41 Carry-On Essentials for Flights in 2023 — Must Have Carry-On Items for Traveling
So you’re packing your carry-on bag for your next flight after using our Best Websites to Book Cheap Flights guide. In go the requisite wallet, travel documentation, maybe some earbuds, your phone… but what else should you pack in that one special bag you’re permitted to bring along? You don’t want to waste any of your space. You only get so much of it, after all. But you also don’t want to lug around a bunch of extra stuff that you frankly don’t need.
To help you pack your next carry-on bag, we’re listing the most vital carry-on essentials for both long and short flights (with a few specific product recommendations, too), by category, so you can pick and choose what makes the most sense for your travel style. Prefer to sleep all through the flight and have no need for entertainment? Then skip our entertainment section and look at our sleep essentials. Can’t stand the way your tastebuds change mid-flight and aren’t a fan of snacking in the air? Bypass our food and drinks section. Whatever your travel needs, we’ve got you covered.
Table of Contents
Carry-On Essentials for Short Flights
If you’re only spending a few hours in the air, you probably won’t need a plethora of items. You could likely get through your flight with only an under-the-seat bag, versus a full carry-on. Still, to make your trip the most comfortable possible, consider throwing these items in your bag, whatever bag you choose.
Whatever kind of traveler you are, these are the items you’re going to need.
- 1. A Fully Charged Phone. Don’t make the mistake of assuming you can charge on the plane. Additionally, it is smart to keep a portable phone charger in your bag just in case your phone isn’t charged!
- 2. Your Wallet and Cards/Cash. Did you remember to inform your credit card providers that you’d be traveling?
- 3. Copies of Your Travel Documents. Plus, of course, your original travel docs. Print the copies out and tuck them into your carry-on, too, just in case.
- 4. Printed Itineraries and Hotel Reservations. This is just in case your phone bites the dust or is stolen. Having this information on hand can be incredibly handy once you reach your destination.
- 5. Earbuds or Headphones. You might not necessarily like listening to music or watching shows during your flight. However, those earbuds or headphones will come in handy in surprising ways. From taking a work call in the airport to drowning out the sounds of a crying baby with white noise, they’re good to have. We recommend considering noise canceling earbuds or headphones on all flights.
- 6. A Charger and Your Charging Cords. Don’t be caught mid-flight with no battery! Luckily, most planes nowadays are outfitted with charging ports, so you just need to have your charger and cord. Amazon readily offers bundles of chargers of different chord lengths at discounted prices.
- 7. Medications. Don’t leave those medications in your checked bag, if they’re medications you know you need regularly. Sure, you can leave the ibuprofen in your suitcase, but if it’s something like a thyroid or blood pressure medication, keep it on you. You don’t want to be scrambling for a pharmacy refill in a foreign country if your airline loses your bag.
Healthy and Well
We all love to travel and the magic of flight, but the experience can work a number on your health if you’re not careful. These items can help.
- 8. Disinfecting Wipes. That tray table is gross. Grab a pack of disinfecting wipes before your travel.
- 9. Hand Sanitizer. Everything you touch has been touched by hundreds more before you. Sanitize.
- 10. An Extra Face Mask. Face masks aren’t leaving air travel for a long time. Have an extra on-hand, just in case you lose or drop yours.
- 11. Any Needed Anxiety Treatments. Whether it’s a prescription anxiety medication or something like a CBD gummy, or even something as simple as a stress ball, take it. If you know you’re an anxious flyer, this is one thing you don’t want to leave behind.
- 12. Tissues. You never know when you’ll end up with a seatmate who just tickles your nose the wrong way.
Food and Drink
Even if it’s a short flight, you never know when you’ll have a craving that in-flight cookies just can’t satisfy.
- 13. Water. Even if you don’t think you’ll need it, bring it. Whether you pack a personal reusable water bottle — a collapsible bottle saves space — and fill it post-security or you purchase a bottle of water in the airport, tuck one in your bag, just in case.
- 14. Snacks. Go for snacks that are going to fill you up and give you some much-needed nutrients, without zapping your energy. Junk food, especially salty foods, will make you feel worse on a flight than you might already. Protein bars, dark chocolate, and fruit are all good options.
Keep yourself occupied and have a little fun while you’re at it.
- 15. A Device Outfitted with Downloaded Content. It doesn’t matter if it’s your phone, a tablet, your laptop, whatever. Just make sure to have a piece of tech that contains enough shows, movies, podcasts, and music. Download enough to last you through the duration of your flight. You don’t want to be reliant on in-flight WiFi.
- 16. A Book or Magazine. You’re going to need some entertainment in the unfortunate event your tech dies. Popular e-readers like the Kindle are also great devices to bring.
Whether you just want to shut your eyes or legitimately try to get in some z’s, you’ll need these items.
- 17. A Travel Pillow. Just don’t be one of those travelers who wears it around the airport; the Infinity travel pillow is a good pick.
- 18. An Eye Mask. That’s just in case you do end up sitting next to that person who must keep their shade open on your 6 a.m. flight. A contoured cup sleeping mask might just save your nap.
- 19. Earplugs. Because you don’t always want to wear your earbuds or headphones when you sleep.
If you’re traveling for business, or are just a workaholic who can’t leave the job at home even while you’re on vacation, you might want to pack one of these items, so you can be your most productive while on the plane.
