33 Carry-on Must-haves T+L Editors Always Bring With Them. Every Time. No Matter Where.
The proper packing of a carry-on bag is a skill that takes time to perfect. Unless, of course, you’ve got access to a comprehensive list from a group of frequent fliers — say, Travel + Leisure’s editors?
Regardless of whether you’re packing a tote bag, backpack, or wheeled bag, it’s what's inside that counts, so we put together a list of absolute must-have travel items and some personal recommendations for the best in each category.
When packing your carry-on, you’ll first want to focus on creating a seamless airport experience and things like a travel wallet and an easily accessible toiletry pouch will help you stay organized and breeze through security. Then, make sure your in-flight experience is as comfortable and enjoyable as possible. This is where travel essentials like headphones, snacks, and a travel pillow will come in.
And finally, while it’s only the worst-case scenario, there’s always a possibility your checked luggage may not make it to your destination when you do. So you’ll also want to board with anything that would make it less of a headache to spend a day or two waiting to be reunited with your belongings, like your power converter and all of your chargers.
With these 33 travel must-haves, you’ll be prepared for anything your trip throws at you, be it lost luggage, noisy plane neighbors, less-than-ideal weather, and so much more.
Conventional, U-shaped travel pillows work for some people, but if you can’t see the appeal, assistant digital editor Richelle Szypulski recommends trying out the Trtl pillow — essentially a fleece scarf with a support system built in — or the Infinity pillow, which applies the infinity scarf concept to your comforter for grade-A cozy results.
Director of content operations Jessica Plautz is a Moleskine devotee for the brand’s “excellent quality and the different colors, themes, and paper styles that make it easy to build a collection over time.”
To buy: amazon.com, $16
Food & travel editor Lila Battis swears by the frill-free, light-blocking Bucky 40 Blinks eye mask while associate editor Siobhan Reid is “obsessed with” Slip’s ultra-luxurious silk sleep mask. “After I discovered the beautifying powers of its iconic silk pillowcase, I tried the sleep mask on a recent flight from New York City to L.A. and I can say with confidence that it’s every bit as covetable,” she said.
Compression Socks or Tights
If you’re going to be sitting in an airplane seat for longer than four hours, you may want to change into a pair of compression tights or socks to aid circulation in your legs. This will keep your feet from falling asleep and help to prevent more serious symptoms of sitting for too long, like blood clots.
For any scenario where you don’t necessarily want to be wearing your headphones — say, sleeping — but would still like to drown out the ambient annoyance around you, a set of earplugs is key. The staff agrees you can never go wrong with Mack’s.
To buy: amazon.com, $9
Long flights can be grueling without something to pass the time. For digital assistant editor Kim Duong, it’s her iPad Mini. “Before heading out on a big trip, I can download a number of movies, books, or games to keep me entertained on the long flight. It’s been a major game changer,” she said. We also think Amazon’s newest Kindle Oasis is the most travel-friendly e-reader yet.
Portable Charger and All Charging Cords
Only a few airlines provide USB slots for charging your devices in-flight, so if you want to watch a feature-length film on your flight without having to spend the first 30 minutes in Arrivals getting your battery back into double digits, make sure to pack a portable battery.
To buy: amazon.com, $20
T+L’s deputy digital editor Nina Ruggiero always fills a small pouch with everything she’ll need to easily access mid-flight and tucks it into the seatback pocket when she boards so she doesn’t have to keep retrieving his bag from the overhead storage bin. Etsy seller Pamela Barksy’s quirky designs are a favorite of her’s. “Her travel pouches come with a punch of personality,” she said. “It’s ideal for saying what you need to say to the passenger sitting next to you without actually having to speak at all.”
To buy: etsy.com, $17
Catching some sort of sickness on the flight is the fast track to ruining a would-have-been-restorative vacation. Don’t take the risk. Wipe down your seat, tray table, and anything else you’re touching on the airplane with one of these bad boys, which will kill 99.9 percent of viruses and bacteria. And maybe offer them up to your seatmates, too.
To buy: amazon.com, $7
It's a given to pack sunscreen to wear on your vacation, but you should also be applying it in-flight, especially if you’re in the window seat. The altitude can expose you to harmful UVA rays. We like Thinksport’s for its skin-softening texture and chemical-free ingredient list, but Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen is an excellent alternative if you want something lightweight, matte, and scentless.
Emergency Breakout Fix
A Day or Two of Toiletries
The lost luggage struggle is real — and the last thing you’ll want to do in response is spend $40 on all the tiny toiletries you’d need to have generally OK hygiene until you’re reunited with your belongings. Alongside the usual toothpaste, toothbrush, and floss, digital producer Karen Chen uses Go Toob toiletry bottles to bring along her hair and skincare favorites in TSA-friendly silicone tubes.
