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8 Things You Should Always Pack in Your Carry-On

By Julia Hammond
Read time: 5 minutes

If you’re off on a big trip, chances are you’ll have a suitcase that you’ll want to check. But even so, it’s important to give some thought to what’s going on the plane with you, especially if you’re flying long-haul. After all, you don’t want to be stuck on a delayed flight or arrive at your destination lacking important items to make you comfortable. Here are eight things you should always pack in your carry-on.

Passport and Other Important Documents

Traveler packing suitcase with passport, airline ticket, and clothing
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When traveling abroad, you certainly can’t get far without your passport, so keep it with you at all times (and preferably in a wallet so it doesn’t get lost within a larger bag). Along with your boarding pass (if printed), travel insurance details, and a small stash of emergency cash, you might also want to keep the booking reference for your first night’s accommodation with you. Carrying a paper copy is a good idea — if you’re delayed and your cellphone battery is perilously low, you won’t have to worry about finding somewhere to charge up until after you’ve checked in.

Essential Medicines and a Hygiene Kit

Traveler packing hygiene items in suitcase
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Health and hygiene products are the next group of items you should always pack in your carry-on. It’s vital that any prescription medicines are carried with you on the plane so they don’t get lost in transit. And depending on your destination, you might also want to carry a copy of the prescription itself to satisfy officials of their purpose. A small first-aid kit and some antibacterial wipes or gel will also give you peace of mind while you’re on the go. Other products such as a folding toothbrush and toothpaste, stick deodorant, lip balm, and moisturizer will keep you feeling fresh, even on a long journey.

Travel Pillow and Eye Mask

Traveler using neck pillow at airport and browsing cellphone
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On flights where you’re hoping to sleep, it’s worth slipping a travel pillow and eye mask into your carry-on. Ensuring your neck is properly supported will help you rest, and wearing an eye mask means that open window blinds or bright cabin lights won’t bother you. Just be sure to test these items before you leave to ensure they’ll keep you comfortable. Then, all you’ll need to do to catch some z’s is to buckle up over your blanket so that the flight attendants can see you’re safely strapped in if the plane encounters any turbulence.

Noise-Canceling Headphones

Airplane passenger wearing noise-canceling headphones and looking at cellphone
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We’ve come to rely on in-flight entertainment to keep us occupied while we’re in the air, whether it’s the airline’s seatback offering or shows downloaded onto your personal device. Whichever you prefer, using noise-canceling headphones will help you block out background chatter so you can concentrate uninterrupted on the music, movies, or games you’ve selected. These high-quality headphones are designed with comfort in mind and are more effective than the freebies the airlines hand out, so you’ll be glad you saved space for them in your carry-on.

Phone Charger

Traveler sitting at gate using portable charger to charge phone
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We forget how much we rely on our cellphones — until the battery’s almost dead. Consider carrying a multicountry adpater and topping up at the gate while you’re waiting to board. And if you’re changing planes along the way, it’s worth packing a cable with a USB adapter so you can keep the battery topped up during your flight if the airline provides outlets. Alternatively, throw a portable power bank into your carry-on and recharge that way.

Refillable Water Bottle

Traveler filling reusable water bottle at filling station
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Air travel can be dehydrating, and cabin crew members don’t always have the time during a busy flight to deliver drinks on demand. Instead, pop a large reusable water bottle into your carry-on and fill it up at an airport water fountain before you board your flight. Over time, this will save money on the cost of buying bottles of water at the airport, and you’ll also be doing your bit to save the planet by cutting down on single-use plastics.

Snacks

Father and child eating snack on airplane
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On a long flight, you might also consider throwing in a few healthy, nutritious snacks to keep up your energy levels. Plus, if you’re stuck waiting for an extended period on the tarmac before takeoff, you won’t be worrying about a rumbling stomach on top of the delay. It’s a good idea to be mindful of the needs of other passengers by avoiding peanuts or other foods that may trigger an allergic reaction. Also, note that spreadables count as liquids when going through airport security. Finally, depending on your destination’s customs rules, you might not be able to deplane with certain leftover snacks, so bear that in mind when working out how much to take.

Change of Clothes

Open suitcase on bed showing contents
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While most checked bags arrive at the same time you do, there’s always a chance that you’ll arrive at your destination to find your luggage has been delayed or lost in transit. Fortunately, the majority of mishandled baggage is reunited with its owners eventually, but in the meantime, a missing bag can still have a big impact on your vacation. So, be sure to always pack a change of clothes, especially a spare set of underwear, in your carry-on. This will buy you time until the shops open or the rest of your belongings show up. Be destination-ready: If you’re heading to a beach resort, throw in a pair of flip-flops and a swimsuit; for a city break, don’t fly without a fresh pair of pants, a clean T-shirt, and some comfy waterproof sneakers in your carry-on.

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