Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a once-a-year vacationer, being comfortable, healthy, and happy during flights is an essential part of harmonious travel. The last thing you want during your journey is to realize you forgot something essential, whether it’s for staving off boredom or allowing you to get some much-needed rest.
To prevent this, make a carry-on checklist that you can refer to every time you’re packing. Everyone’s essentials are different, so be sure to experiment with what you bring. Not all of these will apply to you personally, but the right mix of these necessities should satisfy any traveler. Here’s a list to get you well on your way.
Carry-on Bag & Seat Kit
Your carry-on bag choice will depend on how much you want to bring on the flight and if you are also checking a bag. Either way, you will want to create a “seat kit” with things you’ll need during your flight at your seat, so you don’t have to dig for it in the overhead compartments.
Use a foldable, compact tote bag or backpack to create a seat kit and store it in your carry-on until it’s time to board. Then your essentials will be easily accessible during your flight.
✈︎ Travel Wallet
Keep your travel wallet with you at your seat so you can keep your valuable close to you.
Traveling is conducive to ditching organizational habits, so pick a wallet that will contain all your important documents and personal items in a simple, easy-to-find layout. There are loads of choices available, but be sure to pick one which will easily contain your ID, your passport, a few different types of currency, and various credit and debit cards. Wallets with a lot of zippered pockets are great to keep things together, yet separate.
Sleep and Comfort
Earplugs are tiny, cheap, and easy to find. However, they’re also easy to forget. You don’t want to be on the plane with a crying baby when you realize you’ve left them behind. Even if you get lucky and share a plane with nothing but quiet, respectful people, you’ll quickly realize just how loud planes can be. The ambient sounds of rumbling engines and constant airflow are enough to drive someone crazy. Always stash a pair in your carry-on bag. It helps to leave them there afterward for the next flight.
✈︎ Travel / Neck Pillow
Sleeping on a plane is difficult, but a good travel pillow can make it easier. You’ve probably seen the traditional U-shaped ones. For the lightest travelers, these come in the inflatable variety. They aren’t the most comfortable, but they fold up into almost nothing and get the job done.
They also come in the bulkier yet more comfortable cloth versions, sometimes with memory foam or soft stuffing inside. These are great if you have room for them. Other varieties are available, including infinity-shaped ones that go completely around your neck.
✈︎ Eye Mask
An eye mask is the final piece of the sleeping-on-planes puzzle. When trying to doze off, it’s easy to get distracted by overhead lights or other people moving about the plane. An eye mask is an easy tool to keep distractions away.
Combined with earplugs, it’ll be like you aren’t even there! PS – Contour eye masks are great if you don’t like the pressure on your eyes and won’t get in the way of blinking if you need to and eye makeup.
✈︎ Compression Clothing
Sitting still for long periods can wreak havoc on your circulatory system, leaving you numb, tingly, and overall uncomfortable. To combat this, bring some compression clothing. These garments fit tightly but comfortably around the skin, allowing for maximum comfort and circulation support.
Sometimes items are marketed specifically as leisurewear, but compression materials like spandex are often worn by athletes. Yes, you’ll be sitting still, but you’ll be just as maneuverable as a speed skater! Pants are the most common type of compression clothing, but socks are handy too. These also take up very little space in your bag.
✈︎ Electronics and Entertainment
Flights can be long and boring. With some engaging entertainment tools, they’ll go by much quicker. They’ll also keep you from getting too jealous of the guy sitting next to you who has somehow been asleep since the plane took off.
✈︎ Smart Phone
Right, like anyone is going to forget their smartphone in the modern era. This is probably a given, but these devices are the number one most useful tools in travel. When you’re on the plane, they provide endless sources of entertainment (be sure to download stuff ahead of time), but once you reach your destination, they also provide maps, translations, booking tools, and other services that will make your trip a million times easier. Don’t risk your phone getting lost in luggage.
✈︎ Headphones or Earbuds
Headphones can be used for both sleep and entertainment. They’re perfect for music, audiobooks, or podcasts, depending on what best entertains you. However, if you opt for the noise-canceling variety, they double as a backup set of earplugs.
Even if you don’t plan on sleeping, you’ll hear whatever you’re listening to much more clearly. Both earbuds and over-ear headphones come in the noise-canceling variety.
✈︎ E-reader or Tablet
If you’re a reader and you like to travel, leave your paper library at home. Most popular e-readers are way lighter than the average book and can contain hundreds or thousands of tomes within them. Most are also backlit, allowing you to read without the use of your overhead light. If you’re taking a red-eye flight, most e-readers also have a dark mode that’s easier on the eyes.
If you aren’t a big reader, a tablet might be a better bet for you. Yes, you can read on them, but they pale in comparison to designated e-readers. Tablets are much better for games, shows, and movies, and in many cases, they don’t weigh much more. They also provide a high potential for customizability, allowing you to put whatever apps you want on them. If you don’t want to mess with your phone in airplane mode, you can even listen to music and podcasts through an app like Spotify, so long as you download them beforehand.