- 20. A Notebook and Pen. Because, let’s face it, sometimes the airplane WiFi just doesn’t work. It just won’t. At least if you have a notebook and pen, you can jot down your thoughts.
- 21. A WiFi Hotspot. You might not be able to use it on the plane. However, if you have problems during your layover or at your destination, you’ll be glad you packed your hotspot in your carry-on versus in your checked bag.
Carry-On Essentials for Long Flights
If you’re planning an all-day, overnight, or longer flight, you’re going to need a few other items. Consider bringing all of the above, but also these extra items to see you through your journey.
You’ll want to round out your in-flight necessities with a few extras when you plan on flying for longer than a few hours.
- 22. A Portable Battery/Charger. Don’t be left stranded with no power for hours upon hours, in the event your seat doesn’t have a charger or the in-seat charger doesn’t work. As we mentioned previously, keeping a portable phone charger in your bag is always a good idea.
- 23. Extra Toiletries. Whether it’s deodorant, mouthwash or tampons, if you know there’s a toiletry item that you don’t want to go more than eight hours without, go ahead and pack it in your carry-on.
Healthy and Well
Keep healthy, no matter how long you fly.
- 24. Compression Socks. Even if you’re a young globetrotter, a pair of compression socks can help when you’re on a flight that’s longer than a few hours. Keep your feet and legs (and overall body) healthy and safe. When sitting for so long in one position, you can experience, at best, sleepy legs and, at worst, a blood clot.
- 25. Sunscreen. Did you know that if you’re sitting in a window seat with the shade up for an extended amount of time, you could be exposed to damaging UV rays? Pack a travel-size bottle of sunscreen or a sunscreen powder for protection.
- 26. A Vitamin C Supplement. Go with the powder kind that easily mixes into a cup of water. You’ll get an easy hit of vitamins when your immune system is compromised. Vitamin C gummies work, too.
- 27. Chewing Gum. Sure, gum could find a place in the snack section of your carry-on bag, but really, the best reason to bring it on a long flight is comfort. Chewing some gum can help you relieve ear pain caused by the changes in pressure.
- 28. Some Basic OTC Medications. While you want to consider your everyday prescriptions as necessities while flying, if you’re on a longer flight, you might want to bring along a few, extra OTC medications, too. If you’re flying for an extended amount of time, you may just find that you wake up from that in-flight nap feeling under the weather. So, you’d rather have a pain reliever or stomach settler on hand, when you need it, versus waiting hours for relief. This is especially the case if you’re flying during flu season.
If you’re on a longer flight, chances are good you’ll be at least attempting to get more than a few winks. These products can help.
- 29. A Blanket Scarf. You can wear it throughout the day. Then, use it as a blanket in the event you want to sleep. Blanket Scarves have become increasingly popular.
- 30. Melatonin or Another Sleep Aid. Since most sleep aids are effective for six to eight hours, you probably wouldn’t want to take one for a short flight. But if you’re flying overnight or across time zones, you may want to bring something along to help you catch those z’s and arrive at your destination feeling fresh.
Comfort is key on any long-haul flight.
- 31. Travel-sized Skincare. If you’re traveling overnight or longer, you’re going to miss out on your normal skincare routine. Pack some travel-sized skincare products. Then, hit that airplane bathroom to keep your skin feeling fresh, regardless of the altitude.
- 32. Moisturizing Eye Drops. Your skin isn’t the only thing that’s going to get dry.
- 33. Lip Balm. Are you noticing a trend here? Moisturizing is key during any long flight.
- 34. Toothbrush and Toothpaste. After long enough, your mouth is just going to start feeling gross. Take care of it with a quick brush in the airplane bathroom.
- 35. Slider Shoes. After six hours, you’re going to get tired of those boots or tennis shoes. Pack some slider shoes to give your toes a little wiggle room or, better yet, wear them onto the plane.
- 36. Dry Shampoo. As your plane begins nearing its destination, you may just find you look a little worse for wear. Clean up with some dry shampoo.
- 37. Makeup and Beauty Products. Similarly, if you find that all of your foundation has rubbed off on your seat, it might be time for a touchup.
Carry-On Essentials for Children
But what if it’s not just you that’s on this upcoming flight, regardless of how long it is? If you’re traveling with a child, there are a few extra things you might want to consider packing in your carry-on.
- 38. A Change of Diapers and a Change of Clothes. Be prepared for a blowout. Be prepared for your child to spill the entire cup of orange juice that the flight attendant so graciously fetched for them, all down their front. As any parent will attest, children’s messes happen at the worst times. And there’s no worse time than on an airplane.
- 39. Something Comforting. Just like you might need to pop that anti-anxiety medication before a flight, your child might need something to soothe their nerves, too. Bring along a comforting book, stuffed animal, or other item to help them feel a little better.
- 40. Entertainment. Don’t just hand over your entertainment to keep your child occupied. Make sure everyone has enough shows, devices, books, toys, and games to go around. You want to keep everyone entertained for the duration of the flight. This probably isn’t the time to start limiting your child’s screen time.
- 41. Kid-friendly Snacks. You may be okay with your water and an energy bar, but Junior might want something a little more palatable.
Wherever, However, You’re Flying, Be Prepared
No matter how much you love or loathe flying, with the right gear packed in your carry-on bag, you can make your next flight that much more enjoyable.
Further reading: See our Ultimate Travel Packing List guide.
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