Items You Should Always Keep in Your Carry-on Luggage

Whether your flight is long or short, having the right items in your carry-on bag can make all the difference between a nice relaxing flight and a very uncomfortable one. I learned a valuable lesson when my husband and I flew to Hawaii one year and all I carried on the plane was a paperback book. With all the stopovers, scheduled and unscheduled, the flight ended up being 13 hours long. Never again! Never again was I that unprepared when flying.

The items that a person puts in their carry-on bag will depend on the individual’s personal wants and needs. My experience of flying to Hawaii plus having flown to Europe three times, Mexico three times, multiple cities within the United States, and a very long bus trip to Canada, has enabled me to put together a full-proof list of necessary items that anyone would want to consider for their carry-on bag.

I have created four categories for my items in order that all areas would be covered and nothing left out. When a person travels, either by plane, train, bus, or car, they usually want four things. They want to be comfortable during the trip, have some form of entertainment to keep boredom at bay, not feel tired after the long trip, and they want to be prepared for the unthinkable (lost luggage). The categories I came up with are Just-in-case/What if?, Relaxation/Comfort, Entertainment, and Energizing.

Just-in-Case/ What if?

To me this is the most important category. What if the flight is longer? What if my stow-away luggage is lost? Do I want to be wearing the same underwear a couples of days in a row? No! Inside my carry-on bag I will have a small toilet kit. Inside this kit will be deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, small bottle of eye contact solution, extra pair of contacts already in a contact holder, small hair brush, a couple band-aids, a small sewing kit, and a pair of fresh underwear. For make-up, I carry very little. I have a small compact with powder, mascara, and a small sample tube of lipstick. If it is a really long flight, I will also put a small container of wet wipes and a fresh T-shirt in my carry-on bag. Before landing I can go in the bathroom on the plane to freshen up with the wet wipes and put on a fresh shirt.


Next to just-in-case this is the second most important category to me. Unless you are flying first class, nothing is more uncomfortable than airplanes seats. Many airlines provide pillows and blankets, but I’ve never been on a flight where they had enough for everyone. I take an inflatable, cloth covered, horseshoe shaped pillow. It is comfortable, light weight, easy to carry, and very affordable.

To stay comfortable, I wear loose-fitting clothing, slip-on shoes, and no belts. The slip-on shoe is mainly to get through security faster. However, I do like to slip them off while on the flight to give me feet a breather (as long as I am not offending anyone).

I keep ear plugs in an old film canister and use them to help drown out noise. They do not make it 100 percent quiet, but they do help. If the flight is an overnight one, I will also bring along a sleep mask to help block light.

It is also not very comfortable when my ears are popping. For this, I bring along a pack of chewing gum and will chew several sticks during takeoffs and landings. When the pilot has the plane at a steady altitude, I find I do not need to chew it.

If you are anxious about flying pre-record some relaxation music on a walkman or MP3 player to play during the flight.


What small, light-weight forms of entertainment can a person put in their carry-on bag? A deck of cards is always a good choice as it does not take up much room. You can use these to play a game of Solitaire or engage the person sitting next to you in a game of Gin Rummy.

A small paperback book is good entertainment. I would suggest an inexpensive book, one that you would not make you upset if it got lost. Crossword, Sudoku, or Seek-n-Find books can also provide hours of fun. If you need reading glasses, be sure to include those in your carry-on bag (the fold up kind are the best as they take up little room). Also an ink pen that you know has plenty of ink in it. If you prefer a pencil, be sure to bring a small pencil sharpener, just in case the lead breaks.

Small hand-held video games such as Solitaire, Poker, Golf, or even a Gameboy can help flight hours speed by. Although most airlines provide a variety of music for your listening entertainment, you may want to bring your own MP3 player with your favorite songs on it. Small DVD players are also a good choice, as you may not like the movie being offered on the flight (if there is one). Be sure to bring ear phones as the ones provided by the airline may not fit your player.


Keeping your energy level up on a flight can be hard to do with the food (or lack thereof) that some airlines provide. Keep energy bars or even energy mixes in your carry-on bag. Airlines no longer allow water bottles to be brought on a plane, but you can bring the mixes and ask for a cup of water or bring a collapsible cup with you. If energy bars are not for you, try trail mix or beef sticks.

The size of the travel bag is another thing to consider. No one wants to lug around a huge travel bag and the airlines to have size restrictions, so be sure to choose one that fits your needs. Mine is approximately 13 ½ inches wide by 16 inches tall and six inches deep, with a shoulder strap. I do not carry all the items listed above, but I do carry the majority of them as my carry-on usually stays packed and in my closet ready to go when I am.

Another thing to consider regarding your carry-on is if you are going to carry items for other people. If traveling with children, you may want to purchase a small backpack for them to put a few items of their own in to keep them occupied on the flight. If you are traveling with a spouse or friend, see if there are items you can share, such as snacks, books, or MP3 players to avoid carrying duplicate items.