To buy: amazon.com, $23
It may be tempting to pack your travel adapter in your checked bag, but it’s another essential you wouldn’t want to be caught without in a lost luggage snafu. This Conair adapter works in more than 150 countries and gives you three outlets and a USB slot to plug into so you can keep all of your tech charged and ready to go. Just be sure to use it with dual-voltage devices only, as it doesn’t convert electrical voltage.
To buy: amazon.com, $20
Because you’ll likely be bringing along more than your everyday wallet can hold — multiple kinds of currencies, tickets, hotel key cards, et cetera — it’s extra important to stay organized. If nothing else, you'll at least want a passport cover to keep your most important travel document safe from harm.
If you don't mind the rain, skip this one. But if it will ruin your trip and possibly melt you, some sort of precipitation-repelling device is necessary. We like Eddie Baeur’s packable rain jackets and this compact travel umbrella, which you can get on Amazon.
A Copy of Your Passport and an Extra Photo
Your passport is, of course, the most important item to remember for an international trip. But you should also bring along at least one passport photo and a color photocopy of the pages with your information on the off-chance you lose it abroad. The U.S. State Department’s website has more information about what to do when your passport is lost or stolen.
Slides are must-have for any trip, according to digital associate editor Tanner Saunders. "If I'm on a longhaul flight, I'll stick them in my backpack so I can easily slip them on to run to the restroom or get up and stretch my legs. I have pair that lives fulltime in my suitcase, so I never have to worry where they are. Plus, they're super handy if you're staying at a home or airbnb that doesn't allow shoes," he said.
To buy: zappos.com, $45
While Weleda’s Skin Food is a bit of a cult-favorite in the T+L office, digital producer Karen Chen always has Curel’s Ultra Healing Lotion on hand. “Unlike a lot of hand creams out there, this one doesn't have a greasy, thick, or heavy texture. It goes on easily, absorbs quickly, and moisturizes better than any other lotion I've ever tried. With just a couple uses, you’ll actually notice your skin feeling softer and smoother. While this works great for dry, chapped hands, it’s also the perfect lotion for all over. Think: for soothing your skin after a long day of sitting out in the sun,” she said.
The often freezing temperatures on airplanes are no joke. Digital associate editor Madeline Diamond recommends staying warm by wrapping yourself in a scarf that doubles as a blanket. "I always get cold on planes but don’t like to use the blankets provided by airlines, so I always bring my own cozy blanket scarf, no matter the season or my destination," she said.
To buy: bananarepublic.com, $25
Noise Cancelling Headphones
For digital photo editor Mariah Tyler, it's crucial when traveling to have a way to tune out unnecessary noise of other passengers. "Having headphones with an aux cord is the key to taking advantage of in-flight seat back entertainment, unlike being stranded with bluetooth only, and the over-the-ear design let's everyone around you know you're not listening," she said.
To buy: amazon.com, $50
Photo editor Skye Senterfeit recommends all types of hydrating products when it comes to carry-on essentials. "I get downright parched on planes, so my carry-on is always packed with things to keep me hydrated and moisturized in-flight. I rotate through a bunch of different products, but some of my ultra-moisturizing go-tos are: lip balm and face oil from Biossance; and lubricating eye drops. And, you’ll find me sipping water nonstop from a bottle I’ve filled up before boarding.
Digital associate editor Tanner Saunders agrees on the importance of moisturizing. "Flying makes your skin super dry — a feeling that I absolutely hate. I'm a big fan of this Olay moisturizer because it's it's easy to travel with, feels great on the skin, and is totally affordable. Pack this in your bag and apply as soon you notice the altitude bring you down."
Emergen-C Drink Mix
Want to avoid getting sick while traveling? Assistant editor Madeline Bilis swears by Emergen-C. "I have an undying love for Emergen-C (some say I go overboard with it, but I disagree). When flight attendants roll out the beverages, I'll always pour a packet into a cup of water to give my immune system a boost," she said.
To buy: amazon.com, $15
Even if you're traveling to a warm destination, cozy socks always come in handy during air travel. Features director Flora Stubbs never flies without a pair. "Some airlines provide socks, but many don't. So I always put a favorite pair in my carry-on, just in case. Having warm, comfy feet makes flying far more pleasant, especially during overnight flights," she said.
To buy: bergdorfgoodman.com, $20
A Spare Change of Clothes
Senior editor Sarah Bruning learned the hard way, "read: a lost checked bag en route to India that only arrived six hours before I left to return home," to always keep an extra outfit in her carry-on bag.
"My go-to is usually a cardigan and a versatile black maxi or midi dress, but I just got a few wrinkle-resistant items from ADAY's new travel capsule collection that I can't wait to take on my next trip. They're designed to mix-and-match, which means they can easily be stretched into an extra day or two's worth of outfits if necessary," she said.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $119
Disorganized tech can be a nightmare while traveling. Digital associate editor Madeline Diamond found one product to avoid the hassle: "my chargers and cords always seem to get tangled when I’m storing them in a backpack or tote, so I love these flexible rubber twist ties that allow me to wrap my cables safely and easily."
