Over time, I’ve culled my carry-on packing list down to the bare minimum, including only things that add comfort and convenience.
The items mentioned below work so well that I never unpack my mini Dopp kit I keep within arm’s reach on the plane or in the car.
And it takes only minutes for me to pack a carry-on because I’m in the habit of packing the same travel accessories trip after trip.
(Destination-appropriate clothing isn’t mentioned on the list as we assume you have it all under control. For your main luggage see my suitcase packing hacks.)
I’ve used a myriad of portable chargers to keep my iPhone and headphones powered. The Anker PowerCore1000 is a current favorite for its reliability and lightweight size. I also chose the red color to make it easier to find in my purse.
However, your ability to charge is also only as good as your phone cord. After years of testing many generics, I recommend using the cord that’s meant to be paired with your phone to avoid connection issues while on the road. Have an iPhone? Use an authentic Apple Lightning cord connection issues while on the road. Or, carry two generic cables in the event one can’t properly connect.
Tip: ALWAYS pack keep external batteries and all batteries in your carry-on as they are not permitted in checked luggage. I had an older external battery thrown in the garbage by security at the Shanghai Pudong airport because the brand label had worn off. So, perhaps also make sure that the external battery you’re packing is clearly and external battery.
Surge Protector with USB and Extra Plugs
Even some luxury hotels lack sufficient plugs in convenient places. They’re also scarce in many airport lounges. I often also have camera batteries and my daughter’s electronics to charge, too.
Carry a solution such as the Belkin SurgePlus USB Swivel Surge Protector and Charger to convert one plug into multiple plugs.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
The Bose QuietComfort 20 Noise Cancelling Headphones have been my go-to for years. My daughter has a pair as well.
Even in the age of Air Pods (Apple’s beloved cordless earbuds – which I love), these are still necessary because the sound quality is better and they will plug into most airplane entertainment systems, something that Air Pods can’t do.
I do also travel with Air Pods now as a more convenient way to listen to music or take phone calls.
Roll-Up Reusable Bags
Envirosax bags easily roll up into about the size of my fist. I toss one or two in my purse when traveling to avoid plastic bags or to carry the unexpected. They’ve come in handy more times than I can count. Buy them in a variety of prints and colors.
Or choose sold color Flip and Tumble reusable bags. The stretch bag folds up into a ball in a matter of seconds.
Small Cosmetic Pouch Full of These Items
I carry a small, easy to clean travel pouch in my purse and keep it accessible in the car or on the plane. I never unpack it because these aids always come in handy:
- Ginger Dramamine for motion sickness
- Travel-sized Tums (eating while traveling can be challenging)
- Ginger Drops (for motion sickness)
- Gum or mints
- Eye rewetting drops (for dry eyes on the plane)
- Extra contact lenses
- A granola bar of some sort, just in case
- Blister bandages (more below)
- Colgate Wisp (more below)
Sure, a designer travel pouch would be incredible, but mine gets wedged between airplane seats, in small crevices, sits on airplane bathroom counters… you need to be able to clean it. Lululemon, Herschel, Tumi and other brands make perfect pouches for this purpose.
Two items in this bag deserve special mention because I find that people don’t think of them.
No water, rinsing or toothpaste is required to use a Colgate Wisp toothbrush. Sure, they give out toothbrushes in business and first class on the airplane, but I still carry these because you can very easily brush at your seat.
These are more effective than chewing gum because it brushes gunk off of your teeth. And, what if the seatbelt sign is on or the bathroom is busy, and you can’t get in there to use a toothbrush and toothpaste. It’s not a replacement for proper brushing but indeed comes in handy during travel.
The most used items in my mini first aid travel kit are blister bandages. They come in handy in all sorts of situations that involve heavy walking. Maybe that new pair of shoes you thought were comfortable suddenly weren’t, or a child’s foot grew a half-size, but there’s nothing you can do about it in the middle of Disneyland (been there). Band-Aid makes blister heels.
Oil Blotting Sheets
These small, eco-friendly blotting papers absorb excess oil on your face throughout the day, and I find them particularly handy while traveling.
My regular wallet fits airplane tickets and up to two passports. I did that on purpose as my husband’s passport became unusable after being flung in a bag. A travel wallet also helps keep currency organized.
Many, like the YALUXE travel wallet above these days have the RFID blocking technology and a strap. The strap allows you to use it as a clutch.
Tip: Perhaps being your regular credit cards and ID to your destination but don’t carry them all around with you while there in case of loss or theft. I learned this the hard way after being pickpocketed in Venice.
It’s much cheaper to spend a little on a luggage scale than to pay an overweight bag fee. Weigh your bag with this highly-rated gem and the nightmare of shuffling clothes around various suitcases at the check-in desk will never occur.
An extra gallon-sized Ziploc Bag or two, especially when traveling with kids, can do everything from compress extra clothing (after the air has been forced out) to double as a disposable trash bag. Avoid the bags with the slider as a zipper as these can leak.
If you’re sensitive to light, an eye mask is a must. Not being able to see flecks of light around black-out shades helps mitigate jet lag. Or heaving forbid, your hotel completely lack black-out shades altogether.
I’ve learned that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all eye mask solution for everyone. Silk masks are a travel cult favorite for being soft and also helping to prevent wrinkles. Some people like the contoured sleep masks that don’t crush eyelashes should you blink while wearing the masks. Others prefer scented masks. Amazon made a list of best sleep masks to browse.
The rest of my must-have carry-on essentials include sunglasses, of course, and good lipstick. What do you pack?
See also: What to Pack for San Diego