane.
But can I even take sunscreen in my carry-on?
If I was extra…
… which to be honest — sometimes I am — I’d even opt for the window-seat so I can control the shade. But in reality, even those kinds of precautions do not prevent sun damage.
Bring Your Own Water Bottle!
Bringing your own water bottle might seem unnecessary, but as more towards more eco-friendly options, perhaps us travellers have to push the movement. Plus, water at airports usually cost more, so the best way to cheat the system is to pack your own water bottle, like the LARQ or S’well ones.
San Francisco Airport has Banned Plastic Bottles
Even more reason to get on the bandwagon, SFO banned plastic bottles in August this year. You can now fill up at SFO’s more than 100 hydration stations, which dispense filtered water for free. Alternatively, look for water in non-plastic bottles at airport shops. Hopefully, more airports will follow suit!
TBH… I bring my Coffee Mug…
I take my Yeti with me everywhere, and the airport is no exception. Since I always stop in for a pre-flight coffee at Starbucks, my Yeti doubles as a coffee holder and then as a water bottle once I’m done.
TSA PSA: Put Your Liquids in a Clear Bag!
Travel is stressful enough, so when you’re pulled aside for not being organized, it’s a little frustrating. Even more frustrating? Having to throw out entire bottles of perfectly good toiletries. Make sure you review the requirements of your own airline but these are the usual restrictions on liquids:
All carry-on liquids must be in containers that are 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters) or smaller, and these containers must all fit into a single quart-sized, resealable bag. Pro Tip: Keep your clear bag accessible in your carry-on for security check.
What liquids count?
The TSA treats all aerosols, gels, creams and pastes as liquids. That means that things like toothpaste, hairspray, shave gel, lip gloss and even peanut butter are all subject to restrictions. However, medications, breast milk and baby formula/food are exempt.
Noise Cancelling headphones (or earplugs)
If you suffer from misophonia (Google it, it’s the worst) or sensory overload like me, then you’ll want to make sure you’ve got these packed in your carry-on. But even if you’re lucky enough to not be bothered by noise, airplanes are generally loud and noise cancelling headphones can cut the engine noise down significantly, making the whole flight a lot more relaxing. Screaming babies and snoring men, be gone!
USB Cable or phone charger
I know there are smart bags with chargers on the market at the moment, but with airlines banning some of them, I’m sticking to my old school travel USB cable — especially because most new planes have USB plugs at every seat. They won’t recharge your phone/tablet very quickly, but they should keep it from running low.
Not sure if your plane has in-seat charging?
Search for your flight at SeatGuru. If it doesn’t, you know to board prepared with a full battery or you could pack a battery.
Hand Sanitizer + Cream
It’s no secret that planes are super dirty. If you’d prefer to avoid all the germs, I’d suggest a travel-sized hand sanitizer or wipe. Use it instead of the plane water to wash your hands after the bathroom.
Snacks, Snacks & More Snacks
As a gluten-intolerant, health-nut, this is slightly more necessary for me. But, if you get hangry, it’s always a good idea to have snacks in your carry-on especially since plane food is usually very high in sodium and expensive.
Our Go-To Snacks For Flights:
We love Rx Bars, Fruit (dependant on where you’re flying), and Egg Bites from Starbucks.
Optional, But Helpful: A Travel Pillow
Although technically an optional item on our carry on packing list, I think we all underestimate how much travel pillows can add to the flying experience. I often decide not to bring mine along on short flights and most of the time I immediately regret it once I’ve boarded. Don’t make my mistake, pack it with, always. Plus, it helps to get shut-eye, so you can make the most of your time in your travel destination.
Any & All Documents You’ll Need
As always, you must keep your wallet, passport, and any other important documents with sensitive information out of your suitcase. I also usually pack a pen along with my documents as most countries require you to fill out a short form with some basic info.
Any Other Valuables
Unfortunately, as much as airlines try keep on top of it, theft does occur. Keep your camera, jewelry, laptop, and other luxury or expensive items with you at all times.
Pro Tip: We also pack any medications in our carry-on, incase of lost luggage.
What Should I NOT Pack in My Carry-on Luggage?
Besides the obvious such as sharp objects, inflammables, and those prohibited items, there are the items you should never try to bring on a plane — and they might surprise you! Seriously, don’t pack them. Save the precious carry-on space.
Don’t Pack Face Mists or Sheet Masks
It’s well documented that plane cabins have extremely low humidity, which in turn causes extreme dehydration and dryness in the skin. As a result, may influencers have been promoting that you mist your skin with a hydrating spray to keep it moist. This is a no-no, for sure!
When the air is dry, it looks for water wherever it can get it. Since water attracts water, when you spray the skin, it draws water from skin’s deepest layers and evaporates into the dry air. The result is even drier skin! The same goes for sheet masks. The liquid sitting on your skin from the sheet mask will draw even more moisture from your skin. Instead, do your skincare before going on the plane and top it up with SPF (our number one must-have).
If you don’t know whether your item may be prohibited, check this helpful TSA page that lists all the things you can or can’t bring on the plane.