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26 Best Carry-On Essentials for Travel

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Are you a first-time traveler who’s off to a faraway destination? Or a frequent flyer who hasn’t stepped foot at an airport in so long because of the global pandemic? Then you’re probably looking for tips on surviving a long-haul flight for your upcoming trip.

My advice for you? Pack as if your life depends on it – because it does. The key to surviving a long journey is to bring essential travel stuff with you in the cabin!

After years of traveling around the globe, I have finally found the perfect travel checklist. It was a never-ending process of trial and error. There was even a time when I’d overpack, fearing I’d forget something I’d need later in the travel journey. But I’m glad I didn’t give up because now I can go jaunting from one state to another–worry-free! Huzzah!

When flying, most of us normally need to pack two sets of luggage: check-in luggage and a carry-on bag on every trip. The essential items in your check-in luggage are a topic for another day. In this article, we’ll dwell first on the must-haves that your carry-on bag should contain.

Now, let’s cut this introduction short and head on to the comprehensive list of the 26 best carry-on essentials for travel!

Best-Of by Category

Category Product
For Luggage Backpack, Duffel Bag, Tiny Suitcase
For Organizing Documents and Valuables Travel Wallet, Document Organizers, Cellphone Bag
For Health and Hygiene Hand Sanitizer, Face Mask, First Aid Kit
For Travel Comfort Neck Pillow, Eye Mask

The Ultimate Carry-On Bag

While most airlines only allow one piece of luggage on board, some would allow you to bring a carry-on bag and even a personal item. I shall help you select the most suitable carry-on bag in this section.

Picking a traveling bag should not be taken lightly! When looking for a carry-on bag, always consider its durability, size, quality, and capacity. With that said, here are some of our recommendations for the ultimate carry-on bags to pack the items you need for your long-haul flight:

1. Backpack

A stylish and practical backpack for travel in color black

Backpacks are one of the most convenient things to bring on travels. They are more durable than purses or totes, spacious, and easy to carry. But be careful not to get just any backpack with you. Always consider your travel needs, your airline’s weight requirements for bags, and the travel bag quality.

My favorite thing to bring on flights is a large-capacity backpack. If you are someone who takes their laptop everywhere, then you will benefit from this. Consider it a bonus if it has lots of pockets, as it can save you money from buying pouches and organizers.

PRO TIP: Steer clear of military-style backpacks or ones with camouflage patterns. Carrying these drastically increase your chances of being “randomly selected” for a search!

2. Duffel Bag

Duffel Leather for carry-on essentials

If you’re not a fan of backpacks, you should consider another great alternative: a duffel bag or a rugged tote bag. This is great for people with weak backs because you can carry a duffel bag by hand or put it on top of your suitcase.

Additionally, this carry-on bag is great for organizing your travel essentials. Unlike a backpack, its horizontal space allows you to see your things in one glance.

duffel bag with a shoe compartment is always a must-have for travelers. Many will agree that packing shoes can be tedious as it wastes lots of space and leaves no room for other essential things. With their compartment, this could no longer worry you!

I’ve got a lot of time for duffel bags. If you find the right bag, you might even be able to forgo checked luggage if you pack smart!

See Related: Best Beach Bags With Cooler

3. Tiny Suitcase

Color red tiny suitcase

These are your lifesavers if you’re looking for more flexible alternatives for a carry-on – and there are tons of options on the market these days!

Tiny suitcases allow you a quick break from heavy lifting because you can drag them while walking around. But you can also hand-carry them when you need to! However, if hand-carrying a suitcase seems like a hassle, you can always get a backpack strap. This will allow you to carry your tiny suitcase like a backpack.

Consider the size of your suitcase; one that’s too big will be hard to carry, while one that’s too small can’t store all your carry-on essentials.

Also, check to make sure that it will fit in overhead bins. A rough standard size that should satisfy most airlines is 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

See Related: Monos Luggage Review: Is it Worth it?

Travel Organizers and Pouches

You can’t just shove your carry-on essentials in your bag and hope they organize themselves. I’ve tried! For an efficient organization of travel essentials, you need organizers and pouches. Here, I’ll guide you through what pouches you need, how you can use them to organize, and what you can use them for.

4. Travel Wallet

Good and compact travel wallet for organized and secure travel essentials

One of the best ways to save space in your checked luggage bag when traveling is to be smart with your organizers. Thus, don’t just use a regular wallet. Use a travel wallet with many pockets and spaces to prepare your essentials when needed!

