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Get your carry on essentials right and a comfortable flight awaits! Even if the airline loses your luggage, you can glide through your first few days with ease. Maybe even look smug. But it all starts with getting it right before you fly.
Here's our tried and tested list of carry on essentials for business travel, baby travel, solo travel and beyond.
Three main thoughts should guide your packing:
1) What do YOU need during the flight and at the airport?
2) What will the airline FORCE you to pack in your carry on rather than in the hold.
3) What do you need (that you can't easily replace) if the airline loses your main luggage en route.
You probably don’t need to be told this, but let's spell it out, just in case.
Essentials do not include a toothbrush and a clean pair of pants. These are easy to replace, should the worst happen.
Essentials are anything specific to you that would make you feel ill or supremely uncomfortable without it. Carry on essentials are also difficult to replace.
Airlines should be able to cater for you and so should your hotel. But let's face it. Things go wrong.
Handy carry on snacks don't make a mess nor grow fungus mid flight.
Flapjacks, energy bars, apples, rice cakes = GOOD.
Chocolate, bananas, mousse = ER, NOT SO GOOD.
Inside tip: pack some packets of dehydrated couscous meals that just require boiling water. A real carry on essential for those with dairy allergies, lactose intolerance, vegetarian or vegan diets. Try rice cakes for a gluten-free option.
A 20 hour flight is NOT the time to discover you need them and don't have them with you.
If you’re heading to somewhere similar to where you came from, you can muddle on through in the same clothes you’re wearing for a day or two while you sort yourself out. You may feel icky beyond the threshold of ick but you can do it.
However, if you’re heading somewhere much hotter or colder then life can quickly become miserable and you can even cause some permanent damage.
So, for hot weather, in your carry-on make sure you have:
For cold weather:
OK, so you won't end up ill without these essentials in your carry on. But they do help make everything much, much easier.
Blisters abound in different climates when you're often walking more often than usual and wearing different shoes.
Compeed changed my life (alright, it's a slight exaggeration but it's not too far from the truth!)
These second skin stickers cover the blister and cushion the surrounding skin from further damage. Best of all, you can easily fit three into your passport holder or travel wallet so that you always have them ready on the road.
This is even more important if you’ve lost your luggage and have to tackle new or poorly-fitting shoes in a new climate. Sorted.
A scarf not only keeps you warm on a breezy plane, but it covers hair on streets, shoulders in temples, and can double as a skirt for the day if your luggage disappears en route to somewhere bright and breezy.
You may need this more than you think: even in Rome, you need to cover up in order to enter the Vatican and Swiss Guards are on standby to check you have the right attire.
Recommended reading: Gift Ideas for Travellers; What To Buy People Who Love Travel
This might just be me. But, well, sometimes other people smell! A few drops of scented oil or a little spritz of something onto my scarf or tissue can make the whole thing a lot less unpleasant.
Just because. Handy if you ever get stuck and they've run out of paper. Useful to mop up any spills as someone passes a drink across you to another passenger. Handy to have something that smells nice, as above!
Freshens the breath, helps with a dry mouth, can stop your ears from going pop on take off and landing. Just don't be obnoxious with it, on behalf of your fellow passengers. Please?!
These are useful for so many reasons. They’re handy to carry about town, once you’re on the aircraft you can use them to separate the things you actually want on the flight from all the other equipment you needed in your carry on.
And if you lose your luggage and have to shop for more things, at least you already have a bag to put these things in to.
It takes up next to no space but leaves you with plenty of options.
Recommended reading: The Hiking Gear List: What to Pack for A Walking Holiday
These days, who doesn't travel with tech? Whether it's iPads for the little ones, full video gear for the vloggers or "just" a smartphone for maps and the grandkids, we all have batteries with us. Which means...
Security rules change all the time but one of the latest updates is that you have to be able to turn any device ON when asked. So, remember your charger!
I have two tips for this: a worldwide multi-adapter if you travel frequently and a multi-plug piece of kit or plug to multi-USB kit. This helps charge many devices at once while travelling. Portable chargers and power banks also become essential for long flights with connections.
Firstly, if you plan to watch something on your phone or tablet, make sure you have headphones that fit it.
Second, many swear by noise cancelling headphones on a flight. This is something that has never really bothered me but Mr Travel Lab loves them. You can also get headphones for children that come with a noise limit (for the programme, not the child, alas ;-) )
DO NOT put your laptop in the hold. Have it with you in your carry on, with an easy to access case as you'll have to remove the case at airport security.
Planes get dry and lips get sore. Either pack a dedicated lip balm, otherwise plain vaseline tubs can also treat blisters.
For long international flights, it's nice to be able to brush your teeth. Just remember to keep toiletry sizes SMALL because of the airport security checks.
Recommended reading: The Best Cabin Luggage For ALL Occasions (Seriously.)
Also, don't forget to check out these 23 long haul flight tips that most passengers don't know.
For some reason, I fought against eye masks for years. Why?! They're brilliant! Lightweight, useful, only mess up your hair a little bit ;-)
Foam ones work fine. So do using headphones and a background sleep app.
Planes can get cold and if you're sitting still, so will you. Some airlines provide blankets but not all do. So, either enlist your scarf from earlier or make sure you have a jumper with you.
Yes, you feel a little ridiculous but who really cares? Alternatively, you can buy pre-filled travel pillows that can clip onto your luggage but they're quite bulky. Only use if you have the luggage space.
Use a toiletries bag and fill it with a blanket or jumper once you're on the plane. Use it as a foot rest to help take the weight off your back and wedge yourself into position for sleep.
Read more about how to sleep on a plane here.
You can just about get away without a water bottle but life is easier if you have one. Many airports and airport lounges offer refills and it's easy to ask the cabin crew to refill your own bottle than to keep asking for separate glasses of water.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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