Carry On Checklist: 20 Things to Pack for a Comfortable Flight

What to pack in your carry on

Wondering how to pack your carry on bag for the most comfortable and convenient flight possible? I’ve got ya covered! Read on for a list of recommended items to pack in your carry on to ensure that your travels go off without a hitch, whether you’re traveling by plane, train or car.

Having gone on hundreds of flights – most of them long-haul – over the past decade, I feel confident saying that packing a carry on is one of my top skills. (Too bad I can’t put it on a resume!) These are the items I never leave home without:

The Ultimate Carry On Checklist

Neck pillow – A neck pillow is an absolute must if you’re going to be on a flight longer than five hours, or if you’re the type that likes to nap while traveling. Unfortunately, I’m that person who has trouble falling asleep if I’m not in my bed, but I have found that the right pillow can make me significantly more comfortable.

I’ve tried them all – from the stuffed kind that sit on your shoulders and around your neck to inflatable versions, but the one that I find works best for me is the trtl travel pillow.

The trtl travel pillow is absolutely genius in its design as it works as a neck brace of sorts to keep your neck stabilized. In other words, your head won’t fling around from side to side should you doze off. It’s also incredibly soft and machine washable. My life has changed since I purchased this traveler favorite; long gone are the days of restless flights and merciless jet lag!

Airborne – Of course a good face mask and travel-sized antibacterial gel are must-haves during these COVID times. But even prior to the pandemic, I always made sure to pack a bottle of Airborne. Packed with vitamins C, A and E, as well as zinc, selenium and echiacea, Airborne is a really effective supplement for preventing colds.

I personally tend to get a little stressed around my travel date, so these effervescent tablets really come in handy and I’m certain have helped keep me well when surrounded sniffly, sneezing passengers.

Colgate Wisp Disposable Mini Toothbrushes – It unnerves me to brush my teeth in the airplane bathroom (eww the germs!) which is why I don’t leave home without my Colgate Wisp disposable mini toothbrushes. These little guys are a single use solution for keeping your teeth clean.

The tiny bristles polish off your pearly whites while a mouthwash pearl at the center of the toothbrush head keeps your breath fresh. You’ve also got a pick for removing stubborn food. And the best part is you don’t need water.

Eyemask – Another must have for you nappers out there. This one is made from organic bamboo, is comfortably weighted and includes a travel pouch for carrying.

Headphones – Headphones are a must for watching movies and listening to music to keep entertained during long-haul flights, but also for canceling out the crazy loud noise that’s consistent from take off to landing. Hands down my best travel purchase over the years is my Bose Noise-Canceling Headphones.

I never even realized how loud it was in an airplane cabin til I had these and made use of the noise canceling feature. Whenever I’d remove them, I’d experience sensory overload and get headaches. That’s how loud it is on a plane!

Not only that, but my Bose headphones great for keeping entertained, as the sound quality on these is unparalleled.  They’re also super comfortable; it’s easy to forget you’re wearing them. This is certainly one of the biggest ticket carry-on must haves, but it is well worth the investment of a few hundred dollars.

EarPlanes – One of the worst airplane experiences of my life involved an earache that came on 15 minutes into my flight. It was the result of a sinus infection I’d had the week before and the pressure exacerbated the situation. I really thought my ear drum was going to burst and that they were going to have to land the plane. (Seriously, the pain was worse than what I experienced when I got appendicitis.)

Fortunately, the Dublin-London flight was only about an hour and I was able to squeeze in a visit to the pharmacist at Heathrow. They recommended I try a pair of EarPlanes, special spiral-like earplugs that help to reduce pressure at take-off. Needless to say, these are always in my carry on, and should be in yours, too, if you’re sensitive to pressure.

Tea sachets – I’m a bit of tea snob and although I appreciate the option of tea during service, I’m usually not a fan of what’s provided. So, if you’re like me, I recommend bringing a few sachets of your go-to brew so you can request hot water and brew them yourself. I especially love brewing up a cup of Pukka Herbs Night Time tea before attempting to get some shut eye.