This includes your passport, boarding passes, a pen, cards, keys, and cash. There are several options, but I recommend choosing a waterproof, RFID-protected travel wallet. RFID blocking ensures that your passport and credit cards are safe from unauthorized scanning. 

See Related: Types of Travel Bags for the Jetsetter

5. Document Organizers

Color black document organizers

Sometimes, traveling entails securing several documents, which can be overwhelming for most. Thankfully, portable document organizers can aid in your travel needs. 

When I have to bring travel documents on a long flight or a business trip, I like to get a waterproof file organizer with many pockets. These document organizers allow you to label each pocket to effortlessly find any business, insurance, or personal document you need. No more scrambling through a pile of papers with this multi-pocket envelope!

6. Makeup Bag

Makeup bag for travel filled with different cosmetic products

We often hear advice about bringing as little number or makeup products as possible when traveling. But you don’t have to do that if you have a compact, multi-section makeup bag. Look for the shake-proof and spill-proof features to avoid spilling liquid makeup in your bag. 

In choosing a makeup bag, consider the number of makeup items you want. Choosing a makeup pouch that’s too big may tempt you into bringing more makeup items than you need. This means more weight to carry and more things you might lose!

See Related: Best Travel Makeup Kits to Buy

7. Travel Jewelry Case

Travel jewelry case with lots of compartment for jewelries

Your vacation outfits aren’t complete without some bling! Jewelry can make even the most boring outfit look superb, so this is perfect for travelers who can bring only a limited number of clothing pieces. 

For this, you need a travel-size jewelry case that can store all kinds of jewelry. I recommend getting a compact multiple-layer jewelry case to squeeze into your carry-on luggage.

Additionally, ensure it has earrings and ring holders to help avoid misplacing small pieces of jewelry. Speaking from experience here!

8. Liquid Pouch

Two liquid pouch for travel

Liquid essentials can be a bother, especially because they are usually not allowed on flights if the bottles aren’t what the TSA thinks is acceptable.

Thankfully, you can put them in a TSA-approved, clear liquid pouch to make airport security checks easier and help you save space!

You can use liquid pouches to store liquid toiletries and skincare products, such as shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, etc. Bump up your organization by using travel-sized containers for liquid products to save space in your liquid pouch.

See Related: The Ultimate Summer Trip Packing List


If there is one thing that you should put first when traveling, especially for long-haul flights, it’s your comfort. Nothing is worse than sitting on a plane for more than ten hours with no comfort gear. Here, I’ll guide you with what you need to bring for maximum comfort!

9. Neck Pillow

Travel neck pillow set

If you’re like me, a lady who likes to take my sweet time sleeping on a flight, a neck pillow will serve you well.

Invest in an ergonomic neck pillow for comfort and to avoid straining your neck. Personally, I use a neck pillow with memory foam, which can mold itself to fit the shape of my body for adequate support.

Aside from comfort, it would be best to consider portability when choosing a neck pillow. These things can be pretty bulky at times. Make sure to choose a lightweight and compact one to save space in your luggage. 

10. Eye Mask

Tow travel eye masks in color pink and black

Up your travel comfort essentials with an eye mask! This is great for travelers who want a relaxed and uninterrupted sleep on a long flight. True, most international and long-haul flights will provide these for flyers, but they’re quite sad compared to what you could be sporting!

An eye mask generally seems simple for many, but did you know there are things to consider when choosing one?

The perfect travel eye mask is lightweight, breathable, and comfortable. You can even buy ones made from cooling fabric!

Choose a sleeping mask with adjustable straps, so you don’t have to worry about it compressing your nose, skin, and eyes. Consider the eye mask’s fabric to ensure it doesn’t irritate your skin.

See Related: What to Bring on a Camping Trip with Friends

11. Comfy Slippers and Pullovers

Pair of comfortable slippers as travel essential

Of course, flight sleeping gear is not enough without some comfortable slippers and pullovers to snuggle into. I especially recommend these items if your flight goes on for several hours. Trust me, sitting on the plane for over ten hours in sneakers and a T-shirt will make your trip unbearable.

And don’t you dare go barefoot. Not only is it gross for everyone around you, but planes also are not quite as deep-cleaned as you might think!

Pick the most lightweight slippers so you can simply squeeze them into your bag after use. Faux fur slippers are great for people who often have cold feet. Meanwhile, a hooded pullover sweatshirt is a perfect substitute for a blanket. 

