What to Pack in a Carry-On Bag? Here Are 20 Essential Items, According to a Profesh Traveler

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Whether you’re on a long-haul flight or commuter hop, or just a getaway because you’ve caught 2023’s wanderlust-y agoraphilia, you don’t want to get caught in mid-air without something to feel and look your best. That’s where intel on what to pack in a carry-on bag comes in, since clever you have included everything you need, from a little snack to a pillow for a little nap.

Meet the Expert

How to Decide What to Include in Your Carry-On Bag

While we all colloquially refer to this as a carry-on bag, this is in fact what airlines refer to as your personal item, which needs to be 16 x 14 x 8 inches; in other words, this is your big tote bag or underseat bag. We asked for packing guidance from Jennifer Hawkins, the globetrotting president of luxury travel public relations firm Hawkins International, a FINN Partners Company. For years, Hawkins has traveled more than 100,000 miles a year, so she’s constantly refining what needs to be in her go-bag. Having these 20 items in your bag is as important for your well-being as landing in the best island getaway, timing your California nature weekend and factoring in an itinerary buffer day.

10 Travel Duffel Bags Our Frequent-Flying Editors Won’t Leave Home Without

Warm Wrap

1. Club Monaco Cashmere Cardigan

Club Monaco

• Why We Love It: Lightweight cashmere, loose fit

“I grab some kind of wrap; I like those sweater scarfs from Club Monaco because they’re cashmere and I can’t wear wool, I’m allergic,” Hawkins says. This 100 percent cashmere wrap comes in five neutral shades to blend right in with your travel wardrobe. And when it’s folded, it takes up practically no space in your carry-on bag.

Size range: XS/S, M/L

what to pack in a carry on eye mask

Eye Shade

2. Bucky Blockout Eye Shade


Why We Love It: Indents allow you to blink, comes with ear plugs

“This eye shade is great, it’s really lightweight,” Hawkins says. And it’s easy to wash out in the sink, after you’ve enjoyed it in-flight for its complete light-blocking capability without smooshing your eyelashes.


3. Nature Valley Granola Bars

Nature Valley

Why We Love It: filling, refreshing, no sugar coma afterward

“You can’t get anything in the plane or airport, and you have to be careful what you bring,” she says. “Once I brought yogurt they could not let me take it on board. So now I bring berries, banana or an orange, almonds and a granola bar.”

what to pack in a carry on lip balm

Why We Love It: soothing and moisturizing, clean beauty formula

“I usually don’t spend this on a lip balm, but I have to say, this really works,” Hawkins admits. (Psst: It’s dermatologist-approved, too.)

• Why We Love It: Convenient, kills 99.99 percent of bacteria

You’re not going to be able to indulge in a nice, thorough hand-washing mid-flight, and the washroom lav is so tiny and water-restrictive…so throwing a 10-pack of these wipes in your bag is like insurance against picking up some errant cold and flu season germs. This multi-pack has 200 wipes total, and each pack of 10 wipes has a resealable closure so it won’t dry out between uses.


6. Amazon Fire 7 Tablet


Why We Love It: Up to 10 hours of battery life, supports all streaming services

Because maybe you want to binge-watch in the gate area as well as on-board. As for Hawkins, of late she’s been tapping into Audible: “I listened to a whole book on one recent flight.” (If you’re in need of some recs, we’ve got you.)

Noise-Cancelling Audio Tech

7. Apple AirPods Max


• Why We Love It: Noise cancelling, memory foam ear cushions

At 13.6 ounces, these set a new standard for over-ear headphones, and with streamlined Apple design, they have become the cool flex to wear even outside the airplane cabin. These have not only full noise-cancelling capability, they also come with Transparency mode, which lets you hear someone talking to you without all the other ambient noise interfering. And while a full charge gets you 20 hours of movie playback or talk time, these babies can convert five minutes of charging during your layover time to 1.5 hours of operation.

Nail File

8. Compact Nail File by Revlon


Why We Love It: Two-sided filing, safe for security checks

If you’ve ever tried to stay peaceful on a long flight with a torn fingernail, you’ll never leave home without this again.

Why We Love It: Comes in dozens of colors, holds 18 ounces

“Now that most airports have a refillable water station after you’ve gone through security, I always travel with a refillable water bottle,” Hawkins says. We like this stainless steel bottle for its sturdiness, dishwasher-safe powder coating and non-spill, tight-fit lid.

