30 Days to Packing a Better Bag – Day 25: The Perfect Carry-on (Packing List)

Day 25: Packing the perfect carry-on

Welcome to Day 25 of 30 Days to Packing a Better Bag.

Assuming you’ve decided to check a bag for your flight, it now comes down to what you’ll bring with you immediately on the plane in your carry on bag. For those going carry-on only, your list will be a lot longer than this, but also probably include fewer of the non-essentials (like a pillow, or anything else that you can do without).

You’ll first need to choose a carry on bag that will be versatile enough to wear at your destination. You’ll fill it with the essentials to get you through the next ten to twenty hours of flying, as well as what you’ll need to start off your day in a new city.

Choosing the Right Carry On

The ideal carry on bag will fit comfortably underneath your seat or in the overhead storage bin and will be comfortable to carry around. It should also have plenty of compartments for your belongings. Both backpacks and purses make good carry on bags. Here are a few we recommend.

Carry On Backpacks

PacSafe Slingsafe 300 GIII– We are such massive fans of this bag as it makes both the ideal carry on and day pack. There is a pocket for your laptop or tablet, and the zippers include clasps to prevent theft, as does the exomesh lined fabric. It has two big pockets on the sides for water bottles and umbrellas as well as a front pocket with additional storage.

Tom Bihn Aeronaut– Guest writer Kit told us about her beloved Tom Bihn bag, which has been her carry on for countless years of perpetual travel. Their bags are well made and sturdy, perfect for getting shoved into overhead compartments and under bus seats. It has plenty of compartments for your items.

eBags Mother Lode TLS Weekender Convertible– Brooke reviewed this bag which was able to go from backpack to suitcase and also came with many pockets and compartments. It opens like a suitcase and is made to go with packing cubes.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack– This bag can fold up into the palm of your hand for when you don’t need it, making it a great travel accessory or carry on bag. The nylon material is strong enough to hold whatever you need to bring, whether it be a water bottle, magazines or some snacks for a long train ride.

>>Check out our full list of female backpack reviews.

Purses

Manhattan Portage– Caroline has been using the Manhattan Portage bag for almost ten years without it showing any signs of wear and tear. It includes a zippered front pocket and a flap that buckles. It’s a simple black bag, but doesn’t look too touristy in any destination.

Travelon Anti-Theft Shoulder Bag– Guest writer Kristin loves her bag that prevented her from being a victim of theft. It has side pockets, a long mesh lined strap and clasps to keep the zippers secure. The main compartment has enough room to hold your camera and other essentials.

carry-on packing list
Your carry-on list will vary, but here’s what we generally recommend.

What to Pack In It

For Comfort

  • Eye mask – To support sleeping in bright places.
  • Ear plugs – To cancel out noises around you. Ear buds and relaxing music can be a good alternative.
  • Pillow – To support your neck while sleeping.
  • Sarong – It can double as a blanket in a pinch.
  • Journal – For writing your thoughts or making note of important information.
  • Extra clothing – An extra top, bottoms and underwear will ensure you have a change of clothes should something happen to your checked luggage.
  • Tissues – Always.
  • Vaseline – Or lip balm.
  • Lotion – Skin dries out on planes.
  • Toothpaste and Toothbrush – Unless your airline still provides travel packs.
  • Wet Wipes – For freshening up in between flights or when you just land.
  • Deodorant and/or Perfume – Go with the solid kind!
  • Mini sanitizer bottle – Don’t travel without it.
  • Travel brush or comb and hair tie – For last-minute fix-ups and tangles.

>>See how to avoid dehydration while flying.

Important Documents

  • Boarding pass
  • Passport or driver’s license
  • Copy of complete flight itinerary
  • Address of hotel or hostel
  • Guidebook
  • City Map

Snacks and Entertainment

  • Valuables and breakables like jewelry, glasses or electronics – Never leave these out of your sight. Remember to protect your electronics, too.
  • Book or e-reader – To pass time.
  • Deck of cards – To make friends.
  • Water bottle – To refill and save money on beverages.
  • Snacks – Just in case the in-flight meal is horrible.
  • Grid-It organizer – To keep all things organized in your carry-on.

In addition, we recommend taking any medication that you cannot be without in your carry-on. This includes your birth control – or at least enough to get you through a few weeks depending on your destination.

Remember: Any liquids will need to go into a clear plastic bag for security purposes. Keep these bottles under 3.4 ounces (100ml).