To buy: amazon.com, $5
Deputy digital editor Nina Ruggiero takes airplane footwear seriously. "Under no circumstances do I ever believe it's OK to go barefoot on a plane. Clean socks in your seat I can deal with, I guess, but what about when it's time to stretch your legs or go to the bathroom?" she said.
Here's here solution: "For long flights, I always pack a good, warm pair of slippers. I like these shearling-lined slipper booties from Olukai because they look like shoes, but are comfortable and cozy enough to nap in. They're lightweight, but they're not tiny — so I always pack smaller items inside of them to better utilize carry-on space."
To buy: nordstrom.com, $140
Paracable Lightning Cable
A durable charging cable is a must-have for T+L associate editor Hannah Walhout. "Arriving in a new place with an uncharged phone can be disorienting—even if you have planned ahead and know where you're going, and especially if you haven't (ahem, 19-year-old me who landed in Madrid without writing down the address of my hostel). I always bring my Paracable with me because it's practically indestructible, no matter how messily I shove it into my bag. If it's not a safe bet that the plane will have a USB port at each seat (regional flights, for example), I'll also bring a portable charger," she said.
To buy: amazon.com, $27
Vintner's Daughter Active Botanical Serum
Travel + Leisure editor-in-chief Jacqueline Gifford is no stranger to long-distance travel. "I’m often on planes for long stretches—19 hours from Newark to Singapore is the record," she said.
But she has a secret to keeping her skin hydrated: "Dry skin is a common problem. Which is why I can’t survive without this essence, which is like a mini face-lift and brightener in a bottle. The lightweight, water-like substance is packed with 13 botanicals, vitamin C, marine microalgae, and more. I’m also obsessed with the Vintner’s Daughter founder, April Gargiulo, who has a less-is-more approach to beauty that I find refreshing."
To buy: neimanmarcus.com, $185
Immune Support Gummies
Immune support gummies are a necessity for commerce writer Hillary Maglin. "Planes are notoriously bacteria-ridden, and while disinfecting your seat tray and using hand sanitizer during flights are definitely helpful, I like to double-down on plane germs by taking immune system boosters like Zarbees Naturals. I'll start taking the fruity gummies a day or two before my flight, and will continue the day of and onto the plane. No one wants to be sick on vacation or a business trip, and a little immune support ups your chances of healthy travel," she said.
To buy: amazon.com, $16
Indie Lee I-Recover Mind & Body Gel
Air travel can be a nightmare if you have chronic neck and shoulder pain. Associate editor Hannah Walhout found a solution in this gel from Indie Lee: "It's like a luxe version of Icy Hot—silky, fast-absorbing, and powerful, with a much subtler scent. Stiff necks and tight shoulders be gone!"
To buy: sephora.com, $48
Kinto Travel Tumbler
Enjoying cold brew coffee on-the-go is easier than ever, thanks to this recommendation from T+L senior editor Sarah Bruning: "Having good cold-brew coffee on the road is a non-negotiable for me, but I'm also not a morning person, so I'm not about to schlep a whole handgrinder/pour-over/Aeropress situation. It's been a challenge to find a low-fuss, high-quality set-up, but now that specialty roasters like Counter Culture and Tandem have introduced instant single-serve options, I can make a cup right in my favorite tumbler no matter where I am—even on a plane."
To buy: amazon.com, $38
It's no secret that flying can be a huge source of anxiety. Digital photo editor Mariah Tyler swears by these CBD gummies to calm her travel nerves. "From the time of check-in to reaching 30,000 feet in the air, anxiety levels skyrocket. I've recently gotten into the habit of taking one CBD gummy on my way to the airport to help calm the process of waiting in airport lines and boarding the plane. We could all be less stressed in the air so these are a major must-have," she said.
To buy: puresciencelab.com, $80
Lip balms are another essential T+L editors swear by. For example, LanisohHPA Lanolin is a must-pack for food & travel editor Lila Battis. “I've tried every lip balm on the market, and this is the one I swear by,” she said. ”Ignore the package description that says it's for nursing moms — it's a magical lifesaver if you've got dry, chapped lips. It's super creamy, stays where you put it, and actually hydrates, unlike petroleum-based products which just lock in moisture that's already there. And you only need a tiny dot, so a tube will last forever.”
Senior audience engagement editor Abigail Williams also identifies lip balm as a must-have. "I have the unique ability to develop dry, chapped lips no matter what climate or time of year. It truly is a gift. I've tried plenty of balms and ointments, but the Fresh Sugar Lip Treatments are by far my favorite remedy for flaky lips. The hydrating formula locks in moisture, while also giving your lips a rosy tint. I always travel with a few different colors to give myself a pop of color on no-makeup days. Best of all, the balm is SPF 15 for a bit of added sun protection," she said.