12. Compression socks

Set of color black compression socks

Compression socks are well-known for their ability to prevent blood clots, a concern for many who fly regularly. Because of the time spent sitting on planes, leg massagers can help improve circulation in the lower half of the body.

It’s normal for your legs to need some time to adjust to movement after a lengthy flight. Compression socks not only help the blood in your legs circulate better, but they also reduce leg fatigue.

See Related: How to Pack For a Camping Trip [Step-by-Step Checklist]

Safety and Health

Airports are one of the most dangerous places to be during a pandemic. But thankfully, you can always take extra steps to ensure you’re traveling safely.

Let’s look at some of the carry-on essentials you need for your health and safety before, during, and after your every flight.

13. Air Purifier

Wearable air purifier as a travel essential

The COVID-19 virus is an invisible and potentially deadly foe, so you should always be two steps ahead when out in the open to avoid catching the virus. A portable air purifier is one of the best ways to lessen the risk of catching the virus.

Wearable air purifiers are perfect for travelers because you can wear them on your neck and forget they were even there. They are lightweight, portable, and add an extra layer of protection.

14. Hand Sanitizer or Rubbing Alcohol

Set of hand sanitizers for travel

No modern health gear is complete without hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol. You will run into thousands of people throughout your trip and stay in public spaces. Having a cleaning agent on hand will help you cut the risk of catching diseases.

When traveling, you will want to use a spray hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol. This allows you to effortlessly cleanse your hands and any surfaces that you get in contact with. I like to spray down my tray table, plane seat, overhead compartment, and belongings before touching them.

For easy access, you can get a keychain for your sanitizer or rubbing alcohol and attach it to your carry-on.

See Related: Best Travel Blenders: Portable Options to Buy

15. Face Mask

Face masks as a travel essential

Whether or not a face mask is required on flights, we recommend you wear and bring some for your safety and those around you. Face masks add a layer of protection against unwanted diseases and avoid harming others as well. 

Disposable masks are great for short or long-haul flights because you can easily toss them out after a few hours. If you’re traveling with a child, you might want to get separate face masks for kids for their comfort.

See Related: Skyscanner Alternatives to Book Travel

16. Medications

Hand holding a medicine container filled with pills and tablets

A long flight doesn’t have to be dangerous for people who need regular medication. If you take medication on a strict routine, you should never skip them while traveling. It is especially hard to fall ill in a faraway town or foreign country. You must be responsible for your medications to avoid issues.

You might want to get a pill organizer to have all your medicine pills and tablets in one place. Pill organizers are compact and lightweight, so you can easily shove them into your bag and other carry-on essentials. 

On trips, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Thus, I also like to secure my medical needs through travel insurance. Aside from the normal flight delays, travel insurances ensure that your health and safety are assured to be compensated wherever you are. You might want to inquire about SafetyWing, which offers great deals and insurance packages.

See Related: What is the Cheapest Way to Travel Across the US?

17. First Aid Kit

A set of First Aid Kit in color blue and red

Travelers normally forget first aid kits in their carry-on bags, but I want to ensure you won’t. When traveling far, you never know what will come your way, so it’s best to come prepared. A first aid kit can save your life and avoid worsening medical situations.

Don’t worry; traveling doesn’t require a big box of first aid supplies. A small multi-pocket first aid kit will do. Tailor the content of your first aid kit to your needs. For instance, if you have allergies, ensure your first aid kit has an epinephrine injection.

Essential Carry-On Gadgets

Gadgets have become everyone’s carry-on essentials. After all, these items provide great company and entertainment during a long flight. But don’t make the mistake of shoving your gadgets in your luggage carelessly. In this section, I’ll share some tips on storing your gadgets in your checked luggage, as well as what to bring.

18. Cellphone Bag

Color blue cellphone bag with hear shape zipper slider

Surely, your cell phone will be near you throughout your flight, like mine is. However, I find it inconvenient to have it in hand at all times, stuffed into a pocket that requires inconvenient rummaging, or place it somewhere I can easily misplace it. To help with my dilemma, I got myself a crossbody phone bag

It’s a small bag that you can use to hold your phone when not in use. I like it for its lightness and simplicity. Plus, it’s very versatile. I can use it while traveling or running errands. It’s also not limited to your phones; it can fit cash, bank cards, keys, and other small items.