Take Action: Pack Your Perfect Carry-on
Select a bag that will suit your needs as the perfect carry-on, whether it be a purse or a small backpack. Remember, this bag will probably function as your daypack at your destination. Assemble items that will make your journey more comfortable, but remember that any liquids will need to be placed in your liquids bag at security.

Is there anything we left off this list? Let us know what your essentials consist of in the comments below!

*Big thanks to Tom Bihn for supplying the Synapse 19 for our packing photos.

Written by Caroline

Caroline Eubanks is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, but has also called Charleston, South Carolina and Sydney, Australia home. After college graduation and a series of useless part-time jobs, she went to Australia for a working holiday. In that time, she worked as a bartender, bungee jumped, scuba dived, pet kangaroos, held koalas and drank hundreds of cups of tea. You can find Caroline at Caroline in the City.

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Gear We Use

Organization

Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


Backpacks + Daypacks

Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

Sea to Summit – Of all the Sea to Summit products, our most recommended is the fits-in-your-palm, super packable Ultra-Sil Daypack.


Personal Care

Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


Clothing

Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

Anatomie – Anatomie travel pants come with luxury prices, but they offer many benefits for travelers. See our review of the famous Skyler pants.

Travel Resources

Booking Airfare

Dollar Flight Club – Get flight deal alerts for your preferred departure airport. There is both a free and premium version (recommended for more sweet deals). Members save on average $500 USD per flight!

Skyscanner – Skyscanner is our preferred site for searching flights. They offer unbiased search results and are free from hidden fees. You can also book your hotels and rental cars.


Accommodation

Airbnb – Airbnb is the best place to book out apartments around the world. Sign up using this link to get $37 USD off your first stay booking + $14 USD towards an experience booking!

Booking.com – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Hostelworld – For hostels, Hostelworld remains our number one source for booking stays. Choose from straight up hostels, budget hotels and bed and breakfasts.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Dianne W. says

    Be sure to check with your overwater carrier(s) for weight restrictions and number of items allowed for carry-on. Many airlines limit each item to 7kg (about 15 lbs.).

    I check a medium bag and always wear and pack a complete quick-dry change of clothing, plus basic toiletries. If my checked bag doesn’t arrive with me I’m good-to-go with two outfits that can be washed in a sink and will dry overnight.

  2. Laura says

    Gum and mints are also great for planes to help prevent pressure build-up in the ears and ginger candies or crystallized ginger can lessen motion sickness.

    Headphones or earbuds are also handy for airlines that offer in-flight entertainment or as earplugs (as mentioned). A scarf doubles as a good blanket and rolls up easily.

    • Andi says

      I always make sure that I have a letter from my doctor stating that I will be traveling with certain medications because some meds are narcotics etc… I figure better safe than sorry. 🙂

  3. emilies says

    I always include a few pain killers like ibuprofen for stress or postural headaches and also mints to suck on/chew for dealing with ear pressure and/or nerves and travel sickness.

  4. qe says

    Hello. I don’t fly that very often, but when I do, I have this little dilemma. this also could apply to trains or generally when you’re travelling; I am one of those people that need to eat somewhat regularily if you’re going to be your best self. I will get underweight in a day, (I am always slightly above underweight-bmi) and adhd-like if I don’t get to eat something other than your average budget airplane food; sugars. but you can’t take food on planes. And I need fat and proteins, not just carbohydrates like a musli-bar or crackers. You can’t bring liquid-ish foods, like youghurt. What to do? I can manage it though, but my travel companions will have to follow me to a fastfood-place afterwards ( and not “skip food and go straight to the trains to save time” as they usually want ;)). but are there perhaps any tricks I haven’t yet noticed? 🙂

    • Chris says

      Hi qe. I’m sympathetic to your wanting to have something other than simple carbohydrates when traveling! I always take a baggie of walnuts and almonds (often with added dried cherries and/or chocolate chips) on planes. I’ve also taken a cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread. You could make just about any kind of sandwich. I usually take an apple or two, as well, but that doesn’t meet your fat/protein needs. You can’t get liquids through security, but you can buy yogurt or salads once you’re past the TSA checkpoint – depending on the size of your airport. If my companions suggested skipping food to save time, I’d point out that everyone will be much happier if I am able to eat! 😉 Good Luck!

    • Dani says

      you can buy to-go food at the airport, after going trough security, and then get them in your purse or back pack, no body cares about you bringing food on the airplane once you have gone trough security.

  5. Cheryl says

    All your chargers!!! Our luggage was lost for 1/2 of our trip to India, and while we were able to find clothing and toiletries, replacing our chargers (phone, camera, e-reader) was impossible. I am NOT a happy camper without my camera!!!

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