10 Must-Haves for Your Carry-On Bag

There was a time when all one needed for their carry-on bag was an airline ticket, a few toiletries, a good book, and maybe a snack and a drink. How things have changed! With extensive security measures in place, digitized ticketing and check-ins, and a need for multiple devices, air travel has definitely become more complicated. Your carry-on bag basically holds your existence for the next 2 to 20 hours, depending on where you are traveling! Here’s our list of 10 must-haves to make your flight less stressful and more efficient.

1.  Trip Documents

For quick and easy access, items like your wallet, boarding pass, and passport should definitely be kept in the front or top pockets of your carry-on. Save the hassle of having a paper boarding pass by downloading the airline’s app and using their digital boarding pass instead. Other documents to keep in a separate folder: physical tickets, invitations, itineraries, and any other documents with no digital version. Extra: When traveling abroad I always make double-sided photocopies of my family’s passports, TSAPre/Clear/NEXUS/Global Entry cards, IDs, and credit cards. I take one copy and store it deep inside my carry-on in a zippered pocket, and leave one with a trusted individual at home.

2.  Technology

Definitely your smartphone and charger! But do think through your other tech—these items are heavy. Do you really need your laptop, iPad, and Kindle? If you plan to work during the flight, then bring your laptop. You can leave your Kindle or e-reader at home and use it’s app on your iPad instead. If you want to bring several devices but know you’ll really only use your smartphone and iPad on the flight, pack the rest safely in your checked luggage. Don’t forget the chargers—keep them tidy and organized.

3.  Medications and Medical Aids/Devices

Any prescription medication should absolutely go in your carry-on. If your checked luggage somehow got lost or will arrive late, it will be a major hassle to get these meds refilled wherever you may be. Make sure they are in clearly labeled containers; the original bottles would be best. Liquid medication is exempt from the TSA’s Liquids Rule, but make sure to inform the TSA officer. If you have any medical aids or devices, check the TSA’s Special Procedures. Also bring travel-sized bottles of basic medications, too, such as acetaminophen, Pepto Bismol, and Tums—good to have on hand when you’re in the air.

4.  Mask and Disinfecting Wipes

Even pre-pandemic I always brought disinfecting wipes and gave my seat, seatbelt, armrests, remote, screen, and tray a good wipe-down. I’d give wipes to my spouse and kids to use on their seats, too. I may be vaccinated, but I still don’t want to catch a bug en route to my vacation or home. Masks are still a good option if you feel more comfortable and safer going through a crowded airport or sitting in a full airplane.

5.  Entertainment

Just like with the clothes you pack in your check-in luggage, lay out your flight entertainment—reading material, games, Sudoku book, etc.—and then only take about half. Don’t pack a big hardback; read a digital version instead. Magazines are my favorite for flights; read on the plane and then leave in the seat pocket for the next passenger. On longer flights keep in mind that most planes already have screens with TVs, movies, and games.

6.  Collapsible or Foldable Water Bottle

Since you may not bring in liquids through TSA (except medications; see #3), these stashable water bottles are an excellent and more ecological option than a disposable plastic water bottle. You’ll definitely want to stay hydrated in that dry airplane atmosphere, and those little cups the flight attendants hand out just won’t suffice. Most airports now have filtered water bottle stations throughout, so fill ‘er up once you’ve gone through security. The bonus is now you’ll also have a water bottle to take around during your trip.

7.  Food

A bag of pretzels and a square of chocolate just doesn’t cut it sometimes. Bring a snack, a sandwich, or even your whole lunch—as long as it’s not liquid you can bring it! It will be tastier and healthier than the options on the plane, and definitely more budget-friendly than what’s at the airport.

8.  Valuables

Any expensive item such as a fancy camera or jewelry should be kept in your carry-on—don’t risk these getting lost or stolen in your check-in luggage. Keep it at the bottom of your bag if you will not need it during your flight.

9.  Toiletries

On a long flight, and especially on one with a connection, keep some small toiletries in a TSA-approved, clear quart-size zip top bag. You don’t have to pack all your toiletries, but just a few that you may really need in case your check-in luggage is lost or delayed. Things like contacts solution and case, toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste, deodorant, lip balm, and face cream. Get to know the Travel aisle at Target or your local drugstore—those small toiletries are a huge space saver! 

10. Extra Set of Clothing and Underwear

On a longer flight, and especially one with a connection, you just never know. If you don’t end up using it, then great! But if you end up needing it, it can really be a lifesaver. Put it into a small compression bag to save space, and place it at the bottom of your carry-on.


We hope this list helps you take your carry-on game to the next level! Of course it goes without saying that you should pack early, and not at the last minute. Make a list and check items off to ensure you don’t forget anything. Double-check it the night before you leave. If you need tips on packing your suitcase, we’ve got that covered, too. Safe travels!



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