What to Pack in a Carry On Bag: The Ultimate Carry On Bag Essentials List

I have a list of carry on essentials that I always pack in my carry on bag.  When I check luggage (which I rarely do), these are the items that go in my carry on bag rather than my checked bag.  Even when traveling with carry on luggage only, these in flight essentials are usually in my small personal item that is under the seat rather than my larger checked bag in the overhead.

My carry on bag essentials list includes all items I would need to be comfortable on a long international or overnight flight.  (For shorter flights, I skip some of these items as I do not need them.)  Also included on my list of what to pack in my carry on bag, are valuable and hard to replace belongings as well as those items which I can’t live without in the event my checked luggage is lost or delayed.

long flight carry on bag essentials list
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Carry On Essentials List

Not sure what to pack in your carry on bag? Here is a comprehensive packing list of carry on essentials:

Passport/other ID

These are essential documents for boarding your next flight and should always be in your carry on luggage.

Face Mask

Many airlines (including all U.S. airlines) require passengers to wear face masks when boarding and on the plane. The airlines might have extra masks for passengers but better to bring your own mask to be on the safe side.

Cash, credit cards, ATM cards

Cash, credit cards or ATM cards should never be put in checked luggage in the event your checked luggage is delayed, lost or stolen.

Printed itinerary/ hotel and flight confirmations

I like to print my hotel and flight e-mail confirmations.  I don’t want to rely on having wi-fi or my data plan working.

Glasses/ Contacts/Sunglasses

These items are hard to replace while traveling and should always be in your carry on bags. I also like to pack my sunglasses with me.

Essential medication and prescriptions

You don’t want to worry about not having any medication you need if your checked luggage is delayed.

Electronics (cell phone, camera, computer, adaptors), jewelry and other valuables

Don’t put anything in your checked luggage that you cannot afford to lose.  This includes electronics, jewelry and other expensive or sentimental belongings. If you plan to use your electronics in flight, you might want to bring an external battery so you can charge your electronics.

Change of clothing (including underwear)

It is a good idea to have a spare change of clothes and underwear in case your luggage is delayed. You do not want to have to live in the clothes you traveled with.  Yes, you can buy new clothes but stores are not open 24-7. I also bring a pair of flip flops that double as my shower shoes.

Push Pin Travel Maps

Reading material/entertainment

Long flights (especially in economy) can be awful unless you have something to entertain you like a book, movie etc. Make sure to pick a good movie or book that you can get absorbed in so that time flies.  While long flights have movies as in flight entertainment, sometimes the movie selection is not a movie that I would enjoy. Personally I find books more relaxing than movies. If you would rather not bring actual books, consider bringing a Kindle.

Toothbrush, toothpaste and floss

On a long flight you might want to brush your teeth.  I find it easier to sleep after I brush.

Lip balm, lotion and other toiletries

The air in the flight is very dry.  Lip balm and lotion are at the top of my in flight essentials list. Also bring any toiletries you would need on a flight including face wipes, contact lens solution and makeup.

Antibacterial wipes or sanitizing lotion

Airplane surfaces can be very dirty.  I use antibacterial wipes to wipe down my tray table, arm rests etc. These wipes are my favorite because they are individually wrapped.

Eye mask, ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones, sleeping pill or melatonin

If you have trouble sleeping with lights on bring an eye mask. Ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones are also useful to block out noise and help you sleep. Melatonin has been proven to help with sleep.


I’ve heard that the blankets are not washed between flights.  You might want to bring your own blanket.


You might find it more comfortable to travel with a neck travel pillow or your own pillow.

Compression socks

If you are traveling on a long economy flight, you might want to wear compression socks to prevent DVT. While everyone is at risk for blood clots on long cramped flights, compression socks are a must if you are pregnant, older or have a history of blog clots. I like these socks that can be worn by both men and women and come in variety of colors and patterns.

Scarf and extra sweater or fleece

Planes can be chilly.  A scarf can be handy for keeping you warm.  In the event you do not have an eye mask, you can also use your scarf to cover your face.  Even if traveling in the summer, you might want to bring an extra layer (like a sweater or fleece) in your carry on.


In case you don’t like airplane food or would like healthier choices, snacks are a good idea.  Nuts and granola bars are good options.

Bottle of water

Because the air is so dry on flight, dehydration happens quicker when flying than it would at home.  I bring a bottle of water with me on the flight.  While the flight attendants do bring water it is good to bring extra water for times when they are seated such as takeoff and landing.


Bring at least one pen for filling out customs forms when traveling internationally, taking notes, doing crossword puzzles etc.

Click to download a pdf of my Carry On Bag Essentials List.

Here are some tips to survive a long flight in economy.

Do you have any carry on essentials? What items are always packed in your carry on bag?
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What to Pack in a Carry On Bag

What to Pack in a Carry On Bag



  1. Great suggestions. I agree with the blanket and neck rest or pillow. On my last trip I took the airline pillow out of the plastic bag and there was hair on the pillow. That was it for me!

  2. I always pack only carryon baggage and wondered how other travelers approach this tactic. Fun stuff.

  3. This is a great list! Neck pillows seem to be the one item that a lot of folks regretting not packing.

  4. Indeed, keeping your glasses and contacts in your carry on luggage is a good idea. This way you are able to use them whenever you need them. And, if your other bags get lost then you can still be able to see.

    • Agree! I am always worried about my bag getting lost that is why I make sure I have everything essential in my carry on.

  5. I always like reading about what others pack – always great to hear another perspective. Great tips!

  6. These are great. I usually bring a shawl or pashmina scarf with me to double as a blanket.

  7. Great list! I never think about the change of clothes but it is a great idea. A lost or delayed suitcase can happen. It happened to family members on our last trip to Lisbon and they didn’t have anything so we had to buy some stuff.

  8. Compression socks for the long trips…. Can’t live without them! Of course, I have finally had to admit, though only in the privacy of our own home, that I must be getting older.

  9. Great list! I also try to remember to bring a hair tie or something like that to keep my hair out of my face.

  10. This is a very useful compilation. You never know the importance any even the most insignificant item on this list until your find yourself in the middle of nowhere without something you really need. I have had a messed up camp experience when I forgot my lip balm at the hotel.

    Good stuff!

  11. Yes, a bag of mixed nuts and a granola bar are always must-haves in my carry on. It’s saved me on more than on occasion when there’s been a delay on the tarmac and my tummy was growling.

  12. Lots of good suggestions here! I usually just use a carry-on for my entire trip so in addition to all of these plane essentials, I have all of my clothing, toiletries, etc. I also like to print out my hotel and plane confirmations. And it’s super handy to have a copy of your passport as well in case it gets lost.

  13. wow! Great list! I never think about the change of clothes but it is a great idea. A lost or delayed suitcase can happen. It happened to family members on our last trip to Lisbon and they didn’t have anything so we had to buy some stuff.

  14. Indeed, keeping your glasses and contacts in your carry on luggage is a good idea. This way you are able to use them whenever you need them. And, if your other bags get lost then you can still be able to see.

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