Why We Love It: Imported silk, oversized styling

Jennifer Hawkins has had enough of the overhead air vent blowing downward, right on her. “I always have my neck covered. Along with my cardigan wrap, I wear a regular scarf,” she says. This classic dotted black-and-white scarf gets top marks for its versatility and 100 percent silk warmth.

Why We Love It: Easy to access, keeps travel info handy

While travel arrangements and confirmations can often be pulled up in online files, there’s something reassuring about having a printed copy of itineraries. “I usually travel with those clear folders that have a seam on one side and one on the bottom,” Hawkins says. Along with her digital travel notes, “there’s something nice about an analog version—my whole family is trained to ask ‘where’s the file?’ when someone requests a confirmation number.”

What to pack in your carry on: compression socks

Compression Socks

12. Comrad Knee-High Socks

Comrad Socks

Why We Love It: Improves circulation, comfortable fit

“For long-haul flights, I would definitely wear compression socks,” says Hawkins, citing how doctors recommend them as an anti-DVT protocol. “There are some cute ones now, some fashion-forward ones” like these ombré ones made in nylon and Spandex.

Size range: S to LW

Travel Wallet

13. Neely & Chloe No. 29 Travel Wallet

Neely & Chloe

Why We Love It: Spacious enough for passport, doubles as an evening clutch

This travel wallet has slots for all your cards, a sleeve for your license, a place for your passport and sleeves for larger format foreign currency—as well as a zippered pouch for coins. Best of all, the 10.25- x 5.5-inch size fits so much inside, without squeezing to cram it shut, and the whole thing zippers closed for security. And you can add hand-painted flowers, embossed letters and other personalization for a small fee.

14. Clare V. Coin Case

Clare V.

Why We Love It: Small size, luxe metallic leather

This 5- x 3.5-inch zipped leather case is so lightweight you won’t even realize you’re carrying it—until you really need a panty liner or tampon and you’re at 35,000 feet.

Charger Carry Case

15. Caoodkdk Electronic Organizer


Why We Love It: Hard Eva case, compact size

Once you’ve learned to put all your charging cables in this 7.48- x 4.33- x 1.37-inch case, you’ll never leave behind that charging brick again. It’s got multiple mesh pockets and a slot for your phone, too, as well as the spare pen and pencil, if you like to keep your analog game strong.

Why We Love It: Non-greasy moisturizing, 1.7-ounce size

“I really like Naturapathica’s natural ingredients, and I’ve got to have a face lotion in my in-flight bag,” Hawkins says. This formula refines pores and absorbs any extra oil, so you’re not left looking shiny, and it’s got hyaluronic acid for deep moisturizing.

What to pack in a carry-on: Saje wellness kit

• Why We Love It: Three products for bedtime use, zippered case

“This little essential oil blend is what I use right before bed to calm and relax,” says Hawkins, whose travels wreak havoc with her body’s natural circadian rhythms. This trio comprises an oil blend, body butter and face mist that contain sleep-inducing herbs valerian root, chamomile and lavender.

Hand Lotion

18. Saje Clean Hands


Why We Love It: Invigorating scent, 1 ounce travel size

Lavender, tea tree oil and aloe vera are the hero ingredients in this tiny hand lotion that requires only a half-teaspoon to soothe your hands, which can really feel (and look) rough after even a short flight.

Weekly Planner

19. WAAV Weekly/Monthly Planner


Why We Love It: Portable size, sturdy spiral binding

There’s no better time than midair to check items off your to-do list, and to take a few moments to reflect on how you’re progressing toward your monthly or quarterly goals. The WAAV planner has prompts for setting and checking up on goals, as well as monthly guided content on topics including investment, environmental concerns and history.

Portable Power Source

20. Anker Portable Charger


Why We Love It: Charges cell phones 2x, 7.5 ounces

Sometimes, you’re going to be on a flight with no charging ports, or in a gate area with no free electrical outlets or in an Uber that won’t let you recharge your phone. In which case, this little 5.87- x 2.68-inch charger is your best friend…if your best friend has more than 60,000 five-star reviews on Amazon.

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dana dickey
Dana Dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...
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