✈︎ External Battery and Cords
Sometimes you forget to charge your electronic devices, especially for return journeys. Some airplanes have USB charging ports but don’t count on them. These days, lots of external batteries are no larger than a thumb, so they won’t take up much space or weight.
Be sure to also pack compatible charging cables. If you don’t want them to get constantly tangled, go for the shortest ones you can find. If you can’t find short cables, invest in a cheap pack of gear ties. These are also great for loose headphones.
✈︎ Travel Adapter
If you’re flying internationally, you should always bring a travel adaptor. Rather than constantly look up what type of outlets a country uses, these handy devices provide an all-in-one solution. Many of these work in hundreds of different countries, and they usually fit in the palm of your hand.
Choose one that also has a USB input on the side, just in case you lose your regular adaptor and still need to charge your devices. If your luggage gets lost, you’ll be happy to be able to still charge your carry-on devices while you sort things out.
✈︎ Something that isn’t electronic
Yes, your grandma is right, we’re all spoiled by our high-tech gadgets these days. Most people probably argue that all the best entertainment platforms are electronic. They might be right, honestly, but they do have one downside: they run out of batteries. Even if you bring a backup battery, there is always a small risk. Nobody wants to get an hour into a ten-hour flight only to realize everything they brought is running on empty. Have a backup plan.
Grab a random small book of sudoku, crossword puzzles, trivia questions, a mass-market paperback, or whatever else you might like in the event of catastrophic electronic failure. Just stick it in the bottom of your bag and leave it there. Years from now, you’ll remember it’s smushed somewhere down there and it’ll save your flight. It’s either that or staring at the seat in front of you.
Getting sick is no fun, especially when you’re traveling. You can’t always prevent it, but these items will set you up with your best chance at success.
✈︎ Face Mask
Most airlines require face masks, and often they provide them. How long this goes on is anyone’s guess, but even when COVID-19 is no longer a crisis, a face mask is a great tool for avoiding the spread of germs when boarding and on a plane.
In some cultures, it is seen as a sign of respect of the community that you wear one when you may be sick to protect others. Considering how easy face masks are to get, you should bring your own that you know fits comfortably.
✈︎ Hand Sanitizer & Anti-Bacterial Wipes
Even pre-pandemic, hand sanitizer is a travel staple. Access to soap and water may not always be convenient when you’re out exploring unfamiliar places. You are touching many more surfaces – and more often – when wandering the world, from guard rails to public transport seats to money and admission tickets.
Wipes are great when you have physical dirt (or sticky food!) to clean off your hands vs just sanitizing.
✈︎ Surface Cleaning Wipes
Another pre-pandemic travel staple is surface cleaning wipes. Wipe down the tray table, media screen, seat buckle, and arm handles.
If you are at a window seat, wipe down the window handle and the wall when you (and others) lean your head at your seat.
✈︎ Prescription medication
Even if you don’t need to take a dose of your medicine during the flight, it’s best to keep what you need available. Pills don’t take up much space, and the last thing you want is for your luggage to get delayed or lost and for you to not have your much-needed medicine. It’s best to keep it on you at all times.
Airplane air tends to be cold and dry, and if your body isn’t used to these conditions, your skin won’t be happy. A small bottle of lotion can keep your arms and hands from getting too scaly, and a stick of lip balm will keep your lips from stinging and cracking. If your whole face tends to get dry, there are also hydrating mist bottles that work well.
Having a mini spa session doesn’t hurt either… might as well use the time where you have to sit still. Put on an under-eye gel mask or a full face paper mask and turn on some soothing meditation sounds.
✈︎ Basic toiletries
For extremely long flights, you’ll be settling in for what feels like (and sometimes is) an entire day. Bringing along a travel-sized toothbrush and toothpaste combination can allow you to feel like you’re settling in for the night. Toss in a small container of dental floss for bonus points. This way, grimy teeth won’t distract you from sleep and you’ll feel more comfortable overall. These also come in handy in case of accidental luggage loss.
✈︎ Snacks & Water
Nothing satisfies the munchies like a crunchy snack. Chips have a tendency to get crushed in bags, so grab a bag of trail mix or tasty nuts like almonds or cashews.
If you need more to satisfy a truly hungry stomach, bring something with a little more substance to it, like protein bars. If you’re a carnivore at heart, beef jerky also stifles hunger nicely.
If you have a sweet tooth, grab a chocolate bar, cookies, some gummy candy, or a pack of gum, depending on your preferences.
Bring a reusable water bottle that suits you to fill it at the airport filtered water station. If you’re looking to save space, there are foldaway bottles that function much like pouches with twist-off caps, but a solid bottle works too. This is eco-friendly and will save you money throughout your trip.
Carry-On Check List
Once you have your seat kit together, here is a list of other items for your carry-on if you are checking a bag:
- Clothes & PJ’s – Bring one change of clothes and PJ’s in case your checked luggage gets delayed
- Camera, Laptop, Jewelry – Any valuable items you don’t want to be damaged or lost, pack in your carry-on bag
And there you have it! Now you’re prepared for your next trip near or far – Bon Voyage! ✈︎