Empty water bottle – Water can be expensive AF at the airport, so you can really cut back on costs (and help out the environment) by bringing your own empty bottle and filling it up at a water fountain after going through security. I’m simple and prefer this Nalgene narrow mouth bottle that’s leak-proof and BPA-free.

Travel slippers – It might feel a little strange going shoeless on an airplane, but boy, is it way more comfortable especially when you’ve got a long flight ahead of you. One thing I loved about flying on Asian airlines is that they usually provided a pair of slippers to all passengers.

Sadly, this is not the case here in North America so I like to bring my own to maximize comfort. These travel slippers are perfect, as they fold up into a compact size, are super affordable and even come with their own carrying bag.

Compression socks – Although they’re not the most fashionable socks out there, compression socks can work wonders in preventing swelling and even dangerous blood clots when you’re on longer flights. If you have circulation issues, be sure to pack a pair in your carry on.

A good book – Because duh. I always like picking a book about the place I’m visiting to get a background on its history and/or culture. Audible is another great resource to have on hand. Try a free trial of Audible Plus here.

Snacks – Let’s face it: airplane food is the pits, especially now with COVID-19 limiting the options you have available. (Even food in the airport lounges is now subpar.) Furthermore, if you’re planning on snacking during a layover, you may end up getting delayed and not having the time to grab a bite.

Keep your tummy satisfied by packing a few extra snacks. Follow airplane etiquette when choosing your munchies; don’t reach for anything that has a noticeable smell. You’ll also want to pack something that’s mess-free. Think protein bars, vegan jerky, individual packages of trail mix, chocolate and perhaps even popcorn packs to complete your in-flight movie experience.

Facial spritz – Want to feel like you’re in first class without paying for it? Pack a travel-sized bottle of facial spray. (I like this one by Evian.) Spritz a bit across your face every hour or so to feel refreshed and moisturized.  (A travel-sized hand lotion and chap stick are also a good idea!)

A small trash bag – Roll up an old shopping bag and use it for trash you accumulate during your flight.

Baby wipesHand and face cleansing wipes are perfect for freshening up before you land, or for cleaning up unexpected spills and sticky messes.

Medicine – Like travel-sized Tylenol, Tums and any other important prescription medicines. Travel can sometimes be a bit of a headache (think lost luggage and long layovers), so be prepared for one! I always carry a dose or two of Tylenol should I get a headache, and a roll of Tums in case I experience any stomach issues.

Phone charger and power bank – Make sure your phone is charged completely before you depart. Your plane may or may not have an outlet for charging, so it’s always a good idea to bring along a power bank. There’s nothing worse than landing and not having enough power to hail an Uber or access your Airbnb address. (Click here to see my top travel apps to download before your trip.) 

A pen – Especially if you’re traveling internationally, you’ll have to fill out arrival and/or customs cards. Having a pen on hand makes this process far more convenient, as flight attendants often have limited supplies.

An extra change of clothesDelayed or lost luggage is a thing, and although it hasn’t happened to me frequently, it has happened. However, having a change of clothes (especially a pair or two of underwear and socks) can make the experience a bit less of a nightmare, especially if you’ve packed all your clothes in your checked bag.

Tips for organizing your carry on

Now that you’ve got your carry on bag packed, here are a few tips on how to organize your pack.

  • Consider a carry on that has at least a few different pockets/compartments. I’ve used my SwissGear backpack for 10+ years for all kinds of trips all around the world and will use it until it completely falls apart. (I think I’ve still got a few good years left before that happens.) Highly recommend this backpack if you’re looking for a great carry on or personal item bag.’
  • Keep similar items (toiletries, medicine, snacks, etc.) grouped together so they’ll be easier to locate.
  • Be sure to put all your travel-sized liquid items in a transparent Ziploc bag so you can easily handle them at security.
  • Make sure to check your airline’s luggage size limits to ensure your carry on bag will fit under the seat in front of you.
  • Keep a luggage tag with your contact information securely attached to your carry on in case you should lose it.

Bon voyage, y’all!