See Related: Father-Son Trip Ideas

19. Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones

Noise-Canceling Bluetooth Headphones in color black

The airplane buzz is one of the things I dislike the most about traveling. Thus, noise-canceling Bluetooth headphones are one of my carry-on essentials. It allows me to enjoy my little world in a plane full of people and helps me have a peaceful nap. Invest in wireless headphones so you don’t have to worry about a tangled headphone jack.

Along with noise-canceling headphones, get yourself a sturdy headphone case. As good as they may be, good noise-canceling headphones can be a pain to pack because of their shape. With a headphone case, you can keep your Bluetooth headphones safe and sound in your checked luggage.

20. Power Bank

Color red portable power bank

Your ultimate carry-on essentials are incomplete without a portable battery or power bank! This thing is especially important for traveling to make sure you don’t end up with an unusable phone or tablet. You might want to get a power bank that offers more than one cable slot to charge multiple devices simultaneously. Make sure to have it recharged before jumping on your next flight.

See Related: Father-Daughter Trip Ideas

21. Laptops

Laptop for travel and work essentials

Laptops are a staple in almost everyone’s carry-on essentials, especially people going on business trips, digital nomads, and students. 

Whenever I have to bring my laptop on a long-haul trip, I use my KALIDI leather laptop sleeve. A great feature of this laptop sleeve is that you can also use it as a laptop stand, which is highly convenient when getting things done on the plane or at the airport. 

Choose a laptop sleeve with a soft, dust-proof interior fabric, like this one from KALIDI. This will prevent scratches and dirt on your laptop.

22. Camera

Camera pouch with camera inside for travel

Digital cameras are allowed for carry-on luggage and checked baggage based on travel policies. However, because cameras are delicate gadgets, I strongly advise stowing them in your carry-on baggage at all times. This way, they avoid the attention of the less courteous baggage handlers!

For this, you have to look for a camera pouch that is both compact and functional. Ensure that the pouch can fit both the camera, its portable charger, and all its accessories. This way, you can save space in your carry-on bag and have your camera gear in one place.

See Related: Best Cameras for Travel Blogging

Other Travel Essentials

Though they don’t fit in a particular category in your carry-on luggage, don’t forget to add miscellaneous items to your list of ultimate carry-on essentials, as these are a must-have. These things have special purposes that will make long flights much more comfortable.

23. Collapsible Water Bottle

Color blue travel collapsible water bottle

Forget the usual big, bulky tumblers that take up lots of space in the luggage! It’s time for you to upgrade to a collapsible water bottle

As the name suggests, you can compress this Tumbler once you’re done using it. That way, you can easily shove your collapsed water bottle into your carry-on bag or even your pocket. Don’t worry about leaks because most collapsible water bottles are leak-proof, so your baggage is safe from watery accidents. 

24. Snacks

Box of different snacks for travel

Unless you plan on sleeping during your entire flight, you can’t forget your snacks when traveling. Eating chips or dried fruit while watching a movie onboard is one of the best pleasures for an airline nomad! However, the dilemma starts when you don’t finish your food.

To avoid wasting a perfectly fine bag of chips, you can use bag sealers to help keep your chips from sogging up or falling out in your carry-on bag. These bag sealers come in different sizes, so you can definitely use them even for small granola bar bags.

A bonus tip would be to bring a pack of mints to keep your mouth fresh. You never know who you might run to!

See Related: Amazing Resorts & Hotels With Animals On-Site

25. Lip Balm

Set of two lip balms

Many travelers overlook the importance of bringing lip balm for long travels. Do you ever notice how dry your lips become on a plane? The low levels of humidity in airplanes are to blame for that.

To combat this, you might want to bring a lip balm. A tinted lip balm is great in your pocket, so you can easily swipe it on your lips for some color and moisture. The good news is that lip balms are not considered liquid and, thus, allowed inside planes!

26. Extra Cash, ATM Cards, Credit Cards

Hand holding different debit and credit cards

Uncertainties are common when traveling anywhere, so always add a layer of defense against them by bringing extra cash with you. A spare change is also a must-have.

I don’t advise putting extra cash in your travel wallet. Instead, I encourage you to keep them in a separate wallet or a cash envelope

However, if you’re not a fan of bringing cold hard cash while traveling, consider getting a credit card for your purchases. I use the American Express credit card when traveling as you can use their credit cards almost anywhere around the globe–whether it’s the Bahamas or Japan! Remember to keep it safe in your pockets or your checked luggage.

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