32 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 32 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, we recommend 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.
Jot down all your travel-inspired ideas with a simple let luxurious Moleskine notebook that's sleek enough to slip into any carry-on.
To buy: amazon.com, $20
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
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, $25
Fill a small pouch with everything you'll need to easily access mid-flight and tuck it into the seatback pocket when you board so you don't have to keep retrieving your bag from the overhead storage bin. Etsy seller Pamela Barksy's quirky designs are a favorite.
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. Instead, use these alcohol wipes while traveling to kill germs while you're on-the-go.
To buy: honest.com, $7 for pack of 50
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, use these GoToob toiletry bottles to bring along your hair and skincare favorites in TSA-friendly silicone tubes.
To buy: amazon.com, from $18
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, $27
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.
Noise Cancelling Headphones
It's crucial when traveling to have a way to tune out unnecessary noise of other passengers. And while Bluetooth headphones are usually the most convenient pick, wired headphones allow you to take advantage of in-flight seat back entertainment, making them a solid choice for long flights.
To buy: amazon.com, $50
If your skin gets downright parched on planes, these are some of our editors' favorite skincare picks. From an anti-aging moisturizer to a brightening face oil, these products will help keep your skin in tip-top shape when you fly. And don't forget eye drops and a bottle of water to stay comfortable and hydrated.
Emergen-C Drink Mix
A Spare Change of Clothes
In the event your airline loses your luggage, make sure you keep a change of clothes in your carry-on. Comfy basics like cardigans, leggings, and maxi dresses are versatile enough to get you through a day or two before your luggage is returned (or you shop for a new wardrobe).
To buy: nordstrom.com, $68
Disorganized tech can be a nightmare while traveling. These flexible rubber twist ties allow you to keep your chargers and cables neat and tidy.
To buy: amazon.com, $8
Immune Support Gummies
Indie Lee I-Recover Mind & Body Gel
Air travel can be a nightmare if you have chronic neck and shoulder pain. This gel from Indie Lee is like a luxe version of Icy Hot, since it's silky soft, fast-absorbing, and powerful, all with a subtle scent.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $48
Kinto Travel Tumbler
Enjoying your coffee on-the-go is easier than ever, thanks to this stylish editor-recommended tumbler that will keep your drinks at the perfect temperature.
To buy: amazon.com, from $24
Protective Face Mask
Since we'll all be wearing protective face coverings in public for the foreseeable future, you'll want to make sure yours is comfortable to wear for long periods of time. This mask was specifically designed to be worn during travel, and it's breathable, anti-wrinkle, and odor-resistant.
To buy: amazon.com, $16
Lip balms are another essential T+L editors swear by. For example, LanisohHPA Lanolin is a must-pack, since it's both comfortably creamy and powerfully hydrating. If you're looking for an option with a little color (and SPF), opt for Fresh's Sugar Lip Treatment.
Cozy up on a long flight with your very own blanket scarf. You can use it as a wrap or blanket while in the air, but you can still wear it once you land if you're headed to a chilly destination.
To buy: nordstrom.com, $45
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